Thursday, May 9, 2013

Obama administration reverses course on ICE agents’ lawsuit

The Obama administration said Monday it’s willing to subject its new non-deportation policies to collective bargaining with the labor union that represents immigration agents — a reversal that comes as the Homeland Security Department tries to head off a potentially devastating defeat in court.

At stake is whether the department can force agents to not arrest illegal immigrants they encounter. That’s at the crux of the new Obama administration policies preventing most rank-and-file illegal immigrants from being deported, which the administration says has helped focus efforts on more dangerous criminal aliens.

A federal district judge in Texas last month ruled that the law requires agents to arrest all illegal immigrants they find, but he delayed implementing the ruling because he said it’s not clear that a court is the right place to decide the matter. He asked them both to file briefs exploring whether the issue should have been decided at the collective bargaining table instead.

Late last year Christopher Crane, the chief of the union, asked for collective bargaining but the administration turned him down, saying it was a management decision, not an area for negotiations.

Now, though, the administration says it not only wants to go through collective bargaining, but said that’s what the law requires.

“Channeling such disputes through the process established by the [Civil Service Reform Act] — and not allowing them to proceed directly in district court — is required even where the government employees’ lawsuit purports to be a ‘systemic challenge’ to government policy, rather than a challenge to a disciplinary action,” the administration lawyers said in their filing with the court.

Kris W. Kobach, the lawyer for the ICE union, said the administration is “looking for any way to push this case out of federal court” and are contradicting themselves to do it.

“Their argument is unsustainable as a matter of law, and remarkable in that it so clearly contradicts their client’s position,” he wrote in his own filing with the court.

Mr. Crane says agents and officers have been told if they ignore the order they will be subject to discipline.

The Obama administration has said it is using “prosecutorial discretion” to decide which illegal immigrants to put in deportation proceedings.

ICE Director John Morton issued a policy in 2011 directing that only the most serious criminals be put in deportation, and then last year President Obama announced a policy telling agents to stop deporting illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. before age 16.

But Judge Reed O'Connor issued an order last month that said the administration cannot ignore the law, which directs ICE agents and officers to arrest illegal immigrants. He said the administration could still exercise discretion later in the process to drop deportation proceedings.

Halting deportations of most rank-and-file immigrants has been central to the administration’s new policy.

Officials argue they are still deporting a record number of immigrants, though data introduced in the ICE agents’ lawsuit actually shows those numbers have been padded by deportations of recent arrivals at the border, rather than deportations from within the interior of the U.S.

Illegal immigrants within the interior of the U.S. run very little risk of being deported unless they are convicted of a major crime.

If Judge O'Connor sides with the agents, it will mean the administration will have to affirmatively decide to release them later — which could raise the stakes if one of those illegal immigrants who is released later commits a crime.


British landlords told: vet migrant tenants

Private landlords will be legally responsible for ensuring that they only let properties to people allowed to be in Britain under immigration laws to be announced in tomorrow’s Queen’s Speech.

Almost two million buy-to-let property owners will be responsible for checking the immigration status of potential tenants, with fines running into thousands of pounds for those breaking the law. Employers will also face “more substantial” fines for taking on illegal immigrants.

The measures are likely to prompt questions over whether ordinary people and employers are being made responsible for policing the immigration system after repeated failures by the UK Border Agency. They are included in an Immigration Bill which will also limit the ability of European immigrants to claim benefits and ensure that the right to reside in Britain on the basis of family commitments is not abused by criminals.

Temporary migrants will also be charged for using the NHS and only those who have lived in an area for at least two years will qualify for social housing.

The legislation has been drawn up as the Coalition struggles to contain the electoral threat posed by the UK Independence Party, which has wooed voters with its hard-line immigration policies.

In the document setting out the package, David Cameron and Nick Clegg will acknowledge that their experience of Government has been “tough”.

They will add: “But three years on, our resolve to turn our country around has never been stronger. We know that Britain can be great again because we’ve got the people to do it. Today’s Queen’s Speech shows that we will back them every step of the way. It is all about backing people who work hard and want to get on in life.”

The details of how the measures will be implemented will be set out later in the year. The plans will be the subject of a formal consultation in the coming months.

Ministers are expected to say that the legal requirements on landlords will affect those letting rooms in multi-occupancy properties. However, the measure will be universal and it will be the responsibility of all landlords to seek copies of passports and appropriate visas.

It is unclear how people are supposed to establish the authenticity of the information. The level of fines is also yet to be set but will run into “thousands of pounds”. The Immigration Bill will also contain provisions to ensure human rights laws giving people “the right to stay in the country because of family connections” are not abused by criminals. Courts will be ordered to “balance” the seriousness of the crime committed against the right to remain in Britain.

Regulations will also be amended to ensure that European immigrants cannot claim “certain benefits for more than six months” if they do not actively seek work and show they have a genuine chance of seeking employment. Other measures will limit the right of immigrants to claim legal aid, closing a loophole which allows those here illegally to rack up taxpayer-funded bills fighting deportation.

Earlier this year, the Prime Minister said in a speech that immigration needed to be “properly controlled”. Many of the measures are designed to reduce the attractiveness of Britain for Bulgarians and Romanians who will be able to live and work throughout the European Union when immigration controls are lifted next year. Critics have said many of the proposals would have a limited impact and the only way to address European immigration was to renegotiate EU migration treaties or leave the single market.

A number of Bills were dropped from the announcement, including legislation to ensure spending on international aid, a register of lobbyists and “snooping” laws. Mr Cameron also refused to agree to demands for legislation ensuring a referendum on membership of the EU by 2018.


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