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Today’s the day to take a stand against immigrant detention: Watch films on PBS and CNBS

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. In the last two years, we have seen more people detained by the ever-expanding, profit-making detention system that ever before, followed by the deportation of a record 1 million people. Moreover, the stories of people who suffer physical and sexual assault, medical negligence, and even death in detention continue to abound.

Tonight, mainstream television will showcase two different investigative exposés of the flagrant violation of human rights that is taking place through the criminalization of immigrant communities, the prison industry and mass immigration detention and deportation system in the U.S.

- Lost in Detention, will air on PBS’s ‘Frontline’ at 9pm EST tonight (check local listings).

In partnership with American University’s Investigative Reporting Workshop, Frontline correspondent Maria Hinojosa takes a penetrating look at Obama’s vastly expanded immigration net, explores the controversial Secure Communities enforcement program and goes inside the hidden world of immigration detention. This feature length documentary uncovers some of the most controversial aspects of the detention system under the Obama administration, looking at police involvement in deportations, as well as abuses and deaths in detention centers. Speaking to Colorlines about the documentary, Maria Hinojosa said- “I would just hope that maybe this documentary helps people engage with their neighbors and their friends. Maybe we can just have this conversation.” Speaking about the abuses in detention she said-

As a journalist, I’m concerned about this. As an American, I’m concerned about this. Because we believe that there’s some kind of legal recourse that we all have, because we have basic rights in our country. Now all of a sudden, you’re encountering a population that’s being told, “Actually you don’t have any legal recourse.” If abuses happen, well, if the abused is an immigrant then they just deport that person and the abuse case goes away.

Join NDLON and the Detention Watch Network for an twitter chat during documentary with the hashtag #altopolimigra. Watch the trailer and tune in for the entire film tonight-

Watch Lost in Detention Preview on PBS. See more from FRONTLINE.

- Billions Behind Bars: Inside America’s Prison Industry, which is a CNBC original documentary series about the profits and inner workings of the multi-billion dollar corrections industry , will air on CNBC starting tonight, for a week.

With more than 2.3 million people locked up, the U.S. has the highest incarceration rate in the world. One out of 100 American adults is behind bars – while a stunning one out of 32 is on probation, parole or in prison. This reliance on mass incarceration has created a thriving prison economy. The states and the federal government together spend roughly $74 billion a year on corrections, and nearly 800,000 people work in the industry.

Also today, the Detention Watch Network launched a national campaign, ‘Dignity not Detention,’ calling for an end to mandatory detention laws, which are significantly responsible for the explosion of the detention system. A wide range of faith, immigrant rights, and community-based organizations joined Detention Watch Network to call on Congress and the Obama Administration to:

  • Repeal all laws mandating the detention of non-citizens.
  • Put an end to all policies and programs that use the criminal justice system to target people for detention and deportation.
  • Bring the U.S. into compliance with its obligations under international human rights law, which prohibits arbitrary detention.
Watch the video, End Mandatory Detention and endorse the campaign here- 

New report tells us how S-Comm makes the American Dream a “criminal proposition”

President Obama holds the unflattering distinction of having overseen the most deportations under any American president in history. Since the deeply flawed Secure Communities program (S-Comm) was launched by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in 2008, around 100,000 people have been deported through its unjust policies and enforcement. Furthermore, in fiscal year 2010, almost 400,000 people were deported under various stipulations (including S-Comm), making it one of the worst years for deportation in our country’s history.  The program’s design and implementation flaws have encouraged racial profiling by law enforcement officials and also victimized those convicted of lesser crimes such as traffic violations, etc. 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.

In a post-9/11 scenario where state paranoia has amplified and hurriedly turned into ineffective and damaging law enforcement policies, the moves made by ICE are not only alienating an aspiring new generation of immigrants, but also gravely affecting the bedrock of this country. Instead of reacting productively to the widespread criticism, ICE has hardened their stance even more. In a shocking development last week, ICE eliminated the Memoranda of Agreement (MOA) that it had signed with some states, thereby enforcing S-Comm without any state or federal agreement at all. It has also vowed to keep extending S-Comm nationally by 2013, regardless of whether individual states disapprove.

On August 16, the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON), in partnership with Detention Watch Network (DWN) and several other human rights organizations, released a comprehensive report titled ‘RESTORING COMMUNITY: A National Community Advisory Report on ICE’s Failed “Secure Communities” Program.’ (PDF). The report maps out details of how S-Comm has failed as an immigration policy, doing much more irreversible damage than actually fixing the problem at hand. It includes testimony from law enforcement officials, scholars and academics, and organizers and advocates. Criticizing the ineffective program, the report summarizes S-Comm, stating that:

It multiplies laws and enforcement policies that, in effect, make the pursuit of the American Dream a criminal proposition for current generations of immigrants. That such a program should be the showcase policy of an Administration that presents itself asa champion of immigration reform is a betrayal. Multiplying the force of misguided policy and unjust laws is not reform—it is a step backwards.

The report criticizes the entangling of local police in civil immigration law enforcement, and warns agains the “Arizonification” of the country. While highlighting the flaws of S-Comm, the report also stresses on the way forward, strongly pushing for a clear separation of ICE from local police forces. Based on the various testimonies, studies and developments, the report calls for the following:

1. The immediate end, not mending, of the S-Comm program.

2. The completion of the ongoing audit of S-Comm by the Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General. Additionally, the Department of Justice Office of Inspector General should begin an investigation into the FBI’s role in Secure Communities.

3. The criticism of S-Comm should be used to amend other ICE programs, and local law enforcement must be untangled from federal civil immigration processes, removing immigration powers from police.

4. States and local jurisdictions should be given the option to participate in or opt out of immigration enforcement programs, including the forwarding of fingerprints and other biometric information to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

The report also highlights the stories of several individuals from across the country who have been victims of S-Comm, facing deportation as a result of simply calling 911 for an emergency, being pulled over while driving or any other arbitrary reason. One of the anecdotes is told by Mercedes, an 18-year old young woman in Nashville, Tennessee. On a normal Sunday afternoon in May, Mercedes was pulled over “for driving less than 10 miles over the speed limit.” After questioning her immigration status, the police officer put her in handcuffs and began filling out the paperwork for the 287(g) program to begin the process of her deportation. When Mercedes asked te officer what would happen to her and if she would make it to her high school graduation the following weekend, the officer ”answered me with a smile on his face and told me that I was never going back to school and I would never see my family ever again, I started to cry.”

Mercedes spent 3 days in jail and is now facing deportation. She came to the U.S when she was 11 and qualifies to benefit from the DREAM Act. With aspirations to become a doctor, Mercedes sees herself as American – her life established in Nashville and plans for a future in this country. Reflecting on her experience, Mercedes said,

When this happened to me I realized how sad it is that families have been destroyed just for not having an ID or because of racial profiling. When I was in jail, I felt my dreams were destroyed,that my family was very far from me and I felt afraid that if we don’t stop this now, it will continue to happen.
The release of the ‘Restoring Community’ report coincided with a ‘National Day of Action’ called by various immigration reform activists to protest against the worsening immigration policies of the federal government. Protestors gathered outside President Obama’s campaign headquarters in Chicago on August 16 calling for an end to S-Comm. Several organizations worked together to call for the multi-city protests and delivered petitions to various Democratic party offices in Miami, Atlanta, Houston and Charlotte, demanding that the program be terminated. Gregory Chen, director of advocacy for the American Immigration Lawyers Association, spoke to the New York Times about how the practices of ICE have brought “a flood” of people booked under minor offenses to the immigration attorneys in the organization, calling it “the tip of the iceberg.” Chen added:
Fundamentally, D.H.S. is saying one thing but doing another…[It is] distorting its own mission of focusing on public safety and national security risks.

As the campaigning for the 2012 election ramps up and various candidates are assessing their policies, it is imperative that urgent and comprehensive action be taken by the government to address the violations to human rights and due process that are being enacted due to harsh anti-immigrant laws such as this. S-Comm is a deeply flawed program that has done more damage than good. It encourages racial profiling, separates families, and is enforcing a message that the thousands of immigrants that are working hard and aspiring to the American dream are no longer welcome.

Join the campaign to put an end to Secure Communities at Turn the Tide. You can also add your voice to the Restore Fairness campaign. Become an ally and take action now.

Photo courtesy of vivirlatino.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

New reports from Human Rights Watch and TRAC shed light on the shocking trend of detainee transfers

Line of DetaineesIn recent years, a sharp rise in the number of non-citizens held in immigration detention has been accompanied by their increased transfer between facilities, creating barriers they face in accessing counsel and receiving fair treatment in immigration proceedings. These are the findings by TRAC (Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse) and Human Rights Watch from data obtained by the Freedom of Information Act to be released today.

The number of individuals held in custody by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in 2009 is now estimated to have reached 369,483 detainees, more than twice the amount in 1999. As a result of this overcrowding, the past decade has witnessed an escalated increase in the “free-wheeling” transfers of detainees, often to less-crowded centers in remote areas, taking detainees miles away from their families and attorneys.

Based on data obtained from various sources by TRAC and 3.4 million records obtained by Human Rights Watch from ICE, TRAC has found:

An increasing proportion of all detainees are being transferred. In 1999, one out of every five (19.6%) detainees was moved from one detention facility to another. Compare that to the first six months of 2008 (the latest data available), where more than half of all detainees (52.4%) were transferred.

-There has been a vast growth in multiple transfers of individuals from one detention facility to another, where one starts at one detention facility, is transferred to a second, and then a third (and sometimes again and again). Ten years ago only one out of 20 detainees experienced multiple transfers (5.6%). But in 2008, that increased to one out of every four detainees (24%).

-The number of times that detainees are transferred now actually exceeds the total number of individual detainees. This surprising tipping point – more transfers than detainees – was reached for the first time during the first six months of 2008.

Similarly, Human Rights Watch reports that an astounding 1.4 million detainee transfers have occurred between 1999 and 2008. Most transfers are costly and chaotic, usually occurring without prior notice to family members of detainees. During these transfers, detainees are often taken miles away from their families and lawyers, breaking contact between them and their lawyers and delaying their proceedings. Immigration attorneys say that due to the transfers, they are constantly “losing their clients.” Besides the costs of these delays, ICE has spent more than 10 million dollars to transfer nearly 19,400 detainees in 2007 alone.

Speaking about their new report, “Locked Up Far Away: The Transfer of Immigrants to Remote Detention Centers in the United States”, Human Rights Watch says:

Human Rights Watch found that ICE is increasingly transferring detainees to remote detention centers as a response to overcrowding. Many immigrants are initially detained close to their attorneys and witnesses, in locations such as New York or Los Angeles, but are then transferred to detention centers in rural Texas or Louisiana…The transfers interfere with detainees’ rights to counsel, to defend against deportation, to present witnesses and other evidence, and to be free from arbitrary and prolonged detention.

TRAC has also released 1,393 individual facility-by-facility reports that analyze each detention facility’s transfer records over the last decade, and a free online tool where users can make a focused query about a specific detention facility. All of this is available as of noon today.

Photo courtesy www.ice.gov

When religion and immigration say hello

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While at the Detention Watch Network conference to attack the detention crisis head-on (its more than 400,000 detainees a year – when will it stop growing?), I have met a number of faith-based organizations that are doing incredible work in their communities to advocate for fair and just immigration.

Faith seems to be in the air. As the first ever Senate immigration hearing on faith based perspectives is held, Think Progress reports that an anti-immigrant group is lambasting “religious elites” for their “compassion” saying, “the laity generally supports enforcement of immigration laws.”

Is that so? In a new report by CAP, an interactive map (we love it!) shows hundreds of faith communities engaged in grassroots-led activism on behalf of immigrants. Meanwhile between January and July, more than 25,000 people have gathered in churches across the country to highlight the stories of families who have been torn apart due to the broken immigration system, where House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has declared, “taking parents from their children … that’s un-American.”

Silently, the work continues. Like Nick and Mary Mele, an ordinary couple in the Bellingham area, who decided to take a pilgrimage in reaction to the first work raid committed after President Obama took office. Taking a route that meant 9-10 miles of daily walking, they walked for 15 days from church to church, ending with a prayer vigil at the very same detention center where the workers were detained.

Or Sister Joann and Sister Pat, Sisters of Mercy, (we saluted your work today), who day after day, bitter cold, wind, or rain, would maintain a vigil outside the Broadview Immigration Detention Center near Chicago, the last stop for immigrants before they are deported.

And volunteers are always needed to become The Visitors (Academy Award nominee Richard Jenkins) at the Sojourners program that mentors volunteers to visit and befriend asylum seekers in a windowless converted warehouse near Newark Airport in New Jersey.

May God bless us all (and not just a priveleged few).

Photo courtesy of whatcom.blogs.com

What does Lou Dobbs have to do with racial profiling?

The immigration community is revving up to counteract race and immigration based hate politics.

In my last post, I spoke about the pervasive problem of racial and religious profiling. The Rights Working Group has decided to do something about it with the launch of the Racial Profiling: Face the Truth campaign today! Profiling affects a broad range of communities, including Native American, African American, Latino, Arab, Muslim and South Asian communities. Not only is it a humiliating and degrading practice, but it belies the very values that America stands for. With over 45 organizations including us supporting the campaign, as well as Congressman Conyers and Senator Feingold from both houses committed to enacting legislation to ban racial profiling, we have hope for success.

Meanwhile, America’s Voice have launched the Drop the Hate, Drop Dobbs campaign asking CNN to drop Dobbs’ show which paints an ugly picture of race-baiting, fear, and intolerance. They are fighting back with an amazing TV ad and need contributions to make it air! So go on and do your bit.

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In Washington, the Detention Watch Network is gearing up for its annual conference (yes, we will be attending and presenting a workshop on strategic communications) to mobilize folks around detention issues. A little birdie also told us it will be the space to launch their latest campaign (more on that later!). Can’t help but quote from this editorial in the New York Times.

While Ms. Napolitano and her team promise to make detention a “truly civil” system, they show no interest in reforming the corrupt mechanisms that feed it.