As if SB1070 isn't bad enough, here comes the "anchor-baby" bill

From the Restore Fairness blog.

In an interesting new take on Arizona’s anti-immigrant law, Arizona attorneys Maria V. Jones and Kara Hartzler give us a glimpse into just how flawed and impractical the law is. Once it gets implemented on July 29th, the lawyers claim that it has the potential to completely overwhelm the state’s court system. Jones, chairwoman of the bar association’s Immigration Law Section, referred to the law’s ambiguous and “legally onerous” clauses and said that “SB 1070’s implementation will create the legal-system equivalent of stepping into a minefield.”

The lawyers said that once enforcement of SB1070 begins, the number of civil and criminal cases in the courts could triple overnight, and while they were quick in passing the law, the government has done very little to prepare for it by way of additional funds and staff for a state court system that “already has a backlog of cases.” The Arizona attorneys were especially critical of the provision in the law that allows local residents to sue the authorities for not enforcing it properly. If they are cautious about detaining people, they could open themselves up to lawsuits claiming they failed to execute it. On the other hand, if they enforce it too aggressively, as the law enables them to do, then police could end up detaining a number of U.S. citizens, which could lead to “wrongful-arrest lawsuits,” Hartzler says. Either way, it places local law enforcement in a no-win situation that could be costly, complicated and quite counter-productive.

By placing U.S. citizens who look “reasonably suspicious” of being undocumented in danger of being detained, the implications of SB1070 would be reminiscent of the terrible consequences of the “Chandler Round-Up” of 1997, when police officers spread out across Phoenix looking for undocumented immigrants. In a terrifying 5-day crackdown that involved questioning children while they were walking home from school, dozens and dozens of legal residents and U.S. citizens were detained for speaking Spanish or looking Mexican.

This time around, we still have no guarantee that SB1070 will not lead to racial profiling. In an extremely disturbing defense of the law by Iowa Congressman Steve King, he stood by the aspects of the law that could lead police to stop people based on their appearance saying that racial profiling is an “important component” of law enforcement. Reminding us of Senator Bilbray’s comments about how trained officers could identify undocumented people based on their clothes and shoes, Rep. King said-

Some claim that the Arizona law will bring about racial discrimination profiling. First let me say, Mr. Speaker, that profiling has always been an important component of legitimate law enforcement. If you can’t profile someone, you can’t use those common sense indicators that are before your very eyes. Now, I think it’s wrong to use racial profiling for the reasons of discriminating against people, but it’s not wrong to use race or other indicators for the sake of identifying that are violating the law…It’s just a common sense thing. Law enforcement needs to use common sense indicators…what kind of shoes people wear, what kind of accident they have, um, the, the type of grooming they might have, there’re, there’re all kinds of indicators there and sometimes it’s just a sixth sense and they can’t put their finger on it.

A law that calls for police officers to detain people based on their shoes, their “grooming, what type of “accidents” they have and the officer’s “sixth sense.” Can it get worse than this? Well it just did.   Arizona Republican state representative John Kavanagh announced his plans for introducing a bill that will disallow children born to undocumented parents in the United States from automatically gaining citizenship. Referred to as the “anchor baby” bill, Kavanagh’s bill has already come under direct criticism for contradicting the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The 1868 amendment that allowed for citizenship for freed slaves, accords citizenship to “all persons born or naturalized in the United States.” Not surprisingly, Russell Pearce, who is the main author of Arizona Senate Bill 1070, is a key sponsor on the new legislation, which Arizona Republicans intend to introduce in this fall. According to Pearce and Kavanagh, this law only serves to preserve the 14th amendment by ensuring that it does not continue to be “hijacked” by immigrants.

It is becoming more and more apparent that these new pieces of anti-immigrant legislation are functioning as conduits for hate and racism in ways that are extremely disturbing. In the face of these developments, we must remember the core tenets of the Declaration of Independence, equality, freedom and dignity, that enable us to strive for values of fairness and due process for all, regardless of our national origin, race, religion, or citizenship.

Photo courtesy of aolnews.com

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Vulnerable communities react to Arizona's new law

From the Restore Fairness blog.

Last Thursday, 10 year old Katherine Figueroa sat in a room in a Capitol Hill building in Washington DC telling Members of Congress about her personal encounter with immigration enforcement. Fighting back the tears, the young girl pleaded to the Democratic Members of Congress who were assembled, “Please tell President Obama to stop putting parents in jail, all they want is a better life for their kids.”She told the story of how her aunt took her in after her parents were arrested by Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s deputies. “I would also have bad dreams where the Arpaio deputies would take my aunt, her family and me to jail,” Katherine said. This brings to mind the poignant question from a second grader that caught the First Lady Michelle Obama off guard last month, with her honest fear for her family momentarily forcing the issue out of the political realm and into reality.

Katherine’s testimony was part of an ad-hoc Congressional hearing that took place in a packed committee room on Capital Hill and was attended by Democratic Members of Congress. One of the witnesses, Silvia Rodriguez, thanked Colorado Democrat Jared Polis for referring to her as an “American,” saying that it was one of the first times she had ever been called one. Her testimony and obvious pain brought tears to Rep. Polis’ eyes.

The event, a forum for Members of Congress to hear the stories of  women and children who were directly affected by Arizona’s harsh anti-immigrant law, SB1070, had been organized by Arizona Democratic Rep. Raul Grijalva and a number of labor and civil rights organizations such as the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, the National Domestic Worker Alliance, the AFL-CIO, the Family Values at Work Consortium and Jobs with Justice. The aim of the hearing was to illustrate the direct impact that extreme immigration enforcement measures such as SB1070 have on women and children, who are the most vulnerable members of immigrant populations, to demonstrate the extremely urgent need for a comprehensive overhaul of existing immigration laws, and to pressure the Obama administration and Congress to prevent the implementation of SB1070. Silvia Rodriguez, the witness mentioned earlier, appealed directly to President Obama at the end of her testimony. She said,

The only time that I felt to be the slightest happy, or accepted or proud by this country was when President Obama won his presidency. For him to not step up and fulfill his promises, really, really breaks a lot of hearts.

President Obama’s campaign promise of immigration reform fade from memory as such legislation looks less and less probable in this election year. Unless blocked by any of the five legal challenges that have been filed since Gov. Brewer signed the bill in to law on April 23rd, SB1070 is scheduled to take effect on July 29th. In addition to the horrific stories presented by the women at the June 10th hearing, community groups such as Puente, working on the ground in Arizona, have reported a massive increase in incidents of racial discrimination since the law was signed. While race has always been directly linked to immigration law, measures such as SB1070 have spurred on more instances of discrimination such as the case of a blood bank in Arizona refusing to take the blood of people who only speak Spanish.

Opposition to the tough measure has been coming from all sides, and most minority groups and communities of color worry that they will be targeted by its harsh clauses that allow police to stop and question people based on the degree to which they appear “reasonably suspicious” of being undocumented. Most recently, the country’s largest Native American reservation, the Navajo National Council, voted to officially oppose Arizona’s new enforcement measure during a special session convened for this purpose. Council Delegate Kee Allen Begay sponsored the measure which he thinks will definitely be used to harass Native Americans, specially given the strong resemblance between the Hispanic communities and Native Americans.

As opposition to the law grows, so does copy-cat legislation in other states across the country. On Saturday, Texas Republicans voted for a law that would require police officers to immediately check the immigration status of people arrested on suspicion of a crime, even before their culpability on the crime has been proven.  It is imperative that the Federal government wakes up to the large-scale detrimental effects that a laws like Arizona’s SB1070 will have on communities, on state unity, and on the economy.

Photo courtesy of csmonitor.com

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ICE rolls out detention reforms on one hand, and endorses stun-guns on the other

From the Restore Fairness blog.

Immigrations and Customs Enforcement has not been able to keep itself out of hot water recently. Between the agency’s own admissions of mismanagement, a leaked memo, records highs in deportations, and the recent sexual assault cases in detention centers calling for greater oversight, ICE has been under a lot of fire from civil rights advocates to fulfill their delayed promises of overhaul and detention reform.

In the context of ICE’s multiple misadventures, an internal ICE email obtained by the Houston Chronicle a few days ago comes as a huge relief to advocates as it announces a series of concrete changes that ICE is planning to implement at several privately owned detention centers. The 28 changes listed in the email range from superficial changes like “softening the look of the facility” with new paint, new bedding, hanging plants and “fresh carrot sticks,” to more substantive ones like eliminating pat-down searches, lock-downs and lights-out for low risk detainees, providing unmonitored phone calls and email access, extending the duration that visitors can stay, increasing attorney access and allowing low-risk detainees to wear their own clothing or non-penal attire.

Beth Gibson, ICE’s senior counselor to Assistant Secretary John Morton and a leader of the detention reform effort, has committed to some of the changes being carried out within 30 days, while others will take up to 6 months to be effected. The changes outlined in the email are slated to be implemented in nine detention facilities in Texas, Arizona, New Jersey, California and Georgia, all owned and managed by the Corrections Corporations of America, one of the nation’s biggest private contractors that ICE uses for immigrant detainees. It does not seem like a complete coincidence that ICE and CCR decided on these changes while CCR is under investigation for allegations of sexual assault against one of their guards at a Texas facility, who allegedly groped female detainees on their way to being deported.

Most important is the much needed shift in philosophy behind immigrant detention that ICE senior counselor Beth Gibson attested to when speaking about the changes. Speaking about the purpose of detention facilities, she said-

When people come to our custody, we’re detaining them to effect their removal…It’s about deportation. It’s not about punishing people for a crime they committed.

Increasing recreational activities for low-risk detainees and introducing dance, cooking, computer classes as well as movie nights and and a dinner menu that has expanded to include a vegetable bar might seem like minor changes, but are, in fact, hard fought victories for immigrant advocates. Lory Rosenberg, policy and advocacy director for Refugee and Migrants’ Rights for Amnesty International was pleased with the changes. She said-

A lot of these measures are what we’ve been advocating for. Many of these points are very important to changing the system from a penal system, which is inappropriate in an immigration context, to a civil detention system.

As expected, there has already been opposition to the reforms from various quarters. Union members are worried for the safety of the staff at the detention facilities, and feel that the absence of pat-down searches and lock-downs could be potentially dangerous as “some detainees may be classified as low-risk because they have no serious criminal history but still may be gang members that haven’t been caught doing anything wrong yet.”

When it comes to local jails that house immigrant detainees, it is precisely this argument of jail administrators and union members that seems to have won. Ironically, while ICE makes detention reform plans that lean towards a more humane and less penal detention system, the agency has simultaneously relaxed their ban on the use of stun guns or tasers on detainees in local jails. When a Sheriff’s Deputy in a Sherburne County jail used a stun-gun on Salaad Mahamed (a pre-trial immigrant detainee who had come to the U.S. seeking political asylum) in 2007, the action was in violation of federal immigration standards for the treatment of immigrant detainees. ICE had banned the use of Electro-Muscular Disruption Devices (Tasers) for safety reasons in 2003, and gave the Sherburne County jail in Minnesota an evaluation rating of “deficient” for its use of stun-guns on detainees.

However, while Mahammed, who was shot in his hand and testicles for arguing with a guard over a TV channel, suffers from incontinence, impotence, mental trauma and blackouts as a result of his ordeal, in August of 2009, ICE seems to have relaxed its ban on Tasers and reversed its previous “deficient” rating for Sherburne County jail to “acceptable.” This shift seems largely attributable to pressure from local law enforcement that runs these jails, and their insistence on having the same rules apply for “civil detainees and jail inmates who live under the same roof.” Worse still, ICE only communicated this change in policy directly to the individual jails it deals with, without making a public announcement of it. Helen Harnett, director of policy for the National Immigrant Justice Center in Chicago, which monitors detainee treatment was shocked at the change. She said-

It’s a radical shift. I think the reason it’s so surprising is Secretary Napolitano and ICE assistant secretary John Morton announced a series of changes. They called it ‘an overhaul to the immigration system to make it truly civil,’ and there’s a lot of staff at ICE national working on this change right now.

As long as ICE continues to rely on the disparate combination of government-run detention centers, private facilities and local jails to house immigrant detainees, there will continue to be extreme inconsistencies in detention conditions across the board. Moreover, promising reforms supporting a more humane civil detention system, while sanctioning violence against detainees at the same time shows a drastic contradiction in detention policy from within ICE itself that needs to be addressed before more and more people suffer life-long trauma and even death at the hands of immigrant detention.

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Reform vs. Enforcement- Game on!

From the Restore Fairness blog.

Since they began their epic journey at the beginning of the year from Miami to DC to fight for a path for citizenship for undocumented youth, the Trail of Dreams students have continuously inspired us with their unwavering courage and determination. After they delivered their demands for the DREAM Act to President Obama, they walked from Scottsdale to Phoenix last week for the National Day of Action to protest Arizona’s new draconian, anti-immigrant law that authorizes local police with immigration powers. On the way back home, they made a pit-stop in Maricopa County where they met with Sheriff Joe Arpaio, infamous for his “reign of terror” against immigrants in Arizona. In their letter requesting a meeting with the Sheriff, the Dreamers wrote-

We would like to discuss the enforcement measures in your county…We also come to show support for the proud immigrants of the Phoenix area, many of whom live in constant fear of harassment by members of your Sheriff’s Department. We want to share our stories so that you understand what it’s like for the millions of immigrants in this country who are unable to fully participate in society due to our broken immigration system.

Three of the the five students are undocumented and Sheriff Arpaio has made no bones about arresting undocumented people in the past, but the students were determined to confront him with their personal stories and ask him to become their ally in the fight for immigration reform. Sheriff Arpaio recently told reporters during a press conference that “Instead of taking them [the undocumented] to ICE, take ‘em to me. I have plenty of room in the tents.” While a complete change of heart for Arpaio might be a little far-fetched, his 45-minute meeting with the Dreamers was reasonably friendly, down to a hug between Sheriff Joe and Gaby Pacheco, one of the students. When asked why she would want to hug a man who has criminalized and persecuted so many immigrants, Gaby said-

I hugged him because I wanted him to feel the pain that our community has been feeling. But also to tell him that as a human being I don’t fear him. I told him with tears coming down that in his heart he has good, and that he has the ability to come back, you know. He was astray and doing these horrible things to our community, but he has the power in his heart to come back and fight with us against these unjust laws.

Probably aware that being too hostile to the students would lead to a massive media frenzy, the Maricopa C0unty Sheriff told the students (with the press present at the meeting) that while he is compassionate towards the plight of undocumented immigrants, he had to continue to do justice to his job of enforcing the immigration laws as they appear in the law books. The student activists told the Sheriff that they had been brought to the United States as children, had contributed to society and the country, and would not know what to do if deported back to the countries in which they were born. After sharing his own stories about living in Venezuela and Colombia during his time with Drug Enforcement, Sheriff Arpaio told the students that their demand for immigration reform would have to begin at a federal level. He left them with the  words, “You keep fighting the fight, make sure you get to D.C. and talk to the politicians.”

Taking Sheriff Arpaio’s cue, activists in New York City have been fasting to push Congress for immigration reform. On Tuesday, ten undocumented students began a hunger strike on the sidewalk outside Sen. Charles Schumer’s midtown Manhattan office to urge him to pass the DREAM Act. When asked how long they intended to continue, the group’s spokesperson, Gabriel Martinez who recently graduated from John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said they would stick it out on their blankets outside Schumer’s office “as long as we can hold.” In addition to the students, 40 activists, including New York politicians and clergy, met at Battery Park to initiate a 3-day fast for comprehensive immigration reform yesterday. Most of these fasters intend to spend the remainder of the strike at the Judson Memorial Church in Greenwich Village. In New York itself, in the past three weeks, 109 activists have been arrested for blocking traffic in front of the government immigration agencies in downtown Manhattan.

These are the latest in a long series of protests, rallies, marches and boycotts that have been taking place across the country. Spurred on by Arizona’s controversial, anti-immigrant law, immigration advocates and activists have been expressing their frustration over the inaction of the Obama administration and Congress over the issue of immigration reform. Meanwhile, Gov. Brewer, who is responsible for signing off on Arizona’s new law, SB1070, was scheduled to meet with President Obama today. Gov. Brewer requested the meeting to speak to the President about her frustration with the lack of federal action in securing the border. Recently, the same Governor told CNN that she was unconcerned about the possibility of the Department of Justice putting up a legal challenge to the new law. “We’ll meet you in court. I have a pretty good record of winning in court,” she said.

Let’s hope the White house stands its ground. Stay tuned!

Photo courtesy of twitter.com/izofice

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Despite scorching heat, tens of thousands march for justice against SB1070

From the Restore Fairness blog.

 

On Saturday, May 29th, while the hot Arizona sun seared with temperatures in the high 90s, Phoenix saw the largest demonstration against SB1070 since Gov. Brewer signed the controversial bill into law on April 23rd. Ten of thousands of protesters marched down a five mile stretch in central Phoenix, wearing white shirts, waving American flags, chanting, singing, beating drums and carrying umbrellas to shield them from the unrelenting sun.

The diverse crowd of marchers who had flown in from states as far as Rhode Island and Louisiana, as well as Wisconsin, Texas, Illinois, Chicago, Seattle, Los Angeles and San Diego, made do with whatever sleeping arrangements they could find. Justin Akers Chacon, for example, a college professor from San Diego who, with 100 other people, reached Phoenix on Friday night, slept on sleeping bags provided by the organizers at a warehouse in downtown Phoenix. “There is a seriousness and confidence that we’re all here for the right reasons,” he said.

Just before 10am on Saturday morning, the marchers set off from Steele Indian School Park, with the first group of protesters reaching the Capitol at 12. 30pm. Along the way, organizers handed out bottles of water while people chanted and held up signs that read “We are not criminals, we are humans,”"Si Se Puede,”"Heroes against racism,”"We are all Arizona,”"Legalization or no re-election,” and the ubiquitous “Do I look Illegal.”While a number of people took breaks along the way to get some shelter from the heat, there were no arrests or untoward encounters with the police. Although police declined to give an official estimate of the size of the march, organizer’s estimates ranged from 50,000 to a 100,000 people.

A Los Angeles Times article covering the May 29th National Day of Action mentions the diversity of the crowd of protesters that included families and people of all ages. 68 year old Dennis DuVall, a retired bus driver, drove 100 miles from Prescott, Arizona to be there and show his support. He said-

It’s my civic duty. It shows commitment. People are willing to come out and walk five miles in 100 degrees. It’s important.

The Baez family, including Juan and Guadalupe Baez, their six children between age 2 and 18, and Guadalupe’s mother had driven down from San Diego the previous night. They all wore T-shirts that said-

We are hard workers, not criminals! We believe in USA justice. Arizona’s SB 1070 is not justice.

At the rally, Rev. Warren Stewart of the First Institutional Baptist Church in Phoenix called upon President Obama saying, “”God put you in the White House. You are a person of color. Stand with us.” Echoing the basic asks that Alto Arizona had listed before the National Day of Action, most of the speeches at the rally were directed at President Obama, demanding that he reassert the Federal Government’s control over immigration law by revoking all partnerships between local law enforcement and ICE, and put an immediate end to Arizona’s law, SB1070, which effectively makes it a crime to be undocumented, and, by allowing police to question anyone who looks “reasonably suspicious” of being undocumented, effectively mandates racial profiling.

While the thousands of opponents of the harsh new law marched down Phoenix’s avenues in the height of the day’s heat, those in favor of the law waited till the sun had gone down to hold a smaller rally at a stadium in the suburbs. Predictably, this crowd was mostly middle-aged and white, holding signs saying “Illegals out of America,” while speakers repeatedly insisted that there was nothing racist about their rhetoric. This rally had been organized by Tea Party groups from St. Louis and Dallas who aimed to support the state against boycotts protesting the law by states like San Francisco and Seattle.

As it stands, the law is slated to come into effect on July 29th, unless it is overturned in the courts before that. At the moment, the state is expecting a possible litigation from the United States Justice Department, which, under the leadership of Attorney General Eric Holder, is considering challenging the law on the grounds that it has “pre-empted” Federal powers, and violated Federal civil rights statutes. In preparation for this, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer has made it very clear that she does not want Arizona attorney general, Terry Goddard (who is a Democrat that has expressed his opposition to SB1070) to be defending the state in the event of the lawsuit from the Justice Department. She has made her decision to remove the attorney general from this case, and said that the legislature has given her the power to use outside counsel “because of its lack of confidence in the Attorney General’s willingness to vigorously defend” the law. Terry Goddard, who is a possible challenger in Gov. Brewer’s bid for re-election, told the New York Times that he was “definitely defending the state” in any legal challenges to the law.

We can only hope that the commitment and determination of all the students, workers, families and activists who showed up to protest the draconian SB1070, pays off, and that by channeling all our frustration and anger at the inhumanity of this law, the events on May 29th are translated into direct action against the implementation of such a harsh measure.

Photo courtesy of the New York Times

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