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ADL’s Testimony on Immigration Reform for Senate Judiciary Committee

We commend Chairman Leahy and the Members of the Senate Judiciary Committee for convening today’s hearings to advance urgently needed reform of America’s immigration system.  The current system fails more than just immigrant communities, or families torn apart by visa backlogs, or undocumented students.  It fails all communities, all families and all children who deserve a future that embraces diversity and equal access to the American dream.

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has advocated for fair and humane immigration policies since its founding in 1913.  ADL has helped expose anti-immigrant hate that has been a fixture of the current immigration debate, and has called for a responsible public debate that will honor America’s history as a nation of immigrants.

We write to provide the Committee with perspectives in areas in which ADL’s expertise and experience give us a particular stake: the need to create a pathway to citizenship for people contributing to American society, eliminate immigration enforcement responsibilities from local law enforcement, remove anti-immigrant rhetoric from the debate, and ensure that reform efforts will reflect our values as a nation of immigrants.

Immigration Reform Must Provide a Real Path to Citizenship

ADL welcomes Administration and bipartisan Congressional support for reform that includes earned legalization with a path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants already living in the United States. 

Congress must reject any measure that would create an underclass of Americans by denying immigrants a path to real citizenship.  Americans support a pathway to earned citizenship for their neighbors who want nothing more than to come out of the shadows, to contribute to society, and to follow the rules without fear of deportation and separation from their loved ones.  In January, a bipartisan poll sponsored by Service Employees International Union, America’s Voice Education Fund, and National Immigration Forum found that 77 percent of voters polled support an immigration reform plan that includes a path to citizenship.

This pathway to citizenship should not be contingent on a trigger, which could delay indefinitely the citizenship process and leave millions of people in limbo.  America’s immigration debate has seen proposals in different forms to deny citizenship to immigrants or their children.  Since the adoption of the 14th Amendment in 1868, all persons born in the United States have been citizens of the United States.  Altering the 14th Amendment’s citizenship guarantee or creating a form of sub-citizen legal status for certain immigrants would represent the first time since the Civil War era that America would deny full citizenship rights to a minority group.

As a nation of immigrants, all of us once sought to become part of the American fabric. We urge Congress to create a pathway to full citizenship for immigrants who are contributing to American society, allowing them also to take part in the American Dream.

Immigration Reform Must Restore Immigration Enforcement to the Federal Government

As one of the leading nongovernmental organizations in the United States that trains law enforcement officials on hate crimes and extremism, and collaborates with law enforcement on   combatting hate crimes, ADL knows well the value of strong police-community partnerships.   Establishing and maintaining trust between law enforcement and immigrant communities, who are particularly vulnerable to hate crimes, is of paramount importance.  Empowering local police to be involved in Federal immigration enforcement undermines that trust and forces communities underground in a way that adversely impacts both police and the communities they aim to serve and protect.

In the absence of comprehensive immigration reform states have passed laws that compel local law enforcement to act as immigration enforcement agents.  For example, state laws that require local law enforcement to check immigration status, commonly known as “papers please” provisions, drive a wedge between law enforcement and immigrant communities. These statutes deter undocumented immigrants (and citizens or in-status immigrants who have family members who are undocumented) not only from calling the  police when they become the victim of a crime, but also from coming forward as witnesses to crimes committed against others.  And Hispanics or Latinos, who are citizens or in-status, fear unjustified stops or arrests resulting from bias-based policing. When immigrant communities start to fear local law enforcement rather than to trust them, society in general becomes less safe.  If well-ordered liberty means anything, it must mean that all persons should be afforded access to police protection if they become victims of crimes.

Congress Must Act to Protect the Safety and Security of Minority Communities

Hate crimes statistics from Arizona provide insight into the impact that “papers please” state provisions may have on immigrants, their families, and minority communities more generally.   In 2009, before Arizona passed SB 1070, an anti-immigrant bill that included a “papers please provision,” Arizona law enforcement officials reported 219 hate crimes to the FBI.  Of those, nineteen percent were categorized as motivated by ethnicity, which includes Hispanic origin.  The following year, after the passage of SB 1070, the number of hate crimes in Arizona rose by 7.7 percent.  In contrast, the number of reported hate crimes motivated by ethnicity fell by 4.5 percent.  Even though a federal court had enjoined SB 1070 at that time, the reporting of hate crimes targeted at Hispanics dropped.  There is no proven correlation, but one could reasonably infer that even the specter of the law deterred Hispanics from reporting hate crimes. 

A recent study of Hispanic voters bolsters that conclusion.  In the study, 68 percent of Hispanics said that the “papers please” provision would make Hispanics less likely to report a crime or to cooperate with police investigations.  These laws threaten to create an underclass of people who do not have open access to police protection if they become victims of a crime.  If Hispanics do not feel they can trust the police, they become uniquely vulnerable to further attacks because they have little legal recourse.

United States history demonstrates all too well the blight on society when certain minority groups feel they cannot trust law enforcement.  During the Jim Crow era, African-Americans often refrained from calling the police.  While these immigration laws are quite distinct from that era, a similar possibility of dividing society and rendering law enforcement protection inaccessible to some groups looms large.

As a result of ADL’s very broad work with law enforcement officials combatting extremism and terrorism, fighting bias crime and discrimination, and training on core values, we have developed a deep appreciation of the professionalism, commitment, and integrity that the vast majority of the members of this profession bring to their work every day.  Effective law enforcement is important to everyone.  Policies that divide communities, inflame fear, foster mistrust and violate human rights undermine both our nation’s core values and our security.

Law enforcement does not work in a vacuum.  Officers cannot do their job without community relationships, trust, cooperation, and a shared sense of responsibility for public safety.  We encourage Members of Congress to take positive steps forward to promote trust, reject unfair stereotyping, and introduce comprehensive immigration reform that will return immigration enforcement to the hands of federal agents, rather than local law enforcement. 

Anti-Immigrant Bigotry Should Have No Place in the Public Debate

ADL is particularly mindful of the role that anti-immigrant rhetoric has played in letting fear hinder progress toward sound policy solutions. We understand that the policies adopted in the halls of government — and the words used in the debate, whether on the floors of Congress or on the nightly news —directly impact our ability to sustain a society that ensures dignity and equality for all. The climate of bias and hostility against immigrants that pervades the immigration debate hurts our country and stands in the way of the kind of reform Americans desperately seek to fix the broken immigration system. 

Americans have been moved by the activism of immigrants marching proudly under the banner “We are America,” and welcome immigrants’ desire to take part in making a contribution to this country. They recognize that immigrants reflect the diversity that makes America unique. But others are swayed by fear and the hate-mongering that has been a fixture of the public debate about immigration reform in the media and on the Internet. Our own experience in the Jewish community has taught us that, when a society begins to distinguish one group as less deserving of rights than others, discrimination, exploitation, and worse can follow. ADL has issued a series of reports over the last decade exposing extremist forces in our society today that capitalize on the immigration debate to advance their agenda of hate and bigotry.  White supremacists have also tried to exploit the issue of immigration to promote their racist views. 

ADL has tracked and highlighted these issues. For example, we reported that in February 2013, white supremacists plan on holding anti-immigration rallies across the country.  In addition, our reports and blog have highlighted the ties between the mainstream anti-immigrant movement and more extreme elements within that movement. The anti-immigrant movement often does not distinguish between undocumented immigrants and minority communities, making sweeping statements about Mexicans, Latinos, and other minority groups.  ADL’s blog recently featured an article about a leader in a mainstream anti-immigrant movement who promoted conspiracy theories about Mexicans and children of undocumented immigrants on a radio show hosted by the head of a local anti-immigrant group.  We have also seen examples of this kind of bigotry at events. For example, at anti-immigrant rallies some have asserted that Mexican immigrants are plotting to reclaim the Southwestern part of the United States, accused immigrants of carrying and spreading infectious diseases, and alleged that crime rates had risen and property values had fallen because of immigrants. 

This demonization and anti-immigrant rhetoric not only counteracts progress towards sound policy solutions, but it also puts minority communities at risk.  For example, after passage of Proposition187 inCalifornia, a ballot initiative which would have denied public benefits to undocumented immigrants that spurred widespread anti-immigrant rhetoric, hate crimes against Latinos and Asian-Americans spiked in the state.  The hate crimes targeted citizens and non-citizens alike.

We call on this Committee and other Members of Congress to maintain a respectful debate that focuses on the issues surrounding comprehensive immigration reform, rather than allowing anti-immigrant rhetoric to derail the conversation and undermine the Framers’ vision of a nation that affords life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness to all.

Congress Should Reject Mandatory Worker Verification Because It Creates an Unacceptable Risk of Discrimination

ADL supports efforts to remedy what everyone agrees is a broken system.  But ADL has opposed programs like E-Verify, which have been plagued by problems since their inception.  Experience shows that prevalent database errors wrongly identify naturalized U.S. citizens as undocumented and ineligible to work. A December 2010 GAO report on E-Verify documents some improvement in the system’s accuracy, but also noted that the many Tentative Non-Confirmations (TNC) are “more likely to affect foreign-born employees” and such TNCs “… can lead to the appearance of discrimination.”  Indeed, the report found that authorized workers who are foreign-born are up to twenty (20) times more likely than U.S.-born workers to be tagged incorrectly as unauthorized to work.

In addition, two government commissions have found frequent misuse of E-Verify by employers for discriminatory purposes, including forcing immigrant workers to accept lower wages and poorer work conditions.   Further, when employers who hire unauthorized workers based on the E-Verify system will be penalized, the potential for abuse and profiling exists.  Even well-intentioned employers may turn away applicants based on their names, accents, and skin color. 

An employment verification system with such significant potential for discrimination is not the answer. 

Immigration Policy should be Inclusive of All Families

Family unification is central to American immigration policy because Congress has recognized that the fundamental fabric of our society is family.  Family-based immigration accounts for roughly 65% of all legal immigration to the United States.Family ties transcend borders and, in recognition of this core value, the American immigration system gives special preference for the spouses of American citizens to obtain lawful permanent resident status, without any limit on the number of visas available annually.  Lesbian and gay citizens, however, are completely excluded from this benefit.  Same-sex couples must be treated the same as other families. 

LGBT immigrants are part of many immigrant sub-communities, from brilliant entrepreneurs, to loving spouses, to youth who have seen themselves as Americans their whole lives, to asylum seekers fleeing desperate situations to stay alive, to undocumented individuals who came to the U.S. for a better life and are now living in the shadows with no means to legalize their status.  We urge Congress to pass the Uniting American Families Act, which would allow gay and lesbian Americans to sponsor their permanent partners for legal residency in the United States, and to extend to LGBT couples the same rights afforded to all other families.

Conclusion

We commend the Senate Judiciary Committee for holding these historic hearings.  Our immigration system has been broken for too long.  In the absence of reform at the federal level, states have enacted discriminatory immigration policies that endanger immigrant communities and the public safety of society as a whole.  We urge Congress to swiftly pass immigration reform that reflects the best of America’s founding ideals and creates a pathway to citizenship for immigrants, builds safeguards against bias and discrimination, and extends equal rights to all families.

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