donate in donate in

learn. play. act.

Breakthrough

Get our emails!

A global organization building a culture of human rights. Visit us

Ring the Bell

One million men. One million promises. End violence against women. Visit Now

America 2049

You change America, before it changes you. Play now

Iced

Immigrant teen vs. immigration system: can anyone win? Visit

Bell Bajao

Ring the bell. Bring domestic violence to a halt. Visit

#Im Here

For Immigrant Women Visit

Iamthisland

Immigrant teens on life in America. Visit

Homeland Guantanamos

Go undercover to find the truth about immigrant detention. Visit

RSS RSS

Unlike the woman in the DSK story, most immigrant women are afraid to report sexual assault

Among the numerous unique and compelling stories of immigration that our nation has witnessed in its rich history comes another one; one that is disturbing and moving in equal part. On May 14, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, Dominique Strauss-Kahn (DSK), was arrested as he was about to catch a flight from New York’s JFK Airport to Paris. A 32-year-old housekeeper had courageously come forward to report that she was sexually assaulted by DSK during his stay in the midtown Manhattan Sofitel hotel. As the media storm around DSK’s scandal and his political future intensified, the woman (her identity is being kept secret) who accused him remained well away from the media glare, protecting her identity and dignity amidst an increasingly messy situation. However, as a recent New York Times portrait of her life revealed, her story is extremely unique- in an environment that is increasingly hostile towards immigrants, it is rare that immigrant women who are victims of sexual and physical abuse (and there are many), are able to find the courage to report the crimes they face.

The woman was born in a tiny hamlet in the West African country of Guinea, a 13-hour drive from the nation’s capital Conakry. While she was in her early teens, she was married off to a distant cousin, gave birth to her daughter, and was widowed soon after. While in her early 20s, she immigrated to the United States, seeking a better life for herself and her daughter, and began working at a small African restaurant in the Bronx. In 2008, she got a job as a maid at the Sofitel New York, a high-end hotel in the heart of Manhattan. Her lawyers confirmed that by this time she had documentation and legal status. Then on May 14, her world was suddenly thrust into the public eye as she became the center of an international scandal involving high-level diplomacy.

Her brother, Mamoudou, commented on her character-

She is a village girl who didn’t go to school to learn English, Greek, Portuguese, what have you…All she learned was the Koran. Can you imagine how on earth she is suffering through this ordeal?…Before she left here, nobody even knew if she could speak up for herself. She never got into any arguments, with anybody.

While DSK has been charged with the crime, the trial is still underway and no verdict has yet been reached. However, the story of his alleged victim highlights the rapidly growing issue of sexual assault among immigrant women, and indirectly points to the fact that undocumented women remain the most vulnerable to abuse, as they are especially afraid to report the crime for fear of being pulled into the detention and deportation dragnet. The housekeeper in DSK’s case has legal status, not to mention incredible courage, that enabled her to report the crime to the local police. But her courage seeks to remind us that there are many women who face violence, both at home and in their work, who continue to be exploited and are unable to seek help because of immigration status and their fear of being criminalized themselves.

Last week, many women – mostly hotel housekeeping staff from around the city – gathered outside DSK’s court hearing to protest against his alleged crime, claiming that many of them have been victims in similar incidents but are often afraid to speak out. One of the protesters, Ada Vélez Escalera, a housekeeper at the Hilton who had moved from Puerto Rico when she was 16, said-

A lot of us don’t speak up. You’re embarrassed or have a family to support and you know if it will be you or the guest who’s believed. In this case she was brave enough to scream for help…I’m proud of being a room attendant and when guests come to our hotels they need to respect us and know we are there to make their rooms clean and comfortable, not for private service…I had to leave my education because I had a sick child. But the money I’ve earned as a room attendant helped me have a house, a decent life and put my son and daughter through college.

The issue raised by the housekeepers is a growing concern among the immigrant community. It is worsened further by damaging statements made by political officials that essentially discourage the reporting of sexual assault crimes by immigrant women. In Massachusetts, State Rep. Ryan Fattman (R-Sutton) has been part of a group of regional GOP representatives uniting against Governor Deval L. Patrick’s decision not to join the controversial Secure Communities program (S-Comm). When asked if he would be concerned if a woman with undocumented status is raped and then is afraid to report the crime for fear of deportation, Fattman replied, “My thought is that if someone is here illegally, they should be afraid to come forward…If you do it the right way, you don’t have to be concerned about these things.” His comment brought him sharp criticism, and when contacted for further clarification, Fattman attempted to contextualize it with an even more troublesome allegory-

If someone got into a car accident, it’s obviously a tragic event. But if they’re drunk and they crash, it’s a crime. If that person was drunk and survived the accident they would be afraid to come forward. I think if someone is here illegally they should be afraid to come forward because they should be afraid to be deported…But if you weren’t here, the crime wouldn’t happen.

Such brash disregard for basic human rights, such as the right to be safe from harm and the right to due process and justice, is alarming. Rep. Fattman’s statements signal a dangerous situation in the country if victims of violence and sexual assault are afraid to report the crime for fear of being deported instead. This roundabout way of blaming the victim is incredibly damaging to our society, encouraging violent crime and making our communities less secure.

The harsh anti-immigrant enforcement laws that are being enacted in states around the country only seek to add to the environment of hostility and fear that makes it harder for local law enforcement to effectively protect communities. Last week Alabama Governor Bentley signed into law HB 56, the harshest anti-immigrant bill to be passed by any state thus far. The bill, inspired by Arizona’s notorious SB 1070, imposes even stricter requirements on virtually all institutions in the state to conduct immigration checks. In a statement reacting to the bill, Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, said-

Today, Alabama effectively turned state workers, peace officers, and school teachers into de facto immigration agents.  Immigrants and people of color will be subjected to additional, unconstitutional scrutiny when they take their children to school or interact with local law enforcement officers.  Friends and family members of undocumented immigrants will face criminal charges simply for driving them to church or to the grocery store. By passing HB 56, Alabama’s legislators have deemed an entire class of people not worthy of the most fundamental rights, which were carefully prescribed to all people by our Founding Fathers.  This law effectively makes immigrants the latest group of people to suffer a legalization of discriminatory behavior against them, and threatens to turn back the clock on our hard-won civil rights.

Alabama’s HB 56 adds to the growing number of states that have set in motion some sort of harsh anti-immigrant laws (see PDF map from the National Immigration Law Center for the latest Arizona-inspired legislation). These sweeping anti-immigrant legislations are not only unconstitutional and in violation of basic human rights, but they will also negatively impact the economies of the states that implement them. Most of all, communities will lose faith in their local law enforcement, always living in the fear of being racially profiled and arrested for deportation under the pretense of a minor offense.

With less than 18 months until the next presidential election, Democrats and Republicans are busy shaping their immigration policies to woo voters. At this time it is important that they focus on preventing draconian state-level anti-immigration laws from being enacted and instead, working towards comprehensive immigration reform that is enacted on a federal level. Statements such as those by Rep. Fattman only undermine the principles of freedom, justice and due process upon which our country is built. Victims of violence, such as sexual assault and rape, must be supported and made to feel safe and secure and given the justice they deserve, instead of being intimidated into silence. Denying basic human rights to one group will inevitably affect all our freedoms.

Sign the petition asking for Mass. Rep. Fattman to apologize for his comments and for the State House to publicly denounce his stance.

Show your support for due process. Become an ally of the Restore Fairness campaign today.

Photo courtesy of nij.gov.

POLL: Should all victims of abuse and violence have recourse to justice, regardless of their immigration status?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

Will uncovering the truth on immigration lead to more accountability?

Fired up by the passage of Arizona’s harsh new anti-immigrant bill SB1070, organizations across the country launched a week of actions aimed to “Uncover the Truth” about collaborations between federal immigration and local police. These collaborations, carried out through programs such as 287(g) and Secure Communities begun during the Bush administration, are precursors to Arizona’s new law that gives local law enforcement the right to check the immigration status of people. Originally intended for violent criminals, these programs have become notorious for racial profiling and misuse by local police, compounded by inadequate training and a lack of transparency.

“Uncover the Truth” kicked off yesterday with the The National Day Laborer Organizing Network, The Center for Constitutional Rights and the Immigration Justice Clinic announcing a Freedom of Information (FOI) lawsuit for records related to the little known Secure Communities program. According to Sunita Patel-

ICE’s so-called Secure Communities program is growing at an alarming rate – more than 150 jurisdictions so far – without public knowledge or discourse…SB1070 and the recent dangerous ICE raids in Arizona have already proven that ICE and local or state police collaboration will only further erode public trust in law enforcement, systematize racial profiling, create incentives for illegal arrests and prevent police from doing their job, failing to keep our communities safe.

While the government’s own report has pointed out glaring problems in the 287(g) program, the Secure Communities program has not received adequate attention, even as it expands at a worrying pace. For those jails enrolled in the program, Secure Communities runs fingerprints through immigration databases when individuals are arrested, even for minor charges or if charges are dismissed. If there is a “hit”, immigration is notified and the individual is funneled into immigration detention. These checks are performed on innocent arrestees even before conviction, raising serious doubts as to whether it fulfills its stated objective of going after violent criminals.

Besides eroding community trust with the police, the program has criminalized the immigration detention system with a majority of those caught identified for minor crimes or U.S. citizens. An FOI found Secure Communities has “misidentified more than 5,800 arrested U.S. citizens as undocumented workers” since 2008. Available evidence shows little accountability and transparency, yet a whopping $200 million has been allocated to Secure Communities, with an eye toward establishing it nationwide in every jail by late 2012.

Before it gets that far, “Uncover the Truth’s” national week of action is making Congress accountable through press conferences, community forums, vigils at detention centers and audio testimonials across Arizona, California, Texas, Georgia, New York, Maryland and many other cities, asking questions about the way these collaborations impair people’s trust in their police officers and instigate racial profiling.

But increasing enforcement seems to be on the horizon, both in the blueprint for an immigration reform bill put forth by Senator Charles Schumer and Lindsey Graham, as well as a contingency plan Democrat only immigration reform bill (in case no Republican agree to support the blueprint) that came out today that calls for increased border security and immigration effort before a path for legalization for the nation’s undocumented population. This plan too seems to be going down the path of increased enforcement, rather than addressing the serious problems caused by programs such as Secure Communities and 287(g).

UPDATE: An Immigration and Customs Enforcement memo that was leaked to the press exposes ICE’s attempts to use spin and deception in response to the Uncover the Truth campaign. The six-page internal memo contains ICE’s media strategy including the targeted placement of opinion-editorials in “major newspapers in the right cities where protests are planned”, national interviews and talking point about the success of Secure Communities.  Sarahi Uribe, NDLON organizer and national coordinator of the “Uncover the Truth” campaign spoke in response to the memo -

It is deeply disturbing that ICE responded to our simple request for truth and accountability with an aggressive strategy for spin and deception. At a time when its clear that the federal government’s irresponsibility gave rise to the crisis in Arizona, rights groups now feel under attack for demanding basic answers from our government.

Photo courtesy of citylimits.org

POLL: Will the expansion of Secure Communities lead to more SB1070's?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

Growing insecurity in immigrant communities

Guest Blogger: Joan Friedland from the National Immigration Law Center

Picture 1

It was refreshing to hear the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) acknowledge something activists have been saying for years: the immigrant detention system operates like the punitive criminal incarceration system, even though the vast majority of detainees have committed no crime. Missing from their announcement, however, was a plan to keep its newly-expanded enforcement programs from increasing the number of immigrants detained in this broken system.

Secure Communities” is DHS’s latest attempt to use local law enforcement to push people into the immigrant detention system. All local law enforcement has to do is arrest someone on a traffic or other offense – even if the arrest is based on racial profiling – and their fingerprints will be checked against immigration databases during booking.  When the fingerprint scan gets a “hit,” immigrants can end up getting carted off by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents to an immigration detention center.  If they get out on bond, ICE can take them into custody, leaving their criminal cases unresolved.  It doesn’t matter if the person was innocent of a criminal charge or if the arrest was a pretext to check immigration status.

Sound scary? Consider this: ICE plans to have the program in every jail and prison in the country by 2013.

ICE isn’t lifting a finger to keep local police from using arrests on minor charges as an excuse to get immigrants into custody.  The available evidence shows that only a small percentage of immigrants caught through Secure Communities were convicted of serious crimes.  But calling all of them “criminal aliens” masks what’s really going on and lets ICE and Congress – which is allocating a whopping $200 million for Secure Communities – look tough on enforcement.

Accountability and transparency are not hallmarks of Secure Communities.  Since the program’s inception in 2008, ICE has reduced the public information about it on the agency website, adding graphics but eliminating details about enforcement priorities. ICE has given conflicting information about whether a community can opt out of the program or just use it to target people convicted of violent crimes.  And ICE doesn’t appear to be collecting the kind of data that would prevent the program from being misused.

The government’s admission that the immigrant detention system is flawed is a step in the right direction. They now need to keep this monstrous system from growing.  Secure Communities will only ensure that the opposite will happen.

Image courtesy of www.ice.gov