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Lady Gaga speaks out against SB1070 as Sheriff Arpaio sweeps up protestors

20 minutes from the Monster Ball (Lady Gaga’s concert held in Arizona July 31), the iconic pop star put down her hairbrush backstage and listened curiously to two unexpected political activists. They urged her to stop the show and to join Rage Against the Machine’s Sound Strike of Arizona. The pop-star said that she was not aware of the immigration law, and the men explained in an emotional conversation its human rights violations. She asked that they scribble SB1070 on her arm so she could remember. That moment led Gaga to blast on stage before a crowd of more than 20,000 fans and announce that she received calls from artists personally asking her to cancel the show, but she would not cancel, explaining,

“And I said, you really think that us [ expletive ] pop stars are going to collapse the economy of Arizona? We have to actively protest and the nature of the Monster Ball is to actively protest prejudice and injustice. I will yell and I will scream louder, I will hold you and we will hold each other and we will peaceably protest this state.”

As the movement against Arizona’s anti immigration law SB1070 goes stronger, and in light of Federal Judge Susan Bolton’s decision to place a temporary hold on the law, it seems like there is much to celebrate. But the real trigger to Arizona’s law stemmed from programs that continue to exist today that encourage tie ups between federal immigration and local law enforcement, programs like 287(g) and Secure Communities that enforce immigration laws which deny fairness to many. The most egregious of enforcers – Maricopa County’s Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

Even as Arizona Governor Jan Brewer’s lawyers went to court to overturn the judge’s ruling so they can fight back against what the Republican calls an “invasion” of illegal immigrants, many demonstrations continued across the country, including one outside the Sheriff’s building. Protestors beat on the metal door of the jail and chanted,

Sheriff Joe, we are here. We will not live in fear.

In partnership with federal immigration through a 287(g) agreement, Sheriff Arpaio is infamous for his “reign of terror” against immigrants in Arizona. On the day that Arizona’s law came into effect, Sheriff Arpaio launched a sweep, showing exactly why SB1070 is likely to lead to racial profiling and over zealous local enforcement. The Sheriff’s dragnet led to four arrests, but it wasn’t clear if any of them were undocumented immigrants.

Arpaio routinely carries out sweeps, some in Hispanic neighborhoods, to arrest illegal immigrants. The tactics have made him the undisputed poster boy for immigration enforcement through local police and an example of the dangers of racial profiling. The Justice Department even launched an investigation of his office nearly 17 months ago over allegations of discrimination and unconstitutional searches and seizures.

But the 287(g) program is not the only one to blame. Secure Communities is a rapidly expanding program which identifies undocumented immigrants using fingerprints at the time of arrests, even if they are not convicted of anything. Under the program, the fingerprints of everyone who is booked into jail for any crime are run against FBI criminal history records and Department of Homeland Security immigration records to determine who is in the country without status and whether they’ve been arrested previously.

Many people fear the program will lead to unfair enforcement. Like Sunita Patel, an attorney who filed a lawsuit in New York against the federal government on behalf of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network who says since everyone arrested would be screened, the program could easily deport more people than Arizona’s immigration law. Moreover, because immigrants are screened at the point of arrest even before a conviction, the program could create an incentive for profiling and create a pipeline to deport more people. Other immigrant groups have also begun to speak up, stating in a letter that the initiative will make crime victims reluctant to cooperate with police “due to fear of being drawn into the immigration regime.”

San Francisco has shown resistance to the program with, Eileen Hirst, the chief of staff for San Francisco’s Sheriff Michael Hennessey, saying that Hennessey thought Secure Communities cast too wide a net and worried that it would sweep up U.S. citizens and minor offenders, such as people who commit traffic infractions but miss their court hearings. Joining San Francisco, Washington, D.C.’s police also decided not to pursue the program because the City Council introduced a bill that would prohibit authorities from sharing arrest data with immigration authorities out of concern for immigrants’ civil rights.

After filing lawsuit, Patel flew in from New York to provide legal support for Thursday’s civil disobedience protest against SB 1070 outside Sherrif Arpaio’s building. In an unlikely switch, she became one of Arpaio’s arrestees that day.

The arrest of the Guild Legal Observers is just a continuation of Arpaio’s campaign of harassment, said Carol Sobel, co-chair of the Guild’s Mass Defense Committee.  Apparently, Arpaio thinks that if he arrests the Legal Observers, no one will be there to witness his unlawful actions. We have been arrested, shot with projectiles, hit with batons and pepper-sprayed at protests from Washington, D.C. to Miami to Los Angeles and we are still here to document misconduct.

Legal observers serve as impartial witnesses who help ensure that law enforcement officials do not infringe upon the rights of demonstrators and activists who engage in civil disobedience. Roxana Orell, another legal observer, was standing behind the crowd and videotaping the arrest of Sunita Patel. Arpaio’s deputies spotted Orell and arrested her, as well. Brett Beeler, a UCLA law student standing five feet from Orell and Patel when they were grabbed, said he saw numerous individuals standing closer to the police.  He believes that the deputies targeted Orell and Patel because they were wearing the green Legal Observer hats. The two NLG Legal Observers have been charged with obstruction of a highway and failure to obey a lawful order. Numerous other protesters have also been unjustly arrested.

The Obama administration can do more than just watch. It can reassert the importance of sensible national immigration policies by rethinking two troubling programs — Secure Communities and 287(g). Judge Bolton’s ruling reminded us all of the unacceptable price of the Arizona way. However, the expansion of 287g and Secure Communities will likely lead to more Arizonas. We must urge Obama to listen to the majority of people against harsh immigration enforcement.

Photo courtesy of PuenteAZ on www.flickr.com

Mentally ill immigration detainees undergo “Deportation by Default”

A woman sat before immigration officials at an immigration detention center, unable to understand a single question asked of her. She stared into space during the interview, shook her head repeatedly, and rocked nervously in her chair. The interview was eventually terminated because it was not clear if she had granted consent for deportation.

This is not an unusual incidents but reflects the findings of a Human Rights Watch and American Civil Liberties Union report Deportation by Default documenting “case after case in which people with mental disabilities are prevented from making claims against deportation – including claims of U.S. citizenship – because they are unable to represent themselves.”

Shortcomings outlined in the report include no right to counsel even though many are unable to understand what is happening to them, a lack of guidance for judges handling people with mental disabilities, and a severe lack of services to aid detainees while in custody. As Sarah Mehta, the report’s lead author says,

No one knows what to do with detainees with mental disabilities, so every part of the immigration system has abdicated responsibility. The result is people languishing in detention for years while their legal files – and their lives – are transferred around or put on indefinite hold.

Many of the detainees interviewed for the report could not understand questions, were delusional, couldn’t tell the date or time, and didn’t understand the concept of deportation – for example, saying they wanted to be deported to New York. This is particularly important for the courtroom because impairments can be so severe that those who have them do not understand what is happening to them or what is at stake in the hearings they must attend.

The federal agencies involved in the deportation system are well aware of many of the problems cited in the report and the reports authors are cautiously encouraged by some recent steps to better handle people with mental disabilities. For example, The Justice Department’s Executive Office of Immigration Review recently expanded its guidebook for immigration judges to include a section on mental health issues. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the agency responsible for detaining people is also taking preliminary steps to better identify mentally disabled people from the outset and ensure they are treated appropriately.

But there are many problems that still need to be addressed. There is no tracking of date on how many mentally disabled people face deportation and it is only after much digging that the report uncovered that in 2009, of the nearly 392,000 cases in immigration courts, 15 percent involved people with mental disabilities. Tracking data is an essential first step. Secondly, the report calls for appointment of lawyers for all people with mental disabilities in immigration courts and recommends mandatory training for immigration judges to recognize mental disabilities.

In the meanwhile, cases like Michael’s continue. Michael claimed to be a U.S. citizen whose extended family was killed in Nigeria. Asked by an asylum officer why he feared deportation to Nigeria, Michael said he would be tortured,

I don’t know why they want to torture me. I’m a rich man. I’m god. They want to have me remove the plants from heaven to earth. Jay-Z and R-Kelly are some of them.

At another point in the credible fear interview, Michael claimed to hear his dead wife and President Obama speaking to him. The asylum officer wrote to reviewing authorities,

Applicant’s testimony was not credible because it was implausible. His testimony was implausible because it was delusional. It should be noted that applicant appears to suffer from psychosis. Therefore, this calls into question the entire credibility of his claim.

The officer also observed that Michael was at risk of persecution and maltreatment on account of his mental disabilities if returned to Nigeria. Despite the concerns raised by the asylum officer, an immigration court ordered Michael A. deported to Nigeria in April 2010.

It’s that time again to talk about racial profiling

There can be victories in the fight to stop racial profiling. But we need communities to come together and speak out against it.

For starters, you can have a conversation along with thousands of others on February 22 and Face the Truth about racial profiling.

While traditionally thought of as targeting the African American community, profiling affects a broad range of communities, including Native American, African American, Latino, Arab, Muslim and South Asian communities. More and more, it is being practiced in the name of national security. Not only is racial and religious profiling humiliating and degrading for the people subjected to it, it is unconstitutional, it is an ineffective law enforcement practice, and it continues largely unchecked, violating the human and civil rights of those targeted.

That’s why some of these latest victories are that much more exciting.

In East Haven, Connecticut, stories abound of police abuse against racial minorities, particularly against the Latino community that now comprises 6% of the town’s population. This is only an extension of long history of violence that began with the African American community. So everyone welcomed the decision of of the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate the East Haven Police Department after concerned citizens filed complaints about the Department’s profiling and harassment of Latinos.

In a similar victory, a Maryland court ordered the Maryland State Police to turn over records on how they responded to complaints of racial profiling, scoring a victory for the NAACP and ACLU. The ruling has been a long time coming in the battle against the racial profiling practices of the Maryland State Police, often referred to as the “Driving while Black” litigation. Triggered by a phonecall from Robert Wilkins, an African-American attorney who had been stopped, searched and detained by the Maryland police for no specific reason, the NAACP and ACLU filed a complaint which was finally settled in 2003, where they were assured greater training of officers, an easier system to report racial profiling,  and greater transparency. Five years later, with very little improvement on the ground, the groups filed a request to see records of investigations conducted around the complains of racial profiling. The state police refused to make some of the records public, a refusal finally overruled this month by the States second highest court.

Last but not least is a bill introduced in the Georgia Senate prohibiting racial profiling introduced by Senator Gloria Butler. 26 states currently prevent racial profiling of motorists. The bill has come on the heels of extensive advocacy by local organizations like the ACLU of Georgia and their partners who have held town halls and released reports calling attention to the pervasive problem of racial profiling in their state. The story of how Mark Bell, an African American man, was continually harassed by a police car during a simple trip to the grocery store one evening, is but one in a number of cases in which communities of color are harassed and detained by the Cobb County police, resulting in a mistrust of local law enforcement within the community.

So what are you waiting for. These may be success stories but much more needs to be done. Tune in to host a conversation now.

Photo courtesy of NewBlackMan Blog

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo courtesy of www.newhavenindependent.org