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Obama Gives a Nod to Facebook with Immigration Announcement

November 24th, 2014 by Romona Paden

Mark Zuckerberg FacebookWhen President Obama’s announcement to take executive action on immigration reform was released on the White House Facebook page, it was a definite nod to the social networking site’s influence on the topic. Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook Inc.’s founder and CEO, has established himself as a Silicon Valley leader on immigration reform.

Zuckerberg is one of several Silicon Valley leaders behind Fwd.us. The nonprofit organization, which promotes the cause of immigration reform, is also backed by the likes of LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman, Google chairman Eric Schmidt and Microsoft founder Bill Gates.

The impetus behind the formation of Fwd.us was Zuckerberg’s first-hand witnessing of lost opportunities for undocumented young people. At a community event for tech-savvy high school students, Zuckerberg asked one particularly bright student where he intended to attend college. Because the student’s undocumented status blocked him from accessing financial resources, the DREAMer said college was a part of his future plans.

Although Fwd.us only came into existence in 2013, the president’s move to release the video about his upcoming executive action through the social networking site is indicative that the group has already established itself as highly influential.  The release of the video on Facebook, in fact, is a kind of quid pro quo as Zuckerberg has stepped onto the president’s turf by making congressional testimony on immigration in Washington D.C.

Silicon Valley’s interest on immigration reform is linked directly with a dearth of computer programmers. Science, technology, engineering and mathematics—STEM—are areas of study for many immigrants. Because the current immigration system is ineffective in keeping STEM graduates in the country, however, Facebook and other Silicon Valley companies are working toward reform. In other words, if STEM graduates can more easily extend their visas, Silicon Valley will have more access to those who are qualified for the technology work.

“We are only here because this country welcomed our forebears, and taught them that being American is about more than what we look like or where we come from,” the president said on Facebook. “What makes us Americans is our shared commitment to an ideal—that all of us are created equal.”

President Obama Takes Executive Action on Immigration

November 24th, 2014 by Romona Paden

immigration executive ordersPresident Obama announced executive action on immigration reform just a couple of weeks after midterm elections that brought resounding defeat to Democrats. Among the most dominant features of the order is that close to 5 million undocumented immigrants have been granted a reprieve in their worry over possible deportation.

Speaking from the White House one week before the Thanksgiving holiday, the president laid out the central aspects of his order. These include tighter border security and an adjustment to rules surrounding immigrants with who are characterized as “highly-skilled” where workers will be granted visas. The third prong of the action is that undocumented immigrants who meet certain criteria will no longer live with the daily possibility of deportation.

The president’s extension of temporary legal status to millions of undocumented immigrants applies to the parents and families of legal permanent residents and U.S. citizens who have no criminal record and who have been in the U.S. for five years or more. However, the parents of children who qualify to stay in the U.S. under the president’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program aren’t among those who will be granted temporary legal status.

For undocumented immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children, the president’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) will expand as sources say current age limits around the program will be dropped.

The president’s decision to move forward on immigration reform through executive action comes in the wake of Democrats’ defeat in the midterm elections. While a reform bill had passed the Senate, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives have stalled on reform efforts.

The president addressed critics who call his executive order on immigration a grant of amnesty to those who came to the country illegally. Congressional passage of a comprehensive reform bill would make the executive action unnecessary, he said.

“Today, our immigration system is broken, and everybody knows it,” the president said in his speech. “It’s been this way for decades. And for decades we haven’t done much about it.”

Republican criticism of the president’s executive order began even before the speech was aired. Saying President Obama’s use of executive action is akin to an emperor’s passage of dictates, those opposed reform that bypasses Congress see the move as a threat to the nation’s democracy.

Obama Announces Pending Exec Order on Immigration

November 21st, 2014 by Romona Paden

immigration executive ordersCiting a broken immigration system where problems have been allowed to “fester for too long,” President Obama announced a pending executive order that will take “commonsense steps” toward reform. Through a brief one-minute video posted on the White House Facebook page, the president announced he would enact a set of executive orders regarding immigration reforms.

The president will use the executive order on immigration to “fix as much of it as he can,” the White House Facebook page says. Press reports covering the announcement speculate measures could extend amnesty to as many as 5 million undocumented people living in the United States, sparing them from possible deportation.

Besides protection from deportation, the president’s executive order will likely also extend work permit eligibility to millions of undocumented immigrants. The executive action isn’t expected to include a path to citizenship. Additionally, undocumented immigrants who benefit from the action won’t be entitled to federal benefits, which include health care tax credits through the Affordable Care Act—Obamacare.

Among the 5 million immigrants to whom deportation protection will likely be extended are the parents and spouses of U.S. citizens and permanent residents—green card holders—who’ve been in the country for at least five years.

The president is also likely to expand the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which was introduced two years ago through another executive order. The parents of immigrants protected under DACA aren’t expected to be granted protections, however.

“What I’m going to be laying out is the things that I can do with my lawful authority as president to make the system better, even as I continue to work with Congress and encourage them to get a bipartisan, comprehensive bill that can solve the entire problem,” Obama said in a video on Facebook.

Any executive actions taken by President Obama can be undone by the future president who will be elected in two years.

Possible Exec Order Puts Immigration on Political Showdown Agenda

November 19th, 2014 by Romona Paden

Deportation deferralImmigration reform might move forward this week as press reports out of Washington D.C. say President Obama is considering putting his signature on an executive order that would help millions avoid deportation (much like 2012′s DACA executive order), provide work authorization and otherwise tweak policy to address shortcomings in federal immigration law. While executive action will likely be considered inflammatory by some, political pundits say the president has nothing left to lose, and that his stand on immigration represents bucking against settling into the lame-duck duration of his presidency.

Outcomes of the midterm 2014 elections just a couple of weeks ago brought Democrats a resounding defeat, giving Republicans a wider margin in the U.S. House of Representatives and bringing GOP ownership to the balance of power in the U.S. Senate. And while House Speaker John Boehner and likely Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have each warned against unilateral action on the president’s part, Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill are doing their best to fan the flames of progress.

“Immigrant communities have waited too long for House Republicans to catch up with the American public’s support for comprehensive immigration reform,” according to a report on a letter to the president from Democratic leaders. The letter, signed by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Sens. Chuck Schumer, Dick Durbin, Robert Menendez, Patty Murray and Michael Bennett goes on to say “We strongly support your plan to improve as much of the immigration system as you can within your legal authority, and will stand behind you to support changes to keep families together while continuing to enforce our immigration laws in a way that protects our national security and public safety.”

For Republicans, any talk surrounding immigration seems to bring up an uncomfortable set of realities. While Democrats were soundly spanked in the most recent elections, pundits say Republicans mustn’t presume the party holds particular affinity for voters. After harsh Republican defeats in 2012, the GOP took a hard look at itself to determine those issues where it is most disconnected from the electorate.

Central among the findings was that the GOP needs to get behind some sort of comprehensive reform—if only to get the issue of the table. In short, Republicans consistently fall well short of Democrats in gaining a share of the critical Hispanic vote. Moving past immigration reform lets Republicans open the door to other topics of conversation with these voters. Failure to move forward with comprehensive immigration reform, the GOP report says, means the “Party’s appeal will continue to shrink to its core constituencies only.”

Majority of Immigrants Settle in Just a Few States

November 17th, 2014 by Romona Paden

Immigrant influence in politicsWith around 41 million immigrants currently living in the United States—more than ever before in the nation’s history—immigrant influence might be underwhelming in its influence. According to a study by Pew Research Center that was published in May, the majority of immigrants end up settling in just a few states. The scenario might mean that while immigrant populations could hold a lot of sway locally, the group’s interests become diluted on a national scale.

According to Pew, the U.S. saw growth from 19.8 million immigrants living in the country in 1990 to 40.7 million immigrants living in the country in 2012. About one-quarter—11.7 million of these immigrants— are undocumented. During the period, immigrants represent a five-times-greater growth rate than U.S.-born residents—106.1 percent versus 19.3 percent, according to a Pew analysis of Census Bureau data.

By comparison, immigrants represented 7.9 percent of the U.S. population in 1990. At the time, California was the only state wherein more than 20 percent of its population was born outside the county. By 2012, immigrants made up at least one-fifth of the population in four states in the nation—New York, New Jersey and Florida join California in the distinction.

While immigrant numbers have grown over the past quarter century, the states where immigrants settle have largely remained the same. The top 15 states where immigrants resided in 2012, for instance, counted for 79 percent of the group. Since 1990, only the last state on the list of 15 states has changed— it was New Mexico in 1990, Colorado in 2000 and Virginia in 2012.

While the numbers represent an interesting study in demographics, implications also extend to the world of politics. According to a Washington Post blog, the numbers “represent a central piece of the future political puzzle for both parties.” For Republicans, especially, conventional wisdom says the shrinking proportion of white voters will only become more of an obstacle over time. Because of the predominance of just few states as residency destinations, however, immigrant voices might well remain muffled on the national stage.

Hispanic Population Represents Highest Rate of Uninsured

November 12th, 2014 by Romona Paden

EbolaWhile health consistently ranks as a top priority among Hispanics, support for a federally-mandated insurance option has taken a precipitous fall. The group’s support of the Affordable Care Act (ACA)—Obamacare— was weighted heavily in favor at the end of 2013 with 61 percent approval of the federal plan. By March 2014, Hispanic support of Obamacare fell to only 47 percent approval within the group.

Of the 13 million Hispanics living in the country who don’t have health insurance, around seven million were born outside the United States. According to Pew, close to 40 percent of Hispanic immigrants don’t have health insurance. Approximately 17 percent of US-born Hispanics lack health coverage. For the Hispanic population without US citizenship, 49 percent don’t have health insurance.

The nation’s Hispanic population is the least prosperous among us in terms of health insurance coverage, according to a Pew Research study released in September. The issue for the segment becomes even starker among Hispanics who are also immigrants as the discrepancy with this segment of the group becomes even more pronounced.

In purely racial terms, the U.S. Census Bureau reports 9.8 percent of non-Hispanic whites were uninsured in 2013. In the same year, 15.9 percent of blacks were uninsured. These numbers compare to 24.3 percent of Hispanics without health insurance coverage and a general population rate of 14 percent who don’t have health insurance.

Within the Hispanic population, those between the ages of 18 and 64—adults of working age—are the most likely segment to report no health insurance. For Hispanic children, one-third of immigrants under the age of 18 are uninsured. The uninsured rate for US-born Hispanics is 12 percent and drops to around 9 percent among all children in the country.

In California, a state with one of the highest rates of immigrant residents, the sign-up rate for the California health insurance exchange is roughly equally made up of Hispanics and Asians. The rate means Hispanics are still underrepresented as part of those who are covered by the exchange because the state’s Hispanic population is roughly three times greater than its Asian population.

Military Service a Dominant Thread in Immigrant Stories

November 11th, 2014 by Romona Paden

Military service and ImmigrationService in the armed forces as a traditional route toward citizenship was highlighted when President Barack Obama presided over the swearing-in during the naturalization ceremony for military members serving in Seoul, South Korea last spring. After the mid-term 2014 elections this fall and with Veteran’s Day upon us, military service as a route to citizenship is worth another look.

While demonstrations of patriotism through military service have provided a route to citizenship in the past, current law sharply restricts immigrant service in the military. Currently, only around 4 percent of recruits in the military are immigrants. In large part, this is because Congress passed legislation in 2006 that increased the threshold for entering the military– going from immigrants who reside in the US legally up to requiring immigrant recruits to hold a green card before entering service. Because military needs include language and cultural specialists, however, the green card rule has since been revised.

Congress now lets the military recruit 1,500 undocumented immigrants annually. Among those in this group who are allowed to serve are those who came to the United States as children and who fall under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) rules. This element could become a particularly important aspect of immigration reform as the newly-elected Republican Congress continues to avoid immigration reform and the president continues to promise executive action.

In another aspect of immigrant military service issues are the military’s difficulties in attracting qualified recruits. As the nation’s population continues to get older, the number of eligible 17- to 24-year-olds—the desired recruit age—is declining. What’s more, declining fitness levels along with the rise in obesity rates means the sheer number of potential recruits is down. These factors argue well to loosen up military immigrant rules.

In historic terms, immigrants have always played a substantial role in the US military. According to a published report, about half of military recruits in the country during the 1840’s were immigrants. Of the 1.5 million military members who served during the Civil War, about 20 percent were foreign born—mostly German and Irish. During World War I, 10 percent of U.S. troops—around 500,000—were foreign born and represented 46 different countries. Those who survived the Great War were offered automatic naturalization.

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) reports 89,095 members of the military became US citizens between October 1, 2001 and the end of May 2013. Additionally, nearly 2,000 spouses of members of the military became citizens between the start of fiscal year 2008 through the end of fiscal year 2013. The children of immigrant military members who became citizens numbered 217 from October 1, 2012 to May 31, 2013 alone.

USCIS Program Developments Aim to Assist Immigrants

November 5th, 2014 by Romona Paden

E-Verify Mandatory

(USCIS.gov)

Self-service technology is a key characteristic of new developments to United States Citizenship and Immigration Service programs. The programs— each implemented by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS)— are designed to reduce fraud and promote convenience and efficiency by allowing for status self checks with workplace permissions and public benefit programs.

The E-verify program, adopted in 2007, was designed to provide a fast and efficient way for employers to verify potential employees as eligible for work. With the early October launch of myE-verify, USCIS allows immigrants verify their status within the system. Initially launched in five states– Arizona, Idaho, Colorado, Mississippi, Virginia—and the District of Columbia, USCIS will continue broadening the program to a national scale in future releases.

By self-authenticating work eligibility within the E-verify system, immigrants can ensure employers will have access to accurate information. Ideally, the set up will add efficiency to the E-verify program. Although the program has garnered a fair share of controversy, USCIS reported last spring that up to 1,500 employers signed up every week to use the E-verify system.

Besides status checks for work, USCIS has produced a new informative video about its Systematic Alien Verification for Entitlements (SAVE) program. SAVE is used for access public programs. It’s used to help immigrants obtain such things as Social Security cards, housing assistance, Medicaid and state-issued driver’s license.

Registered agencies with access to SAVE Program verification of immigrant status is used for immigrants, non-immigrants, naturalized citizens and derived citizens. Agencies using the SAVE Program can quickly access federal database information that carries more than 100 million records.

The video is meant to assist community-based organizations and immigration-advocacy groups in ensuring eligibility for public programs, according to a release.

“We encourage federal, state, and local benefit granting agencies registered with the SAVE Program and to play the five-minute DVD in their waiting rooms or other public areas where benefit applicants can easily view it,” the release says.

Organizations can order copies of the DVD free of charge. The video is also available for download, or can be accessed from the SAVE YouTube channel.

Massachusetts Trends Distinct From U.S. Immigrant Profiles

November 3rd, 2014 by Romona Paden

Massachusetts ImmigrantsWith a dominant profile of immigrants from China, Brazil and Portugal, immigration in Massachusetts distinguishes itself from the rest of the country. While Mexican-born immigrants account for almost one-third of the foreign-born population on a national level, a wider international population is represented in this historic state.

According to the Partnership for a New American Economy’s Map the Impact Massachusetts immigration report, 30 percent of immigrants around the country claim Mexico as their birthplace. Indian-born immigrants—the next largest immigrant group population—comprises 4.6 percent of the overall immigrant population. In Massachusetts, however, those hailing from China, Brazil and Portugal account for the bulk of the state’s immigrants.

Just under one million people in contemporary Massachusetts are considered immigrants. Today accounting for about one-sevent of state residents, numbers show a 27 percent growth rate among immigrants in the first decade of the century.

Immigration numbers at the turn of the previous century showed an immigrant majority. In 1900, three-quarters of state residents were immigrants.

While Massachusetts immigrants account for only 14.9 percent of the state’s overall population, the state’s immigrant-owned businesses is even higher. The Map the Impact report calls this a “small but significant difference.” The report also points $3 billion in annual immigrant-owned business income generation from 2006 through 2010.

Where science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) areas of focus are concerned, immigrants make up more than one-third of those training in the state’s public education institutions—38.7 percent. At the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), 168 patents were filed in 2011. Of these, more than two-thirds included at least one foreign investor. In 2010, MIT collected $69.2 million in patent revenue.

While Massachusetts’ immigration profile is distinct, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Massachusetts took immigration law to federal court recently. Advocating against the federal government’s “mandatory” immigration detention provision, the ACLU argued detention—not being allowed bond– “cannot apply to noncitizens who have been placed into deportation proceedings because of offenses for which they were released from custody long ago,” according to an ACLU statement.

The ruling is out of a class action lawsuit the ACLU filed in August 2013. Among the defendants were immigrants with records of minor drug offenses in years past. The ruling will apply to 100 Massachusetts immigrants every year,

Immigrant Traditions Give Rise to Tricks and Treats

October 31st, 2014 by Romona Paden

Playing dress up and soliciting candy is an immigrant tradition. More precisely, Halloween celebrations where children and adults alike don costumes, masks and makeup came to the United States out of harvest celebrations of the Celtics in Ireland and Scotland. The holiday, recognized and celebrated by folks of all backgrounds, is now less about ghosts and ghouls and more about fun and fantasy.

Originally celebrated by the Scottish and Irish, Halloween has beginnings going back to the Celts. The October 31 celebration was intended to mark the end of harvest and the onset of winter. Folk lore said it was a day when the dead returned to the earth. The costuming part of the tradition was intended as a disguise—a way to hide from the wrath of spirits.

Halloween recognition in the United States dates back to the mid- to late-1800s. At the time, Irish immigration to the United States was extremely heavy as the potato famine in the country left a starving population. Making the journey to the United States—the Land of Plenty—meant the tradition could rid itself of ghostly fear and become much more celebratory.  In this way, Halloween became a way to build community and to develop neighborhood bonding.

With a central theme of fun, safety is an important aspect. Some basic rules to observe:

  • Swords, knives or other such items used in costumes should be soft and flexible.
  • Trick or treaters should make their rounds in groups and always with a responsible adult.
  • Use reflective tape in costumes to give visibility in nighttime hours. It’s also a good idea to use a flashlight.
  • Stay on the sidewalk when making the tick-or-treating rounds—and look both ways when crossing the street, of course.
  • Only eat candy that’s factory wrapped. Homemade treats given by strangers should be tossed into the garbage.
  • Don’t eat all the candy all at once to avoid a sugar overdose.

As the fun and festivities get underway, it’s only appropriate to remember immigrants brought us the frolic of the day.

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