Breaking news- Department of Justice files lawsuit against Arizona law

From the Restore Fairness blog.

In a much anticipated move, the Department of Justice has filed a lawsuit against Arizona’s SB1070 today, retaliating against the harsh anti-immigrant law that requires local police to detain suspected of being undocumented. The law, slated to begin on July 29th, is the subject of national controversy coming under fire from civil rights advocates for giving racial profiling the green light.

The Department of Justice accuses the state of Arizona of crossing “the constitutional line” by interfering with the federal government’s authority to create and enforce immigration law. The lawsuit, with Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer and the state of Arizona as defendants, argues that “the Constitution and federal law do not permit the development of a patchwork of state and local immigration policies throughout the country”, drawing on the “preemption” doctrine which works off the Supremacy Clause in the U.S. Constitution, a clause that gives federal law precedence over state statues.

In our constitutional system, the federal government has preeminent authority to regulate immigration matters. This authority derives from the United States Constitution and numerous acts of Congress. The nation’s immigration laws reflect a careful and considered balance of national law enforcement, foreign relations, and humanitarian interests… Although states may exercise their police power in a manner that has an incidental or indirect effect on aliens, a state may not establish its own immigration policy or enforce state laws in a manner that interferes with the federal immigration laws…Accordingly, S.B. 1070 is invalid under the Supremacy Clause of the United States Constitution and must be struck down.

The lawsuit also challenges the anti-immigrant law saying that if enforced it will lead to the diversion of precious resources away from targeting those who have committed serious crimes. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder defended the lawsuit-

Arizonans are understandably frustrated with illegal immigration, and the federal government has a responsibility to comprehensively address those concerns…But diverting federal resources away from dangerous aliens such as terrorism suspects and aliens with criminal records will impact the entire country’s safety… Seeking to address the issue through a patchwork of state laws will only create more problems than it solves.

The brief also calls out the law on humanitarian grounds arguing that making the enforcement of law mandatory for the police will inevitably result in the unjust harassment and detention of foreign visitors, legal permanent citizens, and citizens who might not be able to immediately prove their legal status. Accompanying the lawsuit were declarations from many police chiefs, including from Tucson and Phoenix, who have said that if implemented, SB 1070 will hamper their ability to effectively police their communities.

Late last month Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that the Department of Justice was preparing to sue the state of Arizona over SB 1070, sending waves through the media and political networks. President Obama has spoken out against the law.

…the recent efforts in Arizona, which threatened to undermine basic notions of fairness that we cherish as Americans, as well as the trust between police and their communities that is so crucial to keeping us safe.

The federal lawsuit joins five other lawsuits against SB 1070, including a class action suit field by the American Civil Liberties Union on the grounds that it violates the First Amendment, encourages racial profiling, and interferes with the jurisdiction of the federal government. The government has asked for a preliminary injunction and delay in the enforcement of SB 1070 until the case is resolved. A hearing to decide this will take place on July 22nd in a Federal courthouse in Phoenix.

SB 1070 is a shocking example of what goes wrong when the need for comprehensive immigration reform is not addressed. When we allow our government to deny due process and fairness to some, we put all of our human rights at risk. The Arizona law has already resulted in copycat legislation in other states, which if allowed to continue unchecked will add more chaos to a broken system and further marginalize vulnerable groups.

By filing this lawsuit, the federal government has sent a direct message that they will not tolerate laws like SB1070 that instigate racial stereotyping and interfere with the federal enforcement of immigration law. In an address on immigration last week, President Obama called for bipartisan support to fix the broken immigration system.  Please keep up the momentum and write to President Obama and your Members of Congress to take action on immigration now.

Photo courtesy of politico.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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One year on: Gitmo is still open and immigration detention is as bad as ever

From the Restore Fairness blog.

Immigration detention is once again revealing fatal flaws, reaffirming the need to not only superficially reform the system as has been promised by the Obama administration, but completely overhaul it by reducing reliance on a penal system of punishment. As a New York Times opinion piece stated,

Americans have long known that the government has been running secretive immigration prisons into which detainees have frequently disappeared…..what we did not know, until a recent article in The Times by Nina Bernstein, was how strenuously the government has tried to cover up those failings.

Yesterday, reports came in of an ongoing hunger strike at Varick Federal Detention Facility in downtown New York, counteracted by immigration agents in riot gear who used pepper sprays and beat detainees.

A Jamaican detainee in one dorm said “all hell broke loose” after about 100 inmates refused to go to the mess hall on Tuesday morning and gave guards a flier declaring they were on a hunger strike to protest detention policies and practices. The detainee, who asked that his name not be published for fear of retaliation, said a SWAT team used pepper spray and “beat up” some detainees, took many to segregation cells as punishment and transferred about 17 to immigration jails in other states.

A detention center that sees 11,000 undocumented immigrants, asylum seekers, and legal permanent residents with convictions pass through every year, Varick has been in the news recently as Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced they will be shutting it down and transferring detainees to a county jail in Hudson County, Jersey. An ICE press release stated,

As part of its major overhaul of the detention system, ICE will suspend operations at the Varick Facility….a commitment to prioritizing health, safety, and uniformity among facilites.

No doubt Varick has had its share of problems. A petition sent by a 100 men from Varick talking of constant transfers to remote locations and lack of access to lawyers spurred an investigation by the New York City Bar Association which eventually led them to start a volunteer lawyers program for the facility. But many advocates and detainees alike feel that ICE has decided to shift responsibilities to other facilities rather than fix conditions at Varick, especially given the focus on misconduct in the facility in recent times. Many are worried that closing Varick would negatively impact detainees’ due process rights, including lack of access to both attorneys and families in Hudson because of the long distance from New York City and issues around visitation hours. Still others feel that the move comes to avoid all of those protests that have been happening outside of Varick lately. Activists have been protesting the deportation of Jean Montrevil, housed in Varick, that has led to traffic stops and multiple arrests outside the center. The New York Times reports,

Nancy Morawetz, a professor at the New York University School of Law and director of its Immigrant Rights Clinic, said, “There is probably no detainee at Varick Street who, despite the problems at Varick, wouldn’t prefer to be at Varick. This is really just moving away the problems where they’re not going to be seen.”

Senator Charles Schumer has written a letter urging that Varick stay open.

“They didn’t have a concept of New York — most people New York don’t have cars, whether they be lawyers or immigrant families, ” he said, noting that the agency had not consulted with him or any immigrant groups.

ICE has countered that at Hudson, detainees will have access to outdoor recreation space. But the jail is just a step up from Varick and is required to to treat immigration detainees the same as its criminal inmates, even though they have committed no crime.

The general mess around Varick is showing not only the challenges around reforming the detention system, but also the crucial need for legally enforceable standards for immigration detention, so that agencies can be held accountable, and the need for humane alternatives to immigration detention that ensures moving away from a reliance on a penal, punishment oriented system, neither of which are being addressed by the reforms. Take action now.

Program to stop border crossings diverts resources from more dangerous crimes

From the Restore Fairness blog.

Here’s more proof that current methods of immigration enforcement are unjust and inefficient. A Bush-era immigration enforcement effort along the U.S.-Mexico border called Operation Streamline is making us less safe in more ways than one – according to a new report released by The Berkeley Law Warren Institute.

Introduced in 2005 as a disincentive to border crossings, the “zero-tolerance” program requires the federal criminal prosecution and imprisonment of all unlawful border crossers. Instead, the program has led to unprecedented caseloads in eight of the eleven federal district courts along the border, leading to assembly-line justice and a serious lack of due process.

The report states,

Many Operation Streamline defendants complete the entire criminal proceeding – meeting with counsel, making an initial appearance, pleading guilty, and being sentenced after waiving a pre-sentence report – in a single day.

And while the numerous prosecutions are straining resources to the breaking point with overburdened judges, federal prosecutors and public defenders, it diverts scarce resources from fighting the roots of border violence: drug smuggling and human trafficking. As petty immigration prosecutions have increased in the border district courts, U.S. attorneys are forced to to cut back on prosecuting more serious crimes along the border.

In a New York Times article, Judge George Kazen of Laredo, Texas, has said,

The U.S. attorney isn’t bringing me those cases. They’re just catching foot soldiers coming across the border. . . . But they will tell you that they don’t have the resources to drive it and develop a conspiracy case.

As a result of Operation Streamline, between 2002 and 2008, Federal Magistrate judges operating along the border saw their immigration misdemeanor caseloads quadruple.

And despite their best efforts, it is extremely difficult for border jurisdictions to implement Operation Streamline without depriving migrants of due process and effective assistance of counsel. Chief Judge of the District of New Mexico, Martha Vázquez, has said,

The increase in our criminal caseload, especially in Las Cruces, has caused us to conduct hearings in a way that we’ve never had to conduct them before, and in a way that other jurisdictions don’t have to. . . . We have . . . up to 90 defendants in a courtroom.

Many defendants may have defenses that are not identified because of the speed and en masse nature of the proceedings.  These can include claims to immigration relief, such as eligibility for asylum or relief under the Convention Against Torture. Even U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents have been identified amongst defendants. This ultimately has consequences nationwide.

As Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Carolyn King has said,

we “can’t have a rule of law for the southwest border that is different from the rule of law that obtains elsewhere in the country.

The report recommends replacing Operation Streamline with a comprehensive and effective approach to border enforcement. This includes reverting to the longstanding practice of leaving unlawful border crossings to the civil immigration system, thereby stopping the draining the resources of the district courts, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the Federal Public Defender, and the U.S. Marshals Service.

Photos courtesy of www.law.berkeley.edu/ewi.htm.

Obama, pay attention to immigration reform as day 14 of immigration fast leads 3 fasters to ER

At a packed church in New York city on a cold wintry afternoon, hundreds of supporters shouted Si Se Puede! Yes we can! as New York’s immigrant communities, labor unions, faith leaders, business owners, elected officials and allies came together in solidarity with hundreds of groups across the country, renewing the call for 2010 to be THE YEAR to achieve just and humane immigration reform.

The rally comes together as actions across the country, from fasts to walks to civil disobedience acts, create mounting pressure for human rights and justice in the immigration system.

Fast for Our Families (Homestead, FL)

Since New Year’s Day, half a dozen immigrant rights activists, community leaders and affected family members have initiated an indefinite fast, vowing to take only liquids, until President Obama and the Administration agree to suspend the deportation of immigrants with American families until Congress acts to fix the broken immigration system. Today, on day 14, three fasters have been rushed to the emergency room after experiencing serious health concerns. Here’s an excerpt from their blog,

The doctor is here. Three fasters are going to the hospital. Francisco may have had a heart attack – the after symptoms point that way. He needs tests. He quietly asked me if he could come back to the fast after they do the tests. “I won’t let them give me food and I can come back, right?” It broke my heart.

Jonathan says he feels fine but the doctor insists that he go to the hospital as well. He has shortness of breath and an issue with his electrolytes that could point to something more serious. He’s determined to come back.

The doctor is recommending that Jenny and Ana go to the hospital as well. Jenny’s pulse and blood pressure are very low. Ana’s sugar is dangerously low. They pressure the doctor. “It’s my baby. It’s my life. You have to understand,” Jenny is declaring. I have tears in my eyes. The fast could cost her life and leaving her children could cost her life. How does one even begin to fathom that choice? How does it even come to that?

Send a letter to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano demanding a stop to separation of families.

Campaign to free Jean Montrevil from immigration custody and stop his deportation (New York, NY)

Jean Montrevil, an activist, leader and family man is currently in immigration custody, awaiting deportation to Haiti, for a crime he committed 20 years ago for which he paid his time. Today’s rally outside Varick Detention Center showed a growing amount of support and anger at Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s unjust actions.

Send an email to Department of Homeland Security urging for his immediate release.

Trail of Dreams (Miami to Washington, D.C.)

On January 1, 2010, a group of brave and passionate students from Florida’s Students Working for Equal Rights (SWER) embarked on a 4-month long journey from Miami’s Freedom Tower to the United States Capitol in Washington D.C., where they will join with thousands in a mass rally demanding urgently needed changes to immigration laws and policies on May 1st, 2010.

Find out how you can help and support the Trail of Dreams.

National Day of Action Against Sheriff Arpaio – Saturday, January 16th (Phoenix, AZ)

Join NDLON, Puente, and other immigrants’ rights groups in denouncing egregious abuses perpetrated against immigrants and people of color by Sheriff Joe Arpaio and demanding an end to 287(g), Secure Communities, and other forms of local police collaboration with immigration authorities that severely undermine public safety and the community’s trust to report crimes to police. Just today, an advertisement appears in today’s edition of The Arizona Republic newspaper where sixty black leaders have come together to condemn Sheriff Arpaio.

Here’s more info on how you can support the movement against Arpaio.

In the midst of the demand for reform, we wish to remember those in Haiti and offer our support and prayers for them.

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