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Immigration News
February 28, 2012

The New American reported that President Obama’s efforts to tighten the leash on U.S. immigration enforcement have caused a sharp drop in the number of deportations, according to a report by the Syracuse University Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse. In the last three months of 2011, following the administration’s directive to curb deportations of illegal immigrants without criminal records or who came to the United States as a child or student (among other discretionary factors), deportations have plummeted. The number of deportation proceedings instituted from October to December 2011 by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) plunged to 39,331, a 33-percent decline from the 58,639 filings documented the previous quarter. “Filings are typically lower at this time of year, but even adjusting for this seasonal drop-off and for late reporting,” the report noted, “there appear to have been over 10,000 fewer deportation filings than would have been expected last quarter.” The chief priority of the administration’s June 17, 2011 directive was to restrict most deportations to those immigrants with criminal records. “It makes no sense to spend our enforcement resources on these low-priority cases when they could be used with more impact on others, including individuals who have been convicted of serious crimes,” Cecilia Muñoz, Director of Intergovernmental Affairs, wrote last August in a White House blog post. “This means more immigration enforcement pressure where it counts the most, and less where it doesn’t,” she added. “That’s the smartest way to follow the law while we stay focused on working with the Congress to fix it.” However, according to Syracuse University researchers, there is “little evidence” that immigrants with criminal records are representing a higher ratio of overall deportations. In fact, during the purported timeframe, only 1,300, or 3.3 percent, were to be deported as alleged “aggravated felons.” Conversely, from July to September 2011, 3.8 percent were alleged “aggravated felons,” while six months ago the proportion was 4 percent. The researchers added: An additional 4,193 were charged by ICE for other alleged criminal activity last quarter. When considered together with alleged “aggravated felons,” the proportion of filings in the last quarter seeking deportation on grounds of any alleged criminal activity was still less than one out of seven (14%). And even this small slice is continuing to decline. Two years ago, slightly more than one of six (17.3 percent) were alleged to have engaged in criminal activity as the grounds ICE cited for seeking removal. “People have heard about these policy changes but largely haven’t seen any difference,” asserted Frank Sharry, executive director of immigration advocacy group America’s Voice. Many critics have alleged that President Obama’s June 2011 directive was largely political, particularly considering deportations have reached record levels, averaging 400,000 per year, under the current administration. Astoundingly, that’s double the annual average during President Bush’s first term and 30 percent higher than the average when Bush left office. Due to those record numbers, along with Obama’s failure to implement so-called “comprehensive immigration reform,” there has been an ignition of criticism among the Hispanic community — a growing portion of the Democratic voter base. “Latino immigrant voters know that the Alabama and Arizona laws didn’t come about from Democrats. They’re aware the Obama administration is fighting those laws. They know that Republicans blocked the DREAM Act. They know that Mitt Romney is talking about massive self-deportation,” Sharry said. “And they’re angry and disappointed that the Obama administration promised a legislative breakthrough, didn’t deliver it, but has delivered on record deportations.” In response, the President has embarked on a political campaign to recover previous support from this pivotal sector of the American electorate. “What we’ve been able to do is, administratively, we’ve said — let’s reemphasize our focus when it comes to enforcement on criminals and at the borders, and let’s not be focusing our attention on hard-working families who are just trying to make ends meet,” Obama said in an interview last week. “We’ve administratively proposed to reform the ‘three and 10″ program so that families aren’t separated when they’re applying to stay here in this country.” In emphasizing his newly coined “five more years” campaign slogan, the President assured a Hispanic audience that he would use his second term to push immigration reform. “My presidency is not over,” Obama indicated, responding to a question about his failure to actualize an immigration bill. “I’ve got another five years coming up. We’re going to get this done.” Moreover, the President rejected the notion that he broke a campaign promise, while passing the blame to Republicans who were unwilling to embrace any “sensible solutions” on the issue. “So far, we haven’t seen any of the Republican candidates even support immigration reform,” Obama charged, targeting his potential opponents in the upcoming presidential contest. Political analysts and commentators have predicted that the Hispanic vote will be critical for Obama’s reelection bid, as the minority’s rising population has become an increasingly chief component of the American electorate. While many Hispanics who supported Obama in 2008 may refrain from voting Republican, their disappointment over Obama’s immigration efforts may deter them from even voting at all come November 6. Considering the persistently stale economy — which has led to a sharp drop in Obama’s approval ratings — the President will rely heavily on minority voting groups, observers predict. As the Los Angeles Times reported last October, the President has commenced an “all-out push to rebuild his popularity” with Hispanics, which has been “diminished by the weak economy and a lack of progress toward revamping the nation’s immigration system.” “The excitement isn’t there like it was,” asserted Ana Canales, a volunteer and the county chairwoman for the Democratic Party of Bernalillo County in New Mexico, where the Obama campaign has accelerated efforts to recruit Hispanic voters. “There are a lot of people who are saying, ‘We’re not going to vote.’ We have a lot of work on our hands … to make sure those Latinos understand that he [Obama] is working for us.” http://www.thenewamerican.com/usnews/immigration/10999-deportations-plummet-under-obamas-new-immigration-policy

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February 27, 2012

The USA Today reported that President Obama predicted re-election in an interview this week with Univision Radio, telling a largely Hispanic audience he will use a second term to push comprehensive immigration overhaul. “My presidency is not over,” Obama said when asked about the failure to come up with an immigration bill. “I’ve got another five years coming up. We’re going to get this done.” Obama rejected suggestions that the lack of an immigration bill is a broken campaign promise, saying “we’re going to need help from Congress” and Republicans have blocked legislation. The re-election candidate said his Republican candidates oppose comprehensive immigration overhaul, which involves tighter border enforcement as well as a pathway to citizenship for illegal immigrants who are already here. Obama also made what appeared to be a reference to Republican candidate Mitt Romney, who opposes legislation that would offer potential citizenship to illegal immigrants who attend college or join the military. “So far, have we haven’t seen any of the Republican candidates even support immigration reform,” Obama said. “In fact, their leading candidate said he would veto even the Dream Act, much less comprehensive immigration reform.” Obama taped the Univision interview a day before traveling to Florida, where the growing Hispanic vote is considered essential. Some observers see the national Hispanic vote as the key to the entire election. When it comes to immigration, Hispanics should also examine who they support for House and Senate seats, Obama said. The president also said, “I would have only broken my promise if I hadn’t tried” to get an immigration reform bill. “But, ultimately, I’m one man,” he said. “You know, we live in a democracy. We don’t live in a monarchy. I’m not the king. I’m the president. And so, I can only implement those laws that are passed through Congress.”

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February 14, 2012

The American Immigration Council reported that the Winter 2012 issue of the Cato Journal is devoted to answering a single question: “Is Immigration Good for America?” In 13 articles, 16 scholars answer with a resounding “Yes!” The consensus is that immigrants provide a net benefit to the U.S. economy and to U.S. workers. There is also a consensus among the authors that the current immigration system with its patchwork of arbitrary numerical caps, needlessly squanders the full economic potential of immigration. The authors call for a thorough revamping of the immigration system to make it more responsive to labor demand, to attract highly skilled professionals and entrepreneurs, and to offer a pathway to legal status for the unauthorized population. Here are highlights from the issue: Daniel T. Griswold former Director of the Herbert A. Stiefel Center for Trade Policy Studies at the Cato Institute, concludes that “basic economic analysis and numerous empirical studies have confirmed that immigrants boost the productive capacity of the United States through their labor, their human capital, and their entrepreneurial spirit. Instead of competing head-to-head with American workers, immigrants typically complement native-born workers by filling niches in the labor market.” Joel Kotkin Distinguished Presidential Fellow at Chapman University, and Erika Ozuna, Research Fellow at Pepperdine University, say that “the United States should make efforts to keep entrepreneurs and all kinds of skilled workers, whom the country will need, particularly as the Baby Boom generation retires.” The authors warn that “if attitudes harden against immigration, America will sacrifice much of its demographic and cultural uniqueness. We would also suffer the loss of a major source of entrepreneurial growth and innovation.” Stuart Anderson Executive Director of the National Foundation for American Policy, points out that “fixing problems with the U.S. legal immigration system does not involve raising or reducing federal spending, or designing elaborate new agencies or policies. In general, much can be accomplished by simply raising the quotas for temporary visas for both low- and high-skilled workers and increasing the number of green cards available for family and employer-sponsored immigrants.” Pia M. Orrenius Senior Economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, and Madeline Zavodny, Professor of Economics at Agnes Scott College, argue that “it seems virtually inevitable that the United States will conduct a legalization program at some point given the size of the undocumented population.” However, research on the failings of the 1986 legalization demonstrates the “importance of enacting a legalization program only in the context of comprehensive immigration reform designed to reduce future unauthorized inflows as much as possible.” Raul Hinojosa-Ojeda, Founding Director of the North American Integration and Development Center at the University of California, Los Angeles, describes how “legalizing currently unauthorized immigrants and creating flexible legal limits on future immigration in the context of full labor rights would raise wages, increase consumption, create jobs, and generate additional tax revenue—particularly in those sectors of the U.S. economy now characterized by the lowest wages.” In sum, the contributors to this issue of the Cato Journal make a compelling case for the creation of a rational immigration system that offers the greatest benefit to both immigrant and native-born workers, and which adds the greatest value to the U.S. economy. As the authors emphasize, this would be a welcome change from the current dysfunctional system, which has facilitated the growth of an unauthorized population now numbering 11 million. While the federal government may be unwilling to tackle immigration reform, the status quo is clearly unacceptable—and unsustainable.

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Forbes.com reported that analysis of new data obtained from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) reveals the agency has dramatically increased denials of L-1 and H-1B petitions over the past four years, harming the competitiveness of U.S. employers and encouraging companies to keep more jobs and resources outside the United States. (Find the National Foundation for American Policy report here.) Data indicate much of the increase in denials involves Indian-born professionals and researchers. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services adjudicators have demonstrated a great capacity to keep skilled foreign nationals out of the United States by significantly increasing denials, along with often time-consuming Requests for Evidence (RFE), despite no change in the law or relevant regulations between 2008 and 2011. Attorneys provide numerous examples of superfluous Requests for Evidence. Employers say delaying applications for months effectively kills applications for people working on time-sensitive projects. L-1B petitions are used to transfer employees already working abroad for the company with “specialized knowledge” into the United States, while employers use H-1B petitions so that international students or skilled foreign nationals from abroad can work in the United States. Since obtaining a green card (for permanent residence) can take years or potentially decades, denying applications for L-1 or H-1B temporary status, in effect, prevents highly skilled foreign nationals from working in the United States. Some say that creates more opportunities for Americans but that wrongly assumes the number of jobs in America is fixed, that skilled foreign nationals don’t create complementary jobs and that companies will not transfer more work out of the country if prohibited from hiring or transferring in the people they need for projects, servicing customers or product development. The evidence indicates adjudicators or others at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services changed the standard for approving L-1B and other petitions in recent years, beginning in FY 2008 and FY 2009. If one considers that in FY 2011 63 percent of all L-1B petitions received a Request for Evidence and 27 percent were issued a denial, that means U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services adjudicators denied or delayed between 63 percent to 90 percent of all L-1B petitions in 2011. In comparison, in FY 2004, only 2 percent of L-1B petitions for employees with specialized knowledge involved a Request for Evidence. The high denial rates belie the notion adjudications have become more lenient. Employers report the time lost due to the increase in denials and Requests for Evidence are costing them millions of dollars in project delays and contract penalties, while aiding competitors that operate exclusively outside the United States. Given the resources involved, employers are selective about who they sponsor. The high rate of denials (and Requests for Evidence) is from a pool of applicants selected by employers because they believe the foreign nationals meet the standard for approval. In short, the United States is being deprived of talented people who help create jobs and innovations, particularly when able to work alongside their American counterparts. Country specific data on new (initial) L-1B petitions indicate U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services is more likely to deny a petition from an Indian-born professional than nationals of other countries. The denial rate for Indian-born applicants for new L-1B petitions rose from 2.8 percent in Fiscal Year 2008 to 22.5 percent in FY 2009. In comparison, the denial rate for new L-1B petitions for Canadians rose from 2.0 percent in FY 2008 to only 2.9 percent in FY 2009. Overall, denial rates for H-1B petitions increased from 11 percent in FY 2007 to 29 percent in FY 2009. For H-1B petitions, the Request for Evidence rate rose from 4 percent in FY 2004, to a high of 35 percent in FY 2009, according to USCIS. The dramatic increase in denial rates and Requests for Evidence for employment petitions without any change in the law or regulations raises questions about the training, supervision and procedures of the career bureaucracy that adjudicates petitions. It also raises questions about the U.S. government’s commitment to maintaining a stable business climate for companies competing in the global economy.

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February 2, 2012

On January 31, 2012 the Department of Homeland Security issued a statement that The President is deeply committed to fixing our broken immigration system so that it meets our 21st century national security and economic needs. As a part of comprehensive immigration reform, the President supports legislative measures that would attract and retain immigrants who create jobs and boost competitiveness here in the U.S., including creating a “Startup Visa,” strengthening the H-1B program, and “stapling” green cards to the diplomas of certain foreign-born graduates in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. Together these actions would help attract new businesses and new investment to the U.S. and ensure that the U.S. has the most skilled workforce in the world. In the meantime, the Obama Administration is working to make improvements in the areas where we can make a difference. As part of these ongoing efforts and in recognition of the one-year anniversary of the White House Startup America Initiative, the Department of Homeland Security today announced a series of administrative reforms which will be completed in the future. These reforms reflect the Administration’s continuing commitment to attracting and retaining highly-skilled immigrants. These efforts are critical to continuing our economic recovery and encouraging job creation. In last week’s State of the Union, President Obama noted that “Innovation is what America has always been about. Most new jobs are created in start-ups and small businesses.” He also stated in his remarks in El Paso last May, “In recent years, a full 25 percent of high-tech startups in the United States were founded by immigrants, leading to more than 200,000 jobs in America.” Echoing this, the President’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness stated in its recent report, “Highly skilled immigrants create jobs, they don’t take jobs.” The initiatives described below will serve to make the United States more attractive to highly-skilled foreign students and workers, thereby improving the competitiveness of U.S. companies in the world market and stimulating U.S. job creation. Expand eligibility for 17-month extension of optional practical training (OPT) for F-1 international students to include students with a prior degree in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). Presently, an F-1 student may only engage in optional practical training (OPT) for 12 months. F-1 students who graduate in programs of study classified as STEM can obtain a 17-month extension of OPT as part of their F-1 status if the degree they were conferred is included on the DHS list of eligible STEM degree programs. This proposed change would expand eligibility for extension of OPT by including students with a STEM degree that is not the most recent degree the student has received. Furthermore, because of the dynamic nature of STEM related education and training, DHS will continue to review emerging fields for possible inclusion in the list of eligible STEM degree programs. Allow for additional part-time study for spouses of F-1 students and expand the number of Designated School Officials (DSOs) at schools certified by DHS to enroll international students. This regulatory reform would allow spouses of F-1 students to enroll in additional academic classes on a part-time basis while their spouse is pursuing full-time studies. Presently, under the current regulation, spouses may only take part-time vocational or recreational classes. Schools would also be given increased flexibility to determine the number of DSOs needed at their institution to meet both the administrative and guidance needs of students. Provide work authorization for spouses of certain H-1B holders. This proposed change to the current DHS regulation would allow certain spouses of H-1B visa holders to legally work while their visa holder spouse waits for his or her adjustment of status application to be adjudicated. Specifically, employment will be authorized for H-4 dependent spouses of principal H-1B visa holders who have begun the process of seeking lawful permanent resident status through employment after meeting a minimum period of H-1B status in the U.S. This effort will help retain talented professionals who are valued by U.S. employers and who seek to contribute to our economy. Allow outstanding professors and researchers to present a broader scope of evidence of academic achievement. This proposed change to the current DHS regulation would increase the types of evidence that employers can submit to demonstrate that a professor or researcher is among the very best in their field. Presently, applicants for the employment-based immigrant visa category of “outstanding professors and researchers” are limited to specific types of evidence listed by regulation. This would allow “comparable evidence” beyond the specifically articulated regulatory list. This change will harmonize the evidentiary standard for this category with the other exceptional ability immigrant visa categories. Harmonize rules to allow E-3 visa holders from Australia and H-1B1 visa holders from Singapore and Chile to continue working with their current employer for up to 240 days while their petitions for extension of status are pending. This proposed regulation would treat E-3 and H-1B1 visa holders the same as other employment-based H-1B and L-1 visa holders by allowing them to continue employment with their current employer for up to 240 days from the expiration of their authorized period of stay, if a petition to extend their status has been timely filed. Launch Entrepreneurs in Residence initiative On February 22, 2012, USCIS will launch its Entrepreneurs in Residence initiative with an Information Summit in Silicon Valley, CA, that will bring together high-level representatives from the entrepreneurial community, academia, and federal government agencies to discuss how to maximize current immigration laws’ potential to attract foreign entrepreneurial talent. The Entrepreneurs in Residence initiative builds upon DHS’s August announcement of efforts to promote startup enterprises and spur job creation. The Information Summit will focus on ensuring that immigration pathways for foreign entrepreneurs are clear and consistent, and better reflect today’s business realities. The Summit will include a special recognition of outstanding contributions made by immigrant entrepreneurs to our nation’s economic growth and prosperity. The input gathered at the summit will inform the work of the Entrepreneurs in Residence tactical team, which will bring business experts in-house to work alongside USCIS staff for a period of approximately 90 days. Following the summit, the tactical team will convene in Washington, DC to begin its work.

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