Michelle Brané Wins Key Award for Outstanding Achievement in Immigration Law

By Stacy Martin, LIRS Vice President for Mission Advancement

We’re excited that Michelle Brané, a powerful advocate for the rights of detained migrants and the Director of the Detention and Asylum program at the Women’s Refugee Commission, has been named the winner of the eleventh annual Daniel Levy Memorial Award for Outstanding Achievement in Immigration Law.

Brané, who  will receive the honor on June 13 at the annual American Immigration Lawyers Association Conference in Nashville, has been a wonderful partner in promoting alternatives to detention. She advanced the LIRS mission as Director of our Access to Justice unit. We’re also grateful to her for co-chairing Detention Watch Network’s Alternatives to Detention action team, and for providing input to LIRS and Presbyterian Church USA as we’ve developed our new Community Support Network.

Congratulations, Michelle, and thank you for your tireless work!

Image credit: Women’s Refugee Commission

Alabama Misses Opportunity to Abandon Punitive Immigration Law

Alabama H.B. 56 is considered the most punitive state immigration law in the nation.After signing into law HB 56, the toughest state immigration enforcement law, Alabama had an opportunity to respond to the concerns of the faith community, civil rights groups, business leaders, and the agricultural sector  by abandoning it. However, instead of scrapping the punitive law, last week Governor Bentley signed into law a bill that made only minor tweaks to HB 56.

As originally passed in June 2011, HB 56 imposes significant restrictions on undocumented immigrants in Alabama. Like Arizona’s SB 1070 , which the Department of Justice believes is unconstitutional, HB 56 requires law enforcement to determine a person’s immigration status when they have reasonable suspicion that a person is present in the United States illegally. Alabama’s 2011 law goes a number of steps further and mandates public school officials to report on the immigration status of their students, It also prohibits the state from entering into any contracts with undocumented immigrants.

Amid the backlash from Alabamians, state legislators decided to amend the law. Rather than remove some of the most harmful provisions of the bill, the new law clarifies the kind of documents that are forms of official identification, reduces the penalties subcontractors face for unknowingly hiring undocumented workers, and exempts religious leaders from punishment for aiding undocumented immigrants.

During the process of amending HB 56, Alabama Governor Bentley expressed two concerns:

  • He wanted the legislature to revise the provision in HB 56 that requires school officials to report on the immigration status of enrolling students.
  • He asked the legislature to revise the provision in the draft bill that would require the state to create a database with the names of undocumented immigrants detained by law enforcement, the names of the judges who presided over the case, and the result of the court case.

The state legislature ignored Governor Bentley’s concerns and sent legislation to his desk for his signature. Instead of rejecting the bill and sending the bill back for further revisions, the governor signed the new bill into law.

When we learned that Alabama would be reforming HB 56, LIRS was pleased, because we have been raising concerns about this law since it passed in June 2011. However, these new changes simply do not go far enough. In fact, the new law now requires a database  that will intimidate local judges and instill even more fear in the immigrant community.

Alabama’s punitive immigration laws should be repealed. Visit LIRS’s Action Center to fight for fair and humane federal immigration reform and speak up against harsh state anti-immigrant legislation!

Join LIRS in Opposing Restrictions to the Child Tax Credit!

Two weeks ago, as part of sweeping legislation to cut the federal deficit, the House of Representatives passed a budget reconciliation bill that would eliminate the Child Tax Credit for many low-income immigrant families. The measure passed by a vote of 218-199.

Created in 19998, the Child Tax Credit  program alleviates the financial burden that many low-income families face in raising their children and making ends meet. Because it was meant to help all low-income children, regardless of the immigration status of their parents, the tax credit is accessible to families who pay their income taxes through the use of an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN), an alternative means of paying taxes without a Social Security number.

The importance of the Child Tax Credit cannot be overstated. In 2009, this credit kept 2.3 million individuals, including 1.3 million children, from feeling the depths of poverty. U.S. citizen children from low-income families and whose parents are undocumented immigrants have been able to benefit from the program.

While the act of making up costs by taking money from low-income households seems like a flawed solution, it makes even less sense when considering that ITIN filers have paid more than $7 billion in taxes. Much of that total will go towards Social Security and Medicare, programs from that immigrants benefit from.

Luckily, the Senate does not plan to take up the House budget measure.

However, last week Senator Rubio (R-FL) introduced legislation that would cut the refundable portion of the Child Tax Credit for individuals who filed without a Social Security number. In essence, the bill would target U.S. citizen children for the faults of their parents.

Please join LIRS in opposing restrictions to the Child Tax Credit. Visit the LIRS Action Center today to write your members of Congress!

New York Times Cites Letter Authored by LIRS Opposing Flawed VAWA Bill, H.R. 4970

The New York Times last week published part of a letter written by LIRS advocacy staff and circulated among faith leaders to oppose a badly flawed version of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), H.R. 4970.

Despite broad opposition, by a 222-205 vote, the House last Wednesday passed H.R. 4970, renewing VAWA for five years but leaving out crucial protections for vulnerable immigrants included in the Senate version of the bill.

Robert Pear’s May 16 article, “House Vote Sets Up Battle on Domestic Violence Bill,” has this to say about the letter, which was addressed to House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH-8) and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA-8):

“Leaders of 31 religious groups, including the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the National Association of Evangelicals and the Episcopal Church, opposed immigration provisions of the House bill.

These provisions ‘would actually roll back protections in current law for battered noncitizens, making them more vulnerable and, in some cases, endangering their lives,’ the groups said in a letter to House leaders.”

LIRS raised deep concerns about H.R. 4970 not only through the letter, but also on this blog and in other media outlets, from Sojourners to RH Reality Check to La Opinion. As one indication that these concerns were heard, Pelosi mentioned LIRS by name on the House floor as H.R. 4970 was discussed.

Thank you to everyone who contacted their Members of Congress to speak up about H.R. 4970. Please continue to follow this blog as we zero in on next steps in the fight to protect immigrant victims of violence in the VAWA reauthorization and other crucial votes!  

Update on the Supreme Court and Arizona’s SB 1070 Law

On April 25, 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Arizona v. U.S., the case questioning the constitutionality of Arizona’s SB 1070 law.

If you’re following the news, you probably already know that SB 1070 requires police officers to find out a person’s immigration status when there is reasonable suspicion the person is undocumented. It also requires immigrants to carry documentation, makes it illegal for undocumented workers to live or look for work in Arizona, and makes it a crime for people to knowingly hire, keep safe, or transport undocumented workers.

Since the passage of SB 1070 in early 2010, Lutheran leaders, advocates, and politicians have voiced fierce opposition to it. The Washington Post and Sojourners have published commentary on the case by the senior staff of LIRS, which joined in the many amicus briefs filed in connection with SB 1070. Meanwhile, Arizona has seen a detrimental effect on its economy, and its reputation has taken a big hit.

The Supreme Court’s decision is not expected until late June 2012. This ruling is critical because it will have ramifications not only for Arizona, but also for other states that have passed anti-immigration laws, as well as still others that may proceed based on the Court’s opinion. For example, lower court judges have at least partially blocked state immigration laws from being implemented in Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina, and Utah. Many of these judges have chosen to postpone their ultimate decision on such cases until they receive guidance from the Supreme Court.

As you can see, the Supreme Court’s decision will play a huge role in shaping the field of immigration law for years to come.  Stay tuned to the LIRS blog for further updates on the fate of SB 1070, and to learn how you can help fight unjust state-level anti-immigrant laws!

VAWA Bill Passes Despite Broad Opposition; Pelosi Cites LIRS Concerns on House Floor

The House of Representatives on Wednesday turned its back on a bipartisan, Senate-passed version of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). Instead, by a 222-205 vote, lawmakers passed a five-year renewal  of VAWA known as H.R. 4970.

LIRS sounded the alarm about H.R. 4970 several times on this blog and in other media outlets, from Sojourners to RH Reality Check to La Opinion. We raised multiple concerns about H.R. 4970 provisions that deny vulnerable immigrants many of the very protections first created by VAWA, and even help perpetrate the abuse from which they are seeking to escape. These concerns also prompted LIRS and a broad cross-section of other faith leaders and organizations to send a strongly worded letter to House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH-8) and Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA-8).

We also asked you, our readers, to register your concerns about H.R. 4970 with your Members of Congress. While we didn’t prevail in this vote, we’re grateful for the critical support that you gave to the  205 Democrat and Republican Representatives who had the courage to vote against H.R. 4970.

Were your voices heard? Emphatically, “Yes.” On the floor of the House of Representatives, no less. Check out this video (around 4:00) of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.  She mentions the concerns of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service, citing LIRS by name.  Top lawmakers like Congresswoman Pelosi are unlikely to make such statements unless they hear – loud and clear – from constituents.

Once again, thank you for making your voices heard! While we did not win this round, we know that a commitment to Stand for Welcome can mean unflagging efforts. We also know that the immigrant and refugee families we struggle to protect are the last to give up, and the first to benefit from your strong support.

Please stay tuned as we hone in on next steps in the fight to protect immigrant victims of violence in the VAWA reauthorization and other crucial votes!  If you haven’t already, please subscribe to this blog to get alerts delivered to your mailbox. That way, you’ll get important updates in time to raise your voice before the next critical vote.

LIRS Concerns About VAWA Earn La Opinion Coverage

La Opinion yesterday quoted LIRS Director for Advocacy Eric B. Sigmon in an excellent article on this week’s vote on the deeply flawed version of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), H.R. 4970.

Antonieta Cádiz’s May 15 piece “Congreso busca modificar beneficios para víctimas de abuso” (Congress Seeks to Modify Benefits for Victims of Abuse) quotes Sigmon as saying:

“La versión de VAWA en la Cámara e Representantes debilitará protecciones y desincentivará a las víctimas de ayudar a la policía en la investigación y la persecución de delitos.”

“The House’s Violence Against Women Act legislation would weaken protections in current law for battered immigrants and deter them from assisting law enforcement in the investigation and prosecution of crimes.”

La Opinion’s piece also covered the letter on VAWA sent to the House Judiciary Committee by LIRS and a broad cross-section of other faith leaders and organizations. The letter registers serious concerns about H.R. 4970’s immigration provisions.

We appreciate La Opinion‘s coverage of this critical issue, and we ask that everyone who Stands for Welcome to raise concerns about H.R. 4970 with Member of Congress by visiting the LIRS Action Center.

Linda Hartke Writes at Sojourners: ‘Violence Against Women Act Faces Congressional Threat’

“Some victims, it seems, are more worthy than other victims. This is the clear message sent by a deeply flawed version of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) that is headed for a vote in the U.S. House of Representatives.”

Writing at Sojourners‘ blog, God’s Politics, LIRS President Linda Hartke raises strong concerns about H.R. 4970, which would deny vulnerable immigrants “many of the very protections first created by VAWA, and even help perpetrate the abuse from which they are seeking to escape.”

Hartke notes that the bill’s provisions “would deter victims from cooperating with law enforcement and hold victims of abuse to a higher standard than other applicants for immigration benefits.” Her piece, “Violence Against Women Act Faces Congressional Threat,” calls on Members of Congress to “show greater wisdom” as they move towards a vote this week.

It’s crucial that Congress continue to hear from concerned constituents that the immigration provisions of H.R. 4970 are unacceptable. Please add your voice at the LIRS Action Center and encourage friends and family to do the same!

 

Eric B. Sigmon Writes at RH Reality Check: ‘H.R. 4970 Would Leave Immigrants More Vulnerable—and in Some Cases—Endanger Their Lives’

The U.S. House of Representatives this week votes on a version of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), H.R. 4970, that would roll back provisions in the law that protect battered immigrant women and men.

In commentary posted on RH Reality Check, Eric B. Sigmon, LIRS Director for Advocacy, writes:

“The House of Representatives should take a deep breath, change course, and revise its Violence Against Women Act bill to ensure that our laws continue to uphold our nation’s proud tradition of protecting vulnerable immigrant victims.”

We hope you’ll read the rest of Sigmon’s piece, “H.R. 4970 Would Leave Immigrants More Vulnerable—and in Some Cases—Endanger Their Lives,” to learn more about this critical vote.

LIRS and a broad cross-section of other faith leaders and organizations  also recently sent a letter to the House Judiciary Committee to register serious concerns about these immigration provisions.

As this vote approaches, we need your voice  to join others around the country in  letting Congress know that this version of VAWA should not pass!

 

LIRS Joins U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky in Press Event to Express Concerns About Immigration Provisions in House VAWA Bill

As part of ongoing efforts to educate Congress and the public, LIRS Director for Advocacy Eric B. Sigmon today took part in a press teleconference about the harmful immigration provisions in H.R. 4970, a version of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) introduced in the House of Representatives, that would seriously undermine protections for immigrants.

LIRS has been active in raising concerns about the immigration provisions in the bill, and helped bring together a broad cross-section of faith leaders and other organizations to sign a letter urging Congress to “preserve and improve protections for vulnerable immigrant victims.” The House of Representatives is expected to take up the VAWA measure for a vote next week.

The press teleconference, organized by the National Immigration Justice Center, included statements and Q&A with U.S. Representative Jan Schakowsky (D-IL-9); “Erika,” an immigrant mother who was able to leave her abusive husband thanks to VAWA; Rob Valente, spokesperson, National Task Force to End Sexual and Domestic Violence; Rosie Hidalgo, Director of Public Policy, Casa de Esperanza; and Mony Ruiz-Velasco, Director of Legal Services, National Immigrant Justice Center.

You can listen to an audio recording of the event by clicking here. Sigmon’s prepared statement begins at 30:19. His words are also reproduced below:

In times of crisis, victims of domestic violence, sexual assault, and other forms of violence often turn to religious institutions and faith leaders for support and moral guidance because they see places of worship as a sanctuary from the horrors they have experienced.

Through our programs and ministry with victims, we have learned that abusers often exploit a victim’s immigration status, leaving individuals extremely vulnerable and afraid to report abuse to law enforcement, assist in the prosecution of crimes, and seek services.

The Violence Against Women Act has proven an extremely effective tool in combatting the devastating crimes of domestic violence and providing lifesaving programs and services to individuals like [teleconference participant and immigrant] Erika.

Despite strong bipartisan support in the Senate earlier this year for VAWA legislation that included a handful of protections for immigrant victims, HR 4970, the House of Representatives’ version of the VAWA bill, would roll back provisions in the law that protect battered immigrant women and men.

The House bill would actually leave immigrants more vulnerable—and in some cases—endanger their lives.

To raise our deep concerns with the House bill’s immigration provisions, we partnered with a broad coalition of faith-based organizations and religious leaders, including the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the National Association of Evangelicals, the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, and the United Methodist Church, to send a letter to Congress.

If the House of Representatives were to pass H.R. 4970, it would dishonor our nation’s legacy of protecting the most vulnerable, undermine progress towards shielding victims from their abusers, and unravel nearly two decades of strong support for protecting immigrant victims of violence.

The House of Representatives should take a deep breath, change course, and revise its Violence Against Women Act bill to ensure that our laws continue to uphold our nation’s proud tradition of protecting vulnerable immigrant victims.

It’s critical that Congress hear from you that the immigration provisions of H.R. 4970 are unacceptable. Congress must pass VAWA legislation that protects immigrant survivors. Please add your voice at the LIRS Action Center and encourage friends and family to do the same!

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