NAPLES — There was so much immigration news in 2012, TIME magazine considered “Undocumented Americans” for its Person of the Year.
Instead, they got a “maybe next year.” So did substantial immigration reform.
The changes in 2012 were positive, according to immigrant rights activists, but were done mostly piecemeal.
The federal government offered a temporary reprieve to young undocumented immigrants, extended temporary protected status to Haitians, and pared down the controversial 287(g) immigration enforcement policy used in Collier County.
But proponents of more comprehensive change were left wanting more.
At a send-off rally Thursday for activists traveling from Orlando to Washington, D.C., to raise awareness for immigrant rights, participant Daniel Barajas told the crowd: “Lawmakers say that they seek criminals but statistics speak for themselves. Their ‘foolproof system’ has deported legal residents as well as natural-born citizens, such as my father.”
Across party lines, politicians are wondering out loud if the time has come for bipartisan progress on immigration reform.
“I think we need to solve it from A-to-Z, from soup to nuts,” U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, R-Miami, said in December.
That includes dealing with immigrants already in the U.S. in a way that is “reasonable, responsible and humane,” according to the congressman, whose district includes part of Collier County.
“In the meantime, we have a system that’s absolutely broken,” he told the Daily News.
Federal agencies continue to patch holes in the immigration system. In late December, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) reissued guidelines to detain only high-priority undocumented immigrants, including repeat border-crossers and those with weighty criminal records. A new form requires law enforcement to show the detention is in line with those rules.
Then on Jan. 2, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano announced a waiver to reduce the time it will take undocumented immediate relatives of U.S. citizens to obtain their legal permanent residency, or Green Card, when they return to their home country for immigrant visa interviews.
The new policy will make a “significant impact on American families by greatly reducing the time family members are separated from those they rely upon,” U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Alejandro Mayorkas said.
Maureen Kelleher, who works with immigrants at Legal Aid Service of Collier County, said with any reform that comes down the legislative pipeline, “there will be compromises in exchange for something we really need.”
She believes substantial change, for better or worse, is in the hands of congressional judiciary committees.
For the 113th session, which started last week, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., remains chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, while Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Va., will head the House’s, replacing Rep. Lamar Smith, R-Texas.
Goodlatte made a name for himself in the immigrant community for his perceived anti-immigrant stance. That included voting to build a fence along the U.S.-Mexico border and end birthright citizenship for children of undocumented immigrants.
Here are some top immigration stories in 2012 and where they are headed this year:
287(g) immigration enforcement
What happened in 2012: In February, Department of Homeland Security officials announced the controversial 287(g) immigration enforcement program, which allows local law enforcement officers to question and detain suspected undocumented immigrants, would be phased out. After almost a year of inaction, the administration in December nixed the 287(g) task forces that allowed police to detain individuals they suspected were paperless, a practice that triggered accusations of profiling and discrimination.
Where it’s headed in 2013: Just before the end of the year, ICE confirmed the remaining agreements in 33 jails around the U.S. would expire on June 30, 2013. That includes Collier County, which had the task force and jail models, the latter which allows police to review an inmate’s identification documents and ask questions regarding legal status. ICE officials won’t confirm whether 287(g) will end in June. Local immigrant rights activists believe the Secure Communities policy, touted by Homeland Security as the key to future criminal immigration enforcement, will still result in deportations for minor offenses, like driving without a license. Collier and Lee sheriff’s offices participate in Secure Communities.
Requirements to be considered under new immigration policy:
■ Under age 16 when came to U.S.
■ Has already resided in U.S. continuously for at least five years already
■ In school, a high school graduate, obtained GED or honorably discharged
■ Not been convicted of a serious crime; doesn’t pose threat to national security
■ Not older than 30
Source: Department of Homeland Security
Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)
What happened in 2012: A summer reprieve announced by the Department of Homeland Security sent young undocumented immigrants scrambling to prove they arrived in the U.S. at least five years ago as children and don’t have a significant criminal record. If approved, they can stay and work or go to school legally in the country for renewable two-year periods.
Where’s it’s headed in 2013: Of about 368,000 DACA applicants from August to December, 28 percent received approval, including several in Collier County. Three percent were rejected, and the remainder are under review. But DACA fell short of more substantial proposed reforms like the DREAM Act that would allow young undocumented immigrants to become citizens. Activists continue to push for a law that would let them live in the U.S. permanently, without fear of deportation.
Haiti Temporary Protected Status
What happened in 2012: In September, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services extended temporary protected status, or TPS, to Haitians who have continuously resided in the U.S. since Jan. 12, 2010, when an earthquake devastated the island nation. The premise is that the conditions were, and remain, bad enough in Haiti that they “prevent Haitians from returning to their country in safety,” according to the agency.
The deadline to apply was Nov. 30 and TPS was set to expire this month, but the extension allows recipients to live and work lawfully here through July 2014. It doesn’t lead to permanent residency or citizenship, and requires applying for renewal.
Where it’s headed in 2013: Due to Superstorm Sandy, Haitians with TPS have two extra months to apply to renew their status. The cut-off to apply is now Jan. 29. Without renewal, individuals once legally in the U.S. may be subject to deportation.