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

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

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

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

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

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

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

According to Los Angeles Times,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo courtesy of www.latimes.com

End Racial Profiling Act is introduced as NAACP calls on the Tea Party to reject racism

When the NAACP called on the Tea Party to reject the racism that exists within its ranks, Tea Party activists were outraged and denied that racism is a part of their movement — despite a clear pattern of bigotry and hate. Instead, Mark Williams, the public face of the Tea Party Express, attacked the NAACP as being a “racist” organization, saying “they make more money off of race than any slave trader, ever.”

In Mark Williams’ blog post, written in the form of a “mock letter” to President Abraham Lincoln, he says:

We Colored People have taken a vote and decided that we don’t cotton to that whole emancipation thing. Freedom means having to work for real, think for ourselves, and take consequences along with the rewards. That is just far too much to ask of us Colored People and we demand that it stop!

Had enough? He goes on to say:

Perhaps the most racist point of all in the tea parties is their demand that government ‘stop raising our taxes.’ That is outrageous! How will we Colored People ever get a wide screen TV in every room if non-coloreds get to keep what they earn? Totally racist! The tea party expects coloreds to be productive members of society?

Color of Change is challenging Tea Party leaders to reject Williams’ statements and remove him from his position at the Tea Party Express. Because if Tea Party leaders want to have any credibility on race, they need to start by taking a stand against Mark Williams. Even though some perceive the Tea Party as a fringe movement, the reality is that they are attempting to build political power, and if that is the case, it’s important that they do not embrace the kind of racism that Mark Williams represents. If they choose to do so, then it’s important to make clear to all Americans that they are a home for racism and bigotry.

A few months ago, Tim Wise, a prominent anti-racist activist, wrote a widely circulated article called, “Imagine if the Tea Party Was Black “ which challenged America to take a close look at the hypocrisy of the Right Wing. Rapper Jasiri X molded the piece into a Hip Hop music video of the same name. Its opening lines:

The main principle political voice coming from the Right, right now, is the Tea Party. Even though you have a Tea Party that is very angry, racist-messaged, and armed, often times, they’re portrayed as just being patriotic and just wanting to do what’s best for their country.  And I ask myself the question: what if the Tea Party was black?

The good news is that legislation has been introduced in Congress to combat such forms of bigotry and hate. Yesterday, Congressman John Conyers and Jerrold Nadler introduced the End Racial Profiling Act of 2010 (ERPA) – a critical legislation that will eliminate law enforcement practices of singling out people for heightened scrutiny, based on their race, ethnicity, religion, or national origin. As a product of years of extensive consultation with both the law enforcement and civil rights communities, this legislation represents the most comprehensive federal commitment to healing the rift caused by racial profiling and restoring public confidence in the criminal justice system at-large. As Congressman Conyers said,

The recent passage of Arizona’s new immigration law has crystallized the terms of the profiling debate and demonstrates that the combination of racial discrimination and law enforcement represents a volatile mix across all strata of the minority community.

This was supported by Congressman Nadler.

Racial profiling…simply is not an effective way to identify and apprehend criminals. What’s more, focusing on people exhibiting these immutable characteristics easily distracts and diverts the attention of law enforcement in ways that can prove disastrous to public safety.

Sign a petition to stop racial profiling. In the era of Williams and his Tea Party movement, we must ensure that such racism does not affect the making of our nation’s laws and break down the trust between communities and law enforcement.

Photo courtesy of www.teapartypatriots.org.

POLL: Is the NAACP right in calling on the Tea Party to reject racism?

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Justice Department threatens a lawsuit as states follow Arizona’s cue

Last week we gave you a list of states that are going to great lengths to oppose Arizona’s anti-immigrant legislation and ensure that immigration enforcement remains in the Federal domain. Today, unfortunately, we have very different news. While human rights advocates, musicians, sports people, police officers and media personalities continue to provide us with endless reasons why Arizona’s harsh SB1070 bill needs to be repealed, lawmakers in Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Colorado have already introduced similar bills in their state legislatures. Not to be left behind, similar legislation is being considered in Oklahoma, South Carolina, Idaho, Utah, Missouri, Texas, North Carolina, Georgia, Maryland, and Colorado.

Encouraged by the passage of Arizona’s immigration law, legislators and political candidates in these states are stating their frustration at the Federal government’s inaction in tackling immigration as their reason for introducing bills that increase local immigration enforcement. Pennsylvania state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, a Republican who introduced legislation modeled on the Arizona law last week said that his bill would leave undocumented immigrants with two options, “leave immediately or go to jail.” He said-

With the federal government currently AWOL in fulfilling its constitutional responsibilities to protect American lives, property and jobs against the clear and present dangers of illegal-alien invaders, state lawmakers … are left with no choice but to take individual action to address this critical economic and national security epidemic.

In Minnesota the copycat legislation, drafted by state Rep. Steve Drazkowski and supported by five other state House Republicans, even has the same name as Arizona’s SB1070- “The Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act”. According to the Minnesota Independent, this bill (HF3830)-

…would create a Minnesota Illegal Immigration Enforcement Team and require immigrants to carry an “alien registration” card. The bill uses the same “reasonable suspicion” protocol that has generated criticism against Arizona’s law.

This bill has been introduced in spite of the fact that the mayors of St. Paul and Minneapolis (the areas in Minnesota with the largest concentration of immigrants) banned government travel to Arizona in protest of SB1070. Moreover, the police chiefs of both these cities have denounced the introduction of the bill in Minnesota, on the grounds that increased enforcement of immigration law by local police is detrimental to them carrying out their jobs of protecting the community-

As the police chiefs for Minnesota’s two largest cities, we oppose HF3830, the Arizona-style legislation recently introduced in the Minnesota House of Representatives that pushes local law enforcement officers to the front line on matters of immigration…We believe that mobilizing local police to serve as primary enforcers of federal immigration laws will throw up barriers of mistrust and cause a chilling effect in immigrant communities, impairing our ability to build partnerships and engage in problem-solving that improves the safety of all members of the community. The culture of fear that this bill will instill in immigrant communities will keep victims of crime and people with information about crime from coming forward, and that will endanger all residents.

It is frightening that state legislators are making their decisions in spite of repeated protests from mayors and police chiefs in Arizona and around the country. All we can do is take momentary solace in Attorney General Eric Holder‘s consideration of filing a Federal Government lawsuit against Arizona’s Sb1070. Speaking on NBC’s “Meet the Press” in Washington D.C. on Sunday, Holder said that  he was worried that enforcement of the law would lead down a “slippery slope” where people would be stopped based on their ethnicity rather than a crime they have committed. He said that the Justice Department was “considering of our options,” and could file the lawsuit either on the grounds that the Arizona law “pre-empted” Federal powers, or on the grounds that it violated Federal civil rights statutes.

According to a committee of human rights experts at the United Nations, the Arizona law not only violates Federal civil rights statutes, but possibly goes against international human rights treaties. Yesterday, a committee expressed serious concerns about the ways in which Arizona’s new law affects minorities, indigenous people and immigrants, potentially subjecting them to discrimination by local authorities. Referring to the clauses in the law that makes it a crime to be in the state without documents, and allows police officers to stop and question a person based on “reasonable suspicion” that they are undocumented, as well as the clause that targets day laborers and makes it a crime for them to solicit work, the UN committee highlighted the probability of the law leading to people being profiled based on their “perceived” ethnic characteristics.

The panel, composed of experts in the field of migrant rights and racial discrimination, critiqued the “vague standards and sweeping” language of the law and raised doubts about the law’s compatibility with International Human Rights treaties, which the United States is a part of. Further, they warned against the law as being allowing for a “dangerous pattern of legislative activity hostile to ethnic minorities.”

The rapidly introduction of bills similar to SB1070 is testament to the fact that this “dangerous pattern” is well on its way. We must ensure that the Federal government and the White House take this as an urgent call to enact comprehensive immigration reform. Write a letter to President Obama telling him to denounce SB1070 and repair the broken immigration system now.

Photo courtesy of flickr.org/dreamactivistorg

POLL: Do you think that the Justice Department should file a lawsuit against the Arizona law?

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We should stay away from immigration enforcement – so says the police

In a startling expose on Sheriff Arpaio of Maricopa County, under investigation by the Justice Department over mounting complaints of discrimination in his enforcement of immigration laws, Phoenix’s KPHO-Channel 5 reveals a sinister pattern of how Arpaio has used his powers to intimidate and harass his critics ranging from the Board of Supervisors and presiding Judges to reporters and activists. It seems like immigrants aren’t his only target.

That’s what makes initiatives like those started by Arturo Venegas, a retired Chief of Police, essential. The Law Enforcement Engagement Initiative was created to to lift up the voices of law enforcement officials calling for common-sense immigration reform. Government programs that arm state and local enforcement with federal immigration responsibilities require knowledge of complicated immigration laws, are costly, but most importantly, lose the faith of communities. And who better to testify to this than policing professionals.

Watch Arturo Venegas testify to the growing importance of this movement.

At it’s most recent press conference, Chief Rick Braziel spoke of a recent incident in Sacramento, Texas, where a couple at a red light were hit by a drunk driver and witnesses caught the drunk driver but ran away in fear of the police. Describing the success of community policing in Arlington, Texas, Deputy Chief Kim Lemaux was emphatic that if a group of residents fears the police, they would not turn to officers making them viable victims instead. It seems that tasking the police with immigration enforcement sets them on a path that directly conflicts with community based policing. And Sheriff Bill McCarthy of Polk County, Iowa movingly described the impact of the Postville raid, that reduced the postville community of 3600 down to 2000, left a company in bankruptcy, with 200-400 people including broken families continuing to be fed in the churches.

Time to listen to the experts.

Will Sheriff Arpaio’s clipped wings stop him from flying?

1903 Judge - Immigration a National Menace

The news is in that Sheriff Arpaio’s agreement under the controversial 287(g) program will be renewed, albeit in a limited manner, allowing him to enforce federal immigration law in county jails and not on the street. Today we learned that the County Board of Supervisors approved the agreement after hearing emotional appeals from residents on both sides of the issue. Yet no final word has come in from the Department of Homeland Security which has remained strangely silent on the issue.

For those not familiar with the Arizona sheriff, he is currently under investigation by the Justice Department for racial profiling, a figure both reviled and hailed, with his policies having led to budgets shortfall and an increase in unsolved violent crimes. Yet, he insists he will continue his “immigrant crime sweeps“, with or without authority.

Government programs that arm state and local police with immigration powers have been on the rise for a while now. According to the New York Times, a report on immigration detention released Tuesday by the Obama administration shows that 60 percent of the 380,000 people detained during 2009 had been turned over to by state and local police.

But is this effective strategy? Not if we take the stated goal into account which is for the police to identify serious criminal offenders and turn them over to immigration authorities, because well over half the immigrants taken into custody under the programs have no criminal convictions.

Where are the numbers coming from then if they are not serious offenders? Reports and testimonies have been documenting the racial profiling that accompanies giving police immigration powers. One example comes from Irving, Texas, that shows traffic arrests and petty misdemeanors rose substantially for Hispanics once immigration enforcement became part of the jails. Even a Government Accountability Office has found an increase in the arrest of minor offenders instead of serious offenders that were the original target. And a government task force has recommended that these programs be scaled back.

So the tide seems to be turning slowly. A 521 organization sign-on letter opposing 287(g) has had a large impact, and recently, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus took a bold position asking for a termination to the 287(g) program.  Two Massachusetts and Florida law enforcement agencies canceled their 287(g) agreements recently with one of them, Framingham Chief Steven Carl stating, “it doesn’t benefit the police department to engage in deportation and immigration enforcement”. And today, one more mayor from Houston has distanced himself from the program.

The Police Foundation, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, and the Major Cities Chiefs Association have all expressed concerns that these programs only serve to divert scarce resources and undermine public trust. It makes sense because we all will be less safe when communities are afraid to cooperate with police because they are afraid of immigration consequences.

And if these facts and figures aren’t enough, here are some compelling stories. Pedro Guzman, a Latino U.S. citizen was deported to Mexico because an employee of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office, a 287(g) participant determined that Mr. Guzman was a Mexican national.  Cognitively impaired and living with his mother prior to being deported, he ended up being dumped in Mexico, forced to eat out of trash cans and bathe in rivers for several months. Luckily, his mother found him several months later. Or Juana Villegas, who was driving in Nashville  (within Davidson County’s 287(g) jurisdiction) when she was pulled over by a Berry Hill police officer for “careless driving.”  Nine months pregnant, Juana was held in county jail for six days, enduring labor with a sheriff’s officer standing guard in her hospital room, where one of  her feet was cuffed to the bed most of the time.

These are not unusual examples but demonstrate policies that have gone wrong and are absolutely counterproductive to increasing public safety. But we still wait to see a complete cessation of these policies. Meanwhile, Sheriff Arpaio continues his rampage saying “I can do it without federal authority, and I’m going to continue to do it. It makes no difference.” Its a classic example of what can happen if we allow people to take the law into their own hands.

Image courtesy www.printsofpropoganda.com