U.S. Violating Constitutional Rights of Citizens and Undocumented Workers




Mohammed Uddin lived in New York City for 15 out of his 41 years. Back in Bangladesh, he wouldn't be able to get the life-sustaining heart medication he takes daily for a rare form of severe hypertension called Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome. On the tarmac at Harrisburg International Airport on May 13, 2008, about to begin the arduous journey back to Bangladesh, his blood pressure soared and he lost consciousness.

 Tioti Tong was crewing the Cap San Augustin when it docked at Philadelphia in August 2008. Other crew had stowed narcotics aboard, and the Department of Homeland Security heard about it. When agents raided the ship, Tioti was arrested with the other Kiribatian crew. Long after the Cap San Augustin departed and Tioti was cleared of all charges, he sat in Lackawanna County Prison for another year, speaking only Kiribatian, with no way home, forgotten by the government that had arrested him.

 Abed Asie is a citizen of no country. He snuck into this one five years ago. Found out, he threw up his hands and acquiesced to deportation at the first opportunity. For more than a year he languished in Pennsylvania prisons, dressed in prison orange and never setting foot outdoors, writing letter after letter searching for a safe way home to a land with no airport, no agreed-upon name, and no official government. The son of a divided family in a divided land, (his father is Jewish, his mother Muslim) he longs to return home to Nablus. His return has proved impossible, and he continues to wait for freedom in a Pennsylvania prison.

 The logistics of our immigration system are painful, particularly for these ACLU-PA clients, but to many our immigration system is just that-logistics. Each year, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) detains more than 300,000 people in "administrative custody" under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). Such custody is not accompanied by the procedural protections afforded convicted criminals. Immigrants arrested by DHS have no right to a lawyer. Often, no judge reviews their custody. They aren't given the same medical treatment as their cellmates-native criminals. They sometimes wait for years while the courts decide whether they may remain in the United States. They are assigned a number-an "Alien Registration Number" which they had best memorize, because it's likely that no one in the jails they'll visit will be able to pronounce their names.

 And, they will likely visit a lot of jails.

 DHS moves detainees any prison in the nation where it has "bedspace."  One woman, plucked from an Amtrak train during what was to be a brief station stop in Erie, struggled to recount the number and names of the Pennsylvania prisons through which she was transferred over the course of a 30-day period before she landed in front of an immigration judge at York County Prison. At each jail, she said, it was the same.

 "No one there could tell us why were being held, for how long or where we were going next. We were 'immigration,' and our jailors didn't know anything about that."

 Add to this the fact that friends and family of the detained person frantically phone government offices where no one answers in English, let alone Kiribati, and immeasurable, unnecessary suffering results.

 At least 11 Pennsylvania county prisons have contracts with DHS to hold immigration detainees: Allegheny County Jail, Berks County Family Shelter, Berks County Prison, Berks County Secure Juvenile Facility, Cambria County Prison, Clinton County Correctional Facility, Columbia County Prison, Erie County Prison, Lackawanna County Prison, Pike County Prison, and York County Prison.

 Most DHS detainees held in Pennsylvania have been arrested in greater New York City, New Jersey and Philadelphia after residing in the U.S. for years. They often present complicated claims for relief from removal based on U.S. family ties, length of time here and fear of return to their home countries. These people, who present strong arguments to remain, find themselves in detention the longest. On January 25, 2009, 551 of 1,135 immigrants detained in PA had been detained longer than the 45 days. One of them had been detained for 5 years.

 The rate at which people detained by DHS move through the commonwealth is astounding. Most must travel through York County Prison which houses an immigration court. Over the course of a year 10,000 people are shuttled through York and off to everywhere in the world. But, this massive forced migration is invisible, unless you're looking. Pennsylvania's detained people are transported in unmarked buses (see photo on page 1). They are held in regular county jails that often bear no insignia of a federal government presence.

 The Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reads, in part, "No person shall be . . . deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law."  The promise of freedom made by our Constitution applies to every person in the United States, not just to citizens.

 The ACLU-PA works every day to keep this promise. Since 2008, the ACLU-PA, along with the ACLU's Immigrants' Rights Project, has won the release of eight people detained by DHS longer than one year in Pennsylvania's prisons. In one of these cases, filed as a class action with the help of Pepper Hamilton LLP, the Middle District of Pennsylvania acknowledged, "the growing consensus within this district and, indeed it appears throughout the federal courts, that prolonged detention of aliens . . . raises serious constitutional concerns." The case, Alli v Decker, is on its way to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, where we hope for a decision that will set free Pennsylvania's DHS detainees who have been held for more than a year absent any judicial review of the decision to detain.

 According to the government's interpretation of the law, people jailed for years by DHS are not even entitled to a hearing before a judge who has the power to set them free. DHS's "administrative detention" powers, it argues, are absolute. We believe that the Fifth Amendment applies to all people, and as such, we trudge onward through the courts.


[Valerie Burch is a staff attorney for the ACLU of Pennsylvania. Prior to joining the ACLU, she served as managing attorney of the Pennsylvania Immigration Resource Center, where she litigated immigration cases. She is a 2004 graduate of Penn State's Dickinson School of Law and a 2000 graduate of the University of Rochester.



The 4 million women you can thank for your last meal

From the Restore Fairness blog-

They’re the backbone of our food supply. Their hands sliced the chicken breast we had for lunch. Their sweat brought the fresh tomato to our plates. Their backs bent to pick the lettuce in our salads. They are America’s undocumented workers.

Every day, on farms and factories across America, millions of women work to produce billions of dollars worth of fruit and vegetables that fill our stores and kitchens and nourish our children. At least 6 out of every 10 farm workers in this country are undocumented, and almost all of them live on the fringes of society, earning below minimum wage and facing humiliation, exploitation and sexual assault from their employers on a regular basis.

According to a new report, ‘Injustice on Our Plates,’ published by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the 4.1 million undocumented women living and working in the U.S. are among the lowest paid and most vulnerable members of our society. These women form the backbone of the agricultural system in this country, looking after their families, often working weeks without getting paid, working in unsafe and unsanitary conditions, with little or no recourse to any protection against the indignities they suffer at the workplace. They live in constant fear of being discovered and sent back to their home countries, with the looming threat of being separated from their children, many of whom are American born. It is grossly unfair that while contributing as much as $1.5 billion a year to the Medicare system and $7 billion a year to the Social Security system, undocumented immigrants will never be able to collect benefits upon retirement.

The report was compiled by SPLC researchers who conducted extensive interviews with 150 women from Mexico, Guatemala and other Latin-American countries who are or have been undocumented, and are working in the food industry, picking tomatoes, apples, green beans, lettuce, etc. in places like Arkansas, California, Florida, Iowa, New York and North Carolina. From a CNN article about the report-

Regardless of what sector of the food industry these women worked in, they all reported feeling like they were seen by their employers as disposable workers with no lasting value, to be squeezed of every last drop of sweat and labor before being cast aside.

Interviewed for the report, a woman called Maria reported being paid as little as 45 cents for each 32-pound bucket that she filled with tomatoes, and said that one employer did not allow his workers to go to the bathroom during their work-shifts. Olivia, a 46-year old meatpacker who came to the U.S. from Mexico to run away from her abusive husband and build a better life for herself, told the SPLC the horrific story of how she was raped by one of her supervisors after working a 12-hour shift. When she tried to report the incident to the senior management, her complaints were met with the retort, “What is so bad about that? He left you in one piece, didn’t he?” Despite extreme medical injuries and severe emotional trauma from the attack, Olivia was too scared to report the rape to the police out of fear that her immigrant status would be found out and she would be deported. Like countless women in similar circumstances, she was bound by the desperate need to work in order to look after her daughter and her parents who depended on her, and she had no option but to continue working for the man that beat her unconscious and raped her. The new report tells us that Olivia’s story is not the anomaly, but the norm-

Undocumented immigrant women are, in most cases, virtually powerless to protect themselves against such attacks…Some feel too much shame to report harassment or sexual violence, leaving them extremely vulnerable to exploitation by male co-workers or supervisors…Their abusers use their lack of legal status against them, knowing they are not likely to report sexual harassment or even violent attacks. Because of the many obstacles arrayed against them — fear, poverty, shame, lack of access to legal resources, language barriers, immigration status and cultural pressures — few immigrant women ever come forward to speak out against the wrongs committed against them. Too often, they are forced to compromise their dignity — to endure sexual harassment and exploitation — to obtain a better life and a measure of economic security for themselves and their families.

These women are economic refugees, running away from lives beneath the poverty line, hunger and desperation in their home countries, with the hope of working hard to provide their children with basic amenities like education, health and stability. The fact that such injustice and degradation is suffered by tens of thousands of hard-working women in this country on a regular basis is horrific and shameful on a number of levels. These women, responsible for putting food on our tables, are part of a systemic malady that is only getting worse. This is indicative of the sad irony of a world where high-level trade and capital move across borders with uncanny speed and ease, lining the pockets of nations and people in power, while the hands that build these “globalized” empires are forced to remain circumscribed within their lot, regardless of how unfair a lot it might be.

Deporting all 10.8 million undocumented immigrants would cost the economy over $2.6 trillion over the next ten years, not to mention the huge human rights violations that would occur as a result. Moreover, legalizing undocumented workers would raise the U.S. gross domestic product by $1.5 trillion over a decade. The report stresses the importance of immigration reform that would address these injustices in a way that is comprehensive, while respecting fundamental American values of dignity and justice.

Learn. Share. Act. Go to restorefairness.org




Colbert Congressional Testimony: The Truthiness of the Matter

Polls suggest large swaths of the country get their news from faux newsers Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. Well, except the far righties who get their news from the faux newsers on Faux News, but that’s a whole other post.

It’s no wonder, Stewart is less biased than most real anchorbots and he’s a master at repeatedly demonstrating that technologically-challenged politicians still don’t get the concept that video never goes away.

Damn that infernal TV contraption!

Colbert – who isn’t a Republican, but plays one on TV – refers to the “truthiness” of his news, which is an unfair assessment. His news is usually far more truth(FULL) than the “real” stuff.

That might be the reason Colbert is scheduled to testify before the House Immigration Subcommittee on Friday.

He’ll appear in character to testify about his experiences after interviewing United Farm Workers President, Arturo Rodriguez, on his show. Rodriguez invited the President of the Cobert Nation to participate in the UFWs Take Our Jobs Initiative – a program that asks regular American softies to apply for jobs as farm workers. The UFW provides training to erstwhile farm workers so they can replace immigrants in the fields. It’s meant as a not-so-subtle bit of hyperbole to answer claims that farm workers are stealing American jobs.

“Somehow, undocumented workers are getting as much blame for our economic troubles as Wall Street, but missing from the immigration debate is an honest recognition that the food we all eat at home, in restaurants and work-place cafeterias, including those in the Capitol, comes to us from the labor of undocumented workers,” Rodriguez said. “According to the federal government, more than 50 percent of the workers laboring are undocumented.”

I once knew a man who traveled all over the world after his retirement as an air traffic controller to play amateur migrant farm worker. He picked oranges in California, avacados in Australia, and tomatoes in Wisconsin. He even had the business cards to prove it. But, that’s a whole other post too.

I’m sure Colbert’s testimony will be just as hilarious as say, Alberto Gonzales’ “I’m sorry, but I can’t recall that particular felony Senator” deny-a-thon during the Bush the Lesser™ administration. However, it’s still a sad state of affairs that Americans have so monumentally wigged out over issues like immigration that we’re better off depending on a comedian to tell us the truth – at least a different “truth” than Jan Brewer can muster.

What’s next the cartoon version of the Constitution?

Cross posted at The Omnipotent Poobah Speaks!

Arizona and the Alien-Nation of America

by Walter Brasch

             My father, a federal employee with a top secret clearance, carried a copy of his birth certificate when he went into Baja California from our home in San Diego. Many times, when he tried to reenter the U.S., he was stopped by the Border Patrol. He had thick black hair and naturally dark skin, and the Patrol thought he was a Mexican brazenly trying to sneak back into the country by claiming to be married to the black-haired, blue-eyed, light-skinned woman he claimed was his wife.

            If my father were still alive, and chose to drive into Arizona or to walk on the streets of any of its cities or towns, he probably would be stopped and asked to provide identification. Naturally, he wouldn't be carrying a U.S-issued visa or Mexican-issued passport, since he was an American citizen. He probably wouldn't even be carrying his birth certificate, since he would have assumed he was traveling within the United States, and there was no need to carry it. He would probably have a Social Security card and his California-issued ID card—he didn't have a driver's license because he was blind in his left eye—but both of those could easily have been forged.

            After a few minutes, he would probably be released by the local police officer, perhaps after providing his federal identification. But, maybe a few hours later, he'd be stopped again, perhaps by a sheriff's deputy, constable, or even a mall's part-time security guard.

            Everyone under SB1070, signed into law by Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer, April 22, can be stopped and searched by any officer for any reason, and required to produce documentation that they are in the United States legally. A hastily-added amendment a week later modified the original law to require that police have to have a reason to stop persons. The reason could be as simple as the officer claiming the suspect was loitering, jaywalking, or playing a car radio too loud. The law also allows any citizen to file suit against any law enforcement agency if the citizen believes the state law isn't being followed. Pushed by a fearful citizenry and a politically opportunistic Republican party, the bill takes effect in August.

            Legislators from several states, including Pennsylvania, have followed Arizona's lead. Pennsylvania State Sen. Daryl Metcalf (R-Butler) filed HB2479, which almost duplicates Arizona's law. With inflammatory rhetoric at the bill's introduction, Metcalf told about rapes and murders, about the "financial drain" upon the state's economy. The bill will probably die in committee. Even if it should get majority votes in both houses, Gov. Ed Rendell says he will veto it.

            Forget the constitutional concepts of "due process" and "probable cause." Under Arizona's new law, persons are presumed guilty until they produce identification that they are innocent. And, disregard the Constitutional mandate that immigration is the responsibility of the federal, not the state, government. What Arizona saw was that about a half-million persons, mostly Hispanic, were in their state illegally. They saw that the federal government wasn't effective at sealing the southern border, even after 9/11. They saw that President Bush had tried to reform immigration policies, only to have to back down when he faced a divided Republican party. They saw that President Obama has tried to assure the safety of Americans, but that a squabbling Congress rendered any reform inert. And they also realized that for many years, adequate funds were not put into the budget of the Border Patrol.

            They also saw a significant increase in crime, including drug trafficking, kidnapping, and murder by illegal immigrants. They saw thousands of immigrants living in squalor, dozens in the same room, forced to work at starvation wages to pay back the gangs that brought them north. Anglo and Hispanic residents had become afraid of living in their own houses because of the gangs.

            They also saw myriad problems caused by illegal immigrants who came north and gave birth to what are known as "anchor babies," so the children would become U.S. citizens and the parents, still in the country illegally, could not be deported. They saw that undocumented workers were somehow "stealing" their taxes by getting food stamps, welfare, and aid to families with dependent children.

            Although there is increased crime because of the presence of persons from Mexico and Central America who are in the country illegally, most undocumented workers are law-abiding residents. They don't go to the ER and get "free" medical help or try to scam the system by claiming welfare payments, since most believe that just registering for medical help or welfare could lead to them being identified as illegal residents and deported. But they do want their children to be in school, to get an education, perhaps to become American citizens.

            The Hispanic immigrants, with their gangs, are no different from those of any other culture, which developed gangs and societies that were originally designed to help and protect them from exploitation, but did so using fear and criminal activity. The Irish came to America in the mid-1800s, but they also developed Tammany Hall and the Molly Maguires. The Chinese had to deal with the Tong gangs. The Italians brought with them the Mafia. The Russians and eastern Europeans in the latter part of the 20th century are dealing with the Bratva, the "brotherhood," sometimes known as the Russian Mafia. But, like most Hispanics, most Irish, Chinese, Italians, eastern Europeans, and every other cultural minority, were and still are law-abiding citizens who only want to live in peace. Americans have a long history of hatred for newly-arrived immigrants, who later become assimilated, and continue the hatred against the next culture to try to assimilate into American society.

            There is also another part of American history that is overlooked by the masses. When the Native Americans first greeted Columbus, they met a man who spoke his native Ligurian, as well as Portuguese and Spanish. It would be more than a century until the first English-speaking settlers arrived. (Ironically, the top name for baby girls born last year was Isabella.) The French owned a large part of what is now the Midwest, often called Middle America. Mexicans and Native Americans civilized much of the Southwest, including Arizona, long before Anglos moved west in what they believed was their "manifest destiny" that would lead to what centuries later would be called "ethnic cleansing" if it occurred anywhere but in the United States.

            The day Gov. Brewer signed the bill, massive protests began. They saw this new law, essentially racial profiling since fair-skinned blondes were unlikely to be stopped, as violating everyone's Constitutional rights, and as a desperate attempt to control a problem that became magnified by media-savvy politicians and the compliant news media.

            At a rally in Phoenix, Mayor Phil Gordon spoke against the law, which was roundly condemned by numerous Hispanic celebrities, including Grammy-winning Colombian singer Shakira. "I came here to offer support and defend human rights," said Shakira, who said she opposed the law "because it is a violation of human and civil rights and goes against human dignity."

            President Obama said the law undermined "basic notions of fairness that we cherish as Americans, as well as the trust between police and our communities that is so crucial to keeping us safe." Most law enforcement officers don't want to expend their resources to enforce what they believe is an illegal and unwieldy law. Chief Robert Davis of San Jose, Calif., president of the Major Cities Chiefs Association, points out, "immigration enforcement by local police would likely negatively effect and undermine the level of trust and cooperation between local police and immigrant communities." The Arizona Association of Chiefs of Police said the law "will negatively affect the ability of law enforcement agencies across the state to fulfill their many responsibilities in a timely manner," and argued that although the police chiefs recognized that immigration was a problem in Arizona, "it is an issue most appropriately addressed at the federal level." Sheriff Clarence Dupnik of Pima County (Tucson is the closest major city to the border), not only said he wouldn't enforce the law, which demands compliance of every police official, but filed suit in federal court against the state. The law, said Sheriff Dupnik, is "disgusting," "unnecessary," and "racist." It is that same law that, if fully enforced, will likely cause significant overcrowding in jails, and force local government and the state to spend millions to house persons whose only "crime" is to live in the United States.

            More than two dozen major national organizations have already said they will not hold conventions in Arizona, hoping that an economic boycott will force the state to reconsider the law that was written, voted upon, and passed in the juices of hate and fear. Two decades earlier, economic boycotts led Arizona to declare Martin Luther King Jr. Day a state holiday only after the NFL had pulled the Super Bowl from Arizona in 1993 because the state refused to follow the rest of the country in recognizing Dr. King. Major League Baseball is deciding whether to pull next year's all-star game from Phoenix. About one-fourth of all major league players are Hispanic; several teams conduct about two months of Spring training in Arizona; about a dozen teams in the Arizona Rookie League each have at least five Hispanics players, all with legal status to work in the U.S. On Cinco de Mayo, every member of the Phoenix Suns wore jerseys identifying them as team members of "Los Suns," their support of the state's Hispanic population.

            University of Arizona President Robert Shelton told students and employees at his university that the families of several out-of-state honors students who accepted admission to UA, "have told us that they are changing their plans and will be sending their children to universities in other states." He also said that UA students and employees, all of them citizens or who have legal visas, fear they "may now be subject to unwarranted detainment by police" although they "are from families that have been residents of Arizona for generations."

            Even the national Republican party may have been blindsided by the swift passage of the law and the national outrage. Under President Bush, the Republicans had tried to increase the number of Hispanic voters in the party, and is now faced with the reality that there could be a massive retaliation. Phoenix, along with Tampa and Salt Lake City, were the remaining three cities for consideration for the 2012 Republican National Convention. Suddenly, it seems as if a $100 million economic advantage for Arizona would turn into a political liability.

            Many prominent conservatives, including Karl Rove, have also spoken out against the law as a major infringement on personal freedoms. Rove, the architect of George W. Bush's presidential campaigns, said he saw not only "constitutional problems with the bill" but that he wished Arizona "hadn’t passed it."

            The Immigration Reform and Control Act, signed into law by Ronald Reagan in November 1986, was a comprehensive reform of immigration law, and supported by strong majorities of both major parties. It granted amnesty to illegal residents who were in the country continuously prior to Jan. 1, 1982, protected the rights of persons illegally in the U.S., and imposed heavy penalties upon businesses that hired workers who were not citizens or did not have appropriate work visas. Unfortunately, the law has not been as effective as planned.

            Corporations and small businesses are all too willing to violate federal law by hiring undocumented workers, pay them significantly less than they pay American citizens, give them no benefits, pay no Social Security or unemployment taxes, and allow them to live in poverty. Even when there is a relatively rare raid on their premises, usually the owner or corporation pays almost no penalty, or one that is a minuscule part of its profits. Corporations, including Walmart, also found a major loophole in the law by working with subcontractors who provide laborers at a fixed rate; thus, the workers are never considered to be employees.

            American citizens who wrongly complain about immigrants taking their jobs are also a part of the problem, since they don't seem to have a problem with outsourcing or low factory pay, as long as it allows them to buy cheaper goods.

            My father, who survived the Depression, the Communist witch hunts, and was a part of the fight for civil rights, was subjected to bigotry and racism, as was my mother, but was spared the viciousness of a White population in a neighboring state that passed a law in 2010 that could only be seen as not much different from laws and "police practices" in the Deep South in the 1950s. The South learned; Arizona hasn't.


[Dr. Brasch's current book is Sex and the Single Beer Can (3rd ed.), a humorous and sarcastic look at the media and American culture. The book is available at amazon.com, and other stores. Rosemary Brasch assisted on this column.]




Weekly Immigration Wire: Enforcement Creates Aura of Criminality

by Nezua, TMC MediaWire Blogger

The Latino/a community has had ample reason to hope that President Obama would take on immigration reform in a humane manner. While Obama is undeniably centrist in his political approach, and has long been fond of language stressing punitive solutions to the immigration issue, he certainly seems to understand that "America is changing and we can't be threatened by it." Enforcement policies are becoming a threat, not only to immigrants, but the country at large.

There's more...


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