IIL Banner 2013
We are honored to present guest commentator Felicia Escobar, Special Assistant to the President of the United States on Immigration. 


My Eight Years In The White House

When I arrived at the White House in August 2009, I came with a singular focus. President Obama had set an ambitious legislative agenda that included passing commonsense immigration reform, and I would work with a core team of White House staff to advance this critical legislative agenda item.  I was tasked with coordinating across the Administration on our reform proposals and providing technical assistance to key Congressional offices working on their own proposal.  It took almost four years for bipartisan legislation to be introduced in the U.S. Senate.
During that time, we put forward our immigration reform principles, quietly drafted our own bill, and supported efforts in 2010 to enact the DREAM Act, legislation that would provide a path to earned citizenship for DREAMers, or undocumented youth who grew-up pledging allegiance to our flag.  The DREAM Act came just 5 Senate votes shy of becoming the law of the land.  However, in 2013, when the bipartisan "Gang of 8" in the Senate finally wrote a bill, it largely reflected the key principles that the President believed should be in immigration reform legislation. 
We strongly supported the Gang of 8 bill and I have no doubt that President Obama would have signed it into law.  While inaction by Republicans in the House of Representatives blocked this legislation from arriving on the President's desk, the Administration refused to stand still in the face of a broken immigration system.  Instead, we have worked to strengthen our immigration system by advancing policies that honor our nation's richest traditions of welcoming immigrants and refugees while also ensuring our borders are secure and communities are safe. 
The President understands that the vast majority of immigrants have come to our country seeking opportunity and only want to provide a better tomorrow for their children.  That's why one of the first steps the Administration took was to focus enforcement resources on actual threats to our security and public safety. Starting in 2010, we took a series of actions to advance this critical step. 
For example, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued guidance on enforcement priorities and the use of prosecutorial discretion for non-priority cases - and further refined those priorities in 2014 to ensure that all immigration agencies within DHS abide by them.  The Administration also took action to remove non-priority cases from the backlog in the immigration courts.  And for young people who are very low priorities, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy, which was issued in 2012, has provided an opportunity to request temporary relief from deportation and employment authorization. 
These policies have produced results.  In 2009, only 35 percent of the individuals removed from our country were convicted criminals.  By 2015, that number had jumped to 60 percent and most of the remaining 40 percent of removals are recent arrivals.  While we focus our resources on those who are dangerous, we also give those who are not priorities an opportunity to succeed and live out their dreams. As a result of DACA, more than 740,000 young people are able to contribute more fully to the country they call home. Seeing the impact of these policies, we sought to help more individuals by expanding DACA and implementing a deferred action policy for undocumented parents of U.S. citizen and lawful permanent resident (LPR) children. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court was unable to issue a reasoned decision on litigation challenging these actions, so these additional policies have not been implemented.
As the President has said, we are not a nation that kicks out strivers and dreamers who want to earn their piece of the American Dream, we're a nation that finds a way to welcome them. The Administration has also worked to streamline legal immigration for families, high skilled workers, entrepreneurs, and students.
We made changes to regulations that reduce separation for family members of U.S. citizens and LPRs waiting to obtain their green cards - over 80,000 have benefited from this policy reform thus far.  We allowed spouses of high-skilled workers on their path to becoming permanent residents to apply for employment authorization - over 52,000 spouses have taken advantage of this reform, bolstering their family's well-being and economic security and using their skills to contribute to our economy.  We have also finalized new regulatory reforms to strengthen and extend the on-the-job-training opportunities for students from other countries that graduate from U.S. colleges and universities with STEM degrees. 
Most recently, we have proposed a new regulation to allow international entrepreneurs to come to the United States if they can demonstrate that the entrepreneur's stay would provide a significant public benefit to the nation by creating new businesses and jobs for American workers.
These are just some of the many policy and regulatory reforms that have moved forward under our watch. Importantly, the Administration has also looked to the future of the underlying systems that everyday Americans use to apply for immigration benefits.  At the President's direction, the Department of State and DHS conducted a thorough review of options to modernize our legal immigration system, and produced a series of recommendations that these agencies continue to implement today to bring our largely paper-based application and adjudication process into the 21st century.
A key partner in this effort has been the U.S. Digital Service (USDS), which was created by President Obama in 2014 to accelerate efforts to improve and simplify the digital experience between individuals, businesses and the government.  USDS is supporting the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) in digitizing the external application and internal review process for over seven million annual immigration applications and requests. 
Through the new platform and Electronic Immigration System, an increasing percentage of the immigration system is now online, including the green card renewal application (I-90), which has a 93 percent user satisfaction rate.  Improvements to software development practices, system architecture, and design will save millions of dollars per year in ongoing operations, maintenance, and licensing costs and make it easier for users to interact with the immigration system.
Finally, we have enhanced our efforts to integrate immigrants and refugees and build strong, inclusive communities through the President's White House Task Force on New Americans.  For generations, our country has been able to integrate immigrants and refugees by relying on will of the American people and the spirit and drive of the hard-working newcomers.  In November 2014, the President challenged us to do more by establishing the Task Force and asking it to consider this key question: how much more could we accomplish if we were deliberate and strategic in these efforts? The Task Force released its strategic action plan in April 2015, which laid out how we could do more at the federal level and support state and local efforts.  Since then, we have been incredibly busy implementing its 48 recommendations that are guided by 16 core goal in 4 areas of focus.
In less than two years, we've accomplished a lot.
We launched the "Stand Stronger" Citizenship Awareness Campaign, with a video message from the President to encourage the approximately 8.8 million eligible LPRs to naturalize to commit to citizenship. Nearly a third of these individuals have been LPRs since 1990.  We want them to take the next step and are also providing them with the tools to learn about the process and to address other barriers to citizenship.
We launched the "Building Welcoming Communities Campaign (BWCC)," which focuses on supporting local integration efforts that ensure that all community members are given the tools to thrive.  So far, over 50 communities have stepped forward and joined the Campaign. As a part of the BWCC, we traveled around the country and held 10 Regional Convenings on New Americans across the country, bringing together more than 850 local leaders to lift up best practices, strengthen federal-local partners, and invite new partners to the table to create robust, multi-sector partnerships.  This past June, we released a report, Bright Spots in Welcoming Communities and Integration, that highlights promising practices from around the country.
We also held the National Skills and Credential Institute, which brought together 18 communities who are working to address the challenge of skilled immigrants that face barriers to fully utilizing their experience and education from abroad when they arrive and enter our workforce.
Looming large over all of our immigration policy decisions is the core principle that our President believes is at the root of our country. Being American is not about what we look like or where we come from. What makes us Americans is our shared commitment to the ideal that all of us are created equal and all of us have the opportunity to make of our lives what we will.
For the past seven years, it has been a privilege to advance policies that reflect our long and proud history as a nation of immigrants.  It is critical that we continue to press for commonsense immigration reform that will address underlying challenges with a system that has largely gone unchanged since the 1990s.  But even in the face of Congressional inaction, we have pursued a robust policy agenda.  I am confident that we will achieve meaningful legislative reform. And like previous generations of immigrants and refugees, the next generation will be a source of strength and critical to our nation's future.  

Felicia Escobar
Special Assistant to the President
White House Domestic Policy Council

The Institute for Local Government (ILG), based in Sacramento, California, is a 501(c)(3) organization, serving local government officials and their ability to make informed policies. Aiming to create collaborative and sustainable communities, the Institute's goal is to encourage local leaders to ethically govern with cultural awareness. The ILG informs government officials about the public interest in order to help officials make the most knowledgeable policy choices. The ILG vision anticipates a future for California in which four main aspects prevail: individuals will value their local governments and institutions, local agencies will deliver effective public services, the community will have a vocal role in important public decisions, and policy-makers will make informed choices based on the community's best interest.
Amidst its operations, the ILG includes a campaign on Inclusive Public Engagement (IPE). This campaign works to provide policy makers with helpful suggestions and resources for effective planning and strategizing during policy making. Among other categories, the IPE includes a section on Immigrant Integration and Engagement and provides policy makers with resources ( ideally bilingual) and personal case stories about the integration of immigrants in civic, economic, and political environments within their communities. The campaign works to provide local policy makers and government officials with awareness of ways to empower and support immigrant integration. Specifically, the ILG lists a set of six ideas regarding local governments and immigrant integration to help local governments build stronger and more welcoming communities through the creation of impartial, practical, and accessible resources. These ideas include creating bilingual community resource navigators, hosting bilingual panels on how to obtain a legal driver's license, hosting presentations on immigration fraud, hosting naturalization ceremonies at city council meetings, and creating neighborhood initiatives to improve the conditions of housing projects within ethnically diverse areas. Using methods like giving information to the public, strategic engagement, leadership development, partnerships and local networks, recognition and celebration of immigrant contributions, and accessible and effective public service delivery, public policy makers and local government officials can be well informed on how to create participation on the local, regional, and national level with immigrant integration partnerships.


De Graauw, E. (2014)
Politics & Society , 42(3), pp. 309-330
Some cities have elected to adopt a municipal ID which allows undocumented immigrants to access basic services and provides identification to city officials and agencies. This study looks specifically at the strategies of opponents, supportive city officials, and advocates in relation to municipal ID adoption in New Haven and San Francisco. Opponents mounted unsuccessful legal challenges, focusing on the argument that cities cannot meddle in federal immigration affairs. City officials who supported the ID focused the program on improving the delivery of existing services to safeguard the health, safety, and welfare of city residents. To minimize scrutiny, advocates strategized to expand the card to populations that also have difficulties in obtaining government-issued IDs, such as homeless and transgender individuals. They also developed multiple functions of the card to expand access and make it attractive to all city residents to ensure the card would not be used to facilitate the profiling of undocumented immigrants. The ID does not grant undocumented immigrants new rights, but does serve to facilitate access to city services for which they are already eligible. Therefore, the municipal ID is one example of how local governments can develop programs that benefit undocumented immigrants without infringing on federal immigration policy.
Gilbert, L. (2014)
J ournal on Migration and Human Security , 2(3), pp. 223-250
New York City considers extending voting rights in municipal elections to noncitizens who are lawfully present and who have resided in the city for the requisite time (this measure is currently still under consideration). This case study examines the role of local government in immigrant integration, especially as the federal government has been unable to reach a national solution on immigration reform. The article reviews state and federal law obstacles to noncitizen suffrage, concluding that local governments are legally able to extend greater protections and rights to community members as long as federal baselines are met. However, federal law may deter some noncitizens from registering and carry immigration consequences for those who vote in direct violation of federal law. The author gives examples of successful and unsuccessful noncitizen voting measures in other towns across the United States in reference to municipal and school board elections, including an analysis of the costs and benefits to such measures. Lastly, the author discusses best practices for moving the issue of noncitizen suffrage forward.
Undocumented no more: The power of state citizenship
Markowitz, P. (2015)
Stanford Law Review, 67, pp. 869-915
Since Congress is unlikely to enact comprehensive immigration reform in the near future, states have an opportunity to take the lead by broadening state citizenship to noncitizens and enacting other measures to more fully integrate immigrants into their states. While restrictionists advance agendas that empower the state to directly enforce immigration laws and limit basic necessities to encourage noncitizens to self-deport, integrationists advance agendas to foster greater inclusion, such as driver's licenses, ID cards, and in-state tuition for undocumented immigrants. This article delves into the legal issues surrounding state ability to promote immigrant integration and, in particular, the extension of state citizenship. The author examines historical precedent and the constitutional foundation for state citizenship and the limits of federal power in this area. The author argues that properly drafted inclusive state citizenship laws would not conflict with federal law and that states historically have the power to define the boundaries of their own political communities more generously than the federal government. Finally, the author looks at benefits of state citizenship individually and collectively. State citizenship measures benefit immigrants by conferring state political rights, access to state programs and benefits, and protections against discrimination and mistreatment. State citizenship could also be used to reorient the national conversation on immigration reform.
Rissler, G. E. (2016)
State and Local Government Review, 48(1), pp.30-41
The growth of the immigrant population in the U.S. has led to the creation of New Immigrant Destinations (NIDs). Past studies reveal that localities respond to immigrants by introducing policies that fall on a spectrum ranging from strategies that reflect anti-immigrant policy or inaction to strategies that reflect community cohesion policy and pro-immigrant action. Using Richmond, Virginia as a site of analysis, data shows that Richmond localities' overall policy response to immigration falls somewhere between inaction and social cohesion. One factor acting as a determinant of immigration policy is population size. Areas with larger populations and those with foreign born residents tend to have several response strategies to help integrate immigrants into communities. Notably, there were varying responses to immigration strategies depending on if the locality leaned towards Republican or Democrat and this was influenced by the size of the population. However, exclusionary strategies were more common among Republican localities whether small or large in population. Such data can help public administration professionals and politicians in assessing which programs are present and which are missing in various areas where immigrants reside.

Martinez, O., Wu, E., Sandfort, T., Dodge, B., Carballo-Dieguez, A., Pinto, R., Rhodes, S., Moya, E. & Chavez-Baray, S. (2015)
Journal of Immigrant and Minority Health, 17(3), pp.947-970
Polices and laws have a direct impact on the accessibility and affordability of healthcare for undocumented immigrants. Several studies show that undocumented immigrants are at-risk for mental health issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, and depression. Programs such as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) of 2010 prevent hospitals and clinics from providing broad-based services (e.g. STI prevention counseling, syphilis screening, HPV DNA testing etc.) to undocumented immigrants because these type of services will not be reimbursed by the government. As a result, undocumented immigrants are less likely to seek health services due to prejudiced laws and health care providers as well as the fear of being deported if they seek help. Moreover, when undocumented immigrants do seek health services, it is often during the late stages of their illness. Healthcare providers and politicians alike should continue to eliminate discrimination towards undocumented immigrants and continue exploring inclusive policies and health services for everyone despite a person's legal status.

Global cities and immigrants: A comparative study of Chicago and Madrid
By Velasco Caballero, F. & Torres, A.
Peter Lang Inc. (2014)
As national governments often tighten their grip on immigration policies, several local governments have begun to develop policies which address the ever-changing demographics of their cities. Increasingly, city and state governments are playing a larger role in immigration integration as well as immigration enforcement. Even though immigration in both Spain and the United States are at the federal level, cities such as Madrid and Chicago are shaping policies that affect immigrants in these communities. This set of comparative case studies analyzes how the two cities of Madrid and Chicago have adapted to accommodate both locals and immigrants. 

At the core and in the margins: Incorporation of Mexican immigrants in two rural midwestern communities
By Albarracin, J.
Michigan State University Press (2016)
A study was conducted based on 260 surveys and 47 in-depth interviews consisting of both quantitative and qualitative research. The study sought to better understand two Midwestern rural towns, Beardstown and Monmouth, Illinois, both of which have changed over the last three decades due to increased migration of Mexican immigrants to these locations. Through integration, these new arrivals have made Beardstown and Monmouth their homes and have gained access to opportunities such as immigration residency, citizenship process, and cultural integration as well as involvement in political and social activities. 

Unsettled Americans: Metropolitan context and civic leadership for immigrant integration
By Mollenkpf, J. & Pastor, M.
Cornell University Press (2016)
"The politics of immigration have heated up in recent years as Congress has failed to adopt comprehensive immigration reform, the President has proposed executive actions, and state and local governments have responded unevenly and ambivalently to burgeoning immigrant communities in the context of a severe economic downturn. Moreover, we have witnessed large shifts in the locations of immigrants and their families between and within the metropolitan areas of the United States. [This text]  represents one of the first systematic comparative studies of immigrant incorporation at the metropolitan level. A key feature of case studies in the book is the authors' inclusion of not only traditional receiving areas (New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles) but also newer ones (Charlotte, Phoenix, San Jose, and California's "Inland Empire")." -Publisher's Website

Cities for Citizenship (March 2016)
This webinar discusses the findings and implications of a recently released report, The Economic Impact of Naturalization on Immigrants and Cities. 

This report highlights Boise, Idaho and examines how local governments, refugee resettlement programs, community based organizations, schools, and others can come together to help refugees integrate into communities.
Follow Professor Egmont on  Twitter @wegmont
EDITORS: E. Camacho (managing editor), F. Crutchfield-Stoker, W. Egmont, B. Schmid, E. Siskind, M. Tepper, D. Maglalang & J. Verkamp