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Today’s the day to take a stand against immigrant detention: Watch films on PBS and CNBS

The government is denying due process and fairness in our communities by detaining immigrants who pose no danger and are not a flight risk to the community in inhumane and unregulated detention centers. In the last two years, we have seen more people detained by the ever-expanding, profit-making detention system that ever before, followed by the deportation of a record 1 million people. Moreover, the stories of people who suffer physical and sexual assault, medical negligence, and even death in detention continue to abound.

Tonight, mainstream television will showcase two different investigative exposés of the flagrant violation of human rights that is taking place through the criminalization of immigrant communities, the prison industry and mass immigration detention and deportation system in the U.S.

- Lost in Detention, will air on PBS’s ‘Frontline’ at 9pm EST tonight (check local listings).

In partnership with American University’s Investigative Reporting Workshop, Frontline correspondent Maria Hinojosa takes a penetrating look at Obama’s vastly expanded immigration net, explores the controversial Secure Communities enforcement program and goes inside the hidden world of immigration detention. This feature length documentary uncovers some of the most controversial aspects of the detention system under the Obama administration, looking at police involvement in deportations, as well as abuses and deaths in detention centers. Speaking to Colorlines about the documentary, Maria Hinojosa said- “I would just hope that maybe this documentary helps people engage with their neighbors and their friends. Maybe we can just have this conversation.” Speaking about the abuses in detention she said-

As a journalist, I’m concerned about this. As an American, I’m concerned about this. Because we believe that there’s some kind of legal recourse that we all have, because we have basic rights in our country. Now all of a sudden, you’re encountering a population that’s being told, “Actually you don’t have any legal recourse.” If abuses happen, well, if the abused is an immigrant then they just deport that person and the abuse case goes away.

Join NDLON and the Detention Watch Network for an twitter chat during documentary with the hashtag #altopolimigra. Watch the trailer and tune in for the entire film tonight-

Watch Lost in Detention Preview on PBS. See more from FRONTLINE.

- Billions Behind Bars: Inside America’s Prison Industry, which is a CNBC original documentary series about the profits and inner workings of the multi-billion dollar corrections industry , will air on CNBC starting tonight, for a week.

With more than 2.3 million people locked up, the U.S. has the highest incarceration rate in the world. One out of 100 American adults is behind bars – while a stunning one out of 32 is on probation, parole or in prison. This reliance on mass incarceration has created a thriving prison economy. The states and the federal government together spend roughly $74 billion a year on corrections, and nearly 800,000 people work in the industry.

Also today, the Detention Watch Network launched a national campaign, ‘Dignity not Detention,’ calling for an end to mandatory detention laws, which are significantly responsible for the explosion of the detention system. A wide range of faith, immigrant rights, and community-based organizations joined Detention Watch Network to call on Congress and the Obama Administration to:

  • Repeal all laws mandating the detention of non-citizens.
  • Put an end to all policies and programs that use the criminal justice system to target people for detention and deportation.
  • Bring the U.S. into compliance with its obligations under international human rights law, which prohibits arbitrary detention.
Watch the video, End Mandatory Detention and endorse the campaign here- 

New report tells us how S-Comm makes the American Dream a “criminal proposition”

President Obama holds the unflattering distinction of having overseen the most deportations under any American president in history. Since the deeply flawed Secure Communities program (S-Comm) was launched by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in 2008, around 100,000 people have been deported through its unjust policies and enforcement. Furthermore, in fiscal year 2010, almost 400,000 people were deported under various stipulations (including S-Comm), making it one of the worst years for deportation in our country’s history.  The program’s design and implementation flaws have encouraged racial profiling by law enforcement officials and also victimized those convicted of lesser crimes such as traffic violations, etc. 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.

In a post-9/11 scenario where state paranoia has amplified and hurriedly turned into ineffective and damaging law enforcement policies, the moves made by ICE are not only alienating an aspiring new generation of immigrants, but also gravely affecting the bedrock of this country. Instead of reacting productively to the widespread criticism, ICE has hardened their stance even more. In a shocking development last week, ICE eliminated the Memoranda of Agreement (MOA) that it had signed with some states, thereby enforcing S-Comm without any state or federal agreement at all. It has also vowed to keep extending S-Comm nationally by 2013, regardless of whether individual states disapprove.

On August 16, the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON), in partnership with Detention Watch Network (DWN) and several other human rights organizations, released a comprehensive report titled ‘RESTORING COMMUNITY: A National Community Advisory Report on ICE’s Failed “Secure Communities” Program.’ (PDF). The report maps out details of how S-Comm has failed as an immigration policy, doing much more irreversible damage than actually fixing the problem at hand. It includes testimony from law enforcement officials, scholars and academics, and organizers and advocates. Criticizing the ineffective program, the report summarizes S-Comm, stating that:

It multiplies laws and enforcement policies that, in effect, make the pursuit of the American Dream a criminal proposition for current generations of immigrants. That such a program should be the showcase policy of an Administration that presents itself asa champion of immigration reform is a betrayal. Multiplying the force of misguided policy and unjust laws is not reform—it is a step backwards.

The report criticizes the entangling of local police in civil immigration law enforcement, and warns agains the “Arizonification” of the country. While highlighting the flaws of S-Comm, the report also stresses on the way forward, strongly pushing for a clear separation of ICE from local police forces. Based on the various testimonies, studies and developments, the report calls for the following:

1. The immediate end, not mending, of the S-Comm program.

2. The completion of the ongoing audit of S-Comm by the Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General. Additionally, the Department of Justice Office of Inspector General should begin an investigation into the FBI’s role in Secure Communities.

3. The criticism of S-Comm should be used to amend other ICE programs, and local law enforcement must be untangled from federal civil immigration processes, removing immigration powers from police.

4. States and local jurisdictions should be given the option to participate in or opt out of immigration enforcement programs, including the forwarding of fingerprints and other biometric information to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

The report also highlights the stories of several individuals from across the country who have been victims of S-Comm, facing deportation as a result of simply calling 911 for an emergency, being pulled over while driving or any other arbitrary reason. One of the anecdotes is told by Mercedes, an 18-year old young woman in Nashville, Tennessee. On a normal Sunday afternoon in May, Mercedes was pulled over “for driving less than 10 miles over the speed limit.” After questioning her immigration status, the police officer put her in handcuffs and began filling out the paperwork for the 287(g) program to begin the process of her deportation. When Mercedes asked te officer what would happen to her and if she would make it to her high school graduation the following weekend, the officer “answered me with a smile on his face and told me that I was never going back to school and I would never see my family ever again, I started to cry.”

Mercedes spent 3 days in jail and is now facing deportation. She came to the U.S when she was 11 and qualifies to benefit from the DREAM Act. With aspirations to become a doctor, Mercedes sees herself as American – her life established in Nashville and plans for a future in this country. Reflecting on her experience, Mercedes said,

When this happened to me I realized how sad it is that families have been destroyed just for not having an ID or because of racial profiling. When I was in jail, I felt my dreams were destroyed,that my family was very far from me and I felt afraid that if we don’t stop this now, it will continue to happen.
The release of the ‘Restoring Community’ report coincided with a ‘National Day of Action’ called by various immigration reform activists to protest against the worsening immigration policies of the federal government. Protestors gathered outside President Obama’s campaign headquarters in Chicago on August 16 calling for an end to S-Comm. Several organizations worked together to call for the multi-city protests and delivered petitions to various Democratic party offices in Miami, Atlanta, Houston and Charlotte, demanding that the program be terminated. Gregory Chen, director of advocacy for the American Immigration Lawyers Association, spoke to the New York Times about how the practices of ICE have brought “a flood” of people booked under minor offenses to the immigration attorneys in the organization, calling it “the tip of the iceberg.” Chen added:
Fundamentally, D.H.S. is saying one thing but doing another…[It is] distorting its own mission of focusing on public safety and national security risks.

As the campaigning for the 2012 election ramps up and various candidates are assessing their policies, it is imperative that urgent and comprehensive action be taken by the government to address the violations to human rights and due process that are being enacted due to harsh anti-immigrant laws such as this. S-Comm is a deeply flawed program that has done more damage than good. It encourages racial profiling, separates families, and is enforcing a message that the thousands of immigrants that are working hard and aspiring to the American dream are no longer welcome.

Join the campaign to put an end to Secure Communities at Turn the Tide. You can also add your voice to the Restore Fairness campaign. Become an ally and take action now.

Photo courtesy of vivirlatino.com

Small victory as Sheriff Arpaio penalized, but piecemeal changes to SComm fail to address problems

Ever since its launch, the Secure Communities program (SComm) has whipped up one storm of controversy after another, continually being criticized by advocates, officials and local law enforcement for its lack of transparency and accountability, the threat to public safety, due process and justice that it poses, and its indirect but obvious encouragement of racial profiling. While the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have denied these implications, the reality on the ground shows otherwise. Already in effect in several counties across the United States, SComm, combined with the draconian anti-immigrant laws that have been passed in several states, has contributed to the record-breaking deportation of people who were often stopped for minor violations and traffic offenses, and the separation of thousands of families around the country in the past year.

The immigration reform movement, however, recently marked a series of small victories. The infamous Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa Country, Arizona, has been ordered to pay two men, Julián and Julio Mora, $200,000 in a racial profiling case. On February 11, 2009, Arpaio’s deputies had detained the pair for several hours after stopping their pickup truck outside a landscaping company they raided in search of identity-theft and fraud suspects. A federal judge determined that Arpaio’s deputies had no grounds on which to stop the men or detain them for so long.

This isn’t the first time Arpaio has come under legal fire for his racially prejudiced actions. However, he has tried recently, all too hard, to break this reputation. On July 11, Arpaio launched a line of Spanish-language pink underwear which reads “Vamos Jose!” For the last 17 years, Arpaio has been forcing his inmates to wear pink underwear that reads “Go Joe!” as a way to discourage theft of the undergarment. In an all too deliberate effort to prove his naysayers wrongs, he launched the Spanish-language version for public sale, that too in a Mexican restaurant in Phoenix. Sarah Palin and Hugh Hefner have reportedly already purchased their own pairs at $15 apiece. In a press release, Arpaio said-

It will raise more money to help at-risk youth and it is a poke in the eye to the critics who for years have called me racist because of my tough stance on illegal immigration.

However, this move hasn’t gone down well with activist groups. Lydia Guzman, of Somos America and Respect Repeto, labeled this “just another publicity stunt,” asking “Who is he trying to convince? He is trying to too hard to convince us.”

In another move, the Manhattan Federal Court ruled on July 12 that DHS and ICE must furnish documents detailing why they misled state governments and the American public about the extent of SComm, which has recently come under fire for drastically varied interpretations. Reacting to the judgement, Pablo Alvarado, director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON), commented-

While the Obama administration boasts of the Secure Communities program to win political points with Republicans, it has kept actual policy details nearly secret from Congress, state partners and the American public. Thankfully, federal courts, not ICE, get the last word…As we’ve seen in states and localities across the country, the more the public learns about Secure Communities, the more they say ‘no thank you’ to its implementation.

As another step that has been hailed by immigration reform activists, Russell Pearce, the president of the Arizone state Senate and the primary sponsor of the racist anti-immigrant SB1070 bill, will face a recall election. This has been the result of a grassroots appeal that collected enough signatures from registered voters to call for the special election. Pearce is the first state official in Arizona to face this kind of election.

Along with these small victories, on June 17 ICE announced a series of reforms to SComm after claiming to heed the criticisms that have come their way. One of the main aspects of the reform package is a training video that explains to local law enforcement officials what SComm entails and what constitutes racial profiling. Watch the ICE training video here:

While the video achieves the goal of explaining SComm to the local enforcement officials, it has also been criticized for being somewhat redundant and repeating racial stereotypes within the visuals of the video. Opponents of SComm have said that the officers should already know racial profiling is against the law. Margaret Huang, executive director of Rights Working Group, argued-

Putting into a video information that law enforcement should not be racially profiling—that is not likely to have a whole lot of impact…Part of the reason it’s become acceptable to use racial profiling in immigration enforcement is because it has been deliberately tied into the national security context.

While the movement against SComm has effectively brought scrutiny on the program and pushed ICE to take note of the criticism that the program has faced from all quarters, the minor tweaks that ICE released have been considered hugely inadequate in their redressal of the program’s flaws. Today at noon, immigrants and advocates in New York City are gathering to rally against the so-called reforms that has made to SComm. The rally, being held at 26 Federal Plaza, New York, NY, will take place one hour prior to a meeting that ICE has set up with advocates in New York City. This meeting is the third in a series of meetings that advocates have dubbed a “desperate marketing tour” through the states that have withdrawn from the program, Illinois, Massachusetts and New York. Today, protesters will rebuke ICE for excluding from its meetings the very people who are most greatly impacted by “Secure Communities” and call for a nationwide termination of the program, which funnels people directly into the deportation system, jeopardizes trust in the police, and encourages racial profiling.

Join us in our commitment to telling stories, inviting conversation, and inspiring action that will help our nation move even further in the right direction. To take action against Secure Communities, contact your Governor to help your state withdraw from the program.

Photo courtesy of azcentral.com

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

As DREAM passes in House, momentum builds towards victories for immigrant rights

Following a historic 216-198 vote in which the House of Representatives passed the DREAM Act last evening, today’s events in the Senate reflected a strategic decision on the part of Sen. Reid to buy time to ensure the support needed to get the DREAM Act passed in the Senate. Since the Republicans in the Senate have vowed to block all bills until the issue of tax cuts was resolved, Sen. Reid made a motion to table the cloture vote on the DREAM Act that was otherwise scheduled to take place at 11:00 AM this morning. By tabling it, the Senate Democrats will be able to bring the version of the bill that has already been passed in the House, up for a vote in the coming week, once the other issues have been resolved. Immigrant rights advocates now have additional time to build on the momentum created by the House victory yesterday, and work on getting more Senate support for the DREAM Act, so that when it does finally come up for a vote, it can have the same success that it had in the House of Representatives. According to the Vivir Latino blog-

All in all this gives DREAM a better chance in passing, especially when considering that there are Senators on the fence who do not want to be targeted and be in the spotlight twice. And obviously this gives advocates, activists, and you more time to call and ask that DREAM be supported.

According to the New York Times, once the bill wins the approval of the Senate, it will go straight to President Obama, signaling one of the most significant victories that immigrant rights will have seen in decades. The White House and the President’s support for the DREAM Act has become increasingly evident in recent weeks. While always a supporter of the bill, this is the first time he has actively worked for it to be passed. Over the last few weeks, and up until yesterday, he has been personally making calls to garner support for the DREAM Act.

The DREAM is very much alive and will have its final vote in the Senate in the next week or so. Take the time to follow the example of President Obama and pick up the phone to call your Senators! Tell them that it is important that they pass the DREAM Act and keep the dreams of millions of our country’s youth alive.

Riding the positive momentum created by the hard work of DREAM Activists, advocates protesting the Secure Communities program gathered for a peaceful rally outside Governor David Paterson’s office in New York City earlier today. Despite the bitterly cold morning, a number of activists and local groups turned up to urge Gov. Paterson to rescind the Memorandum of Agreement that New York State signed with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to approve the Secure Communities program in which local police will send fingerprints of all arrestees to federal immigration databases, with immigrants who are found “deportable” being directly pushed into the deeply flawed detention and deportation system. Sarahi Uribe of the National Day Labor Organizing Network spoke about the need for the rally-

To keep our families together, we need to keep police and ICE separate. The Orwellian-named Secure Communities program does the opposite of making us safer. We see innocent people swept up in a massive dragnet sending a chilling effect through migrant communities.

The advocates and religious leaders who spoke at the rally voiced their concerns about the implementation of the program: they stressed the ways in which it jeopardizes the relationship between law enforcement and the community, jeopardizing the safety of the community at large; it offends the values of liberty, due process and justice by undermining the basis of our legal system that aims to provide equal protection to all; it imposes significant costs on our localities, on the detention system, and the State; and it encourages racial profiling by law enforcement.

Following the rally that took place at 11:00 am, the Center for Constitutional Rights and the Kathryn O. Greenberg Immigration Justice Clinic of Cardozo Law requested an emergency injunction in federal court in a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit NDLON v. ICE filed on behalf of the NDLON. The case requests information regarding the controversial Secure Communities program and the emergency injunction specifically requests documents related to the voluntary nature of the program, which has been vague so far. CCR’s staff attorney Sunita Patel said-

“As advocates across the country are pushing on the state and local levels to find a way to opt-out of Secure Communities, we are going to court to obtain information that the public and advocates need to determine how and if it’s possible to opt-out. Only the government has the information everyone needs.”

We thank everyone who came out to show their support at the rally. It is important that we build on this momentum and keep working hard to make sure that we can honor the values that are the strength of this nation. As long as we continue to deny equality, justice, dignity and liberty to some, we cannot guarantee human rights for anyone. Together, we can stop the erosion of our fundamental human rights.

Photo courtesy of cspan.org

Prison companies’ profit motive sheds new light on Arizona’s immigration law

For months after Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed off on the draconian immigration law, SB1070, protestors raged about the repercussions of a law that made it mandatory for police to stop and check the papers of anyone that they deemed “reasonably suspicious” of being undocumented. Human rights activists protested the inevitable implication of racial profiling that the law brought with it, while supporters of the law argued that it would be an effective solution to the immigration issue. When analyzing how the law came to be, the progressive media went to great lengths to highlight the direct links between those who drafted the law and “hate” groups the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FIRM) and white supremacist organizations. In all this, little was said about how the law came about in the first place.

A breaking investigation conducted by NPR and released today reveals that there is a more insidious motive behind the drafting of the Arizona law; one that leaves passionate rhetoric behind and focuses purely on profit. Based on the analysis of hundreds of thousands of campaign finance reports of people like Senator Russell Pearce, the legislator that was responsible for introducing SB1070 before the House of Representatives, as well as the corporate records of numerous prison companies, NPR has found deep financial ties between the drafting and introduction of the bill, and the private prison industry, that stands to benefit millions of dollars from increased immigrant detention.

The NPR investigation found that the seeds of the immigration bill were sown at a meeting of a group called the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a semi-secret group that comprises of state legislators like Pearce, as well as the heads of big private corporations such as ExxonMobil and the National Rifle Association, and billion dollar companies like Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the largest private prison company in the United States. All of the 50 members present for the meeting in December, 2009 where Pearce first presented his idea for SB1070, voted to support it, and the exact “model bill” that he presented at the meeting became the law that Jan Brewer passed in April, 2010.

Once SB1070 was introduced in the House in January by Senator Pearce, it was backed by thirty six sponsors, most of whom had been present at the December meeting of ALEC. Almost immediately, thirty of the thirty-six sponsors received generous donations from all the big private prison companies, GEO Group, Corrections Corporation of America, and Management and Training Corporation. Further, it was clear that, if executed, this law would be hugely profitable for the prison companies. The records of CCA showed that prison executives were relying on immigration detention as their next big market.

Ties between the massive expansion of immigrant detention and the subsequent growth and profit for the largely privately run prison system are not new. What is even more disturbing is the concrete evidence that points to the lack of accountability that comes with this prison system that is increasingly dysfunctional, as well as a detention system that denies due process and fairness to hundreds of men, women and children.

Advocate groups such as the NDLON have called for a further investigation into the collaboration between private corporations and conservative politicians. Pablo Alvarado, the Executive Director of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network released a statement today saying-

We have done much to confront the hate within the recent immigration debate…but what this report brings to light is that behind the odious rhetoric there are corporations cashing in…These corporations and the politicians they fund are less concerned with borders than they are profit margins. We call on Russell Pearce to fully disclose his ties with those who may benefit financially from his initiatives and we ask that a deeper investigation be launched into the private interests gaining from the human rights crisis in Arizona.

Photo courtesy of npr.org

President Obama gives immigration reform a boost on Independence Day weekend

How fitting it is that the day after President Obama delivered his first speech devoted entirely to the issue of immigration reform, 150 people are being sworn in as naturalized U.S. citizens on Ellis Island. In an address at American University, President Obama vowed not to “kick the can down the road” on immigration reform, restating his desire to fix a broken immigration system.

In his speech, the President asserted the need for a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 11 million people currently residing in the U.S. who do not have legal status, while stressing that the U.S. government secures the border, and businesses face consequences for hiring undocumented workers and keeping wages depressed. Calling on Congress to pass a comprehensive plan to fix an immigration system that is “fundamentally broken,” President Obama tackled the issue that has been the subject of contentious political debate in these months leading up to the mid-term November elections. He spoke about the “…estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States” and said that “the overwhelming majority of these men and women are simply seeking a better life for themselves and their children.” The President cautioned against rounding up and deporting the undocumented immigrants that are an intrinsic part of American society and economy, and against a blanket amnesty for all that he said would be “unwise and unfair…would suggest to those thinking about coming here illegally that there will be no repercussions for such a decision,” and “could lead to a surge in more illegal immigration. ” Instead, he advocated for a solution that eschewed both polar extremes of the debate in favor of rational middle ground. He said-

Ultimately, our nation, like all nations, has the right and obligation to control its borders and set laws for residency and citizenship.  And no matter how decent they are, no matter their reasons, the 11 million who broke these laws should be held accountable. Now, if the majority of Americans are skeptical of a blanket amnesty, they are also skeptical that it is possible to round up and deport 11 million people. They know it’s not possible. Such an effort would be logistically impossible and wildly expensive. Moreover, it would tear at the very fabric of this nation -– because immigrants who are here illegally are now intricately woven into that fabric.  Now, once we get past the two poles of this debate, it becomes possible to shape a practical, common-sense approach that reflects our heritage and our values.

This speech was influenced by a number of recent developments in the immigration issue. Most notably, Arizona’s harsh anti-immigrant law that has set a precedent for states around the country taking the enforcement of immigration law into their own hands. Since April 23rd, when Arizona Gov. Brewer signed off on the law, its unconstitutional statutes that give a green light to racial profiling, have catapulted the immigration issue and the Federal government’s inaction on it, into center stage. The controversial “show me your papers” law, which is currently under review by the Department of Justice, has “fanned the flames of an already contentious debate,” Mr. Obama said. President Obama acknowledged the frustration that has led to Arizona and the 20 other states that are in the process of implementing similar laws as “understandable,” but stated that it was “ill- conceived” and that it “put huge pressure on local law enforcement to enforce rules that ultimately are unenforceable.” Referring to the police chiefs that have stood in opposition to SB1070, he said that laws such as these make communities less safe by “driving a wedge between communities and law enforcement, making our streets more dangerous and the jobs of our police officers more difficult.” He criticized this “patchwork of local immigration laws” for having “the potential of violating the rights of innocent American citizens and legal residents, making them subject to possible stops or questioning because of what they look like or how they sound.”

In his undeniably political speech, President Obama stressed the necessity for bipartisan support for immigration reform. He took Republicans to task for the lack of movement on immigration reform in Congress, specifically calling out the 11 Republicans Senators who had shown support for a comprehensive reform bill in 2006, and subsequently withdrawn this support, with the Republican party now unanimously calling for a “border security first” approach and balking at a comprehensive reform bill. Obama argued that the process has been “held hostage” by “political posturing, special-interest wrangling and . . . the pervasive sentiment in Washington that tackling such a thorny and emotional issue is inherently bad politics.” Referring to his recent b0lstering of border security by sending 1200 troops to the border, he said that the border was now more secure than it had been in 20 years, and that crime along the border was at a record low. Moreover, he dismissed the “border security first” approach saying that the systemic problems were too vast to be fixed with “only fences and border patrols.”

The President’s speech has been criticized for offering no “new solutions, timetables or points of compromise. Instead, he outlined a longstanding prescription for change that, in addition to having no support from Republicans in Congress, also has failed to unite his fellow Democrats.”

And even as President Obama waits for bipartisan consensus on immigration reform, families continue to be torn apart, immigrant youth live in fear of being deported, violations in detention continue to grow and local and state police armed with immigration powers bring fear to communities. Many of these problems can be tackled be administrative measures, but there was little spoken of in the speech. No action was pledged on any of the bills already in Congress though he did mention support for the DREAM Act that would give undocumented students a chance to live in the U.S. And even with a forum for an announcement on whether the federal government is going to sue the state of Arizona, no mention was made on the issue. Many groups have decided to take action into their own hands.

Following on the heels of President Obama’s address, leading law enforcement officials shared their concerns about programs that require enforcement of immigration laws by state or local law police, a trend that continues in absence of a federal solution. With the country’s foremost police chiefs and sheriffs speaking out against such enforcement that undo decades of progress in community policing, Presente.org in collaboration with the National Day Labor Organizing Network (NDLON) and the Trail of DREAMs is launching an ambitious new campaign calling on the President to use his power to create real change, starting with ending the deeply problematic 287g program.

Reform Immigration for America is asking people to write to Senate Republicans, asking them to”stop holding up the process and hurting families” America’s Voice is asking people to support the DREAM Act, “a stepping-stone to broader reform that we can pass right now” to support “youth who would qualify to earn citizenship under the DREAM Act who are future valedictorians, nurses, computer programmers, and soldiers.”

And Restore Fairness is calling on President Obama and Members of Congress to fix the broken detention and deportation system that traumatizes families and has led to many human rights violations.

While we are encouraged by the President’s speech and commitment to the issue of immigration, and reminded of our nation’s proud immigrant heritage, there is a deep need for bipartisan action as peoples lives hang in the balance.

Photo courtesy of nydailynews.com

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Which states are going to great lengths NOT to be Arizona?

Outraged over Arizona’s new law that will inevitably lead to racial profiling and civil rights issues, the Washington D.C. City Council has introduced two bold bills that counter Arizona’s SB1070, both of which have been met with unanimous approval from Council members.

In the first one, the Council sponsored a (non-binding) bill that encourages all businesses in the state to boycott Arizona by cutting off business with it as long as the harsh legislation continues to be implemented. The bill introduced by Councilman Michael A. Brown also calls on the D.C. government to divest themselves of any Municipal bonds issues by Arizona and to not participate in any conferences held in the state. The move to boycott the state of Arizona is not unique to D.C. but has been carried out by many other City Councils including those of Hollywood, San Diego, San Francisco, Oakland and Boston. The City Council’s of New York and Los Angeles are considering similar measures against Arizona to protest the bill that has caused so much controversy in the past few weeks.

The second bill, introduced in Washington D.C. by Council members Phil Mendelson and Jim Graham is called the “Secure Communities Bill of 2010″ and is a much more aggressive measure aimed at the federal government’s Secure Communities program. This bill, also unanimously supported by the Council, is groundbreaking as it prohibits D.C. Metropolitan police from sharing information with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Secure Communities Program. The Secure Communities program enlists local law enforcement to collaborate with immigration authorities by providing them with all identity and fingerprint information pertaining to anyone that is arrested by the local police. Washington D.C. became a part of the Secure Communities Program last November, but now police won’t be allowed to co-operate with ICE. In a statement made yesterday, Council member Mendelson, the bill’s main author said-

Contrary to its name, the Secure Communities program makes the public less safe by creating fear and mistrust of the police and undermining community policing…I’m proud that so many of my colleagues are joining me in introducing this bill to offer a strong counter-statement to the one recently made in Arizona.

Stressing that immigration enforcement was a federal issue, Phil Mendelson expressed his reservations for the Secure Communities program, saying that it often led to racial profiling by allowing police to conduct an immigration check on person even before they had been found guilty of a crime.

The “Uncover the Truth” campaign brings to light the ways in which collaborations between federal immigration and local police, carried out through the 287(g) and Secure Communities programs have become notorious for racial profiling and misuse by local police, in addition to providing precedents for legislation like that recently introduced in Arizona. Led by the The National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON), the campaign gets local groups to question collaborations between immigration and local police and hold lawmakers accountable through press conferences, community forums, reports, vigils and discussions. Speaking about the legislation introduced in the D.C. Council, Sarahi Uribe of NDLON hoped that other City Councils would follow suit and blamed Secure Communities for the “disaster in Arizona.”

Not to be left far behind in the battle against inhumane and unjust immigration policy, New York City Governor David A. Paterson announced that he was considering setting up a “Special Immigration Board of Pardons” to review cases of New York immigrants who are facing deportation based on minor criminal convictions. In this path-breaking move, Gov. Paterson has said that the board will consider the cases on an individual basis, distinguishing major offenses from major convictions. Gov. Paterson said that he was motivated to rectify a system that was “embarrassingly and wrongly inflexible” in deporting people without discretion or consideration of their families and specific circumstances. At present there are only a few such cases pending, but once the panel is set up, they are expecting hundreds of petitions for pardon.

Inspired by the case of Qing Hong Wu, a 29-year-old man, who despite living in the U.S. since age five, faced deportation to China because of a minor infraction he committed when he was a teenager, Gov. Paterson decided to do his bit to restore fairness into immigration policy in New York. Speaking on Monday at the Court of Appeals he said-

To be sure, there are some individuals whose crimes are egregious or who pose a threat to public safety. And they are justly removed from the United States. But there are others for whom the situation is far less clear. For them, our national immigration laws leave no room to consider mitigating circumstances. But in New York, we believe in rehabilitation. And we believe in renewal. And we believe in second chances.

Attributing Gov. Paterson’s timing to a general critique of harsh immigration laws and even harsher enforcement, a New York Times editorial compares it to Arizona’s new law-

Mr. Paterson has shown courage and common sense at a time when the national debate about immigration shows little of either. His move was unconnected to the radicalism in Arizona, which just passed a law making criminals of every undocumented person within its borders, and greatly empowering the police to arrest people they suspect are here illegally. But it inevitably calls to mind the bad example of Arizona.

It is heartening to know that lawmakers and leaders in different parts of the country are engaging in the pressing issue of immigration, and making use of their authority to take a stand against laws like Arizona’s SB1070 that attack the fundamental rights and dignity of residents of this country. We only hope that continued pressure will put an end to the law, so that the people of Arizona can go about their daily lives without constant fear of being harassed.

Photo courtesy of nbcwashington.com

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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

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Tension mounts as Arizona’s anti-immigrant bill awaits its fate

Tension builds about the fate of SB 1070, Arizona’s harsh anti-immigrant legislation, that awaits being signed into law or being vetoed by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer today.

Advocacy groups in Arizona have mobilized to put pressure on Governor Brewer to veto the dangerous and unconstitutional bill. Last night, a group of people held an overnight vigil outside the Governor’s office. Today, a press conference will be held outside the Governor’s office where 50,000 petitions protesting the bill will be delivered. More actions drawing attention to the inhumane nature of legislation will continue through the week including rallies, prayer vigils and press conferences. Faith-based groups around the country have joined civil rights groups in condemning the bill, like Cardinal Mahony, head of L.A.’s Catholic Archdiocese, who likened the bill to techniques used by Nazis that compelled people to turn each other in.

The Arizona legislature just passed the country’s most retrogressive, mean-spirited, and useless anti-immigrant law. The tragedy of the law is its totally flawed reasoning: that immigrants come to our country to rob, plunder, and consume public resources. That is not only false, the premise is nonsense.

Meanwhile, Governor Brewer succumbed to phone calls ringing off the hook and released a non-committal statement about SB 1070, stating that she would review the legislation over the next couple of days and make an informed decision about the constitutionality of the bill based on the advice of her staff and experts. Speaking at the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce’s Black and White Ball on Saturday, she said-

In regards to Senate Bill 1070, I will tell you that I never make comment, like most governor’s throughout our country, before a bill reaches my desk. But I hear you, and I will assure you that I will do what I believe is the right thing so that everyone is treated fairly.

Amongst those who support the bill is Senator Russell Pearce, author of SB 1070, who has defended it against accusations of racial profiling saying, “That’s the biggest myth in the world…Illegal is a crime. It’s not a race.” A New York Times article that explores how he came to be the author of one of the most racist and regressive pieces of legislation in recent years talks about his own history with immigration – In 2004, his son, a Sheriff’s Deputy in Maricopa County, was shot and wounded by an undocumented immigrant, and 20 years ago, Pearce himself, also a Sheriff’s Deputy, was also shot and wounded while arresting gang members.

While it might come as a surprise to most of us that all but one Republican in the Arizona Senate supported the bill (all the Democrats opposed it), it is clear that many opinions around the bill are being shaped by upcoming election mania. Most shocking is Senator John McCain’s about turn, for someone one who supported comprehensive immigration reform with Senator Ted Kennedy four years ago, he  has  given overt support to SB 1070, which he thinks will be a “good tool” and “a very important step forward. His office later said his comments did not represent an endorsement, but did not deny his support to the bill either.

When the fate of the country rests in the hands of politicians who can only see as far as the next election, we can only hope that the courageous voices that are constantly fighting for equality, justice and human rights, are not ignored. Take action and tell Governor Brewer that vetoing SB 1070 is the only option.

Photo courtesy of nytimes.com