Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Controversial Immigration Laws Go into Effect Around the States

This week immigration laws have gone into effect in several states, including Alabama, California, Georgia, Louisiana, Tennessee, and South Carolina.

Most of the immigration laws being implemented call for employers to make sure their employees are authorized to work in the United States. They require employers to check eligibility through a federal program known as E-Verify.

E-Verify operates through a database that compares an employer’s information from a worker’s Form I-9 to data from U.S Department of Homeland Security and Social Security Administration records.

After complaints by some in the business community about having to use E-Verify, some states are exempting employers with five or fewer employees, and allowing them to keep a copy of the new hire's driver's license instead of using the database.

In Alabama, all employers have to use E-Verify after April 1, but employers who do business with any government agency were required to use the system beginning Jan. 1.

Rosemary Elebash, state director of the National Federation of Independent Business, said many companies do business with government agencies, even if it's something small like catering a luncheon for a state college.

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley said E-Verify is his favorite part of the immigration law because it provides employers a way to make sure employees are legal.

Many supporters of state-level efforts to enforce immigration laws say jobs are a magnet for undocumented immigrants, and striking at their ability to work is key to reducing the incentive to come of stay here illegally. They say that the federal government has not met its duty to control immigration, leaving states with little choice but to deal with the matter.

But many critics of such state laws have complained that enforcing immigration measures is a federal, not a state, duty. In December, the U.S. Supreme Court said that it would hear arguments over whether Arizona was entitled to impose its anti-illegal immigration law.

In urging the court to hear the immigration case, Arizona argued that the Obama administration's contention that states "are powerless to use their own resources to enforce federal immigration standards without the express blessing of the federal executive goes to the heart of our nation's system of dual sovereignty and cooperative federalism."

In the meantime, several parts of various state immigration laws have been put on hold by federal judges pending the resolution of lawsuits by the U.S. Dept. of Justice. Provisions that have been blocked by the judges include such things as allowing police to check the immigration status of people they believe may be in the country illegally, provisions requiring schools to check the legal status of new students and making it a crime to transport an undocumented immigrant.

Not all new immigration laws are new punitive. California has a measure that allows students who entered the country illegally to receive private financial aid at public colleges.

Bentley, a Republican, says he's working to clarify and simplify Alabama’s law -- considered the toughest state-level immigration in the nation -- which critics say has damaged the state's reputation internationally and caused hardships for legal residents.

Bentley said Alabama’s law, known as HB 56, has to eliminate unnecessary burdens on legal residents and businesses and protect faith-based services while ensuring that everyone working in Alabama is legal.

"We recognize that changes are needed to ensure that Alabama has not only the nation's most effective law, but one that is fair and just, promotes economic growth, preserves jobs for those in Alabama legally, and can be enforced effectively and without prejudice," the governor said.


More "asylum" boats likely to head for Australia after Indonesian visa change

They're putting the heat on Australia to fix its own problems

The head of immigration with Indonesia's Law and Human Rights Ministry concedes that plans to ease visa rules for three major source countries for asylum seekers heading to Australia could spark more people-smuggling activity.

Indonesia is set to relax visa restrictions on citizens from Sri Lanka and Bangladesh within months, and similar changes for Pakistan and Afghanistan are now awaiting final approval.

The changes come despite the four countries being among 13 nations that for a long time have been on Indonesia's immigration "red list", a reference to concerns that citizens from those countries could pose a security risk. Both the Law and Human Rights Ministry and the Foreign Ministry have confirmed the visa rules are set to be eased for the four countries.

The director-general of immigration with the Law and Human Rights Ministry, Bambang Irawan, has also conceded that the new policy could trigger a fresh wave of asylum-seeker traffic to Australia from Indonesia.

Indonesia is the chief transit point for asylum seekers heading to Australia, while Afghanistan and Pakistan are regarded as major source countries.

"There's the potential for the new policy to lure more boat people heading to Australia," Irawan said in an interview published in the Jakarta Post newspaper on Tuesday. "We will see what the progress is in the future and evaluate."

The visa applications would be processed in Indonesian embassies in the countries of origin. "Based on our data, they head to Australia. To get there they have to pass our country," Irawan said.

However, he maintained that security factors would be taken into account, insisting also that Indonesia remained committed to a regional approach to combating people smuggling and the flow of asylum seekers.

"This is a regional issue that will need co-operation between the transit and destination countries eyed by the people smugglers," he said. Irawan said Indonesia already had "sufficient regulations" to combat people smuggling.

The move to relax the visa policy follows the sinking last month of an Australian-bound vessel off the coast of East Java, which resulted in the deaths of as many as 200 asylum seekers.

Authorities in Indonesia have detained four soldiers for their alleged involvement in the doomed people-smuggling venture, which is believed to have netted the syndicate responsible more than $A1 million.

Only 47 asylum seekers survived when the 25-metre vessel, carrying about 250 people, sank in rough seas 40 nautical miles off the coast. It had a safe capacity of 100. Most of those aboard the boat were from Afghanistan and Iran, but there were also a number of asylum seekers from Pakistan.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa dismissed concerns that the relaxed rules could pose an increased security risk, saying the new policy was aimed at increasing tourism and business links between Indonesia and the four countries. "It's not right for us to stereotype as if a whole country, including children, is dubbed as a terrorist nation," Dr Natalegawa said. "I'm not going to begin stereotyping my brothers and sisters in Pakistan, Sri Lanka or Afghanistan as if they are all terrorists." he said.


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