The past fortnight witnessed numerous developments on the immigration front, and almost all roads seem to be pointing to the pressing need for immigration reform that ensures fair and just enforcement.
The November 18th Families, Freedom and Faith telephonic town hall featuring Members of Congress Luis Gutierrez, Raul Grijalva, and Nydia Velazquez, was a huge success with more than 60,000 reform supporters calling in from 1,009 house parties in 45 states. During the event, which took the form of a massive conference call with more than 16,000 active telephone lines, organizers urged listeners to demand immigration reform by texting and calling Members of Congress. Congressman Gutierrez laid out a comprehensive vision for immigration reform and called on supporters to hold their leaders accountable. In his words,
We need everyone on this call to take action with your churches, your families and your organizations so that we can deliver a strong message to President Obama and Congress that, hey, it has been a year…We want you to keep your promise to our families. We’ll be watching on the State of the Union to make sure you keep your promise.
The huge turnout for the telephonic town hall came hot on the heels of Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano’s speech at the Center for American Progress in which she made a strong case for the need for immigration reform, positing that now is the time to take significant strides towards a “three-legged stool” approach – regulating the flow of immigrants, dealing with those who are already here, and beginning with “fair, reliable enforcement.” She said:
Let me emphasize this. We will never have fully effective law enforcement or national security as long as so many millions remain in the shadows…Making sure these people become full taxpayers and pay their fair share will both benefit our economy and make it easier to enforce the laws against unscrupulous or exploitative employers.
But with the talk of reform must also be the talk of fair and just enforcement policies. In mid-October Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced new 287(g) memoranda of agreements (MOAs) with 67 state and local law enforcement agencies – an expansion of the already existing program that arms state and local enforcement with immigration enforcement powers. Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office headed by Sheriff Joe Arpaio was one among several agencies accused of racial profiling to be granted a new MOA despite various complaints and an ongoing Department of Justice investigation. Even the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has expressed its concerns in a letter to the Obama administration in which they outline the clear lack of progress towards ending racial discrimination in the United States, calling upon the Administration to “reconsider its policy under 287 (g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act.”
Problems with the new program are already emerging. Although the federal government has said that it was reformulating its agreements with local law enforcement to ensure that the 287(g) program was being used to detain only serious felons rather than those with misdemeanors to save precious resources, programs in places like the Sheriff’s department of Wake County, North Carolina are still operating unchanged and unchecked. Wake County Sheriff, Donnie Harrison confirmed that his department has not altered the way it implements the program. “We do the same thing if you’re charged for murder or if you’re charged with no operator’s license,” said Harrison, one of seven North Carolina sheriffs who have the program. “Nothing has changed for us.”
In Maricopa county, Alma Minerva Chacon was detained by Sheriff Arpaio’s officials while she was nine months pregnant. On the night of her arrest, Chacon went into labor and was rushed to a local hospital with her hands and legs shackled, and despite the nurses’ requests, was forced to give birth while shackled to the bed. Arpaio’s police staff did not allow Chacon to hold her baby girl and warned her that if no one came to claim the child within 72 hours, the child would be turned over to state custody. Watch Alma Minerva Chacon talking about her ordeal.
These shocking incidents only reinforce the need for the hour – immigration reform that respects fairness and due process and does not bargain one for the other.
Photo courtesy of www.reformimmigrationforamerica.org