Coalition Letter to Sect. Napolitano RE: Immigration Directive

February 23, 2009

Janet Napolitano
Secretary of Homeland Security
Office of the Secretary, Department of Homeland Security
Washington, D.C. 20528

Dear Secretary Napolitano:

We write to thank you for your recent directive requesting information from components within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) regarding several key programs related to immigration enforcement, border security and benefits adjudication. The undersigned organizations welcome your attention to the important issues identified in your directive, your intention to evaluate the success of each program, and your willingness to consider suggestions for reform or restructuring where needed. We appreciate your statement in the directive recognizing that America is a nation of immigrants and agree that it is the Department’s responsibility to manage the borders in a way that furthers this heritage, promoting legal immigration and commerce while protecting the nation and upholding the rule of law.

The undersigned organizations represent an informal coalition of legal aid providers, immigrant and refugee rights organizations, research institutions, legal experts, and other non-governmental associations from across the nation who contributed to the recommendations contained in the attached report that was developed in response to your directive. We believe that addressing these issues and implementing cost-effective reforms early in the new Administration will further the fair and efficient functioning of our immigration system and build support for more systemic reforms.

We urge you to consider the following key priorities as part of your review:

  • Prosecutorial Discretion: We welcomed comments you made during your Senate confirmation hearing indicating your intention to focus on immigration enforcement programs that target serious criminal activity and egregious employer fraud rather than relying upon indiscriminate sweeps and collateral arrests. The Department should issue memoranda that renew DHS’s commitment to the broad use of prosecutorial discretion. Such memoranda should favor the use of effective, targeted enforcement that ensures due process rights are respected, hard-working individuals are not swept up in overly zealous enforcement actions, and legal immigration is facilitated and encouraged.
  • Interior Enforcement: We support your stated goal to focus enforcement efforts on egregious employers, traffickers, smugglers and those who have committed serious crimes. However, we are very concerned that programs such as Secure Communities, ICE ACCESS, INA 287(g), Fugitive Operations and large-scale worksite enforcement actions have too often diverged from that goal. These programs have frequently become tools for netting as many undocumented individuals as possible, sometimes through the use of racial profiling, without regard for the seriousness of any one individual’s offense, the person’s relationship to the community, and potential for immigration relief or other equities. Transformed from highly targeted initiatives into blunt enforcement instruments, these programs have mistakenly swept up vulnerable populations, U.S. citizens and other lawfully present individuals into their wide net.

The new administration must take back the reins of immigration enforcement, clarify the role of state and local agencies in enforcement activities, review existing INA 287(g) agreements with state and local law enforcement, and evaluate the impact of continuing such measures. DHS should terminate any specific programs that cannot ensure protection of appropriate due process rights. We also ask that you review current oversight mechanisms to guarantee these protections are meaningful.

  • Detention: To avoid wasteful spending, preempt costly litigation, and guarantee community safety, detention should be used only when necessary and in the least restrictive setting required to ensure community safety. Vulnerable populations such as asylum seekers, crime victims, families, children, single parents, pregnant women, and the seriously ill should not be detained. DHS should create a continuum of options open to all individuals that utilize different types of alternatives and release programs based upon an individualized case assessment. To ensure detainees are treated humanely, the Department should codify improved detention standards through notice and comment rulemaking.
  • Border: Our nation’s border strategy, including the construction of fences on the Southern border and the use of the National Guard, should be revisited with input and collaboration from border communities, environmental groups and other stakeholders.
  • E-Verify and SSA No Match: The Administration should halt any major expansion of the existing E-Verify program until it undertakes a comprehensive analysis of current and potential problems, and it should consider a number of important modifications to ensure that the program accomplishes its goals. In the absence of comprehensive immigration reform, any plan to make E-Verify mandatory, or to implement the currently enjoined SSA no-match regulation, will result in severe economic destabilization and dislocation to the community.
  • Naturalization, Family, Employment-Based and Nonimmigrant Administrative Backlogs: We are grateful that you have identified a number of areas of concern with respect to backlogs in the processing of applications for immigration benefits. USCIS should be given the resources necessary to ensure family, naturalization and other applications are processed in a timely and effective manner and effectively track and quantify pending petitions.

We stand ready and willing to work with you to reform our nation’s immigration system. We would be pleased to provide additional information or recommendations regarding current programs and operations of the Department. We hope to continue this dialogue with you and your staff as you review current programs and evaluate possible reforms. We believe the DHS/NGO Enforcement Working Group and other liaison relationships with DHS are important avenues to enhance collaboration between the Department and communities across the country and we look forward to working with you through these mechanisms. Thank you for your consideration.

National Organizations:
The Advocates for Human Rights
American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee
American Civil Liberties Union
American Immigration Law Foundation
America’s Voice
American Immigration Lawyers Association
Arab American Institute
Asian American Justice Center
Breakthrough: building human rights culture
Center for National Security Studies
Church World Service, Immigration and Refugee Program
Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles
The Episcopal Church
The Fair Immigration Reform Movement, a project of the Center for Community Change
Friends Committee on National Legislation
Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society
Immigration Equality
Immigrant Legal Resource Center
Immigration Policy Center
Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service
Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund
National Council of La Raza
National Immigration Forum
National Immigration Law Center
National Immigrant Justice Center
National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild
National Korean American Service & Education Consortium
National Network for Arab American Communities
OCA – Embracing the Hopes and Aspirations of Asian Pacific Americans
Prison Legal News
Rights Working Group
Service Employees International Union
Sisters of Mercy of the Americas
South Asian Americans Leading Together
UNITE HERE International Union
Women’s Refugee Commission

Regional, State and Local Organizations:
American Gateways, Austin, Texas
Asian Pacific American Community Support and Service Association, Portland, Oregon
Border Action Network, Tucson, Arizona
Border Network for Human Rights, El Paso, Texas/ Southern New Mexico
CASA de Maryland, Inc.
Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights Coalition.
Centro Mujeres de la Esperanza, El Paso, Texas
Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition
Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center, Miami, Florida
Hudson Perinatal Consortium, Inc., Jersey City, New Jersey
Idaho Community Action Network
Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, Chicago Illinois
Make the Road, New York
Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition
Michigan Organizing Project, Kalamazoo, Michigan
Nebraska Appleseed Center for Law in the Public Interest, Lincoln, Nebraska
New Jersey Immigration Policy Network
New York Immigration Coalition
Northwest Federation of Community Organizations
OneAmerica, Seattle, Washington
Political Asylum/Immigration Representation Project, Boston, Massachusetts
Public Counsel, Los Angeles, California
The Riverside Church Sojourners Immigration Detention Visitor Project, New York
Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network
Rocky Mountain Survivors Center, Denver, Colorado
Tennessee Immigrant & Refugee Rights Coalition