Category Archives: Uncatagorized

UKIP Poised to Pick Up More Seats

The United Kingdom Independence Party, also referred to as the UK Independence Party or UKIP, is one of several nationalist parties across Europe which have taken controversial stances against the issue of immigration. Though not a new party and certainly not a new issue, the topic of immigration has recently been back in the spotlight right on time for the EU parliament elections.

In the 2013 UK local elections for the European Parliament, UKIP had a better showing than the Liberal Democrats, coming in third place with 23 percent of the vote and picking up a total of 13 out of the United Kingdom’s 72 total seats. As new EU parliament elections take place in the third full week of this month, it is anybody’s guess if UKIP will fare better or worse.

The United Kingdom Independence Party traces its roots back to 1993, when it was founded in opposition to the creation of the euro currency as well as the basic structure of the European Union, as drafted and enacted in the Maastricht Treaty which came into effect that same year.

After an uninspiring showing in the the 1997 national election and amidst changing leadership, UKIP received a boost of empowerment with an infusion of supporters from a challenging party whose leader had passed away due to health complications. By the time of the 1999 EU parliament elections UKIP gained three seats, however the party was still unable to win any seats in the 2001 national parliamentary elections.

UKIP continued to gradually grow in popularity in the 2000s, and by early 2013 opinion polls ranked it as the third-most popular party in the UK. This rise to prominence over two decades has been sold to the voters on several main issues.

The party aims to come across as standing for conservative, traditional, and libertarian issues. Fiscally, UKIP takes a pro-business stance, favoring a lower rate of corporate taxes as one example in policies that are generally geared towards lowering taxes.

Decentralization in healthcare is another key feature of UKIP stances, which advocates county control over healthcare spending and a greatly diminished role of, and funding for the Department of Health. And of course, founded in opposition to the Maastricht Treaty, one of the pillars of UKIP is withdrawal from the EU.

Perhaps what the UK Independence Party is most outspoken for is its stance on immigration. Indeed, it often seems its driving motivation to advocate exiting the EU is to avoid its internal open immigration policy. Much of the publicity the party generates is through xenophobic comments about immigrants. However in order for UKIP to become more mainstream it is realizing it must soften its stance, and currently makes the demands that all foreigners entering the UK should provide proof of private health insurance, and immigrants should not have access to public schools for the first five years they are in the UK.

With UKIP’s growing appeal to voters, it is no wonder that David Cameron as the leader of the Conservative Party has been sounding a tougher note when it comes to the issues of immigration and the benefits of newly arrived immigrants. UKIP has also been putting pressure on Mr. Cameron when it comes to policy stances that could affect the UK’s relationship with the European Union.

As the European parliamentary elections draw nearer this May 22-25, it is anyone’s guess how the UK Independence Party will fare. Currently analysts are predicting it will make at least as strong a showing as it did during the last EU parliament elections in 2013 when it won 18 percent of the UK’s seats.

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Germany Pledges Acceptance of 5,000 More Syrians

The German government announced on December 6th that it will accept an additional 5,000 Syrian refugees in the country, bringing the total number as part of the current Humanitarian Assistance Program to 10,000.

This program stipulates that Syrian refugees are to be granted temporary asylum for two years, at which time they may apply for an extension if the crisis in Syria is still ongoing. While in Germany they will have access to healthcare, education, and have access to the labor market.

Upon arrival the Syrians are taken to a transit camp such as the one in Friedland near Göttingen, where they will stay for about two weeks and take courses in basic German language, customs, plus the health and education systems. After their time in the transit camp the refugees will move to various locations throughout the country.

The first group of highly vulnerable Syrian refugees – identified as such based on surviving torture among other circumstances – arrived in the country last September with the help of the United Nations, numbering 107. This was the UN’s first resettlement of Syrian refugees. The UN High Commission on Refugees is aiming to resettle 12,000 Syrian refugees by the end of the year.

Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and other European countries have pledged to accept Syrian refugees in the tens or hundreds. Sweden recently announced any Syrian seeking asylum would be accepted. Earlier statements by US State Department officials in August indicated it would accept 2,000 Syrian refugees, and as of October 8th of this year the actual number accepted had reached approximately 90, in addition to a reported $1.3 billion spent on emergency relief aid.

Syria’s neighbors have accepted over a million displaced Syrian refugees in the past six months.

The German Interior Ministry estimates that around 24,000 Syrian refugees have entered the country independently since the conflict began, and as the situation in Syria continues to look grim the flow of refugees will certainly not decrease.

Grim Situation in Syria Threatens Upcoming Peace Talks

As the conflict in Syria approaches the three-year mark this March, unless peace negotiations scheduled to take place in Geneva starting January 22nd are successful the situation will likely become worse. There is already talk among different rebel groups regarding the civil war that will follow the toppling of Assad, as different factions battle each other for territory and influence.

Termed the Geneva II summit, representatives will include delegations from the Assad government, rebel groups, the US, Russia, France, Britain, Germany, Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, China, the UN, and the EU.

There is still a question if representatives of the Iranian government, who are heavy supporters of Assad, will be invited over opposition from some Western countries such as the US and Britain because the Iranian government has not acknowledged the framework from the first Geneva summit held last year at the end of June. However many are skeptical this opposition will be maintained in light of the fact that Iranian participation in a deal is crucial, and Tehran has expressed a willingness to attend should it be invited.

Currently the primary armed groups on the ground in Syria include the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (al-Sham being the classical Arabic name for Syria), Jabhat al-Nusra (The Support Front for the People of the Levant) also known as the al-Nusra Front, the Free Syrian Army, and of course Bashar al-Assad’s government forces.

To date the Syrian conflict has left over seven million Syrians displaced and over 100,000 killed.

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Sweden Grants Asylum to Syrians

As of September 3rd 2013, any Syrian refugee who applies for asylum in Sweden will be granted a residence permit. Since that decision taken by the Swedish immigration authority Migrationsverket, there have been over 5,500 Syrians who have successfully claimed asylum based on that ruling.

As of September 2013, Sweden had granted asylum to 14,700 Syrians in total. As we approach the end of the year the Swedish migration agency has processed 56,000 asylum cases, and that number is expected to rise to around 69,000 cases in 2014. Although these latter figures are for the total number of asylum seekers in Sweden – not just Syrians – two of the three largest factors affecting asylee numbers are EU decisions on the settlement of Syrian refugees throughout Europe and the developments of the conflict in Syria.

Unfortunately based on the fact that the residence permits being granted are permanent, the Swedish government’s estimation that the conflict will end soon appears to be grim.

So far Sweden is the only European country to offer such a policy, and members of the current government state they hope other EU countries follow suit, based both on political as well as moral grounds. However when it comes to the related issue of immigration, as most of Europe continues to debate austerity measures that have come with tough economic times, political motivations surrounding immigration have invariably waned, demonstrated most obviously by the recent comments of the UK Prime Minister David Cameron on proposed EU migrant benefit cuts and additional tightening of intra-European immigration.

Still the UK is widely seen as another favorable location to apply for asylum, where there was a recent demonstration in the port of Calais across the channel in early October where several Syrian refugees threatened to jump off the roof of a ferry terminal unless they were granted passage to the UK where they believed they could gain asylum. However the British migration authorities currently have the policy to consider each asylum application on a case-by-case basis, in contrast to Sweden’s recent announcement.

Sweden has long held a moral high ground among European nations – and indeed the world – for accepting refugees. In 2006 following three years of American-led boots on the ground in Iraq, Sweden accepted 9,000 Iraqi refugees. And that year Södertälje, a quaint city to the south of Stockholm, accepted twice as many Iraqi refugees as the entire United States.

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USCIS Recognizes Same-Sex Immigration Issues

On July 1st 2013 it became official policy for USCIS to recognize same-sex marriages as being treated equal to heterosexual marriages in terms of immigration.

Because immigration is a federal matter, federal recognition of same-sex marriages is the deciding factor when it comes to this issue. For immigration purposes and being legal in the United States, an individual state’s same-sex marriage laws or policies has zero bearing.

One of the first recent steps in this direction came with the Immigration Act of 1990, which among other things prohibited the exclusion of immigrants based on the fact that they were homosexual. Before 1990 it was on the books that you could be denied citizenship on the grounds of being homosexual.

The federal government first defined marriage as an act which only takes place between a man and a woman in 1996 in the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). A specific portion of the DOMA, Section 3, also declared the federal government would not recognize same-sex marriages for federal purposes- i.e. taxes, immigration, social security, etc. Prior to this there was no official federal definition of marriage.

However a Supreme Court ruling in 2013 declared Section 3 of DOMA to be unconstitutional. President Obama preceded this ruling in 2011 saying that his administration believed the law to be just that, and would not defend any court actions against it, although the Act still remained in effect until at least Section 3 was recently declared moot.

A week after the Supreme Court’s decision on DOMA the director of Homeland Security at the time, Janet Napolitano, issued a directive to USCIS ordering federal recognition of same-sex marriage for the purposes of immigration. This means you can apply for same-sex marriage immigration visas and petitions as would anyone else involved in an immigration case based on a heterosexual marriage. This includes the following circumstances where you are a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident involved in a same-sex relationship and:

  • You are engaged to a foreign national and would like to petition them to come to the US
  • You are already married to a foreign national and would like to petition for them to come live with you in the US
  • You have previously had a petition denied based on the fact that you were in a same-sex marriage or relationship and can now bring this to the attention of USCIS and have your case reconsidered
  • You would like your spouse to be considered for marriage-based work permission

 

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The Future of US Immigration Reform

The latest comments from politicians seems to indicate that any action on immigration reform may be slow in coming. A few months ago an immigration bill seemed closer than it had for a while, as voices among the so-called Gang of Eight bipartisan sponsors of the 2013 Comprehensive Immigration Reform Bill, including Marco Rubio, Lindsey Graham, John McCain, and Jeff Flake – all prominent Republican Senators – were offering moderately cautioned language for what sounded like hints at a grand bargain. However today there is speculation that any immigration legislation may be over a year away. To shed some light on the current debacle let’s take a look at comprehensive immigration reform in recent history.

The idea of a comprehensive immigration reform bill, the catch phrase thrown around by politicians in Congress, has been in the works arguably since the last major immigration reform in 1986. That was the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, also known as the Simpson-Mazzoli Act, which had two significant repercussions: placing the responsibility for verification of a worker’s immigration status on the employer and granting a conditional amnesty to illegal immigrants who had been in the country continuously since 1982.

Next there was the Immigration Act of 1990 that dealt mainly with admission numbers of immigrants to the US, raising them by 500,000 to 700,000 in total, and also making a few adjustments to non-immigrant admissions criteria along with revising the grounds for deportation. Admissions were structured to favor family-based cases, and the final Act was signed by George HW Bush.

This was followed by the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, signed into law by Bill Clinton. Dealing primarily with immigrants already in the country, this Act provided certain conditions under which one could obtain a pardon and apply for an adjustment of status, or could apply to legally immigrate after moving back outside the US for a period of time. It also made it easier to deport illegal immigrants if they committed crimes; previously the bar for deportation had been set for offenses that carried a penalty of five or more years in jail. This 1996 Act lowered that bar to minor offenses and was applied retroactively, meaning for instance that illegal immigrants who had been convicted of crimes such as shoplifting would be targeted to deportation.

Since 2001 members on both sides of the aisle have been trying to get a version of the DREAM Act – or Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act – passed, but to no avail. As the name suggests, the various versions of this legislation have been aimed at providing a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants who came to the US as minors. Many states have passed their own versions of the DREAM Act, but as immigration status and citizenship is solely a federal issue, these state versions primarily can only deal with school admissions and financial aid.

And now we come to the current immigration bill passed by the Senate on June 27, 2013 that has virtually no chance of being brought up for a vote in the Republican-controlled House of Representatives where it faces stiff opposition among party members. The current Senate version is indeed a grand bargain that would provide a path towards citizenship for approximately 11 million undocumented immigrants while adding an additional 20,000 border agents to our nation’s frontiers.

It seemed that immigration reform had a good chance at passing after Mitt Romney lost his 2012 bid for the White House and voices in the Republican Party began speculating what could be done to win more Latino votes, but after the recent government shutdown and battle over the Affordable Care Act, the only talk about comprehensive immigration reform is when it is mentioned with the year 2015, and it seems the chances for this happening are already less than when it could have been brought up after the 2012 presidential election. And the reason for it all is…politics of course.

The primary stated goal of the Republican Party before the 2012 presidential election was to defeat Barack Obama. That shouldn’t have come as a surprise to anyone, and although no one got a nice sound clip of it, the primary goal of the Democrats was obviously to get Obama reelected. And it should also be of no surprise that the parties have the same goals for the 2016 election and the even-sooner 2014 midterm, which incidentally also include gaining control of the House and Senate.

So where does comprehensive immigration reform fall into this? The time for a grand deal was ripe after the Romney defeat in 2012. Republicans could have said they helped to bring about immigration reform in cooperation with the president and rode slogans with this message until the next election. They could have also claimed credit for getting tougher border controls implemented and more border agents hired, relating back to their constant “jobs” theme. Of course the Democrats could use the PR with the human face of immigration from any deal more strongly than the Republicans, but at least the Republicans could claim some credit too and they wouldn’t be in the position they are now as deal-spoilers.

However because of the recent negative attention to the poor rollout of the Affordable Care Act website and insurance cancellation mess, the Republican Party has calculated they will get more traction in the midterm 2014 election and 2016 presidential election by criticizing the Affordable Care Act and dealing with specific pieces of the comprehensive immigration reform act passed by the Senate.

The question of what the Republicans are going to do to attract the important votes of more Latinos still looms over the party, but they figure that they can deal with this through smaller pieces of legislation later that will certainly not be any type of grand bargain. Maybe Republican Party leaders are right to think they would get as much traction out of some smaller immigration concessions to the Democrats as they would have from a grand bargain in 2013.

However if the Affordable Care Act catches on with the majority of Americans that will be a huge positive achievement for the Democrats, and the Republicans will have to scramble to find something to stand for besides jobs and being pro-life. Maybe then they would be more interested in a grand deal on immigration.

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