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Let Children Learn — In Alabama and Beyond

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Crossposted from the Huffington Post.

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

Photo courtesy of 12uspost.com

Sen. Cardin introduces bill to ban racial profiling (which would prohibit provisions of Alabama’s HB 56 from being enforced)

Guest Blogger: Tong Lee, Director of Membership Services for the Rights Working Group

On Thursday, Oct. 6, 2011, Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) introduced the End Racial Profiling Act (ERPA) of 2011.  If passed, the bill would prohibit the use of profiling based on race, religion, ethnicity and national origin by any federal, state, local or Indian tribal law enforcement agency. This is a significant step forward in over a decade since the NAACP, ACLU, their allies, and affected community members have advocated endlessly for the bill’s introduction and passage.  With this introduction, it is now critical for the Senate to pass the bill.  Email your Senator and tell them to pass the End Racial Profiling Act.

There are many positive provisions in the bill.  The bill would also institute mandatory training on profiling for law enforcement agents; require data collection and monitoring; create privacy protections for individuals whose data is collected; implement substantive procedures for responding to profiling complaints and a private right of action for victims of profiling.

Far too often, communities of color know first-hand the experience of being racially profiled by law enforcement agencies. If the bill passes, it could have a significant impact on communities. The bill is intended to prohibit:

  • Stops and frisks by local law enforcement based on ethnicity;
  • Surveillance by law enforcement agencies of specific neighborhoods and communities, like the recent discovery of the New York Police Department’s monitoring of Muslim neighborhoods in New York after the 9/11 attacks; and
  • States from enacting laws requiring residents to show proof of immigration status, such as Alabama’s H.B. 56, Georgia’s H.B. 56 and Arizona’s S.B. 1070.

With the bill’s introduction, we now need the Senate to pass it.  Contact your Senators and tell them to co-sponsor the End Racial Profiling Act.  The following Senators have co-sponsored the bill: Sen. Richard Blumenthal, (D-CT), Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand (D-NY), Sen. John F. Kerry (D-MA), Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ), Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI), Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-MD) and Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI).

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo courtesy of mitchellmcelroy.wordpress.com

Georgia Is Not a “Show Me Your Papers” State

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo courtesy of immigrationtruthsquad.com.

Few states walking a failed path

Guest blogger: Elena Lacayo from The National Council of La Raza

Despite the initial hype that anti-immigrant legislation modeled after Arizona’s SB 1070 would spread quickly through the country, state after state has rejected proposals to follow Arizona down its failed path. In the year since SB 1070 was signed, 24 states have rejected copycat legislation. Even Arizona legislators recently voted down a new set of anti-immigrant bills in response to mounting pressure from the business and civil rights leaders.

In some cases, states have rejected the flawed legislation twice over. For example, last week, Florida became the second state to reject SB 1070 copycat legislation for the second time since SB 1070 was passed in Arizona (Kansas having been the first). The debate there was contentious and controversial. Indeed, even the sponsors of anti-immigrant legislation began to walk away from their own proposals, leaving their bills to die at the very end of the legislative session. Florida got the message too and recognized that extreme anti-immigrant legislation comes with great economic, social, and political costs.

Unfortunately, not all states have learned the lesson from the failed experiment in Arizona.

Earlier this week, Utah’s Arizona-copycat law HB 497, the “Utah Illegal Immigration Enforcement Act,” was implemented for less than a day before it was put on hold by the courts. And today, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal signed into law HB 87, the “Illegal Immigration Reform and Enforcement Act of 2011,” harmful anti-immigrant legislation modeled after Arizona’s widely criticized and unquestionably flawed SB 1070. Both of these bills mimic the draconian Arizona legislation, providing local law enforcement with an overly broad license to investigate residents’ immigration statuses, thus, opening the doors to racial profiling.

States must ask themselves what Arizona has gained from pursuing this extremist approach to immigration reform. Instead of solving the problem, SB 1070 has inspired boycotts that cost Arizona hundreds of millions of dollars in tourism revenue and economic activity at a time when the state could least afford it. Governor Brewer has pumped $250,000 of public funds into a public relations campaign to repair the state’s tarnished image and continues to spend money defending SB 1070 against lawsuits, despite multiple court rulings upholding the unconstitutionality of the law.

Both Utah and Georgia are walking down the same failed path paved by Arizona lawmakers. These damaging pieces of legislation threaten the public safety and civil rights of state residents and will force both states to endure the same legal battles and financial losses that ensued in Arizona. Utah’s HB 497, which was signed by Utah Governor Gary Herbert on March 16 with a package of immigration bills, is already being challenged in court by civil right groups who argue that it violates federal law. Similar to Arizona, it is unclear how long or costly this legal battle will become.

Choosing to pursue the same course of action will also negatively impact the economy in both Utah and Georgia. A day before the Georgia law was even signed, new reports showed concern over the expected losses that would follow its approval. Opposition came from the Atlanta Convention & Visitors Bureau and the Georgia Farm Bureau. Even professional athletes scheduled to play at the Civil Rights Game in Atlanta this weekend have spoken out against the law due to concerns over racial profiling.

Twenty-four states have already rejected the irresponsible approach to immigration reform pioneered by Arizona; Georgia and Utah should heed the warning that nothing good will result from this legislation. While the American public is legitimately frustrated with the federal government’s failure to advance real immigration solutions, states cannot respond by passing irresponsible laws that legitimize racial profiling; lawmakers must create solutions that will reform the immigration system at the federal level. Utah and Georgia legislators must be part of this discussion, and we call upon their congressional delegations to help draft comprehensive legislation that fixes America’s immigration system.

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/deepmedia

Momentum is building for immigration reform

Could the conversation about immigration finally be changing?

Following the Obama administration’s determination in February that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutionally discriminates against same-sex couples, Attorney General Eric Holder last week requested that the immigration appeals court consider granting legal residency to an Irishman in a civil union with an American man. A Newark judge also suspended the deportation of Henry Velandia of Venezuela– who is married to  American, Josh Vandiver– in order to allow time for the court and the Department of Justice to determine under what circumstances a gay partner might be eligible for residency. These recent steps are a welcome indication that the Obama administration is working toward a fair and just policy towards bi-national same-sex couples.

In 2009, Restore Fairness used the power of documentary to tell the story of one such family, who was facing separation because their domestic partnership wasn’t recognized under DOMA. The video gives a voice to Shirley Tan, who came from the Philippines decades ago and built a life with her partner Jay, giving birth to twin boys and becoming a full-time mother. When we spoke to her, Shirley faced the biggest challenge of her life as she fought to stay on in the United States, crippled by laws that do not allow gay and lesbian couples to sponsor their partners.

Watch the Restore Fairness video of Two Moms Fighting to Stay Together:

In another positive step for immigration, the state of Illinois last week became the first state to entirely opt out of the so-called “Secure Communities,” which requires local police to 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. This costly program threatens to reduce trust between local law enforcement and communities, encourage racial profiling and separate families. However, despite Illinois Gov. Quinn’s decisive announcement, and increased resistance from states and police departments across the country, the Department of Homeland Security has said that they will not allow Illinois to withdraw. In another indication that partnerships between ICE and local law enforcement are on the increase, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal signed into law on May 13, an immigration bill that would give local police the authority to question suspects about their immigration status. This law, which is being compared to Arizona’s SB1070, could lead to decreased trust between local police and communities, and increase the occurrence of racial profiling. The law has been met with much criticism already. Jerry Gonzalez, executive director of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials, reacted-

Today is a dark day for Georgia. Our concern stems from the very serious economic repercussions that will be felt against our state on numerous fronts and the very serious civil and human rights abuses that will also likely follow…

This trend of states being given greater control of immigration policies, which is actually a federal issue, signals a threat to the otherwise positive momentum in the immigration movement. Joining the opposition to the “Secure Communities” program 38 lawmakers earlier this week sent a letter to New York Governor Cuomo urging him to terminate Secure Communities in New York State. Religious leaders from many faiths, joined by advocates and community members, yesterday held a vigil outside Governor Cuomo’s Manhattan office, to request him to stop unjust deportations. Speakers at the vigil applauded Illinois for withdrawing from Secure Communities and urged New York to protect New York’s immigrant communities by doing the same. You too can take action against Secure Communities, contact your state Governor to help your state withdraw from the program.

In another update, Senator Durbin (D-IL) and Senator Reid (D-NV) yesterday introduced the DREAM Act in the 112th session of Congress. If passed, it could positively impact the lives of 2.1 million young people in the United States. Despite the regained impetus of the DREAM Act this year, the movement lost the support of its third and final Republican politicians. Senator Dick Lugar (R-IN) abandoned his previous support for the DREAM Act and joins Representative Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Senator John McCain (R-AZ) who have already denounced their support. Senator Lugar blamed President Obama’s increased politicization of the issue for his withdrawal, even though it seems he has made the decision because of a rising Tea Party challenger in the Primary. However, many feel optimistic about the renewed chances of the bill this year. The DREAM Act’s failure in Congress last December was a huge disappointment, but the movement, supported by President Obama, is only getting stronger. And with your support, we can take this step forward in ensuring that young people who have worked tirelessly to build their lives in America- and contribute to the society- enjoy the rights they deserve.

The passage of the DREAM Act would benefit people like Emilio, a young man who was brought to the U.S. by his parents at the age of six. Speaking about his American identity, the only one he has ever really known, Emilio said-

“I went through elementary, middle, and high school in North Carolina, and it is the only place that I call home.  I graduated from high school in 2010 as one of the top ten students in my class, as an honor student, an AP scholar with hundreds of hours of community service, and I was awarded a full-ride scholarship to my first choice university.  However, unless the broken immigration system is fixed, when I graduate from college in four years I won’t be able to use my college degree.  My dream is to give back to my community.”

Immediately prior to the re-submission of the DREAM Act in Congress came a speech by President Obama to border communities in El Paso, Texas earlier this week. Obama reiterated his commitment to fair and just comprehensive immigration reform. He expressed his support for the DREAM Act, for keeping families together, and for visa reform. While this is not the first time we have heard these commitments, there is no denying the positive momentum that is building toward preventing the injustices caused by a broken immigration system. When we deny fairness to some, we put all of our rights at risk. Join Restore Fairness in our commitment to telling stories, inviting conversation, and inspiring action that will help America move even further in the right direction.

We strongly believe in the power of using culture to change culture. We’re using our new Facebook game, America 2049, to weave human rights issues– especially racial justice and immigration– into each week of game play. As we continue to tell these stories in the hope of changing the conversation, we ask that you play America 2049, and join the dialogue and action that will move us forward.

When It Comes to Immigration Detention and Enforcement, Georgia Sets a Terrible Example

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

On Monday, the ACLU of Georgia submitted testimony to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) on conditions at Stewart and Irwin County Detention Centers as well as racial profiling in Cobb and Gwinnett counties. IACHR has a mandate to promote respect for human rights in the region and is authorized to examine allegations of human rights violations in all member states of the Organization of American States (OAS) including the United States.

The IACHR hearing came less than a week after the body released its report critical of the U.S. immigration enforcement and detention system. The report was based on visits to six detention centers in the U.S. and interviews with detainees and their family members as well as human rights defenders.

In its report, the IACHR voiced concern for the increasing reliance on detention of immigrants, where in fact detention should be the exception. In addition, the IACHR expressed its concern with “lack of a genuinely civil detention system with general conditions that are commensurate with human dignity and humane treatment” and the increasing privatization of the immigration detention system in the U.S., with little oversight provided for the contracting prison corporations.

In Georgia, we know firsthand that private immigration detention facilities are particularly ripe for abuse. The ACLU of Georgia and Georgia Detention Watch have documented conditions at the largest corporate-run facility in the U.S., the Stewart Detention Center located in Lumpkin, Georgia. In April 2009, Georgia Detention Watch released a report on conditions at Stewart based on interviews with 16 detainees conducted in December 2008. As the report details, complaints at Stewart have ranged from inadequate medical care, arbitrary transfers, prolonged detention, and inadequate access to interpreters and counsel, to verbal and physical abuse.

In March 2009, the situation at this facility took a tragic turn when Roberto Martinez Medina, a 39-year-old immigrant held at Stewart, died of a treatable heart infection. To this day, many unanswered questions surround his death.

And if the past is any indication, we may always remain in the dark about why Mr. Medina perished in detention. The local ICE office has refused to meet with us to discuss the findings of the Stewart report or the death of Roberto Martinez Medina. It was only in November 2010, at instigation of the Department of Homeland Security Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, that ICE finally granted us a meeting. ICE assured us then that they will look into complaints about the conditions faced by detainees and take such issues very seriously. However, the local ICE office has since refused to convey to us a mechanism for timely and effective communication of complaints for fear of “clogging up their system.”

In its report, the IACHR also expressed concern about local-federal partnerships for enforcement of immigration laws, such as 287(g) and “Secure Communities,” which have led to racial profiling. The IACHR specifically called for termination of the failed 287(g) program.

The ACLU of Georgia submission to the IACHR included testimony of racial profiling and human rights abuses related to implementation of 287(g) in two Georgia counties, namely, Cobb and Gwinnett.

As documented in the ACLU of Georgia reports, many Latino community members in Gwinnett and Cobb counties have been stopped without probable cause or reasonable suspicion. The 287(g) program lacks the proper oversight mechanisms for the state or local levels, and allows for abuse of power by police officers who are not well trained.

What happened to “Gabriel,” detailed in the Cobb report, is illustrative. On May 19, 2009, on his way to completing a construction job, Gabriel’s car was stopped around a residential neighborhood close to Rocky Mountain Road, an area known to be targeted by Cobb police. Approaching a stop sign, Gabriel was extra careful to make a complete stop. But he was nonetheless pulled over by two Cobb County policemen on motorcycles. The officers did not tell him why they were stopping him, but later issued him a ticket for an improper stop.

Gabriel was asked to exit his car and the officers searched his car without seeking his consent. Gabriel was then arrested because he had no driver’s license.

Gabriel said: “The officer in the patrol car who arrested me was really nice. He took off my handcuffs to transport me to the jail. Upon arrival, a sheriff deputy at the jail asked the Cobb Police officer why he didn’t have me in handcuffs. The officer replied that he didn’t feel it was necessary. The two officers began to argue about this. I heard the sheriff deputy say really insulting things about me. The Cobb officer told the sheriff deputy to be quiet because I spoke English. The sheriff deputy then felt embarrassed and reacted by turning to me and telling me not to try anything because he’d ‘kick [my] teeth out.’”

Following his arrest, Gabriel’s wife paid his bond in the amount of $2,000 and he was released. When we talked to him, he was scheduled to be deported, but still living in Cobb. He avoided certain areas due to police harassment. Asked whether he would be reluctant to call the police in the future, he said, “Yes. I fear the police more than the criminals that might rob me.”

Gabriel is not alone. Many victims of racial profiling we spoke to in Cobb and Gwinnett also expressed fear of further contact with the police.

In addition to yesterday’s hearing, the ACLU has brought these issues to the attention of the U.S. government in several different human rights forums. In February, the ACLU’s Human Rights Program delivered a statement as part of the U.S. government’s Universal Periodic Review cataloging the numerous documented civil and human rights abuses associated with programs like 287(g) and Secure Communities.

The U.S. government and Georgia should heed recommendations of the IACHR and put an immediate stop to programs such as 287(g) that lead to racial profiling and abuse of power by the police. The government should also end the unnecessary and inhumane detention of immigrants and instead, as urged by the IACHR, rely on effective alternatives to detention.

Photo courtesy of thenewstribune.com.

State must enact anti-profiling laws

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo courtesy of epier.com

Standing Up for Your Faith Could Get You Arrested in Douglasville, Georgia

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

Yesterday, I joined Lisa Valentine in front of the Douglasville Municipal Courthouse to announce a lawsuit brought by the ACLU and the ACLU of Georgia on her behalf.

This was the same courthouse that Mrs. Valentine attempted to enter in December 2008 to accompany her nephew to his traffic hearing, only to be arrested and jailed for standing up for her right to wear a head covering according to her practice of her Muslim faith. “When we started out for the courthouse that morning, I had no idea I was in for the most humiliating and shocking day of my life,” said Mrs. Valentine.

After being informed by an officer that she would have to remove her head covering, Mrs. Valentine attempted to leave the courthouse and expressed her frustration with the policy to the officer. She was prevented from leaving, handcuffed, and taken before the judge who sentenced her to 10 days in jail for contempt of court. Mrs. Valentine was then taken to the booking area, where she was made to remove her head covering. She was detained first at the temporary holding facility at the courthouse and then in jail for several hours without her head covering before police determined that Mrs. Valentine did not fight with officers and that her “actions were primarily verbal and her resistance passive.” She was released that evening.

By locking up Mrs. Valentine and forcing her to remove her head covering in public, officers not only showed extreme indifference to her fundamental right to practice her faith, but also humiliated her and caused her unnecessary emotional suffering. For weeks, Mrs. Valentine could not sleep well. She felt deeply hurt and ashamed by the experience. “To be forced by someone else to remove my hijab in public was humiliating, and a serious violation of my privacy, modesty, and right to practice my faith,” said Mrs. Valentine.

In July 2009, the Georgia Judicial Council adopted a policy clarifying that religious head coverings can be worn in Georgia courthouses. The policy, which balances courts’ security concerns with individuals’ fundamental right to religious liberty, was presented by the ACLU of Georgia to the Supreme Court of Georgia Committee on Access and Fairness in the Courts at a June 2009 meeting. Mrs. Valentine was there to testify about the experience she faced at the Douglasville courthouse. But the policy serves as a recommendation to courthouses, and is not binding. The lawsuit we brought yesterday against the City of Douglasville and the arresting officers charges that Mrs. Valentine’s First and Fourth Amendment rights were violated, and asks the court to ensure that religious head coverings will be allowed in the Douglasville courthouse.

“I hope that no person of faith will ever have to experience the type of egregious treatment I suffered at any Georgia courthouse because of the expression of my beliefs,” Mrs. Valentine said yesterday. We hope so as well. It is outrageous enough for the government to hamper people’s free exercise of religion. Arresting and unlawfully jailing Americans for standing up for the right to practice their faith further violates the fundamental tenets of our democracy.

An ongoing battle to ensure due process and keep families together

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo courtesy of Jim Toren