US Catholic Faith in Real Life

Undocumented immigrant population declines

By Father Tom Joyce, CMF | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

One would argue intuitively that in hard times the undocumented immigrant population would decline. Indeed fewer migrants are crossing the border because there are fewer jobs for them. And many discouraged workers are returning home. Now the Department of Homeland Security reports that the undocumented immigrant population has dropped by a million between 2008 and 2009 – from 11.8 million to 10.8 million.

That’s a “questimate”, since there is no reliable way to count the undocumented. But both friendly and not-so-friendly observers think that’s about right. Homeland Security attributes it mainly to the economy, the anti-immigration groups to the tougher enforcement. But immigrant advocates point out that migration hasn’t stopped. It declined in the 1990s as well, only to be followed by an accelerated migration of undocumented (see Los Angeles Times).

American Bar Association urges reform of immigration courts
The American Bar Association has conducted an 18-month study of immigration courts and in a vote earlier this week at its semiannual meeting in Orlando, Fla. recommended the creation of a new separate immigration court system. At present they are administrative courts within the Department of Justice. Their decision can be appealed to the federal courts for final adjudication. Still the judges are employees of Justice.

The ABA report documented that the courts are cluttered and underfinanced – largely because of the stepped-up enforcement. And more cases are being appealed to the federal courts, so that they also are being clogged. There are complaints that justice to many immigrants is so swift, under the pressure of case loads, that it is not fair. The ABA would separate the courts from the Justice Department and be independent as the tax courts now are. They would have their own budget and could more effectively ask Congress for support. The problem is not new. The Bush administration was already considering increasing the number of judges, but the ABA proposal goes further than that (see NY Times ).

Sheriff Joe Arpaio to School His Deputies on Profiling
Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the controversial chief law officer of Maricopa County (Phoenix) and self-style “toughest lawman in the country,” will now train his own deputies on how to handle undocumented immigrants picked up in his “crime sweeps.” The Immigration and Custom Enforcement had stripped his officers of the right to enforce immigration laws “in the street” – even though they had been trained by ICE – and civil liberties and immigration groups have charged the sheriff’s office with profiling for stopping only dark-skin Mexicans.

To meet this criticism Sheriff Joe has contracted with a Kansas City academic to school all his deputies in how to handle undocumented immigrants they pick up in the streets and how to hand them over to ICE. (One reason ICE dropped cooperation with the sheriff’s office is that too many of those handed over had done nothing more than being in the wrong place at the wrong time. ICE found these arrests a nuisance, since its priorities were criminals and scofflaws.)
Immigrant advocates are wary of Sheriff Joe’s intention and the kind of training the deputies will get. They point out the trainer is not associated with Homeland Security or ICE and so has no authority. He has worked for immigration restriction previously (see Arizona Republic).