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ICED OUT: How Immigration Enforcement Has Interfered with Workers’ Rights

Picture 1The federal government’s immigration enforcement in recent years, including a heavy reliance on workplace raids and the involvement of state and local police in immigration enforcement, has resulted in a trampling of labor rights of workers.

So says a new report “ICED OUT | How Immigration Enforcement Has Interfered with Workers’ Rights” (the name reminds me of Breakthrough’s video game ICED – I Can End Deportation!).

Drawing on case studies from across the country – including California, Texas, Tennessee, Kansas, Iowa, Rhode Island, Florida and Oregon – the report examines a series of alarming incidents between 2005 and 2008 in which Immigration and Customs Enforcement has taken action at the behest of employers, conducted raids in the midst of labor disputes and even arrested workers on the courthouse steps while they were standing up for their rights.

An MOU from 1998 established a firewall between immigration and labor law enforcement to limit abusive treatment of workers but has largely been ignored, leading to serious impacts for on native and immigrant workers.

Like Josue Diaz, an immigrant worker who was recruited from a day laborer corner in New Orleans to work on reconstruction efforts in Texas after Hurricanes Ike. “We were forced to live in tents in an isolated labor camp at an abandoned oil refinery, we were made to work in toxic conditions without safety equipment, we were subjected to racist and dehumanizing treatment, and when we protested the discrimination and illegal treatment, our employer…called local police and ICE. We were arrested immediately. Instead of enforcing our labor rights against the company, the police and ICE tried to turn us into criminals.”

Or a series of very high profile raids from 2006-8 which captured the headlines, including a food processing plant in Portland, Oregon, just after local media reported on the settlement of a lawsuit brought by the workers in the plant. And let’s not forget the largest immigration raid in U.S. history in Postville, Iowa which resulted in the arrest of 389 workers, the same plant that was being investigated by 3 other agencies for serious labor violations.

And although ICE claims that the focus of its worksite enforcement is on employers that “egregiously
violate immigration laws”, for 2008 the agency made 6,287 arrests for immigration offenses at workplaces of which only a small fraction (2.1 percent) were of employers. At the same time, the labor department has cut back its own enforcement of the labor laws as reported in a recent Government Accountability Office report.

The only people who really benefit from this are employers who can terrify workers into accepting substandard wages, unsafe conditions, and lack of benefits. It’s time to stop letting immigration enforcement overshadow the equally important goal of protecting labor rights.

Lou Dobbs “Drop the Hate” ad airs on MSNBC!

CNN is feeling the heat because of its primetime anchor – Lou Dobbs. New York Times headlines. Front page of El Diario. Blogs abuzz with news.

Using its four-hour documentary “Latino in America” as a political rallying cry, groups including Drop Dobbs and Basta Dobbs have been laying the pressure on the channel to stop allowing Lou Dobbs from broadcasting hate politics. One example of many: Dobbs falsely reported an explosion of 7,000 cases of leprosy in the United States in the past three years, and blamed Latino immigrants for the perceived increase, a statistic which was been thoroughly debunked.

Now America’s Voice has raised enough money (16,000 dollars!) to produce and air an ad, “Drop the Hate”, that urges CNN to drop Dobbs and his one-sided “news” show. Unfortunately CNN has refused to air the ad.

As America’s Voice puts it, “By refusing to deal with Lou Dobbs and his nightly tirade against immigrants, Latinos, and people of color, CNN is quickly losing credibility as the “Most Trusted Name in News.” As people become aware of the network’s one-sided coverage of immigration, they will start changing the channel.”

And the channel did change to MSNBC where the “Drop the Hate” ad aired on the Rachel Maddow show across Atlanta, Los Angeles, Chicago, New York City, and Washington, DC.

Meanwhile, Lou Dobbs announced yesterday that gunshots were fired at his New Jersey home 3 weeks ago, linking it to “threatening phone calls tied to the positions I have taken on illegal immigration”, but police believe the shots were just from hunters.

Tell CNN’s president Jonathan Klein that he needs to take notice of this growing movement.

Tweet your senator: Don’t let divisive and racial politics wreck the census

To [Your Senators]: Vote NO on Vitter-Bennett amendment

Republican Senators Vitter and Bennett are trying to wreck the US Census. Mr. Vitter is demanding that the census be forced to add a question about citizenship status to its 2010 questionnaire – a move that would cost millions of dollars in tax payers money and fundamentally compromise the nature of the census.

In a incredibly narrow minded move, the Washington Times reports that he has written letters to senators from nine states telling them it’s in their interest to support him because they may lose seats to states with higher undocumented immigrant or noncitizen populations.

“Voting for cloture or against my amendment could very well be a vote to strip your state of proper representation in Congress and cede your state’s influence to other states that reward illegal immigrants like California and New York,” he said in his letter to Indiana’s two senators, which would be among those at a disadvantage.

The reason for this is that huge immigrant population increases in some states during the last decade will change the proportional representation, resulting in a loss of House seats in about eight states, including Vitter’s home state of Louisiana.

If passed, the Vitter-Bennett amendment would throw a monkey wrench into the U.S. Census by requiring over 120 million questionnaires to be reprinted, wasting over $7 billion in research, planning, and preparation that has occurred for Census 2010.

Don’t let politics undermine the accuracy of the 2010 population count and inject an anti-immigrant agenda into every conceivable realm of public life.

Click here to write your Senator and tell them to vote NO on the Vitter-Bennett amendment.

Update: The Senate voted for cloture, 60-39, on the Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations bill and put to rest the divisive amendment proposed by Senators David Vitter (LA-R) and Bob Bennett (UT-R) that would have added a new question on citizenship and immigration status to the 2010 census.

Warning: Talking Sanely about Immigration May Be Hazardous

Guest Blogger: Jackie Mahendra reposted from America’s Voice blog

Picture 1Last week Stephen Magagnini and Susan Ferriss of the Sacramento Bee first reported that Police Chief Rick Braziel had become the latest voice of a growing number of police chiefs across the nation calling for a serious immigration overhaul.

These police chiefs are sick and tired of what they’re seeing on the ground– an unworkable system made worse by politicians’ failure to tackle real immigration reform. Unsurprisingly, these cops favor an approach to reform that prioritizes pragmatism over rhetoric– one that makes their communities safer by dealing with the realities of a badly broken immigration system.

As the Sacramento Bee reports:

Braziel said Congress must take a two-pronged approach: tighter borders and a way to allow undocumented immigrants who are productive to stay in the U.S. legally. Now, many are afraid to assist in criminal investigations, Braziel said.

Such a two-pronged approach, sure to draw criticism and support from both sides of the aisle, is nothing new. Police chiefs standing up to fight for it, however, is very new.

Why are they risking the ire of many in their communities to speak out?

Marcos Breton, reporting for the Sacramento Bee this morning, makes a clear case:

Sacramento Police Chief Rick Braziel is not an immigration rights advocate.

He supports maintaining strong borders. And he has no sympathy for undocumented felons.

“If you’re a serious criminal, we’re going to use every law – local, state and federal – to get you off the street,” Braziel said last week.

But based on nearly 30 years as a cop, Braziel believes that confusing immigration laws are hindering cops and helping criminals.

Too many undocumented immigrants who are victims or witnesses to crimes are avoiding police for fear they’ll be deported, Braziel and other cops say. This allows criminals to prey on innocent people.

This get-tough-on-criminals-without-sacrificing-the-trust-of-the-community approach to immigration law is squarely middle of the road.

Many immigrant advocates would be quick to criticize such a position for not going far enough to address the root causes of migration or for unfairly portraying the majority of immigrants as criminals (instead of lifting up the fact that most have only civil immigration violations). Many anti-immigration advocates would argue that the position doesn’t simply call on the feds to “round up and deport” the 12 million undocumented immigrants living and working in our communities.

The point, is, as Breton reports, “What Braziel espouses is not a radical viewpoint. But that doesn’t matter.” He argues:

Simply taking a common-sense stance on immigration gets you hate mail, as Braziel and others learned last week when they waded into an issue ruled by strident voices.

When Braziel was quoted as saying that it wasn’t feasible to deport all 12 million undocumented immigrants in America, he took heat. “Fire him!” wrote one anonymous blogger on

Breton continues:

Cops – especially those who don’t have to run for office – can bring honesty to the immigration discussion that politicians and pundits do not.

In this case, Braziel is the anti-Lou Dobbs, the bombastic CNN commentator known for stirring the immigration pot. Venegas said his group wants cops to be “at the table” when immigration legislation is drafted.

Sounds reasonable. But Braziel had better wear his flak jacket. Talking sanely about immigration can be hazardous.

So, there you have it: talking sanely about immigration could be hazardous.

Not doing so, however, could prove disastrous, especially when it comes to keeping our communities safe.

Rep. Jared Polis, ACLU and others stand up to Sheriff Arpaio’s brand of immigration enforcement

In a floor speech delivered today, U.S. Rep. Jared Polis had some harsh words for the 287(g) program which grants broad immigration enforcement powers to local law enforcement agencies, holding it responsible for a “sweep of terror” that “scares victims and witnesses of crimes to avoid contacting police for fear of being mistreated.”

Given Sheriff Arpaio’s so called crime and immigrations sweeps over the weekend in Maricopa County, Arizona, the speech is a well planned rebuff to the administrations renewal of 67 agreements with local law enforcement agencies to enforce immigration laws.

Arpaio, whose deputies had arrested 16 people last Friday on unspecified charges said, “I am the elected sheriff. I don’t take orders from the federal government.” And even though his agreement with the government extends only to immigration enforcement in the jails (and has been expressly removed from the streets), he continues to defy the law. To prove his point, he distributed a document that he claimed included language from Title 8 of the federal code authorizing him to conduct sweeps, which was eventually proven to come from an anti-immigrant Web site, and not from federal statute.

Notwithstanding Sheriff Arpaio’s notoriety, stories of racial profiling and violations are emerging across the country.

From Cobbs County, Georgia comes a damning ACLU report showing how the 287(g) program has led to an intense mistrust of local law enforcement within their community. Individual testimonies include Joanna who once put out a fire in her kitchen herself because she was too afraid to call 911 for fear of immigration consequences. Or Jonathan, a Latino man who was shopping for jewelry for his wife at Macy’s when a security guard began to follow him and called the police. Jonathan was then detained by the officer without being informed about the reason and was subsequently charged with loitering and deported, charges that were later dismissed by the district attorney. His family now lives in constant fear of the “seemingly unlimited power of the police to arrest a Latino person for any or no reason at all.”

The report indicates a marked pattern to the way that the Cobb police regularly use minor traffic violations to detain immigrants, stopping them based on the color of their skin, and then denying their basic rights. Sharon, an American citizen, tells the story about her husband Angel, who was pulled over for an incomplete stop at a stop sign. He was subsequently arrested and when Sharon tried to get him out on bond, the officer told her that there was an immigration detainer on him and he could not be released. He was then transferred to a detention center while Sharon who is disabled waits for the release of her husband, whom she depends on “for everything.”

It’s time we listen to Members of Congress like Rep. Polis who is willing to stand up to a system that is clearly not working. Or the Law Enforcement Engagement initiative, which has many state and local law enforcement officials speaking out for immigration reform that respects fairness and due process.

“Illegal alien” Halloween costume sets off firestorm

Picture 3On Friday, news started emerging about a racist and offensive ‘illegal alien’ costume being sold for Halloween on Target, Toys R Us, Walgreens, Amazon and a host of other retailers. Pressure from immigration activists including CHIRLA, United Farm Workers and LULAC helped pull some of the costumes of the shelves – while Target and Toys R Us pulled the costume off their websites, Walgreens showed it as out of stock.

There has been no official announcement from Amazon but it appears that the costumes have been pulled.

The costume, described by CHIRLA as “distasteful, mean-spirited, and ignorant of social stigmas and current debate on immigration reform” consists of “orange prison-style jumpsuit with illegal alien printed on the front, an alien mask and a green card.”

The mixed messages in the costume are mind boggling. A green card means legal status, therefore one isn’t quite sure what that’s doing as part of the costume – unless of course all immigrants are criminals. Being undocumented in the country is a civil offense – not a criminal offense – therefore why is a prison jumpsuit (which looks closely like uniforms worn by people held in Guantanamo) featured at all. Worst of all is the alien mask – clearly denoting how all outsiders are aliens. Maybe its even silly to try and break down such a costume but one can’t help it when Fox news is asking where America’s sense of humor is? And when William Gheen, president of anti-immigration group Americans for Legal Immigration PAC’s President has offered to conduct interviews wearing the costume.

In an even more disturbing and offensive twist, Fox ends their depiction of the news with, “if you’re here illegally, go to your local police station and tell them how outraged you are because you’re an illegal alien and this costume offends you!”

Perpetuating racism and discrimination, this is only one in a line of costumes, designed to provoke fear and hostility towards outsiders. Here are two more costumes from Party City and Halloween Express that do just that.


Picture 2

Keep up with UFW’s petition putting pressure on Amazon and other retailers to pull offensive costumes off their shelves.

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Expanding immigration enforcement programs – more harm than good?

Picture 1Today as expected, the Department of Homeland Security has announced an expansion of programs that deputize state and local police to enforce immigration law. Even though immigration is a federal matter, in the post 9/11 world, many believe that immigration enforcement should spread to a local level as an effective tool against terrorism. But in actuality, the programs create an environment of fear that discourage immigrant communities from cooperating with the police for fear of deportation, risking community safety in the process.

To date, the performance of the 66 participating agencies in these programs has been controversial. While the programs are meant to catch violent offenders, the bulk of those who have been caught include undocumented immigrants caught for minor or no offenses, which for a citizen would mean a citation at most or being let off. What’s been even more disturbing is the documented cases of racial profiling. As a Washington Post article reports,

Critics cited cases in which police conducted roadside stops and neighborhood sweeps aimed at Latinos and other ethnic groups, often arresting minorities for traffic and other minor offenses in pursuit of illegal immigrants.

The most controversial of the programs is the 287(g) program – notorious for its serious civil rights abuses and public safety concerns – but which according to the same article accounts for only a small fraction of the 135,389 illegal immigrants apprehended. The Department of Homeland Security made pledges to fix the program , leading to a new Memorandum of Understanding with participating agencies, that would ensure a focus on only serious and criminal offenders. But it “expects” rather than “requires” such a provision, thereby making cosmetic changes that would do nothing to stop local law enforcement committing illegal profiling under the cloak of federal immigration authority.

For the vast majority of immigrants that have been swept up into the programs, a whopping  94 percent were found by checks at local and state jails. Yesterday, we posted on the Secure Communities programs, a program that lets the police arrest someone on a traffic or other offense – even if the arrest is based on racial profiling – and then have their fingerprints checked against immigration databases during booking.  When the fingerprint scan gets a “hit,” immigrants can end up getting carted off to an immigration detention center.  Again, nothing is being done to keep local police from using arrests on minor charges as an excuse to get immigrants into custody. And a new report from the Warren Institute on Race, Ethnicity & Diversity proves just thatpolice in Irving, Texas began arresting Hispanics in far greater numbers for petty offenses once they had round the clock access to immigration agents to deport serious criminal offenders.

Judging from the poster child of these programs, Sheriff Joe Arpaio, whose department in Maricopa County, Arizona, accounts for 20% of the nationwide arrests, allegations of racial profiling are not just hearsay. In an interview with CNN, Arpaio admitted that he judges undocumented people by “their conduct, what type of clothes they’re wearing, their speech, they admit it”. And even though the administration has taken away his powers to enforce immigration laws on the streets, he is claiming he doesn’t need permission from the federal government and is planning an immigration raid to prove it.

It’s disappointing that the administration is not only pursuing programs that have proven to be unbeneficial, but is expanding these in a move that makes little sense for those who understand the underlying issues.

Growing insecurity in immigrant communities

Guest Blogger: Joan Friedland from the National Immigration Law Center

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It was refreshing to hear the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) acknowledge something activists have been saying for years: the immigrant detention system operates like the punitive criminal incarceration system, even though the vast majority of detainees have committed no crime. Missing from their announcement, however, was a plan to keep its newly-expanded enforcement programs from increasing the number of immigrants detained in this broken system.

Secure Communities” is DHS’s latest attempt to use local law enforcement to push people into the immigrant detention system. All local law enforcement has to do is arrest someone on a traffic or other offense – even if the arrest is based on racial profiling – and their fingerprints will be checked against immigration databases during booking.  When the fingerprint scan gets a “hit,” immigrants can end up getting carted off by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents to an immigration detention center.  If they get out on bond, ICE can take them into custody, leaving their criminal cases unresolved.  It doesn’t matter if the person was innocent of a criminal charge or if the arrest was a pretext to check immigration status.

Sound scary? Consider this: ICE plans to have the program in every jail and prison in the country by 2013.

ICE isn’t lifting a finger to keep local police from using arrests on minor charges as an excuse to get immigrants into custody.  The available evidence shows that only a small percentage of immigrants caught through Secure Communities were convicted of serious crimes.  But calling all of them “criminal aliens” masks what’s really going on and lets ICE and Congress – which is allocating a whopping $200 million for Secure Communities – look tough on enforcement.

Accountability and transparency are not hallmarks of Secure Communities.  Since the program’s inception in 2008, ICE has reduced the public information about it on the agency website, adding graphics but eliminating details about enforcement priorities. ICE has given conflicting information about whether a community can opt out of the program or just use it to target people convicted of violent crimes.  And ICE doesn’t appear to be collecting the kind of data that would prevent the program from being misused.

The government’s admission that the immigrant detention system is flawed is a step in the right direction. They now need to keep this monstrous system from growing.  Secure Communities will only ensure that the opposite will happen.

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Have we taken the first step toward immigration reform?

4009782434_0a1273591bBuses, vans and cars carrying more than 3,000 activists from at least 17 states descended on Washington D.C. to call for immigration reform, cheering when Rep. Luis Gutierrez’s (D-IL) introduced his blueprint for reform that will form the basis of an immigration reform bill to be introduced in November.

As Rep. Luis Gutierrez said, “We need a bill that says if you come here to hurt our communities, we will not support you; but if you are here to work hard and to make a better life for your family, you will have the opportunity to earn your citizenship. We need a law that says it is un-American for a mother to be torn from her child, and it is unacceptable to undermine our workforce by driving the most vulnerable among us further into the shadows.”

The blueprint is an exciting step forward to bring reform that respects due process and fairness – calling on workable solutions that will take the American people forward and hold true to our values as a nation. Its highlights include a pathway to legalization for undocumented workers, effective border enforcement, a need to ensure future flows of workers

, and family unity as a cornerstone of the immigration system. It also talks of the need for smart and humane interior enforcement stating, “Inside the country, my plan will promote fair immigration proceedings, humane treatment of immigration detainees and policies that respect the tenets of community policing.”

This is a key point for the Restore Fairness campaign, which calls for immigration reform legislation that must address due process failures embodied in current immigration law, including ending the prolonged detention of people who pose no risk or danger, creating legally enforceable standards for detention, and restoring discretion so immigration judges can consider individual circumstances when rendering deportation decisions. Although we are heartened to see the administration move forward with detention reform, a recent interview on NPR with the assistant secretary for Immigration and Customs Enforcement in the Department of Homeland Security, John Morton reveals that “this reform effort is not about whether or not we detain people; it’s about how we detain them,” thus not fundamentally addressing the heightened enforcement tactics that have led to an overburdened system in the first place.

60% of detainees are now arriving from state and local enforcement programs that enforce immigration law, but most of these detainees are low level offenders or have no crime, very unlike the main aim of the programs which are to catch serious and violent offenders. That’s why any immigration reform must include an end to raids and legislation that gives state and local authorities a role in enforcing federal civil immigration laws – a policy which has been ineffective, led to racial and ethnic profiling and created an environment of fear that discourages immigrant communities from cooperating with the police.

These are tough challenges and need collective support so we can celebrate the fair and diverse land of opportunity that America is.

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The I in immigration stands for you

It always happens, after a sultry summer, fall invigorates us to start taking action.

Today, thousands of activists from labor, immigrant advocacy, civil rights groups, and faith-based communities are gathered in Washington D.C. to ask Congress to support immigration reform. It’s no coincidence that today is also the day that Rep. Luis Gutierrez will reveal principles of an immigration reform bill that will form the basis for a new approach to immigration. Calling on President Obama’s promise to address immigration reform, people are showing their support in large numbers. And they need your help.

On a related note, the Basta Dobbs campaign to dismantle Lou Dobbs anti-immigrant rhetoric from CNN, while having a major impact, is looking to intensify it’s efforts. While the National Council of La Raza is calling on you to stand up to the voices of hatred and advocate for reform. Interested?

And finally, our efforts are paying off. Immigration Detention reform is becoming a reality  – although lots more needs to be done to reform a notorious system of of incarceration that is responsible for many deaths and much abuse.

Watch Rep. Jared Polis stand up for detention reform and then support Amnesty’s effort or our effort to protect the human rights of immigrants and even citizens locked up in detention centers across the U.S.

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