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Sen. Cardin introduces bill to ban racial profiling (which would prohibit provisions of Alabama’s HB 56 from being enforced)

Guest Blogger: Tong Lee, Director of Membership Services for the Rights Working Group

On Thursday, Oct. 6, 2011, Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) introduced the End Racial Profiling Act (ERPA) of 2011.  If passed, the bill would prohibit the use of profiling based on race, religion, ethnicity and national origin by any federal, state, local or Indian tribal law enforcement agency. This is a significant step forward in over a decade since the NAACP, ACLU, their allies, and affected community members have advocated endlessly for the bill’s introduction and passage.  With this introduction, it is now critical for the Senate to pass the bill.  Email your Senator and tell them to pass the End Racial Profiling Act.

There are many positive provisions in the bill.  The bill would also institute mandatory training on profiling for law enforcement agents; require data collection and monitoring; create privacy protections for individuals whose data is collected; implement substantive procedures for responding to profiling complaints and a private right of action for victims of profiling.

Far too often, communities of color know first-hand the experience of being racially profiled by law enforcement agencies. If the bill passes, it could have a significant impact on communities. The bill is intended to prohibit:

  • Stops and frisks by local law enforcement based on ethnicity;
  • Surveillance by law enforcement agencies of specific neighborhoods and communities, like the recent discovery of the New York Police Department’s monitoring of Muslim neighborhoods in New York after the 9/11 attacks; and
  • States from enacting laws requiring residents to show proof of immigration status, such as Alabama’s H.B. 56, Georgia’s H.B. 56 and Arizona’s S.B. 1070.

With the bill’s introduction, we now need the Senate to pass it.  Contact your Senators and tell them to co-sponsor the End Racial Profiling Act.  The following Senators have co-sponsored the bill: Sen. Richard Blumenthal, (D-CT), Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand (D-NY), Sen. John F. Kerry (D-MA), Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ), Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI), Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-MD) and Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI).

 

New reports document discriminatory government treatment of Muslims in America

Guest blogger: Amna Akbar, Senior Research Scholar & Advocacy Fellow at the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice at NYU School of Law, and co-author of both reports mentioned below.

Cross-posted from Rights Working Group.

There are visible and less visible ways the government has targeted Muslims, Arabs, and South Asians since September 11, 2001. With the death of Osama bin Laden, however, mainstream pundits, commentators, and lawmakers have attempted to push us to forget the damage and the grief this “war on terror” has brought to our communities—and to immigrant communities and communities of color more broadly.

The “war on terror” has provided a rationale and an argument for an augmentation of state power.  As in prior historical moments, the brunt of increased state power has fallen on vulnerable communities.

But it is important to remember and account for the ways in which our families and communities have been marked and have suffered.  To grieve for the ways in which we have had to change.

This past month, the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice (CHRGJ) has released two reports documenting, remembering, and memorializing.  Both reports raise serious human rights concerns.

Under the Radar: Muslims Deported, Detained, and Denied on Unsubstantiated Terrorism Allegations– which we released with the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF)– draws on interviews with attorneys and community-based groups, court documents, and media accounts to identify five key under-documented patterns of how the U.S. government has discriminatorily abused the immigration legal system against Muslim immigrants.  The patterns we document include the U.S. government’s use of unsubstantiated terrorism-related allegations without bringing official charges in cases involving ordinary immigration violations.  These practices prejudice the immigration judge and place the Muslim immigrant in a precarious situation where he is unable to defend himself against the allegations.  As a result, he is often pressured to self-deport.

Another pattern we document is the U.S. government’s use of flimsy immigration charges.  For example, the government often uses false statement charges for failure to disclose tenuous ties to Muslim charitable organizations in a way that seems to target Muslim immigrants for religious and political activities and affiliations.

The overall effect of these practices is that religious, cultural, and political affiliations and lawful activities of Muslims are being construed as dangerous terrorism-related factors to justify detention, deportation, and denial of immigration benefits.  The government seems to be targeting Muslim immigrants not for any particular acts, but on the basis of unsubstantiated innuendo drawing largely on their religious and ethnic identities, political views, employment histories, and ties to their home countries.

The patterns outlined in Under the Radar seem to be guided by racial and religious stereotypes, in a way that constitutes discrimination in violation of U.S. obligations under international human rights law.  The patterns also suggest the United States is failing to uphold its international human rights obligations to guarantee the rights to due process; liberty and security of person; freedom of religion; freedom of expression and opinion; and the right to privacy and family.   CHRGJ and AALDEF call on the government to put an immediate stop to the discriminatory targeting of Muslims through the immigration system, to provide greater transparency and accountability for immigration policies and enforcement.

Targeted and Entrapped: Manufacturing the ‘Homegrown Threat’ critically examines three high-profile domestic terrorism prosecutions and raises serious questions about the role of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the New York City Police Department (NYPD) in constructing the specter of “homegrown” terrorism through the deployment of paid informants to encourage terrorist plots in Muslim communities.  Focusing on the government’s cases against the Newburgh Four, the Fort Dix Five, and Shahawar Matin Siraj, the report relies on court documents, media accounts, and interviews with family members of the defendants to critically assess the government’s practices.  The report also, lays bare the devastating toll these practices have had on the families involved.

In the cases we examined, the government sent paid informants into Muslim communities, without any basis for suspicion of criminal activity.  The government’s informants introduced, cultivated, and then aggressively pushed ideas about violent jihad, encouraging the defendants to believe that it was their duty to take action against the United States.  The informants also selected or encouraged the proposed locations that the defendants would later be accused of targeting, and provided the defendants with—or encouraged the defendants to acquire—material evidence, such as weaponry or violent videos, which would later be used to convict them.  The defendants in these cases have all been convicted and currently face prison sentences ranging from 25 years to life.

The families caught up in these abusive government practices have been torn apart. As a result of these prosecutions, they have lost their loved ones to prison, but they have also been branded as families of terrorists. They have lost jobs, family, and friends. Though many of them are organizing for change, the devastating impacts cannot be overestimated.

A number of cases around the country, raising similar concerns, suggest that these practices are illustrative of larger patterns of law enforcement activities targeting Muslim communities.  The report considers key trends in counterterrorism law enforcement policies that have facilitated these practices, including the government’s promulgation of so-called radicalization theories that justify the abusive targeting of entire communities based on the unsubstantiated notion that Muslims in the U.S. are “radicalizing.”  The prosecutions that result from these practices are central to the government’s claim that the country faces a “homegrown threat” of terrorism, and have bolstered calls for the continued use of informants in Muslim communities.

These practices are violative of U.S. obligations to guarantee, without discrimination, the rights to: a fair trial, religion, expression, and opinion; and effective remedy. The report calls on the government to stop discriminating against Muslims in counterterrorism investigations; to hold hearings on the impacts that current law enforcement practices are having on Muslim communities; and to revise the guidelines that currently govern FBI and NYPD activities and allow for such abusive practices to go unchecked.

Both reports raise serious concerns about the ways in which the U.S. government is marking Muslims and Muslim communities as particularly dangerous.  These practices have taken profound tolls on our communities.  The need to remember, and to remain vigilant, remains.

Photo courtesy of muslimmedianetwork.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo courtesy of www.upi.com

POLL: Do you support the Peter King hearings?

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False hype about crime in border cities has tragic implications

On June 7th, a Border Patrol agent allegedly shot and killed Sergio Adrián Hernández Huereca, a 14- year old Mexican boy in El Paso, Texas. While exact details of the incident remain murky, the FBI said that the shooting was prompted when border patrol agents were assaulted by rock throwers across the Mexican border. Even though no border patrol agent was injured, T.J. Bonner, the president of the union representing Border Patrol agents released a statement saying that given the common occurrence and potential danger of rock throwing incidents at the border, he classified it as a “deadly force encounter” that “justifies the use of deadly force.” Susan Lee, American director of Amnesty International condemned the shooting of the young boy saying-

This shooting across the border appears to have been a grossly disproportionate response and flies in the face of international standards which compel police to use firearms only as a last resort, in response to an immediate, deadly threat that cannot be contained through lesser means

Following condemnation from the Mexican President and government and from civil rights groups in the US, the FBI has launched a full scale investigation into the shooting. At this point it is still not known whether the boy was even involved in the rock throwing. This incident comes only weeks after Anastacio Hernandez, a 32- year old father of five U.S. born children, was hit in the stomach with a baton and then shocked with a stun gun fired by a Customs and Border Protection officer at the San Ysidro border crossing when he resisted being deported. Once again, the officers involved were completely unharmed and insisted that their use of force was necessary given the situation. Last week, the San Diego County coroner ruled his death a homicide.

Speaking to CNN, State Department spokesperson P.J. Crowley acknowledge that the death of the young Mexican boy is not an isolated incident and committed to a fully transparent, large-scale investigation. He said that the only long-term solution to tragic incidents like these was the passage of comprehensive immigration reform.

Instead of working towards comprehensive immigration reform, the White House has succumbed to political pressure to increase immigration enforcement. This tragic incident occurs in the wake of the White House decision to add $500 million to border enforcement and send 1200 more troops to “secure the border” against so-called waves of violence at the border. Bipartisan members of Congress wrote to President Obama about the “urgent” need for increased border enforcement saying-

Violence in the vicinity of the U.S.-Mexico border continues to increase at an alarming rate. We believe that this violence represents a serious threat to the national security of the United States as well as a serious threat to U.S. citizens that live along the 1,969-mile long border.

In spite of numerous reports that constantly disprove such hype about increased border crime rates, politicians continue to take recourse to it time and again. As politicians like John McCain and Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer insist on the need for increased enforcement at the border to protect U.S. citizens from crime committed by immigrants, a recent FBI report obtained by the Associated Press on the basis of the Freedom of Information Act has found that the top four safest big cities in the U.S. are all in the border states. According to the new FBI report, San Diego, Phoenix, El Paso and Austin are big cities that have the lowest rates of violent crime in the U.S. With respect to killings at the hands of U.S. Border Patrol it is important to note a Customs and Border Protection report that shows that Border agents face far less danger than local law enforcement in most U.S. cities. From the Associated Press:

The Customs and Border Protection study, obtained with a Freedom of Information Act request, shows 3 percent of Border Patrol agents and officers were assaulted last year, mostly when assailants threw rocks at them. That compares with 11 percent of police officers and sheriff’s deputies assaulted during the same period, usually with guns or knives. In addition, violent attacks against agents declined in 2009 along most of the border for the first time in seven years.

In the face of concrete research, evidence and admissions from U.S. Border and Customs personnel themselves stating that the southern U.S. “border is safer now than it’s ever been,” is it astonishing that politicians and lawmakers continue to use the myth of the “immigrant threat” to safety as justification for increased immigration enforcement. Arizona Gov. Brewer, who signed off on the draconian anti-immigrant law, SB1070, made numerous statements justifying the law that relied on the myth of widespread crimes being perpetrated as a result of immigration at the border. Before her meeting with President Obama to express her frustration at the Federal Government’s lack of action in securing the border, Gov. Brewer told the press-

We are out here on the battlefield getting the impact of all this illegal immigration, and all the crime that comes with it.

A few days ago we brought you concrete statistics proving that Arizona’s “crime wave” is nothing but racist hype and fear-mongering. Research released by the Immigration Policy Center proves that immigrants are, in fact, less likely to commit crime than non-immigrants, with crime rates being lowest in cities with El Paso, Texas, with a high population of undocumented immigrants. El Paso, where 14-year old Sergio Adrián Hernández Huereca was killed, is one of the poorest and safest cities in the United States.

It would be useful if lawmakers and politicians took note of police chiefs from around the country who have taken a stance against the implementation of SB1070, Arizona’s new law. 8 police chiefs, including two from Arizona, met with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder on May 27 to urge the Department of Justice to put a stop to SB1070, which they believe will make their jobs harder by diverting resources away from policing actual crime and eroding the trust between the community and local police; trust that is necessary for effective law enforcement. It is surprising that more local law enforcement officials have not spoken out against laws such as SB1070. On June 10th, 55 organizations in NYC, including us at Breakthrough, signed a letter to NYPD chief Raymond Kelly urging him to break his silence and publicly condemn SB1070 just as New York Mayor Bloomberg and the New York City Council has done.

With states like Arizona taking immigration law into their own hands, and the Federal Government pushing an enforcement only approach appeases politicians and invests in border security and partnerships between Federal immigration officials and local law enforcement, valuable time and energy is being diverted away from the only sustainable solution- humane and comprehensive immigration reform.

Photo courtesy of the elpasotimes.com

POLL: Do you favor immigration reform over increased enforcement?

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How many more hate crimes against immigrants will it take?

Quintessentially ‘New York,’ Port Richmond is a diverse and vibrant neighborhood that has been home to most of Staten Island’s Latino community for many years. In incidents that often go unreported, in the past few years this neighborhood has seen more hate crimes against Latino immigrants than one can bear to count. The latest one took place early morning on April 5th when 26 year-old Mexican immigrant Rodulfo Olmedo was attacked by four young men outside his apartment. In this horrifyingly vicious assault, the attackers yelled racial slurs at him, beat him with wooden planks, metal chains and a baseball bat, and took his money, leaving him with a fractured skull.

Although Olmedo is home from the hospital and recovering from his injuries, the entire community is reeling from the psychological and emotional trauma caused by yet another episode of race-based violence in their midst. Last night, there was a combination of sadness and outrage as 150 community members gathered for a candlelight vigil outside the bakery where Olmedo was employed. Led by a local priest, they prayed for an end to the violence that has plagued the immigrant community for years. Speaking about the frequency of hate crimes in the area, Gonzalo Mercado, the director of the Center for Immigrant Families in Port Richmond, said that “the community is living in fear, because these types of situations are not new to this area.”

Rodulfo’s mother, Margarita Olmedo, said that the family is traumatized by the violent attack and is determined to make sure that it does not go unnoticed. She spoke to local press on Rodulfo’s behalf-

He’s under a lot of medication, so he’s resting sleeping…He just wants to make sure that everybody says something about it, that nobody should keep quiet. He does not want this to happen to anybody else.

The attack was captured by two surveillance cameras, and was broadcast on the local television channel (NY1). Following the broadcast the police received a tip, and, after searching their “stop-and-frisk” database, they arrested four suspects on Friday, the 9th of April.  The arrested youth face assault and hate crime charges, and if convicted, could received up to 25 years in prison. The arrest of the suspected perpetrators has given rise to a controversy around the NYPD database that contains information of all the people they stop, question or frisk on grounds of “reasonable suspicion,” as a part of their “stop-and-frisk” policy.

Begun in 2001, the database was started as a safeguard that recorded information of all police stops, thereby ensuring against racially disproportionate action on the part of the police. This case has brought to light the fact that a database that was initiated to prevent against racial profiling, is being used by the police to track down suspects, raising concerns amongst civil liberties advocates like the New York Civil Liberties Union. Speaking about the potential of the database to allow for racial profiling, Chris Dunn, associate legal director of the ACLU said-

The prospect of occasionally finding additional information about suspects already known to the police does not come close to justifying a police database of millions of innocent black and Latino New Yorkers.

While this case received coverage in the press, most of these cases go unreported. On Friday, community leaders in Staten Island gathered to tell people that the only way for concrete action towards putting an end to such violence is if people who are victims or witnesses of hate crimes come forward and report them. The “April 5 bias crime,”as the press has named it, drives home the fact that race-based violence against immigrants has seen a dangerous surge in the past few years.

As the momentum is growing towards just and humane immigration reform, it is important to keep in mind the horrific reality of individual stories like Rodulfo’s, unfolding in our own neighborhoods, right before our eyes.

Religious leaders of all faiths come together in the “immigrant capital of America”

A few days ago we told you about the many events taking place across New York City to mobilize support for immigration reform, building up to the nationwide march in DC on March 21st. Today we attended one of these events – an inter-faith convocation in which religious leaders of all faiths came together to talk about the pressing need for  just and human immigration reform in 2010.

The minute I walked in to the hall at the majestic Riverside Church, I could feel the energy in the room. There was a feeling of community, emerging from people united with the same purpose with a sense of hope and excitement as they look forward to change on the immediate horizon. Hosted by the Riverside Church and organized by the New York State Interfaith Network for Immigration Reform and the New York Immigration Coalition, the line-up of speakers was impressive in its variety and scope. In addition to a Member of Congress and representatives from the different immigration activist groups, the speakers represented various Christian denominations, and Jewish, Hindu, Sikh, Muslim and Buddhist faiths.

Kicking off the event, Rev. Robert Coleman welcomed everyone, alluding to the strength and responsibility of New Yorkers as citizens of the “immigrant capital of America.” He established concepts of equality of all before God, access to human rights for all, and the principle of hospitality as intrinsic to the Christian faith. These ideas were echoed by all the speakers from the different faiths as they referenced their scriptures and called for comprehensive immigration reform that respects due process and ensures the safety and unity of immigrants and their families. Referring to sections from the Torah, Rabbi Noam Marans spoke about the duty of people to look after those who were less privileged and stated that the greatness of a nation is judged not on how its most privileged are treated, but on how it supports its “weakest links.”

Rep. Charles Rangel, the New York Congressman who was instrumental in initially deferring the deportation of Jean Montrevil and eventually contributing to reuniting him with his family, gave his support to the convocation and praised the faith-based groups for uniting on the issue of immigration reform, one that he said was crucial to the growth, stability, and moral integrity of the country.  Rep. Rangel said that he believed that immigration reform would benefit the economy as well as national security, and assured the group that he was committed to ensuring that the reform bill introduced by Rep. Gutierrez and Sen. Schumer would be passed in the Senate and the House this year.

In addition to the idea that all humans must treat each other with respect and dignity irrespective of their language, nationality or status, there was a second trope that ran through the speeches that jumped out at me; the notion of the United States as a nation that was built on the hard work and contribution of immigrants from all over the world. A number of the speakers mentioned the ways in which a path to legalization for the nation’s 12 million immigrants would benefit the economy, as well as the ways in which the current situation was allowing for immigrant workers to be exploited and paid less than minimum wage. Anindita Chatterjee Bhaumik, the Hindu Clergy Liason for the NYPD, for example, quoted from the Hindu text, the Bhagavad Gita, and spoke of how the country cannot progress without access to human rights for all. Bishop Jeremiah Park of the United Methodist Church told his own story as a first generation immigrant from South Korea in search of the American dream, and invoking the values inherent in the Statue of Liberty, urged President Obama and Congress to build bridges and allow immigrants to be productive and healthy members of the country that they were already a part of. “We, as people of faith, cannot be passive,” he urged.

As communities across the country have been coming out in support of immigration reform, the faith community has remained one of the strongest forces in this fight for immigration reform. We hope that their united front, combined with their commitment to the cause and dedication to their faiths will encourage more people to join the movement and see that this issue affects everyone in one way or another.