More Confusion Over Secure Communities: Did NY Make a Special Deal with Washington?

From the Restore Fairness blog-

Guest blogger: Catalina Jaramillo from Feet in 2 Worlds.

Immigrant advocates are increasingly worried about New York’s participation in the controversial fingerprint-sharing program Secure Communities.

Chung-Wha Hong, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition said that 79% of the people placed in detention facilities or deported under Secure Communities were convicted of minor crimes or had no charges filed against them at all.

“We are fine with violent criminals being deported,” said Hong. “That is not the problem. This program is supposed to do that.” But she said that’s not what’s happening. “The vast majority of people who are caught in this program are innocent, have no criminal background, or have minor violations where people do not deserve to get deported.”

The New York State Division of Criminal Justices Services and Governor David Paterson assert that New York has a special agreement with the Department of Homeland Security regarding Secure Communities. In an interview with Telemundo47, Governor Paterson said that local jurisdictions within the state can choose whether or not to participate in the program, which would automatically transfer the fingerprints of anyone arrested by local law enforcement to a Department of Homeland Security database to check the person’s immigration status.

This program that the Federal Government asked us to be a part of, in which municipalities have a choice of whether or not they can opt in or not — which is what New York State was able to receive as opposed to other states — guarantees that this is only high level security threats whose information will be transferred.

Yet, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano said on October 6 that the program was not optional.

On the other hand, John M. Caher, director of public information for the Division of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS), told El Diario that there was “a pledge made to this state by the Department of Homeland Security” that no community in New York will be forced to activate Secure Communities.  However, Caher said this is not discussed in the Memorandum of Agreement between New York and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). That document was signed by the Acting Commissioner of DCJS Sean Byrne.
Asked about other jurisdictions such as San Francisco and Santa Clara, California and Arlington, Virginia, who are trying to opt out unsuccessfully, Caher said he was not aware if those states received such a condition, so he was not sure if their experiences were relevant.

Ángela Fernández, executive director of the Northern Manhattan Coalition for Immigrant Rights and a strong critic of Secure Communities, said she hasn’t been able to confirm that New York State has a special deal with DHS.

“We said, can you show us another contract that says that New York is going to get special treatment on this issue, and they haven’t been able to produce it,” said Fernandez.  “They say there’s an email from the Department of Homeland Security that says that local jurisdictions can opt out. But we don’t feel confident with that.”

Attorney General Andrew Cuomo talked about Secure Communities while introducing the urban agenda for his gubernatorial campaign on Thursday.

The federal government is going to put out guidance on Secure Communities, and how they believe the states have to follow the law, obviously federal law would be the law and the state would ultimately follow the federal law. I think they have to be very careful in Secure Communities, because you don’t want to create a situation where people are afraid to report a crime, or afraid to testify, it could actually interfere with law enforcement and with public safety, so I think the federal government should tread very carefully.

Asked if there was a real possibility for local jurisdictions in New York to opt out of the program after Napolitano’s statement, Cuomo said “well that’s what we have to review.”

A statement sent to El Diario by Brian Hale, director of public affairs for ICE, established that if a county doesn’t want to activate Secure Communities they must ‘formally notify’ the state and ICE. Hale declined to elaborate further or explain exactly what that means. Hale added:

Secure Communities agreements are generally reached at the state level and activated locally on a set schedule. ICE seeks to work with local law enforcement agencies to address any concerns and determine next appropriate steps. If a jurisdiction does not wish to activate on its scheduled date in the Secure Communities deployment plan, it must formally notify both its state identification bureau and ICE.

Because of what advocates call ‘total confusion’ over whether it’s possible for local jurisdictions to opt-out, they are asking Governor Paterson to rescind the Memorandum of Agreement. It states that either party — the state or ICE — can terminate the agreement at any time on 30 days notice.

Comparing it to the stop-and-frisk database he limited the use of this summer, Paterson also told Telemundo47 reporter Luis Medina that advocates have to prove that Secure Communities affects low level offenders before he makes a decision. “I think there’s some confusion here. These organizations have to come forward and show us definitively that they have proof that the information was sent to INS (sic) on low level offenders, which is not what the intent of the memorandum of understanding is. If they can establish it, I will be happy to reconsider,” said Paterson.

Advocates say they are gathering evidence to send to the governor as soon as possible, but some say the facts have already been demonstrated.

“That’s ridiculous,” said Chung-Wha Hong of the New York Immigration Coalition. “There’s the New York Times editorial and there are cases. All he has to do is look at the cases that were submitted to the pardon panel. This is something that’s proven. So the ball is in his court, he needs to just make the decision.”

Photo courtesy of news.feetintwoworlds.org

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If you missed Restore Fairness' latest video on racial profiling, here's your chance

From the Restore Fairness blog-

This Sunday, October, 24th, Breakthrough‘s Multimedia Manager, Madhuri Mohindar, will present the Restore Fairness campaign’s immigration work at Union Docs in Brooklyn, New York on a panel titled, “Global Perspectives in Digital Media.” The panel will look at the ways in which digital technology and emerging platforms have opened up new ways of reflecting life around the world; technologies that have changed not only the medium, but also revolutionized the message and the ways in which it is received and acted upon. The panel, curated by Union Docs and Mandy Rose, will also feature producers from Video Nation (BBC 2)WSJ.comGlobal Lives, and Metropolis (VPRO).

In addition to discussing Breakthrough’s popular video game, ICED- I Can End Deportation, which was the first 3D video game on immigration and immigrant rights, Madhuri will screen a clip from our Restore Fairness campaign’s new documentary, “Face the Truth: Racial Profiling Across America,” produced in partnership with the Rights Working Group. Using powerful personal stories, this documentary showcases the devastating impact of racial profiling on communities around our country, including the African American, Latino, Arab, Muslim and South Asian communities. Besides compelling personal stories, the documentary features interviews with notable law enforcement and civil society leaders, all of whom decry racial and religious profiling as a pervasive problem that is not only humiliating and degrading for the people subjected to it, but one that is unconstitutional, ineffective as a law enforcement practice, and ultimately damaging to community security.

Take a look at Kurdish American Karwan Abdul Kader’s moving story in Face the Truth: Racial Profiling Across America-

Face the Truth: Racial Profiling Across America from Breakthrough on Vimeo.

Before you head to Union Docs, take a look at how the “Face the Truth: Racial Profiling Across America” documentary has been making waves across the blogosphere. Last week it was featured on Jack and Jill Politics, a popular blog that deals race and politics, in an article addressing Bill O’Reilly’s bigoted comments about American Muslims and the building of a mosque near the 9/11 site in downtown Manhattan. Most recently, the widely-read blog, Racialicious, also wrote about the documentary and urged people to watch it.

If you want to hear about how Breakthrough uses popular culture tools and digital media to build human rights culture, head over to Union Docs this Sunday, October 24, 2010. The panel runs from 7:30 – 10:00 pm, and is being held at  322 Union Avenue, Brooklyn, NY. For more information on the event, click here.

Photo courtesy of uniondocs.org

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Flip-flopping about a bad policy

From the Restore Fairness blog-

Guest Blogger: Margaret Huang from the Rights Working Group reposted from The Huffington Post.

Last week, the Arlington County (Virginia) Board sent a letter to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) notifying the federal agency that the County does not wish to participate in the “Secure Communities” Initiative (SCI). The letter is a result of a resolution adopted by the County Board on September 28th expressing the County’s intent to withdraw from SCI. Arlington County adopted its resolution based on the repeated public statements by DHS that local jurisdictions could choose not to participate in the program. Very little is known – or understood – about the “Secure Communities” program, in large part due to contradictory information disseminated about the program by DHS. What Arlington County residents do know about “Secure Communities” is troubling for supporters of community policing, civil liberties and human rights.

Consistently, independent reports on ICE’s cooperation with local law enforcement agencies (including one by DHS’s own Inspector General) found that such collaborations have frequently led to allegations of racial profiling and other due process violations. Police in some jurisdictions have used minor infractions – such as fishing without a license or driving with a broken tail pipe – to arrest people and check their immigration status.

It is simply wrong to say that these programs only affect undocumented immigrants. The function of local police is to investigate crime that threatens the safety of the local community; forcing them to also serve as immigration agents dilutes and directly impedes that core mission. Since there are no obvious visual indicators of a person’s immigration status, police default to race and ethnicity as a proxy. Targeting people – or even being perceived as targeting people – based on their perceived ethnicity or race destroys the trust between the police and the communities that they are sworn to protect. When a community loses trust in the local police, everyone’s safety is put at risk. If a witness to a crime, or even a victim of a crime, is afraid to call the police for help, then the police cannot do their jobs and community security suffers.

The “Secure Communities” program was not established by any law, and Arlington’s elected local and national representatives had no voice in whether or not to participate in this program. In Virginia, it was the Virginia State Police who signed an agreement with ICE imposing SCI on every county in the state. It is telling that Arlington’s law enforcement agencies have refused to participate in other ICE programs because of their concerns about the impact on community policing programs and their ability to protect community safety.

Recently, ICE has released conflicting messages about whether or not a local jurisdiction can opt out of the program. On September 7th, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano sent a letter to Congress stating that jurisdictions that wished to withdraw from the program could do so; another letter from the Director of the Secure Communities program to California officials last month also stated that a jurisdiction could pull out.

But in an October 1st Washington Post article titled, “Local jurisdictions find they can’t opt out of federal immigration enforcement program,” an anonymous ICE spokesperson stated that “…opting out of the program is not a realistic possibility – and never was.” And on October 5th, Secretary Napolitano held a press conference where she contradicted her written letter by stating that jurisdictions could not opt out of SCI.

Arlington County did the right thing in its resolution. The County Board stood up for democratic processes that engage elected officials and community members in a discussion about what’s best for that community. The resolution commended the Chief of Police and the Sheriff who have lowered County crime rates through effective community policing programs and who want to focus on stopping and solving crimes, not doing the federal government’s job on immigration. The County pointed out that no one at ICE asked Arlington whether they wanted to be part of this program. And the elected government officials placed the community’s safety first by restoring trust in local law enforcement.

With the resolution adopted on the 28th, Arlington joined Washington, DC, San Francisco, and Santa Clara County (California) in formally requesting to withdraw from SCI. Arlington residents hope that ICE will respond to the County’s letter by implementing its promised opt-out mechanism from the Secure Communities program.

Photo courtesy of nostri-imago @ flickr.com

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We call for dignity, not detention!

From the Restore Fairness blog-

When Esmeralda, a transgender asylum seeker from Mexico, came to the US seeking a place that was accepting of her identity, what she received instead was a horrific experience in immigration detention. Kept in a segregated cell with other transgender detainees, Esmeralda never realized that her experience in detention would match the trauma of discrimination she had faced back home. “They would handcuff us as if we were murderers and were trying to escape…. but we were not trying to run away,” she said. While handcuffed in a cell, she was sexually abused by an immigration guard, an experience which caused her deep mental and emotional trauma.

The US immigration detention system is in deep crisis. Since 1994 the number of detention beds has grown from 5,000 to over 33,000 with more than 1.7 million individuals passing through the system since 2003. The government is denying due process and fairness in our communities by detaining immigrants who pose no danger and are not a flight risk to the community in inhumane and unregulated detention centers. Hundreds of thousands of immigrants are detained each year. Transferred far away from their homes and families, there are many stories of detainees such as Esmeralda who are denied basic human rights, such as telephone calls, visitation,access to a lawyer, medical care, and they can be subject to physical and verbal abuse. Even with reported deaths of detained immigrants, detention conditions continue to decline.

Today, human rights groups around the country participated in a National Day of Action organized by Detention Watch Network to mark the one-year anniversary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Immigration Customs and Enforcement’s (ICE) 2009 detention reform announcement. The National Day of Action is part of the, “Dignity, Not Detention: Preserving Human Rights and Restoring Justice,” campaign led by the Detention Watch Network, which calls for an end to the human rights abuses in detention centers, the restoration of due process in the enforcement of immigration laws, and the implementation of cost saving alternatives.

As part of the Day of Action, Detention Watch Network released a joint report, Year One Report Card: Human Rights & the Obama Administration’s Immigration Detention Reforms, that it co-authored with the National Immigrant Justice Center and the Midwest Coalition for Human Rights. The report reveals that many of those detained still suffer egregious human rights violations while in custody. Immigrants continue to be jailed for months or even years under substandard conditions. Mistreatment by guards, grossly deficient medical care, use of solitary of confinement, and limited access to family and counsel remain persistent problems.

Detention should only be used as the last possible option and for the shortest amount of time. Currently, many vulnerable people, including asylum seekers, pregnant women, children, lawful permanent residents and even U.S. citizens are among those detained, without knowing how long they will be held or why they are being held. Instead of placing thousands in detention centers that cost tax payers $99 per day, DHS should improve legislation around the cost-saving community-based alternatives to detention such as conditional release, requiring people to check in either in person or by phone, bonds or financial deposits.

Participants in the National Day of Action are calling for the restoration of human rights within the detention system, and an end to programs that indiscriminately channel immigrants into the detention and deportation system. Coordinated actions occurred across the country in cities including Austin, TX, Freehold, NJ, Minneapolis, MN, Seattle, WA and Trenton, NJ.  For more information visit www.dignitynotdetention.org

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Powerful racial profiling documentary screened at Congressional Briefing

From the Restore Fairness blog-

Breakthrough’s Restore Fairness campaign showcased its powerful new documentary, ‘Face the Truth: Racial Profiling Across America’ at a briefing for Congressional staff on Racial and Religious Profiling in Washington, D.C. on Thursday September 30th. The documentary brings to life a new report by the Rights Working Group that was released along with 350 local and national partners on the one year anniversary of the Face the Truth campaign to end racial profiling. Along with compelling personal stories, the documentary features interviews with notable law enforcement and civil society leaders, many of whom were present at the briefing. Hilary O. Shelton (NAACP), Dr. Tracie Keesee (Denver Police Department) and Karwan Abdulkader (resident of Nashville subjected to racial profiling) are some of the speakers from the film who spoke in person to the packed room on September 30th.

“I’ve seen a lot in my life but to be degraded… not just stripped of my clothes, being stripped of my dignity, was what I had a problem with.”

As Kurdish American Karwan Abdulkader broke down while relating his story, listeners learned that he was detained and interrogated by local law enforcement for no reason other than driving around in the wrong neighborhood. His is one among many stories featured in ‘Face the Truth,’ a moving video that illustrates the devastating impact of racial profiling on communities around our country, including the African American, Latino, Arab, Muslim and South Asian communities.

Racial and religious profiling as a pervasive problem that is not only humiliating and degrading for the people subjected to it, but one that is unconstitutional, ineffective as a law enforcement practice, and ultimately damaging to community security. Both the video and report urge Congress to pass the End Racial Profiling Act (ERPA).

Watch the video NOW and urge Congress to pass the End Racial Profiling Act.

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