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NEW FILM: The Call – A choice no woman should face

Sonia has worked so hard for this: a healthy family and a normal life in an average American town. But on a night that should have been like any other, she is forced to make an impossible choice that could shatter her family’s dreams forever.

 Keep your daughter safe — or keep your family together? 

What call would you make?

In our powerful new short film inspired by a true story, Sonia’s crisis shows why we must all support the human rights of immigrant women today. This video is the centerpiece of Breakthrough’s #ImHere campaign, an urgent and innovative call to action for the rights of immigrant women in the United States. More about #ImHere after the jump.

Produced in collaboration with over 30 partner organizations, the multi-award-winning People’s Television and starring distinguished actors from stage and screen, “The Call” is inspired by the real experiences of the brave women and families we’ve encountered in our work. “Sonia” is fictional, but her emotional story is not. No mother should have to face the choice she does. With your help, no mother will.

Please watch and share this film to say: #ImHere to put the rights of women like Sonia on the national agenda. Are you?

Tweet the filmKeep your daughter safe or your family together: what call would you make? Watch and share http://ow.ly/e4jGH #ImHereIVote @Breakthrough

Share on Facebook: Watch #ImHere: THE CALL, a short film about a choice no woman should have to face. http://ow.ly/e4jGH

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Immigration Detention Conditions in Georgia Run Afoul of Human Rights Standards

Guestblogger: Azadeh ShahshahaniDirector, National Security/Immigrants’ Rights Project, ACLU of Georgia

In late June, the ACLU delivered a statement to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in response to the United Nations Special Rapporteur’s report on detention of migrants. The report sets out the international and regional human rights legal framework applicable to the detention of migrants, including in regards to vulnerable groups with special protection needs, and discusses alternatives to detention. While the report does not discuss country-specific immigration detention policies and practices, it offers useful recommendations and urges governments to adopt a human rights-based approach.

The ACLU stated in its remarks before the Human Rights Council that,

The U.S. immigration detention system locks up tens of thousands of immigrants unnecessarily every year, exposing detainees — including vulnerable populations such as persons with mental disabilities, asylum-seekers, women, children and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals — to brutal and inhumane conditions of confinement at massive costs to American taxpayers… This system of mass detention persists despite the fact that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) acknowledges that most immigration detainees ‘have a low propensity for violence.’
The ACLU statement also highlighted the May 2012 ACLU of Georgia report titled “Prisoners of Profit: Immigrants and Detention in Georgia.” The report covers the four immigration detention centers in Georgia including the largest immigration detention facility in the United States, the Stewart Detention Center. Three of the four facilities are operated by corporations, including Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the largest owner and operator of privatized correctional and detention facilities in the U.S.

Findings raise serious concerns about violations of detainees’ due process rights, inadequate living conditions, inadequate medical and mental health care, and abuse of power by those in charge.

Among due process concerns documented are that ICE officers have coerced detainees to sign voluntary orders of removal, non-citizens are detained in excess of a presumptively reasonable time, and there is inadequate information about available pro bono legal services at the facilities. Conditions for attorney visits also raise attorney/client confidentiality issues.

Numerous concerns about cell conditions exist, including overcrowding and temperature extremes. When facilities run out of hygienic items, detainees have to go without. At Irwin, detainees are given used underwear. In at least one case, a female detainee was given soiled underwear, leading to a serious infection.

Food concerns include insufficient quantity and poor quality of food. Additionally, Stewart and NGDC both have “voluntary” work programs where detainees have been coerced to work at wages far below minimum wage and threatened with retaliation if they stop working.

Medical and mental health units are understaffed and initial intake examinations are insufficient. Detainees with mental health disabilities are put in segregation units as a punishment and in lieu of receiving treatment.

Detainees reported that guards yelled threats and racist slurs at them. This verbal abuse was also sometimes accompanied by physical violence. Detainees also relayed personal accounts of guards threatening to or actually placing detainees in segregation as a means of retaliation.

ICE should discontinue detaining immigrants at the corporate-run Stewart and Irwin County Detention Centers given the extent of the documented violations as well as the distance to family and communities of support. Detention center officials should improve food quality and living conditions and supply on-site, full-time medical and mental health care staff. The federal government should also make greater use of cost-effective alternatives to detention instead of continuing to rely on the for-profit prison industry to keep more and more people imprisoned in substandard conditions.

As the ACLU statement to the Human Rights Council concluded,

U.S. immigration authorities should use detention only as a last resort, in those circumstances where no alternative conditions of release would be sufficient to address the government’s concerns about danger or flight risk… The U.S. government should heed the Special Rapporteur’s recommendation to establish a presumption in favor of liberty, first consider alternative non-custodial measures, proceed to an individual assessment and choose the least intrusive or restrictive measure.

Jamil Dakwar, Director of the ACLU Human Rights Program drafted the ACLU statement to the Human Rights Council and contributed to this blog.

Cross posted from Huffington Post

Picture Courtesy of http://www.stewartcountyga.gov/

How is 2011 faring so far? Ethnic studies and the 14th amendment

At this moment it is very hard to focus on anything but the tragic incident that marked the beginning of this year when a man in Tucson, Arizona opened fire on a public meeting killing 6 people and gravely injuring 14 others last Saturday. While this tragedy cannot be undone, there are a number of issues around which we can hope for some positive developments in 2011.

In Arizona, the first week of 2011 saw all classes in the Tucson Unified School District’s Mexican-American ethnic studies program being declared illegal by the State of Arizona, in accordance with a state law came into effect on January 1st. Tom Horne, Arizona’s newly elected Attorney General, declared the program illegal on account of it allegedly teaching Latino students that are being mistreated, and encouraging the students to become activists for their race. In the capacity of State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Horne had written the law challenging the ethnic studies program last year. The bill, HB 2291, was passed by the State Legislature in April and signed into law by Gov. Jan Brewer in May of 2010. Defending his latest action deeming that the Tucson district’s Mexican-American program was not in compliance with state standards, (while allowing similar programs for black, Asian and Native America students to continue) Horne said that “They teach kids that they are oppressed, that the United States is dominated by a white, racist, imperialist power structure that wants to oppress them.” Under the law, Tucson would stand to lose 10 percent of its state education funds if the classes are not discontinued, amounts to nearly $15 million.

According to Augustine F. Romero, director of student equity in Tucson schools, the debate over the ethnic studies program demonstrates the strong anti-Latino sentiment in the state, and highlights the pressing need for such programs to continue to exist, giving the students a chance to be proud of their heritage. Mr. Romero posed the question in an interview with the New York Times-

Who are the true Americans here — those embracing our inalienable rights or those trying to diminish them?

In an even deeper affront to inalienable American values, on January 5th, a coalition of legislators from over 14 states announced a plan to join together in a state compact and deny citizenship rights to the children of undocumented immigrants. The compact, clearly motivated by anti-immigrant feeling, is designed to challenge the 14th amendment to the U.S. constitution which states that those born in the United States will be considered U.S. citizens, irrespective of race, class or creed. This was closely matched by Rep. Steve King’s introduction of legislation H.R. 140 before the new session of Congress, aimed to take away the citizenship of children born in the U.S. to parents who were undocumented.

The state compact is being led by Senator Russell Pearce of Arizona, the state Senator best known for introducing the controversial and harsh anti-immigrant law, SB1070 in 2010. The legislators that introduced the plan unveiled a plan that seeks to take birthright citizenship, which is a Federal issue, into state hands by establishing state citizenship laws that deny citizenship rights to those born to parents who are undocumented, and then developing a compact between the various states by which the laws are upheld in all those states. The group claims that their model state legislation aims to halt the “misapplication of the 14th amendment,” which they say is sapping taxpayers funds and attracting further immigration to the U.S. Ultimately, the goal of the coordinated state-level strategy is to force the Supreme Court to take up the issue.

The plan is a joint effort of anti-immigration legislators like Russell Pearce and Kansas Secretary of State-elect Kris Kobach, and State Legislators for Legal Immigration, an anti-immigration group of lawmakers which had representatives from Alabama, Arizona, Delaware, Idaho, Indiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Texas and Utah. Senator Pearce told the Washington Times-

I’m not stopping until the problem is solved, and clearly the problem is not solved. The cost is destroying this country, and it can no longer be ignored…The 14th Amendment was never intended to be applied to illegal aliens. They [the sponsors] specifically said it didn’t apply to foreigners or aliens. That amendment belongs to the African-Americans of this country. It’s their amendment.

Critics are suggesting that in fact, the proposal is completely unconstitutional and deliberately misunderstands the 14th amendment. By suggesting a two-tiered system of citizenship by which those who are born to parents who are undocumented receive different birth certificates than those who are born in the U.S. to parents who are legal residents, the compact goes against the fundamental values of the constitution. Elizabeth Wydra, writing for Politico, sums it up clearly-

The 14th Amendment, which was drafted and ratified against a backdrop of prejudice against newly freed slaves and various immigrant communities, was added to the Constitution to place the question of who should be a citizen beyond the politics and prejudices of the day. The big idea behind the 14th Amendment is that all people are born equal, and, if born in the United States, are born equal citizens — regardless of color, creed or social status. It is no exaggeration to say that the 14th Amendment is the constitutional embodiment of the Declaration of Independence and lays the foundation for the American Dream. Because of the 14th Amendment, all American citizens are equal and equally American. Whether one’s parents were rich or poor, saint or sinner, an American child will be judged by his or her own deeds.

As long as the Federal government avoids enacting a comprehensive reform of the existing immigration system and dealing with an issue that is in their jurisdiction, restrictionists will continue to introduce laws that threaten the fabric of the United States. At the start of this year, as we hope that Rep. Giffords recovers her health, we must recall the values of equality, dignity and respect that are intrinsic to the strength of this country and remember that when we deny human rights to some, we jeopardize the rights of all.

Photo courtesy of colorlines.com

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Feds may have held off Arizona law, but border law gets the green light

Although a federal judge struck down on some of Arizona’s anti-immigrant law SB 1070’s major provisions in a critical victory, the untrue notion that Washington has lost control of the border remains. Within this atmosphere of hate and misinformation, President Obama signed a $600 million bill that increases appropriations for border security in a piecemeal approach to immigration reform, leading to profound disappointment at Congress’s decision to propose, promote, and pass border enforcement bill HR 6080. In a statement on the passage of the bill into law President Obama said,

“I have made securing our Southwest Border a top priority since I came to office… So these steps (passage of the law) will make an important difference as my administration continues to work with Congress toward bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform to secure our borders, and restore responsibility and accountability to our broken immigration system.”

For many, the emphasis on increased enforcement without any effort to address the egregious violations that come along with these is unacceptable. The New York Immigration Coalition for one argued,

The immigration crisis is dividing our nation in ugly ways we have not seen in generations – a situation exacerbated by ramped-up enforcement.  Not only is it not solving the immigration crisis, it is also tearing up our communities and our nation.  However much money is thrown at aerial drones and border agents and the like, it still won’t fix the problem.

Ironically, HR6060 was introduced by Senator Charles Schumer who is leading the immigration reform effort in Congress, and was passed unanimously in the Senate. The approaching Senate elections seem to have driven forth the abrupt decision, as jobs and border security are considered issues expected to be on voters’ minds when they go to the polls in November. House Democrats actually called a special session to pass the border security bill as well as a $26 billion aid bill to keep teachers and other public workers from being laid off.

The border security measure would fund the hiring of 1,000 new Border Patrol agents to be deployed at critical areas along the border, 250 more Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents, and 250 more Customs and Border Protection officers. It provides for new communications equipment and greater use of unmanned surveillance drones. Almost one-third of the money goes to the Justice Department to help agencies such as the FBI, the DEA and the ATF deal with drug dealers and human traffickers. The bill is funded by raising fees on foreign-based personnel companies that use U.S. visa programs, including the popular H-1B program, to bring skilled workers to the United States. India says higher fees would discriminate against its companies and workers.

According to Los Angeles Times,

Immigration is an important election-year issue for some voters, and supporters of the measure from both parties hope it will demonstrate that Washington is capable of addressing border security after Arizona passed a tough illegal immigration law.

For these very reasons, many organizations oppose the law, shunning these politically expedient strategies which ultimately damage immigrant communities, instead calling for a renewal of the administration’s commitment to uphold our nation’s values and achieve real progress on immigration reform. With the negative focus on enforcement, many are calling for passage of the Dream Act and AgJobs in September to help undocumented students and farmworkers as important down payments on the broader reform that is needed. At the same time, they are calling for President Obama and the Department of Homeland Security to implement administrative reforms that would provide relief to those at risk of deportation and family separation and measures that would restore basic due process to the immigration system. As Deepak Bhargava from the Center for Community Change noted,

It is extremely disappointing to see Congress fall for Republicans’ wholly manufactured allegations of an insecure border. Every study and report shows the border has never been safer. Crime statistics, free of political bias, show crime has never been lower…Republicans are impervious to facts.

According to blog ImmPolitic, many Republicans who keep calling for more border security before considering immigration reform will never be satisfied.

As we wrote about here and here, a series of enforcement “benchmarks” were set in the 2007 immigration reform legislation.  Those “benchmarks” have largely been met, and more enforcement resources have been deployed that were not contemplated at the time.  Still, politicians who are opposed to actually fixing our broken immigration system call for more enforcement.  They have moved the goalposts, and they will move them again.

Instead of building on the victory of the Arizona lawsuit, Congress and President Obama is taking a step backward.

Photo courtesy of www.latimes.com

Mentally ill immigration detainees undergo “Deportation by Default”

A woman sat before immigration officials at an immigration detention center, unable to understand a single question asked of her. She stared into space during the interview, shook her head repeatedly, and rocked nervously in her chair. The interview was eventually terminated because it was not clear if she had granted consent for deportation.

This is not an unusual incidents but reflects the findings of a Human Rights Watch and American Civil Liberties Union report Deportation by Default documenting “case after case in which people with mental disabilities are prevented from making claims against deportation – including claims of U.S. citizenship – because they are unable to represent themselves.”

Shortcomings outlined in the report include no right to counsel even though many are unable to understand what is happening to them, a lack of guidance for judges handling people with mental disabilities, and a severe lack of services to aid detainees while in custody. As Sarah Mehta, the report’s lead author says,

No one knows what to do with detainees with mental disabilities, so every part of the immigration system has abdicated responsibility. The result is people languishing in detention for years while their legal files – and their lives – are transferred around or put on indefinite hold.

Many of the detainees interviewed for the report could not understand questions, were delusional, couldn’t tell the date or time, and didn’t understand the concept of deportation – for example, saying they wanted to be deported to New York. This is particularly important for the courtroom because impairments can be so severe that those who have them do not understand what is happening to them or what is at stake in the hearings they must attend.

The federal agencies involved in the deportation system are well aware of many of the problems cited in the report and the reports authors are cautiously encouraged by some recent steps to better handle people with mental disabilities. For example, The Justice Department’s Executive Office of Immigration Review recently expanded its guidebook for immigration judges to include a section on mental health issues. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the agency responsible for detaining people is also taking preliminary steps to better identify mentally disabled people from the outset and ensure they are treated appropriately.

But there are many problems that still need to be addressed. There is no tracking of date on how many mentally disabled people face deportation and it is only after much digging that the report uncovered that in 2009, of the nearly 392,000 cases in immigration courts, 15 percent involved people with mental disabilities. Tracking data is an essential first step. Secondly, the report calls for appointment of lawyers for all people with mental disabilities in immigration courts and recommends mandatory training for immigration judges to recognize mental disabilities.

In the meanwhile, cases like Michael’s continue. Michael claimed to be a U.S. citizen whose extended family was killed in Nigeria. Asked by an asylum officer why he feared deportation to Nigeria, Michael said he would be tortured,

I don’t know why they want to torture me. I’m a rich man. I’m god. They want to have me remove the plants from heaven to earth. Jay-Z and R-Kelly are some of them.

At another point in the credible fear interview, Michael claimed to hear his dead wife and President Obama speaking to him. The asylum officer wrote to reviewing authorities,

Applicant’s testimony was not credible because it was implausible. His testimony was implausible because it was delusional. It should be noted that applicant appears to suffer from psychosis. Therefore, this calls into question the entire credibility of his claim.

The officer also observed that Michael was at risk of persecution and maltreatment on account of his mental disabilities if returned to Nigeria. Despite the concerns raised by the asylum officer, an immigration court ordered Michael A. deported to Nigeria in April 2010.

Government report verifies claims of lack of fairness for immigration detainees

immigrant-detention-480x329In August 2008, 33 year old Alexandro Sibaja was picked up in Houston on a bad check warrant and turned over to immigration officials. Having moved to the U.S. from Mexico at the age of 12, Sibaja was put into removal proceedings by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement. Over the next 15 months, he was transferred six times from Houston to Conroe, from Conroe to Mississippi, then back to Houston before being transferred to Amarillo and then to Big Spring. Eventually, he ended up in Haskell, Texas, and his case was assigned to the immigration court in Dallas. On November 25th, the immigration judge granted him a green card based on his seven-year long marriage to Lopez-Sibaja, a U.S. citizen, and the trauma that deportation would cause for his two children.

While the judgment came as a huge relief to Alexandro and his wife, the ordeal of the past 15 months is one that will haunt them for some time to come. By the end of the 15 months, Alexandro’s wife, Iris, barely visited him once every two months because she could not afford to drive seven hours to see him while working and looking after their children. Iris spent a large part of the past year trying to keep track of her husband’s whereabouts through the immigration detention network, since the information provided to her accompanying his transfers was patchy and inconsistent. Alexandro’s frequent transfers had the decided effect of delaying his proceedings. His original attorney, Steven Villarreal, had to stop representing him when he was transferred since it would have been too expensive once he factored in the costs of the flights and hotels. “I had to refer him to another attorney up there…This happens all the time,” Villareal said about the transfers.

Alexandro’s case is symptomatic of the gaping flaws in the detainee transfer system that were highlighted in separate reports brought out last Wednesday. In addition to the reports by the non-profit group, Human Rights Watch and the data analyzed by TRAC (discussed last week on Restore Fairness), The Constitution Project published a review of ICE policy entitled, ‘Recommendations for Reforming our Immigration System and Promoting Access to Counsel in Immigration Proceedings‘. These findings were corroborated by an investigation that was carried out by the Office of Inspector General (OIG) for the Department of Homeland Security, and released in a document called ‘Policies and Procedures Related to Detainee Transfers‘.

The objective of the OIG investigation was to determine “whether ICE detention officers properly justify detainee transfers according to ICE’s standards,” and their findings verify the criticisms of the system offered by the other reports. The OIG found that the detainee transfer procedures regularly failed to comply with the tenets of the ICE National Detention Standards; they were random, they resulted in a loss of access to necessary evidence and witnesses, and to legal counsel itself, and in increased time spent in detention. Further, most people were transferred without the requisite photo and security classification. From the report:

Transfer determinations made by ICE officers at the detention facilities are not conducted according to a consistent process. This leads to errors, delays, and confusion for detainees, their families, and legal representatives…ICE National Detention Standards outline the policy, applicability, standards, and procedures for the transfer of a detainee. ICE must consider the detainee’s security requirements, medical needs, legal representation, and requests for a change in venue for the removal proceeding.

Responding to the delays, confusion and errors caused by the numerous transfers of detainees, not to mention the resultant denial of due process for the detained and their families, the OIG review and that drafted by The Constitution Project list a series of recommendations for corrective action to be taking by ICE. The recommendations outlined by the OIG address the disjointed network of private and county detention centers and the lack of a clear and centralized system of communication between them. They require ICE to establish:

A national standard for reviewing each detainee’s administrative file prior to a transfer determination, and that it develop protocols with EOIR (Department of Justice’s Executive Office for Immigration Review) court administrators for exchanging hearing and transfer schedules.

The Constitution Project issued a review that called for large-scale amendments to immigration law and ICE policy, including access to legal counsel appointed by the government for those facing deportation. The Constitution Project, whose members include Asa Hutchinson, a former secretary of Homeland Security, called for measures that lead to shrinking the use of detention, making it easier for people to avoid detention while fighting deportation. According to the New York Times, the Constitution Project:

recommended a significant easing in the burden of proof, and a hardship waiver from mandatory detention for lawful permanent residents…Mr. Hutchinson said that the immigration agency could make many other changes immediately, including some that would “correct some potential unfairness in the system” unintentionally left by his own efforts when he was in office.

ICE responded with a statement on Wednesday announcing that they are in the process of overhauling the immigration detention system, and will work to reduce the number of detainee transfers. Working towards a “truly civil detention system” with more centralized agency control, the agency promised a re-issuing of the National Detention Standards that would require a review of the detainee’s file prior to a transfer, ensuring a more efficient and human approach to immigration detention.

Photo courtesy of www.washingtonindependent.com

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

Secure Communities Turns Immigrants into Criminals

thumbprintGuest Blogger: Sarahi Uribe from National Day Laborer Organizing Network reposted from New American Media

This month the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) celebrated one year of Secure Communities. The program, which checks the immigration status of detainees in jails by comparing their booking information to DHS’ databases, is dangerously misnamed since it actually endangers rather than improves community security.

In its press release, DHS gloated that it “identified more than 111,000 criminal aliens in local custody during its first year.” The department hailed the program as an effective way of deporting “dangerous criminals that pose a threat to public security.” So who are these alleged criminals?

A closer look reveals the program’s first fallacy: DHS includes people simply “charged” with a crime in its definition of “criminal aliens.” People are labeled criminals before they are given a chance to defend themselves in court. A cornerstone of our criminal system is that a person is innocent until proven guilty. Yet under Secure Communities, people are put into deportation proceedings even if they are innocent of criminal charges or if the arrest was simply a pretext to check a person’s immigration status.

The lack of due process sets the stage for racial profiling without any real consequences for abusive police agents. DHS maintains that since immigration checks happen electronically, the program is virtually immune to racial profiling. Consequently, DHS does not collect data that would reveal whether racial profiling is happening. The attempt to divorce police officers’ motivations for arresting individuals and DHS’ subsequent actions after the booking phase makes no sense. As the program is currently designed, a police officer can make a pre-textual arrest and later drop the charges, but an individual can still be placed into deportation proceedings.

The second misrepresentation of the program is found in DHS’s definition of “serious crimes.” The Department highlights that 100,000 of those identifies were convicted of level 2 and 3 crimes, “including burglary and serious property crimes.” What DHS omits is that while “arson” is a level 2 offense, so are “traffic offenses.” If the controversial 287(g) program which fervently targeted people with “broken tail-lights,” is any indicator, Secure Communities is a strategy for deporting anyone DHS can get its hands on—even law-abiding people who could be months away from adjusting their immigration status.

Essentially, DHS’ message is this: Being an immigrant makes you a criminal. This dangerous conflation not only promotes abusive policing practices, such as racial profiling, but also creates divisions and distrust in communities. It hurts public safety because immigrant communities are less likely to report crimes or cooperate with police for fear of deportation. It also disturbingly dehumanizes people who are an integral part of our communities and our national identity.

Last week Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano spoke about the need for immigration reform while trumpeting the successes of Secure Communities and other enforcement programs. But if the word “criminal” can replace “immigrant,” then her declaration that “We are a nation of immigrants” rings hollow.

Photo courtesy of www.immigrationimpact.com

Answer this call to action for immigration reform on November 18th- listen in and party it out!

November 18th is a day of National Action for immigration and here is an opportunity for you to take leadership in your community and fight for immigration reform.

On Wednesday, November 18th, supporters of immigration reform from all across the country are getting together for a nation-wide dialogue about the steps necessary for immigration reform. Reform Immigration for America will be hosting a virtual/telephonic town hall meeting in which Congressman Luis Gutierrez will lead a discussion about why the broken immigration system needs to be fixed, and how we are going to win this fight. Gutierrez and other immigration reform leaders will lay out the ways families are hurting right now, and how Reform Immigration for America’s campaign for Families, Freedom and Faith can make a difference.

At 8:00 PM Eastern time/5:00 PM Pacific time tomorrow, you can join this exciting conversation with Representative Gutierrez and other reform leaders by listening in along with thousands of others, voicing your concerns and asking questions en route to winning this fight. Also, there are 650 parties taking place across the country that night in houses, churches and ESL classes, in which all those who support comprehensive immigration reform are gathering with their friends, families and neighbors to join in on the call and learn about what action needs to be taken to fix the system. By attending a party, you and immigration reformers in your neighborhood will tell the world that you’re committed to the cause. Not only will you hear firsthand what’s already being done for immigration reform, but you’ll also learn about what’s next for this movement and how to take a stand.

Click here to find a party near you, and if you don’t find one, then host one yourself! Not sure how to host a party? Here’s a helpful ‘host a party’ toolkit that will tell you how. And if you can’t attend a party, then sign up here to participate in the Families, Freedom and Faith call!

This call will lay out how we’re going to win the fight for immigration reform. And you’re invited.

PS- The town halls are being hosted in both English and Spanish. To look for a party for a Spanish-language call, click here.

Photo courtesy of www.reformimmigrationforamerica.org

Obama Administration Proposes Reform of Detention Centers

Photo courtesy: The Least of ThesePost 9/11, the government has taken a much tougher stance towards immigration, resulting in thousands upon thousands of detainees being held in a network of government run detention centers, county jails and privately contracted facilities across the country. An overburdened detention system has led to fatal deaths in detention and repeated violations of detention standards.

That’s why it was with welcome relief that we heard John Morton, Assistant Secretary of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, announce planned reforms in the immigration detention system. The government plans to create a new office that will design a more centralized detention system over the next few years, thereby moving detainees away from private prisons and county jails. It also agreed to stop detaining families at the deeply problematic T. Don Hutto Family Residential Facility in Texas but will continue to detain families at another family detention center in Pennsylvania.

This is a good move forward but clearly it’s not enough.  Breakthrough believes that we must implement cost effective alternatives to detention instead of building newer centers and continuing to hold people indefinitely.  Building more detention centers only serves to reinforce a trend that leads to many due process and human rights violations.