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State must enact anti-profiling laws

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo courtesy of epier.com

Are you voting tomorrow?

Tomorrow is voting day, so make sure you get out there and vote. Here are some things that might motivate you to make your vote count and have your voice heard in the 2010 elections-

Our friends at Colorlines have been running a blog section on their website called ’2010 Elections’ that keeps you up to date with all news, events, and information pertaining to the mid-term elections. Their latest entry features Senator Harry Reid’s interview with Univision in which he promised Univision reporter Jorge Ramos that he would bring the DREAM Act up for a vote again, regardless of whether he won or lost tomorrow’s election. Reid’s opponent is a Tea Party supporter Sharron Angle, who’s election campaign centered around a series of racist, anti-immigrant ads. Another article on ’2010 Elections’ illustrates the hypocrisy of Republican strategist Robert de Posada, the man who created the ad that advised the Latino community not to vote in this election. Colorlines tells us that after creating this ad that told Latinos not to vote, it turns out that he himself voted by absentee ballot in Virginia earlier this month. The ad says-

Democratic leaders must pay for their broken promises and betrayals…If we go on supporting them this November, they will keep playing games with our future and keep taking our vote for granted…If they didn’t keep their promise on immigration reform then, they can’t count on our vote…Don’t vote this November. This is the only way to send them a clear message. You can no longer take us for granted. Don’t vote.

It is exactly this sort of voter suppression that we need to fight by voting tomorrow. Our friends at Presente.org told us about this and other voter suppression tactics that have been seen impacting the Latino community and their allies around the country. In Texas, a voter registration group called Houston Votes has been the victim of a systematic suppression campaign, including baseless allegations of fraud by the local registrar, and a string of threatening emails strewn with racist insults. The result: registrations have dropped from 1,000 per day to under 200. In Arizona, Senator Russel Pearce — the same man who authored SB 1070 — is accusing organizations like Mi Familia Vota of “voter fraud” in a thinly veiled effort to hamper their registration activities and scare Latino voters from the polls.

A number of radicals are resorting to fear-mongering and scare tactics to ensure that certain communities are denied a voice in this election. In addition to voting tomorrow, get involved with an important project called Video the Vote, a national network of everyday people on who watch out for problems on Election Day. The project helps people report things they see when voting and also document incidents that occur in their area. Started in 2006, Video the Vote volunteers have helped raise national awareness of voting problems by recording over 1,000 videos that have been broadcast on networks like CBS, CNN, and ABC and viewed over 1 million times online.

It’s essential that voter suppression problems get reported right away and that their full story is told by the media on Election Day. Video the Vote urgently needs more volunteers, so if you want to help protect the right to vote, join today and tell your friends about the program as well.

And one last thing. Did you know that thousands of people didn’t cast in 2008 because they didn’t know where to vote? Luckily, for the first time in American history, every voter can now look up their polling place. All you have to do is enter your address to find out which polling station is yours. And make sure to share this handy tool with your friends through Facebook and Twitter.

Happy voting!

Photo courtesy of colorlines.com

Federal Judge rules racism out of Arizona’s controversial immigration law

Yesterday, a federal judge issued a temporary injunction on some of the toughest portions of Arizona’s anti-immigration law SB1070 including the power for police to detain anyone “suspected” of being in the country illegally.

Federal Judge Susan Bolton’s ruling came hours before the law was to take effect in response to a lawsuit filed by the Obama administration and to nationwide protests.

Her amendments block the portion of the law that requires an officer to make an attempt to determine the immigration status of a person stopped, detained or arrested if there’s reasonable suspicion he is in the country illegally. They block the portion that creates a crime of failure to apply for or carry “alien-registration papers,” as well as the portion that makes it a crime for illegal immigrants to solicit, apply for or perform work. (This does not include the section on day laborers.) This ruling also obstructs the portion of the law that allows for a person’s arrest without warrant whenever there is a probable cause to believe he has committed a public offense that makes him removable from the U.S.

Bolton’s decision marks a victory for many in the movement who feel that the law would lead to racial profiling and fear mongering.

Many praise her amendments which significantly weaken “reasonable suspicion” as the basis for presuming someone is in the country unlawfully, and for stopping, detaining, or arresting him or her. Like Bolton, many opponents point to America’s fundamental principle that avers that everyone is presumed innocent until proven guilty, and argue that the original SB 1070 had turned the presumption of innocence on its head.

Bolton’s decision to eradicate “reasonable suspicion” removes the original bill’s form of discrimination, which invited racial profiling from officers who are likely to rely on the way people look in forming any “suspicion” that they are not in this country legally. Many argue that such vague and undefined enforcement policies called for U.S. citizens and non-citizens alike to carry papers on them at all times. These tactics are the hallmarks of a “police state,” more often associated with totalitarian regimes. Opponents to SB1070 claim that the injustices of racial profiling were evident in the police departments’ massive sweeps of Latino neighborhoods and the targeting of Latinos for minor, misdemeanor offenses, often with no follow-up prosecution under those minor offenses. They expressed that the original bill did not present legitimate grounds for forming such suspicion, so they refused to refer to it as a workable standard in Arizona. Bolton has responded to these arguments with her amendments, leaving many satisfied.

She, a Clinton appointee, articulated in her decision:

Requiring Arizona law enforcement officials and agencies to determine the immigration status of every person who is arrested burdens lawfully-present aliens because their liberty will be restricted while their status is checked.

Many top law enforcement officials, including the Arizona Association of Chiefs of Police, had also acknowledged that the original SB 1070 would significantly harm the public trust which law enforcement officials need in order to protect the people of Arizona and would alienate police officers from the communities they serve. Last week, we reported on Arizonan officer Paul Dobson’s recorded confession of his own similar concerns for the law. Officials argued that the original law would force police officers to devote scarce resources to investigating false threats rather than solving serious crimes. They further asserted that the original law had compromised the criminal justice system because crime victims were more vulnerable, and therefore, unwilling to report crimes, and because witnesses were afraid to cooperate out of fear that they would be targeted. Local cops said that the original bill had placed officers and victims alike in a difficult position.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security Deputy Press Secretary Matt Chandler issued the following statement yesterday in response to Bolton’s decision. He said:

The court’s decision to enjoin most of SB1070 correctly affirms the federal government’s responsibilities in enforcing our nation’s immigration laws. Over the past eighteen months, this Administration has dedicated unprecedented resources to secure the border, and we will continue to work to take decisive action to disrupt criminal organizations and the networks they exploit. DHS will enforce federal immigration laws in Arizona and around the country in smart, effective ways that focus our resources on criminal aliens who pose a public safety threat and employers who knowingly hire illegal labor, as well as continue to secure our border.

ICE works every day with local law enforcement across the country to assist them in making their communities safer and we will continue do so in Arizona. At the same time, we will continue to increase resources in Arizona by complementing the National Guard deployment set to begin on Aug. 1 with the deployment of hundreds of additional Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, Border Patrol agents and other law enforcement personnel that will aid in our continuing efforts to conduct outbound inspections, patrol challenging terrain, and interdict illicit smugglers. We are focused on smart effective immigration and border enforcement while we work with Congress toward the type of bipartisan comprehensive reform that will provide true security and establish accountability and responsibility in our immigration system at the national level.

Even as debates about the law in Arizona continue, the death toll for those immigrants crossing the desert soars. According to an article in The New York Times, the bodies of 57 border crossers have been brought in during July so far, putting it on track to be the worst month for such deaths in the last five years. A record of 150 people suspected of being illegal immigrants have been found dead since the first of this year.

Human rights groups confirm that it is the government’s sustained crackdown on human smuggling that has led to more deaths. Tougher enforcement measures have pushed smugglers and illegal immigrants to take their chances on isolated trails through the deserts and mountains of southern Arizona, where they must sometimes walk for three or four days before reaching a road. Omar Candelaria, the special operations supervisor for the Border Patrol’s Tucson Sector, said the surge in discoveries of bodies this year might also owe something to increased patrols.

The more that you militarize the border, the more you push the migrant flows into more isolated and desolate areas, and people hurt or injured are just left behind, said Kat Rodriguez, a spokeswoman for the Coalición de Derechos Humanos in Tucson.

Breakthrough is encouraged by the temporary hold on Arizona’s law but believes much more needs to be done to restore fairness to the immigration system. The opposition is already planning efforts to overturn Bolton’s injunction.

The time is now. We DO NOT want Arizonas do not sprout all over the country.  Write to President Obama and your Members of Congress to take action on immigration now.

Photo courtesy of www.thehindu.com

Oh Arizona! Jokes aside, how many racist laws can we deal with?

The British band Massive Attack played in New York City last night, and while their entire performance was framed by high-tech LCD projections against war, racism, corporate monopolies and violations of civil rights around the world, the specific moment at which the audience erupted in cheers was when the visuals denounced the harsh new law targeting immigrants in Arizona. In addition to inspiring creative forms of old-school activism, it looks like Arizona’s giant fiasco around the highly controversial and potentially racist anti-immigrant law, SB1070, has inspired some interesting (and appropriately ridiculous) humor. In the name of satire, the ACLU has launched a glorious new website called “The Deprofiler” which offers free “white people” masks that promise to protect against the threat of “reasonable suspicion” that Arizona’s new law places on people that are not white, and especially on the Latinos that account for 30% of Arizona’s population. Their pitch reads-

Being Brown was never easy. But now, due to SB1070, it can get you thrown in jail. Deprofiler.com allows you to print a mask of a friendly white person’s face to wear while you’re in Arizona. Now you can bask in the freedom and confidence of knowing you’ll never be harassed by the police. Get yours.

So if you’re worried, just select the mask of your choosing (they offer a selection of “whites”), print out a pdf, cut to holes in it for eyes, attach a piece of string, and you’re ready to go. Their sharing tools urge you to help keep a friend out of jail so “help a friend be white today!” Hysterical as it is, it’s more than just laughs; the final step asks users to take action and learn more about the issue by going to the Reform Immigration for America website.

A group of filmmakers who are concerned about the backward turn that lawmakers are taking when it comes to making informed decisions that respect the values of freedom and equality that this country stands for, created this PSA ridiculing Arizona’s SB1070. The video shows a police officer in Arizona chasing down a car in which the driver is obviously drinking. The officer asks him for his “papers” (including license, registration, social security card, birth certificate and work permit), but when the camera zooms out, we see that instead of questioning the drunk driver, he is questioning his sober Latino friend. Check it out for yourself-

Ridiculous as the scenario in the video is, it is not as far from the truth as it should be. Jokes apart, Arizona’s law, that makes it a crime to be undocumented and mandates that police officers stop and question someone based on how they look, seems to have unleashed a spate of state laws that aggressively threaten the equality, dignity and healthy co-existence of this country’s diverse population. Following the passage of SB1070, Gov. Jan Brewer has signed off on a bill that bans schools from teaching “ethnic studies,” classes that teach students of color about their heritage and history. The bill bans these classes based on the logic that they promote “resentment,” and encourage students to want to “overthrow” the U.S. government.

State schools chief, Tom Horne, who has been advocating for this bill (HB2281) for many years, believes that the Chicano and Mexican studies classes taught in the Tuscon school district (the first district where this bill will be implemented) teach Latino students that they are “oppressed by White people.” The Tuscon School district program offers its students, who are 56% Hispanic, courses on African-American, Mexican-American and Native-American studies that include the history and literature of specific ethnic group. According to Horne, these programs promote ethnic solidarity, “ethnic chauvinism” and racial resentment towards whites, rather than treating the students as “individuals.”

According to school district officials, the programs simply teach students the background to historical events, rather than promote resentment and hate towards other ethnic groups. This is what the Racism Review had to say about it-

An honest discussion of the history of whites’ racial oppression targeting Mexican Americans, Native Americans, African Americans, and other Americans of color in the southwest and elsewhere will be out of the question when and if this legislation goes into effect. Truth-telling about our white-racist history, and resistance to it by Americans of color, that gives people honest understandings (and/or group pride) will actually be illegal, as seen in this legislation of the folks in the Arizona legislature.

Sean Arce, director of Tuscon’s Mexican-American studies program, is disappointed that the state has decided to censor an academic program that has proved extremely successful. Judy Burns, who is on the Tuscon district’s governing board says she will refuse to comply with the law, and will not end the program that focuses on Chicano literature, history and sociology, and currently has a significant percentage of students enrolled in it. Once the law comes into effect (on December 31st, districts that do not comply with it could lose 10% of their State funding every month.

It is frightening that these legislators in Arizona believe that teaching young people about their history and cultural heritage is akin to promoting resentment between ethnic groups. Instead of encouraging a society built on freedom of thought, accessibility to knowledge and honest discussion, laws such as this one simply serve to deny the rich and diverse culture that is integral to the fabric of this country. To show your support for bringing back human rights in Arizona and protesting the spate of hateful laws, join AltoArizona for a Mass Mobilization on May 29th!

Photo courtesy of deprofiler.com

POLL: Do you approve of the new "ethnic studies" law in Arizona?

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Is the person next to you being racially profiled?

Roxana Orellana Santos was sitting by a pond and enjoying her lunch when two officers walked over to her and asked her for identification. They immediately took her into custody, detained her, and very soon she was handed over to government agents for possible deportation. For the month and a half that Roxana then spent federal custody, she was separated from her son, who was a 1 years old. She was released after 46 days.

Immigrant advocates later filed a civil rights lawsuit on her behalf, challenging her arrest, stating that neither of the police officers who questioned Roxana Santos had any authority to arrest her based on her immigration status. As Jose Perez from LatinoJustice (a New York-based nonprofit civil rights organization) said in the Washington Post-

Since there was never any suggestion of criminal activity by Ms. Orellana Santos, her questioning and detention were clearly based on one element: her ethnic appearance…This is the essence of racial profiling.

Why did the officers walk up to Roxana on that particular day? She had no criminal record and her information was not previously in the system. It seems to add up that she was asked for her identification purely based on her ethnic appearance. Unfortunately Roxana’s story is far from unique. Racial profiling is a very real and serious problem in the United States, and its integration with immigration enforcement in the past year has increased it by horrific leaps and bounds.

Racial profiling affects members of many communities across the country, including Latinos, African Americans, Arab Americans and Native Americans. Researchers at the Center on Race, Crime and Justice recently analyzed data provided by the New York Police Department (NYPD) examining the demographic trends of their stop-and-frisk policy and found that in 2009, African Americans and Hispanics were stopped at a rate that was 9 times higher than whites, even though they account for only 27% and 24% of the population of New York City. And once stopped, they were far more likely to be frisked and faced with physical force than whites who were stopped.

Even though profiling people on the basis of their race and ethnicity is a deeply alarming trend, a recent study found that subjecting the issue to public scrutiny is one of the most effective ways to reduce racial profiling. Heightened coverage in the media has proved to reduce racial profiling practices of police officers in routine traffic stops, making it important to highlight individual stories and put pressure on the authorities to respect civil rights.

Make a difference. Sign a petition to ask Attorney General Holder to strengthen the 2003 guidelines on racial profiling so that law enforcement agencies are held accountable for their actions. Follow that up with a letter to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Assistant Secretary John Morton to end egregious immigration enforcement programs that have led to racial profiling and civil rights abuses.

Photo courtesy of allpsychologycareers.com

http://www.rightsworkinggroup.org/content/racial-profiling-face-truth-0

“(Pre)Viewing the Right-Wing Playbook on Immigration”

As we continue to fight for immigration reform, one thing that we can be sure about is a right-wing attack. A preview of this came about in the days building up to the successful immigration march in D.C. when fringe right-wing groups like Numbers USA, The John Tanton Network and the Tea Party Movement started pulling out all the stops to counter the building momentum for immigration reform. Predictably, their approach mirrored the strategies they employed a few years ago, during the last big push for reform that took place in 2007 under former President George Bush.

A report by liberal advocacy group People for the American Way called “(Pre)Viewing the Right-Wing Playbook on Immigration” has pulled from years of expertise on the right to lay out a list of the key strategies that are traditionally employed to defeat immigration reform, followed by tools to retaliate against these irrational and unsound attacks.

One of the most common strategies employed by the right is an appeal to racial fear. This is carried out in a number of ways, including the positing of the “Brown” threat to a “White America,” and the outrageous portrayal of immigrants and their supporters as invaders and enemies of the United States. Inciting prejudice against Latinos, Rep. Tom Tancredo commented in November 2006-

Look at what has happened to Miami. It has become a Third World country…. You would never know you’re in the United States of America. You would certainly say you’re in a Third World country.

Not to be left behind, former Presidential candidate Pat Buchanan continued in the vein of this fear-mongering around the “immigrant invasion”. He wrote in 2007-

What is happening to us? An immigrant invasion of the United States from the Third World, as America’s white majority is no longer even reproducing itself. Since Roe v. Wade, America has aborted 45 million of her children. And Asia, Africa and Latin America have sent 45 million of their children to inherit the estate that aborted American children never saw.

It goes without saying that claims that America has been built by and for White people are historically incorrect and intensely racist. More importantly, this country continues to be shaped by immigrants and draws immense political and economic strength from its diversity.

Continuing in the vein of racial divisiveness is the idea that immigration rights advocates are themselves racist, a notion that has emerged in the post Obama election days. While television personality Glenn Beck has referred to President Obama as someone who was opposed to white people, he has generated the idea from numerous accusations of racism thrown at pro-immigration advocates during the 2007 push for reform. At that time, the radio host Michael Savage attacked the National Council of La Raza by calling it “the Ku Klux Klan of the Hispanic people.” He went on to say that it was “the most stone racist group I’ve ever seen in this country”.

Portraying undocumented immigrants as responsible for terrorism and crime waves, as well as positing them as “unclean” carriers of disease and bio-terrorism is one of the tactics that the far right has employed on both local and national levels during past debates around immigration. Such as when  Lou Dobbs claimed immigrants were causing an epidemic of leprosy in the country which was simply untrue. Or when during the debates over immigration reform, Rep. Steve King, of the House Republicans’ “Immigration Reform Caucus” extrapolated fictional statistics claiming that 12 American citizens “die a violent death at the hands of murderous illegal aliens each day”. If that’s so, then why is it that the President’s Council of Economic Advisers reports that immigrants have lower crime rates than U.S. citizens and that immigrant men ages 18 to 40 are less likely than other U.S. residents to be incarcerated.

While we hope that most of you would be taken by the impulse to laugh off these strategies as racist, rabble-rousing garbage, we must take note that such nativist fear-mongering has the power to garner significant support from many, especially within the current climate of an unstable economy. Work such as People For the American Way’s “Right Wing Watch: In Focus” series gives us the best tool to fighting these attacks – truly understanding the reasoning behind them, and countering them on their own territory.

Let’s fight racism on our route to humane immigration reform!

Photo courtesy of usatoday.com.

Racial profiling in Georgia a microscosm of whats happening all over the U.S.

As the dust settles around the 200,000 March for America in D.C. this weekend, it is important to remind ourselves why we need immigration reform. A new report by the ACLU is one such reminder of racial profiling that is alive and kicking in the United States. As one of the most unconstitutional implications of our broken immigration system, racial profiling takes place when police stop, interrogate, and detain people on the basis of their appearance, accent or general perceived ethnicity, rather than on the basis of concrete evidence of criminal activity.

Called “The Persistence of Racial Profiling in Gwinnett: Time for Accountability, Transparency, and an End to 287(g),” the report uses individual testimonies from the community to examine the persistence of racial profiling in Gwinnett County, Georgia, before and after the introduction of the 287(g) program that partners local law enforcement with federal Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to enforce immigration law. Dedicated to the brave undocumented students walking the Trail of Dreams who marched into this “risky” 287(g) county, the report focuses on Sheriff Conway known as the “Joe Arpaio of the South”, who claimed that November 16th, 2009 or the day that the 287(g) program officially took off in Gwinnett County “was a great day for Gwinnett County citizens.”

Racial profiling has always been prevalent in Gwinnett County. In a case that took place before the implementation of 287(g), a woman named Mary Babington witnessed two police officers stop a white Sedan and pull out two Latino men at gun-point, shouting at them the entire time. They were then cuffed and made to lie on the ground, shirtless. One of the men was crying and asked the officer for his shirt, saying he felt cold. The officer then kicked him on his back and yelled at him not to move. Mary then heard one officer boast to the other -

They wouldn’t come out when I pulled my gun, so I sprayed the whole can of pepper spray. I emptied the whole can on them…Dude, I emptied the can in his face. I love my job.

According to the witness, Mary, the officers did not tell the men why they had been stopped, and did not read the men their rights at any point. Finally the officers administered a breathalyzer test and gave one of them a ticket for driving under the influence.

The implementation of the 287 (g) program has only exacerbated racial profiling. Many people of color have been stopped, interrogated, detained and even abused based on minor traffic violations even though 287(g) is supposed to be implemented to catch serious criminals. Some were stopped without any probable cause and never given an explanation.

A case in point is the testimony of Juan, a 48-year maintenance technician who is a legal permanent resident, entitled to live and work in the U.S. In the last year he has been stopped by local police on two different occasions, both times without any legal basis. On the most recent occasion, a Gwinnett police officer asked Juan to pull over as he was driving home from work. Despite him asking the officer five times why he was being stopped, he was given no answer. Instead the officer continuously screamed at him for asking questions and asked him for his driver’s license, which he handed over. Juan was eventually released without a citation but never found out why he had been pulled over and detained. He is now constantly worried about such an event recurring and avoids driving in certain areas of Gwinnett County.

In a podcast interview, Azadeh Shahshahani from the ACLU talks about the ways in which the 287(g) program has been extremely harmful for the 70 jurisdictions in which it operates. Local profiling has threatened public safety so that instead of trusting the local police, people are increasingly afraid to approach them, creating a dangerous communication barrier between local law enforcement and the community. In addition to diverting resources, the 287(g) program employs local police officers who are not trained in making immigration and status determinations, resulting in them restoring to their perceived notions about people’s race, ethnicity and accent.

While 50% of U.S. states have enacted legislation against racial profiling, legislation is still pending for Georgia. According to Azadeh -

In Georgia the problem is compounded because not only is there not any meaningful federal oversight, but there is also no oversight at the local or county level that we have seen…One of our main recommendations would be for law enforcement to revert to a policy of having federal immigration laws enforced only by federal immigration officials, and leave police to the job of protecting our communities.

So what’s the best outcome? Lacking training and oversight, stop 287(g) program all over the country. Document all the stops that are being made in the name of the program to check for patterns of racial profiling. And pass anti-racial profiling legislation so everyone is protected.

Photo courtesy of acluga.org

POLL: Do you feel the 287(g) program increases racial profiling?

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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 far will the GOP go for the Latino vote?

In the 2008 Presidential Election, Republicans won only 31% of the Latino vote, down from 40% of Latino votes they had four years earlier when George Bush took office for the second time. And based on exit polls, it seems apparent that the Hispanic vote played a large part in President Obama’s Electoral College victory and win over John McCain. Add to this the fact that from 1998 to 2008 the number of Latinos eligible to vote rose by 21% (from 16.1 million to 19.5 million), and factor in estimates that say that by 2050 the Hispanic population is expected to increase by 200% and you get a reasonable explanation why Republicans are beginning to panic about how to ensure support from the Latino community. Now that Republicans have woken up to the fact that they desperately need to secure Hispanic support, the question is how they intend to go about doing this, and whether they have it in them to go beyond the surface and address issues that resonate deeply with the Latino community.

Earlier this month, America’s Voice brought out a report that spotlights the growing power of the Latino electorate and suggests that candidates in all political races should keep a close eye on the issues that influence the Latino vote if they intend to remain viable in the House and Senate elections for 2010. The report, The Power of the Latino Vote in America, gives a detailed account of Latino voting trends, identifies 40 Congressional races across 11 states where Latinos are likely to made a huge impact in the November elections, and makes a strong argument for how deeply the issue of immigration reform will affect the Hispanic vote.

While it rates the economy as the top-most issue for the Hispanic population, the report makes it clear that immigration reform has played a key role in how the Latino voters made their choices in 2008, and will continue to do so. The report says,

Polling of Latino voters shows that the Republican Party’s image has been severely damaged by GOP lawmakers’ demagoguery on the issue, and that the vast majority of Latinos simply will not vote for a candidate who advocates mass deportation instead of comprehensive immigration reform…Politicians of both parties also need to approach the issue responsibly during their election campaigns. Heated rhetoric coupled with unrealistic policy solutions like mass deportation will turn off both the crucial Latino voting bloc and other swing voters, who are tired of Washington policymakers talking tough, but delivering little.

But life isn’t hunky dory for Democrats either. Moving forward, the report tells us that while Hispanics have been tending towards the Democrats for years, taking the Latino vote for granted would be a huge fallacy on the part of Democrat candidates. The recent victory of GOP candidate Scott Brown over Democrat Martha Coakley in Massachusetts was attributed to the fact that Coakley failed to reach out to the Latino vote base, and works as a good warning to Democrats who must show leadership and work towards ensuring that their campaign promises be kept in order to keep the support of the powerful Hispanic voter base. Moreover, the Latino-swing constituency, comprising of foreign born, naturalized U.S. citizens of Latino descent who represent about 40% of the Latino population, tend to be favorable to some of the Republican ideals such as the emphasis on “family values.”

On the day of it’s release, Janet Murguia, President and CEO of the National Council of La Raza, wrote an article in the Huffington Post in which she prescribed that this report should be bedside reading for any politician in America today. And looking at the activities within a segment of the Republican party in the past few weeks, it looks like many have taken her advice quite seriously. Tea Party extremism aside, a number of Republican candidates in states such as California and Texas, seem to have adopted a more favorable attitude towards immigration reform in order to gain the support of the large Hispanic voter bases. In Texas, George P. Bush, an attorney of Mexican descent and son of Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush has founded a political action committee, The Hispanic Republicans of Texas, aimed to promote Hispanics running for office. A number of Republican party strategists are researching social and economic issues that affect the Latino community. And in order to bridge the gap between the Hispanic community and Republican ideals, the Christian group, The Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles, plans to spend $500,000 on helping pro-immigration Republican candidates and promote conservative values in the Latino community.

Running a focus group that is researching economic and social issues that face the Latino community, Former Republican National Committee Chairman, Ed Gillespie wants to reach out to Hispanic voters on issues that are important to them. Gillespie blames the loss of Latino support on past “Republican rhetoric,” and says that the key lies in changing the “tone and body language” when addressing the issue of immigration.

We have to make clear to Latino voters that we care as much about welcoming legal immigrants into our country as we do about keeping illegal ones out.

Actions speak louder than words. So while the new GOP language on immigration is evident when Sarah Palin said on Fox News that conservatives needed to be “welcoming and inviting to immigrants” and recognize that “immigrants built this great country,” a lot more than that is necessary before the tides turn. When Republicans stop blocking all immigration reform bills introduced in the Senate and the House, then we will talk.

UPDATE From Immigration Impact: While some high-profile Republicans are looking for ways to increase their support among Latino voters, a new report from the Center for Immigration Studies calls for the Republican Party to basically give up on Latinos for the time being, while sticking to its anti-immigrant guns.

Photo courtesy of immigration.change.org

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U.S. Department of Justice announces probe into racial profiling allegations against East Haven police

EastHavenpoliceIn March 2009, the members of St. Rose of Lima Church in East Haven, Connecticut submitted an official racial-profiling complaint to the U.S. Department of Justice, alleging that the local law enforcement agency, the East Haven Police Department (EHPD), had been engaging in a pattern of race-based violence against Latinos in and around East Haven. After considering the complaint, the Department of Justice announced on Wednesday, December 3rd, that they were launching a federal investigation based on the allegations of harassment against the EHPD.

Angel Fernandez, a parish leader from Fair Haven’s St. Rose of Lima Church, made the announcement at a vigil held in East Haven on Wednesday, and was met with a thunderous burst of applause from the crowd that was assembled. The audience included New Haven’s Ecuadorian Consulate, parishioners from St. Rose, and Father James Manship, a priest that was arrested in February while trying to videotape an incident of racial harassment taking place in a store in East Haven.

While the complaint traces stories of racial-profiling by the East Haven police beginning in June 2008, the EHPD’s discrimination against Latinos is part of a much longer history of police abuse of racial minorities in East Haven. The Latino community in this otherwise predominantly white area now accounts for about 6 percent of the population,  and while Latino-owned businesses and shops line the town’s streets, they have consistently been faced with suspicion and hostility from local law enforcement. From the complaint:

Since June 2008, the EHPD has targeted the Latino community in improper stops, searches and seizures, false arrests, and the use of excessive force in ordinary encounters with Latino residents and motorists. Latinos are pulled over without reasonable suspicion while driving, arrested without probable cause and in some cases, severely beaten by law enforcement officials. As a consequence, Latinos in East Haven now live in daily fear of harassment and retaliation by East Haven police officers.

The complaint documents more than twenty detailed accounts of race-based violence and harassment suffered by shopkeepers and residents of East Haven and its neighboring towns, and classifies the accounts into the following broad categories: ‘Race-Based Violence and Excessive Force,’ ‘Harassment and Intimidation,’ ‘The Department’s Tacit Approval,’ and ‘Police Retaliation and Lack of Redress.’ In his speech announcing the investigation last Wednesday, Fernandez recounted some of the personal stories that lie at the center of the complaint and called it  “a victory for the brave men and women who risked retaliation to tell their stories of abuse to the public for the first time.”

One of the accounts tells of four men, Guillermo, Juan, Jorge and Juan, who were driving to a restaurant and were followed and stopped by Officer Dennis Spaulding. Without telling them why they were being stopped, the officer asked to see the license of two of the men, even though one of them, Juan, was a passenger and not the driver. On finding that Juan’s was not a Connecticut license, the officer threw it on the ground, and when Juan tried to pick it up, he was arrested. When Jorge inquired as to why his friend was being arrested, he, too, was arrested. By this point, five other squad cars had gathered and were all witnessing this. In a few minutes, all four men had been arrested, frisked, and put in different cars. During the course of the evening, they were punched, pepper-sprayed, and subject to racial epithets and verbal abuse as they spent the night in the police station.

The complaint also contains numerous accounts of race-based traffic stops, harassment and abuse by the police, often in the police station and in full view of senior police officers. A number of the Latino store owners told of how the police would set up check-points directly outside their stores and stop Latino customers as they were exiting the parking-lot, asking them for their license and registration. One shop owner, Lazaro, often came to work and found the police and a tow truck in his parking lot. When he asked them to leave, the officer threatened to come every day. Lazaro asked him, “What, you don’t like Hispanics?” and the officer replied, “No, I don’t.” After this incident, the police began to come into Lazaro’s store and harass the customers for their ID and car papers. Lazaro has seen a significant drop in customers and has made it difficult for him to pay his rent and monthly bills.

Police officers have repeatedly denied allegations of racial profiling, and have being caught lying about incidents since members of the community took to filming confrontations taking place in stores and checkpoints. Tafari Lumumba, a Yale student attorney who helped draft the complaint gave an idea of the possible outcomes of the investigation by the Department of Justice.  Siting a similar probe of the LAPD, he said that a possible outcome could be a consent decree covering the East Haven police department, that would require the department to track the race of people being arrested and stopped for traffic violations. Further requirements could include additional training for the officers and the implementation of a new citizen complaint system.

On the note of race-based violence, a town hall meeting will be held in Miami, Florida on December 10th, Human Rights Day, to talk about racial profiling. Organized by the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, ‘Racial Profiling: Face the Truth‘ will be a meeting of national and local activists and people who want to share their personal stories of racial profiling. Panelists include Chandra Bhatnagar, Marleine Bastien, Subhash Kateel, Muhammed Malik and Jumana Musa. For more information, click here.

Photo courtesy of www.newhavenindependent.org