On Tuesday, November 19, National Public Radio (NPR) aired a story from the Department of Homeland Security’s detention center in Florence, Arizona, highlighting the large number of people currently held in immigration detention centers nationwide. All 34,000 beds in 250 detention facilities are full, thanks to Congress’s 2009 “detention-bed mandate,” in which Congress instructed U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to operate detention facilities at maximum capacity. To meet this high quota, police and immigration officials have ramped up arrests of undocumented aliens. Anyone who lacks the proper residency documents can be detained in ICE facilities, even those with no criminal record. Francisco Rincon, a Mexican national with no prior trouble with the law, told NPR that he was arrested when he took a wrong turn in Tuscon, Arizona, and was subsequently detained for three weeks. Like Rincon, many of the 34,000 currently detained aliens found themselves in detention when they were arrested for minor traffic or criminal violations.
Each detained alien costs taxpayers $120 per day, and the “detention-bed mandate” is estimated to run a total of $2 billion a year. Supporters, like Rep. Hal Rogers (R- KY), believe that the bed mandate is necessary to compel the enforcement of existing immigration laws. Opponents believe that less expensive alternatives, like GPS-monitored ankle bracelets and routine check-ins with ICE, which cost a fraction of the price of detention, are sufficient to ensure the achievement of USCIS and ICE objectives. Those in favor of tougher enforcement vehemently disagree with this contention, citing the roughly 870,000 immigrants who have remained in the United States in hiding after receiving deportation orders. The debate continues in Congress, where the Senate passed a bill earlier this year calling for increased use of alternatives to detention, but the House has yet to pass any similar provisions.
Three House Republicans have now expressed their support of the Democrat-led Comprehensive Immigration Reform Bill, suggesting that Congress may act before the year ends. This past weekend, Rep. Denham from California announced his support for the House bill in an interview on Univision. On Tuesday, Rep. Ros-Lehtinen from Florida became the second Republican to publically advocate for the bill, and yesterday Rep. Valadao from California joined them and became the third member of the GOP to express his support. Rep. Valadao is himself the child of Portuguese immigrants. Despite growing support, the bill is still lacking nearly 30 votes before it could be passed by the House.
The proposed bill, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act, would restructure the immigration system for family based and employment based applications, increase border security, and provide a path to citizenship for the estimated 11-12 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the U.S. Despite clear indications of increased support, the Republican leadership in the House of Representatives still maintains that they will not allow the bill to go to the floor for a vote, though House Speaker Boehner states that he is “hopeful” a vote may happen before yearend.
As a result of the federal government shutdown beginning today, immigrants currently in removal proceedings may find that their cases are delayed. Though immigration courts across the nation will continue to adjudicate detained cases, all functions that relate to non-detained cases are now suspended. The Board of Immigration Appeals is only processing emergency stay requests and cases in which the immigrant is detained.
For information relating to a particular court, you may visit: http://www.justice.gov/eoir/ICstatus.htm.
Were you affected by the recent floods in Colorado? Even undocumented persons are eligible for federal and local assistance.
If your home and belongings were damaged or destroyed, you are eligible for assistance from the federal government through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). Although people without immigration status do not qualify for cash assistance from FEMA, they can receive benefits in many other forms. FEMA is encouraging all flood victims, regardless of status, to register for assistance. If one member of the household is a citizen or a lawful permanent resident (LPR), the entire household may qualify for assistance from FEMA, since only one member of the household must be eligible for assistance. An attorney can assist you in determining if you qualify for FEMA assistance. To apply for more information on FEMA’s program, go to: http://www.disasterassistance.gov/.
Other benefits available to undocumented persons include crisis counseling, disaster legal services, transportation, emergency medical care, food, water and other emergency supplies. Many large charities, including the Red Cross and the Salvation Army will also assist any victim of the floods without revealing their immigration status. You can receive medical assistance, food and supplies from these and other organizations.
If you are an immigrant and flood victim in need of legal services, free legal assistance is available through Colorado Flood Legal Relief. Aretz & Chisholm Immigration has offered their legal services through this non-profit effort. For assistance, you may contact the hotline at (855) 424-5347 or request help online:: http://colofloodlegalrelief.org/contact/.
For more information on the situation of immigrants affected by recent flooding, see http://www.denverpost.com/news/ci_24126943/flooding-brings-fear-and-devastation-colorado-immigrants.
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