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

From the Restore Fairness blog.

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.

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Promising Harvard sophomore, Eric Balderas, faces deportation

From the Restore Fairness blog.

Until two weeks ago 19 year old Eric Balderas was a sophomore on a full scholarship to Harvard University with a major in molecular biology and the ambition of becoming a cancer researcher. In an instant, he went from representing the promise of the country’s future to being threatened with deportation to Mexico, a country that he has no recollection of.

Eric, who is undocumented, was on his way back to Boston to start a summer research internship after visiting his family in San Antonio, Texas. When he tried to board his flight at San Antonio airport, he found himself being questioned about his immigration status by TSA officials who then alerted Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Eric was immediately handcuffed, fingerprinted and placed in immigration detention for five hours before being given an immigration hearing date and then released. Eric, who usually used his Mexican passport to board domestic flights within the U.S. had recently misplaced it, prompting him to use a Mexican consulate card and his Harvard ID on this present occasion. On a phone interview with the Associated Press he said-

I’d made it through before so I thought this time wouldn’t be any different. But once ICE picked me up I really didn’t know what to think and I was starting to break down…All I could think about was my family…

Eric told the press that he even contemplated suicide as he sat handcuffed. Shook up by his time in detention, Eric is fearful about being forced to drop out of college and return to Mexico. Eric moved to the U.S. at the age of 4, when his mother fled Mexico to escape domestic violence. As far back as he can recall, he has worked hard towards his dream of going to college and working for cancer research. Growing up, his mother worked 12-hour days packing biscuits while he babysat his younger brother and sister and juggled his homework. Speaking about his aspirations he said-

I honestly never thought I’d make it into college because of my status but I just really enjoyed school too much and I gave it a shot. I did strive for this.

Eric’s experience is a tragic example of a broken immigration system that needs fixing so that young people that have been in the country for most of their lives and are working hard to contribute to the country’s future are given a chance. Since he was detained, Eric has engendered wide support from civil rights activists, advocates and an active online community. Over the past ten days, Eric’s story has been covered by major press publications such as NPR, The Wall Street Journal, The Huffington Post, The Associated Press and ABC News, and he has become another poster child for the DREAM Act (Development Relief in Education for Alien Minors Act), an important piece of legislation which would provide a path to citizenship for the thousands of young people like Eric Balderas and Jessica Colotl who were brought to the U.S. as children and know no other country as home.

Universities such as Harvard, Brown and Tufts have been pushing for the passage of the legislation, which has been stalled in Congress since 2001. A year ago, Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust met with Senator Scott Brown to urge him to support the measure. Christine Heenan, Harvard’s vice president of public affairs and communications, spoke of the institution’s complete support for Eric and others like him. She said-

Eric Balderas has already demonstrated the discipline and work ethic required for rigorous university work, and has, like so many of our undergraduates, expressed an interest in making a difference in the world.

Advocates and “Dream Activists” across the country have been pushing their state senators to move the DREAM Act legislation forward. If passed, the DREAM Act would permit those who came here as children (under the age of 16), and have lived here for more than 5 years, to gain legal status after completing the necessary steps such as two years of college or military service.

Eric, who previously participated in DREAM Act actions such as the “Coming out of the Shadows” day in March has taken the opportunity to become vocal about the plight of students like him. In an interview with the Harvard Crimson, he reassured his fellow Dreamers that just as he has received massive support from people around the country, there is strength in solidarity and hope for a just solution. He said-

Just hang in there. Let others know of your problem and try and gain support for the DREAM Act, because that’s ultimately what’s going to save us all.

Let’s hope that Eric is allowed to fulfill his dreams, and that others do not have to endure what he is going through.

Photo courtesy of americasvoiceonline.com

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False hype about crime in border cities has tragic implications

From the Restore Fairness blog.

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

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Obama announces decision to send 1200 troops to the border

From the Restore Fairness blog.

In the run-up to the November elections, the White House seems to be succumbing to political pressure to increase immigration enforcement, border security and deportations, rather than fix the broken immigration system.

So it was no surprise to hear the President’s decision to send 1200 National Guard troops to the Southwest border between the Unites States and Mexico. The White House also called for an additional $500 million to fund “increased agents, investigators, and prosecutors, as part of a multi-layered effort to target illicit networks trafficking in people, drugs, illegal weapons, and money.” The move is being compared to a “scaled down version” of President Bush’s decision to send 6,000 troops to the border from 2006 to 2008. Common to both cases, the idea is that rather than enforce immigration law, the additional troops take over support issues so that more U.S. Border Patrol agents are free to handle law enforcement. According to the Associated Press, the troops will work on-

…intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance support, analysis and training, and support efforts to block drug trafficking. They will temporarily supplement border patrol agents until Customs and Border Protection can recruit and train additional officers and agents to serve on the border.

Since the White House announcement hit the headlines yesterday, it has received criticism from both sides of the debate. Those in favor of harsher enforcement have deemed it “insufficient”. Republicans such as John McCain and Sen. Russell Pearce, author of the controversial Arizona bill SB1070, have critiqued it saying that 1200 troops without the authority to enforce the law will do little to secure the borders. Advocates of immigration reform have denounced the President’s decision as political pandering that simply pays lip service to the issue without attempting to solve it. Ali Noorani of the National Immigration Forum said the move is a waste of resources-

Deploying additional National Guard without a clear strategy to end arms or drug smuggling is a response to tired talking points. Without true immigration reform, the political theater will continue and billions will continue to be wasted on misguided border security measures.

Organizations and elected officials representing border communities from San Diego to Brownsville have drafted a letter to the Obama Administration and federal legislators strongly opposing the decision to send the National Guard to the U.S.-Mexico border. These communities feel that the decision is  motivated solely by political motives, rather than based on the needs of those at the border. The letter reads-

“While DC politicians like to paint the border as a war zone, the reality is that it is one of the safest areas of the country. Crime is down. Even immigration flows are down. The only emergency here is a political one,” said Pedro Rios, with the American Friends Service Committee in San Diego, one of the signatories of the letter. However, the militarization of the border is not without consequences for the communities who live there. Economies are choked by inefficient border crossings, civil rights are pushed aside, and quality of life is seriously diminished. It is time to rethink our border policy.  Increasing the quantity of armed agents and soldiers on our southern border does not enhance our national security, but in fact undermines it by mis-allocating resources. Humane border policies would focus quality law enforcement resources on real threats in the region, while protecting the rights and well-being of border residents.

On the one hand President Obama has repeatedly mentioned the need for bipartisan immigration reform that focuses on keeping families together through a humane, but workable solution, and his criticism of Arizona’s new anti-immigrant law was clear on that front. On the other hand, all actions that have been taken by the Obama administration around immigration have involved increased enforcement including the expansion of 287g and the Secure Communities programs, the highest investment on border security to date, and an all time record in detention and deportations.

Today, the Senate is about to vote on amendments to the Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act, which if passed, will increase immigration detention, enforcement and border security. Amongst these are amendments introduced by Sen. John McCain  and Sen. Jon Kyl which call for the deployment of an additional 6,000 troops and additional funding for Operation Streamline at the border. In the wake of the recent White House announcement, it is imperative that we urge the Senate not to increase detention and border enforcement, and instead, focus on restoring fairness and justice to the immigration system. Call your Senator today before it’s too late.

Photo courtesy of LA Times.

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Federal Criminal Probe of WV Mine Disaster, in Wake of Another Mine Tragedy in KY

Earlier this week, it was saddening and unfortunate to hear of two deaths in a Kentucky coal mine operation.  Two men were found dead in the Dotki Mine, in Hopkins Co, Kentucky. The mine is associated with Alliance Resources and is, yet again, a non-union operating mine.  Tragedy struck when the roof of a portion of the mine collapsed. 

The mine was reported to have had a large fire that caused a lot of damage back in 2004.  

Some may not recall that the Dotiki Mine was the scene of a major fire on Feb. 11, 2004. The blaze caused no injuries, but it took several days to extinguish the fire and several weeks to restore the mine. The effort also demanded considerable resources from MSHA.

source:  MSHA Staffer Kathy Snyder

The rise in mining related deaths in the recent month has prompted President Obama and his administration to take a deeper look at the MSHA organization and increasing mine safety in the U.S.

The Bush Administration did a poor job in improving MSHA and mine safety throughout the country.  Elain Chao, coincidentally Sen. Mitch McConnell's wife, was Secretary of Labor under Bush.

Once Elaine Chao, Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell's wife, became Secretary of Labor, which oversees the MSHA, she, according to Jack Spadaro, an MSHA engineer investigating the spill, put on the brakes. Two years later, Massey was assessed a slap-on-the-wrist $5,600 fine. The same year, Massey's PAC donated $100,000 to the National Republican Senatorial Committee, which was chaired by McConnell. And Massey's CEO Don Blankenship has personally donated millions to the campaigns of judges and politicians.

Courtesy of Arianna Huffington

Conflict of interest much?  I Shall let you draw your own conclusions.

Here is President Obama's statement after the Kentucky mine tragedy

I am deeply saddened by the loss of two miners in Kentucky, and my thoughts and prayers are with the loved ones they left behind. As I said after the tragedy in West Virginia, I refuse to accept any number of miner deaths as simply the cost of mining. It is the responsibility of all of us, from mine operators to the federal government, to prevent such tragedies from happening again. That is why my administration is taking steps to demand accountability for safety violations and strengthen mine safety so that all of our miners are protected.

Thanks to the Charleston Gazette, and everyone at Coal Tattoo, for the ongoing news and coverage of anything mine related in Appalachia.

Another source of information from Coal Tattoo is in regard to Massey Energy.  A federal criminal probe is currently underway after the Upper Big Branch mine disaster earlier in April that killed 29 miners in Raleigh County West Virginia.  

A federal law enforcement official says the FBI has interviewed nearly two dozen current and former employees of Massey Energy in a criminal probe of the West Virginia mine explosion that killed 29 men.The official says in the interviews over recent days the FBI has been looking for any evidence that the company engaged in criminal negligence.

Several other sources, besides this report from AP, are also commenting on the investigation including Reuters and NPR.  NPR aired news that there is an investigation going on involving bribery of federal MSHA officials, but according to sources at Coal Tattoo this is wrong/has not been confirmed. 

More updates to come I'm sure.

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