Shortly after taking office, President Obama announced he'd close CIA prisons and end abusive interrogations of terrorism suspects by U.S. officials. But the Obama administration has notably preserved the right to continue "renditions" - the abduction and transfer of suspects to U.S. allies in its "war on terror," including allies notorious for the use of torture.
Although the Obama Administration in 2009 promised to monitor more closely the treatment of suspects it turned over to foreign prisons, the disturbing case of Gulet Mohamed, an American teenager interrogated under torture in Kuwait, casts doubt on the effectiveness of those so-called "diplomatic assurances." It's also raised questions about whether the "extraordinary rendition" program conducted by the Bush administration has now been transformed into an equally abusive proxy detention program run by its successor.
How does a U.S. citizen who has never been to Mexico, speaks no Spanish and shares no Mexican heritage end up being deported there, spending the next four months living on the streets and in the shelters and prisons of Mexico, Honduras, Nicaragua and Guatemala? It's just the latest instance of blatant disregard for the rights and well being of people with mental disabilities by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Mark Lyttle's brush with immigration officials began when he was about to be released from a North Carolina jail where he was serving a short sentence for touching a worker's backside in a halfway house that serves individuals with mental disabilities. Even though they had plenty of evidence that he was a U.S. citizen — including his Social Security number and the names of his parents — corrections officials turned him over to ICE as an undocumented immigrant whose country of birth was Mexico. (Mark is actually of Puerto Rican descent, but I guess when the government is trying to kick a Latino guy out of the country, the easiest place to send him is Mexico.)
ICE held Mark for six weeks, and though they knew about his history of mental illness and noted that he didn't understand the investigation into his immigration status, they provided no legal assistance in either his interrogation or court appearance and eventually deported him to Mexico. Penniless and unable to speak the language, he was sent by Mexican officials to Honduras, where he was imprisoned and threatened by prison guards. Honduran officials sent him to Guatemala, where he eventually made his way to the U.S. Embassy.
Within a day, embassy officials were able to contact one of Mark's brothers on the military base where he was serving and issue Mark a passport. His brother wired him money and Mark was soon on a flight to Atlanta. But adding insult to injury, upon seeing his history of ICE investigations, immigration officials in Atlanta held and questioned him for several hours before letting him go.
On October 13th, the ACLU and our affiliates in Georgia and North Carolina have filed lawsuits on Mark's behalf, but the question on my mind is "how could this have happened?" The answer, as reported by the ACLU and Human Rights Watch in a report issued this July, is that both ICE and the Department of Justice (DOJ) have failed to implement meaningful safeguards for people with mental disabilities facing possible deportation from the United States. The system fails to even live up to basic standards of the American justice system, such as the right to appointed counsel for people who must defend against deportation even when their mental disabilities make it practically impossible to understand what "deportation" means. As immigration attorney Megan Bremer has noted:
Due process is part of judicial integrity. It's a basic principle that this country has decided to prioritize. It's one of our greatest exports — we send people all over the world to talk about rule of law and how to reform judicial systems but we're not doing it here in our fastest growing judicial system [the immigration courts].
The result is that people like Mark who have a right to remain in the United States can be deported because they never get a fair chance to present their cases.
Mark's case is a tragedy that serves to underscore the deep systemic injustices that continue to plague our government's system of detention and deportation...Mark is just one of thousands of people in this country who have been victimised by a single-minded focus on detention and deportation without the kind of individualised determinations that are the essence of due proces.
Mark's story is a wake-up call. We hope that ICE and DOJ will implement reforms designed to protect the rights of people with mental disabilities now, before they accidentally put another citizen through the ordeal they caused for Mark Lyttle.
On Tuesday, July 6, 2010, the United States filed a lawsuit against the State of Arizona to invalidate, and stop the enforcement of, S.B. 1070 (as amended by H.B. 2162).
The United States, suing on behalf of itself, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice, and the Department of State, challenged Arizona's new law and argued that:
1. The Arizona law, as a whole, is invalid because it sets forth a state-level immigration policy that interferes with the federal government's preeminent authority to administer and enforce immigration laws; and
2. Sections 2-6 of the Arizona law are invalid because each section either conflicts with, or undermines, established Congressional objectives, federal enforcement and policy priorities, and/or existing federal laws and Constitutional principles.
Just over a month away from July 29th, the day that Arizona’s controversial immigration law, SB1070, is slated to go into effect, the situation seems poised for a clash between the Federal government and Arizona state over the law. In a rare moment in which the Federal government forcefully interferes with the affairs of a state, the Department of Justice has decided to file a lawsuit against SB1070, the Arizona law that makes it a misdemeanor for a person to be undocumented in Arizona. While the U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder had denounced the law in early May and announced that the Department of Justice was considering opposing the law, an official declaration of the Federal lawsuit was yet to come.
Until last week that is. The announcement that the Federal government was going to sue Arizona over SB1070 came from an unexpected, albeit official source. It became public last week that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had casually let the confirmation slip during a TV interview she gave while in Quito, Ecuador earlier this month. When asked by the interviewer about how the Obama administration was dealing with the controversial law that opponents feel will condone racial profiling by mandating that police officers question people on their immigration status based on their appearance, Secretary Clinton said-
President Obama has spoken out against the law because he thinks that the Federal Government should be determining immigration policy. And the Justice Department, under his direction, will be bringing a lawsuit against the act. But the more important commitment that President Obama has made is to try to introduce and pass comprehensive immigration reform. That is what we need, everyone knows it, and the President is committed to it...
Following Clinton’s interview, speculation on the matter in the media is rife. Justice Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said that the department "continues to review the law" but declined to comment any further. The department of Justice has been reviewing the law for some weeks now, presumably building its case against the law from the angle of civil rights violations and from that of the its infringement on immigration law enforcement, which is a Federal issue. Federal officials have hinted at the high probability of a lawsuit over SB1070 numerous times in the past few weeks. An official who is involved in reviewing the law and wished to remain anonymous said that "there is no reason to think" that Secretary Clinton’s comment was wrong. According to the New York Times-
...senior administration officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said a decision had indeed been made and only the details of the legal filing were still being worked out. These officials said several government agencies were being consulted over the best approach to block the statute, which, barring any successful legal challenges, takes effect July 29.
As expected, Arizona’s Gov. Brewer, who signed off on this controversial law, is "outraged" by the news of the Federal Government’s lawsuit. Her office has been quick to file motionsto dismiss the lawsuits against SB1070 that have been brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) , Mexican-American Legal Defense Fund, and the Asian Pacific American Legal Center. When news of a possible Justice Department lawsuit was first heard, Gov. Brewer had faced the challenge head-on saying, "We’ll meet you in court."
This time around Gov. Brewer was vocal in her displeasure that the news reached viewers in Ecuador before it was told to the people of Arizona. She released a statement saying that "this is no way to treat the people of Arizona." The Los Angeles Times quotes her saying-
To learn of this lawsuit through an Ecuadorean interview with the secretary of state is just outrageous. If our own government intends to sue our state to prevent illegal immigration enforcement, the least it can do is inform us before it informs the citizens of another nation.
While it is difficult to take Gov. Brewer’s appeal for the "people of Arizona" seriously under the circumstances, Clinton’s interview does come as a surprise, as it preempts an official announcement of the lawsuit by the Justice Department. State Department spokesperson Philip J. Crowley said that her comments were meant to address deep concerns about the new law in Latin American countries. He stressed the international implications of the law saying that "It is important to recognize that this has resonated significantly beyond our borders."
Speculation is that the Federal Government will file its case in the court in Phoenix in the week leading up to July 29. Joanne Lin, ACLU Legislative Counsel, reiterated the important of the Federal Government taking action against SB1070. She said-
The time for the Obama administration to take action against this egregious law is now. We urge the administration to move swiftly to stop this un-American law from going into effect. ...The administration should also take other concrete steps, in addition to filing a lawsuit, against the Arizona law. Administration agencies, including the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security, should suspend all cooperation with government officials and agencies in the state of Arizona on immigration enforcement matters as long as this law, which relies on racial stereotyping and profiling and interferes with federal immigration priorities and policies, remains on the books. Immediate action is essential to deter other states and localities from taking similar steps.
Watch Secretary Hillary Clinton’s interview with Ecuadorian channel, NTN 24.
Dawn Johnsen withdrew her nomination yesterday for head of the Office of Legal Counsel, saying in a statement,
Restoring OLC to its best nonpartisan traditions was my primary objective for my anticipated service in this administration. Unfortunately, my nomination has met with lengthy delays and political opposition that threaten that objective and prevent OLC from functioning at full strength. I hope that the withdrawal of my nomination will allow this important office to be filled promptly.
The withdrawal represents a major blow to progressive groups and civil liberties advocates who had pushed for Johnsen to end up in the office that previously housed, among others, John Yoo, the author of the infamous torture memos under George W. Bush.
But the votes, apparently, weren't there. Johnsen had the support of Sen Richard Lugar (R-Ind.) but was regarded skeptically by Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) -- primarily for her positions on torture and the investigation of previous administration actions. A filibuster, in the end, was likely sustainable. Faced with this calculus, the White House chose not to appoint Johnsen during Senate recess, which would have circumvented a likely filibuster but would have kept her in the position for less than two years.
What Johnsen insists must not be done reads like a manual of what Barack Obama ended up doing and continues to do -- from supporting retroactive immunity to terminate FISA litigations to endless assertions of "state secrecy" in order to block courts from adjudicating Bush crimes to suppressing torture photos on the ground that "opennees will empower terrorists" to the overarching Obama dictate that we "simply move on." Could she have described any more perfectly what Obama would end up doing when she wrote, in March, 2008, what the next President "must not do"? [...]I don't know why her nomination was left to die, but I do know that her beliefs are quite antithetical to what this administration is doing.