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BREAKING: DHS announces investigation of the misnamed “Secure Communities” program

In a move that has been widely welcomed by advocates for fair immigration policies, the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Office of Inspector General announced this week that they plan to carry out an investigation of ICE’s Secure Communities program. Since the introduction of this program, ICE has faced criticism for many aspects of it, most importantly the lack of transparency and clarity with which ICE has executed the program. Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-San Jose), who has been instrumental in demanding the review of the highly controversial “Secure Communities” program, called on DHS to launch the investigation immediately following allegations that ICE had disseminated misleading information over the specifics of the program.

In a joint press release from the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) and National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON), the CCR attorney Sunita Patel said-

“The worst part of ICE’s lack of transparency and accountability in the development and deployment of S-Comm is that every day S-Comm tears families apart and spreads fear in immigrant communities across the nation. ICE’s conduct belies a fundamental lack of respect for democracy and the people that are impacted by its harsh policies.”

Established in 2008, the Secure Communities program is DHS’s latest attempt to use local law enforcement to push people into the immigrant detention system. As per the program, all local law enforcement has to do is arrest someone on an offense, minor or major–  and before the person is even convicted of the offense – their fingerprints are checked against federal immigration databases. If the fingerprint scan gets a “hit,” immigrants can end up getting carted off by Immigration and Customs Enforcement to an immigration detention center, putting them in for deportation proceedings. The lack of due process sets the stage for racial profiling without any proper training or real consequences for police agents. Many local law enforcement officials and counties have sought to opt-out of the program on the grounds that it leads to mistrust between the community and law enforcement, in addition to being an inefficient way of enforcing immigration laws.

Moreover, recent data about the program, released by ICE in response to a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit by the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, Center for Constitutional Rights and the Kathryn O. Greenberg Immigration Justice Clinic of the Benjamin Cardozo School of Law, contradicts ICE’s claim that the program is targeting high-level, dangerous criminals.

Based on a recent analysis of this data, Bridget Kessler of Benjamin Cardozo School of Law said-

Nationally, 1 in 4 people deported under S-Comm haven’t been convicted of any crime. That ratio jumps to over 50% in Boston, certain areas of California, and in multiple examples across the country.Those numbers raise questions about how S-Comm may allow local police to cover up profiling and circumvent due process.

The latest data analysis,  ICE’s lack of accountability and transparency around the program, along with the slew of critiques of the program from law enforcement officials, local government officials and immigration advocates indicates that, contrary to its name, Secure Communities is a program that makes people feel less safe, hurting the trust that is a cornerstone of an effective law enforcement system in a diverse country such as this.

This storm of objections over ICE and its Secure Communities program comes at a time when the U.S demographics are evolving rapidly and highlighting the ever pressing need for fair and just immigration reform that acknowledges the vastly diverse immigrant population of this country. The 2010 Census pointed to a significant increase in the minority (non-white) populations in the U.S., up from 31% in 2000 to 39% according to the latest numbers. Four states – California, Hawaii, New Mexico and Texas – now have minority populations that exceeded 50%, with Texas being the latest addition in this census. Painting a picture of the rapidly evolving demographic of our country, the Census results highlighted a dramatic increase in the Latino and Asian populations. While the Latino group grew by 3.1% to 48.4 million becoming the largest minority, the Asian population went up by 2.5% to 13.7 million. The African-American population grew less than 1% to 37.7 million, becoming the second-largest minority. Perhaps more interestingly, the fastest growing demographic was of those who identified themselves as “two or more races.” The Census reported that 9 million Americans identified as being multiracial, comprising 2.8% of the US population, a 3.2% increase since the last time. However, some estimate that the actual number is much higher, owing to people who picked one race over another or are simply unaware that they are multiracial.

Since the 1967 Supreme Court decision that repealed anti-miscegenation laws across several states, deeming them unconstitutional, there has been a considerable increase in the number of interracial couples and mixed-race children. The increase has also been spurred, in a large part, by the stream of immigrants that have made this country their home. It is time that the government makes sweeping changes to its policies towards immigrant populations, and ensure an end to harsh enforcement practices that break down the trust between communities and law enforcement, and endanger the safety and security of families. To lend your voice to ending the Secure Communities program, sign the NDLON petition at change.org.

For a lighter take on this issue, watch a segment on immigration reform from ‘The Daily Show with Jon Stewart.’ Stewart introduced Al Madrigal, a Mexican-American comedian who debuted as their new “Señior” Latino Correspondent. For his first report, Madrigal chose to focus on immigration reform:

Photo courtesy of soaw.org/presente

Human rights commission urges U.S. government to stop deportations to Haiti

Today, in response to an emergency petition filed on January 6, 2011 by six rights groups, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) took a rare step and urged the U.S. government to cease deportations to Haiti immediately for persons with serious illnesses or U.S. family ties. The action follows the first reported death of  Wildrick Guerrier, deported by the U.S. since removals resumed on January 20, 2011.

In its decision, the IACHR expressed concern that “detention centers in Haiti are overcrowded, and the lack of drinking water and adequate sanitation or toilets could facilitate the transmission of cholera, tuberculosis, and other diseases. The deceased, Wildrick Guerrier, 34, who was deported in the last two weeks, exhibited cholera-like symptoms but is believed to have received no medical treatment while in a Haitian police station cell in the midst of a cholera epidemic. A second deported person was reportedly exhibiting cholera-like symptoms and released without medical attention. The IACHR also expressed their apprehension over the deportation of people with immediate family members, even children, in the United States, and of those who did not have any family members in Haiti.

Michelle Karshan, Executive Director of Alternative Chance, a re-entry program for criminal deportees in Haiti, responded:

The IACHR has rightly and courageously come through on the side of life, family and human rights. By resuming the suspension of deportations to Haiti for now, the U.S. can truly demonstrate its commitment to aiding Haiti through this difficult period towards real reconstruction.

Sunita Patel, a Staff Attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights had a strong message for the Obama administration-

We implore the U.S. Government to follow the IACHR’s instructions…Stop the deportations to stop the deaths. The Obama administration should live up to its promise to abide by human rights obligations and protect the right to life of Haitians in the United States.

The emergency petition, submitted by the University of Miami School of Law Human Rights and Immigration Clinics, the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center (FIAC), the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), Alternative Chance and the Loyola Law Clinic and Center for Social Justice, argued that deporting people at this moment to Haiti, which is still reeling from the devastating January 2010 earthquake and burdened with a massive cholera epidemic, political unrest and street violence, will result in serious human rights violations, including deprivations of the rights to life, family and due process, and freedom from cruel or unusual punishment.

Deportations from the U.S. to Haiti had been halted on humanitarian grounds since the January 12, 2010 earthquake devastated Haiti. Advocates and community members were shocked when, on December 9, 2010, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) unexpectedly announced that it was lifting the ban on deportations to Haiti for individuals with criminal records and would resume deportations in January 2011, just one year after the earthquake. On January 20, 2011, the U.S. resumed deportations to Haiti, deporting an estimated 27 people of Haitian origin, several of whom had not set foot in Haiti since they were young children.

Tell Secretary Napolitano and the Obama Administration that now is not the time to deport Haitians to Haiti. Take action now and urge the Obama administration to take into account the circumstances in Haiti and ensure due process and human rights for all.

Photo courtest of miamiherald.com

As DREAM passes in House, momentum builds towards victories for immigrant rights

Following a historic 216-198 vote in which the House of Representatives passed the DREAM Act last evening, today’s events in the Senate reflected a strategic decision on the part of Sen. Reid to buy time to ensure the support needed to get the DREAM Act passed in the Senate. Since the Republicans in the Senate have vowed to block all bills until the issue of tax cuts was resolved, Sen. Reid made a motion to table the cloture vote on the DREAM Act that was otherwise scheduled to take place at 11:00 AM this morning. By tabling it, the Senate Democrats will be able to bring the version of the bill that has already been passed in the House, up for a vote in the coming week, once the other issues have been resolved. Immigrant rights advocates now have additional time to build on the momentum created by the House victory yesterday, and work on getting more Senate support for the DREAM Act, so that when it does finally come up for a vote, it can have the same success that it had in the House of Representatives. According to the Vivir Latino blog-

All in all this gives DREAM a better chance in passing, especially when considering that there are Senators on the fence who do not want to be targeted and be in the spotlight twice. And obviously this gives advocates, activists, and you more time to call and ask that DREAM be supported.

According to the New York Times, once the bill wins the approval of the Senate, it will go straight to President Obama, signaling one of the most significant victories that immigrant rights will have seen in decades. The White House and the President’s support for the DREAM Act has become increasingly evident in recent weeks. While always a supporter of the bill, this is the first time he has actively worked for it to be passed. Over the last few weeks, and up until yesterday, he has been personally making calls to garner support for the DREAM Act.

The DREAM is very much alive and will have its final vote in the Senate in the next week or so. Take the time to follow the example of President Obama and pick up the phone to call your Senators! Tell them that it is important that they pass the DREAM Act and keep the dreams of millions of our country’s youth alive.

Riding the positive momentum created by the hard work of DREAM Activists, advocates protesting the Secure Communities program gathered for a peaceful rally outside Governor David Paterson’s office in New York City earlier today. Despite the bitterly cold morning, a number of activists and local groups turned up to urge Gov. Paterson to rescind the Memorandum of Agreement that New York State signed with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to approve the Secure Communities program in which local police will send fingerprints of all arrestees to federal immigration databases, with immigrants who are found “deportable” being directly pushed into the deeply flawed detention and deportation system. Sarahi Uribe of the National Day Labor Organizing Network spoke about the need for the rally-

To keep our families together, we need to keep police and ICE separate. The Orwellian-named Secure Communities program does the opposite of making us safer. We see innocent people swept up in a massive dragnet sending a chilling effect through migrant communities.

The advocates and religious leaders who spoke at the rally voiced their concerns about the implementation of the program: they stressed the ways in which it jeopardizes the relationship between law enforcement and the community, jeopardizing the safety of the community at large; it offends the values of liberty, due process and justice by undermining the basis of our legal system that aims to provide equal protection to all; it imposes significant costs on our localities, on the detention system, and the State; and it encourages racial profiling by law enforcement.

Following the rally that took place at 11:00 am, the Center for Constitutional Rights and the Kathryn O. Greenberg Immigration Justice Clinic of Cardozo Law requested an emergency injunction in federal court in a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit NDLON v. ICE filed on behalf of the NDLON. The case requests information regarding the controversial Secure Communities program and the emergency injunction specifically requests documents related to the voluntary nature of the program, which has been vague so far. CCR’s staff attorney Sunita Patel said-

“As advocates across the country are pushing on the state and local levels to find a way to opt-out of Secure Communities, we are going to court to obtain information that the public and advocates need to determine how and if it’s possible to opt-out. Only the government has the information everyone needs.”

We thank everyone who came out to show their support at the rally. It is important that we build on this momentum and keep working hard to make sure that we can honor the values that are the strength of this nation. As long as we continue to deny equality, justice, dignity and liberty to some, we cannot guarantee human rights for anyone. Together, we can stop the erosion of our fundamental human rights.

Photo courtesy of cspan.org

Rally for your rights tomorrow!

In May 2010, New York State signed onto the “Secure Communities” program in which local police send fingerprints of all arrestees to federal immigration databases, with immigrants who are found “deportable” being directly pushed into the deeply flawed detention and deportation system.

When a state signs onto the Secure Communities program, all local law enforcement in that state has to do is arrest someone on a traffic or other offense, and their fingerprints will be checked against immigration databases during booking. When the fingerprint scan gets a “hit,” immigrants can end up getting carted off by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents to an immigration detention center. If they get out on bond, ICE can take them into custody, leaving their criminal cases unresolved. It doesn’t matter if the person was innocent of a criminal charge or if the arrest was a pretext to check immigration status.

Besides eroding community trust with the police, the program has criminalized the immigration detention system with a majority of those caught identified for minor crimes or U.S. citizens. An FOI found that Secure Communities has “misidentified more than 5,800 arrested U.S. citizens as undocumented workers” since 2008. Available evidence shows little accountability and transparency, yet a whopping $200 million has been allocated to Secure Communities, with an eye toward establishing it nationwide in every jail by late 2012. In addition to adding to the financial burden of the state, this costly program will endanger our communities, encourage racial profiling and separate families.

Join us at a rally tomorrow in New York to demand that Governor Paterson terminate Secure Communities. New York State should not cooperate with immigration in denying people fairness. When we deny fairness to some, we put all of our rights at risk.

Do come and show your support.

When: Thursday, December 9, 2010, 11:00 AM
Where: In front of Governor Paterson’s Manhattan office, 633 3rd Ave (between 40th and 41st streets), New York, NY

In another update, Congress is voting on the DREAM Act today. If passed, it could positively impact the lives of 2.1 million young people in the United States.

Take action now  to help pass this act.

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

Will uncovering the truth on immigration lead to more accountability?

Fired up by the passage of Arizona’s harsh new anti-immigrant bill SB1070, organizations across the country launched a week of actions aimed to “Uncover the Truth” about collaborations between federal immigration and local police. These collaborations, carried out through programs such as 287(g) and Secure Communities begun during the Bush administration, are precursors to Arizona’s new law that gives local law enforcement the right to check the immigration status of people. Originally intended for violent criminals, these programs have become notorious for racial profiling and misuse by local police, compounded by inadequate training and a lack of transparency.

“Uncover the Truth” kicked off yesterday with the The National Day Laborer Organizing Network, The Center for Constitutional Rights and the Immigration Justice Clinic announcing a Freedom of Information (FOI) lawsuit for records related to the little known Secure Communities program. According to Sunita Patel-

ICE’s so-called Secure Communities program is growing at an alarming rate – more than 150 jurisdictions so far – without public knowledge or discourse…SB1070 and the recent dangerous ICE raids in Arizona have already proven that ICE and local or state police collaboration will only further erode public trust in law enforcement, systematize racial profiling, create incentives for illegal arrests and prevent police from doing their job, failing to keep our communities safe.

While the government’s own report has pointed out glaring problems in the 287(g) program, the Secure Communities program has not received adequate attention, even as it expands at a worrying pace. For those jails enrolled in the program, Secure Communities runs fingerprints through immigration databases when individuals are arrested, even for minor charges or if charges are dismissed. If there is a “hit”, immigration is notified and the individual is funneled into immigration detention. These checks are performed on innocent arrestees even before conviction, raising serious doubts as to whether it fulfills its stated objective of going after violent criminals.

Besides eroding community trust with the police, the program has criminalized the immigration detention system with a majority of those caught identified for minor crimes or U.S. citizens. An FOI found Secure Communities has “misidentified more than 5,800 arrested U.S. citizens as undocumented workers” since 2008. Available evidence shows little accountability and transparency, yet a whopping $200 million has been allocated to Secure Communities, with an eye toward establishing it nationwide in every jail by late 2012.

Before it gets that far, “Uncover the Truth’s” national week of action is making Congress accountable through press conferences, community forums, vigils at detention centers and audio testimonials across Arizona, California, Texas, Georgia, New York, Maryland and many other cities, asking questions about the way these collaborations impair people’s trust in their police officers and instigate racial profiling.

But increasing enforcement seems to be on the horizon, both in the blueprint for an immigration reform bill put forth by Senator Charles Schumer and Lindsey Graham, as well as a contingency plan Democrat only immigration reform bill (in case no Republican agree to support the blueprint) that came out today that calls for increased border security and immigration effort before a path for legalization for the nation’s undocumented population. This plan too seems to be going down the path of increased enforcement, rather than addressing the serious problems caused by programs such as Secure Communities and 287(g).

UPDATE: An Immigration and Customs Enforcement memo that was leaked to the press exposes ICE’s attempts to use spin and deception in response to the Uncover the Truth campaign. The six-page internal memo contains ICE’s media strategy including the targeted placement of opinion-editorials in “major newspapers in the right cities where protests are planned”, national interviews and talking point about the success of Secure Communities.  Sarahi Uribe, NDLON organizer and national coordinator of the “Uncover the Truth” campaign spoke in response to the memo -

It is deeply disturbing that ICE responded to our simple request for truth and accountability with an aggressive strategy for spin and deception. At a time when its clear that the federal government’s irresponsibility gave rise to the crisis in Arizona, rights groups now feel under attack for demanding basic answers from our government.

Photo courtesy of citylimits.org

POLL: Will the expansion of Secure Communities lead to more SB1070's?

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Take action on this historic opportunity to “Restore Fairness” to the Patriot Act

Picture 1On December 31, 2009, three provisions of the Patriot Act expired, creating a perfect opportunity for Congress to examine the Act and its infringement on the rights of U.S. citizens. However the House and Senate rejected an alternative proposal called the JUSTICE Act that would bring in more checks and balances and add long overdue civil liberties protections and instead renewed the expiring provisions for 60 days. Time is running out and so on February 3, 2010, a broad coalition of allies are going to D.C. and they would like you to join them in flooding the halls of Congress in protest of the Act.

Amid the climate of fear and uncertainty that followed the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, President George Bush signed into law the Patriot Act, expanding the government’s authority to secretly search private records and monitor communications, often without any evidence of wrongdoing. Many believe that the legislation threatened privacy, intellectual freedom, and sanctioned racial profiling. And more than seven years after its implementation, many more believe there is little evidence to demonstrate that the Patriot Act has made America more secure from terrorists.

The provisions that are set to expire relate to roving wiretaps that allow authorities to monitor an individual instead of a particular phone number, a business record provision that allows investigators to seize “any tangible things” deemed relevant to a terrorism investigation, and the “lone wolf” provision that allows authorities to monitor terrorism suspects not connected to any specific foreign terrorist group or foreign government. But there is hope that this moment can be used as an opportunity to amend other parts of the Act. According to the ACLU this must include,

National Security Letters (NSLs): NSLs are secret demand letters issued without judicial review to compel internet service providers, libraries, banks, and credit reporting companies to turn over sensitive information about their customers and patrons.

Material Support Statute: This provision criminalizes providing “material support” to terrorists, regardless of whether they actually or intentionally further terrorist goals or organizations. Intended as a mechanism to starve terrorist organizations of resources, it has actually undermined legitimate humanitarian efforts such as asylum claims and charitable contributions.

Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Amendments Act of 2008: Originally passed to allow the government to collect foreign intelligence information, Congress changed the law to permit the government to conduct warrantless and suspicion-less dragnet collection of U.S. residents’ international telephone calls and e-mails in the fight against terrorism.

Even with it cloaked in secrecy, government reports reflect a rapidly increasing level of surveillance and Department of Justice Inspector General reports have revealed misuse of NSL and other aspects of the Act. Moreover, several federal courts have found parts of the Patriot Act unconstitutional.

Add your voice to the demand that Congress uphold the Constitution and protect the rights of its citizens.

Photo courtesy of www.reformthepatriotact.org