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

Standing Up for Your Faith Could Get You Arrested in Douglasville, Georgia

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

Yesterday, I joined Lisa Valentine in front of the Douglasville Municipal Courthouse to announce a lawsuit brought by the ACLU and the ACLU of Georgia on her behalf.

This was the same courthouse that Mrs. Valentine attempted to enter in December 2008 to accompany her nephew to his traffic hearing, only to be arrested and jailed for standing up for her right to wear a head covering according to her practice of her Muslim faith. “When we started out for the courthouse that morning, I had no idea I was in for the most humiliating and shocking day of my life,” said Mrs. Valentine.

After being informed by an officer that she would have to remove her head covering, Mrs. Valentine attempted to leave the courthouse and expressed her frustration with the policy to the officer. She was prevented from leaving, handcuffed, and taken before the judge who sentenced her to 10 days in jail for contempt of court. Mrs. Valentine was then taken to the booking area, where she was made to remove her head covering. She was detained first at the temporary holding facility at the courthouse and then in jail for several hours without her head covering before police determined that Mrs. Valentine did not fight with officers and that her “actions were primarily verbal and her resistance passive.” She was released that evening.

By locking up Mrs. Valentine and forcing her to remove her head covering in public, officers not only showed extreme indifference to her fundamental right to practice her faith, but also humiliated her and caused her unnecessary emotional suffering. For weeks, Mrs. Valentine could not sleep well. She felt deeply hurt and ashamed by the experience. “To be forced by someone else to remove my hijab in public was humiliating, and a serious violation of my privacy, modesty, and right to practice my faith,” said Mrs. Valentine.

In July 2009, the Georgia Judicial Council adopted a policy clarifying that religious head coverings can be worn in Georgia courthouses. The policy, which balances courts’ security concerns with individuals’ fundamental right to religious liberty, was presented by the ACLU of Georgia to the Supreme Court of Georgia Committee on Access and Fairness in the Courts at a June 2009 meeting. Mrs. Valentine was there to testify about the experience she faced at the Douglasville courthouse. But the policy serves as a recommendation to courthouses, and is not binding. The lawsuit we brought yesterday against the City of Douglasville and the arresting officers charges that Mrs. Valentine’s First and Fourth Amendment rights were violated, and asks the court to ensure that religious head coverings will be allowed in the Douglasville courthouse.

“I hope that no person of faith will ever have to experience the type of egregious treatment I suffered at any Georgia courthouse because of the expression of my beliefs,” Mrs. Valentine said yesterday. We hope so as well. It is outrageous enough for the government to hamper people’s free exercise of religion. Arresting and unlawfully jailing Americans for standing up for the right to practice their faith further violates the fundamental tenets of our democracy.

ICE’s Misplaced Priorities: The Numbers Speak for Themselves and the Stories Cry out for Justice


Guest Blogger: Azadeh Shahshahani from ACLU of Georgia reposted from The Huffington Post.

This past Wednesday, Jessica Colotl was released from the Etowah Detention Center in Alabama and allowed to reunite with her family back in Cobb County, Georgia. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has granted Jessica deferred action on her deportation case.

Jessica is a 21-year-old smart hard working student at Kennesaw State who has worked nights in order to pay her tuition. She hopes to become a lawyer after graduating in the fall.

So why was Jessica at a detention center all the way in Alabama in the first place? A few weeks ago, as Jessica pulled into her university parking lot, a campus police officer pulled her over, telling her that she was “impeding the flow of traffic.” She could not produce a driver’s license due to her undocumented status and eventually ended up at the Cobb County jail. This is when 287(g) kicked in. Per an agreement between Cobb County and ICE, some Cobb sheriff deputies have been granted certain enforcement powers of an immigration officer. Jessica was placed in deportation proceedings. Before long, she found herself behind bars at the Alabama detention center, awaiting deportation to Mexico, a country she has not lived in for over ten years and which she hardly remembers. Jessica was only released after strongly voiced and sustained demands by the community, including her sorority sisters, and after the ACLU contacted the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Headquarters on her behalf.

Is it unusual for ICE and the localities to waste limited resources meant for targeting perpetrators of the most dangerous crimes by going after individuals with great potential like Jessica?

Unfortunately not. Jessica is just one of the untold numbers of hard-working people who get caught up in the local immigration enforcement programs, including 287(g). In a sense, Jessica’s case is very unusual, as she actually won respite (albeit temporary) from deportation. Most people in her situation, faced with prolonged detention at a jail, oftentimes isolated and hours away from their families, opt to give up their immigration case and are subsequently deported.

An ACLU of Georgia report released in October 2009 recounted stories of 10 community members in Cobb and their families impacted by 287(g). As documented by the report entitled, “Terror and Isolation in Cobb: How Unchecked Police Power under 287(g) had Torn Families Apart and Threatened Public Safety,” mothers, fathers, brothers, and sisters are torn apart from their families every day in Cobb County, many with little recourse.

In one case, a husband and father was pulled over for “an incomplete stop” on the way to the bank. Angel subsequently ended up at the Stewart Detention Center. He left behind his wife Sharon, an American citizen who is physically disabled and who “depended on [her] husband for everything.” Sharon and Angel had to “celebrate” their 7-year wedding anniversary apart; their only means of contact was a phone call by Angel from the Stewart Detention Center.

In Cobb, immigrants disappear into detention for violations such as a broken tail light or tinted windows on their car. In 2008, Cobb County turned over 3,180 detainees to ICE for deportation. Of those, 2,180, about 69 percent, were arrested for traffic violations.

But you don’t only have to rely on the ACLU of Georgia report to believe there is something wrong with this picture. A Government Accountability Office investigation of 287(g) released in January 2009 found that ICE was not exercising proper oversight over local or state agencies. And a report released in March 2010 by the DHS Office of the Inspector General (OIG) documents significant lapses in 287(g) priorities and oversight. ICE claims that 287(g)’s mandate is to focus on non-citizens who pose a threat to national security or are dangers to the community. But less than 10 percent of those sampled by OIG were ICE “Level 1″ offenders. Almost half had no involvement in crimes of violence, drug offenses, or property crimes.

This trend of misplaced priorities is shared by other ICE local enforcement programs.

Last week, a piece appeared by John Morton, the head of ICE, in the Atlanta Journal Constitution as well as other papers around the country defending the “Secure Communities” initiative through which arrestees’ fingerprints are checked against DHS databases with information about civil immigration history, rather than just against FBI criminal databases. Morton claims that his agency is prioritizing perpetrators of dangerous crimes for deportation.

Morton’s strongest rebuttal is his own numbers. According to the data ICE released in November 2009, out of 113,000 non-citizen individuals identified in the program during its first year of operation, more than 101,000, or close to 90%, were never charged with or convicted of dangerous crimes. “Secure Communities” is in fact designed to sweep up any foreign-born individual who is arrested by local law enforcement for any reason whatsoever, including traffic infractions, even if that person is never charged with, or convicted of, any crime at all. An alarming 5% of the total number of individuals identified were actually U.S. citizens, testifying to the inaccuracy and incompleteness of the federal agency databases against which fingerprints are matched.

Meanwhile, precious resources are diverted from identifying and removing perpetrators of the most dangerous crimes.

Contrary to Morton’s assertion, the program is also profoundly susceptible to abuse and racial profiling, similar to the misguided 287(g) program. Any police officer or sheriff’s deputy can arrest individuals simply to bring them to the attention of immigration officials. Without federal standards or oversight, this creates an unacceptably high risk of unlawful racial profiling.

The risk of racial profiling through local enforcement programs is compounded in Georgia, as there is no state legislation banning racial profiling and mandating accountability and transparency for law enforcement.

It is past time for ICE to match their rhetoric regarding priorities with action and put an immediate end to the unaccountable outsourcing of immigration enforcement functions. If the numbers weren’t enough proof, Jessica’s story and other accounts cry out for justice.

Photo courtesy of acluga.org