Our state's official title is the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. A commonwealth, as the name suggests, is “a political community founded for the public good”. Part of ensuring that public good written into the PA State Constitution is a promise that, “the General Assembly shall provide for the maintenance and support of a thorough and efficient system of public education to serve the needs of the Commonwealth”.
In April 2017, Lehigh County State Rep Peter Schweyer (D-22) introduced HB 1042 in the PA Legislature. (The bill was co-sponsored by Berks County Rep Mark Rozzi (D-126) among others.) As is the common refrain, HB 1042 now sits wallowing in the Education Committee. Its full title is the Pennsylvania Higher Education Tuition Fairness Act. The essence of the bill is the idea that current federal and state policy is prohibitory (and one can argue discriminatory) against undocumented immigrants when it comes to access to higher education.
Wait-these people have rights? In case one was wondering, there is court precedent to for undocumented immigrants to have the right to a Free and Appropriated Public Education under Plyer v. Doe (1982). The problem is this case didn’t address tertiary education, which is one of the reasons Rep Schweyer introduced HB 1042. The following is taken directly from Schweyer’s memorandum on the bill:
Consequently, it is my belief that the competitive nature of our 21st Century economy makes it imperative that all students with the intellectual ability, desire, and motivation have access to higher education and financial aid programs. The Commonwealth’s economy and its ability to compete, both nationally and globally, is dependent on a stable and educated workforce, which is more achievable if all high school students have access to affordable higher education.
What is the thinking behind HB 1042? According to the Pew Hispanic Center, only 61% of undocumented students who arrive before age 14 enroll in institutions of higher education. But this shouldn’t be surprising given the legal, financial, and social barriers placed in their way. In fact, many of these kids aren’t even aware that they’re undocumented until they go to apply for financial aid or for in-state tuition. HB1042 seeks to remove some of those barriers, in particular the financial ones.
Who could argue the benefits of an educated populace? Twenty other states including PA neighbors like New York, New Jersey, and Maryland have already recognized this by providing some in-state tuition equity to undocumented students. HB 1042 would provide in-state tuition rates and access to the in-state financial aid system with the following requirements. The applicant must have:
PA Code 22 provides guidelines for establishing residency, but citizenship isn’t a requirement under the code for financial aid. HB 1042 would still be in line with the current school code.
Being able to afford tuition isn’t the only problem these students face. They continue to struggle with employment and accessing healthcare. And now that Trump has threatened DACA, undocumented individuals have the overriding concern about a path to citizenship. One suggestion is for campuses to be designated as “safe harbors”, where kids don’t have to fear deportation.
But education alone isn’t enough. In order to be full participants in the system these individuals need to have access to employment. There are approximately 5,900 DACA recipients in PA. Immigrants in general are already an integral part of Pennsylvania’s workforce. According to a 2015 study immigrants made up 7.6% of the labor force in PA. Former Labor Secretary Robert Reich also points out that with an aging U.S. population, immigrants are key to stabilizing Medicare and Social Security.
It’s not rocket science, and it’s not just about dollars and cents. It’s about giving everyone a seat at the table. A more educated populace with ample employment opportunities will have a positive impact overall on the fiscal health of a community, allowing everyone regardless of background to contribute and share in the “common wealth”.
posted by Amy Levengood
Prior to a 1982 Supreme Court ruling in the case of Plyler v. Doe, education laws in Texas authorized schools to withhold funds and deny enrollment to students who had not entered the U.S. legally. The Plyler in the little-known case was the superintendent of Tyler Independent School District, James Plyler, who took the law even further and directed school officials to begin charging $1000 tuition per year to undocumented students. A local lawyer was notified that children were being told they couldn’t go to school. The lawyer, in conjunction with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF), filed a suit on behalf of four families, and to make a long story short, the case went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. In a 5-4 decision the Supreme Court found for the defendants, saying the Texas law violated the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The ruling stated, "If the State is to deny a discrete group of innocent children the free public education that it offers to other children residing within its borders, that denial must be justified by a showing that it furthers some substantial state interest. No such showing was made here." Writing for the majority, Justice William Brennan described the situation as, "imposing special disabilities upon groups disfavored by virtue of circumstances beyond their control [and which] suggests the kind of 'class or caste' treatment that the Fourteenth Amendment was designed to abolish."
Thus it was fitting that on June 15th 2012, 30 years to the day of the ruling in Plyler v. Doe, President Obama, in a Rose Garden speech, announced the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA. The program was greeted immediately by criticism from Republicans, calling it an abuse of executive power. DACA was formally implemented as a policy memorandum from then Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano to several government entities, namely U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). On August 15th 2012, USCIS began accepting applications. Obama tried to expand DACA in 2014, but Texas along with 25 other states filed a suit in the District Court for the Southern District of Texas seeking to prohibit the expansion of DACA and a similar program Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA). An injunction was issued blocking the expansion, which was later upheld by the Supreme Court in United States v. Texas.
Below are general guidelines for requesting DACA status:
You may request DACA if you:
View the video below to learn more about the DACA application process.
Now it’s 2017 and there’s a new sheriff in town. As a candidate Trump announced his intention to end the DACA program, but has often sent mixed signals on the subject. Two high-profile cases in the spring saw two DACA recipients arrested and detained, leading to questions about the security of DACA under the new administration. There are also countless stories of flagrant mishandling of the law. (Click here to read about one such case.) The government grants DACA "as a promise to a person that they are protected from deportation," said the National Immigration Law Center's Josh Stehlik. "There are an increasing number of cases under the Trump administration in which ICE simply ignores DACA."
In June, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) under then Director John Kelly rescinded President Obama’s order to expand DACA and said the current program would be reviewed. And now it seems things have come full circle with Texas at the epicenter. This week officials at DHS began reviewing the status of DACA. This news along with Trump’s waffling has sparked fear in immigrant communities, particularly with the nearly 800,000 individuals who have received as part of DACA two-year, renewable work permits. Their concern is not unfounded. For one thing, former DHS secretary John Kelly (now White House Chief of Staff) has said in the past that he doesn’t think DACA would hold up to legal scrutiny. Even more significant, Attorney General Jeff Sessions when he was in the Senate had been a strong opponent of the program, which he considers to be unconstitutional. But the real pressure is coming from outside the administration. A group of conservative attorneys general from eleven states with Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton leading the charge have threatened to sue the Trump Administration if DACA is not ended by September 5th of this year. Only six Republican congressmen have expressed recent public support of DACA, and none of them are from Pennsylvania.
The original Texas court ruling back in 1982 found that the Texas law was "directed against children, and impose[d] its discriminatory burden on the basis of a legal characteristic over which children can have little control”, namely the fact of their having been brought illegally into the U. S. by their parents. These are young, hard-working people, many of whom have never called any other country but the United States home. If the program ends, these kids could again be subject to deportation. Cecilia Munoz, director of the Domestic Policy Council under President Obama said, “There is no downside to DACA. It has allowed young immigrants to flourish and contribute, both socially and in crass economic terms.” (Studies show that DACA protected immigrants contribute billions to the U.S. economy.)
“President Trump should be trying to end the injustices of the US immigration system instead of adding to them by expelling the ‘Dreamers,’” says Jasmine Tyler, U.S. advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “Congress should promptly enact legislation that would bring security to the lives of these immigrant youth.”
Let's be clear. Ending a program that could possibly lead to the deportation of over 800,000 Latinos has nothing to do with "unlawful amnesty" as many Republicans described the DACA program at its inception. It's nothing less than a clarion call to white nationalist ideologues. Let us send a message that's equally loud and clear to our representatives-Aqui estamos y no nos vamos!
posted by Amy Levengood
"Based on our observations, interviews, and document reviews, we concluded that, at all three facilities, ICE was satisfactorily addressing the inherent challenges of providing medical care and language services and ensuring the safety of families in detention."
The “facilities” referred to in the above statement from Department of Homeland Security Inspector General John Roth are the nation’s three detention centers, including the Berks County Residential Center in Leesport. After unannounced inspections were conducted in 2016 at the three centers, Roth and his team found “no risks or egregious violation of ICE's Family Residential Standards, which govern all aspects of family detention.”
Furthermore Berks County Commissioner Kevin Barnhardt said in a written statement regarding the Berks County center, "We are inspected frequently and I'm not at all surprised by the affirmation of the inspectors general." Barnhardt added, "Again, this report is an affirmation of the outstanding care provided by our county management and caseworkers. They truly care for their safety, education, nutrition and medical needs until their asylum situation is defined."
Apparently children showering with adults to whom they aren't related is neither an inherent challenge, risk, nor egregious violation in the eyes of both the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and County Commissioner Barnhardt.
Yes, you read that correctly! Until recently the washroom policy as outlined in the detention center’s handbook forced juveniles age 12 and under to shower in a communal facility with adults. I say ”until recently” because today it was reported that federal and state authorities tasked with overseeing the center have acknowledged the policy has been changed. Which begs the question-Given the glowing reviews from both DHS and one of our county commissioners, what prompted the policy change ?
The kick in the pants came from several directions. A Reading nonprofit, Aldea-The People’s Justice Center sent a letter to PA Secretary of Human Services Ted Dallas, demanding the policy change. The letter warned, "This is a powder keg, and when something happens, as it inevitably will, it will be on the hands of the leaders of the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services, which bears responsibility for caring for children in the commonwealth.” Another formal complaint was filed to ChildLine, PA’s abuse reporting center and was authored by immigration attorney, Carol Anne Donohoe. And it was actually immigrant rights groups like Reading-based Make the Road PA and Human Rights First, groups strongly opposed to family detention and which have consistently made complaints about conditions at the Berks facility, that prompted the inspections.
Even with the change in the shower policy, Adanjesus Marin of Make the Road PA contends that detention centers like the one in Berks “have long been, and remain, a disaster for immigrant communities and a national disgrace.”
"This is a facility licensed as a CHILD residential center," Donohoe wrote in her complaint. "The doors to the dormitory-style rooms cannot be locked, and only a curtain provides privacy for the bathroom inside the (detainee's) room. There is a valid reason why even prisons do not allow the co-detention of males and females in the same location. In this case, there are not only men and women but children as well, living with unknown adults of the opposite sex and forced to interact in extremely compromising conditions."
Hopefully their pleas will fall on more finely tuned ears.
Berks County Residential Center
Location: Bern Township
Population: The Berks center can hold up to 96 adults and children; it held 66 as recently as last week.
Who pays, runs it: Berks is contracted with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to staff and operate the center. The federal government reimburses the county for operational costs and pays the county about $1.1 million for an annual lease. ICE dictates the policies of the center’s operations.
The license: The center had a license issued by the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services to house children for more than 10 years. In January, the state agency said the center was not using the license in the way that it was intended. The state declined to renew the center’s license and moved to revoke its license in January. Berks County quickly appealed the action and continued to operate the center as it pursues legal avenues to retain its state license.
An administrative law judge ruled in April that the state DHS did not have grounds to revoke the license. Gov. Tom Wolf appointed Office of Children, Youth and Families Deputy Secretary Cathy Utz to review the administrative ruling.
Source: Reading Eagle
Learn what life is like for families living in the detention center. Inside ICE's Berks County Residential Center: Pennsylvania's Controversial Immigrant Family Detention Facility
posted by Amy Levengood
photo: Levy and fils
At least that’s how retired immigration judge Paul Wickham Schmidt characterized it recently while speaking at a banquet for the Pennsylvania Immigrant Resource Center (as reported by Rick Lee of the York Daily Redcord). He further added the U.S. immigration court system is “on the verge of collapse”. Continuing with the locomotive metaphor, Schmidt described the court system as “an express train running full throttle into an earlier train wreck and no attempt has been made to clear the track”. He blames the impending disaster on a lethal collision of a mushrooming case backlog, a shortage of judges, a scarcity of defense attorneys, and cuts to legal advocacy groups for immigrants. Meanwhile, the Trump administration has exacerbated the problem by expanding efforts to detain more immigrants, and the Department of Homeland Security has been moving funds toward victims of crimes committed by illegal immigrants and away from legal aid to the undocumented.
Unfortunately amidst the wreckage the first casualty is due process, the right guaranteed by the Constitution regardless of citizenship to fair treatment in the judicial system.
Schmidt detailed the problem facing immigration courts:
Schmidt added further:
Schmidt, who helped establish the mission and vision of the immigration court in the 1990s, argued that the court was never designed to handle so many cases. Furthermore, some detainees are being held as long as eight years as their cases are scheduled and rescheduled. One reason for the backlog is that the cases are becoming more complicated. Judge Schmidt said that “immigration law is so complicated that even its practitioners have trouble navigating it”. And because immigration court is a civil court, there is no right to a court-appointed counsel. Defendants are essentially on their own. "Asking people (detainees) to represent themselves on their own time and their own dime doesn't exactly make it user friendly," Schmidt said. "The system doesn't bend over backward to seek representation for them."
In York County, where the banquet took place, approximately half of the ICE detainees have legal counsel. Judge Schmidt says the Pennsylvania Immigration Resource Center is to thank for that level of representation. He added, "Virtually all forms of funding for outreach efforts to migrants are likely to disappear in the very near future. Those who care about helping others will have to make up the deficit."
Click here to read more about the Pennsylvania Immigrant Resource Center.
Click here to read more about Judge Paul Wickham Schmidt.
posted by Amy Levengood
A familiar chant heard at many rallies goes something like this:
are welcome here!
Unless you’re in Texas where Governor Abbott on Sunday, in an unannounced appearance on Facebook Live, signed into law SB 4, essentially banning sanctuary cities in the state. According to a spokesperson, Abbott used the Facebook Live platform to reach a wider audience. His critics, however, decry the move as a “cowardly” way to enact an unpopular and controversial law, a law which is opposed by the majority of police chiefs in Texas.
SB 4 goes in to effect on September 1st. The legislation would penalize law enforcement officials, including campus police, who refuse to cooperate with federal authorities in detaining undocumented immigrants. Under the law, officials are authorized to inquire about an individual’s immigration status during any type of detention, even routine traffic stops. Refusal to comply could result in a $4,000 fine and/or up to a year in prison. Exorbitant civil penalties and removal from office could also apply.
Today, in response, the ACLU issued a travel advisory for Texans and for all people travelling through Texas. "Traveling to Texas may result in violation of constitutional rights." The goal is to protect all people from "illegal harassment by law enforcement". “We plan to fight this racist and wrongheaded law in the courts and in the streets. Until we defeat it, everyone traveling in or to Texas needs to be aware of what’s in store for them,” said Terri Burke, executive director of the ACLU of Texas. “The Lone Star State will become a ‘show me your papers’ state, where every interaction with law enforcement can become a citizenship interrogation and potentially an illegal arrest.”
Click here to read Senate Bill No. 4 (SB4) in its entirety.
posted by Amy Levengood
Berks County Commissioners (from left) Kevin Barnhardt, Mark Scott, Christian Leinbach photo via mediatrackers
In a March 16th post in this blog, I discussed Berks County Sheriff Eric Weaknecht’s plan to apply to the 287(g) program which would train local law enforcement officers to assist Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents. However, in a meeting this past Thursday, County Commissioner Christian Leinbach essentially asked, “What's the deal?” Leinbach has questions regarding part of the 287(g) program which allows officers to place detainers on individuals found to be undocumented but not charged with other crimes that warrant holding in order for those individuals to be picked up by ICE agents. Commissioner Leinbach says he will not sign off on the plan until he gets answers to those questions in a meeting he’s attending this week in Washington. The main concern appears to revolve around the legality of the detainer and several court rulings that have upheld that the detainer is “a request, not an order”. Leinbach cited the National Association of Counties (NACo) which said "detainers do not have the force of law behind them" and noted that other counties have been sued for acting on the detainers. Leinbach’s fellow commissioners have already weighed in on the issue. Mark Scott is in favor of joining the 287(g) program, saying that illegal immigrants are a burden on human services in the county, including the Reading School District. Kevin Barnhardt is opposed to the measure. Even Sheriff Weaknecht has begun to "reshuffle" as more information on the program is presented. He now says that he wants the ICE-trained officers working only in central processing and that Commissioner Leinbach’s concerns have caused him to “put his plan on hold”. Looks like Christian Leinbach will be holding all the cards.
Read more on this issue: Berks commissioner addresses ICE initiative by Dawn Wivell
and Berks County sheriff's plan to work with federal immigration officials is on hold by Dan Kelly
posted by Amy Levengood
Kay Kyungsun Yu
In a time when we’re being bombarded by anti-immigration proposals from the White House, such as Executive Orders 13767, 13768, and 13769 (border security measures and the travel ban) and the six bills proposed in the Pennsylvania Legislature by Rep. Daryl Metcalfe including SB10 which would defund “sanctuary cities”, it’s important to stop for a moment and put a human face to the immigration debate. Meet Kay Kyungsun Yu, a Philadelphia attorney who leads the Litigation and Employment & Labor Groups of Ahmad Zaffarese LLC, former Chairperson under Mayor Nutter of the Philadelphia Commission on Human Relations (the local agency charged with authority to enforce the City’s civil rights and anti-discrimination laws), marathon runner, and Korean immigrant.
In a recent article, America Must Reconsider Its Immigration Policy With Compassion, Yu urges our legislators “to consider immigrants and refugees with humanity and compassion in setting policy”. Read Ms. Yu’s article here.
posted by Amy Levengood
photo courtesy of Nick Youngson
Recent Executive Orders by the new administration have struck fear in the hearts of many immigrant families and the people who share their communities. Nowhere is this more apparent than in jurisdictions known as sanctuary cities, which the executive order declares "have caused immeasurable harm to the American people and to the very fabric of the Republic". Fear is a great motivator, but how much of this harsh rhetoric is actually based in fact? Criminal defense attorney Toni Messina says contrary to statements by the new administration and its supporters, serious offenders are not being released back into communities. What is actually happening is that at the end of their sentences they are being picked up by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and not being sheltered in sanctuary cities. Messina says, "sanctuary jurisdictions are wiling to comply with ICE detainers just not at the point where the person has merely been arrested and not convicted".
So what rights do such individuals have in the U.S.? Whether they are citizens or not, all people have the right to due process in criminal court as outlined in the Constitution. If an immigrant is arrested rights include:
posted by Amy Levengood
photo via @PuraPapua
As U.S. population growth stagnates and Baby Boomers begin to age out of the workplace (sorry Mom and Dad) the country will be dependent on immigrants to maintain the workforce. Without an influx of young workers, the dependency ratio (number of non workers to number of workers) threatens to rise. The new administration's vow to clamp down on immigration and restrict H1B visas for skilled workers would have one sector of the economy in particular feeling the pinch-the tech industry. "The U.S. tech industry is utterly dependent upon foreigners, not only for workers, but for ideas and entrepreneurship," writes MarketWatch columnist Rex Nutting. Some of Silicon Valley's biggest names (Google, Apple, Tesla) were founded by immigrants. A Pew Research Center study projects that although they will remain a minority in terms of overall individuals in the workforce, "immigrants will play the primary role in the future growth of the working-age population". According to the study, barring the arrival of new immigrants, the working-age population in the U.S. would decline to a projected 166 million by 2035 from a recorded rate of 173 million in 2015. This "demographic time bomb" would have dire economic consequences for future generations who will struggle with labor shortages, a shrinking tax base, higher healthcare costs, and with keeping social services solvent. Immigrants may be the only way to defuse this device.
Posted by Amy Levengood
Border fence between U.S. and Mexico. (Photo: BBC World Service)
Confronting illegal immigration seems to be a top priority of the president's proposed budget. While talk of deep cuts to environmental and social programs swirls, the blueprint released yesterday includes billions of dollars of spending to crackdown on illegal immigration. One of the largest allotments, a $2.6 billion down payment, would go toward fulfilling the president's key campaign promise of building a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico.
Items in the proposed budget include: