The Erosion of Immigrant Rights

by Katherine Fennelly, Professor
Humphrey H. Institute of Public Affairs
University of Minnesota
IHRC Affiliate

The rights of immigrants –both authorized and unauthorized—have steadily eroded as the result of actions and policies of the US Department of Homeland Security.

Unauthorized immigrants
In the absence of meaningful immigration reform the Bush Administration has recently begun selectively targeting unauthorized immigrants (individuals without legal visas). The Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has described “Operation Return to Sender? as a program to arrest individuals who have missed deportation hearings or returned to the US after having been deported, but many of those arrested in well-publicized raids do not fit this profile. Instead, some appear to have been randomly selected on the basis of their appearance. The example of Joel Baltazar Reyes was cited in an article in the San Bernadino Reporter. He was walking down a street in Pomona, California when he was stopped and asked if he had immigration documents. Because he had no papers, he was arrested and deported to Mexico the following day. Furthermore, among those individuals detained, and later released in raids on Swift meat processing plants several weeks ago were permanent residents and citizens who ‘looked Latino’.

Permanent residents applying for citizenship:
Since 9/11 security checks have greatly increased the processing delay for individuals applying for permanent residence status and for US citizenship. This week the Minneapolis Star Tribune described the plight of one such applicant, Ragab Sadek. In July of 2005 Mr. Sadek received a letter from the government saying "Congratulations. Your application has been recommended for approval.? Two years later his application remains ensnarled in a backlog, with no indication of when it will end.

To make matters worse for would-be citizens, ICE has issued a proposal to increase fees for naturalization applications by 80%, from $330 to $595. An editorial in the New York Times described the increase thusly: “With one hand, Lady Liberty lifts her lamp beside the golden door. With the other, she roots around in an immigrant’s wallet, plucking out bills.?

Asylum Seekers
As a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights the United States accepts the right of individuals to seek asylum from persecution. However, a bipartisan federal commission warned on Wednesday that “the Bush administration, in its zeal to secure the nation’s borders and stem the tide of illegal immigrants, may be leaving asylum seekers vulnerable to deportation and harsh treatment.? The commission cited a number of instances in which asylum seekers were treated like common criminals, jailed for long periods of time, and even deported.

The Future
There are indications that urgently needed immigration reform is in the offing. This week Senator Mel Martinez, chairman of the Republican National Committee urged Congress to pass guest worker legislation with provisions for an earned ‘path to citizenship.’ President Bush has vowed to work with the Democratic majority in Congress to pass legislation that includes these changes. However, immigrant advocates caution that issues of administrative delays, backlogs and preservation of the rights of refugees and asylum seekers must also be part of the reform package.


Katherine Fennelly is Professor of Public Affairs at the Hubert H.
Humphrey Institute, University of Minnesota, and the 2006-2007
Fesler-Lampfer Chair in Urban and Regional Affairs. Her research,
teaching and outreach interests include immigration and public policy,
leadership in the public sector, the human rights of immigrants and
refugees in the United States, and the preparedness of communities and
public institutions to adapt to demographic changes. Recent projects and
publications focus on the determinants of attitudes toward immigrants
and their successful integration into US communities.

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Dan Ott published on February 9, 2007 4:50 PM.

More Than a War of Words: Playing Political Football with Immigration was the previous entry in this blog.

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