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Time to counter hate and intolerance

Even as hate filled rhetoric continues to pump the airwaves, there are a number of initiatives calling to counter the intolerance.

Today, on August 28th, forty-seven years ago, Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous “I Have a Dream Speech” at the Lincoln Memorial. His message gave voice to the voiceless and his vision promoted a just, equal, diverse and compassionate country. This year, as Brave New Films reminds us, a very different message is going to be spread from the very ground on which King once stood, where TV host Glenn Beck and Ex Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin will hold a rally at the Lincoln Memorial.

The racist tenor of Beck, Palin and the Tea Party movement is in direct contrast to the noble vision of Dr. King.

Take the pledge to

stand with Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision of a just, diverse and equal society and not stand with Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin and their attempt to destroy and distort King’s vision.

Meanwhile the continued elevated controversy over the so called “ground-zero mosque” is evidence that almost a decade since the 9/11 attacks we haven’t communicated, therefore, we haven’t grown. Unfortunately, many Americans still associate Muslims and Islam directly with terrorists. The Unity Productions Foundations has started www.groundzerodialogue.org, a new website where you can view several of their award-winning PBS films online in their entirety speaking directly to the issues.

Films include: Talking through Walls: How the Struggle to Build a Mosque United a Community, Muhammad: Legacy of a Prophet and Inside Islam: What a Billion Muslims Really Think. And with UPF’s “20,000 Dialogues,” project you can host your own dialogue and bring people of different faiths together to watch films on the issues and then afterward open it up for discussion, so that the voices and opinions of everyone can be heard. To expand the reach and the power of the films UPF is working with PBS stations around the country to rebroadcast these films.

A quote from the movie Muhammed: Legacy of a Prophet addresses a commonly wrongly made connection,

The acts of terror violence that have occurred in the name of Islam are not only wrong, they are contradictory to Islam.

Initiatives like these use the power of film to address the common goal of peace and tolerance. The great thing about America is that everyone is entitled to his or her own opinion, however it is important that it comes from a place of understanding and knowledge, rather than ignorance and hate.

Human rights in the United States? Where do we stand?

The United States has submitted its first ever report to the United Nations Human Rights Council, a wide ranging report on human rights all 192 members of the United Nations are required to produce. Calling it “a roadmap for our ongoing work within our democratic system to achieve lasting change”, the report stressed the importance of the U.S. political system in safeguarding rights.

According to the Associated Press, “High unemployment rates, hate crime, poverty, poor housing, lack of access to health care and discriminatory hiring practices are among the challenges the report identified as affecting blacks, Latinos, Muslims, South Asians, Native Americans and gays and lesbians in the United States.”

The report was compiled from viewpoints and concerns of hundreds of people representing a diversity of communities and viewpoints at gatherings across the country. One strong focus for concern related to immigration and racial profiling by law enforcement agencies.

According to the report, many Muslim, Arab-American, and South Asian citizens shared their experiences of intolerance. The government expressed the many measures it is undertaking to combat discrimination, including through the Attorney General’s ongoing review of the Justice Department’s 2003 Guidance Regarding the Use of Race by Federal Law Enforcement Agencies which will recommend any changes that may be warranted. Much more can be done including rehauling the guidance, passing the End Racial Profiling Act and stopping agreements between federal immigration and local police.

The latter point surfaced in the report through reference to Arizona’s new law SB1070 and the 287(g) program, made famous by the anti-immigrant raids and tactics of Sheriff Arpaio. The Department of Homeland Security relies upon programs such as 287(g), Secure Communities and the Criminal Alien Program (CAP) which tie up local and state police with immigration enforcement. The report spoke of constant vigilance for safeguards that will prevent racial profiling and civil rights violations. In reality, these programs have inevitably lead to many racial profiling violations, providing an incentive to state and local police to arrest persons who look or sound “foreign” so that their immigration status may be checked.

The report also reference President Obama’s firm commitment to fixing our broken immigration system, a task that seems to be endlessly tied to political manoeuvrings.

Other issues touched upon include problems faced by American Indians and Alaska Natives, with nearly a quarter of Native Americans living in poverty, unemployment with unemployment rates for African Americans at 15.8%, for Hispanics at 12.4%, and for whites at 8.8%, and the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” statute which prevents gays and lesbians from serving openly in the military.

The Associated Press reports,

The report’s findings were cautiously welcomed by human rights activists but will likely draw fire from conservatives who opposed joining the council.

It is good to see the administration engage in a review of human rights, but more emphasis needs to be laid on fixing immigration, racial profiling concerns, prison conditions, death penalty issues and more.

A nation’s spirit uprooted by conservative focus on “anchor babies”

The 14th amendment, established in 1868 as a major gain from the Civil War, united a nation that was once half-slave and half-free. Today, some Republicans wish to revisit the debate of 1868 and revoke its notion of birthright citizenship in order to help prevent undocumented immigration. Instead of focusing on reforming the immigration system, these Republicans focus on punishing immigrants and Americans alike by altering an amendment that continues to carry so much of our national spirit.

The 14th amendment grants citizenship to “all persons born or naturalized in the United States”. It also forbids states from denying anyone “life, liberty or property, without due process of law” or “denying any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) has led the proposal to debate the amendment, arguing that it induces undocumented immigration and the desire to have a baby to claim citizenship, calling such a baby by the derogatory term, “anchor baby.” Arizona’s Republican state Sen. Russell Pearce, the architect of SB 1070, agrees. He said,

“When [the 14th Amendment] was ratified in 1868, the amendment had to do with African-Americans; it had nothing to do with aliens. It’s got to be fixed.”

Anti-immigration activists often claim that their real concern is to prevent law-breaking. But the Washington Post puts it best,

Revoking birthright citizenship would turn hundreds of thousands of infants into ‘criminals’ – arriving, not across a border, but crying in a [U.S.] hospital. A whole class of people would grow up knowing they are hunted aliens, through no fault of their own. This cannot be called the rule of law. It would be viciousness and prejudice on a grand scale.

Even Lou Dobbs, known for an anti-immigration stance in many respects, spoke out against changing the 14th amendment.

I believe that the 14th amendment – particularly in its due process and equal protection clause – is so important; it lays the entire foundation for the Bill of Rights being applied.

Defenders of the amendment say altering it would weaken a fundamental American value while doing little to deter immigration. In fact, immigration activists say that birthright citizenship is not even a significant driver of immigration, because a child has to reach age 21 to petition for permanent legal residency for his or her parents.

In even more charged reasoning, Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) warned that birthright citizenship was a national security issue – involving a diabolical 30-year-long plot by some very patient terrorists. He said,

I talked to a retired FBI agent who said that one of the things they were looking at were terrorist cells overseas who had figured out how to game our system. And it appeared they would have young women, who became pregnant, would get them into the United States to have a baby… And then they would turn back where they could be raised and coddled as future terrorists. And then one day, twenty, thirty years down the road, they can be sent in to help destroy our way of life.

If birthright citizenship was revoked on the premise of fearing terrorists, our nation would embark on an even uglier journey of racial profiling. Moreover, on a practical level, revoking the 14th Amendment would affect those Americans who “look immigrant”, leading to an ugly ladder of bureaucracy to  prove citizenship.

Rep. Duncan D. Hunter (R-CA) has gone even further and said we should deport existing natural-born citizen children if their parents are illegal immigrants. This retroactive stripping of citizenship is completely unconstitutional.

We simply cannot afford what we’re doing right now. We’re not being mean. We’re just saying it takes more than walking across the border to become an American citizen.

The solution – to criminalize millions of babies who are born in this country is unacceptable. Denying these babies the 14th Amendment is the same as denying African-American slaves the 14th Amendment 150 years ago. Abolishing the birthright to citizenship is a movement not about the legality of immigrants, but about the stripping away of human rights.

The real anachronism standing here is these senators who want to take us back to the times before the Civil War. When the president of FAIR said, “We should not allow language from 1868 enslave our thinking…in the 21st Century,” Masao Suzuki, writer for Fight Back News Service, urges us to respond by saying, “We are not going to be enslaved ever again.”

Graham’s notion to debate the 14th amendment had a mixed reception even from groups that back tougher enforcement of the nation’s border restriction. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, for one, supports stronger enforcement and, yet, refuses to endorse Graham’s suggestion. Instead, he suggested looking into reports of businesses that help immigrants arrange to have babies in the U.S. in order to win their children U.S. citizenship. Many Democrats also refuse to endorse Graham’s suggestion, but they resist stronger enforcement as a solution, stressing the urgency for comprehensive immigration reform. While President Obama’s push for immigration reform is considered dead, some Democrats are pushing for a scaled-back bill to move this fall.

Given the controversial nature of Graham’s proposal, successfully amending the Constitution would be considered unlikely. Many understand that the 14th Amendment made the Constitution what it is today: a document that guarantees the equal rights of all Americans and to which individuals and groups who feel they are being denied equality can appeal. As the 19th-century Republican editor George William Curtis wrote how it was part of a process that changed the U.S. government from one “for white men” to one “for mankind.” Since the Reconstruction era, the amendment had not stopped short of protecting African-Americans. Those who lived during the civil rights era had sought its protection, as well. Even today, the Supreme Court has used it to expand the rights of aggrieved Americans, as it did in Lawrence v. Texas, which in 2003 overturned a state law criminalizing homosexual acts.

Birthright citizenship has continued to protect all sorts of people outside the legacy of slavery, thereby rejecting any claim that it is anachronistic and requires amending.

Feds may have held off Arizona law, but border law gets the green light

Although a federal judge struck down on some of Arizona’s anti-immigrant law SB 1070’s major provisions in a critical victory, the untrue notion that Washington has lost control of the border remains. Within this atmosphere of hate and misinformation, President Obama signed a $600 million bill that increases appropriations for border security in a piecemeal approach to immigration reform, leading to profound disappointment at Congress’s decision to propose, promote, and pass border enforcement bill HR 6080. In a statement on the passage of the bill into law President Obama said,

“I have made securing our Southwest Border a top priority since I came to office… So these steps (passage of the law) will make an important difference as my administration continues to work with Congress toward bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform to secure our borders, and restore responsibility and accountability to our broken immigration system.”

For many, the emphasis on increased enforcement without any effort to address the egregious violations that come along with these is unacceptable. The New York Immigration Coalition for one argued,

The immigration crisis is dividing our nation in ugly ways we have not seen in generations – a situation exacerbated by ramped-up enforcement.  Not only is it not solving the immigration crisis, it is also tearing up our communities and our nation.  However much money is thrown at aerial drones and border agents and the like, it still won’t fix the problem.

Ironically, HR6060 was introduced by Senator Charles Schumer who is leading the immigration reform effort in Congress, and was passed unanimously in the Senate. The approaching Senate elections seem to have driven forth the abrupt decision, as jobs and border security are considered issues expected to be on voters’ minds when they go to the polls in November. House Democrats actually called a special session to pass the border security bill as well as a $26 billion aid bill to keep teachers and other public workers from being laid off.

The border security measure would fund the hiring of 1,000 new Border Patrol agents to be deployed at critical areas along the border, 250 more Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents, and 250 more Customs and Border Protection officers. It provides for new communications equipment and greater use of unmanned surveillance drones. Almost one-third of the money goes to the Justice Department to help agencies such as the FBI, the DEA and the ATF deal with drug dealers and human traffickers. The bill is funded by raising fees on foreign-based personnel companies that use U.S. visa programs, including the popular H-1B program, to bring skilled workers to the United States. India says higher fees would discriminate against its companies and workers.

According to Los Angeles Times,

Immigration is an important election-year issue for some voters, and supporters of the measure from both parties hope it will demonstrate that Washington is capable of addressing border security after Arizona passed a tough illegal immigration law.

For these very reasons, many organizations oppose the law, shunning these politically expedient strategies which ultimately damage immigrant communities, instead calling for a renewal of the administration’s commitment to uphold our nation’s values and achieve real progress on immigration reform. With the negative focus on enforcement, many are calling for passage of the Dream Act and AgJobs in September to help undocumented students and farmworkers as important down payments on the broader reform that is needed. At the same time, they are calling for President Obama and the Department of Homeland Security to implement administrative reforms that would provide relief to those at risk of deportation and family separation and measures that would restore basic due process to the immigration system. As Deepak Bhargava from the Center for Community Change noted,

It is extremely disappointing to see Congress fall for Republicans’ wholly manufactured allegations of an insecure border. Every study and report shows the border has never been safer. Crime statistics, free of political bias, show crime has never been lower…Republicans are impervious to facts.

According to blog ImmPolitic, many Republicans who keep calling for more border security before considering immigration reform will never be satisfied.

As we wrote about here and here, a series of enforcement “benchmarks” were set in the 2007 immigration reform legislation.  Those “benchmarks” have largely been met, and more enforcement resources have been deployed that were not contemplated at the time.  Still, politicians who are opposed to actually fixing our broken immigration system call for more enforcement.  They have moved the goalposts, and they will move them again.

Instead of building on the victory of the Arizona lawsuit, Congress and President Obama is taking a step backward.

Photo courtesy of www.latimes.com

On the first anniversary of immigration detention reforms, what has changed on the ground?

From the Detention Watch Network

On the first anniversary of an announcement that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the enforcement agency within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)) would overhaul the nation’s immigration detention system, reports show that for the nearly 400,000 immigrants ICE has detained this year, little has changed.

On August 6, 2009, in response to sharp criticism from advocacy groups, community organizations, and government officials, ICE Assistant Secretary John Morton promised sweeping changes to improve detention conditions.  According to Mr. Morton, the agency intended to take substantial steps to transform the sprawling patchwork of approximately 350 jails and prisons into a non-penal, “civil” detention system.  

While advocates were initially encouraged by Mr. Morton’s promise to overhaul the detention system and move away from holding immigrants in jails and prisons, the reality on the ground is that little has changed.  ICE must do more to address the human rights violations occurring in both the detention and enforcement systems.

There have been a number of positive developments in the past year.  However, these are to achieve meaningful impact in the lives of those detained.  The reality is, under President Obama’s Administration, more people are being detained and deported than under the Bush Administration, in a manner that fails to meet the United States’ human rights obligations under international law.

Some of the steps ICE has taken toward achieving reform include last month’s launch of an Online Detainee Locator System, a tool allowing, for the first time, families and attorneys to find loved ones and clients in ICE custody.  In May, ICE piloted a risk assessment and custody classification tool, which will allow the agency to screen individuals to determine whether they should be released. Historically, ICE has routinely detained people that should have been released.  

ICE has also discontinued the detention of families and children at the T. Don Hutto Facility in Taylor, Texas, which received national attention when the facility’s substandard conditions became the subject of lawsuits. Today, ICE uses the Hutto facility, which is privately owned and operated by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), to detain only women.

But there is much to be reformed. In May, Hutto came under scrutiny once again when allegations surfaced of a series of sexual assaults by a CCA guard against females detained there. “We were heartened that the Obama Administration ended family detention at Hutto and took on reforming the broader immigration detention system,” said Rocío Villalobos, of Texans United for Families, a member organization of Detention Watch Network. “Today, the majority of women at Hutto are seeking refuge from violence in their home countries.  This spring’s sexual assault incidents show how detention subjects people to more violence, which deepens their trauma, rather than protects them from it.”

ICE has also appointed “detention managers” to work in 42 facilities and hired experts in detention management and health care. However, their presence has meant little change for detained immigrants. For example, a detention manager was working at the Hutto facility at the time the sexual assaults occurred, calling into question the detention managers’ ability to adequately oversee detention operations.

The Detention Watch Network, Heartland Alliance’s National Immigrant Justice Center, and the Midwest Coalition for Human Rights, are releasing a report evaluating ICE’s progress in October 2010.

 A snapshot of the reports reveals that human rights violations persist.  In Florida, the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center reported that gross deficiencies in the provision of medical care continue, as well as the unnecessary detention of individuals with serious medical conditions. For example, a woman at the Baker County Detention Center who had been detained for five years remained in custody despite her deteriorating health, which involved a heart catheter, ulcers, and lung and orthopedic problems.  

Multiple reports were received of inappropriate treatment of detained immigrants with mental health issues, including one man that was placed in solitary confinement after he exhibited suicidal tendencies. In New Jersey, the Middlesex County Coalition for Immigrant Rights described only two working toilets for a dorm with a maximum capacity of 48 that held 60 men.  Groups also report that individuals continue to be subjected to indefinite detention – in some cases for years.

Most recently,  the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has found that “U.S. deportation policy violates fundamental human rights because it fails to consider evidence concerning the adverse impact of the destruction of families, the best interest of the children of deportees, and other humanitarian concerns.”

Photo courtesy of www.machamexico.com

Ground zero and the mosque — does the court of law have it right?

Welcoming a new mosque near the site of 9/11 attacks is seen by those opposed to it as a symbol of terrorist victory and a weak U.S. On the other hand, supporters see the openness and tolerance of this act as a powerful bridge to interfaith interaction and peace. But, plain and simply, to the court of law religious tolerance isn’t up for debate.

This week  New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission faced a lawsuit after they refused to give the building that will be the future home of the new mosque historical landmark status, on the basis that status should be given because the the building stood strong during the 9/11 attacks. Approved plans to tear down this building and build an Islamic mosque in its place led Republicans and the nation’s most prominent Jewish civil rights group Anti-Defamation League to join the American Center for Law and Justice in a heated battle against the decision to let Cordoba Initiative undergo its $100 million project to build the mosque. While the controversy over the measures of historical significance for this landmark made its way to courts, the bigger controversy underlying this court case did not. Before the court hearing Wednesday, Elisabeth de Bourbon, a spokeswoman for the Landmarks Preservation Commission, said,

What we’re looking at is whether the building has the architectural and historic significance to the city of New York to merit landmark designation.

In other words, its members were not asked to consider the planned use of the structure or site.

Despite the institutional refusal to debate over patriotic legacy v. religious tolerance, citizens continue to argue about whether or not the decision was un-American. For example, the Wall Street Journal published a letter to Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf (city panelist who appeased to the building of the mosque). He wrote:

While we continue to stand with you and your right to proceed with this project, we see no reason why it must necessarily be located so close to the site of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Those attacks, as you well know, were committed in the name of Islam… We applaud and thank every Muslim throughout the world who has rejected and denounced this association. But the fact remains that in the minds of many who are swayed by the most radical interpretations of Islam, the Cordoba House will not be seen as a center for peace and reconciliation. It will rather be celebrated as a Muslim monument erected on the site of a great Muslim ‘military’ victory — a milestone on the path of the further spread of Islam throughout the world.

While the legacy of the September 11 attacks remains in the heart of America, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick points out that

The sooner we separate the peaceful teaching of Islam from the behavior of terrorists, the better for all of us.

Patrick is the state’s first sitting Governor to visit a mosque.

If the U.S. were to single out one faith from New York’s greater cultural melting pot, it would be promoting intolerance and hatred.

Republicans say the mosque does a dishonor to the 3,000 lives lost by the Islamic terrorists in 2001’s Sept 11 attacks. However, the citizenry debate bottles down to a clash of religions, as evident when C. Lee Hanson, whose son, daughter-in-law, and grandchild died on the United Airlines flight 175, said,

I think it’s a tragedy for the United States. It’s another sign of weakness that we’d allow a victory mosque to be built next to what most of us is holy ground.

NY Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a Republican-turned-Independent, said Tuesday,

The World Trade Center site will forever hold a special place in our city, in our hearts. But we would be untrue to the best part of ourselves, and who we are as New Yorkers and Americans, if we said no to a mosque in lower Manhattan.

Developers say the mosque will serve as a hub for interfaith interaction, as well as a place for Muslims to bridge some of their faith’s own schisms.

Oz Sultan, spokesman for the planned Islamic center, said,

We want to create a model that shows the world that you can develop moderate Muslim communities. We would admonish people to, at least, give us a fair shake.

The court hearing did not include a debate on the legacy of 9/11 v. religious tolerance because any debate of the sort would, without a doubt, lose to the constitutional right of the freedom to practice one’s religion as well as the division between Church and State. Republicans who filed technical legal suit for landmark measures did so because they knew they needed a legitimate reason to reach court.

After the board’s unanimous vote, its chairman, Robert B. Tierney, said the structure, which previously home to a Burlington Coat Factory, “does not rise to the level of an individual landmark.”

This is just one opinion. What are your thoughts?

Photo courtesy of Jason Benjamin Paz on www.blogspot.com

Lady Gaga speaks out against SB1070 as Sheriff Arpaio sweeps up protestors

20 minutes from the Monster Ball (Lady Gaga’s concert held in Arizona July 31), the iconic pop star put down her hairbrush backstage and listened curiously to two unexpected political activists. They urged her to stop the show and to join Rage Against the Machine’s Sound Strike of Arizona. The pop-star said that she was not aware of the immigration law, and the men explained in an emotional conversation its human rights violations. She asked that they scribble SB1070 on her arm so she could remember. That moment led Gaga to blast on stage before a crowd of more than 20,000 fans and announce that she received calls from artists personally asking her to cancel the show, but she would not cancel, explaining,

“And I said, you really think that us [ expletive ] pop stars are going to collapse the economy of Arizona? We have to actively protest and the nature of the Monster Ball is to actively protest prejudice and injustice. I will yell and I will scream louder, I will hold you and we will hold each other and we will peaceably protest this state.”

As the movement against Arizona’s anti immigration law SB1070 goes stronger, and in light of Federal Judge Susan Bolton’s decision to place a temporary hold on the law, it seems like there is much to celebrate. But the real trigger to Arizona’s law stemmed from programs that continue to exist today that encourage tie ups between federal immigration and local law enforcement, programs like 287(g) and Secure Communities that enforce immigration laws which deny fairness to many. The most egregious of enforcers – Maricopa County’s Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

Even as Arizona Governor Jan Brewer’s lawyers went to court to overturn the judge’s ruling so they can fight back against what the Republican calls an “invasion” of illegal immigrants, many demonstrations continued across the country, including one outside the Sheriff’s building. Protestors beat on the metal door of the jail and chanted,

Sheriff Joe, we are here. We will not live in fear.

In partnership with federal immigration through a 287(g) agreement, Sheriff Arpaio is infamous for his “reign of terror” against immigrants in Arizona. On the day that Arizona’s law came into effect, Sheriff Arpaio launched a sweep, showing exactly why SB1070 is likely to lead to racial profiling and over zealous local enforcement. The Sheriff’s dragnet led to four arrests, but it wasn’t clear if any of them were undocumented immigrants.

Arpaio routinely carries out sweeps, some in Hispanic neighborhoods, to arrest illegal immigrants. The tactics have made him the undisputed poster boy for immigration enforcement through local police and an example of the dangers of racial profiling. The Justice Department even launched an investigation of his office nearly 17 months ago over allegations of discrimination and unconstitutional searches and seizures.

But the 287(g) program is not the only one to blame. Secure Communities is a rapidly expanding program which identifies undocumented immigrants using fingerprints at the time of arrests, even if they are not convicted of anything. Under the program, the fingerprints of everyone who is booked into jail for any crime are run against FBI criminal history records and Department of Homeland Security immigration records to determine who is in the country without status and whether they’ve been arrested previously.

Many people fear the program will lead to unfair enforcement. Like Sunita Patel, an attorney who filed a lawsuit in New York against the federal government on behalf of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network who says since everyone arrested would be screened, the program could easily deport more people than Arizona’s immigration law. Moreover, because immigrants are screened at the point of arrest even before a conviction, the program could create an incentive for profiling and create a pipeline to deport more people. Other immigrant groups have also begun to speak up, stating in a letter that the initiative will make crime victims reluctant to cooperate with police “due to fear of being drawn into the immigration regime.”

San Francisco has shown resistance to the program with, Eileen Hirst, the chief of staff for San Francisco’s Sheriff Michael Hennessey, saying that Hennessey thought Secure Communities cast too wide a net and worried that it would sweep up U.S. citizens and minor offenders, such as people who commit traffic infractions but miss their court hearings. Joining San Francisco, Washington, D.C.’s police also decided not to pursue the program because the City Council introduced a bill that would prohibit authorities from sharing arrest data with immigration authorities out of concern for immigrants’ civil rights.

After filing lawsuit, Patel flew in from New York to provide legal support for Thursday’s civil disobedience protest against SB 1070 outside Sherrif Arpaio’s building. In an unlikely switch, she became one of Arpaio’s arrestees that day.

The arrest of the Guild Legal Observers is just a continuation of Arpaio’s campaign of harassment, said Carol Sobel, co-chair of the Guild’s Mass Defense Committee.  Apparently, Arpaio thinks that if he arrests the Legal Observers, no one will be there to witness his unlawful actions. We have been arrested, shot with projectiles, hit with batons and pepper-sprayed at protests from Washington, D.C. to Miami to Los Angeles and we are still here to document misconduct.

Legal observers serve as impartial witnesses who help ensure that law enforcement officials do not infringe upon the rights of demonstrators and activists who engage in civil disobedience. Roxana Orell, another legal observer, was standing behind the crowd and videotaping the arrest of Sunita Patel. Arpaio’s deputies spotted Orell and arrested her, as well. Brett Beeler, a UCLA law student standing five feet from Orell and Patel when they were grabbed, said he saw numerous individuals standing closer to the police.  He believes that the deputies targeted Orell and Patel because they were wearing the green Legal Observer hats. The two NLG Legal Observers have been charged with obstruction of a highway and failure to obey a lawful order. Numerous other protesters have also been unjustly arrested.

The Obama administration can do more than just watch. It can reassert the importance of sensible national immigration policies by rethinking two troubling programs — Secure Communities and 287(g). Judge Bolton’s ruling reminded us all of the unacceptable price of the Arizona way. However, the expansion of 287g and Secure Communities will likely lead to more Arizonas. We must urge Obama to listen to the majority of people against harsh immigration enforcement.

Photo courtesy of PuenteAZ on www.flickr.com

Mentally ill immigration detainees undergo “Deportation by Default”

A woman sat before immigration officials at an immigration detention center, unable to understand a single question asked of her. She stared into space during the interview, shook her head repeatedly, and rocked nervously in her chair. The interview was eventually terminated because it was not clear if she had granted consent for deportation.

This is not an unusual incidents but reflects the findings of a Human Rights Watch and American Civil Liberties Union report Deportation by Default documenting “case after case in which people with mental disabilities are prevented from making claims against deportation – including claims of U.S. citizenship – because they are unable to represent themselves.”

Shortcomings outlined in the report include no right to counsel even though many are unable to understand what is happening to them, a lack of guidance for judges handling people with mental disabilities, and a severe lack of services to aid detainees while in custody. As Sarah Mehta, the report’s lead author says,

No one knows what to do with detainees with mental disabilities, so every part of the immigration system has abdicated responsibility. The result is people languishing in detention for years while their legal files – and their lives – are transferred around or put on indefinite hold.

Many of the detainees interviewed for the report could not understand questions, were delusional, couldn’t tell the date or time, and didn’t understand the concept of deportation – for example, saying they wanted to be deported to New York. This is particularly important for the courtroom because impairments can be so severe that those who have them do not understand what is happening to them or what is at stake in the hearings they must attend.

The federal agencies involved in the deportation system are well aware of many of the problems cited in the report and the reports authors are cautiously encouraged by some recent steps to better handle people with mental disabilities. For example, The Justice Department’s Executive Office of Immigration Review recently expanded its guidebook for immigration judges to include a section on mental health issues. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the agency responsible for detaining people is also taking preliminary steps to better identify mentally disabled people from the outset and ensure they are treated appropriately.

But there are many problems that still need to be addressed. There is no tracking of date on how many mentally disabled people face deportation and it is only after much digging that the report uncovered that in 2009, of the nearly 392,000 cases in immigration courts, 15 percent involved people with mental disabilities. Tracking data is an essential first step. Secondly, the report calls for appointment of lawyers for all people with mental disabilities in immigration courts and recommends mandatory training for immigration judges to recognize mental disabilities.

In the meanwhile, cases like Michael’s continue. Michael claimed to be a U.S. citizen whose extended family was killed in Nigeria. Asked by an asylum officer why he feared deportation to Nigeria, Michael said he would be tortured,

I don’t know why they want to torture me. I’m a rich man. I’m god. They want to have me remove the plants from heaven to earth. Jay-Z and R-Kelly are some of them.

At another point in the credible fear interview, Michael claimed to hear his dead wife and President Obama speaking to him. The asylum officer wrote to reviewing authorities,

Applicant’s testimony was not credible because it was implausible. His testimony was implausible because it was delusional. It should be noted that applicant appears to suffer from psychosis. Therefore, this calls into question the entire credibility of his claim.

The officer also observed that Michael was at risk of persecution and maltreatment on account of his mental disabilities if returned to Nigeria. Despite the concerns raised by the asylum officer, an immigration court ordered Michael A. deported to Nigeria in April 2010.