Democrats Brace For Republican-Planned Immigration Overhaul
Three weeks after the Republicans assumed control of the U.S. House of Representatives, Democrats and immigrant rights activists are bracing for the party’s outspoken plans to overhaul the nation’s immigration system.
Included in the Republican’s planned immigration reform is the use of biometric data to better track foreign travelers, the abolishment any form of amnesty for illegal immigrants and the creation of a new immigration system.
The Republican stance on immigration as outlined in the party’s platform:
To better ensure that immigrants enter the United States only through legal means that allow for verification of their identity, reconnaissance cameras, border patrol agents, and unmanned aerial flights have all been increased at the border. In addition, Border Patrol agents now have sweeping new powers to deport illegal aliens without having first to go through the cumbersome process of allowing the illegal alien to have a hearing before an immigration judge. We support these efforts to enforce the law while welcoming immigrants who enter America through legal avenues.
Even before the Republican takeover of the House in 2011, legal action and legislation against illegal immigrants living inside the U.S. was a party focal point.
The Republicans have successfully squashed the DREAM Act, a largely Democrat-supported bill that would have provided residency to immigrants brought to the U.S. as children and have since completed time in college and/or the armed forces.
On the brink of President Barack Obama’s State of the Union address, Republican state lawmakers revealed model legislation that would modify birthright citizenship for children of undocumented immigrants. The legislation will be introduced in at least 14 states.
Also on the docket for the Republican-controlled House is an expansion of mandatory verification of workers’ immigration status, as well as other enforcement tools to curb the hiring of illegal immigrants in the U.S.
In 2005, the party also championed Operation Streamline - a Texas-based initiative that allows for the prosecution and imprisonment of any immigrant who crosses the U.S.-Mexico border unlawfully.
Until recently, policies analogous to Operation Streamline were only seen in the nation’s border areas, such as Arizona and Southern California. However, California’s Eastern District – an area including 34 counties in the Central Valley and the Sierra Mountains, from the Los Angeles County line to the Oregon border – saw a 12 percent increase in the number of felony immigrant related cases in the 2010 fiscal year.
“What you are seeing in the newest California statistics is nothing more than a reflection of the expansion of [Operation] Streamline to non-border areas,” said Dan Kowalski of the Association of Labor Lawyers of America. “This is driven either individually or by administrators in the U.S. Justice Dept. that want more numbers and convictions of entry and re-entry cases.”
However, authorities claim the increase in felony immigration cases stem from greater resources provided to prosecutorial- and investigative-related law enforcement efforts.
"The criminal aliens targeted for prosecution by this office are those who pose a genuine public safety threat to our communities," said U.S. Attorney Benjamin B. Wagner in a statement. "No matter where one stands in the larger debate over federal immigration laws, there should be little debate over the prosecution of serious criminals who illegally return to California after prior deportations."
According to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, there were 432 felony re-entry cases filed in fiscal year 2010 in the Eastern District, a seven percent increase compared to the previous fiscal year.
“There has definitely been a political decision to file more immigrant felony cases,” Kowalski said. “It’s not necessarily that they are catching more people. It simply reflects a decision by the U.S. attorney’s office to file more of these cases than in the past.”
What remains to be seen is how vigilant Republican lawmakers will be in reforming the nation's immigration system.
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