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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo courtesy of soaw.org/presente

Napolitano, Obama, and the Congressional budget favor the DREAM becoming a reality

Almost a decade after it was first introduced, the DREAM Act, a bill that, if passed, would give young undocumented adults who came to the U.S. as children and have lived here for an extended period of time and fulfilled certain criteria, a chance towards citizenship, is in the running to be passed once again.

In an effort to bring the DREAM Act up for a vote before the Senate while the Democrats still have a majority, Senate Majority leader Harry Reid and Majority Whip Richard Durbin filed a new version of the DREAM (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) Act late night on Tuesday, November 30th. This new version of the DREAM Act, S.3992, contains revisions to some key points that immigration restrictionists have had issue with in the past, in the hope that the revised version will address these issues and win the support of moderate lawmakers from both parties. An article in the Politico outlines some of these changes-

The latest version…would bar illegal immigrants from receiving in-state college tuition; drops the age of eligibility to 29 from 34; would not grant permanent legal status to anyone for at least 10 years; would restrict eligibility for those who commit certain misdemeanor crimes; and would limit individuals from being able to sponsor family members for U.S. citizenship, among other changes.

While there has been a mixed response to this conservative version of the DREAM Act, it is clear that the major compromises it offers are designed to win the 60 votes necessary to get it passed when it comes up for a vote. According to Jenny Werwa, the outreach and communications manager with the American Immigration Lawyers Association, the passage of this particular iteration of the DREAM Act bill would be a political “win” for immigrants rights advocates-

If they’ve put together this to create a new version, they must think they are going to get votes out of it. So for me, I’m optimistic about that, in terms of politically pushing the ball forward.

Since the first signs began to emerge that Sen. Reid would make good on his election campaign promise to introduce the DREAM Act before the end of the lame-duck session of Congress, a wide variety of people have spoken out in the support of the DREAM Act.

The first major move of support came from the White House, when President Obama, who has always been a supporter of the DREAM Act but has never publicly committed his support, told Democrats that he wanted it approved before the end of the 111th session of Congress. Moreover, he put forth a commitment to work “hand in glove” to ensure that the bill is passed, including a promise to call Senators himself, urging them to vote to pass the bill. Following this important avowal of support, the Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan has also been advocating for the passage of the DREAM Act in a number of public appearances. Speaking to the New York Times last Monday, Mr. Duncan said-

I think we are fundamentally wrong on this as a nation. (Undocumented students) have played by all the rules, gone to school, worked hard, full attendance. Then they graduate and the doors of opportunity basically slam shut.

Hundreds of educational institutions and educators from around the country think that the thousands of young adults who were brought here as children, and have been through the school system and want to make something of their lives should be given a chance. They too have extended their support of the DREAM Act.

An extremely important public statement in favor of the DREAM Act came from DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano who said that the implementation of the DREAM Act would actually help the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) enforce immigration law more effectively. Speaking on Thursday at a conference call with the White House, Napolitano urged Republican lawmakers to see the DREAM Act as a complement to enforcement rather than an “amnesty” bill for undocumented immigrants. Emphasizing the DREAM Act’s relationship to smart enforcement, she said-

From where I sit I think it’s important to point out that it fits into a larger strategy of immigration enforcement and complements the Department of Homeland Security plan to prioritize enforcement resources to remove dangerous criminal aliens from the country…The DREAM Act is one thing that Congress can do right now to help the Department of Homeland Security do its job of enforcing immigration laws in the way that makes the most sense for public safety for our national security.

In addition to the thousands of advocates and young people who have taken part in rallies, sit-ins, protests and hunger strikes in all corners of the country, hoping to urge Members of Congress to vote in support of the bill, inter-faiths religious leaders have also raised their voices in support of all the young people who stand to benefit from the DREAM. On Tuesday, leaders from the Jewish, Islamic and Christian faiths banded together for a coordinated day of action, calling on Congressional leaders to pass the DREAM Act.

An important point in favor of the DREAM Act came from the Congressional Budget Office who released the long-awaited cost estimate of S. 3992, the latest version of the DREAM Act. Their findings showed that putting thousands of well educated, young, undocumented immigrants on the path to legalization would reduce the deficit by $1.4 billion over ten years.

Despite the numerous factions and argument in support of the DREAM Act, and the fact that a recent poll conducted throughout the country by First Focus found that 70% of adults were in favor of passing the bill, a number of Republican lawmakers are reluctant to get behind it. Although the DREAM Act has always enjoyed an element of bipartisan support, even those Republicans who supported the DREAM Act in previous years, have now rescinded their support. Jon Kyl (Arizona), John Cornyn (Texas), Bob Bennett (Utah), Sam Brownback (Kansas), Susan Collins (Maine), Kay Bailey Hutchison (Texas), and John McCain (Arizona) are some of the Republican Members of Congress who supported the DREAM Act in the past.

The DREAM Act might come up for a vote early next week, and with it, the lives and dreams of about 2.1 million young people in the United States could change for the better. Take action NOW by calling your Members of Congress and urging them to vote for the DREAM!

Photo courtesy of nytimes.com

ICE announces results for 2010, but are the numbers misleading?

In a press conference held on Wednesday to announce Immigrations and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) results for 2010, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano declared that in 2010, 392,862 undocumented immigrants were deported from the United States, more than in any previous year. In an effort to highlight the Obama administration’s focus on deporting those who were guilty of crimes, Napolitano announced that about half of those deported (195,772) were convicted criminals. In addition to the surge in numbers reflecting ICE’s commitment to “removing those who pose public safety threats to our communities,” Napolitano attributed the figures to the expansion of the ‘Secure Communities’ program, a partnership between ICE and the Department of Justice that allows ICE access to information about every individual as soon as he/she is arrested by local or county law enforcement.

Napolitano announced on Wednesday that since it was initiated by DHS in 2008, the ‘Secure Communities’ program has expanded from 14 jurisdictions to 660 counties and cities around the country. The goal of the Obama administration is for the entire country to be participating in the program by 2013. It has become increasingly clear that this, and other immigration enforcement programs that involve ICE partnerships with local law enforcement, work to drive huge numbers of people into detention and deportation, incarcerating even those who have not been proven guilty of crimes, and completely break down the crucial separation between immigration enforcement (a federal issue) and law enforcement (that takes place on a local and state level).

For all these reasons, the program has come under attack from immigrant rights advocates who see it as a dangerous means bv which the DHS can drive huge numbers into the net of deportation so that they look tough on immigration, while breaking down the trust between communities and their local police. In addition to this is the danger that such partnerships give way to racial profiling of individuals who “appear to look undocumented,” by local law enforcement.

Due to these issues, as well as a glaring lack of information, transparency and accountability on the part of ICE, a number of counties have chosen to opt out of the Secure Communities program. Recently though, there has been a lot of controversy around whether or not it is indeed possible for local jurisdictions to opt out, as was originally indicated in a letter sent to Congress by Secretary Napolitano on September 7. While counties like San Francisco and Santa Clara, California opted out of the program, it is only when Arlington, VA and Washington DC recently attempted to withdraw from the program, that it became apparent that it is not, in reality, voluntary. As explained by a Washington Post article, the way the program works makes it impossible for counties to withdraw their participation-

Secure Communities…relies on the fingerprints collected by local authorities when a person is charged with anything from a traffic violation to murder. The fingerprints are sent to state police, and then to the FBI, for criminal background checks. Under the two-year-old program, ICE is able to access the information sent to the FBI…The only way a local jurisdiction could opt out of the program is if a state refused to send fingerprints to the FBI. Since police and prosecutors need to know the criminal histories of people they arrest, it is not realistic for states to withhold fingerprints from the FBI – which means it is impossible to withhold them from ICE.

D.C. Council member Jim Graham, who voted to opt out of the program expressed his frustration at ICE-

…It is extremely disappointing because it means the District of Columbia now has a blurred rather than a bright line between what the Metropolitan Police Department is doing and what immigration officers are doing. e had a bright line, and that has increased trust and confidence in our police among immigrant communities. That will now vanish.

A coalition of immigrant rights groups including the Center for Constitutional Rights and the National Day Laborer Organization Network have criticized ICE for its conflicting information and misleading numbers. They hold that based on statistics obtained from ICE, nearly 80% of people who were detained as a result of Secure Communities were either convicted of very minor offenses such as traffic violations, or not criminals at all.

Secretary Janet Napolitano ended her speech by calling on Congress to reform the existing immigration laws in ways that they are concurrent with the needs of the country. Moreover, it is imperative that we have an overhaul of the immigration system in a way that includes fair and just enforcement policy and human rights for all.

Photo courtesy of flickr.com

SNL takes on SB1070. Urgency for reform more than ever.

When Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update (at 27 minutes) made fun of Arizona’s new law, it sounds closer to the truth than ever.

This week Arizona signed the toughest illegal immigration law in the country, which would allow the police to demand identification papers from anyone they suspect is in the country illegally. I know there are some people in Arizona worried that Obama is acting like Hitler, but can we all agree that there’s nothing more Nazi than saying, `Show me your papers? There’s never been a WWII movie that didn’t include the line, “Show me your papers”. It’s their catchphrase… So heads up Arizona, that’s fascism. I know, I know, it’s a dry fascism, but it’s still fascism.

Immigration has finally made headline news. Unfortunately it took Arizona to pass a law like SB1070 that effectively mandates racial profiling for the nation to take notice of the mess that the immigration system is in. While mainstream news outlets featured the harsh anti-immigrant bill and its implications on their weekend programming, outraged immigrant rights organizations have upped the ante on mobilizing for comprehensive immigration reform.

As Governor Jan Brewer signed SB1070 into law last Friday, thousands of protesters were gathered outside Arizona’s Capitol building in Phoenix, kneeling in prayer and silent protest against the bill. Even after a week of tireless vigils, rallies, petitions and letters urging Governor Brewer to veto the bill, protesters did not give up, mobilizing large-scale rallies in Arizona and around the country through the weekend. It started with Rep. Raul Grijalva calling for an economic boycott of Arizona as a consequence of SB1070, a move which led to the closure of his Tucson and Yuma offices after receiving threats of violence.

I am asking national organizations across this country, civic, religious, of color, unions, women’s organizations, not to have their conferences and conventions in this state, until we rectify this law.

In a massive rally outside the Arizona State Capitol over the weekend, leaders and civil rights activists addressed thousands of protesters about the necessary steps that must be taken to oppose SB1070 on the grounds that it is a direct affront to the civil rights of the people of Arizona. Rep. Raul Grijalva continued his calls for an economic boycott, calling on the Obama administration to oppose the new law by refusing to cooperate with local law enforcement in Arizona saying -

We’re going to overturn this unjust and racist law, and then we’re going to overturn the power structure that created this unjust, racist law.

Rep. Luis Gutierrez denounced the Obama administration’s inaction on immigration reform and the federal 287(g) program which he held responsible for setting a precedent for Sen. Russell Pearce’s SB1070 law.

Let me just say, every time the federal government said that you can carry out a 287(g) extension, you gave Arizona an excuse to do 1070…Now it is time to say no more excuses, no more enforcement-only actions. It is time to bring about comprehensive immigration reform once and for all.

In New York, Reverend Al Sharpton referred back to the civil rights movement, saying he would organize “freedom walkers” to challenge the Arizona bill.

We will go to Arizona when this bill goes into effect and walk the streets with people who refuse to give identification and force arrest.

President Obama seems to be feeling the pressure, speaking on the pledging his commitment to enlist bipartisan support for reform and seeing its lack as a key reason for the Arizona bill-

Our failure to act responsibly at the federal level will only open the door to irresponsibility by others.  And that includes, for example, the recent efforts in Arizona, which threatened to undermine basic notions of fairness that we cherish as Americans… if we continue to fail to act at a federal level, we will continue to see misguided efforts opening up around the country.

DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano followed suit denouncing the bill on the grounds that-

The Arizona immigration law will likely hinder federal law enforcement from carrying out its priorities of detaining and removing dangerous criminal aliens. With the strong support of state and local law enforcement, I vetoed several similar pieces of legislation as Governor of Arizona because they would have diverted critical law enforcement resources from the most serious threats to public safety and undermined the vital trust between local jurisdictions and the communities they serve.

We can only hope that horrific as it is, the anti-immigrant bill has raised the urgency for immigration reform. This pressure will culminate on May 1st when immigrant rights organizations convene rallies in many parts of the country to drive home the urgent need for just and humane immigration reform.

If you are outraged at SB1070 and its overt violation of human rights, write to Governor Brewer and tell her what you think.

Photo courtesy of Saturday Night Live.

Nationwide vigils tell immigration agencies that they are “completely out of control”

Between the discovery of Haitian earthquake survivors in immigration detention (later released), an agency memo showing support for larger amounts of immigrant deportations, and the agency’s own admission of mismanagement, an embarrassed Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) needs to be held accountable for its actions.

While civil rights groups have continued to be critical of ICE over the past year, the first protests against their recent misadventures has been spearheaded by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). Starting yesterday, the SEIU mobilized their members to participate in vigils outside ICE offices across the country to call on the agency to bring itself back to the enforcement goals it had set at the beginning of the Obama administration last year, goals that it seems to have lost sight of.

One of the country’s largest labor unions, the SEIU held prayer vigils outside USCIS offices in Oakland and Sacramento yesterday and outside ICE headquarters in Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Jose, Boston and Minneapolis today. Speaking on behalf of thousands of workers and human rights advocates across the country, Executive Vice-President of SEIU, Eliseo Medina said-

When DHS first announced its enforcement goals – including its increased focus on worksite I9 audits – SEIU was optimistic that the Obama Administration would clean up past wrongdoings…Instead, the agency has added flames to the fire by replacing worksite raids with electronic raids. Field officers are acting like cowboys, more interested in adding scalps to their belts than targeting criminals and abusive employers, which would actually help solve our immigration problems. As a result, communities lose, businesses lose, families lose, America loses.

President Obama has expressed his commitment to the need for immigration reform saying that tearing apart families, terrorizing communities through raids, and denying due process to those detained, were all indications of a broken immigration system that needed to be fixed. With the expansion of an unsuccessful 287(g) program and an increase in deportations in the past year, it is clear the the system is failing. SEIU activists are demanding-

Rather than wasting limited funds to chase hard-working, tax-paying cleaners, home-care providers and nannies, the activists will call on President Obama and Secretary Janet Napolitano to re-focus ICE enforcement on its original goals of targeting crooked employers and criminals.

The human repercussions of political decisions made behind closed doors cannot be under estimated. If the promises that the administration made are not upheld, retaliatory actions will continue to take place across the nation.

Watch the latest video from America’s Voice, telling us how the current state of immigration is “More Rouge Than Right”-

Photo courtesy of thenation.com

POLL: Will these rallies have an impact on ICE policies?

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End it. Not mend it. Message to the administration over failed immigration program.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the agency responsible for detention and deportations of immigrants, is on a roll. Haitian earthquake survivors and mentally ill detainees are amongst those locked up in inhumane detention centers. Memos leaked last week confirmed a desire for growing deportations of immigrants. And now, the government’s own agency, the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General delivers a scathing critique of ICE’s 287(g) program that gives local police the power to enforce immigration law.

60 police forces across the country have signed agreements with ICE that allow their local officers to detain suspected immigrants for deportation. Various reports have documented racial profiling concerns, but the government has failed to listen. Even Members of Congress and police foundations have spoken out against the program, which diverts scarce resources from the police and endangers community safety as people are afraid to report crimes.

The OIG points out serious flaws in ICE’s 287(g) program for its lack of training, oversight and transparency, and its failure to protect against racial profiling and civil rights abuses. In one example, a victim of a traffic accident who was also an immigrant was taken straight to the local jail until federal officers arrived to check his legal status. And although the program is supposed to focus on “Level 1″ offenders or those who have committed serious crimes, almost half of those reviewed had no involvement in such crimes, revealing a misdirection of resources.

The issue around a lack of supervision is grave. “In the absence of consistent supervision over immigration enforcement activities, there is no assurance that the program is achieving its goals.”This has led to severe violations, with Sheriff Arpaio type neighborhood sweeps to locate undocumented immigrants. Other horrific examples – Juana Villegas, 9 months pregnant, was detained on a minor traffic stop and remained shackled while giving birth, while Pedro Guzman, a mentally ill U.S. citizen was mistakenly deported to Mexico.

And finally, the 287(g) training of police officers is very inadequate. In one example, two officers who were enrolled in the program had been defendants in past racial profiling lawsuits, indicating a flawed selection process. The performance records of local officers are not examined properly while many officers are given only a cursory training in immigration law.

While ICE claims that the report was researched before it has made radical changes to the program, the changes that have been made are largely superficial and problems continue unchecked. Many groups consider this report a wake up call and have demanded the 287(g) program be “ended, not mended.” Take action to “Reign in the Cowboys at ICE.”

Photo courtesy of thenation.com

POLL: Shall we end not mend the 287(g) program?

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Haitian earthquake survivors amongst those in immigration detention centers

Where have all the promises gone?

The Obama administration has delivered many promises, not least of which is to deliver desperately needed reforms to an unwieldy and unjust immigration detention system.

So why is it that the New York Times reported today that 30 survivors of the devastating Haiti earthquake were rushed out of Haiti during aftershocks at the airport, only to be thrown into immigration detention centers on U.S. soil in far flung areas, confined while dealing with the traumas of what they had encountered back home. Many have relatives in the U.S. who are desperate to take them in. They are neither flight risks, nor a danger to the community. Yet, they continue to remain detained. Like Jackson,

who was trapped in the collapse of his family’s apartment building in the quake… His formal request for release, dated March 12, describes how even the sound of someone on the jail stairs makes him fear another earthquake and worry that because he is locked up, he will be unable to escape.

The detainees have received little or no mental treatment for their trauma. This is not surprising, given a new report from a public interest law center Texas Appleseed that documents the shocking treatment and lack of due process meted out to immigrants with mental disabilities. The case studies are astounding. Take for example a 50-year-old legal permanent resident who had lived in the United States since 1974. Declared incompetent by a New York criminal court, he was ordered to serve 90 days in a mental institution, but before anyone could blink, he was transferred far away to a detention center in Texas for deportation without his family’s knowledge. Even though he was suffering from severe schizophrenia, he went without his medication for a month, as detention centers are notorious for medical mistreatment, and this extends even further to mental illness. As his sister said

If they deport him, it will be the end of his life and the end of my mother’s life. My mother says he will die out there in the streets.

The example illustrates the continuing emphasis on enforcement only approach. Even though many immigrants are neither flight risks, they are mandatorily detained in far flung locations. Even though detention is a civil sanction, people in the system are treated as criminals, required to wear prison uniforms, housed in cells and monitored constantly. More than 33,000 immigrants are held daily in a network of privately contracted facilities and state and local jails. Imagine the state of someone with a mental illness in an increasingly overwhelmed system. Moreover, 84% of detainees have no legal counsel – so in an overburdened court system, mentally ill detainees are often left defending themselves.

The report documents what health professionals in the facility have to say. Like one Detention Facility Nurse who stated, rather matter of factly, that “When they are crazy and cannot be managed they go to ‘seg’ [segregation] when there is not room in the short stay unit.”Detainees are often given the wrong drugs, or accused of faking their illness. The worst is when they are let free, often suddenly in the middle of nowhere where the detention facility is located, without any resources. Like the tragic story of a delusional Mexican national suffering from schizophrenia whose father had arranged with immigration for his son’s voluntary departure by plane to Mexico, where he was to be picked up by his mother. But when he called the deportation officer to confirm the travel arrangements, he was told that his son had been deported four days earlier than originally planned, due to the vacation plans of his deportation officer. He still remains missing two years later, though the body of a young man who fits his son’s description remains in a morgue in Tijuana.

Day by day, violations in detention continue, even as a leaked memo from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has revealed the need to meet larger quotas of immigrants for deportation, contrary to the official stand by the administration that they are mainly targeting immigrants who have criminal convictions. According to the ACLU,

The ACLU and select immigration groups met Monday with ICE Assistant Secretary John Morton and his senior staff to discuss the reported quota policy and Detention and Removal Office (DRO) priorities. At the meeting, James M. Chaparro, the DRO director who wrote the memo, which was apparently not cleared by the Assistant Secretary, apologized for his “tremendous error”… Assistant Secretary Morton denied the use of quotas, stated his commitment to work together in a “spirit of candor and transparency” and asked to be “judged on the record, not on rumors.”

But many are not believing the “bad apple” story. Key immigrant and Latino organizations have called on President Obama and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to dismiss John Morton. “The reality is that ICE has gone rogue and needs to be reined in with dramatic action,” said Deepak Bhargava, executive director of the Center for Community Change.

Growing frustration is leading to more broken families and destroyed futures. No more promises we say again. It’s time for concrete action.

UPDATE: From the New York Times – More than three dozen Haitian earthquake survivors were released from Florida immigration jails on Thursday after more than two months in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Immigration officials said 40 Haitian survivors would be released on orders of supervision by nightfall. This came on the day that The New York Times reported that at least 30 earthquake survivors were being detained. Lawyers said the federal government was now reversing a practice adopted after the earthquake, to hold Haitians for at least 90 days after a deportation order before considering them for supervised release. Those released can be returned to Haiti when deportations resume.

Photo courtesy of globevision

Delaying immigration reform gets expensive

Sirens, helicopters, immigration agents with guns swarming into factories and homes, this was standard game for immigration raids during the Bush administration. But all that was supposed to change during President Obama’s tenure. In a disturbing turn of events, documents procured by the Washington Post have exposed a senior-ranking Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) official explicitly stating that even while deportation of those with criminal charges has risen, the overall number of deportations is “well below the agency’s goal” and what is needed is a reversal of the downward trend of deportations.

Rather than reflect the plans of the Obama administration that is committed to an enforcement agenda focused on immigrants that commit serious crimes, the exposed ICE memo has laid out a plan that will -

pump up the numbers by increasing detention space to hold more illegal immigrants while they await deportation proceedings; sweep prisons and jails to find more candidates for deportation and offering early release to those willing to go quickly; and, most controversially, include a “surge” in efforts to catch illegal immigrants whose only violation was lying on immigration or visa applications or reentering the United States after being deported.

In keeping with this plan, ICE field offices in Dallas, Chicago and Northern California have set their agents an incentive system that calls for them to process 40-60 cases in a month in order to earn “excellent” ratings. Such a policy encourages agents to target “easy” cases rather than focus on high risk, criminal cases that take longer to process.

ICE immediately distanced themselves from Chaparro’s memo.

Our longstanding focus remains on smart, effective immigration enforcement that places priority first on those dangerous criminal aliens who present risk to the security of our communities. This focus has yielded real results – between FY2008 and FY2009, criminal deportations increased by 19%… Significant portions of the memo cited in The Washington Post did not reflect our policies, was sent without my authorization, and has since been withdrawn and corrected.

Mixed signals from an agency known for its harsh implementation of detention and deportation policies. A report published by the Center for American Progress weighs the fiscal damage that would result from mass deportation of all immigrants, the alternative to comprehensive reform that is championed by immigration hardliners, and the results should worry us all.

Based on federal spending on border enforcement and deportation for 2008, the report estimates the cost of detention and deportation for 10.8 million undocumented immigrants present in the U.S. at around 200 billion dollars. Referring to the option of mass deportation as the “status-quo on steriods”, it points to this option as a highly irresponsible one that would require “$922 in new taxes for every man, woman, and child in this country.” The bad news, the National Immigration Forum puts this number on the lower side.

The good news. Americans aren’t buying this option and are demanding immigration reform in record numbers. The Public Religion Research Institute asked American voters (predominantly white Evangelicals, Catholics and Mainline Protestants) what they think about immigration reform, and found-

Two-thirds of Americans believe in a comprehensive approach that offers illegal immigrants an earned path to citizenship. Overwhelming majorities of those asked believed that immigration reform should be guided by values of fairness, security, dignity and keeping families together.

On the other side is Public Agenda, a non partisan group that decided to find out what immigrants think about their lives in the United States. What did they find?

The overwhelming majority of immigrants say they’re happy in the United States, and would do it all over again if they could. Immigrants “buy in” to American society, for themselves and their children. They rate the United States as an improvement over their birthplace in almost all dimensions, and most say they expect their children to remain in this country. A solid majority says that illegal immigrants become productive citizens and an overwhelming 84 percent support a “guest worker” program

So what’s next? We’ve marched. We’ve rallied. We’ve practically shouted from rooftops demanding immigration reform. And now it’s time to make sure that we get some concrete action. With the current system broken, expensive and inefficient, and with 10.8 million people eager to contribute to the nation’s economy and society, everyone should be on board for finding a sustainable, just, and humane solution to the current immigration system. We rest our case.

Photo courtesy of americanprogress.org

Obama to meet with Schumer, Graham amidst calls for concrete action on immigration

Guest Blogger: Jackie Mahendra reposted from America’s Voice blog

Over the weekend, news broke that the President intends to meet with Senators Schumer and Graham this evening at the White House:

WASHINGTON — President Barack Obama plans to focus attention on immigration next week by meeting at the White House with two senators crafting a bill on the issue. White House spokesman Nicholas Shapiro said Obama will meet with Democratic Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York and Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina on Monday.

The president is “looking forward to hearing more about their efforts toward producing a bipartisan bill,” Shapiro said Friday.

So are a lot of people, it looks like. The news generated 9,026 comments on The Huffington Post (it was the front page story for a time on Saturday), and has come amidst growing pressure on the administration to show concrete progress on immigration reform in advance of the upcoming “March for America: Change Takes Courage” in Washington, D.C. on March 21st.

Momentum is building rapidly for the march. Ali Noorani, Executive Director of the National Immigration Reform, writes:

Today, a caravan of faith leaders, day laborers and others is leaving from Phoenix, Arizona. Greeted by crowds of up to a 1,000 in places like Houston and New Orleans, this caravan will grow to dozens of vehicles and hundreds of people to arrive in DC on March 21st.

In Michigan, Ohio, California, Wisconsin and states across the country, communities are raising money and organizing buses to bring African American workers, small business owners, immigrant families and others to Washington DC on March 21st.

These communities on the move will meet in Washington DC to joins tens of thousands of Americans to March FOR America on Sunday, March 21, 2010, and remind our elected leaders that Change Takes Courage.

Indeed, tens of thousands of people will be marching to Washington to stand up for that vision of change– for crafting an immigration system that is once again rooted in America’s most deeply-held values of fairness, dignity, and hard work. Clarissa Martinez, Director of Immigration and National Campaigns at the nation’s leading Latino advocacy organization, NCLR, argues that the President must help move the process forward after tonight’s meeting:

But let’s be clear. If the meeting is just to “hear more,” it’s not going to cut it. The president had a meeting with Republican and Democratic members of both chambers in June 2009, and in August held a White House summit, hosted by Secretary Janet Napolitano, with a large number of representatives from faith, labor, business, law enforcement, immigrant, ethnic, and civil rights groups. Around that time, Schumer and Graham started working on a bipartisan proposal, and Schumer announced he would have the parameters of a proposal ready by Labor Day 2009.

With the Congressional legislative runway getting crowded and time running out before the November elections, it is time to land this plane. Monday’s meeting must be followed by a clear, bipartisan proposal and a firm timeline for Senate action. Anything less will be regarded as more stalling by the tens of thousands coming to DC to march in two weeks.

In case you missed this new video from NCLR, a reminder of the President’s own promise and stated vision to reform immigration:

“They’re counting us to rise above fear, the demagoguery, the pettiness, the partisanship, and finally enact comprehensive immigration reform… In this country, change does not come from the top down. Change comes from the bottom up.”

Even the pundits are realizing the importance of passing immigration reform. One of D.C.’s insiders, who often sets the conventional wisdom in this city, Jonathan Alter, told the NY Times that Democrats could revitalize their base by moving immigration reform:

There are other things Democrats can do to energize the base. Bringing up immigration reform, Mr. Alter says, tends to draw  Hispanic voters  on their behalf.

Indeed, a new report on Latino voters in the 2010 elections, released last month by America’s Voice, shows the opportunities and perils for both parties if they fail to enact immigration reform.

And as Douglas Rivlin, blogger with News Junkie Post argued yesterday, immigration reform is not only a top priority for Latinos, but for groups like Irish Americans as well:

With millions of Irish immigrants in the U.S. – and tens of thousands undocumented – the Irish are stepping up and engaging seriously in the immigration reform debate. [...]

… Ciaran Staunton, co-founder and President of ILIR is traveling to Denver, Phoenix, and Tucson to send the message that “Immigration reform is as important to the Irish American community as it is to any other community,” according to ILIR’s press release.

The fact remains that a stunning majority of Americans prefer a comprehensive immigration overhaul to both doing nothing about our immigration crisis and to deportation-only immigration proposals, which do little to truly fix our broken system.

It’s becoming increasingly clear that the time for immigration reform is indeed now.

How has the immigration system fared one year under Obama’s presidency?

In early 2009, President Obama appointed the governor of border-state Arizona Janet Napolitano, and a supporter of comprehensive immigration reform, as the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). For many, it was a sign that the administration would tackle immigration reform as a priority. In her first week in office, Napolitano ordered a sweeping internal review of DHS, aimed at identifying key areas for reform. March 2010 marks the one year anniversary from that week. So how much has changed for immigration?

For this we turn to a new report released by the Immigration Policy Center which compares actual reform undertaken by the agency to reforms that were recommended to them by immigration policy experts, academics and community members that would instill fairness and due process.

While DHS struggles towards reform it has failed to meet some key expectations… The department has engaged thoughtfully and strategically on some issues… However, turning principles into practice has fallen short, and the practical realities for individuals caught up in the system have not necessarily changed for the better.

DHS has done well in some areas. Focus has been shifted away from from harsh worksite raids to a focus on  employers who hire undocumented workers. Welcome detention reforms have been announced particularly focused on healthcare and conditions of detention. A precedent was created whereby women who have suffered domestic violence are eligible for asylum. The Department was  efficient in responding to the earthquake in Haiti, granting Temporary Protected Status to Haitians in the U.S. and humanitarian parole to 500 orphans.

But the spirit of reform has been strangled by an “over-reliance on enforcement policies”. There has been little growth in community alternatives to detention or legally enforceable standards and people continue to face poor medicare care and substandard conditions. 2009 has seen the growth of partnerships with state and local law-enforcement that arm them with the power to enforce immigration law even though this is a federal responsibility. There has been a growth in programs that criminally prosecute those caught crossing the border, draining resources away from prosecution of serious crimes such as drug and human trafficking.

And the failures. There has been little tangible progress in the areas of due process, with the immigration court system continuing to remain overburdened, and an appeals process still compromised. The continued expansion of state and local law enforcement programs like Secure Communities and 287(g) programs have led to accusations of racial profiling and large scale prosecutions of individuals with no criminal history.

But although there are many areas where reform is desperately needed, ultimately these will be administrative measures carried by an administrative agency DHS. But the fundamental problems of the system will continue to grow until Congress works up the courage to institute just and humane immigration reform. We can only hope that the White House and Congress gives the broken immigration system the attention it deserves, so that rather than counting down another year of incomplete policies and inefficient reforms, we have a just and human immigration system that accounts for the realities on the ground.

Photo courtesy of fairimmigration.files.wordpress.com

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