Immigration Reform: Administrative Actions to Improve the System

Border Wall, Brownsville, Texas, Immigrant, Cr...

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Yesterday, I attended a conference held by the Migration Policy Institute (MPI) where they unveiled a report, Executive Action on Immigration: Six Ways to Make the System Work Better, offering six proposals that the Obama administration could implement to improve the functioning and advance the core goals of the nation’s immigration system.

The recommendations are:

  • The administration and DHS define what constitutes effective border control, promoting a more informed and nuanced public debate about the effectiveness of border enforcement, especially along the Southwest land border. As part of this, DHS agencies should provide more border enforcement metrics to the public.
  • DHS, in consultation with DOJ, establish uniform enforcement priorities, based on its existing guidance for exercising prosecutorial discretion, and implement them across its immigration agencies, programs and processes.
  • Creation of a White House Office on Immigrant Integration led by a Special Assistant to the President, convening a Cabinet-level interagency task force and working group of state and local officials. The office would also track integration outcomes to inform immigration policymaking and to analyze the needs associated with future immigration policy proposals.
  • U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services adjudicate waivers to grounds of inadmissibility based on “unlawful presence” before visa beneficiaries must leave the country to apply for a family-based immigrant visa. Expanded use of the Section 245(i) process would provide certainty for eligible family immigrants, encouraging fuller use of established legal admissions opportunities and processing.
  • U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) attorneys screen all Notices to Appear (NTAs) for removal proceedings prior to their filing in immigration court to ensure NTAs adhere to DHS’s prosecutorial discretion guidelines and clogged immigration courts are not further burdened with lower-priority cases.
  • DHS and DOJ’s Executive Office for Immigration Review — which oversees the immigration court system — issue guidance governing the circumstances in which due process requires the government to appoint counsel in removal proceedings. DOJ should establish a pilot program to test the benefits of appointed counsel in such cases.

The first suggestion is critically important since the call for “securing the border” has become an excuse for not advancing any sort of immigration reform package. At the same time, it is quite improbable. The concept of border security has never operated as a definable set of goals and moreover, it cannot. Security is a constructed phenomena devised as a way to define ourselves against the Other. You should just read my thesis on deconstructing the national security state. Put simply, there’s no way to determine the number of unauthorized immigrants that enter through the U.S.-Mexico border, hence there is no way to gauge an acceptable rate of permeability.  How secure should the United States make the South-West border against Mexico? Would erecting a 2000-mile wall with surveillance technologies while degrading the environment and destroying border communities be enough?

After all, guarding arbitrary geo-political lines with guns and technology to keep out people is such a 21st century novel idea. Our border communities are under so much threat that residents cannot even feel it. With surveillance drones and an additional 1000 guards, now migrants trying to cross over the border are more likely to be captured, killed, or die due to harsher terrains. We just need to build moats and put landmines around the Southwest border to make us all safer from those Mexicans trying to leave the country and contain us from the imaginary threats beyond our human-drawn lines.

(Contrary to perceptions of spillover drug violence and lurking dangers on the U.S.-Mexico border, violence along the 2,000 mile stretch has steadily declined. Enforcement is so rampant that undocumented immigrants are detained on their way back home. Tightening border security with more troops and money is a cheap political ploy that endangers more migrant lives as they cross through harsher terrains in order to avoid surveillance. There are more resources dedicated toward border security today than ever before with over 23,000 U.S. Border Patrol agents equipped with best technology money can buy and a $17.2 billion budget for FY 2010).

Moreover, I’m not sure that the creation of another bureaucracy would help with immigrant integration. It probably does not hurt but Juan Osuna from EOIR actually did point out that a real barrier to immigrant integration is legal status. Also Ken Montenegro pointed out to me that one of the prime reasons that people never come forward to naturalize is that the fees keep going up. Another reason is probably because those who do come forward get put into deportations for minor crimes ($15 drug sale, shoplifting) committed in another lifetime.

As always, the most promising idea is prosecutorial discretion for the most sympathetic cases. We know how DREAM Act students have won relief in the past and this looks like the year that we win administrative relief for bi-national same-sex couples. However, prosecutorial discretion often leaves people in limbo status. I would like to advance Attorney Cyrus Mehta’s idea on creative uses of I-130s. It’s probably a little too bold for the Migration Policy Institute to recommend that suggestion.

The biggest drawback in the policy proposal is that it completely glosses over the growing archipelago of immigrant detention policies. From Guantanamo to every state in the country, the Obama Administration seems to have no problem with the idea of indefinite detention, even when it is completely unnecessary to lock up non-violent immigrants and asylum seekers.

(During the Q & A period, Mark Krikorian from the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) offered that the core goal of the system according to the report seemed to be to allow more immigrants into the United States. Of course, that is a real problem for the white supremacists at CIS).

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Threat Construction Triumphs – Paranoia is the Fear of the 21st century


The bogeyman of this century is the ‘Other’ be it an unknown ‘Muslim terrorist,’ an ‘illegal alien’ or even our neighbor across the fence. It is the ‘not-yet-discovered’ or articulated security threat. And finally, a leading psychiatrist has pegged the paranoia stemming from a multitude of factors, as our greatest ‘fear.’

Yes, a leading psychiatrist at King’s College London has carried out the decade-long research and found that one in four people suffer irrational fears of either being threatened or in danger on a regular basis. In fact, according to Dr Daniel Freeman, paranoia is far more common than had been suspected and is on the rise, as a result of growing inequity, social isolation and a far more competitive society.


US research showed populations with the widest income inequalities also had the lowest levels of trust, and highest death rates. Mistrust was associated with greater numbers of deaths from cancer, heart disease and strokes. Dr Freeman also criticised the media for hyping up threats and adopting an “if it bleeds, it leads” attitude to coverage. He added that the news coverage given to crime outweighs coverage of ‘real killers’ such as heart disease, cancer and road accidents, which fosters a culture of paranoia.

The point is to remember that fear and actual risk or threat do not necessarily correlate but rather that the material conditions of life, especially the mainstream media and state elites, incite fear to achieve their hegemonic ends. George W. Bush and the war against Iraq is a perfect case in point that need not be reiterated here. The nativist overbloating of ‘illegal alien’ criminality and costs to the U.S. economy is another.

Freeman’s findings are published in Paranoia: The 21st Century Fear available now.

This book sounds like ‘fodder’ for the Critical Security Studies school of thought. I wrote a paper on this a while ago that is available in here. I hope the author touches on ideology and discourse while discussing media exaggerations of threats.

I’ll provide more resources and research on this if anyone is interested.

And so, national security is diametrically opposed to human security

Lets see. Critical Security Studies has been a prime interest since I was 16 years old and running the Terror Talk/Threat Construction Kritik at policy debate tournaments. I won rounds solely on the basis of this — I remember my debate coach once remarked that I never ever used “the threat of Islamic terrorists” or any such discourse to win any rounds no matter what. It may have cost me on several occasions but that is all in the past. I graduated and let the Threat Con file sit and gather dust for 3 years until I finally used it as a final paper for my Undergrad. This is possible Doctorate level work that I am not keen on pursuing at this point for obvious reasons. It reminds me that I am too smart and intellectual for law school. I also tend to think it is a DUH. Can you believe someone won the Nobel prize for writing that poverty and terrorism were related? Goodness, that’s just common sense and I have been writing that since I was 15! Where is my Nobel prize yo?! Actually you keep the Nobel Prize, just hand me a Green card, will you?! 🙂

Anyway, excerpts are in order. Whole paper is here

The discursive speech acts embodied in various National Security Strategy documents establish that the act of securing the American people has given way to the politicization of national security. Politicization refers to the employment of national security discourse for political ends and not specifically for meeting the actual security needs of civil society. Starting with President Truman’s NSC-68 document in 1950 and continuing up to Bush II in the present day, the discourse of national security strategy has been systematically cemented on the national policy agenda, employed for purposes other than the security of the American people. Upon a thorough examination of these documents, a central theme that emerges and dictates United States foreign policy is the pervasive construction of an enemy, an external “Other” as a threat to national security. I argue that this security discourse functions as a tool for identity construction and reification of the American state apparatus with far-reaching consequences: an increasing politicization of security, legitimization of a permanent war economy, the oppression and marginalization of minority groups, omission of key security issues from the security agenda, and paradoxically, a more insecure, unstable America and global order. Therefore, the goal of this paper is to deconstruct the totalizing and unitary narrative of the National Security Strategy documents under Truman, Bush I, Clinton and Bush II, and unearth counter-narratives that challenge dominant security discourses based on ideological threat construction. I conclude that the main objectives set out in NSC-68 continue to govern US foreign policy even in the post-Cold War era, that American foreign policy today mirrors American foreign policy post-World War II: a search for identity and power, which ironically leads to more insecurity for Americans and for the entire world.”