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Singled Out in Alabama Schools

Guestblogger: Molly Kaplan. Crossposted from the ACLU

A New York Times editorial this weekend calls out Alabama’s attorney general, Luther Strange, for stonewalling the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) attempt to look into possible civil rights violations since Alabama’s anti-immigrant law went into effect. The DOJ, following up on reports that students were being bullied in the classroom and that parents were keeping their children out of school, asked 39 superintendents for information on student absences and withdrawals since the start of the academic year. To this, Strange said no, challenging the DOJ’s legal authority to investigate.

While the DOJ starts its investigation, the ACLU has been on the ground since September when the law went into effect, tracking the impact of the law on farms, families and schools. What we’re finding, particularly in schools, is evidence of racial profiling and discrimination.

In a video released today, Cineo Gonzales, a Birmingham taxi driver, recounts how — in front of the entire class — his daughter, along with one other Latino student, received a Spanish-language pamphlet explaining the law. When Gonzales asked why the teacher gave the document to his daughter, the principal told him that they only gave the document to children who looked like weren’t from there.

Gonzales’ daughter was born in Alabama. She follows Alabama college football, is an A student and dressed up as a good witch for Halloween. Gonzales’ daughter was racially profiled — an occurrence that has become too common in the wake of this law.

We will continue to report our observations and findings on the ground in Alabama. For further resources and information on the impacts of HB 56 in Alabama, check  www.aclu.org/crisisinAL.

Communities speaking out against injustice targeted by ICE

On Saturday, September 17, early in the morning, a man in Shelbyville, Tennessee, woke up to find Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents in his bedroom. They had entered his home through an unlocked door and and took him into custody. The residents of Shelbyville are facing an unexpected, alleged, government backlash after a hearing held on September 12 by several nonprofits, where Latino residents testified against federal, state and local law enforcement authorities, accusing them of racial profiling and illegal detention. Representative from the U.S Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) were present at the hearings.

ICE also raided the homes and businesses of at least two people that had organized the hearing, sparking immigrant rights advocates to call for a federal investigation into the misconduct of the local authorities and ICE agents. While ICE denies that the raids were conducted in response to the hearings, Shelbyville residents and community advocates refuse to believe that there is no connection between their speaking out against the authorities and these ICE raids just five days later.

The community has reacted strongly to these developments, claiming that ICE’s goal is to intimidate the residents, especially the undocumented immigrants that live there. Bill Geissler, longtime Shelbyville resident and business owner, commented:

The real problem with these sorts of violations is that everyone needs to follow the law.  If ICE is going after immigrants who they suspect have broken laws, why aren’t they following guidelines that are intended to protect the civil liberties of Shelbyville residents?

Furthermore, the Rights Working Group and the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition have joined forces in sending a formal letter to the Office for Civil Rights and Liberties (OCRL) as well as the DOJ in Washington DC to protest these actions by ICE, and encourage national leaders to do something. In their letter to the OCRL (see PDF here), the advocacy groups state:

..These actions have spread fear throughout the Latino community, which feels targeted and increasingly under siege by law enforcement – whether it be ICE, state or local police. The result has been a severe chilling of speech in the community and increased fear of government agents. The Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties was in attendance at this forum for the purpose of listening to community concerns about civil rights abuses by state and local police and ICE. Days later, this same community was targeted by an immigration enforcement action leading to the chilling of free speech and further civil rights abuses.

The town of Shelbyville has been in the spotlight for some time especially because of director Kim A. Snyder’s compelling documentary, Welcome to Shelbyville. The film looked at the community at a crossroads, as the longtime African-American and White populations adapted to the rapidly growing Latino and Somali immigrant communities moving in. While exploring immigrant integration, the film unravels the interplay between race, religion and identity. As the film’s website states, “Ultimately, the story is an intimate portrayal of a community’s struggle to understand what it means to be American.”

This question of being American and the integration of immigrants is also the theme of Breakthrough’s latest video, Checkpoint Nation? Building Community Across Borders that sheds a light on post-9/11 racial profiling that has been mandated by laws such as Arizona’s SB1070. In particular, it tells the story of Maria, nine months pregnant, who was stopped along with her family by police for no discernable reason. What followed was a nightmarish situation as Maria went into labor and found herself giving birth to her son with immigration agents – and not her husband – by her side.

The video has been highlighted in a Huffington Post feature titled Undocumented Women Forced To Give Birth While Shackled And In Police Custody which looks at the stories of women who have been in similar situations to Maria and the ongoing climate of fear and inhumane conditions that is being perpetuated by law enforcement authorities. Mallika Dutt, president and founder of Breakthrough, said about the issue:

We talk about cops in other parts of the world, and we say ‘Oh, they don’t respect human rights,’ but where are we now? If something as important and sacred as someone giving birth can no longer be treated as human, where are we?

While law enforcement authorities must change their policies to end the unjust treatment of immigrants in communities across the country, some communities are taking their own steps to work towards unity and end discriminatory violence. In 2008, a series of attacks against Latino residents of Patchogue, New York and the murder of Marcelo Lucero, an Ecuadorian immigrant, shattered the community of the small town.

For two years after the murder, the town’s Mayor Paul Pontieri, the victim’s brother, Joselo Lucero, and Patchogue residents worked to heal the community and move forward as a unified and diverse group. This story is told in a poignant documentary, Not In Our Town: Light in the Darkness, that follows the healing process of the community to work towards a a community that respects its own diversity and doesn’t give way to divisive politics. The film premiered on PBS on September 21 and is also available for local screenings.

Comprehensive immigration reform is of utmost importance in our nation now so unjust and discriminatory actions like those committed by ICE and other authorities in Shelbyville and other communities are stopped. We must, as a nation, find a solution that works with immigrants in a dignified and humane way to mend a system that has been broken for a long time.

Join Restore Fairness today and lend your voice to the struggle for dignity, equality and justice.

Photo courtesy of standing-firm.com

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.

Unlikely source affirms Justice Department lawsuit against Arizona immigration law

Just over a month away from July 29th, the day that Arizona’s controversial immigration law, SB1070, is slated to go into effect, the situation seems poised for a clash between the Federal government and Arizona state over the law. In a rare moment in which the Federal government forcefully interferes with the affairs of a state, the Department of Justice has decided to file a lawsuit against SB1070, the Arizona law that makes it a misdemeanor for a person to be undocumented in Arizona. While the U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder had denounced the law in early May and announced that the Department of Justice was considering opposing the law, an official declaration of the Federal lawsuit was yet to come.

Until last week that is. The announcement that the Federal government was going to sue Arizona over SB1070 came from an unexpected, albeit official source. It became public last week that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had casually let the confirmation slip during a TV interview she gave while in Quito, Ecuador earlier this month. When asked by the interviewer about how the Obama administration was dealing with the controversial law that opponents feel will condone racial profiling by mandating that police officers question people on their immigration status based on their appearance, Secretary Clinton said-

President Obama has spoken out against the law because he thinks that the Federal Government should be determining immigration policy. And the Justice Department, under his direction, will be bringing a lawsuit against the act. But the more important commitment that President Obama has made is to try to introduce and pass comprehensive immigration reform. That is what we need, everyone knows it, and the President is committed to it…

Following Clinton’s interview, speculation on the matter in the media is rife. Justice Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said that the department “continues to review the law” but declined to comment any further. The department of Justice has been reviewing the law for some weeks now, presumably building its case against the law from the angle of civil rights violations and from that of the its infringement on immigration law enforcement, which is a Federal issue. Federal officials have hinted at the high probability of a lawsuit over SB1070 numerous times in the past few weeks. An official who is involved in reviewing the law and wished to remain anonymous said that “there is no reason to think” that Secretary Clinton’s comment was wrong. According to the New York Times-

…senior administration officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said a decision had indeed been made and only the details of the legal filing were still being worked out. These officials said several government agencies were being consulted over the best approach to block the statute, which, barring any successful legal challenges, takes effect July 29.

As expected, Arizona’s Gov. Brewer, who signed off on this controversial law, is “outraged” by the news of the Federal Government’s lawsuit. Her office has been quick to file motions to dismiss the lawsuits against SB1070 that have been brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) , Mexican-American Legal Defense Fund, and the Asian Pacific American Legal Center. When news of a possible Justice Department lawsuit was first heard, Gov. Brewer had faced the challenge head-on saying, “We’ll meet you in court.”

This time around Gov. Brewer was vocal in her displeasure that the news reached viewers in Ecuador before it was told to the people of Arizona. She released a statement saying that “this is no way to treat the people of Arizona.”The Los Angeles Times quotes her saying-

To learn of this lawsuit through an Ecuadorean interview with the secretary of state is just outrageous. If our own government intends to sue our state to prevent illegal immigration enforcement, the least it can do is inform us before it informs the citizens of another nation.

While it is difficult to take Gov. Brewer’s appeal for the “people of Arizona” seriously under the circumstances, Clinton’s interview does come as a surprise, as it preempts an official announcement of the lawsuit by the Justice Department. State Department spokesperson Philip J. Crowley said that her comments were meant to address deep concerns about the new law in Latin American countries. He stressed the international implications of the law saying that “It is important to recognize that this has resonated significantly beyond our borders.”

Speculation is that the Federal Government will file its case in the court in Phoenix in the week leading up to July 29. Joanne Lin, ACLU Legislative Counsel, reiterated the important of the Federal Government taking action against SB1070. She said-

The time for the Obama administration to take action against this egregious law is now. We urge the administration to move swiftly to stop this un-American law from going into effect. …The administration should also take other concrete steps, in addition to filing a lawsuit, against the Arizona law. Administration agencies, including the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security, should suspend all cooperation with government officials and agencies in the state of Arizona on immigration enforcement matters as long as this law, which relies on racial stereotyping and profiling and interferes with federal immigration priorities and policies, remains on the books. Immediate action is essential to deter other states and localities from taking similar steps.

Watch Secretary Hillary Clinton’s interview with Ecuadorian channel, NTN 24-

Photo courtesy of google.com/images