Friday, June 3, 2011

161,000 asylum seekers allowed to stay in the UK in amnesty after blunders by Border Agency

Tens of thousands of asylum seekers have in effect been granted an amnesty to stay in Britain because of blunders in the immigration system, MPs said last night.

They are among 450,000 whose case files were found abandoned in boxes at the Home Office five years ago. Of these, 430,000 have now been considered, and 161,000 immigrants have been given the right to stay – many simply because they have been here so long.

On top of that, another 74,500 people have been ‘lost’ because officials do not know whether they have left the country or died. They are placed in a ‘controlled archive’ for six months while checks are carried out before they are put in storage – in effect, written off.

In a damning report, the Commons home affairs select committee said: ‘In practice an amnesty has taken place, at considerable cost to the taxpayer.’

But as the committee’s chairman, Labour MP Keith Vaz, described the UK Border Agency as ‘still not fit for purpose’, ministers insisted they were clearing up the last government’s ‘chaos’.

After the files were discovered, Labour pledged to clear the backlog by this summer. The MPs’ report said this target would be met, but only at huge expense to the taxpayer, and as a result of relaxing the rules on who can stay.

Of the cases processed, just 38,000 have led to individuals being removed from the country. The report also raised concerns about the lack of action to remove up to 181,000 people whose visas have expired.


La. Lawmakers approve Arizona-style immigration bill

A sweeping immigration proposal, similar to an Arizona law being challenged in the courts, has received approval from a House committee.

Independent Rep. Ernest Wooton says his bill would help secure the borders. Citing a recent Supreme Court decision that declined to wholly reject the states' role in immigration policy, Wooton told the House labor committee that states must take on more responsibility in the absence of federal reform.

But critics say the bill poses a significant unfunded mandate on local governments and law enforcement agencies and would lead to racial profiling.

The bill, which heads next to the House floor, would create new requirements and crimes under state law.

The legislation would make it a crime to harbor, conceal, shelter, transport or hire immigrants. It also would establish crimes for illegal immigrants seeking work; for willfully failing to carry a registration document; and for failing to report fraud in obtaining public assistance.

The bill would also require certain employers contracting with parties that don't use the federal E-Verify system to verify the status of employees. It would require the Louisiana Workforce Commission to provide training in using the system and also to investigate complaints of violations.

Similar to a bill withdrawn by Rep. Joe Harrison, R-Houma, Wooton's bill would require law enforcement officers to jail someone they suspect of being in the country illegally until their citizenship status can be verified. But Wooton's bill goes beyond that, requiring officers to make a judgment call on whether "reasonable suspicion exists that the person stopped is an alien and is unlawfully present in the United States."

The Legislative Fiscal Office said the bill would pose significant upfront costs due to the training of the E-Verify component, and that enforcing that system and requiring a sworn affidavit for all payments of public assistance would also be extremely costly. The state cannot force applicants to pay for the cost of an affidavit, and so it must incur the costs.

"Together, they are expected to cost the state upwards of $11 million and also cause some local entities to increase expenditures in order to comply," according to the bill's fiscal note.

Fees for violations under the bill would be deposited into a new trust fund. But the Legislative Fiscal Office says it is impossible to estimate the revenue, since some of the violations will be paid by state or local agencies themselves — representing zero net gain — and "the level of noncompliance cannot be anticipated with the confidence necessary to budget the funds."

In addition to the cost of implementation, immigration advocates say the bill would prompt an immediate lawsuit, leading to significant costs for defending it in court.

"Our national partners have been monitoring the situation very closely and are committed to bringing any types of lawsuits necessary to stop bills like this from passing," said Jacinta Gonzalez, an organizer for the New Orleans Workers' Center for Racial Justice.

She said the main legal problem for Wooton's bill is that several of the provisions are preempted by federal law.

"There are some provisions that actually mirror provisions in Arizona's SB 70, the now-notorious anti-immigrant bill that was passed, that have been struck down by U.S. district courts," said Rob Tasman, associate director for the Louisiana Conference of Catholic Bishops. He said the bill includes several provisions that are also in the Arizona immigration law.

They include the requirement for law enforcement officers to determine the immigration status of a person they stop based on reasonable suspicion, and the criminalization of a non-citizen's failure to apply for or carry registration papers.

"Do we want to inherit the cost associated with trying to uphold a bill that will probably be struck down at the federal level? Because, again, that is the proper forum to address this problem," Tasman said.

But Wooton defended his bill, reading from a May 26 Supreme Court ruling sustaining Arizona's state law requiring businesses to use E-Verify.

In addition to the legal complaints, law enforcement officers oppose the measure because of costs for incarceration and officer training. The Louisiana Workforce Commission, the main state agency targeted under the bill, also expressed concerns over the cost.

Curt Eysink, the executive director of the commission, said the costs could actually rise to $10 million in the first year alone for his agency, but other state offices would feel the effects.

"I think other agencies would be in a similar situation when it comes to awarding benefits by having to prove the legal status of the applicants," Eysink said.

Despite the concerns, the committee approved the bill by a 5-3 vote, after amending it to require mutual funds that comply with Sharia law to disclose that fact to investors.


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