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Secure Communities Turns Immigrants into Criminals

thumbprintGuest Blogger: Sarahi Uribe from National Day Laborer Organizing Network reposted from New American Media

This month the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) celebrated one year of Secure Communities. The program, which checks the immigration status of detainees in jails by comparing their booking information to DHS’ databases, is dangerously misnamed since it actually endangers rather than improves community security.

In its press release, DHS gloated that it “identified more than 111,000 criminal aliens in local custody during its first year.” The department hailed the program as an effective way of deporting “dangerous criminals that pose a threat to public security.” So who are these alleged criminals?

A closer look reveals the program’s first fallacy: DHS includes people simply “charged” with a crime in its definition of “criminal aliens.” People are labeled criminals before they are given a chance to defend themselves in court. A cornerstone of our criminal system is that a person is innocent until proven guilty. Yet under Secure Communities, people are put into deportation proceedings even if they are innocent of criminal charges or if the arrest was simply a pretext to check a person’s immigration status.

The lack of due process sets the stage for racial profiling without any real consequences for abusive police agents. DHS maintains that since immigration checks happen electronically, the program is virtually immune to racial profiling. Consequently, DHS does not collect data that would reveal whether racial profiling is happening. The attempt to divorce police officers’ motivations for arresting individuals and DHS’ subsequent actions after the booking phase makes no sense. As the program is currently designed, a police officer can make a pre-textual arrest and later drop the charges, but an individual can still be placed into deportation proceedings.

The second misrepresentation of the program is found in DHS’s definition of “serious crimes.” The Department highlights that 100,000 of those identifies were convicted of level 2 and 3 crimes, “including burglary and serious property crimes.” What DHS omits is that while “arson” is a level 2 offense, so are “traffic offenses.” If the controversial 287(g) program which fervently targeted people with “broken tail-lights,” is any indicator, Secure Communities is a strategy for deporting anyone DHS can get its hands on—even law-abiding people who could be months away from adjusting their immigration status.

Essentially, DHS’ message is this: Being an immigrant makes you a criminal. This dangerous conflation not only promotes abusive policing practices, such as racial profiling, but also creates divisions and distrust in communities. It hurts public safety because immigrant communities are less likely to report crimes or cooperate with police for fear of deportation. It also disturbingly dehumanizes people who are an integral part of our communities and our national identity.

Last week Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano spoke about the need for immigration reform while trumpeting the successes of Secure Communities and other enforcement programs. But if the word “criminal” can replace “immigrant,” then her declaration that “We are a nation of immigrants” rings hollow.

Photo courtesy of

Human Rights First report tells us that broad immigration laws label bona fide asylum seekers as “terrorists”

AsylumReportAccording to a Human Rights First report released last week, since 2001, over 18,000 refugees and asylum seekers who pose no threat to U.S. security have not received protection from the U.S. government due to the overly broad provisions of Immigration law, and the expansive way that they have been interpreted by federal immigration agencies. The report, entitled, ‘Denial and Delay: The Impact of the Immigration Law’s “Terrorism Bars” on Asylum Seekers and Refugees in the United States’, outlines the pervasive, unintended consequences of the “terrorism” provisions in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) and provides some recommendations for swift and comprehensive solutions to the problem.

Out of the 18,000 cases, 7,500 are in limbo after having been put on hold or delayed by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Most of these are people who are already in the U.S. and have filed for permanent residency. However, the delays are thwarting efforts of these people to bring over their family members, many of whom remain in stuck in very dangerous and difficult situations in their home countries.

While this situation can be traced back to provisions instituted in the 1990s, the USA Patriot Act of 2001 and the 2005 Real ID Act expanded the scope of laws dealing with “terrorist organizations”, “terrorist activity” and “material support” in ways that ensured that thousands of men, women and children who comprised of people who were abducted by rebel armies, who fought for democracy in their countries, and doctors who provided medical care to the wounded in accordance with their occupational obligation, were denied asylum even while they had fought for causes that the U.S. supports.

At the center of the report lie personal stories of those affected by these provisions. The most striking is that of a young girl who was kidnapped by a rebel group in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, forced to take part in armed conflict, and threatened for her work against the use of children in armed conflict. Her application for asylum has been on hold for a year because of her previous involvement in armed conflict.

In another case, a refugee from Burundi was detained in U.S. county jails for 20 months because DHS and the immigration judge that heard his case decided that he had provided “material support” to a rebel group when the rebels had, in fact, forcibly robbed him of 4 dollars and food. Sachin Karmakar, a Bangladeshi man who advocated for religious minorities and was facing persecution for his work, was granted asylum but not permanent residency because he was involved in Bangladesh’s 1971 fight for independence from India.

Calling for reform, the report details that although DHS has been trying to deal with this situation by granting discretionary waivers, it has been piecemeal and is clearly not enough. They suggest that Congress amends the notion of “Tier III terrorist organizations” and the definition of “terrorist activity” to be more specific and appropriate.

The INA’s sloppy definition of a “Tier III terrorist organization” is causing groups that the U.S. does not treat as “terrorist” in any other context to be defined in this way…refugees who pose no threat to the U.S., and are not guilty of any conduct for which the U.S. would legitimately want to exclude them, are being denied the protection they need or are unable to obtain permanent residence or reunited with their spouses or children. Any non-citizens who do pose a threat to the U.S. or who are guilty of actual terrorist acts or other crimes are already covered by other provisions of the immigration law, so that the “Tier III” definition is being used overwhelmingly against people who were not its intended targets.

Moreover the Human Rights Watch report demands that DHS -

adopt a more effective and fair approach to granting “waivers”, one that allows people initially applying for asylum, refugee status or other relief to be considered for waivers based on an individualized assessment of their actions, that permits prompt adjudication of the large mass of applications for permanent residence and family reunification of people…and that ensures that no refugee is deported without being considered for a waiver if eligible for one under law.

Anwen Hughes, the author of the report, says that the speed at which Congress and the Obama administration is dealing with situation is disastrously slow. She said that change is critical in order to ensure that the immigration laws are no longer used to exclude legitimate refugees from the protection the U.S. is committed to offering them.

Photo courtesy of

Answer this call to action for immigration reform on November 18th- listen in and party it out!

November 18th is a day of National Action for immigration and here is an opportunity for you to take leadership in your community and fight for immigration reform.

On Wednesday, November 18th, supporters of immigration reform from all across the country are getting together for a nation-wide dialogue about the steps necessary for immigration reform. Reform Immigration for America will be hosting a virtual/telephonic town hall meeting in which Congressman Luis Gutierrez will lead a discussion about why the broken immigration system needs to be fixed, and how we are going to win this fight. Gutierrez and other immigration reform leaders will lay out the ways families are hurting right now, and how Reform Immigration for America’s campaign for Families, Freedom and Faith can make a difference.

At 8:00 PM Eastern time/5:00 PM Pacific time tomorrow, you can join this exciting conversation with Representative Gutierrez and other reform leaders by listening in along with thousands of others, voicing your concerns and asking questions en route to winning this fight. Also, there are 650 parties taking place across the country that night in houses, churches and ESL classes, in which all those who support comprehensive immigration reform are gathering with their friends, families and neighbors to join in on the call and learn about what action needs to be taken to fix the system. By attending a party, you and immigration reformers in your neighborhood will tell the world that you’re committed to the cause. Not only will you hear firsthand what’s already being done for immigration reform, but you’ll also learn about what’s next for this movement and how to take a stand.

Click here to find a party near you, and if you don’t find one, then host one yourself! Not sure how to host a party? Here’s a helpful ‘host a party’ toolkit that will tell you how. And if you can’t attend a party, then sign up here to participate in the Families, Freedom and Faith call!

This call will lay out how we’re going to win the fight for immigration reform. And you’re invited.

PS- The town halls are being hosted in both English and Spanish. To look for a party for a Spanish-language call, click here.

Photo courtesy of

Are children of immigrants becoming needless statistics in the child welfare system?

Guest Blogger: Emily Butera from the Women’s Refugee Commission

What if I told you you could permanently lose custody of your child because you are undocumented? Or because you do not understand English? Or you are unable to communicate with the child welfare system and family court from immigration detention? What if I told you you might have to leave your child behind if you are deported because you may not have time to get the child a passport or will not be able to coordinate the flight arrangements? You might tell me that these kinds of things do not happen in the United States. Sadly, you would be wrong.

With immigration enforcement increasing, my inbox has been flooded with stories such as Encarnación Bail Romero’s. Encarnación is a Missouri mother whose son was adopted by total strangers – against her will, without her consent and despite her efforts to oppose the adoption – while she was in custody following a raid on her Missouri worksite. Encarnación was not adequately represented in family court, and was unable to read the court documents notifying her of the pending adoption and her right to appeal because they were in English, a language she does not speak. She is now fighting to regain custody of her son. However, she is scheduled for deportation to Guatemala in February and her attorneys do not know whether they will win her case – or win it in time.

Almost everyone who contacts my organization, the Women’s Refugee Commission, with a story of separation asks for help finding a family law attorney for the parent or for guidance on helping detained parents communicate with the child welfare system. Unfortunately, the assistance we can offer them is limited, and there are no easy answers.

Immigration law and family law intersect in a capricious manner. Family courts and the child welfare system have a responsibility to reunite a child with his parents whenever possible. However, family courts do not always look favorably on reunification in cases where a parent is detained or likely to be deported. The situation is further complicated by the tremendous difficulty child welfare workers and family courts have in locating detained parents, and the significant challenges parents face in complying with family reunification plans and participating in family court proceedings from detention.

In some cases, like Encarnación’s, judges base termination decisions on the fact that the mother does not have legal status and may be deported. In others, child welfare workers oppose family reunification because they think that a U.S. citizen child should not live in another country. Certainly, in cases where there is evidence of abandonment, abuse or neglect the child welfare system and family courts have an obligation to protect children. But in so many of these cases the parent’s only fault was being in the wrong place, with the wrong nationality, at the wrong time.

Because it is difficult to gather accurate data about the undocumented population it is impossible to know how many children have already been affected. What we do know is that hundreds of thousands of children may be impacted by their parents’ apprehension and that there is no effective or enforceable policy for preventing it.

When Encarnación told her story during a briefing in the House of Representatives last week you could have heard a pin drop. A number of attendees listened with tears in their eyes. Stories like Encarnación’s turn the numbers into faces for a moment, and I hope that Encarnación’s visit to Washington will help her reunite with her son. But action on an individual case is not enough. We need enforceable, nationwide screening protocols, with a statutory preference for release of parents and caregivers, to increase the likelihood that women like Encarnación can care for their children throughout their immigration proceedings and can make the best decision for their family if they are ordered removed. We also need to ensure that when parents must be detained they can remain in communication with their children, can comply with reunification plans, and can participate fully in their custody case.

The U.S. government has an obligation to enforce immigration law, but it also has a responsibility to protect parents’ fundamental right to custody of their children. The preservation of family unity is a legal and moral duty, but it is also smart social policy. As we go about immigration enforcement we must ensure that the children of immigrants do not become another needless statistic in the child welfare system.

Photo courtesy of the New York Times.

Let Veterans Day remind us of army men who have been denied justice

On Veterans Day, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) has reintroduced the Military Families Act that will grant lawful permanent resident status to any parent, spouse, child, son, or daughter of an active military service member or of a service member who died as a result of service. This is an important step to restoring fairness.

But what of those in the army, including legal permanent residents, who face deportation after years of service to the country. Watch these two heartwrenching video stories.

Warren Joseph: Military Man Faces Deportation from Breakthrough on Vimeo.

Anslem Ifill: Army Man Ordered Deported from Breakthrough on Vimeo.

While Anslem Ifill was eventually deported, Warren Joseph was able to stave off deportation after 3 long years in detention under his wing. Where is the justice?

Lou Dobbs to resign from CNN after pressure by advocacy groups

After facing intense pressure for his anti-immigration rhetoric, Lou Dobbs announced his resignation last night to his viewers. He will be replaced by John King.

Wednesday’s program will be his last on CNN, even though his contract was not set to expire until the end of 2011.While his reasons were “some leaders in media, politics and business have been urging me to go beyond the role here at CNN and to engage in constructive problem solving as well as to contribute positively to the great understanding of the issues of our day”, the truth is that intense pressure from campaigns like Drop Dobbs and Basta Dobbs have had a tremendous impact, including the airing of a Drop the Hate ad on MSNBC.

The New York Times reports,

Mr. Dobbs has evolved over the years from a straight-laced business anchor to an outspoken commentator who rails against illegal immigration and taxpayer bailouts, among other subjects. Lately, though, he has saved most of his opinions for his afternoon radio show, which made its debut in March 2008. It is on the radio show that he talked repeatedly about the conspiracy-theory claims that President Obama is not a United States citizen. When he mentioned the citizenship issue on CNN over the summer, his bosses were forced to call it a “dead issue.”

Let’s celebrate the defeat of hate politics and the strength of action when we all rally together.

Esmeralda: A transgender asylum seeker speaks out against immigration detention

Courage comes in many different forms. For Esmeralda a transgender asylum seeker from Mexico who faced horrific circumstances in immigration detention, it came in the form of seeking justice. Kept in a segregated cell with other transgender detainees, Esmeralda never realized that her experience in detention would match the trauma of discrimination she had faced back home. But her story is also one of hope for change.

While the Obama administration has pledged to reform the detention system, its promises do not go far enough. Spread over a patchwork of more than 500 county jails, privately run prisons and federal facilities, immigration detention is a $1.8 billion business estimated to hold 442,941 detainees in custody in 2009 alone.

Transferred far away from their homes and families, stories are rife of how detainees are denied visitation, access to lawyers, medical care, and are subject to physical and verbal abuse. Many vulnerable people, including asylum seekers, pregnant women, children, lawful permanent residents and even U.S. citizens are among those detained.

Listen to Esmeralda’s voice of courage and take action now to fix a broken detention system.

A spotlight on race relations brings change in small ways

November 7th 2009 marked one year from the day that Marcelo Lucero, an Ecuadorian immigrant, was killed in the Long Island suburb of Patchogue. But rather than act as a stand-alone instance, the act of violence put a national spotlight on race relations and has emerged as one among dozens of cases of violence against Latinos in Suffolk County over the past ten years.

A report by the Southern Poverty Law Center, an organization that follows hate groups across the country, found that these attacks were spurred by an atmosphere of racism and fear fostered by anti-immigrant groups and local officials.

Latino immigrants in Suffolk County live in fear…Political leaders in the county have done little to discourage the hatred, and some have actively fanned the flames…Although Lucero’s murder represented the apex of anti-immigration violence in Suffolk County to date, it was hardly an isolated incident.

In one example cited, Michael M. D’Andre, a county legislator from Smithtown, at a 2001 hearing on a bill to penalize contractors who hire undocumented workers said that if his town were “attacked” by an influx of Hispanic day laborers, “we’ll be up in arms, we’ll be out with baseball bats.” He later apologized for his remark.

On November 7th 2008, 37-year-old Marcelo Lucero was walking with a friend near Patchogue train station at midnight, when they were surrounded by a group of teens. Lucero’s friend managed to get away but he was unable to do so and after attempting to fend off the attacks with his belt, he was stabbed to death by 18-year-old Jeffrey Conroy. Lucero had lived in the U.S. for 16 years at the time of his death.

Following the arrest of the teens accused of Lucero’s death, a number of Hispanic residents from the area began to come forward with personal stories of acts of hatred and intolerance. It emerged that many of the victims were too scared of being questioned about their immigration status to come forward and tell local police about the attacks. According to a New York Times article,

Many Latino immigrants in Suffolk say they have been beaten with baseball bats and other objects, attacked with BB guns and pepper spray, and been the victims of arson. Latinos, it added, are frequently run off the road while riding bicycles or pelted with objects hurled from cars.

Two weeks ago one of the accused, Nicholas Hausch, finally admitted to participating in the assault, while also testifying against the others accused (who continue to plead not-guilty to the offense), talking about how he and his friends took part in numerous similar attacks against Hispanics. They would scour the streets of their town looking for potential targets, referring to the the “hobby” as “beaner hopping.”

Jose, Kevin and I started popping and Jose punched him so hard he knocked him out,” Anthony Hartford told police, according to prosecutors. Hartford said he didn’t do it often: “Maybe only once a week.”

The incident also allowed for dialogue to emerge around race relations. A short film “Taught to Hate” whose message is to stop hate crimes in America and all over the World was inspired by what happened to Marcelo. And a performance, “After Grief and Anger — Healing and Change” was created in an effort to promote better understanding between Latinos and non-Latinos in the area.

Photo courtesy of the New York Times

Death of Pedro Tavarez raises questions around immigration detention reform

When Pedro Juan Tavarez, a 49- year old immigration detainee died in a hospital in Massachusetts, his stunned family couldn’t believe it. Over the last year and a half, the Providence shuttle driver had been moved from one facility to another, fighting deportation to the Dominican Republic to remain in the U.S. with his family including his 23-year-old daughter. Only five days before his death his sister had spoken with him at the Suffolk County House of Correction where has was held and he had sounded in good health, apart from the fact that he was lonely and looking forward to her visit. Five days later she received a call that he was dying.

Despite high blood pressure and diabetes, Pedro Tavarez was a healthy man who exercised daily. His family has demanded an investigation as has the Dominican consulate who were only informed of his condition only two days before his death.

An initial statement by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) stated that Tavarez was treated for heart and respiratory conditions before he died. On further questioning by a Globe reporter, ICE revealed that Tavarez was taken to two other hospitals, one of which was several miles from the facility. The Boston Globe reports,

The death of Tavarez occurred just weeks after the Obama administration pledged to improve conditions and medical care in the immigrant detention system, which is spread out across the country in federal, local, and privately run jails. The goal is to hold immigrants to ensure their deportation, but the system has faced criticism for its cost, lack of oversight, and inadequate access to care.

Laura Rótolo with the ACLU of Massachusetts is more emphatic.

The death of Pedro Juan Tavarez, as well as the 2006 death of Vincent Murphy, another Suffolk detainee, brings to at least 105 the number of known deaths of immigrants in custody of the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement since 2003. While the details behind these two deaths remain murky, we must ask whether they, like others around the country, were caused by the failure to provide the most basic health care to people detained in Massachusetts jails and prisons during deportation proceedings.

Immigration detention is a profit making business with little transparency to a rapidly growing patchwork of holding centers. The Obama administration has vowed to change that as could be seen from the Tavarez case, which was announced to the news media, Congress, and watchdog groups within 24 hours of his passing.

It was only recently discovered that more than one in 10 deaths in immigration detention in the last six years had been overlooked from what ICE officials call “the death roster”. One of these was of Tanveer Ahmad, 43, a Pakistani New Yorker who had been held in a New Jersey immigration jail, where it was said that his symptoms of a heart attack had gone untreated until too late.

A Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general’s report found much work still has to be done in providing medical examinations in detention centers. In the case of Tavarez, it is only recently that the Obama administration has allowed access to reports such as those written up by lawyers from the American Bar Association who conducted interviews with detainees at Suffolk and other county jails. These found that detained immigrants are often ignored or face excessively long waits to be seen by a doctor. Many talked about the fear of retaliation if they dared speak up.

While the preliminary effort to restore fairness to the immigration detention system is welcome, this is still not addressing the fundamental problem – an overemphasis on the use of detention. As Rótolo adds,

The deaths of two immigrants in Boston serve as a tragic reminder that the need for change is urgent and that the stakes are literally a matter of life and death.

Photo courtesy of Boston Globe.

Restrictionist groups immigration report gets it all wrong

Guest Blogger: Michele Waslin from Immigration Impact blog

Picture 2

In October, the restrictionist group Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) released a report singing the praises of the 287(g) program, which arms state and local enforcement with immigration authority. In The 287(g) Program: Protecting Home Towns and Homeland, the authors ignore the evidence and arguments put forward by law enforcement experts – such as the Police Foundation, the Major Cities Chiefs Association, and the International Association of Chiefs of Police – dismissing them as “national advocacy organizations.”

Among the truth-defying assertions made by CIS:

CIS Assertion: 287(g) agreements result in cost savings for localities.

FACT: While Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) covers the cost of training deputized local officers and some detention costs, ICE does not pay for implementation of the program or any lawsuits that may arise due to civil rights violations. Local communities are responsible for the high costs related to the immigration enforcement activities. A report by the Brookings Institute found that Prince William County, Virginia, had to raise property taxes and take from its “rainy day” fund to help fund their 287(g) program. Their local law enforcement of immigration, which cost $6.4 million in its first year, is projected to cost $26 million over five years. They eventually slashed $3.1 million from the budget that was intended to buy video cameras for police cars to protect themselves against allegations of racial profiling. Arizona’s Sheriff Joe Arpaio created a $1.3 million deficit in just three months, much of it due to overtime for immigration enforcement.

CIS Assertion: There have been no documented instances of 287(g) jurisdictions rounding up people on the basis of appearance or ethnicity.

FACT: Multiple credible news sources have reported that Sheriff Joe Arpaio has conducted large-scale operations without any evidence of criminal activity, often in Hispanic neighborhoods or sites where day laborers convene, and has vowed to continue his sweeps, regardless of what ICE says. Arpaio has also created a citizen posse to hunt undocumented immigrants. Beyond Arpaio, a report from North Carolina found that 287(g)’s are being used to “purge towns and cities of ‘unwelcome’ immigrants.”

CIS Assertion: There have been no complaints filed or documented cases of racial profiling.

FACT: Again, Sheriff Arpaio is example #1. Nearly 3,000 lawsuits have been filed against Arpaio, and the Department of Justice is currently investigating accusations of rampant racial profiling and civil rights abuses by his deputies. The Department of Justice is also investigating Arpaio. There have been other mistakes and lawsuits as well. A lawsuit was filed on behalf of a disabled U.S. citizen who was mistakenly identified as a Mexican national and transferred to an ICE detention center and later deported. Another lawsuit has been filed on behalf of Juana Villegas after she was detained and shackled to a bed while giving birth.

CIS Assertion: The chilling effect is a myth. Immigrants are not fearful of cooperating with police and reporting crimes.

FACT: Law enforcement officials and community leaders have stated time and time again that trust with immigrant communities is crucial to preventing and investigating crimes and maintaining safe communities, but when police are viewed as immigration agents, immigrant communities fear cooperating. A North Carolina report found that 287(g)’s have “created a climate of racial profiling and community insecurity” in communities across North Carolina. In 2003, the Tampa Tribune reported that local police believed that some members of the community had information on a murder, but declined to come forward for fear of immigration-related repercussions. Clearwater Police Department’s Hispanic Outreach Officer William Farias said he “wasn’t surprised people were hesitant to talk… cultural differences and fear of deportation often keep undocumented immigrants from coming forward.”

CIS Assertion: 287(g) is a powerful tool for reducing crime.

FACT: While some local politicians have touted 287(g) as a solution to their crime problems, a Justice Strategies report found that 61% of jurisdictions with 287(g)’s had a violent crime index lower than the national average, and 55% witnessed an overall decrease in violent crimes from 2000 to 2006. Furthermore, 61% had a property crime index lower than the national average, and 65% saw an overall decrease in property crimes from 2000 to 2006. The conservative Goldwater Institute published a report documenting the Maricopa County, Arizona 287(g) has failed to protect the community. They found that, though the MCSO budget has increased at four times the rate of the county’s population, violent crimes increased nearly 70%, and homicides increased 166% between 2004 and 2007. Response times to 911 calls have increased, arrest rates have dropped, and thousands of felony warrants have not been served.

Apparently, the fact that 287(g) programs are costing localities millions to implement isn’t relevant to CIS’s myopic report, nor is the fact that crime-solving activities are being compromised or that trust between police and community is being eroded. What is important to CIS, however, is the propagation of the same old restrictionist myths that support a “deport them all” immigration enforcement strategy.