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Freedom University: Undocumented College Students in Georgia Forced to Attend Underground School

Crossposted from Democracy Now-

As Georgia votes in its Super Tuesday primary, the state Senate has voted to ban undocumented immigrant students from all public universities. Undocumented students from Georgia are already barred from the state’s five most competitive schools and must pay out-of-state tuition at other state schools. “Telling us that we cannot obtain higher education, that we cannot go to college or community college, even if we work hard and do our best in school, it is crushing dreams, it is crushing goals,” says Keish Kim, an undocumented student from South Korea who now attends Freedom University, an ad hoc underground school in Athens, Georgia, where university professors volunteer to teach undocumented students kept out of public classrooms. We also speak with Azadeh Shahshahani, director of the National Security/Immigrants’ Rights Project at the ACLU of Georgia.

 

Let Children Learn — In Alabama and Beyond

Guestbloggers: Azadeh Shahshahani, National Security/Immigrants’ Rights Project Director with the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia,  and Daniel Altschuler, a political scientist and free-lance journalist.

True or false: No child in this country can be denied a public education. The answer is true, thanks to the Supreme Court’s 1982 Plyler v. Doe decision, which held that schools could not exclude children based on their immigration status. This is settled law, but not for Alabama legislators, who passed an anti-immigrant law (HB 56) with a provision requiring elementary and secondary schools to determine students’ and parents’ citizenship status.

With a federal district court refusing to enjoin this provision, families with an undocumented family member are already keeping their children, including U.S. citizens, out of school. And, though an appellate court last month temporarily blocked the K-12 reporting requirement, the right to primary education access for all in our country remains in jeopardy.

This summer, civil and immigrant rights groups, religious institutions and the Department of Justice challenged HB 56 in federal court. Alabama’s law contains many troubling provisions contained in anti-immigrant laws in other states, such as Arizona and Georgia, which were blocked by federal courts. But it goes much further, including the requirement in Section 28 that K-12 school officials determine their students’ and parents’ immigration status. Although the district court blocked certain sections of the law, it allowed this piece to stand.

As with Georgia’s HB 87, proponents of HB 56 claim they are removing the drain on state resources. But, in truth, officials like Governor Robert Bentley are scapegoating immigrants for political gain at a time of economic insecurity. They have confessed their desire to expel undocumented immigrants from the state.  HB 56 sponsor Micky Hammon asserted, “This [bill] attacks every aspect of an illegal immigrant’s life… [T]his bill is designed to make it difficult for them to live here so they will deport themselves.”

The law is so extreme that Wade Henderson, President and CEO of the Leadership Council on Civil and Human Rights,  concluded that Alabama’s “draconian initiative is so oppressive that Bull Connor himself would be impressed.” Birmingham’s former sheriff, you may recall, once used attack dogs and fire-hoses on African-American children.

Even those skeptical of immigration’s well-documented economic benefits should be appalled by Alabama officials’ willingness to target children. In addition to violating the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection clause, Section 28 is morally repugnant. It uses state power to keep immigrant children, who bear no responsibility for their status, out of school. Moreover, while so many Alabama public schools are failing, the law unconscionably redirects scarce education resources towards immigration policing.

Finally, as the Court held in Plyler, “It is difficult to understand precisely what the State hopes to achieve by promoting the creation and perpetuation of a subclass of illiterates within our boundaries, surely adding to the problems and costs of unemployment, welfare, and crime.”

Sadly, HB 56 may reflect a larger national trend. In May, the Department of Justice issued a memo reaffirming the illegality of asking students about their immigration status. This followed illegal reporting requirements and efforts in other states to pass education provisions similar to HB 56. Recent reports by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) for instance, found that roughly 20 percent of New York and New Jersey public school districts requested information from students that would indicate their immigration status. Similar practices abound in Arizona, where fully half of school districts surveyed by the ACLU sought such information.

The Department of Justice was right to issue its memo, and to seek data from Alabama school districts in the wake of HB 56′s passage to investigate potential violations of civil rights statutes which protect educational opportunities for schoolchildren. It must be even more vigilant about illegal school reporting policies across the country, which may rise as restrictionist officials seek to copy HB 56.

It is encouraging that the appellate court temporarily blocked the education provision of HB 56. But beating Section 28 in court, while essential, will not by itself ensure that all American children can go to school without fear.  Legislators and education officials around the country must take heed: our classrooms are no place for the refrain, “Papers, please.”

Crossposted from the Huffington Post.

A version of this article first appeared in the Fulton County Daily Report. Reprinted with permission from the October 28, 2011 issue of the Daily Report © 2011 ALM Media Properties, LLC. Further duplication without permission is prohibited. All rights reserved.

Photo courtesy of 12uspost.com

License to Abuse? Time for Bureau of Prisons to Sever Ties With CCA

Guest blogger: Azadeh N. Shahshahani, National Security/Immigrants’ Rights Project Director, ACLU Foundation of Georgia.

Last week, the ACLU of Georgia submitted comments to the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) to ask that the agency not renew its contract with Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) for operation of the McRae Correctional Facility.

McRae is located in Telfair County, Georgia. The prison is owned by CCA, which purchased it in 2000. McRae currently houses a population of low security, adult male, primarily non-citizen prisoners. The contract between CCA and the BOP is set to expire in November 2012.

In addition to McRae, CCA currently manages 4 facilities in Georgia, including the largest immigrant detention facility in the country, the Stewart Detention Center, in Lumpkin. In 2009, a 39-year-old Stewart detainee, Roberto Martinez Medina, died after a heart infection was allegedly allowed to go untreated.

Unfortunately, this is not an isolated incident. Indeed, CCA, the largest owner and operator of privatized correctional and detention facilities in the U.S., has had a reputation for poor management, neglect, and turning a blind eye to abuses within its facilities for over 20 years. Since 2003, there have been at least 19 deaths in facilities operated by CCA, including 3 in Georgia.

This pattern of neglect and abuse is also seen at McRae, which has a record of violations of constitutional and BOP standards governing the medical treatment of prisoners. The lack of medical treatment for prisoners at McRae, as demonstrated by letters received from the prisoners by the ACLU of Georgia, is in violation of the 8th Amendment.

One prisoner at the facility suffered from epilepsy as a result of an accident in 2000. He arrived at the facility in 2011 and was taken off his epilepsy medication by the facility’s doctor even though he had extensive documentation of his condition. His complaints to the facility medical unit went unheard. A couple of months later, he had a seizure and had to be taken to the hospital. The doctors at the hospital insisted that he be given medication for his condition. Even though McRae guards now give him medication, they only provide him with half the amount of medication prescribed by the hospital doctor.

Another prisoner at McRae complained numerous times of pain in his abdomen. When he was finally taken before a doctor, he was diagnosed with a hernia and surgery was recommended. However, he was denied this medical treatment that could have abated his pain and suffering. He had to wait months and file numerous complaints before receiving treatment.

According to another prisoner, after a birthday celebration held at the facility, all the prisoners who consumed the meal suffered food poisoning. Because of the low medical capacity of the facility, most of the prisoners suffering from severe diarrhea, dehydration, and stomach cramps did not receive medical care for almost a week.

McRae also has a record of abusive disciplinary practices that violate BOP standards.

One prisoner was placed in the Special Housing Unit (SHU) on February 5, 2010, but did not receive the required notice until March 26, 2010. He was segregated for a total of 97 days, but the disciplinary hearing at which he had a chance to explain his actions only took place on April 12, days before his release into the general population. Documents prepared by McRae employees themselves, such as the incident report, confirm the dates for the various stages of the proceeding which deviate from the Program Statement requirements and reveal other inconsistencies in data entry that may variably suggest carelessness or falsification of records. Another prisoner’s experience of placement in the SHU is similarly replete with McRae employees’ failure to follow the applicable standards, including 5 months of SHU placement without the required notices to the prisoner, periodic reviews, or hearings.

Perhaps most disturbing is the pattern of McRae employees’ possibly retaliatory conduct that begins to emerge from these accounts. The prisoners subjected to discipline were all active in exercising their right to pursue legal activities as provided for in federal regulations and BOP policy. They had either previously filed grievance reports against the facility, provided legal assistance to other prisoners, or both. And they were all placed at the SHU for prolonged periods of time without the observance of procedural safeguards such as the periodic review process.

On July 13, 2011, three representatives from the BOP met with residents of McRae and surrounding communities for a public hearing on whether the agency should renew its contract with CCA for operation of McRae. Among those who addressed the panel of BOP representatives were employees of the correctional facility, including two guards and two medical staff. The image touted by McRae employees was that of a “humane, secure, and safe” facility. One CCA officer said that the facility is known for its hospitality and friendliness: “CCA at McRae is good to the inmates here, and the inmates know it.” One of the facility nurses said that inmates at McRae “know medical cares about them and will care for them.”

Voices of McRae prisoners were absent from the hearing. Had they been offered an opportunity, they would have presented a very different account.

The Supreme Court has stated: “Prison walls do not form a barrier separating prison prisoners from the protections of the Constitution.” Incarcerated people depend on the facility operators to provide for basic human needs, adequate living conditions, food, and medical treatment.

CCA has failed in its obligation to run the McRae Correctional Facility in a manner comporting with basic human dignity. Should the BOP choose to renew this contract, it will demonstrate the agency’s condoning of CCA’s failure to live up to its contractual and social obligations.

Photo courtesy of mitchellmcelroy.wordpress.com

Georgia Is Not a “Show Me Your Papers” State

Guest blogger: Azadeh N. Shahshahani, National Security/Immigrants’ Rights Project Director, ACLU Foundation of Georgia.

Co-authored with Omar Jadwat, ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project. Cross-posted from Huffington Post.

This week the ACLU and ACLU of Georgia along with a coalition of other civil rights groups filed a class action lawsuit challenging Georgia’s discriminatory anti-immigrant law inspired by Arizona’s notorious S.B. 1070. The Georgia law authorizes police to demand “papers” demonstrating citizenship or immigration status during traffic stops and makes it unjustifiably difficult for individuals without specific identification documents to access state facilities and services. The lawsuit charges the extreme law endangers public safety, invites the racial profiling of Latinos, Asians, and others who appear foreign to a police officer, and interferes with federal law.

The Georgia law criminalizes everyday folks who have daily interactions with undocumented individuals in their community, making people of faith and others vulnerable to arrest and detention while conducting acts of charity and kindness.

Paul Bridges is one such person. Mr. Bridges, one of our clients in the case, is a long-time supporter of the Republican Party and is the mayor of Uvalda, Georgia, a town of approximately 600 people in Montgomery County. Because he speaks Spanish and is a well-known presence in the community, Mr. Bridges often assists with interpretation in schools, doctors’ offices, court and other settings. He also provides transportation to undocumented individuals so they can go to church, the grocery store, doctors’ appointments and soccer tournaments in nearby towns. If the Georgia law goes into effect, Mr. Bridges and the undocumented individuals traveling with him will be at risk of criminal prosecution.

Paul J. Edwards is another plaintiff in our case who believes strongly in helping all individuals in his community regardless of their immigration status. Mr. Edwards is a devout Christian, and as part of his religious commitment, he transports people, including those who are undocumented, to places of worship and to locations which provide medical assistance. Under the Georgia law, he would be subject to criminal liability for assisting, transporting and harboring these undocumented individuals.

In the words of Anton Flores, Executive Director of Alterna, a faith-based organization that provides a variety of social services to the Latino immigrant community, under Georgia’s law: “we will be forced to wrestle with the new law that contradicts the mandates of our faith tradition as well as having to fear religious persecution and social pressures because of our programs and activities.”

The criminalization of these acts of hospitality, faith, and conscience is misplaced and poses an undue burden on Georgians’ every day interactions with their friends and community.

Georgia is not a “show me your papers” state nor one that believes in making certain people “untouchables” that others should be afraid to assist, house, or transport. We expect that the courts will block this fundamentally un-American law from implementation.

Photo courtesy of immigrationtruthsquad.com.

Georgia “Show Me Your Papers” Legislation Will Endanger Survivors of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault

Guest blogger: Azadeh N. Shahshahani, National Security/Immigrants’ Rights Project Director, ACLU Foundation of Georgia

April is Sexual Assault Awareness month. In observation, Georgia lawmakers should reject legislation that attacks immigrant women, including H.B. 87 , a bill currently pending in the Georgia legislature that is a copycat of Arizona’s S.B. 1070 racial profiling law. H.B. 87 would endanger victims of domestic violence and sexual assault by creating more fear and distrust of local law enforcement in communities across the state, much like 287(g) has done. Similar to 287(g) agreements, which are agreements between Immigration and Customs Enforcement and local police/sheriff departments, H.B. 87 would charge local law enforcement with enforcing federal immigration law.

As the ACLU of Georgia’s reports on Cobb and Gwinnett counties detail, 287(g) agreements have made members of immigrant communities fear and distrust local law enforcement and ultimately more hesitant to report crime.

According to Alyse López-Salm, Community Outreach Advocate for Partnership Against Domestic Violence (PADV) , “287(g) has ensured that many survivors of domestic violence remain in the shadows—terrified to call the police or even reach out to organizations like Partnership Against Domestic Violence for help.” Alyse says that when survivors of domestic violence finally come into contact with PADV, they say they were afraid that seeking help would have a negative effect on their immigration status.

As “Jenny’s” account illustrates, this perception is far from groundless. On July 29, 2009, Jenny called 911 to stop her partner from assaulting her. But instead of protecting Jenny from the man who had been hitting and kicking her, the Cobb County police officers who responded to her call relied upon her abusive domestic partner’s account of what prompted Jenny’s 911 call, as she speaks little English. Her abuser’s side of the story was, not surprisingly, far from honest.

According to attorney Erik Meder, who represents Jenny in her deportation case, as a direct consequence of seeking help from the police, Jenny was herself arrested; physically separated from her infant daughter; spent five days in the Cobb County jail; and placed in immigration removal proceedings.

Jenny’s experience and that of others like her are likely to have a negative ripple effect, because as word gets around, similarly situated survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault in Cobb and other 287(g) counties may be dissuaded from seeking help in the first place.

The legislation now under consideration in Georgia would create a similar atmosphere of terror throughout the state. H.B. 87 would authorize the police to investigate individuals’ immigration status in the course of an offense, including traffic stops, if they fail to provide one of the select identification documents.

If passed, all Georgians will have to carry ID on them at all times in order to avoid being detained while police try to determine their status. Despite language that purports to prohibit investigation of immigration status for victims of a crime, in reality, the legislation will have a chilling effect for crime victims who will be even more scared of calling the police.

In a friend-of-the-court brief filed in the ACLU lawsuit challenging Arizona’s S.B. 1070 , Legal Momentum, a women’s rights group, points to how S.B. 1070 will endanger immigrant women:

Immigration status significantly affects the willingness of immigrant women to seek law enforcement help. Rape and sexual assault already have low reporting rates. Immigrants who are victims or witnesses of sexual assault will be even less likely to report and aid in the prosecution. Immigrants with stable permanent immigration status are more than twice as likely as women with temporary legal immigration status to call police for help in domestic violence cases (43.1% vs. 20.8%). This rate decreased to 18.8% if the battered immigrant was undocumented. These reporting rates are significantly lower than reporting rates of battered women generally in the United States (between 53% and 58%).

As we observe Sexual Assault Awareness Month, Georgia legislators should heed the call of women’s rights advocates and reject the Arizona copycat legislation that is sure to further drive underground survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault.

Photo courtesy of nmu.edu

State must enact anti-profiling laws

Guest blogger: Azadeh Shahshahani from the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia

When I testified before the Special Joint Committee on Immigration Reform, a committee of 14 Republicans convened to draft legislative proposals for the upcoming legislative session, I reminded them about the continued obligation of Georgia under international human rights law to protect and preserve the human dignity of all people regardless of immigration status.

As documented by the ACLU of Georgia, racial profiling and other human rights violations against immigrants or those perceived to be noncitizens continue in Georgia. In Gwinnett County, many Latinos have been stopped without reasonable suspicion or probable cause by the police in their cars or on the street.

Juan Vasquez, a legal permanent resident who lives in Sugar Hill, reports having been stopped and harassed by police on multiple occasions for no apparent reason. On one occasion, rather than tell Vasquez why he was pulled over, the officers screamed at him for asking questions before releasing him without any citation. Vasquez now avoids certain areas of Sugar Hill where he has come to expect harassment by the police.

Prompt action by the state is necessary to combat racial and ethnic profiling in Gwinnett and Georgia. The Legislature should pass anti-racial profiling legislation to give law enforcement agencies, policymakers and the public the tools necessary to identify and address the problem of racial profiling in the state. Data collection about traffic stops is an important supervisory tool. You can’t manage what you don’t measure. Annual training for law enforcement regarding racial profiling will also help ensure that stops and arrests are undertaken in a fair manner.

The Georgia Legislature should also carefully consider all the proposed bills in the upcoming session to ensure that they are consistent with the Constitution and our international human rights obligations, as reaffirmed by both Republican and Democratic administrations. In February 2008, the Bush administration told the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination that “United States is in profound agreement with the committee that every state must be vigilant in protecting the rights that noncitizens in its territory enjoy, regardless of their immigration status, as a matter of applicable domestic and international law.”

Last month, the U.N. Human Rights Council (HRC) issued a set of recommendations for the U.S. to bring its policies and practices in line with international standards. The recommendations are the result of the first-ever participation by the U.S. in the Universal Periodic Review process, which involves a thorough assessment of a nation’s human rights record. State and local laws, such as Arizona’s SB 1070, that aim to regulate immigration and lead to racial profiling were examined and decried by the Human Rights Council.

One of the recommendations issued by HRC was for the United States to end racial and ethnic profiling by law enforcement, especially with respect to immigration. Harold Koh, the U.S. State Department legal adviser, stated in response to this recommendation that “we will leave no stone unturned in our effort to eliminate racial profiling in law enforcement.”

Georgia legislators should be wary of any measure similar to Arizona’s racial profiling law that would encourage law enforcement to stop people on the street based on how they look, rather than based on individualized suspicion or evidence of criminal activity.

Laws that promise to turn the state into “show me your papers” territory would violate the Constitution and human rights commitments and tarnish Georgia’s reputation as a state welcoming to new immigrants.

Photo courtesy of epier.com

An ongoing battle to ensure due process and keep families together

Last Friday, Emily Guzman spoke at a vigil outside the Stewart Detention Center in Southwest Georgia where her husband, Pedro Guzman, has been held for over a year. Pedro was brought by his mother from Guatemala to the United States at the age of 8, and they stayed on after being denied asylum. He was arrested a year ago after his mother was denied a request to stay on in the country legally. Despite being married to an American, he has been kept in detention while fighting his case, with limited access to medical care and to visits with his mother, his wife and his four-year-old son, Logan. His wife Emily, who is an American citizen, spoke about the traumatic experience that her family has been through while Pedro has been fighting deportation from prison-

I never knew that the immigration system in the United States was so outrageously flawed until I began to experience it through my husband, Pedro is one of the very few fighting his case in immigration detention. It is a daily emotional fight for him to continue without his freedom.

Pedro’s story is just one of the myriad of reasons why human rights organizations and supporters marched to the Stewart Detention Center last Friday. The groups, including the Georgia Detention Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Georgia, were seeking to draw attention to the “traumatic effects” that detention has on immigrant families. The marchers carried lists with the names of over 110 people who have died in immigration detention since 2003, including 39-year-old Roberto Martinez-Medina and 50-year-old Pedro Gumayagay who were detained at Stewart. This protest followed the release of a report by the Georgia Detention Center about the lack of transparency, accountability and due process at the Stewart Detention Center, which, as one of the largest (and most remote) detention centers in the country, has a vast list of human rights violations including lack of waiting periods of 65 days for cases to be heard, lack adequate medical care, and the imposition of solitary confinement without a hearing.

In addition to calling for the release of Pedro and the closure of the detention center in favor of alternatives to detention that are cheaper and more humane, the groups also aimed to highlight the “collusion between government officials and for-profit corporations to place profits and politics over people.” The overt connections between the massive expansion of the detention system and the direct profit made by private prison companies such as the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA, which runs the Stewart Detention Center) were thrown into the spotlight when National Public Radio (NPR) did a story exposing the ties between CCA and the SB1070 immigration law in Arizona.

8 of the protesters, including Emily Guzman’s mother, Pamela Alberda, were arrested as they crossed over a ‘Do Not Enter’ tape at the entrance to the detention center. They were released on bond later the same day. Speaking about the impending protest and vigil, an ICE spokesperson said-

ICE fully respects the rights of all people to voice their opinion without interference. We recognize that our nation’s broken immigration system requires serious solutions, and we fully support comprehensive immigration reform efforts.

It is a relief to know that in the midst of this glaring lack of due process and fairness, a modicum of justice also exists. In what is a significant victory for immigrant rights activists, the Supreme Court of Georgia ruled yesterday that all defendants with limited English proficiency have a right to an interpreter for criminal trials. Speaking about the action taken by the ACLU of Georgia and the Legal Aid Society-Employment Law Center on the issue, Azadeh Shahshahani, Director of the National Security/Immigrants’ Rights Project at the ACLU of Georgia said that the court ruling upheld a basic tenet of the U.S. Constitution-

The court acknowledged that we don’t have two systems of justice in this country – one for English-speakers and another for everyone else. The constitutional guarantee of due process applies to everyone in this country, not just fluent English-speakers.

In keeping with the spirit of the Constitution practiced by the Georgia Supreme Court, let us hope that these same principles are upheld in all aspects of life, ensuring that everyone is treated equally with respect to dignity, justice, due process and fairness.

Photo courtesy of Jim Toren

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.

ICE’s Misplaced Priorities: The Numbers Speak for Themselves and the Stories Cry out for Justice


Guest Blogger: Azadeh Shahshahani from ACLU of Georgia reposted from The Huffington Post.

This past Wednesday, Jessica Colotl was released from the Etowah Detention Center in Alabama and allowed to reunite with her family back in Cobb County, Georgia. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has granted Jessica deferred action on her deportation case.

Jessica is a 21-year-old smart hard working student at Kennesaw State who has worked nights in order to pay her tuition. She hopes to become a lawyer after graduating in the fall.

So why was Jessica at a detention center all the way in Alabama in the first place? A few weeks ago, as Jessica pulled into her university parking lot, a campus police officer pulled her over, telling her that she was “impeding the flow of traffic.” She could not produce a driver’s license due to her undocumented status and eventually ended up at the Cobb County jail. This is when 287(g) kicked in. Per an agreement between Cobb County and ICE, some Cobb sheriff deputies have been granted certain enforcement powers of an immigration officer. Jessica was placed in deportation proceedings. Before long, she found herself behind bars at the Alabama detention center, awaiting deportation to Mexico, a country she has not lived in for over ten years and which she hardly remembers. Jessica was only released after strongly voiced and sustained demands by the community, including her sorority sisters, and after the ACLU contacted the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Headquarters on her behalf.

Is it unusual for ICE and the localities to waste limited resources meant for targeting perpetrators of the most dangerous crimes by going after individuals with great potential like Jessica?

Unfortunately not. Jessica is just one of the untold numbers of hard-working people who get caught up in the local immigration enforcement programs, including 287(g). In a sense, Jessica’s case is very unusual, as she actually won respite (albeit temporary) from deportation. Most people in her situation, faced with prolonged detention at a jail, oftentimes isolated and hours away from their families, opt to give up their immigration case and are subsequently deported.

An ACLU of Georgia report released in October 2009 recounted stories of 10 community members in Cobb and their families impacted by 287(g). As documented by the report entitled, “Terror and Isolation in Cobb: How Unchecked Police Power under 287(g) had Torn Families Apart and Threatened Public Safety,” mothers, fathers, brothers, and sisters are torn apart from their families every day in Cobb County, many with little recourse.

In one case, a husband and father was pulled over for “an incomplete stop” on the way to the bank. Angel subsequently ended up at the Stewart Detention Center. He left behind his wife Sharon, an American citizen who is physically disabled and who “depended on [her] husband for everything.” Sharon and Angel had to “celebrate” their 7-year wedding anniversary apart; their only means of contact was a phone call by Angel from the Stewart Detention Center.

In Cobb, immigrants disappear into detention for violations such as a broken tail light or tinted windows on their car. In 2008, Cobb County turned over 3,180 detainees to ICE for deportation. Of those, 2,180, about 69 percent, were arrested for traffic violations.

But you don’t only have to rely on the ACLU of Georgia report to believe there is something wrong with this picture. A Government Accountability Office investigation of 287(g) released in January 2009 found that ICE was not exercising proper oversight over local or state agencies. And a report released in March 2010 by the DHS Office of the Inspector General (OIG) documents significant lapses in 287(g) priorities and oversight. ICE claims that 287(g)’s mandate is to focus on non-citizens who pose a threat to national security or are dangers to the community. But less than 10 percent of those sampled by OIG were ICE “Level 1″ offenders. Almost half had no involvement in crimes of violence, drug offenses, or property crimes.

This trend of misplaced priorities is shared by other ICE local enforcement programs.

Last week, a piece appeared by John Morton, the head of ICE, in the Atlanta Journal Constitution as well as other papers around the country defending the “Secure Communities” initiative through which arrestees’ fingerprints are checked against DHS databases with information about civil immigration history, rather than just against FBI criminal databases. Morton claims that his agency is prioritizing perpetrators of dangerous crimes for deportation.

Morton’s strongest rebuttal is his own numbers. According to the data ICE released in November 2009, out of 113,000 non-citizen individuals identified in the program during its first year of operation, more than 101,000, or close to 90%, were never charged with or convicted of dangerous crimes. “Secure Communities” is in fact designed to sweep up any foreign-born individual who is arrested by local law enforcement for any reason whatsoever, including traffic infractions, even if that person is never charged with, or convicted of, any crime at all. An alarming 5% of the total number of individuals identified were actually U.S. citizens, testifying to the inaccuracy and incompleteness of the federal agency databases against which fingerprints are matched.

Meanwhile, precious resources are diverted from identifying and removing perpetrators of the most dangerous crimes.

Contrary to Morton’s assertion, the program is also profoundly susceptible to abuse and racial profiling, similar to the misguided 287(g) program. Any police officer or sheriff’s deputy can arrest individuals simply to bring them to the attention of immigration officials. Without federal standards or oversight, this creates an unacceptably high risk of unlawful racial profiling.

The risk of racial profiling through local enforcement programs is compounded in Georgia, as there is no state legislation banning racial profiling and mandating accountability and transparency for law enforcement.

It is past time for ICE to match their rhetoric regarding priorities with action and put an immediate end to the unaccountable outsourcing of immigration enforcement functions. If the numbers weren’t enough proof, Jessica’s story and other accounts cry out for justice.

Photo courtesy of acluga.org

Racial profiling in Georgia a microscosm of whats happening all over the U.S.

As the dust settles around the 200,000 March for America in D.C. this weekend, it is important to remind ourselves why we need immigration reform. A new report by the ACLU is one such reminder of racial profiling that is alive and kicking in the United States. As one of the most unconstitutional implications of our broken immigration system, racial profiling takes place when police stop, interrogate, and detain people on the basis of their appearance, accent or general perceived ethnicity, rather than on the basis of concrete evidence of criminal activity.

Called “The Persistence of Racial Profiling in Gwinnett: Time for Accountability, Transparency, and an End to 287(g),” the report uses individual testimonies from the community to examine the persistence of racial profiling in Gwinnett County, Georgia, before and after the introduction of the 287(g) program that partners local law enforcement with federal Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to enforce immigration law. Dedicated to the brave undocumented students walking the Trail of Dreams who marched into this “risky” 287(g) county, the report focuses on Sheriff Conway known as the “Joe Arpaio of the South”, who claimed that November 16th, 2009 or the day that the 287(g) program officially took off in Gwinnett County “was a great day for Gwinnett County citizens.”

Racial profiling has always been prevalent in Gwinnett County. In a case that took place before the implementation of 287(g), a woman named Mary Babington witnessed two police officers stop a white Sedan and pull out two Latino men at gun-point, shouting at them the entire time. They were then cuffed and made to lie on the ground, shirtless. One of the men was crying and asked the officer for his shirt, saying he felt cold. The officer then kicked him on his back and yelled at him not to move. Mary then heard one officer boast to the other -

They wouldn’t come out when I pulled my gun, so I sprayed the whole can of pepper spray. I emptied the whole can on them…Dude, I emptied the can in his face. I love my job.

According to the witness, Mary, the officers did not tell the men why they had been stopped, and did not read the men their rights at any point. Finally the officers administered a breathalyzer test and gave one of them a ticket for driving under the influence.

The implementation of the 287 (g) program has only exacerbated racial profiling. Many people of color have been stopped, interrogated, detained and even abused based on minor traffic violations even though 287(g) is supposed to be implemented to catch serious criminals. Some were stopped without any probable cause and never given an explanation.

A case in point is the testimony of Juan, a 48-year maintenance technician who is a legal permanent resident, entitled to live and work in the U.S. In the last year he has been stopped by local police on two different occasions, both times without any legal basis. On the most recent occasion, a Gwinnett police officer asked Juan to pull over as he was driving home from work. Despite him asking the officer five times why he was being stopped, he was given no answer. Instead the officer continuously screamed at him for asking questions and asked him for his driver’s license, which he handed over. Juan was eventually released without a citation but never found out why he had been pulled over and detained. He is now constantly worried about such an event recurring and avoids driving in certain areas of Gwinnett County.

In a podcast interview, Azadeh Shahshahani from the ACLU talks about the ways in which the 287(g) program has been extremely harmful for the 70 jurisdictions in which it operates. Local profiling has threatened public safety so that instead of trusting the local police, people are increasingly afraid to approach them, creating a dangerous communication barrier between local law enforcement and the community. In addition to diverting resources, the 287(g) program employs local police officers who are not trained in making immigration and status determinations, resulting in them restoring to their perceived notions about people’s race, ethnicity and accent.

While 50% of U.S. states have enacted legislation against racial profiling, legislation is still pending for Georgia. According to Azadeh -

In Georgia the problem is compounded because not only is there not any meaningful federal oversight, but there is also no oversight at the local or county level that we have seen…One of our main recommendations would be for law enforcement to revert to a policy of having federal immigration laws enforced only by federal immigration officials, and leave police to the job of protecting our communities.

So what’s the best outcome? Lacking training and oversight, stop 287(g) program all over the country. Document all the stops that are being made in the name of the program to check for patterns of racial profiling. And pass anti-racial profiling legislation so everyone is protected.

Photo courtesy of acluga.org

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