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Prison companies’ profit motive sheds new light on Arizona’s immigration law

For months after Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed off on the draconian immigration law, SB1070, protestors raged about the repercussions of a law that made it mandatory for police to stop and check the papers of anyone that they deemed “reasonably suspicious” of being undocumented. Human rights activists protested the inevitable implication of racial profiling that the law brought with it, while supporters of the law argued that it would be an effective solution to the immigration issue. When analyzing how the law came to be, the progressive media went to great lengths to highlight the direct links between those who drafted the law and “hate” groups the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FIRM) and white supremacist organizations. In all this, little was said about how the law came about in the first place.

A breaking investigation conducted by NPR and released today reveals that there is a more insidious motive behind the drafting of the Arizona law; one that leaves passionate rhetoric behind and focuses purely on profit. Based on the analysis of hundreds of thousands of campaign finance reports of people like Senator Russell Pearce, the legislator that was responsible for introducing SB1070 before the House of Representatives, as well as the corporate records of numerous prison companies, NPR has found deep financial ties between the drafting and introduction of the bill, and the private prison industry, that stands to benefit millions of dollars from increased immigrant detention.

The NPR investigation found that the seeds of the immigration bill were sown at a meeting of a group called the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a semi-secret group that comprises of state legislators like Pearce, as well as the heads of big private corporations such as ExxonMobil and the National Rifle Association, and billion dollar companies like Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the largest private prison company in the United States. All of the 50 members present for the meeting in December, 2009 where Pearce first presented his idea for SB1070, voted to support it, and the exact “model bill” that he presented at the meeting became the law that Jan Brewer passed in April, 2010.

Once SB1070 was introduced in the House in January by Senator Pearce, it was backed by thirty six sponsors, most of whom had been present at the December meeting of ALEC. Almost immediately, thirty of the thirty-six sponsors received generous donations from all the big private prison companies, GEO Group, Corrections Corporation of America, and Management and Training Corporation. Further, it was clear that, if executed, this law would be hugely profitable for the prison companies. The records of CCA showed that prison executives were relying on immigration detention as their next big market.

Ties between the massive expansion of immigrant detention and the subsequent growth and profit for the largely privately run prison system are not new. What is even more disturbing is the concrete evidence that points to the lack of accountability that comes with this prison system that is increasingly dysfunctional, as well as a detention system that denies due process and fairness to hundreds of men, women and children.

Advocate groups such as the NDLON have called for a further investigation into the collaboration between private corporations and conservative politicians. Pablo Alvarado, the Executive Director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network released a statement today saying-

We have done much to confront the hate within the recent immigration debate…but what this report brings to light is that behind the odious rhetoric there are corporations cashing in…These corporations and the politicians they fund are less concerned with borders than they are profit margins. We call on Russell Pearce to fully disclose his ties with those who may benefit financially from his initiatives and we ask that a deeper investigation be launched into the private interests gaining from the human rights crisis in Arizona.

Photo courtesy of npr.org

Will Latino enthusiasm color the mid-term vote?

In these weeks leading up to the mid-term elections, the competition for voter support is intense and the tension is most palpable in the sphere of the media where candidates are vying for support from specific voter groups. Looking specifically at the constituency of Latino voters, research conducted by America’s Voice and the Latino Decisions team has found that in spite of, or possibly even as a direct consequence of the rabid anti-immigrant campaigning on the part of right wing members of the Republican party, there has been an steady increase in numbers of Latinos who will vote Democrat in the mid-term elections.

From the standpoint of the immigration issue, it is interesting to note that while researchers were seeing a strong sense of disillusionment with the Democrat party amongst Latinos and other immigrants over the last few months, currently, this trend seems to be changing. Latinos, who voted predominantly Democrat in the 2008 Presidential election, had begun to wane in their support for the Democratic party as a result of the party’s failure to deliver on promises of immigration reform made during the 2008 electoral campaign.

As announced by America’s Voice and Latino Decisions on a call yesterday though, recent tracking polls reveal that there has been a significant increase in the number of registered Latino voters, and that a majority of them are voting Democrat. One of the key criteria by which Latino Decisions measure their data is “degree of enthusiasm.” Yesterday’s tracking poll showed a much greater deal of enthusiasm for next week’s election amongst Democrat leaning Latino voters than amongst the (smaller) Republican leaning Latino population. Most importantly, this is a huge change from a month ago- this week, 61% of Latino voters said they were “very enthusiastic” about voting on November 2nd, as compared to only 40% on September 6th. The research shows-

For the fourth straight week, we find an increase in the percentage of Latino registered voters who report being very enthusiastic about voting in November 2010.  Four weeks ago just 40.3% of Latinos said they were very enthusiastic, and today that figures reaches 58.3%.  Self-reported turnout certainty remained constant at 75.1% from one week ago, up 10 point from four weeks ago.  As election day draws near, and early voting is in full swing, Latinos are reportedly showing more and more interest and enthusiasm.

According to Matt Barreto of Latino Decisions, this increase in enthusiasm is largely due to the anti-immigrant and blatantly anti-Latino campaigns that a lot of Republican candidates have run. In the past weeks, Senator Harry Reid’s opponent in Nevada, Republican candidate Sharron Angle, has released a series of ads that, along with demonizing Harry Reid for his support of immigration reform, are extremely anti-immigrant, anti-Latino and even blatantly racist. Calling Reid “The Best Friend An Illegal Alien Ever Had,” one of the ads juxtaposes images of aggressive looking Latino fence skulking alongside a fence with images of an innocent white family. Her second ad shows a group of “gang-like” Latino men threatening white college students. Continuing to pit the “dangerous” brown people against the “innocent” white people like her and her family, the most recent ad might be the one to tip the Senatorial race in Nevada against Sharron Angle, given that Latinos are said to play a prominent role in the tight race between Reid and Angle.

Watch the offensive ad below-

Foolhardy anti-immigrant campaigns are not the only reason that Latinos seem more keen to vote next week. In addition to a mammoth effort on the part of civic and community groups and labor unions such as the Services Employees Workers Union working on the ground to encourage people to vote, President Obama himself seems to be focusing his energy on winning back the support of the immigrant community and driving them to the polls.

In an interview for Univision yesterday, President Obama defended his unsuccessful attempt at securing immigration reform. Making an analogy to the civil rights movement, he urged that change takes time, and reassured the community that he would push for immigration reform as soon as he could. In his interview, he sought to convince listeners that it was Republicans who were responsible for blocking the passage of immigration reform, making a pointed reference to Sen. John McCain as one of the 11 Republicans who support immigration reform a few years ago only to back away from the issue over the past year. Today, the President is holding a conference call along with actress Eva Longoria, to highlight the actions he has taken that benefit the Latino community and drive home the point that a refusal to vote in the mid-term elections could mean a death knell for immigration reform.

Whatever your reasons, it’s really important to get your voice out there, so make sure you vote!

More Confusion Over Secure Communities: Did NY Make a Special Deal with Washington?

Guest blogger: Catalina Jaramillo from Feet in 2 Worlds

Immigrant advocates are increasingly worried about New York’s participation in the controversial fingerprint-sharing program Secure Communities.

Chung-Wha Hong, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition said that 79% of the people placed in detention facilities or deported under Secure Communities were convicted of minor crimes or had no charges filed against them at all.

“We are fine with violent criminals being deported,” said Hong. “That is not the problem. This program is supposed to do that.” But she said that’s not what’s happening. “The vast majority of people who are caught in this program are innocent, have no criminal background, or have minor violations where people do not deserve to get deported.”

The New York State Division of Criminal Justices Services and Governor David Paterson assert that New York has a special agreement with the Department of Homeland Security regarding Secure Communities. In an interview with Telemundo47, Governor Paterson said that local jurisdictions within the state can choose whether or not to participate in the program, which would automatically transfer the fingerprints of anyone arrested by local law enforcement to a Department of Homeland Security database to check the person’s immigration status.

This program that the Federal Government asked us to be a part of, in which municipalities have a choice of whether or not they can opt in or not — which is what New York State was able to receive as opposed to other states — guarantees that this is only high level security threats whose information will be transferred.

Yet, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano said on October 6 that the program was not optional.

On the other hand, John M. Caher, director of public information for the Division of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS), told El Diario that there was “a pledge made to this state by the Department of Homeland Security” that no community in New York will be forced to activate Secure Communities.  However, Caher said this is not discussed in the Memorandum of Agreement between New York and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). That document was signed by the Acting Commissioner of DCJS Sean Byrne.
Asked about other jurisdictions such as San Francisco and Santa Clara, California and Arlington, Virginia, who are trying to opt out unsuccessfully, Caher said he was not aware if those states received such a condition, so he was not sure if their experiences were relevant.

Ángela Fernández, executive director of the Northern Manhattan Coalition for Immigrant Rights and a strong critic of Secure Communities, said she hasn’t been able to confirm that New York State has a special deal with DHS.

“We said, can you show us another contract that says that New York is going to get special treatment on this issue, and they haven’t been able to produce it,” said Fernandez.  “They say there’s an email from the Department of Homeland Security that says that local jurisdictions can opt out. But we don’t feel confident with that.”

Attorney General Andrew Cuomo talked about Secure Communities while introducing the urban agenda for his gubernatorial campaign on Thursday.

The federal government is going to put out guidance on Secure Communities, and how they believe the states have to follow the law, obviously federal law would be the law and the state would ultimately follow the federal law. I think they have to be very careful in Secure Communities, because you don’t want to create a situation where people are afraid to report a crime, or afraid to testify, it could actually interfere with law enforcement and with public safety, so I think the federal government should tread very carefully.”

Asked if there was a real possibility for local jurisdictions in New York to opt out of the program after Napolitano’s statement, Cuomo said “well that’s what we have to review.”

A statement sent to El Diario by Brian Hale, director of public affairs for ICE, established that if a county doesn’t want to activate Secure Communities they must ‘formally notify’ the state and ICE. Hale declined to elaborate further or explain exactly what that means. Hale added:

Secure Communities agreements are generally reached at the state level and activated locally on a set schedule. ICE seeks to work with local law enforcement agencies to address any concerns and determine next appropriate steps. If a jurisdiction does not wish to activate on its scheduled date in the Secure Communities deployment plan, it must formally notify both its state identification bureau and ICE.

Because of what advocates call ‘total confusion’ over whether it’s possible for local jurisdictions to opt-out, they are asking Governor Paterson to rescind the Memorandum of Agreement. It states that either party — the state or ICE — can terminate the agreement at any time on 30 days notice.

Comparing it to the stop-and-frisk database he limited the use of this summer, Paterson also told Telemundo47 reporter Luis Medina that advocates have to prove that Secure Communities affects low level offenders before he makes a decision. “I think there’s some confusion here. These organizations have to come forward and show us definitively that they have proof that the information was sent to INS (sic) on low level offenders, which is not what the intent of the memorandum of understanding is. If they can establish it, I will be happy to reconsider,” said Paterson.

Advocates say they are gathering evidence to send to the governor as soon as possible, but some say the facts have already been demonstrated.

“That’s ridiculous,” said Chung-Wha Hong of the New York Immigration Coalition. “There’s the New York Times editorial and there are cases. All he has to do is look at the cases that were submitted to the pardon panel. This is something that’s proven. So the ball is in his court, he needs to just make the decision.”

Photo courtesy of news.feetintwoworlds.org

If you missed Restore Fairness’ latest video on racial profiling, here’s your chance

This Sunday, October, 24th, Breakthrough‘s Multimedia Manager, Madhuri Mohindar, will present the Restore Fairness campaign’s immigration work at Union Docs in Brooklyn, New York on a panel titled, “Global Perspectives in Digital Media.” The panel will look at the ways in which digital technology and emerging platforms have opened up new ways of reflecting life around the world; technologies that have changed not only the medium, but also revolutionized the message and the ways in which it is received and acted upon. The panel, curated by Union Docs and Mandy Rose, will also feature producers from Video Nation (BBC 2)WSJ.comGlobal Lives, and Metropolis (VPRO).

In addition to discussing Breakthrough’s popular video game, ICED- I Can End Deportation, which was the first 3D video game on immigration and immigrant rights, Madhuri will screen a clip from our Restore Fairness campaign’s new documentary, “Face the Truth: Racial Profiling Across America,” produced in partnership with the Rights Working Group. Using powerful personal stories, this documentary showcases the devastating impact of racial profiling on communities around our country, including the African American, Latino, Arab, Muslim and South Asian communities. Besides compelling personal stories, the documentary features interviews with notable law enforcement and civil society leaders, all of whom decry racial and religious profiling as a pervasive problem that is not only humiliating and degrading for the people subjected to it, but one that is unconstitutional, ineffective as a law enforcement practice, and ultimately damaging to community security.

Take a look at Kurdish American Karwan Abdul Kader’s moving story in Face the Truth: Racial Profiling Across America-

Face the Truth: Racial Profiling Across America from Breakthrough on Vimeo.

Before you head to Union Docs, take a look at how the “Face the Truth: Racial Profiling Across America” documentary has been making waves across the blogosphere. Last week it was featured on Jack and Jill Politics, a popular blog that deals race and politics, in an article addressing Bill O’Reilly’s bigoted comments about American Muslims and the building of a mosque near the 9/11 site in downtown Manhattan. Most recently, the widely-read blog, Racialicious, also wrote about the documentary and urged people to watch it.

If you want to hear about how Breakthrough uses popular culture tools and digital media to build human rights culture, head over to Union Docs this Sunday, October 24, 2010. The panel runs from 7:30 – 10:00 pm, and is being held at  322 Union Avenue, Brooklyn, NY. For more information on the event, click here.

Photo courtesy of uniondocs.org

ICE Deports Non-Spanish Speaking American Citizen to Mexico

Guest blogger: Sam Ritchie from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)

How does a U.S. citizen who has never been to Mexico, speaks no Spanish and shares no Mexican heritage end up being deported there, spending the next four months living on the streets and in the shelters and prisons of Mexico, Honduras, Nicaragua and Guatemala? It’s just the latest instance of blatant disregard for the rights and well being of people with mental disabilities by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Mark Lyttle’s brush with immigration officials began when he was about to be released from a North Carolina jail where he was serving a short sentence for touching a worker’s backside in a halfway house that serves individuals with mental disabilities. Even though they had plenty of evidence that he was a U.S. citizen — including his Social Security number and the names of his parents — corrections officials turned him over to ICE as an undocumented immigrant whose country of birth was Mexico. (Mark is actually of Puerto Rican descent, but I guess when the government is trying to kick a Latino guy out of the country, the easiest place to send him is Mexico.)

ICE held Mark for six weeks, and though they knew about his history of mental illness and noted that he didn’t understand the investigation into his immigration status, they provided no legal assistance in either his interrogation or court appearance and eventually deported him to Mexico. Penniless and unable to speak the language, he was sent by Mexican officials to Honduras, where he was imprisoned and threatened by prison guards. Honduran officials sent him to Guatemala, where he eventually made his way to the U.S. Embassy.

Within a day, embassy officials were able to contact one of Mark’s brothers on the military base where he was serving and issue Mark a passport. His brother wired him money and Mark was soon on a flight to Atlanta. But adding insult to injury, upon seeing his history of ICE investigations, immigration officials in Atlanta held and questioned him for several hours before letting him go.

On October 13th, the ACLU and our affiliates in Georgia and North Carolina have filed lawsuits on Mark’s behalf, but the question on my mind is “how could this have happened?” The answer, as reported by the ACLU and Human Rights Watch in a report issued this July, is that both ICE and the Department of Justice (DOJ) have failed to implement meaningful safeguards for people with mental disabilities facing possible deportation from the United States. The system fails to even live up to basic standards of the American justice system, such as the right to appointed counsel for people who must defend against deportation even when their mental disabilities make it practically impossible to understand what “deportation” means. As immigration attorney Megan Bremer has noted:

Due process is part of judicial integrity. It’s a basic principle that this country has decided to prioritize. It’s one of our greatest exports — we send people all over the world to talk about rule of law and how to reform judicial systems but we’re not doing it here in our fastest growing judicial system [the immigration courts].

The result is that people like Mark who have a right to remain in the United States can be deported because they never get a fair chance to present their cases.

Azadeh Shahshahani, director of the National Security/Immigrants’ Rights Project of the ACLU of Georgia, told the Inter Press Service News Agency-

Mark’s case is a tragedy that serves to underscore the deep systemic injustices that continue to plague our government’s system of detention and deportation…Mark is just one of thousands of people in this country who have been victimised by a single-minded focus on detention and deportation without the kind of individualised determinations that are the essence of due process.

Mark’s story is a wake-up call. We hope that ICE and DOJ will implement reforms designed to protect the rights of people with mental disabilities now, before they accidentally put another citizen through the ordeal they caused for Mark Lyttle.

Jury Rules Immigrant’s Murder a Hate Crime, Even as Vicious Ads Continue to Stoke Racial Tensions

Guest Blogger: Jackie Mahendra from America’s Voice.

While the mainstream media has been largely absent, Latina Lista has been busy covering the dramatic trial of the two men charged with the hate crime killing of immigrant Luis Ramirez in Shenandoah, Pa. It turns out the 2008 murder was, indeed, a hate crime.

A federal grand jury has convicted the two Pennsylvania men, in a verdict that many argue was long overdue.

On July 14, 2008, Ramirez was beaten to death by a group of teenagers who yelled racial epithets throughout the killing.  A retired Philadelphia police officer said she heard one of the defendants yell to Mr. Ramirez’s friends, “Tell your [expletive] Mexican friends to get the [expletive] out of Shenandoah or you’ll be [expletive] laying next to him.”  Defendants were reported to have yelled, “Go back to Mexico” as they beat him to death.

Despite the evidence, an all-white jury found two of the defendants “not guilty” of third-degree murder and ethnic intimidation last year, to cheers in the courtroom and the astonishment of the Latino community.  The Federal government took up the case and finally justice was served.

Yet, two years after Ramirez’ gruesome murder, we continue to see egregious examples of race-baiting and immigrant bashing for political gain. This campaign season, a number of candidates are running race-baiting campaign ads that demonize immigrants. They use extreme, anti-immigrant rhetoric instead of offering real solutions to our immigration crisis.  Republican Senate candidates David Vitter (R-LA) and Sharron Angle of Nevada are both running anti-immigrant ads that paint Latinos as dangerous criminals, freeloaders, and the enemies of “real” Americans.

The FBI reports that hate crimes against Latinos rose 32% between 2003 and 2008 (the last year for which data is available), and groups such as the Southern Poverty Law Center have documented a correlation between anti-immigrant rhetoric and anti-Latino violence.

According to Lynn Tramonte, Deputy Director of America’s Voice:

Hateful campaign ads and rhetoric that demonize immigrants have no place in America today.  It’s as if some politicians think there is no cost for immigrant-bashing.  Well they are wrong.  This type of rhetoric creates a climate where violent crimes are committed against human beings simply because of the color of their skin.  Yesterday’s verdict in the Luis Ramirez murder is just, but it’s not nearly enough.  Politicians and pundits must stop using immigrants as scapegoats and instead use their microphones to spread a message of tolerance, humanity, and the need for common sense immigration reform.

In light of this tragic case, we believe it’s time for politicians and pundits to end the hateful rhetoric and immigrant bashing that has created a hostile climate for Latinos and encouraged hate crimes like the murder of Mr. Ramirez. Luis Ramirez lost his life because of the unaccountable, incendiary, and out-of-control immigration debate in this country.

Politicians who stoke racial fears and hatred need to realize that their rhetoric has severe — but not unforeseen– consequences.

The ruling on Luis Ramirez’ murder should serve as a wake-up call to those who refuse to end the politics of division and fear.

Photo courtesy of americasvoiceonline.org

Flip-flopping about a Bad Policy

Guest Blogger: Margaret Huang from the Rights Working Group reposted from The Huffington Post.

Last week, the Arlington County (Virginia) Board sent a letter to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) notifying the federal agency that the County does not wish to participate in the “Secure Communities” Initiative (SCI). The letter is a result of a resolution adopted by the County Board on September 28th expressing the County’s intent to withdraw from SCI. Arlington County adopted its resolution based on the repeated public statements by DHS that local jurisdictions could choose not to participate in the program. Very little is known – or understood – about the “Secure Communities” program, in large part due to contradictory information disseminated about the program by DHS. What Arlington County residents do know about “Secure Communities” is troubling for supporters of community policing, civil liberties and human rights.

Consistently, independent reports on ICE’s cooperation with local law enforcement agencies (including one by DHS’s own Inspector General) found that such collaborations have frequently led to allegations of racial profiling and other due process violations. Police in some jurisdictions have used minor infractions – such as fishing without a license or driving with a broken tail pipe – to arrest people and check their immigration status.

It is simply wrong to say that these programs only affect undocumented immigrants. The function of local police is to investigate crime that threatens the safety of the local community; forcing them to also serve as immigration agents dilutes and directly impedes that core mission. Since there are no obvious visual indicators of a person’s immigration status, police default to race and ethnicity as a proxy. Targeting people – or even being perceived as targeting people – based on their perceived ethnicity or race destroys the trust between the police and the communities that they are sworn to protect. When a community loses trust in the local police, everyone’s safety is put at risk. If a witness to a crime, or even a victim of a crime, is afraid to call the police for help, then the police cannot do their jobs and community security suffers.

The “Secure Communities” program was not established by any law, and Arlington’s elected local and national representatives had no voice in whether or not to participate in this program. In Virginia, it was the Virginia State Police who signed an agreement with ICE imposing SCI on every county in the state. It is telling that Arlington’s law enforcement agencies have refused to participate in other ICE programs because of their concerns about the impact on community policing programs and their ability to protect community safety.

Recently, ICE has released conflicting messages about whether or not a local jurisdiction can opt out of the program. On September 7th, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano sent a letter to Congress stating that jurisdictions that wished to withdraw from the program could do so; another letter from the Director of the Secure Communities program to California officials last month also stated that a jurisdiction could pull out.

But in an October 1st Washington Post article titled, “Local jurisdictions find they can’t opt out of federal immigration enforcement program,” an anonymous ICE spokesperson stated that “…opting out of the program is not a realistic possibility – and never was.” And on October 5th, Secretary Napolitano held a press conference where she contradicted her written letter by stating that jurisdictions could not opt out of SCI.

Arlington County did the right thing in its resolution. The County Board stood up for democratic processes that engage elected officials and community members in a discussion about what’s best for that community. The resolution commended the Chief of Police and the Sheriff who have lowered County crime rates through effective community policing programs and who want to focus on stopping and solving crimes, not doing the federal government’s job on immigration. The County pointed out that no one at ICE asked Arlington whether they wanted to be part of this program. And the elected government officials placed the community’s safety first by restoring trust in local law enforcement.

With the resolution adopted on the 28th, Arlington joined Washington, DC, San Francisco, and Santa Clara County (California) in formally requesting to withdraw from SCI. Arlington residents hope that ICE will respond to the County’s letter by implementing its promised opt-out mechanism from the Secure Communities program.

Photo courtesy of nostri-imago @ flickr.com

ICE announces results for 2010, but are the numbers misleading?

In a press conference held on Wednesday to announce Immigrations and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) results for 2010, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano declared that in 2010, 392,862 undocumented immigrants were deported from the United States, more than in any previous year. In an effort to highlight the Obama administration’s focus on deporting those who were guilty of crimes, Napolitano announced that about half of those deported (195,772) were convicted criminals. In addition to the surge in numbers reflecting ICE’s commitment to “removing those who pose public safety threats to our communities,” Napolitano attributed the figures to the expansion of the ‘Secure Communities’ program, a partnership between ICE and the Department of Justice that allows ICE access to information about every individual as soon as he/she is arrested by local or county law enforcement.

Napolitano announced on Wednesday that since it was initiated by DHS in 2008, the ‘Secure Communities’ program has expanded from 14 jurisdictions to 660 counties and cities around the country. The goal of the Obama administration is for the entire country to be participating in the program by 2013. It has become increasingly clear that this, and other immigration enforcement programs that involve ICE partnerships with local law enforcement, work to drive huge numbers of people into detention and deportation, incarcerating even those who have not been proven guilty of crimes, and completely break down the crucial separation between immigration enforcement (a federal issue) and law enforcement (that takes place on a local and state level).

For all these reasons, the program has come under attack from immigrant rights advocates who see it as a dangerous means bv which the DHS can drive huge numbers into the net of deportation so that they look tough on immigration, while breaking down the trust between communities and their local police. In addition to this is the danger that such partnerships give way to racial profiling of individuals who “appear to look undocumented,” by local law enforcement.

Due to these issues, as well as a glaring lack of information, transparency and accountability on the part of ICE, a number of counties have chosen to opt out of the Secure Communities program. Recently though, there has been a lot of controversy around whether or not it is indeed possible for local jurisdictions to opt out, as was originally indicated in a letter sent to Congress by Secretary Napolitano on September 7. While counties like San Francisco and Santa Clara, California opted out of the program, it is only when Arlington, VA and Washington DC recently attempted to withdraw from the program, that it became apparent that it is not, in reality, voluntary. As explained by a Washington Post article, the way the program works makes it impossible for counties to withdraw their participation-

Secure Communities…relies on the fingerprints collected by local authorities when a person is charged with anything from a traffic violation to murder. The fingerprints are sent to state police, and then to the FBI, for criminal background checks. Under the two-year-old program, ICE is able to access the information sent to the FBI…The only way a local jurisdiction could opt out of the program is if a state refused to send fingerprints to the FBI. Since police and prosecutors need to know the criminal histories of people they arrest, it is not realistic for states to withhold fingerprints from the FBI – which means it is impossible to withhold them from ICE.

D.C. Council member Jim Graham, who voted to opt out of the program expressed his frustration at ICE-

…It is extremely disappointing because it means the District of Columbia now has a blurred rather than a bright line between what the Metropolitan Police Department is doing and what immigration officers are doing. e had a bright line, and that has increased trust and confidence in our police among immigrant communities. That will now vanish.

A coalition of immigrant rights groups including the Center for Constitutional Rights and the National Day Laborer Organization Network have criticized ICE for its conflicting information and misleading numbers. They hold that based on statistics obtained from ICE, nearly 80% of people who were detained as a result of Secure Communities were either convicted of very minor offenses such as traffic violations, or not criminals at all.

Secretary Janet Napolitano ended her speech by calling on Congress to reform the existing immigration laws in ways that they are concurrent with the needs of the country. Moreover, it is imperative that we have an overhaul of the immigration system in a way that includes fair and just enforcement policy and human rights for all.

Photo courtesy of flickr.com

We call for dignity, not detention!

When Esmeralda, a transgender asylum seeker from Mexico, came to the US seeking a place that was accepting of her identity, what she received instead was a horrific experience in immigration detention. 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. “They would handcuff us as if we were murderers and were trying to escape…. but we were not trying to run away,” she said. While handcuffed in a cell, she was sexually abused by an immigration guard, an experience which caused her deep mental and emotional trauma.

The US immigration detention system is in deep crisis. Since 1994 the number of detention beds has grown from 5,000 to over 33,000 with more than 1.7 million individuals passing through the system since 2003. The government is denying due process and fairness in our communities by detaining immigrants who pose no danger and are not a flight risk to the community in inhumane and unregulated detention centers. Hundreds of thousands of immigrants are detained each year. Transferred far away from their homes and families, there are many stories of detainees such as Esmeralda who are denied basic human rights, such as telephone calls, visitation,access to a lawyer, medical care, and they can be subject to physical and verbal abuse. Even with reported deaths of detained immigrants, detention conditions continue to decline.

Today, human rights groups around the country participated in a National Day of Action organized by Detention Watch Network to mark the one-year anniversary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Immigration Customs and Enforcement’s (ICE) 2009 detention reform announcement. The National Day of Action is part of the, “Dignity, Not Detention: Preserving Human Rights and Restoring Justice,” campaign led by the Detention Watch Network, which calls for an end to the human rights abuses in detention centers, the restoration of due process in the enforcement of immigration laws, and the implementation of cost saving alternatives.

As part of the Day of Action, Detention Watch Network released a joint report, Year One Report Card: Human Rights & the Obama Administration’s Immigration Detention Reforms, that it co-authored with the National Immigrant Justice Center and the Midwest Coalition for Human Rights. The report reveals that many of those detained still suffer egregious human rights violations while in custody. Immigrants continue to be jailed for months or even years under substandard conditions. Mistreatment by guards, grossly deficient medical care, use of solitary of confinement, and limited access to family and counsel remain persistent problems.

Detention should only be used as the last possible option and for the shortest amount of time. Currently, many vulnerable people, including asylum seekers, pregnant women, children, lawful permanent residents and even U.S. citizens are among those detained, without knowing how long they will be held or why they are being held. Instead of placing thousands in detention centers that cost tax payers $99 per day, DHS should improve legislation around the cost-saving community-based alternatives to detention such as conditional release, requiring people to check in either in person or by phone, bonds or financial deposits.

Participants in the National Day of Action are calling for the restoration of human rights within the detention system, and an end to programs that indiscriminately channel immigrants into the detention and deportation system. Coordinated actions occurred across the country in cities including Austin, TX, Freehold, NJ, Minneapolis, MN, Seattle, WA and Trenton, NJ.  For more information visit www.dignitynotdetention.org

Powerful racial profiling documentary screened at Congressional Briefing

Breakthrough’s Restore Fairness campaign showcased its powerful new documentary, ‘Face the Truth: Racial Profiling Across America’ at a briefing for Congressional staff on Racial and Religious Profiling in Washington, D.C. on Thursday September 30th. The documentary brings to life a new report by the Rights Working Group that was released along with 350 local and national partners on the one year anniversary of the Face the Truth campaign to end racial profiling. Along with compelling personal stories, the documentary features interviews with notable law enforcement and civil society leaders, many of whom were present at the briefing. Hilary O. Shelton (NAACP), Dr. Tracie Keesee (Denver Police Department) and Karwan Abdulkader (resident of Nashville subjected to racial profiling) are some of the speakers from the film who spoke in person to the packed room on September 30th.

“I’ve seen a lot in my life but to be degraded… not just stripped of my clothes, being stripped of my dignity, was what I had a problem with.”

As Kurdish American Karwan Abdulkader broke down while relating his story, listeners learned that he was detained and interrogated by local law enforcement for no reason other than driving around in the wrong neighborhood. His is one among many stories featured in ‘Face the Truth,’ a moving video that illustrates the devastating impact of racial profiling on communities around our country, including the African American, Latino, Arab, Muslim and South Asian communities.

Racial and religious profiling as a pervasive problem that is not only humiliating and degrading for the people subjected to it, but one that is unconstitutional, ineffective as a law enforcement practice, and ultimately damaging to community security. Both the video and report urge Congress to pass the End Racial Profiling Act (ERPA).

Watch the video NOW and urge Congress to pass the End Racial Profiling Act.