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WASHINGTON -- The idea that prospective immigrants simply wait their turn to enter the U.S. legally, as advocates of Alabama's immigration law suggest, would apply to only a few because the legal paths for entering the country permanently are selective, limited and backlogged.

There are 4.7 million people from around the world already in line waiting for a chance to move in, according to the latest figures from the U.S. State Department. And the law, as set out in the Immigration and Nationality Act, does not let just anyone get in line.

 The law is specific about who is allowed in on a permanent basis, coinciding with four general objectives of federal immigration policy: to reunite families, attract workers with special skills, increase diversity from countries that don't usually have high numbers of immigrants to the U.S., and protect people who are fleeing persecution in their home countries.

 If someone wants to immigrate permanently, they have to fall into one of those four categories. Even then, the wait can last years or decades. For example, applications filed by Mexican unmarried sons and daughters of U.S. citizens before April 1993 are the ones being considered now, according to a monthly update from the State Department.

 In other words, the proposal that illegal immigrants should have just waited for their turn is not even possible.

 "When there is no line to get into, those are times when people feel they don't have options," said Mary Giovagnoli, director of the Immigration Policy Center and former associate chief counsel for United States Citizenship and Immigration Services.

 There are 12.6 million legal permanent residents currently living in the United States plus millions more who have long since become naturalized citizens.

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Birmingham News | 12/04/11

Newt Gingrich continued his full-throttle emphasis on immigration on Thursday in Iowa, countering opponents who have accused him of embracing amnesty for illegal immigrants.

Gingrich signed a pledge to build a fence along the entire 2,000-mile stretch between Mexico and the United States by the end of 2013.

Building the fence could cost taxpayers billions of dollars, not including annual maintenance expenses. But Gingrich told The Des Moines Register in an interview that those costs could be trimmed as much as 95 percent by simply eliminating all federal regulations for the fence’s construction.

He did not explain how he arrived at that estimate and his staff was unable to pinpoint the information Thursday.

“Remember, we built the Pentagon for almost nothing because we didn’t go through all the modern baloney,” Gingrich said.

Such federal regulations are intended to protect water quality, prevent ground pollution and ensure worker safety — all items generally seen as critical to human health.

Several immigration reform advocates said Thursday that while they agree with Gingrich that action is needed, they doubt his cost-saving ideas and whether such a fence would be effective.

A better idea would be to invest the billions of dollars in increased security and screening at the nation’s ports of entry, where the majority of illegal immigration and drug smuggling occurs, said William Moore, a spokesman for the Texas Border Coalition. The nonpartisan group of mayors and local officials represents more than 6 million people living along the border.

Moore also contends that building the fence would be difficult if not impossible because of the region’s harsh landscape. Because of flood plains, some U.S. farmers and their homes would likely be on the Mexican side of the fence, creating numerous safety and property rights issues, he noted.

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Des Moines Register | 12/02/11

Some right-wing critics of Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich have it all wrong when they claim that his immigration plan is "amnesty" -- the code word for a path to citizenship.

Others, however, have pegged it right. The Gingrich plan would be closer to indentured servitude or semi-serfdom.

Dan Stein, president of the anti-immigration Federation for American Immigration Reform, described the Gingrich plan as a "modern-day form of slavery." The plan, he said, is an "effort to create a stratified labor force that provides wealthy employers with a way to get employees at below-market rates."

Pro-immigration groups agree. Mary Giovagnoli, director of the Immigration Policy Center, says that the Gingrich plan "virtually guarantees that we create second-class status for workers and their families -- lawful, but with no real rights."

That some are calling the Gingrich plan "humane" shows just how far this country has shifted on immigration.

The core of the Gingrich plan is privatization and expansion of the nation's guest worker program. A new path to citizenship is not part of the Gingrich plan at all.

Certainly, Gingrich has identified a real problem that cries out for solution: Current visa quotas are much lower than demand for workers.

Legal visas are limited to 66,000 a year for unskilled nonagricultural workers (H-2B); to 65,000 for high-skilled workers (H-1B) That's a joke. The U.S. government issued only 150,000 visas for farmworkers (H-1A) in 2009, a small fraction of the estimated 1.5 million foreign farmworkers in the United States.

But rather than fix that system, the Gingrich plan is to throw open the floodgates for employers to hire, on an unlimited basis, workers from other countries.

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Sacramento Bee | 12/02/11

By Walter Ewing

The broken U.S. immigration system is flooding federal courts with low-level cases involving non-violent defendants, and inundating federal prisons with individuals whose only crime was to enter or remain in the country without permission. Thanks to this ever-widening immigration dragnet, a disproportionateshare of the Latinos and non-U.S. citizens who wind up in federal courts and prisons are there solely because of immigration violations. In other words, the federal government is wasting its limited law-enforcement and criminal-justice resources on immigrants who do not pose a threat to public safety or national security.

These are the inescapable conclusions to emerge from a statistical report released in September by the U.S. Sentencing Commission. The statistics, which cover the first nine months of Fiscal Year (FY) 2011, illustrate the degree to which immigration cases are being channeled into federal court rooms. Immigration offenses accounted for more than one third (35.1 percent) of all federal sentences handed down during this period.1 In comparison, immigration offenses comprised one in five (19.6 percent) of all sentences in FY 2000.

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Cornerstone: A National Legal Aid and Defender Association Publication | 12/01/11

President Barack Obama risks losing important Hispanic votes if he does not do more on the immigration issue, protesters from Winston-Salem and surrounding areas said Tuesday during a rally in Charlotte, echoing a message that has been expressed at similar rallies nationwide.

"For me, the rally means: 'Obama, you really need to help us, and if not, we can take you out of office,'" said Ana Sosa, a 19-year-old Mocksville resident who can't vote because she doesn't have legal permission to be in the United States but who says she can affect how other people vote.

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The Winston-Salem Journal | 11/30/11

Newt Gingrich is trying to carve out a middle way on illegal immigration, pushing a “Red Card Solution” that would essentially expand the guest-worker program without giving those immigrants a pathway to citizenship.

But Gingrich’s compromise isn’t eliciting much praise within the immigration community: Activists on both on left and right say that Red Carding fails to address fundamental problems with the U.S. immigration system.

On the right, advocates who want greater restrictions on immigration say the Red Card Solution simply gives businesses a pool of cheap labor at the expense of native-born workers. The Kriebel Foundation, which developed the idea, “has an interest in a modern-day form of slavery while wages have atrophied for less-skilled American workers,” says Dan Stein, president of the conservative Federation for American Immigration Reform. “This is effort to create a stratified labor force that provides wealthy employers with a way to get employees at below-market rates.” What’s more, he warns, guest workers with Red Cards might simply overstay their visit when their work permits expire.

Pro-immigration advocates argue that the Red Card plan would undermine the rights of immigrants and would be massively difficult to put in place. “It virtually guarantees that we create second-class status for workers and their families — lawful but with no real rights,” says Mary Giovagnoli, director of the Immigration Policy Center. She described plan’s the elimination of birthright citizenship for Red Card workers as “eradicating rights.” She also says the proposal ignores the need to reform the legal immigration system.

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The Washington Post | 11/23/11

PLANO, Texas -- The worst shock of Maria Navarro's life came, fittingly, on Halloween. Weeks later, she still is afraid, asking that her real name not be used, recounting her story over the phone and hiding out with her three U.S.-born children at the home of relatives.

In the pre-dawn, federal agents arrested Navaro's husband, Ramiro, as he made his way to his plumbing job. Within hours, he had been deported. He broke the news to his wife over the phone from his hometown in north-central Mexico's Guanajuato state.

"He is disillusioned," she said. "He spent the last 20 years in the United States. He made his life here. This is where his children were born."

Ramiro's is just one case in the record number of undocumented immigrants being deported by the Obama administration -- nearly 400,000 in the last fiscal year. Many are whisked quickly across the border. Increasingly, they're deported without speaking to a lawyer or having a proper hearing, according to a recent report from the National Immigration Law Center, a Los Angeles-based advocacy group.

An official at the Mexican Consulate and a spokesman for the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement office in Dallas said they found no record of the immigration raid that netted Ramiro and seven other men on Oct. 31.

Roberto Nicolas, the consular official, said in an email it was "not a common practice for deportations to occur on the same day."

Carl Rusnok, an ICE spokesman in Dallas, also wrote in an email that he "did not find any information regarding these actions taken in that location that day."

Immigration attorney Kathleen Walker believes that Navarro may have been swept up in a little-known federal program called "stipulated removal."

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The Huffington Post | 11/18/11

As the congressional Super Committee struggles to cut the federal deficit by $1.2 trillion by next Wednesday, pro-immigrant advocacy groups are amplifying their calls to dial back on border security as a way to reap savings.

The federal government stands to save $2.6 billion a year by deporting only violent criminals, capping yearly border patrol budget increases, and ending a government program to level minor criminal charges against people crossing portions of the U.S.-Mexico border illegally, according a National Immigration Forum report released Tuesday.

The latest iteration of the 2012 Department of Homeland Security budget calls for spending $5.5 billion on Immigration and Customs Enforcement and $11.8 billion on Customs and Border Protection. That’s nearly double the spending levels for both compared to fiscal 2000, and up from $5.1 billion and $9.3 billion in fiscal 2008. Declining numbers of arrests along the Southwest border are evidence that this ramped-up spending is an unnecessary use of taxpayer dollars, the report concluded. According to government data, border patrol arrests fell about 28 percent between October 2010 and August 2011 in California, New Mexico, Texas and Arizona.

“The number of people arrested for trying to cross the border illegally, used as a proxy for measuring the total number of people trying to cross illegally, is at its lowest point since 1972,” the report said. “We are spending more and more money so that we don’t have to apprehend fewer and fewer people.”

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The Fiscal Times | 11/16/11

Critics of undocumented immigration and of granting a path to citizenship to the undocumented currently living in this country often argue that immigrants are a drain on our country’s resources, and the U.S. can simply not afford to continue to support an illicit population that thrives off of government-funded services and programs. However, an ever-increasing number of studies show that the cost of immigrants to this country is wildly inflated, and in fact the contributions the immigrant population makes to the U.S. outweigh their expense.

On Sunday, Nashville newspaper The Tennesseean published an op/ed by Ted Rayburn which put a new spin on the argument that reforming the U.S. immigration system would benefit the economy. Rayburn argues that in an increasingly competitive global market society, the U.S. is in danger of falling behind, as the world’s highly skilled workers are moving en masse to countries with growing economies, such as Brazil and India. He concludes that if the U.S. does not revise its immigration laws to allow these skilled individuals to legally come to the U.S. and work, we will be at a perpetual international disadvantage.

The cogent arguments made by Rayburn regarding the importance of skilled immigrant labor in this country, however, does not preclude the similarly vital importance of unskilled immigrant laborers to the U.S. economy.

In Arizona, recent changes in the state’s immigration laws have illustrated the vital necessity of flexible migrant labor to local industry. As this labor has become increasingly scarce since the passage of SB 1070, many Arizona industries, most notably agriculture, have experienced the negative effects of a worker shortage.

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The Examiner | 11/13/11

A new Obama administration policy to avoid deportations of illegal immigrants who are not criminals has been applied very unevenly across the country and has led to vast confusion both in immigrant communities and among agents charged with carrying it out.

Since June, when the policy was unveiled, frustrated lawyers and advocates have seen a steady march of deportations of immigrants with no criminal record and with extensive roots in the United States, who seemed to fit the administration’s profile of those who should be allowed to remain.

But at the same time, in other cases, immigrants on the brink of expulsion saw their deportations halted at the last minute, sometimes after public protests. In some instances, immigration prosecutors acted, with no prodding from advocates, to abandon deportations of immigrants with strong ties to this country whose only violation was their illegal status.

For President Obama, the political stakes in the new policy are high. White House officials have concluded that there is no chance before next year’s presidential election to pass the immigration overhaul that Mr. Obama supports, which would include paths to legal status for illegal immigrants. But immigration authorities have sustained a fast pace of deportations, removing nearly 400,000 foreigners in each of the last three years.

With Latino communities taking the brunt of those deportations, Latino voters are increasingly disappointed with Mr. Obama. White House officials hope the new policy will ease some of the pressure on Latinos, by steering enforcement toward gang members and convicts and away from students, soldiers and families of American citizens.

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New York Times | 11/12/11