Gutierrez to unveil immigration reform while enforcement measures on the rise

Tomorrow, December 15th, at 12:30 pm, Congressman Luis Gutiérrez (D-IL) will officially unveil his immigration reform bill to the U.S. House of Representatives-"Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America's Security and Prosperity Act of 2009."...Meanwhile, enforcement measures continue to be ramped up.  Last week, 286 foreign nationals representing more than 30 different nations were arrested in a 3 day California operation coordinated  by ICE Fugitive Operations Program, involving over 400 agents and officers from ICE, the U.S. Marshals Service, as well as several other state and local agencies.  The largest enforcement surge targeting criminal aliens yet.

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Are children of immigrants becoming needless statistics in the child welfare system?

From Restore Fairness blog.

Guest Blogger: Emily Butera from the Women's Refugee Commission

What if I told you you could permanently lose custody of your child because you are undocumented? Or because you do not understand English? Or you are unable to communicate with the child welfare system and family court from immigration detention? What if I told you you might have to leave your child behind if you are deported because you may not have time to get the child a passport or will not be able to coordinate the flight arrangements? You might tell me that these kinds of things do not happen in the United States. Sadly, you would be wrong.

With immigration enforcement increasing, my inbox has been flooded with stories such as Encarnación Bail Romero's. Encarnación is a Missouri mother whose son was adopted by total strangers - against her will, without her consent and despite her efforts to oppose the adoption - while she was in custody following a raid on her Missouri worksite. Encarnación was not adequately represented in family court, and was unable to read the court documents notifying her of the pending adoption and her right to appeal because they were in English, a language she does not speak. She is now fighting to regain custody of her son. However, she is scheduled for deportation to Guatemala in February and her attorneys do not know whether they will win her case - or win it in time.

Almost everyone who contacts my organization, the Women's Refugee Commission, with a story of separation asks for help finding a family law attorney for the parent or for guidance on helping detained parents communicate with the child welfare system. Unfortunately, the assistance we can offer them is limited, and there are no easy answers.

Immigration law and family law intersect in a capricious manner. Family courts and the child welfare system have a responsibility to reunite a child with his parents whenever possible. However, family courts do not always look favorably on reunification in cases where a parent is detained or likely to be deported. The situation is further complicated by the tremendous difficulty child welfare workers and family courts have in locating detained parents, and the significant challenges parents face in complying with family reunification plans and participating in family court proceedings from detention.

In some cases, like Encarnación's, judges base termination decisions on the fact that the mother does not have legal status and may be deported. In others, child welfare workers oppose family reunification because they think that a U.S. citizen child should not live in another country. Certainly, in cases where there is evidence of abandonment, abuse or neglect the child welfare system and family courts have an obligation to protect children. But in so many of these cases the parent's only fault was being in the wrong place, with the wrong nationality, at the wrong time.

Because it is difficult to gather accurate data about the undocumented population it is impossible to know how many children have already been affected. What we do know is that hundreds of thousands of children may be impacted by their parents' apprehension and that there is no effective or enforceable policy for preventing it.

When Encarnación told her story during a briefing in the House of Representatives last week you could have heard a pin drop. A number of attendees listened with tears in their eyes. Stories like Encarnación's turn the numbers into faces for a moment, and I hope that Encarnación's visit to Washington will help her reunite with her son. But action on an individual case is not enough. We need enforceable, nationwide screening protocols, with a statutory preference for release of parents and caregivers, to increase the likelihood that women like Encarnación can care for their children throughout their immigration proceedings and can make the best decision for their family if they are ordered removed. We also need to ensure that when parents must be detained they can remain in communication with their children, can comply with reunification plans, and can participate fully in their custody case.

The U.S. government has an obligation to enforce immigration law, but it also has a responsibility to protect parents' fundamental right to custody of their children. The preservation of family unity is a legal and moral duty, but it is also smart social policy. As we go about immigration enforcement we must ensure that the children of immigrants do not become another needless statistic in the child welfare system.

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Lou Dobbs to resign from CNN after pressure by advocacy groups

After facing intense pressure for his anti-immigration rhetoric, Lou Dobbs announced his resignation last night to his viewers. He will be replaced by John King.

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Esmeralda: A transgender asylum seeker speaks out against immigration detention

From the Restore Fairness blog.

Courage comes in many different forms. For Esmeralda, a transgender asylum seeker from Mexico who faced horrific circumstances in immigration detention, it came in the form of seeking justice. 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. But her story is also one of hope for change. Watch the video now.

While the Obama administration has pledged to reform the detention system, its promises do not go far enough. Spread over a patchwork of more than 500 county jails, privately run prisons and federal facilities, immigration detention is a $1.8 billion business estimated to hold 442,941 detainees in custody in 2009 alone.

Transferred far away from their homes and families, stories are rife of how detainees are denied visitation, access to lawyers, medical care, and are subject to physical and verbal abuse. Many vulnerable people, including asylum seekers, pregnant women, children, lawful permanent residents and even U.S. citizens are among those detained.

Listen to Esmeralda's voice of courage and take action now to fix a broken detention system.

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A spotlight on race relations brings change in small ways

From Restore Fairness blog.

November 7th 2009 marked one year from the day that Marcelo Lucero, an Ecuadorian immigrant, was killed in the Long Island suburb of Patchogue. But rather than act as a stand-alone instance, the act of violence put a national spotlight on race relations and has emerged as one among dozens of cases of violence against Latinos in Suffolk County over the past ten years.

A report by the Southern Poverty Law Center, an organization that follows hate groups across the country, found that these attacks were spurred by an atmosphere of racism and fear fostered by anti-immigrant groups and local officials.

Latino immigrants in Suffolk County live in fear...Political leaders in the county have done little to discourage the hatred, and some have actively fanned the flames...Although Lucero's murder represented the apex of anti-immigration violence in Suffolk County to date, it was hardly an isolated incident.

In one example cited, Michael M. D'Andre, a county legislator from Smithtown, at a 2001 hearing on a bill to penalize contractors who hire undocumented workers said that if his town were "attacked" by an influx of Hispanic day laborers, "we'll be up in arms, we'll be out with baseball bats." He later apologized for his remark.

On November 7th 2008, 37-year-old Marcelo Lucero was walking with a friend near Patchogue train station at midnight, when they were surrounded by a group of teens. Lucero's friend managed to get away but he was unable to do so and after attempting to fend off the attacks with his belt, he was stabbed to death by 18-year-old Jeffrey Conroy. Lucero had lived in the U.S. for 16 years at the time of his death.

Following the arrest of the teens accused of Lucero's death, a number of Hispanic residents from the area began to come forward with personal stories of acts of hatred and intolerance. It emerged that many of the victims were too scared of being questioned about their immigration status to come forward and tell local police about the attacks. According to a New York Times article,

Many Latino immigrants in Suffolk say they have been beaten with baseball bats and other objects, attacked with BB guns and pepper spray, and been the victims of arson, the report said. Latinos, it added, are frequently run off the road while riding bicycles or pelted with objects hurled from cars.

Two weeks ago one of the accused, Nicholas Hausch, finally admitted to participating in the assault, while also testifying against the others accused (who continue to plead not-guilty to the offense), talking about how he and his friends took part in numerous similar attacks against Hispanics. They would scour the streets of their town looking for potential targets, referring to the the "hobby" as "beaner hopping."

Jose, Kevin and I started popping and Jose punched him so hard he knocked him out," Anthony Hartford told police, according to prosecutors. Hartford said he didn't do it often: "Maybe only once a week.

The incident also allowed for dialogue to emerge around race relations. A short film "Taught to Hate" whose message is to stop hate crimes in America and all over the World was inspired by what happened to Marcelo. And a performance, "After Grief and Anger -- Healing and Change" was created in an effort to promote better understanding between Latinos and non-Latinos in the area.

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Another death in immigration detention raises serious questions around immigration reform

Immigration detention is a profit making business with little transparency to a rapidly growing patchwork of holding centers. Even though the Obama administration has promised reform, it is not fundamentally addressing an overemphasis on the use of detention. And its coming a little too late for Pedro Tavarez, whose sudden death in detention stunned his family and who are demanding an investigation.

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Are you an authentic American?

From Restore Fairness blog

"Police officers giving drivers $204 tickets for not speaking English? It sounds like a rejected Monty Python sketch. Except the grim reality is that it has happened at least 39 times in Dallas since January 2007....All but one of the drivers were Hispanic."

Reporting on the issue, a New York Times editorial asks the question - is racism alive and kicking in America? If this were a one off incident, it could be an aberration. But 39 times makes it a growing pattern of injustice.

So how does one question who or who is not an American? Does it have to do with language, race, ethnicity, how long one has been in the United States - or is it about the more legal aspect of possessing citizenship.

Recently, an incredible achievement by Meb Keflezighi's, winner of Men's NYC Marathon, kicked off a number of doubts about whether this is truly an "American" achievement, or one imported in from outside.

"Meb Keflezighi, who won yesterday in New York, is technically American by virtue of him becoming a citizen in 1998, but the fact that he's not American-born takes away from the magnitude of the achievement the headline implies."

Comments from a CNBC Sports Business Reporter who half apologized in a post the next morning.

"Frankly I didn't account for the fact that virtually all of Keflezighi's running experience came as a U.S. citizen. I never said he didn't deserve to be called American."

Keflezighi came to the United States when he was 12 from war torn Eritrea. Is that enough time for him to be an American? Ironically the last American to win the marathon was also born in another country - Cuba. Alberto Salazar's comments from a New York Times article are insightful.

"What if Meb's parents had moved to this country a year before he was born? At what point is someone truly American? Only if your family traces itself back to 1800, will it count?"

The same article talks about the racial stereotypes that seem to be emerging to the surface.

"The debate reveals what some academics say are common assumptions and stereotypes about race and sports and athletic achievement in the United States. "Race is still extremely important when you think about athletics," said David Wiggins, a professor at George Mason University who studies African-Americans and sports. "There is this notion about innate physiological gifts that certain races presumably possess. Quite frankly, I think it feeds into deep-seated stereotypes."

So are we heading for a "clash if cultures" figuring out where the identity of America lies. This Huffington Post article has a few answers.

What's been missing from our national discourse on "is it race or isn't it?" is the distinction psychologists and neuroscientists have made for over two decades between conscious and unconscious (often called "explicit vs. implicit") prejudice.

Asking what the difference may have been if over the last 25 years, a half million Englishmen a year had entered the U.S., it wonders if

"what turns up the volume on Americans' feelings about immigration is that immigrants are not white, English-speakers from London but brown-skinned Mexicans who may not speak our language well and don't share our Anglo-American culture."

Demographers now place it around 2040 when whites may be in the minority in the U.S. And so it seems, the best way to deal with this reality may be -

"There's nothing shameful about admitting that you're among the majority of Americans - of every color - who has sometimes judged another person on the color his skin instead of the content of his character - and then realized it wasn't fair. The best antidote to unconscious bias is self-reflection. And the best way to foster that self-reflection is through telling the truth in a way that doesn't make people defensive or point fingers - except at those who wear their prejudice proudly and deserve our scorn."

How Immigration Enforcement Has Interfered with Workers' Rights

The federal government's immigration enforcement in recent years, including a heavy reliance on workplace raids and the involvement of state and local police in immigration enforcement, has resulted in a trampling of labor rights of workers.

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Take action: Don't let divisive and racial politics wreck the census

From Restore Fairness blog

Republican Senators Vitter and Bennett are trying to wreck the US Census. Mr. Vitter is demanding that the census be forced to add a question about citizenship status to its 2010 questionnaire - a move that would cost millions of dollars in tax payers money and fundamentally compromise the nature of the census.

In a incredibly narrow minded move, the Washington Times reports that he has written letters to senators from nine states telling them it's in their interest to support him because they may lose seats to states with higher undocumented immigrant or noncitizen populations.

"Voting for cloture or against my amendment could very well be a vote to strip your state of proper representation in Congress and cede your state's influence to other states that reward illegal immigrants like California and New York," he said in his letter to Indiana's two senators, which would be among those at a disadvantage.

The reason for this is that huge immigrant population increases in some states during the last decade will change the proportional representation, resulting in a loss of House seats in about eight states, including Vitter's home state of Louisiana.

If passed, the Vitter-Bennett amendment would throw a monkey wrench into the U.S. Census by requiring over 120 million questionnaires to be reprinted, wasting over $7 billion in research, planning, and preparation that has occurred for Census 2010.

Don't let politics undermine the accuracy of the 2010 population count and inject an anti-immigrant agenda into every realm of public life.

Click here to write your Senator and tell them to vote NO on the Vitter-Bennett amendment.

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Immigrants afraid to call the police - Rep. Jared Polis, ACLU stand up to Arpaio style enforcement

In a floor speech delivered today, U.S. Rep. Jared Polis had some harsh words for the 287(g) program which grants broad immigration enforcement powers to local law enforcement agencies, holding it responsible for a "sweep of terror" that "scares victims and witnesses of crimes to avoid contacting police for fear of being mistreated."

Given Sheriff Arpaio's so called crime and immigrations sweeps over the weekend in Maricopa County, Arizona, the speech is a well planned rebuff to the administrations renewal of 67 agreements with local law enforcement agencies to enforce immigration laws.

Arpaio, whose deputies had arrested 16 people last Friday on unspecified charges said, "I am the elected sheriff. I don't take orders from the federal government." And even though his agreement with the government extends only to immigration enforcement in the jails (and has been expressly removed from the streets), he continues to defy the law. To prove his point, he distributed a document that he claimed included language from Title 8 of the federal code authorizing him to conduct sweeps, which was eventually proven to come from an anti-immigrant Web site, and not from federal statute.

Notwithstanding Sheriff Arpaio's notoriety, stories of racial profiling and violations are emerging across the country.

From Cobbs County, Georgia comes a damning ACLU report showing how the 287(g) program has led to an intense mistrust of local law enforcement within their community. Individual testimonies include Joanna who once put out a fire in her kitchen herself because she was too afraid to call 911 for fear of immigration consequences. Or Jonathan, a Latino man who was shopping for jewelry for his wife at Macy's when a security guard began to follow him and called the police. Jonathan was then detained by the officer without being informed about the reason and was subsequently charged with loitering and deported, charges that were later dismissed by the district attorney. His family now lives in constant fear of the "seemingly unlimited power of the police to arrest a Latino person for any or no reason at all."

The report indicates a marked pattern to the way that the Cobb police regularly use minor traffic violations to detain immigrants, stopping them based on the color of their skin, and then denying their basic rights. Sharon, an American citizen, tells the story about her husband Angel, who was pulled over for an incomplete stop at a stop sign. He was subsequently arrested and when Sharon tried to get him out on bond, the officer told her that there was an immigration detainer on him and he could not be released. He was then transferred to a detention center while Sharon who is disabled waits for the release of her husband, whom she depends on "for everything."

It's time we listen to Members of Congress like Rep. Polis who is willing to stand up to a system that is clearly not working. Or the Law Enforcement Engagement initiative, which has many state and local law enforcement officials speaking out for immigration reform that respects fairness and due process.

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