Last-Minute Lawmaking

The Bush administration bashed immigrants until the end.

By Leticia Miranda May 06, 2009

In its last days in office, the Bush administration pushed through a round of anti-immigration policies that will affect deportation hearings, FBI records and worker visas.

One of those changes was made by former Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey, who ruled that immigrants no longer have the right to reopen their cases based on claims that their attorneys were incompetent or fraudulent. This means that if their private attorneys failed to show up to court or file legal documents, immigrants do not have any recourse.

The new Attorney General, Eric Holder, said he would reexamine the decision, adding that while he understood Mukasey’s desire to expedite immigration court proceedings, those hearings need to be fair.

“It was reassuring to know he felt that this affected the due-process rights of immigrants, and we’re hoping he continues to see that as he reexamines the decision,” said Paromita Shah, associate director of the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild.

Advocates are also hoping for a reversal of the Bush administration’s decision to collect DNA from any person arrested or detained for suspicious immigration status. FBI officials are expecting to add more than 1.3 million DNA samples from immigrants, detainees and federal arrestees to their databank. The agency has also received hefty funds to upgrade their DNA programs and software to accommodate the larger workload.

Immigrant rights advocates have criticized the policy for casting all immigrants as criminals, misusing victim protection laws and misdirecting state resources. It is necessary for arrestees to go through extensive background and security checks, making DNA collection unnecessary, Shah stated.

The Bush administration also made changes to the H-2A guest worker program so the government will not have to provide oversight of workers’ housing and worksite conditions. Employers also won’t have to pay for travel costs for workers. The changed policy drastically decreases wages and weakens worker protections for about 75,000 people who are currently part of the guest worker program.

Although the Obama Administration has not announced concrete steps to rescind the policies, immigrant rights advocates are optimistic. “This last administration has been really good at establishing policies and procedures that circumvented the public process and precedent,” Shah said, adding that there’s now “an opportunity to change this culture of ‘enforcement without rationale’.”