2011 ocean.jpgAs the ocean of time washes 2011 away, the eyes of the immigration world turn once again in heady anticipation to the annual IMMI Awards.  Although not as hyped or well-known as the EMMYs or OSCARs, or as festive as the Golden Globes, this annual offering of plaudits or pickles to the year’s best and worst in U.S. immigration provides a Visa-Bulletin‘s worth of oversubscribed nominees. Our ceremony, however, omits the usual red-carpet strutting, and the sartorial post-mortems by the likes of Joan Rivers and Kelly Osbourne.

Full disclosure: There is no IMMI nominating committee. These are my personal choices. If you disagree or believe I’ve missed an obvious awardee, feel free to comment below or Tweet me here. All rants, with expletives deleted, of course, are welcome. If you want other takes on the year just concluded, check out The Christian Science Monitor‘s “Top 10 immigration stories for 2011,” New America Media‘s “Top 10 Immigration Stories of 2011” or The New York Law Journal‘s “The Year-End Immigration Roundup for Employers,” co-authored by Ted Chiappari and me.

If the year in immigration is not intriguing, then an appointment with a mental-health professional may be overdue, or perhaps Time Magazine‘s “The Top 10 Everything of 2011” and Fast Company‘s “The Best And Worst Of Everything In 2011: A Mega, Meta Mashup” will entice (my Fast Company favorite:  “Political Comedian” Will Durst’s, “Top Ten Comedic News Stories of 2011“).

The 2011 IMMI Awardees

Absentee Executive. President Obama, a two-time (er, two-timing?) IMMI awardee, wins in a new category this year.  He’s chanted “We Can’t Wait” yet is nowhere to be found on immigration reform.  A summer speech on the El-Paso/Tijuana border where he joked of alligators and moats is this year’s only sighting. He’s been absent at the helm, unwilling to wield the immense authority of his office to craft executive orders and issue regulations that would improve the functioning of the legal immigration system, help create jobs and enhance our economic competitiveness.

GOP Worst Idea of 2011. A host of contenders vied for this IMMI:  Sen. Lindsay Graham (proposals to abolish “birth tourism,” the new euphemism for the discredited “anchor baby”); Rep. Steve King (who spots unauthorized immigrants by their “clothing . . . shoes . . . accidents [accents]” and “grooming“); Herman Cain (the I’m-kidding/I’m-not-kidding suggestion of an electrified border fence); and Michele Bachmann (“the immigration system in the United States worked very, very well up until the mid-1960s,” i.e., until the laws changed the ethnic makeup of immigrants to allow more non-Europeans). The not-too-surprising winner is Newt Gingrich who espoused a system of local community boards that would choose which undocumented would stay or be forced to go.  Any idea that causes such polar opposites on the immigration spectrum as Chuck Kuck and Mark Krikorian to agree in rightly calling it hare-brained surely entitles its professorial proponent to an IMMI win. 

Posturing-Impasse-and-Blockage Non-Legislator. With a bicameral legislature of 535 potential nominees who voted that pizza is a vegetable, the choice for this year’s IMMI was especially daunting.  Sen. Charles Grassley takes the award hands down. He placed a hold on the Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act — a House-passed bill designed to avoid an expensive brain drain of foreign students from America that would have relieved persons born in India or China of the up-to-70 years wait for a green card.  (This is the senator’s second IMMI — last year he won the “I-See-Immigration-Fraud-Everywhere” award.)

Inflated Immigration Rhetoric. Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano wins the IMMI for her over-the-top defense of Secure Communities — the voluntary/mandatory means of netting far more small-time immigration violators than dangerous felons — and her empty promises of job creation through legal immigration (which since the Secretary’s August proclamation have borne no tangible fruit).

Most Tasteless Poaching.  The animal-rights group PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) takes the IMMI cake for its misappropriation of the opposition to Alabama’s illegal immigration law, the 72-page HB56, which among the law’s many faults turns elementary school teachers into illegal immigration census-takers.  PETA mounted a “No One Should Need Papers—Adopt an ‘Undocumented’ Mutt Today!” billboard campaign. Frankly, PETA, Fido comes nowhere close on the suffering scale to unauthorized immigrant families.

Why Are We Unwelcoming? This IMMI is conferred jointly on two awardees. The U.S. Consulate in Chennai receives it for lawlessly refusing work visas en masse to applicants from the world’s largest democracy and that nation’s ultra-hot economy. The second recipient is U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), whose poorly kept records, according to the General Accountability Office, suggest that “more than 4,000 [CBP] officers have not completed the [required] immigration fundamentals, and immigration law . . . courses (emphasis added).” 

Digital Dysfunction. The award might have gone to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the agency that missed a self-imposed end of year deadline for beginning its pilot Transformation program, or, to the Labor Department’s Office of Foreign Labor Certification for its frequent system outages that hurt users of its Labor Condition Application software.  But the doozy of IT screw-ups this year goes to the State Department for squelching the dreams of 22,000 foreigners who foolishly believed the Department’s notices that they had won the Diversity Green Card Lottery only to learn of a computer error that required a do-over.  

Best Immigration Video.  Although two DREAMers’ close-up-and-personal challenge to since deposed Arizona politician, Russell Pearce (“Russell Pearce Freaks Out When Confronted by DREAM Activists“), came near the mark, the IMMI goes to COLORLINES for its 2011 in Review—in 90 SecondsDon’t let the title mislead, this fast-paced collage of video snippets demonstrates vividly and viscerally how racial justice and immigration justice are two facets of the same set of bedrock civil rights:  

Industry Immigration Champions. The IMMI goes in vivo jointly to the entreprenuerial job creators (the “Immigrant Founders and Key Personnel in America’s 50 Top Venture-Funded Companies“) and to America’s farmers who staunchly opposed federal and state legislative proposals and laws that have frightened away undocumented farm laborers and caused our precious fruits and vegetables to go unharvested.  The posthumous IMMI goes to Steve Jobs who urged President Obama to “let ‘any foreign student who earned an engineering degree’ stay in the USA on a visa.

Fearless Immigration Hero. The IMMI could have gone to any of the courageous millions who braved family separation, ethnic and racial profiling, detention and the threat or reality of deportation this year.  The most high-profile and pro-active of these, no doubt, is Jose Antonio Vargas, a Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist who outed himself as an undocumented DREAMer in a New York Times Magazine article, formed an immigration-reform organization, Define American, and silently protested when Mitt Romney’s handlers prevented him from asking a question at a campaign rally.  

Insistent Inner Voice. The IMMI goes to January Contreras, the USCIS Ombudsman, and her ever-vigilant team of pleasingly squeaky wheels who respectfully turned an array of spotlights on the foibles and shenanigans of USCIS.  Ombudsman Contreras launched the first annual national Ombudsman’s conference on immigration in Washington, convened a small business and start-ups listening session in Los Angeles, provided hands-on help in individual cases, and issued a slew of important recommendations that, if fulfilled, would jumpstart job creation and measurably improve the lives and well-being of Americans and would-be citizens for decades to come. 

Dollars for Immigrant Detention.  This IMMI goes to the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) for successfully urging a spate of anti-immigration state laws that grow profits for ALEC members in the private detention and bail-bonds industries while detainees are mistreated.

Shortest Stay Award. No this IMMI doesn’t go to the many would-be entrants to the U.S. who were issued CBP orders of expedited removal and turned back at once.  Rather, it goes to Allen Bersin who, with his resignation today, clocked just over 18 months’ tenure as head of CBP.

Nativist Enabler. Kris Kobach, Kansas Secretary of State, and ghostwriter for many of the state anti-immigration bills, dubbed by The Daily Beast as “the intellectual architect of the right’s fight against illegal immigration,” wins this ignominious IMMI.  

DREAMers Shelved But Not Deferred. John Morton, who heads up U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), earns half an IMMI for announcing a new policy of prosecutorial enforcement (on serious felons) and discretion (for DREAMers and other undocumented immigrants with favorable equities).  The policy, slow to be realized on the ground, falls woefully short in real-world practice. The other half of the award will be conferred when he amends the policy so that it automatically includes “deferred action” status — a legal basis for beneficiaries of prosecutorial discretion to obtain a work permit.

Nine, Nein and Now. This IMMI goes to the Supreme Court (laudably) for its rare unanimous (all-nine) vote chastening an immigration tribunal — the Board of Immigration Appeals — over the BIA’s extra-legal interpretations of immigration law in Judulang v. Holder and (regrettably) for its five-three declaration of “no” to federal preemption in Chamber of Commerce v. Whiting, which sustained Arizona’s mandatory E-Verify law. Now, we wait for the eight-Justice decision (with Justice Kagan self-recused) on Arizona’s “papers please” SB1070 law to see if the High Court will receive a 2012 IMMI.   

Thumbnail image for Mutiny_HMS_Bounty.jpgI’m Not Captain Bligh. Alejandro Mayorkas, the well-intentioned lawyer’s-lawyer who directs USCIS, earns an IMMI for bringing tangible improvements to immigration-benefits administration.  Ali — as he prefers to be called — receives high marks for improving the process of public outreach, the stakeholder vetting of proposed agency policies and decisional templates, the initiation of an Entrepreneurs in Residence program, and the acceleration of naturalization and green-card processing times at the agency’s field offices.  His achievements are all the more laudable because he produced this bounty of immigration benefits despite the cadres of internal mutineers who have fought him tooth and nail over every innovation and improvement he proposed.

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That’s it for the 2011 IMMIs.  There’s always the next 12 months for the coming crop of nominees.  Meantime, to government readers of this blog (you know who you are) angling to win in 2012, it’s time to consider an oldie-but-a-still-goodie Nation of Immigrators posting from December 30, 2008: New Year Resolutions for Immigration Officials.