Category: Immigration


Rejecting Refugees

The New York Times today reports on my most recent co-authored empirical study of the U.S. asylum system, Rejecting Refugees: Homeland Security’s Administration of the One-Year Bar to Asylum, forthcoming in the William and Mary Law Review. As the title suggests, this article focuses on asylum law’s one-year filing deadline, which was created by the 1996 Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA). Scholars and practitioners have long expressed concern that refugees have been denied asylum due solely for failure to apply within a year of entry, and fear that the bar has had a significant impact on the U.S. asylum system. Our article is the first systematic empirical study of the effects of the deadline on asylum seekers and the asylum system.
We focus on decision-making by the Department of Homeland Security, which adjudicates most applications for asylum in the first instance. The findings are troubling. Most notably, it is likely that since the one-year bar came into effect, in April 1998, through June 2009, DHS rejected on the deadline more than 15,000 asylum applications (affecting more than 21,000 refugees) that would otherwise have been granted.
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The Insidious List

News recently broke that, in Salt Lake City, Utah, a group calling itself “Concerned Citizens of the United States” sent a memo to local newspapers, radio stations, television outlets, state law enforcement, immigration and DHS agents, and Utah legislators listing over 1,300 alleged “illegal immigrants” who the group believed should be “immediately deported.”  Next to each name appeared the person’s Social Security number, date of birth, address, and, at times, medical information, such as a pregnant woman’s due date.  The group claimed that it “observe[d] these individuals in our neighborhoods, driving on our streets, working in our stores, attending our schools, and entering our public welfare buildings.”  It continued: “We spen[t] the time and effort needed to gather information along with legal Mexican nationals who infiltrate thei social networks and help us obtain the necessary information we need to add them to our list.”  The group then stepped up the volume: “We see a direct relationship between these illegal aliens and the escalation of crime in our communities in the form of drug and alcohol abuse, theft, and domestic violence. . . . They need to go and now.”  The group signed off with this missive: “We will be listening and watching.”

This feels eerily familiar.  In 1997, an anti-abortion group set up a website called Nuremberg Files that revealed abortion providers’ home addresses, birth dates, Social Security numbers, and the names of their childrens’ schools.  The site listed abortion providers who had been wounded in grey and those who had been killed with their names struck in black.  To be sure, the “Concerned Citizens” memo neither threatened nor sought to incite violence as in the Nuremberg case.  Nonetheless, the memo took a hateful “us versus them” turn in suggesting that illegal aliens bear responsibility for increased drug abuse, crime, and domestic violence.  Akin to the Nuremberg Files case, the “Concerned Citizens” invaded the privacy interests of the listed individuals by giving publicity to their Social Security numbers.  While they declined to identify themselves, one imagines that they will be found and could face tort privacy claims.

Aside from its privacy implications, the list seems bent on intimidation, suggesting that the group inflitrated the alleged illegal aliens’ communities and would be “watching.”  Of course, the group could have provided tips to ICE and law enforcement — that would not be troubling.  But the group went so much further than that, sending the list of individuals’ personal information to media of all stripes.  This suggests an agenda to intimidate and bully.


UCLA Law Review Vol. 57, Issue 5 (June 2010)

Volume 57, Issue 5 (June 2010)


Introduction to the Symposium Issue: Sexuality and Gender Law: The Difference a Field Makes Nan D. Hunter 1129
Elusive Coalitions: Reconsidering the Politics of Gender and Sexuality Kathryn Abrams 1135
The Sex Discount Kim Shayo Buchanan 1149
What Feminists Have to Lose in Same-Sex Marriage Litigation Mary Ann Case 1199
Lawyering for Marriage Equality Scott L. Cummings Douglas NeJaime 1235
Sexual and Gender Variation in American Public Law: From Malignant to Benign to Productive William N. Eskridge, Jr. 1333
Sticky Intuitions and the Future of Sexual Orientation Discrimination Suzanne B. Goldberg 1375
The Dissident Citizen Sonia K. Katyal 1415
Raping Like a State Teemu Ruskola 1477
The Gay Tipping Point Kenji Yoshino 1537


Immigration Federalism: Red and Blue

In a previous post, I discussed some of the federalism implications of Arizona’s recent legislation concerning immigrants.  I noted that in immigration, as in other areas, it is difficult to define enclaves of exclusive state or exclusive federal jurisdiction.  Rather, contemporary federalism entails a dynamic interaction of state and federal authority.

If Arizona’s law constitutes an example of “red state” federalism, a recent announcement by New York’s Governor David Paterson illustrates the “blue state” version of immigration federalism. 

Under federal immigration law, conviction of certain state crimes constitutes grounds for deportation.  But, in many circumstances a subsequent state pardon removes the threat of deportation.  In what The New York Times termed “a major rebuke of federal immigration policy,” Governor Paterson created a panel to assist him in evaluating pardon requests from immigrants subject to deportation based on state convictions.  The Governor characterized some federal immigration laws as “embarrassingly and wrongly inflexible.”  “In New York,” Paterson explained, “we believe in renewal.”

So, now New York has joined Arizona in rebuking federal immigration policy, though from a very different perspective.

Even the United States Supreme Court has gotten into the immigration federalism act.  In Padilla v. Kentucky, decided in March, the Court held that defense counsel’s failure to advise a state criminal defendant that a guilty plea carries a risk of deportation constitutes ineffective assistance in violation of the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution.  In what will be one of Justice Stevens’ last majority opinions, he explained that as a matter of federal law, deportation is an “integral part” of the penalty for the state crime.

Padilla confirms the obvious: In immigration, state and federal law are closely intertwined.  What are we to make of this feature of our federal system?  If some are troubled by Arizona’s inhospitable voice, they might find solace in New York’s dulcet tones of “renewal.”  That counterpoint provides cold comfort to immigrants in Arizona, but then the United States Constitution provides some protection for all people throughout the country. 

Complicated? Yes, but simple would be superior only if we all agreed on the answers.  And we do not.  In the meantime, New York seeks to vindicate its immigrant heritage.


Red State Federalism

It is a great pleasure to be a guest blogger.  My current interests center around federalism.  My posts likely will as well.  Here goes.

Did a vision of progressive federalism die in the desert of Arizona?  No, but the recent (anti-)immigration legislation there reveals the Grand Canyon dividing the concept of federalism from particular policy outcomes.

In the wake of a conservative resurgence in national politics, some commentators (including this one) noted the progressive potential of federalism.  We cited examples of “blue state federalism,” in which states stepped into the breach left by federal inaction and provided innovative solutions for problems ranging from climate change to predatory lending, from gay rights to health care.  Here, and elsewhere, I argued that a key to understanding the achievements of the states was to abandon outdated notions of distinct and non-overlapping realms of state and federal prerogative (bye bye dual federalism).  Climate change was not really a federal issue or really a state issue.  Rather, federalism provided an opportunity for both the states and the federal government to address pressing concerns.  Federalism functioned through the dynamic overlap and interaction of state and federal authority.  Or so I argued in my book, Polyphonic Federalism: Toward the Protection of Fundamental Rights.

But where does this leave Arizona?  Or for that matter, the lawsuits filed by numerous state attorneys general against federal health care legislation.  Are these examples of illegitimate state meddling in federal matters or ongoing expressions of dynamic or (as I term it) polyphonic federalism?  The answer is yes.

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Illegal Immigration and Fugitive Slaves

One way of thinking about the new Arizona statute on illegal immigration is through a comparison with the debate over state regulation of fugitive slaves during the antebellum period.  Now before the angry comments start pouring in, I’m not saying that people who favor more border security are like slaveowners or that those who are here illegally are like slaves.  What I mean is that in both cases there was a controversial issue that turned on whether there should be exclusive federal authority or a diverse set of state policies.

The Fugitive Slave Clause of the Constitution was implemented initially by the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793.  By the 1830s, though, a number of free states passed laws that made it a crime to catch or aid in the capture of fugitive slaves.  Other free states insisted on certain procedural protections for those alleged to be fugitives, otherwise free African-Americans would be subject to what amounted to legalized kidnapping.

In Prigg v. Pennsylvania, the Supreme Court held that these state statutes were invalid because the Fugitive Slave Clause (even though it was not in Article One, Section 8) gave the federal government exclusive power over the subject.  In other words, states could not legislate at all on this topic — either to help or hinder slave captures.  Chief Justice Taney concurred but argued that state laws that furthered the federal policy by giving aid to slave catchers were not unconstitutional.  One could view the Court’s position as a compromise that attempted to take the entire topic off of the topic even though it was probably inconsistent with preemption principles.  Moreover, in practice slave catchers in the North could not operate well without the protection of state law or the aid of state officials.  (Indeed, Prigg contained language similar to the modern Supreme Court’s anticommandeering doctrine.)

Now we have a similar issue.  States like Arizona want to crack down on illegal immigration.  Others want to be sanctuaries for them and refuse to cooperate with deportations.  One solution to this would be to say that all state regulation of the subject is barred.  That is not neutral with respect to outcomes, but it would channel all reform efforts to Washington.  Or courts could say that only state laws that assist immigration policy as set by Congress is permissible.  Of course, that would require someone to determine what that policy is.  The major problem in immigration policy, it seems to me, is that the country is uncertain what it wants.  Is illegal immigration a harm or a benefit?  Should we be deporting people or giving them amnesty? Thus, courts that go with something other than “states can’t regulate this at all” might have a hard time reasoning their way to a conclusion.


A Well-Founded Fear of School?

Tuesday’s Washington Post discusses an intriguing asylum case: an immigration judge in Memphis granted asylum to a German couple who fled their homeland to avoid its mandatory schooling policy.  Uwe Romeike, along with his wife and five chilren, are evangelical Christians who had decided to homeschool their children both because they believed the public school curriculum to be “against Christian values” and because their children faced violence, bullying, and peer pressure in public schools.  The Romeikes took their children out of school in their home state of Baden-Wuerttemberg in 2006, and paid fines of approximately $10,000 over 2 years for doing so.  That state constitution requires that children attend public or private schools; parents who refuse to comply can face fines or even jail time, or in severe cases, Germany’s highest appellate court ruled that social service officials could remove children from their parents.

There are so many interesting angles to the decision that it’s hard to know where to start.  Some might question whether the ability to choose how to school one’s child is a fundamental human right that should be protected by asylum law.  The German consul for the Southeast U.S. noted that “German parents have a wide range of educational options for their children.”  Should the Romeikes be sent back to Germany on the assumption that they could find a religious school that provided instruction acceptable to their value system?  Under U.S. asylum law, if internal relocation is an option to avoid persecution, applicants must move within their own country to find safety before coming to the United States.  The Romeikes had the option not only of relocating within Germany but also, as citizens of the European Union, of living and working in any member state (some of which allow home schooling and others of which surely offer affordable education that accords with evangelical religious values).

The involvement of the German consul also raises questions about the appropriateness of immigration court as a messenger in foreign affairs.  Romeike’s lawyer said that he took on the case in part because he hoped to influence public opinion in Germany, while the consul defended the law as a policy decision that “ensures a high standard of learning for all children.”  Should our immigration courts be questioning the policy judgments of solidly democratic nations with robust and procedurally fair legal systems?  Asylum has for many years been used as a political tool, for better or for worse, but this seems one step too far.  In any case, I’m interested in readers’ thoughts — are the Romeikes modern-day pilgrims, or is this just another misguided decision by our dysfunctional immigration courts?


The Yale Law Journal, Vol. 119, Issue 3 (December 2009)

The Yale Law Journal

December 2009 | Volume 119, Issue 3


Integration through contract?

contractThough European states have received increasing numbers of immigrants over the past few decades, they have failed to integrate these immigrants as successfully as traditional immigrant-receiving nations such as the United States and Canada.  There are undoubtedly many factors that contribute to this differential in integration success rates, but access to education and employment may be the most important.  Examining these measures, a recent OECD report found that the children of migrants living in Europe have significantly worse education and labor market outcomes than the children of migrants in the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand.

So what then should we make of German Immigration Commissioner Maria Boehmer’s proposal to address Germany’s integration problem through contracts?   Expected to be introduced during the current legislative period, these contracts will explain the services and assistance available to immigrants while requiring immigrants to learn German and avow their support for liberal values such as freedom of expression and equality of women.  Dr.  Boehmer acknowledges that the key to integrating immigrants is access to schooling and employment markets (the latter through recognition of qualifications from abroad). Read More


A Note on Comprehensive Immigration Reform

For several years, “comprehensive” immigration reform has been discussed in the U.S. Congress and among the general public.   Supporters contend that enforcement-only measures — such as extending the border fence, increasing the number of Immigration & Customs Enforcement officers, efforts to increase deportations, etc. — will not address the true causes of immigration, especially the thirst of the American economy for relatively inexpensive labor.   Although “comprehensive” immigration reform has meant many things to many people, reform proposals often include a regularization program for certain group of undocumented immigrants (i.e., the dreaded “amnesty”), some kind of guest worker program supported by agricultural and other employers, and increased immigration enforcement measures.  Some proposals also have included increasing the number of visas to eliminate long lines in certain visa categories and increased employment visas. 

In the spring of 2006, hundreds of thousands of people — U.S. citizens as well as immigrants — marched in cities across the United States, protesting the tough-on-immigrants Sensenbrenner bill passed by the U.S. House of Representatives in December 2005.  Two U.S. Senators, including now-President Barack Obama, participated in the marches.

President Obama long has supported comprehensive immigration reform.  Supporters of reform were buoyed by his election, feeling that comprehensive immigration reform just might finally be on the horizon.  Well, it just may — or may not — be.

Immigration reform is politically difficult in the best of times — and these most definitely are not the best of times economically in the United States.  Although some members of Congress — Congressman Luis Gutíerrez immediately comes to mind, continue to push for immigration reform, the economy and health care reform now seem to dominate the Congressional legislative agenda.

As the old Brooklyn Dodgers slogan (“Wait until next year!”) went, some members of the Obama administration have argued for restraint and to wait until next year.  But, next year is an election year in Congress.  Enacting legislation on a contentious issue that touches on volatile issues of race and class, seems unlikely in an election year.

At the same time, the Obama administration seems devoted to pursuing more and more immigration enforcement measures.  For discussion of the latest measure, click here.  Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano does not seem to have found an enforcement measure that she does not like.   The political calculus  appears to be that, by so doing, the administration will gain the public trust on enforcement and then be in a better position to seek immigration reform that benefits immigrants.  This strategy was pursued — very unsuccessfully — by the Bush administration — more and more enforcement.  We saw infamous workplace raids in New Bedford, Massachusetts and Postville, Iowa, record levels of deportations year after year, aggressive positions in the courts (while always disputing the court’s jurisdiction), and the like.   The Bush administration ended up with more (and more) enforcement and no immigration reform.

This is precisely the risk that the Obama administration runs.  As it fashions and implements more and more immigration enforcement measures, it may never be able to push balanced immigration reform through Congress.  And delay is dangerous because there is always some reason to put off a national debate on a controversial issue.

Hopefully, the Obama administration knows what it is doing politically on immigration.  Latinos, immigrant rights advocates, and employers have been patient for now.  But, they all have seen what happens when immigration is put off until the second term of a Presidency.  As President Bush acknowledged, such delay was a mistake before — and, many think, a mistake now.