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Harsh SB1070 copycat laws on the horizon in 2011

Following the tragic shooting in Arizona, there has been a call for greater civility and tolerance in the political and public spheres with the hope that a more reasonable path would be favored by all. However, news of  numerous states introducing legislation similar to Arizona’s harsh, anti-immigrant law, SB1070, doesn’t bode well for the new year.

On Tuesday, the Mississippi Senate passed SB 2179, a copy cat SB 1070 legislation that allows local law enforcement officers in Mississippi to demand proof of citizenship from drivers whom they have pulled over for traffic violations. The bill will now make it’s way to the House for consideration.

From the Clarion Ledger-

“The bill would authorize local law enforcement officers to check a person’s immigration status if “reasonable suspicion” exists that the person may be in the country illegally during any “lawful stop, detention or arrest.”

The bill’s chief backer is Sen. Joey Fillingane, a Republican in a chamber that is predominantly Democrat. Reports by the Clarion-Ledger indicate that Fillingane considers SB 2179 an improvement on SB 1070 because, according to him, SB 2179 only allows officers to inquire about a person’s citizenship status as part of a secondary search, once they have already been stopped for a different, ‘primary’ offense, such as a traffic violation. The issue remains, however, that a significant percentage of racial profiling takes place when people are stopped for minor traffic violations, during stops that are at the officer’s discretion, often without accountability on the part of the officer. Further, in addition to the ways in which this law can lead to racial profiling, it is important to note that the legislation will also cost the state additional costs of housing, transportation, and hiring experts.

Following in the footsteps of Mississippi, states like Florida, Iowa, Oregon, Nevada, Georgia, Tennessee and Kentucky are all contemplating Arizona-style immigration laws, with conservative legislatures and governors responding to the lack of federal action on immigration by taking immigration enforcement into their own hands. There are also concerns in Oklahoma, Nebraska and New Mexico, all of which are slated to usher in anti-immigration legislation.

In Virginia a group of House Republicans recently announced plans to put forward at least sixteen bills aimed at undocumented immigrants including bills that would ensure that children without documentation could not attend public schools and colleges. Del. L. Scott Lingamfelter, who is taking the lead on these bills said that state action was called for in such areas where the federal government had “completely failed.” The bills that they unveiled on Tuesday included legislation that would require authorities to check the immigration status of anyone “taken into custody,” and to ensure that the check would apply even to those who were arrested and released on bail or bond before being taken to jail. Virginia already denies driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants and all taxpayer-paid services except those expressly required by law such as education and emergency medical care. The  laws proposed by this group seek to challenge even those by denying public education to children who are undocumented.

When questioned by the Washington Post, David B. Albo said that while this package of anti-immigrant bills was motivated by Arizona’s SB1070 law introduced in 2010, they were of the opinion that the laws they propose were moderate in comparison to SB1070 and hence had a chance at passing where SB1070 did not.

A consideration for lawmakers on laws similar to SB1070 are the costs involved. For example, the Senate Bill 6, Kentucky’s Arizona copy cat law, is estimated to cost the state $40 million a year in expenses.

According to the Lexington Herald Leader:

“…..A 2008 study estimated that, if Kentucky successfully removed all of its undocumented immigrants, it would lose $1.7 billion in economic activity, $756.8 million in gross state product, and approximately 12,059 jobs. Meanwhile, Arizona’s Hotel and Lodging Association reported a combined loss of $15 million in lodging revenue due to meeting cancellations just four months after its immigration bill’s passage due to an economic boycott that was waged against the state”.

Skeptics of Arizona style immigration laws are also looking at the issue purely from the point of view of business and how such laws are detrimental for the economic prosperity of the state in question. Lawmakers opposing the bills argue that states proposing such legislation are being “fiscally irresponsible.“For example, in just four months after passing SB 1070, Arizona lost an estimated $141 million in visitor spending.

While debates around the politics, efficacy, economics and constitutionality of laws such as SB 1070 continue to rage, it is easy to forget that eventually it is individuals and their families that are most adversely affected by these laws. As more states think of taking immigration enforcement into their own hands, it is important to keep in mind that when we deny due process to some and compromise their civil liberties, we compromise the human rights of all.

Photo courtesy of the Associated Press/Al Behrman

ICE announces results for 2010, but are the numbers misleading?

In a press conference held on Wednesday to announce Immigrations and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) results for 2010, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano declared that in 2010, 392,862 undocumented immigrants were deported from the United States, more than in any previous year. In an effort to highlight the Obama administration’s focus on deporting those who were guilty of crimes, Napolitano announced that about half of those deported (195,772) were convicted criminals. In addition to the surge in numbers reflecting ICE’s commitment to “removing those who pose public safety threats to our communities,” Napolitano attributed the figures to the expansion of the ‘Secure Communities’ program, a partnership between ICE and the Department of Justice that allows ICE access to information about every individual as soon as he/she is arrested by local or county law enforcement.

Napolitano announced on Wednesday that since it was initiated by DHS in 2008, the ‘Secure Communities’ program has expanded from 14 jurisdictions to 660 counties and cities around the country. The goal of the Obama administration is for the entire country to be participating in the program by 2013. It has become increasingly clear that this, and other immigration enforcement programs that involve ICE partnerships with local law enforcement, work to drive huge numbers of people into detention and deportation, incarcerating even those who have not been proven guilty of crimes, and completely break down the crucial separation between immigration enforcement (a federal issue) and law enforcement (that takes place on a local and state level).

For all these reasons, the program has come under attack from immigrant rights advocates who see it as a dangerous means bv which the DHS can drive huge numbers into the net of deportation so that they look tough on immigration, while breaking down the trust between communities and their local police. In addition to this is the danger that such partnerships give way to racial profiling of individuals who “appear to look undocumented,” by local law enforcement.

Due to these issues, as well as a glaring lack of information, transparency and accountability on the part of ICE, a number of counties have chosen to opt out of the Secure Communities program. Recently though, there has been a lot of controversy around whether or not it is indeed possible for local jurisdictions to opt out, as was originally indicated in a letter sent to Congress by Secretary Napolitano on September 7. While counties like San Francisco and Santa Clara, California opted out of the program, it is only when Arlington, VA and Washington DC recently attempted to withdraw from the program, that it became apparent that it is not, in reality, voluntary. As explained by a Washington Post article, the way the program works makes it impossible for counties to withdraw their participation-

Secure Communities…relies on the fingerprints collected by local authorities when a person is charged with anything from a traffic violation to murder. The fingerprints are sent to state police, and then to the FBI, for criminal background checks. Under the two-year-old program, ICE is able to access the information sent to the FBI…The only way a local jurisdiction could opt out of the program is if a state refused to send fingerprints to the FBI. Since police and prosecutors need to know the criminal histories of people they arrest, it is not realistic for states to withhold fingerprints from the FBI – which means it is impossible to withhold them from ICE.

D.C. Council member Jim Graham, who voted to opt out of the program expressed his frustration at ICE-

…It is extremely disappointing because it means the District of Columbia now has a blurred rather than a bright line between what the Metropolitan Police Department is doing and what immigration officers are doing. e had a bright line, and that has increased trust and confidence in our police among immigrant communities. That will now vanish.

A coalition of immigrant rights groups including the Center for Constitutional Rights and the National Day Laborer Organization Network have criticized ICE for its conflicting information and misleading numbers. They hold that based on statistics obtained from ICE, nearly 80% of people who were detained as a result of Secure Communities were either convicted of very minor offenses such as traffic violations, or not criminals at all.

Secretary Janet Napolitano ended her speech by calling on Congress to reform the existing immigration laws in ways that they are concurrent with the needs of the country. Moreover, it is imperative that we have an overhaul of the immigration system in a way that includes fair and just enforcement policy and human rights for all.

Photo courtesy of flickr.com

Conservative evangelicals are pro-life and pro-immigration reform

Take the statement: “Pro-life Christian conservative groups stand headstrong against Obama’s recent pro-abortion policy in Pennsylvania.” Most know this to be true.   But what about these: “All members of these groups criticize Obama for his acts toward socialism and immigration reform,” or  ”All are currently printing out pictures of Obama with the Hitler mustache.” These two are surprisingly false.  The truth is that some pro-life Christian conservatives are evangelicals who support Obama’s initiative for immigration reform.

While immigration reform continues to polarize communities and divide our country, it also has fostered a constructive conversation and relationship between conservative evangelicals and Obama.

According to a blog post in the Washington Post, evangelical Christians are supporting immigration reform because their membership largely composes of Hispanics and other sections of the ethnic and immigrant constituency.

Latinos make up a growing segment of their congregations – for some, it is the fastest growing. Religious leaders are aware of this, Rev. Samuel Rodriguez said.  He adds,

They want to show that they care about the issues that are important to their members.

Therefore, evangelicals refuse to repeat the mistakes of the past, when a wall emerged between the African American church and the evangelical community because many evangelicals opposed the Civil Rights movement. Today, they refuse to see that wall emerge between evangelicals and the large immigrant constituency which supports them.

Dr. Richard Land, President of the Southern Baptist Convention Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, sees comprehensive immigration reform as a biblical mandate—and worries that conservatives will burn bridges with the country’s fast-growing Hispanic bloc if they take a hard anti-immigrant line.  Describing political similarities between Hispanics and white Southern Baptists, Land recently told CNN,

Hispanics are hard-wired to be like us on sanctity of life, marriage and issues of faith.  I’m concerned about being perceived as being unwelcoming to them.

Evangelicals recognize immigration reform as a biblical imperative of reconciling the rule of law with compassion for the stranger. In this case, they support interpreting the rule of law with compassion for immigrants.

The fact that these pro-lifers support a Democratic President shows that in some cases they refuse to follow party politics and, instead, take political action based on what they think is morally and ethically correct.

In response to an article on the Opinion Streams blog, Rob J posts,

GOP leadership…exploits the name of God and bastardizes our ideals to foment hatred, division and racism and to engender animosity toward Christians by associating us with a platform that is anathema to God’s love.

So far, Organizing for America records 454 evangelicals who support Obama.

The morally-based mindset of these evangelicals should signal to those in America that it is necessary to place aside party politics and platforms while deciding which laws should govern our nation. If we are striving to establish bipartisan immigration reform, we must lessen Congressional polarization. We can only approach bipartisanship if we think for ourselves, and support an immigration policy that works to accept all communities.

Photo courtesy of www.patheos.com

Department of Justice vs. Arizona

In the short time since Arizona passed SB 1070 into law, it has become one of the strongest and most controversial symbols of our nation’s debate on immigration. SB 1070 requires the police to stop anyone that has a “reasonable suspicion” of being undocumented but once enacted, it is believed that may well lead to unconstitutional racial profiling and a breakdown of trust between police and the communities they protect. But SB 1070 is also emblematic of the frustration that many have with our broken immigration system, a sign that states have decided to take immigration into their own hands as Congress remains in a deadlock over immigration reform. The latest catalyst for this debate -  a lawsuit filed by the Department of Justice brought against the state of Arizona and SB1070 on July 6th, 2010.

Analysis over the implications of the lawsuit are rife in the media. Many are looking at the lawsuit and its potential for setting a new precedent with regards to the tussle between the federal government and state laws around immigration. Previous precedent shows a tendency for federal courts to side with the federal government on cases when states and cities pass laws that conflict with federal immigration law. An article in the Wall Street Journal traces this precedent back to laws in the 1880s aimed at limiting Chinese immigration. While the dispute could go either way, some analysts hold that that the federal court could only block sections of the law, while allowing some others to be enforced.

By bringing a lawsuit against the state of Arizona, the Obama administration (via the Justice Department) has taken a strong stand against the law. But an article in the Washington Post discusses further implications of this stand. The article quotes the Democratic strategist who spoke about the implications of the lawsuit for the Democrat party -

There is probably some short term pain politically given how popular the law is…But considering the demographic changes the country is undergoing, long term, there is a lot of upside in advocating for Latinos and comprehensive immigration reform.

While the Obama administration is advocating for comprehensive immigration reform, the Democrat party has continued to play safe so as not to alienate the large electoral base that supports the Arizona law and other enforcement heavy approaches to immigration. On the other hand, many Republicans, who support the law and an enforcement heavy approach, continue to emphasize a secure border-then reform approach, a rhetoric that leads to little progress on the issue. Republicans such as Senator John McCain,who previously argued for comprehensive reform, have abandoned their support of an immigration overhaul in the face of resentment and anger from within the party as well as from anti-immigrant groups such as the Tea Party Movement.

In the midst of all these actions are ordinary people suffering disruptions to their everyday lives on account of an immigration system that remains unjust and broken.

Photo courtesy of americasvoiceonline.org

Let’s get real about harsh anti-immigrant laws and their implications

The small town of Fremont, Nebraska is the latest in a series of U.S. towns that have decided to take immigration law into their own hands. On Monday, the 21st of June, 57% of the town’s 25,000 residents voted in favor of a law that would ban landlords from renting to people that were undocumented, and ban employers from hiring people without the correct immigration documents. The measure will require city officials and employers to verify people’s immigration status before taking them on as employees or tenants.

The arguments in support of this measure are similar to those heard in Arizona from those that support SB1070, the Arizona law that makes it a misdemeanor to be undocumented in Arizona and sanctions local law enforcement to stop people who appear reasonably suspicious of being undocumented. In Fremont, those in favor of the anti-immigrant ordinance attribute it to the Federal government’s inaction on the issue of immigration. A resident of Fremont, Trevor McClurg thinks that it is a fair measure. He said, “I don’t think it’s right to be able to rent to them or hire them. They shouldn’t be here in the first place.”

Speaking to the Associated Press, 56 year old Alfredo Velez, who runs a general store in Fremont and is an American citizen, has a very different opinion. Surprised by the law, he was only certain about one thing. “We’re not welcome here,” he said, expressing concern about the future of the town’s Hispanic population and his store, Guerrero, which sells products from Central America and Mexico. The town, about 35 miles northwest of Omaha, has seen its Latino population grow in leaps and bounds in the last decade due to the availability of jobs at the nearby Fremont beef and Hormel factories. Velez, who is the father of four and has lived in the town for 12 years, considers it home and has no plans of leaving, but was incredibly hurt by the high percentage of residents that voted to get the anti-immigrant ordinance passed. An owner of a building downtown, he is certain that if passed, this law will scare people away from the town, chasing away many potential renters.

The probable implications of a law like this are huge, and can run much deeper than deterring immigrants from settling in the town. In addition to inciting racial discrimination and racist sentiments, laws like this often result in length legal battles, the costs of which have to be filled by town taxes. In Fremont, the American Civil Liberties Union has already planned to file a lawsuit opposing the new measure. Explaining the motivation behind such bills, Amy Miller, ACLU Nebraska’s legal director said-

I’m afraid this is part of a larger, nationwide trend, most obviously typified by what has happened in Arizona,”There is no rational reason for Fremont to be worried about protecting our border. But it is a community, like many in rural Nebraska, where the only population growth has been in new immigrants, many of them people of color.

ACLU Nebraska has two main problems with the bill. She feels that in addition to immigration policy being a federal function, the measure violates the14th amendment of the constitution, which guarantees due process to everyone in the U.S., not just American citizens. Other cities with similar ordinances such as Hazelton, PA and Riverside, NJ, have faced lawsuits that have kept the laws tied up in the courts, preventing them from being implemented and resulting in extremely high legal costs for the cities. City officials in Fremont are estimating up to $1 million dollars as the cost of the ordinance, including legal fees, employee overtime and computer software, not taking into account the deduction in city taxes that will take place as a result of the law driving away people who fear being targeted by it.

And it isn’t just small towns that are passing laws such as this. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 5 other states (South Carolina, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Michigan) are looking at copycat legislation, and as per a Washington think tank, NDN, 17 other states had expressed interest in similar laws. Lawmakers in cities such as Fremont should learn a lesson or two from Arizona when executing harsh anti-immigrant measures such as this.

Even before Arizona’s SB1070 has been implemented,it has been responsible for sizable numbers of people, especially Latinos, leaving their homes in Arizona and moving to other states. Although there is no official data tracking the numbers of people leaving, piecemeal information from businesses, schools and health centers indicates that since Gov. Brewer signed SB1070 on April 23rd, the populations of Hispanic neighborhoods is dwindling. Latino families that are frightened about the repercussions of the law for their children and community, are pulling their children from schools, leaving their jobs and uprooting their lives to move elsewhere, in moves that are highly risky given the current economy. According to Alan Langston, president of the Arizona Rental Property Owners & Landlords Association in Phoenix, landlords and realty companies will be hard hit by the new law. In Phoenix’s Belleview street, home to a large Latino population, now more than half of the properties have “for rent” signs hanging outside them.

Additionally, dozens of healthcare clinics in Arizona are concerned because people are too afraid of being questioned about their immigrations status to show up to their appointments. Tara McCollum Plese, a spokeswoman for the Arizona Association of Community Health Centers, which oversees 132 facilities said that people are either moving away or too afraid to turn up, and the health care workers are worried about the implications of people resisting treatment. “We’re actually worried about communicable diseases,” said Tara, speaking to the Washington Post. Educators are worried that with so many children being pulled out of schools, they may be forced to cut programs and lay off teachers, since lower enrollment means funding cuts for schools. According to the Washington Post-

Parents pulled 39 children out of Balsz Elementary, which has a 75 percent Hispanic student body, since April 23…In the small, five-school district, parents have pulled out 111 children, said district Superintendent Jeffrey Smith, who cites the new law as the leading factor. Smith said each student represents roughly $5,000 in annual funding to the district, so a drop of 111 students would represent roughly a $555,000 funding cut.

Small businesses like grocery stores and car washes are already feeling the impact of the law as well, having lost up to 30% of their business in the last two months. Most recently, Phoenix’s police chief released an estimate saying that once implemented, the enforcement of SB1070 would cost the city of Phoenix up to $10 million per year, as a result of the clause that makes it a criminal, rather than civil offense to be in the state without the correct documents.

State legislatures taking immigration law into their own hands can have a potentially devastating impact on the economies and communities of their states. It is imperative that the Federal government acts to pass immigration reform before more states follow suit. Take action now and write to Congress and President Obama to pass comprehensive immigration reform that upholds due process.

Photo courtesy of dsnews.com

End it. Not mend it. Message to the administration over failed immigration program.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the agency responsible for detention and deportations of immigrants, is on a roll. Haitian earthquake survivors and mentally ill detainees are amongst those locked up in inhumane detention centers. Memos leaked last week confirmed a desire for growing deportations of immigrants. And now, the government’s own agency, the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General delivers a scathing critique of ICE’s 287(g) program that gives local police the power to enforce immigration law.

60 police forces across the country have signed agreements with ICE that allow their local officers to detain suspected immigrants for deportation. Various reports have documented racial profiling concerns, but the government has failed to listen. Even Members of Congress and police foundations have spoken out against the program, which diverts scarce resources from the police and endangers community safety as people are afraid to report crimes.

The OIG points out serious flaws in ICE’s 287(g) program for its lack of training, oversight and transparency, and its failure to protect against racial profiling and civil rights abuses. In one example, a victim of a traffic accident who was also an immigrant was taken straight to the local jail until federal officers arrived to check his legal status. And although the program is supposed to focus on “Level 1″ offenders or those who have committed serious crimes, almost half of those reviewed had no involvement in such crimes, revealing a misdirection of resources.

The issue around a lack of supervision is grave. “In the absence of consistent supervision over immigration enforcement activities, there is no assurance that the program is achieving its goals.”This has led to severe violations, with Sheriff Arpaio type neighborhood sweeps to locate undocumented immigrants. Other horrific examples – Juana Villegas, 9 months pregnant, was detained on a minor traffic stop and remained shackled while giving birth, while Pedro Guzman, a mentally ill U.S. citizen was mistakenly deported to Mexico.

And finally, the 287(g) training of police officers is very inadequate. In one example, two officers who were enrolled in the program had been defendants in past racial profiling lawsuits, indicating a flawed selection process. The performance records of local officers are not examined properly while many officers are given only a cursory training in immigration law.

While ICE claims that the report was researched before it has made radical changes to the program, the changes that have been made are largely superficial and problems continue unchecked. Many groups consider this report a wake up call and have demanded the 287(g) program be “ended, not mended.” Take action to “Reign in the Cowboys at ICE.”

Photo courtesy of thenation.com

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Schumer and Graham release blueprint for immigration reform

It’s impossible for Congress to ignore the drumbeats of  a 100,000 people, descending on D.C. this weekend, to march for just and humane immigration reform. With the pressure for concrete action mounting, President Obama met Senators Charles Schumer (D-NY, head of the Senate’s Immigration Subcommittee) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) last week, giving them that much needed nudge to introduce immigration reform legislation into the Senate. The Senators for their part asked the President to be more engaged in getting support for immigration reform.

The two Senators have been involved in discussions about immigration reform legislation for months. Today, for the first time, we are seeing the framework for immigration reform in an Op-Ed in the Washington Post, no doubt triggered by a need for answers from those coming to D.C.

Throughout our history, immigrants have contributed to making this country more vibrant and economically dynamic. Once it is clear that in 20 years our nation will not again confront the specter of another 11 million people coming here illegally, Americans will embrace more welcoming immigration policies.

The framework, rests on four pillars: ending illegal employment through biometric Social Security cards, enhancing border and interior enforcement, managing the flow of future immigration to correspond to economic realities, and creating a tough but fair path toward legalization for the 11 million people currently in the U.S. without authorization.

The President welcomed the news.

I am pleased to see that Senators Schumer and Graham have produced a promising, bipartisan framework which can and should be the basis for moving forward.  It thoughtfully addresses the need to shore up our borders, and demands accountability from both workers who are here illegally and employers who game the system.

The announcement will no doubt trigger intense debate over the specifics of the legislation. But many feel that the framework marks an important bipartisan step forward. Any reform legislation must move away from an enforcement only approach and enact humane immigration policies which keep families together and restore fairness to the broken immigration system. Detention continues to be substandard and unjust while immigration raids and other enforcement actions continue to tear apart families, workplaces, communities, and congregations. The idea of a biometric card triggers many concerns about privacy and security.

Meanwhile the anti-immigration squad is playing out their strategies to counteract immigration reform. Yesterday, the Center for Immigration Studies released a 27 page report lashing out against immigration advocacy groups such as the National Council for La Raza and the Southern Poverty Law Center for “manipulating the press” with research and campaigns in favor of reform, clearly in retaliation to the extensive research done by these groups linking CIS with white nationalist and racist rhetoric. At the event to release the report, Campus Progress turned the tables by asking CIS Executive Director Mark Krikorian about a quote in one of CIS’s reports that said,

If small time con-artists and Third-World gold diggers can obtain green cards with so little resistance, then surely terrorists can (and have) done the same.

Krikorian’s response. The basis of the statement was justified but the language used,

it was colorful language that was too colorful. Um, but, is it beyond the pale, I would say no.

It’s exactly to counteract such racism that you need to be in D.C. this weekend. To get your voice heard above the racist din, call or tweet your Senator and write to your local newspaper. Not only do we need reform, we need good reform, and for that our voices need to get stronger and more urgent.

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Abounding protests kick off the New Year and highlight the pressing need for immigration reform

TrailofDreams 2009 witnessed neither abatement in the numbers of people detained by immigration enforcement, nor in the number of families separated as a result of deportation. And little progress was made towards advancing comprehensive immigration reform, except for the bill introduced by Rep. Gutierrez on December 15th. Consequently, 2010 has begun with a flurry of courageous and provocative protests by immigrant rights advocates calling for just and humane immigration reform ASAP.

On the 1st of January, four young student activists set out on a protest march in which they have committed to walking 1,500 miles from Miami, Florida, across the Southeast, to Washington D.C., arriving on the steps of  the Capitol on May 1st (a day that has become important for immigrant rallies in recent years). The walk, which has been called The Trail of Dreams, is inspired by the idea of non-violent resistance, and aims to strengthen and inspire the immigrant rights movement and help organize the advocate networks across the country to stand together for the passage of the Development Relief in Education for Alien Minors Act (DREAM ACT).

About 100 people gathered to see off the four walkers, Juan Rodriguez (20), Carlos Roa (22), Felipe Matos (23), and Gaby Pacheco (24), as they began their journey from the Freedom Tower in Miami. Over the next few months, the four will be chronicling their journey through a blog as often as they can. The walkers are all top students and community organizers at local colleges and expect students and supporters to join them along the way.  Since they are not all here legally, they face a high risk of exposing themselves to immigration agents over the duration of their walk.  “We are aware of the risk,” Felipe said to the New York Times. “We are risking our future because our present is unbearable.”  From an article in the Washington Post:

All say they are willing to take the risks that come with bringing attention to the plight of students who, like themselves, were brought to the U.S. as children and are now here illegally. “I’m tired of coming back to school each semester and hearing about another friend who was picked up and deported,” Juan Rodriguez told a group of supporters during a recent gathering.

Also on the first day of the new decade, after sitting down to their final meal together, another group of brave and committed individuals in Florida began the Fast for Our Families protest, in which they have initiated an indefinite fast in the name of all those people who have lost, and continue to lose, loved ones due to deportation, detention and raids.

The fasters include a Haitian mother who is facing the threat of being separated from her children, a Puerto Rican man whose wife faces deportation, and a female professional truckdriver, the initiator of the fast, who lost her business and her livelihood when she was deported in 2005 after living here for 18 years, when her ex-husband reported her to the authorities. She came back to the country to be with and support her three children, and was subsequently put under surveillance by ICE. Today she wears an electronic bracelet and faces deportation.

One of the fasters is Jon Fried, a 50 year old man who has been involved in social justice and labor movements for 35 years and runs the organization We Count! On day 2 of the fast, he wrote:

Five of us are fasting indefinitely, as long as it takes; our target is President Obama and our goal is to get him to use the legal authority he has, now, without Congress, to suspend the detention and deportation of immigrants with American families, those who have US citizen children and/or spouses…This decision to fast was not taken lightly. I was tired of getting phone calls from a mother, a father, a brother, a sister saying that their loved ones, their family, was taken away by ICE…

Most urgently, the cost is too high. Now. It’s too painful. It’s too horrific. My friends and neighbors shouldn’t be collateral damage in a political scheme. Parents and youth ripped from their families is not an acceptable cost. Thousands of people marked and tracked with electronic shackles, living in fear of being taken away from their loved ones every time they report to ICE or its private contractors, is not an acceptable cost. Young people being deported to homelands they hardly remember is not an acceptable cost. It is time to say to President Obama: This is on your watch.

Together, the participants of the Trail of Dreams and the Fast for Our Families campaigns hope to build momentum and push the current administration towards just and comprehensive immigration reform that asks for:

1) EQUAL ACCESS TO HIGHER EDUCATION
2) A pathway to citizenship
3) An end to the separation of families
4) And a deliberate and radical shift from the federal funding of raids, detentions and deportations to better educational opportunities for ALL the youth of America!

There are a number of ways that YOU can get involved and show your support towards these bold efforts.

For updated information about the Trail of Dreams, click here, and to follow the Fast for Our families, here. Also, join their facebook group to learn more about their personal stories.

Photo courtesy of www.nytimes.com

Expanding immigration enforcement programs – more harm than good?

Picture 1Today as expected, the Department of Homeland Security has announced an expansion of programs that deputize state and local police to enforce immigration law. Even though immigration is a federal matter, in the post 9/11 world, many believe that immigration enforcement should spread to a local level as an effective tool against terrorism. But in actuality, the programs create an environment of fear that discourage immigrant communities from cooperating with the police for fear of deportation, risking community safety in the process.

To date, the performance of the 66 participating agencies in these programs has been controversial. While the programs are meant to catch violent offenders, the bulk of those who have been caught include undocumented immigrants caught for minor or no offenses, which for a citizen would mean a citation at most or being let off. What’s been even more disturbing is the documented cases of racial profiling. As a Washington Post article reports,

Critics cited cases in which police conducted roadside stops and neighborhood sweeps aimed at Latinos and other ethnic groups, often arresting minorities for traffic and other minor offenses in pursuit of illegal immigrants.

The most controversial of the programs is the 287(g) program – notorious for its serious civil rights abuses and public safety concerns – but which according to the same article accounts for only a small fraction of the 135,389 illegal immigrants apprehended. The Department of Homeland Security made pledges to fix the program , leading to a new Memorandum of Understanding with participating agencies, that would ensure a focus on only serious and criminal offenders. But it “expects” rather than “requires” such a provision, thereby making cosmetic changes that would do nothing to stop local law enforcement committing illegal profiling under the cloak of federal immigration authority.

For the vast majority of immigrants that have been swept up into the programs, a whopping  94 percent were found by checks at local and state jails. Yesterday, we posted on the Secure Communities programs, a program that lets the police arrest someone on a traffic or other offense – even if the arrest is based on racial profiling – and then have their fingerprints checked against immigration databases during booking.  When the fingerprint scan gets a “hit,” immigrants can end up getting carted off to an immigration detention center.  Again, nothing is being done to keep local police from using arrests on minor charges as an excuse to get immigrants into custody. And a new report from the Warren Institute on Race, Ethnicity & Diversity proves just thatpolice in Irving, Texas began arresting Hispanics in far greater numbers for petty offenses once they had round the clock access to immigration agents to deport serious criminal offenders.

Judging from the poster child of these programs, Sheriff Joe Arpaio, whose department in Maricopa County, Arizona, accounts for 20% of the nationwide arrests, allegations of racial profiling are not just hearsay. In an interview with CNN, Arpaio admitted that he judges undocumented people by “their conduct, what type of clothes they’re wearing, their speech, they admit it”. And even though the administration has taken away his powers to enforce immigration laws on the streets, he is claiming he doesn’t need permission from the federal government and is planning an immigration raid to prove it.

It’s disappointing that the administration is not only pursuing programs that have proven to be unbeneficial, but is expanding these in a move that makes little sense for those who understand the underlying issues.