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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

How ‘Un-American’ are Peter King’s Congressional hearings?

On Friday, March 4, two elderly Sikh men were gunned down without provocation while they were out for a casual stroll in a suburb of Sacramento. One of them, Surinder Singh (67), died immediately while his friend Gurmej Atwal (78), who was shot twice in the chest, is said to be in critical condition. The police who are investigating the attack have called on any witnessed to come forward and said that while they are still searching for evidence, there is a high probability that the there was a “hate or bias motivation for the crime.” This unfortunate attack took place just days before Rep. Peter King (R-NY) began his controversial House Homeland Security Committee hearings on the “The Extent of Radicalization” among American Muslims. With the upcoming 10th year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks and the endless spate of hate crimes against minority groups, it is difficult to ignore the implications that this Congressional hearing will have on the future of this country.

In the aftermath of 9/11,  heightened national security measures and increased suspicion of immigrant communities have placed a harsh spotlight on Muslim Americans as well as the wider South Asian and Arab American communities, deeply impacting the ways in which these communities are perceived and damaging their sense of national identity.

The first of the King hearings took place in Washington D.C. yesterday. Rep. Peter King said that he initiated these hearings in response to a string of arrests in 2010 concerning Muslim Americans who were connected to intercepted plots against American targets. In an interview with the Associated Press, King stated-

There is a real threat to the country from the Muslim community and the only way to get to the bottom of it is to investigate what is happening.

The committee yesterday heard from a panel of witnesses that argued for and against the premise of the hearings. Those who argued that the country needs to be more vigilant about the “radicalization” of the Muslim community included Dr. M Zuhdi Jasser, a doctor and Navy veteran who called on his fellow Muslims to be more outspoken against radical Islam, and Abdirizak Bihi, a Somali American activist whose nephew joined a militant group in Somalia and was subsequently killed in 2009. During the hearing, the most pointed questions against the premise came from Representatives who raised concerns over why other extremist groups – affiliated with various religions – were not even being considered by King and his committee. Speaking to the press after the hearing yesterday, King called it a success, emphasizing that the purpose was to “inform, not to inflame.”

The run-up to the hearings saw a very polarized response, with groups like Fox News expressing substantial support for them, while human rights advocates consistently condemned them. The greatest criticism of the hearings was not that extremist acts of terror pose a threat to national security and need to be investigated, but that King’s approach is biased and isolationist. The criticism holds that by scapegoating a community based on their religious affiliation, the King hearings will have widespread repercussions on how American Muslims will be perceived by the wider public. For a community that is already the subject of suspicion and profiling, the Congressional hearings, by calling for greater accountability for American Muslims above any other group, has very real implications for community identity, public perception, integration and collective healing.

One of the most vocal opponents of the hearings is the country’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a group that Peter King has accused of conspiring with radical Islamist groups. In addition to asserting their identity as a peaceful organization, CAIR said that they would have supported the hearings if they were “balanced and fair.” Also opposing King’s approach to the issue is the civil rights organization, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), that stated in their 2010 annual report on “hate and extremism” that the “radical right in America expanded explosively in 2010,” as the number of hate groups topped 1,000.

A number of critics also held that this kind of focalized criticism of a specific community could result in the loss of trust these groups have towards law enforcement agencies and the government, impeding the work of law enforcement and thus work against ensuring the safety of all communities. At the hearing, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), the first Muslim member of Congress, gave an emotional testimony about Mohammad Salman Hamdani, a NYPD cadet who was under suspicion for being involved with the attacks even as died trying to help victims on September 11, 2001. Breaking into tears, Ellison described -

After the tragedy…some people tried to smear his character … solely because of his Islamic faith. Some people spread false rumors and speculated that he was in league with the attackers because he was a Muslim. But it was only when his remains were identified that these lies were exposed. Mohammad Salman Hamdani was a fellow American who gave his life for other Americans. His life should not be identified as just a member of an ethnic group or just a member of a religion, but as an American who gave everything for his fellow Americans.

This anecdote, from an event still fresh in public memory, highlights the deeply damaging impact that continued demonization of an entire religious group can and does have on people’s lives. Moreover, by coming from an institutionalized source such as the House of Representatives (despite a marked distance by the Obama administration), the hearings put out a very strong message to the American public, and need to be understood for the authority that they wield. Even after Rep. King diluted his more aggressive original agenda, the hearings signal and amplify a deep sense of suspicion towards one group of Americans. Especially when ratified by the political leaders of the country, such trends pose a threat to the fundamental American principles of dignity and respect towards everyone. And that, perhaps, is a bigger threat to national security, especially in these testing times.

For a lighter, yet insightful take on King’s track record and alleged hypocrisy in this issue, watch Jon Stewart’s analysis of the hearings here:

Photo courtesy of www.upi.com

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This MLK Day, Arizona moves forward

In the aftermath of the shootings in Tucson, debates are raging over hate-filled rhetoric in the political sphere. According to Daniel Hernandez, the brave volunteer in Gabriel Zimmerman’s office who helped his boss amidst all the chaos-

“I think a lot of people are realizing that the political discourse has, for years, become completely destructive and more about tearing the other people apart instead of trying to work together to build up the nation and the state.”

Political analysts suggest that, while there are no obvious motives for the attack, the current theme in politics recently might easily give more people like Jared Lee Loughner the inspiration to resort to violence. Others are arguing for stricter gun control, an issue that has picked up momentum since the recent shootings.

As we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day on the 17th of this month, we need to take a minute to sit back and introspect on why we have become a nation whose politics are filled with spewing hatred and fear. Taking a cue from Martin Luther King’s own life, struggles and politics, it is time to look forward and strive for a public discourse that is open and civil. President Obama, in his memorial address at Tucson, has also called for an end to the constant barrage of accusations and hatred against each other by all political actors-

…at a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who think differently than we do – it’s important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds.

Instead of starting a blame game, which inevitably leads to more word wars, why not celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day this year with a renewed fervor for civility? In an effort to counter the hatred on the political arena in the country, people have called for organized movements to bring back civility in political and public discourse. The Anti Defamation League has launched ‘Restore Civility,’ a call for a more respectful political debate. Another project to follow is the “History of Hate, Future of Progress” Story Collection Project, started by Alto Arizona, asking people to uncover stories of intolerance, hate speech and violent rhetoric in their own community.

In addition to remembering those we have lost, there is lots to do this Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Celebrate the spirit and courage of the man who continued in his struggles without resorting to political hatred, rancor or anger, despite facing stiff opposition along the way.

Besides the annual MLK Day parades in almost every major city in the country, here is a list of events you can attend to show your support for a more “civilized” public sphere!

Arizona
Those living in the metro Phoenix area can celebrate Martin Luther King and the diversity that is this country by attending the Celebration Festival at the Mesa Arts Center. Come for live entertainment, food booths, medical screenings, a job fair and vendors.

New York
Lets teach our children tolerance, respect and an understanding of diversity and equality. Raising Citizens is a weekend-long Martin Luther King, Jr. Festival at the Children’s Museum. Kids experience discussions of Dr. King’s life and teachings, craft projects, and performances by the world-famous Harlem Gospel Choir.

Washington DC
Student sit-ins, roundtable discussions, drama, and music- at The National Museum of American History’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday Family Festival you can be part of an inspirational tribute to the life and work of Dr King.

Los Angeles
Cheer on young volunteers as the City Year Corps Volunteers head to Thomas Edison Middle School to give the school a makeover on Jan. 17. From 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., volunteers will paint rooms, a mural, and landscape, and beautify the campus.

Boston
Boston is celebrating Martin Luther King by hosting a free tribute concert at Faneuil Hall Boston. Join the Boston Mayor’s Office of Arts, Tourism & Special Events, the Museum of African American History and the Boston Youth Symphony Orchestras (BYSO) in remembering a great man, and listen to poet and activist Nikki Giovanni who will deliver the keynote speech.

Chicago
Northwestern’s Chicago Campus will be hosting Eboo Patel, founder and president of the Interfaith Youth Core, for a talk on spiritual symbols and frames of reference for unity in light of what Dr King thought about pluralism.

As Jon Stewart aptly put it:

Wouldn’t it be a shame if we didn’t take this opportunity, and the loss of these incredible people, and the pain that their loved ones are going through right now, wouldn’t it be a shame if we didn’t take that moment to make sure that the world that we are creating now, that will ultimately be shattered again by a moment of lunacy, wouldn’t it be a shame if that world wasn’t better than the one we’d previously lost?

Lets hope for a better tomorrow.

Photo courtesy of iill.net

The NBA gets political as lawsuits against Arizona’s law pile up

Remember how Arizona’s Gov. Brewer signed off on a bill that allows police to stop someone based on “reasonable suspicion” of them being undocumented and when asked about the obvious racial profiling implications of the law, said that she “didn’t know” what an undocumented person looked like? Following the trend that Jon Stewart perfected, basketball legend Kobe Bryant’s wife, Vanessa Bryant made a bold statement against the law by wearing a “Do I look illegal?” T-shirt at the NBA’s Western Conference Finals in Los Angeles on Monday.

The buzz on the street is that Vanessa Bryant’s statement was a direct retort to L.A. Lakers coach Phil Jackson’s comments in support of Arizona’s new law, SB1070. Phil Jackson surprised a number of people when, during an interview with ESPN columnist J.A. Adande, he expressed support for the anti-immigrant law and practically chastised the management and players of the Phoenix Suns basketball team for taking an active stance against the law. In Jackson’s opinion, the law is doing nothing but “adapting” Federal immigration law to the state, by “giving it some teeth to be able to enforce it.” Given the coach’s strong Democrat leanings in the past, Adande was surprised at his take on the matter. In response to the way that the Phoenix Suns’ owner, general manager and key players like Steve Nash have spoken out against the measure, Coach Jackson said-

I don’t think teams should get involved in the political stuff. And I think this one’s still kind of coming out to balance as to how it’s going to be favorably looked upon by our public. If I heard it right the American people are really for stronger immigration laws, if I’m not mistaken. Where we stand as basketball teams, we should let that kind of play out and let the political end of that go where it’s going to go.

Given that the National Basketball Association has come out and called the law “disturbing,” it is no surprise that a lot of people were counting on the L.A. Lakers to take a stand against it. Considering the Los Angeles City Council passed a resolution to boycott business with Arizona, there were high expectations that as representatives of an area with the largest Hispanic population in the country, the Lakers would make a symbolic gesture in opposition to the law. However, apart from Vanessa Bryant’s fashion statement and a small protest staged outside the Staples center on the eve of the game, there was very little politics involved in the game on Monday. Timothy Rutten, in an impassioned op-ed for the Los Angeles Times, expressed his deep disappointment at Jackson’s position, and urged the players of the Lakers team to take a stand. Speaking about the “clarification” that coach Jackson later offered to the press, Rutten writes-

It won’t do. Jackson’s original statement was not a declaration of neutrality, nor was it an argument for holding sport above politics. It was an endorsement of the Arizona law and a criticism of another NBA team that opposes it…If the Lakers, who have given this community so much joy and excellence, close their eyes to Arizona’s affront to so many of its members, then at least one disappointed fan will be withholding his support, and inviting as many others as will listen to do the same.

But while coach Phil Jackson and his team steered clear of mixing politics with sports, the mayors of the two cities (Los Angeles and Phoenix) used the opportunity to expose the absurdity of Arizona’s law. Mayor Phil Gordon of Phoenix and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio R. Villaraigosa, both of whom have taken a strong stance against the law, turned the tradition of a friendly wager between sporting cities into a political statement about the harsh enforcement law. In a conscious move to use humor to draw attention to the law, Mayor Villaraigosa sent a letter to Mayor Gordon proposing that if the Lakers lost, Los Angeles would pay by accepting Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County. Taking a stab at the many allegations of racial profiling against Sheriff Arpaio, Mayor Villaraigosa suggested that “Perhaps a stint in Los Angeles would teach him that you cannot deduce immigration status simply by looking at a person.” He joked about the implications of the law saying that if the Phoenix Suns star player, Canadian Steve Nash, was stopped as per the law, they would happily welcome him in L.A. Conversely, if the Suns lost, the Mayor joked that L.A. would sent across the Republican candidates for California governor Steve Poizner and Meg Whitman, since they are “currently battling for supremacy on the issue of illegal immigration. Perhaps some time in Arizona would show them both that being governor isn’t always all it’s cracked up to be.” Mayor Gordon accepted the wager.

The Lakers beat the Suns hollow on Monday, and while the wager remains in jest, a number of civil rights group went ahead and filed a class action lawsuit against the state of Arizona and SB1070 this week. As planned, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU); the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF); and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) challenged the new law on the grounds that it was unconstitutional, violating the 1st and 4th amendments; that it encroached on the Federal government’s jurisdiction over immigration policy; and that it would lead to racial profiling. The lawsuit, filed on behalf of labor groups, a Tucson church, social service organizations and individuals, seeks to halt the controversial law from going into effect, something that is slated to happen on July 29th.

By this point, opposition to SB1070 has come from diverse quarters, and taken the form of television spoofs, protests, fashion statements, wagers, and lawsuits, to name a few. We only hope that this is not in vain and this extreme measure is halted before it is too late.

Photo courtesy of hoopsnotes.com

Sponsor of SB1070 doesn’t understand it. The Daily Show does (and doesn’t like it).

Three simple images. Dora, Eric from Chips, and a serial killer. Now guess – who looks “reasonably suspicious” of not having papers and therefore should be stopped and questioned by the Arizona police as per it’s new law, SB1070?

That’s the question Daily Show host Jon Stewart asked on the show last night, referencing the images above. Calling out the “draconian new immigration law” for being an affront to democracy by requiring people to carry their documents on them, he likened it to a time in the pre-civil rights era when newly freed black slaves were required to carry IDs. Jokes apart, the staged sketch gave us a little taste of what life could be like if SB1070 was, in fact, enforced in Arizona. It was the same question posed to Governor Jan Brewer, when signing the bill into law, to which she replied, “I don’t know what an undocumented immigrant looks like?”

Confusion around the bill is rife. In an interview on MSNBC’s Hardball with Chris Matthews, co-sponsor of the bill Senator Huppenthal agreed that it would be racial profiling were officers to check the status of someone based on “reasonable suspicion”, thereby going against the statute of the bill that he signed into law. About 8 mins. into the clip, Chris Matthews asks Senator Huppenthal -

Under the law you passed and was signed by the governor this week, can a police officer who spots a car with five or six people in it, who he thinks because of instinct, experience, whatever, evidence, whatever you use— can he stop that car and say, I think these people are here illegally, I‘m going to stop and check them?  Can he under the law do that, without any crime involved?  Can he do that?

After hedging the question, Senator Huppenthal answered-

You know, the racial profiling was illegal before this bill. It‘s illegal after it.  The bill itself makes it illegal…No, he cannot.  That would be – that would just simply be racial profiling, and that would not be permitted under the law.

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Since its passage, civil rights groups, advocacy groups and President Obama have critiqued SB1070 for practically mandating racial profiling and violating fundamental notions of fairness. Clearly, when its co-sponsors cannot articulate its impact, then its effects will be even more adverse. These are already being felt on Arizona’s economy and tourism as calls for an economic boycott come to light, even as Governor Brewer continues to deny any wrongdoing. Meanwhile Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon has taken a strong opposition stand to what he considers an unconstitutional and unenforceable law, including approaching the Phoenix City Council to give their support to a lawsuit filed by the city of Phoenix to prevent the laws implementation because of its effects on civil rights and costs associated with its wrongdoings.

SB1070 is going to have ripple effects. For the state of Arizona, for its potential copycat effect across the nation, and for the ideals of equality and justice. Take action now and stop this dangerous law from being implemented.