October 2010 Archives

From my inbox yesterday comes news of a recent raid of undocumented tenants living in substandard housing in Tennessee. Instead of prosecuting the landlords for violations of housing code, ICE arrested and detained the tenants. In the process, they broke doors and windows and yelled racial epithets at the families inside.

President Obama has made persecution and prosecution of immigrants one of his signature domestic priorities during his first two years of office. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of his commitment to immigration reform.

Local ICE Raid Raises Humanitarian and Civil Rights Violation Concerns

TIRRC and ACLU-TN Denounce Government Action and Management Response to Tenants

For Immediate Release
October 28, 2010

David Morales, TIRRC, 615-833-0384 x 201, 615-775-1069 cell, david@tnimmigrant.org
Hedy Weinberg, ACLU-TN Executive Director, 615-320-7142, hedy@aclu-tn.org

NASHVILLE--The Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition (TIRRC) and the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee (ACLU-TN) today held a joint press conference condemning the recent Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raid at the Clairmont Apartments off of Murfreesboro Pike. At the time of the raid, the apartment complex was already under investigation for deplorable living conditions and the raid raised numerous additional humanitarian and civil rights violation concerns.

Residents reported that ICE conducted the October 20 raid in the manner of a SWAT team, breaking doors and windows to force their way into apartments. They shouted racial epithets at women and children, interrogated a 13-year-old child, and detained an elder diabetic. No warrants were ever presented, and to advocates' knowledge no criminal charges have been filed against any of the detainees.

"Our nation has the authority to control its borders and to regulate immigration, but the power to deport people must be exercised fairly and humanely. The constitutional guarantees of due process and equal protection apply to all persons in this country - citizens and non-citizens alike," said Hedy Weinberg, ACLU-TN Executive Director. "The Fourth Amendment prohibits warrantless intrusions into private homes, even the homes of undocumented immigrants. In the absence of a judicially-authorized warrant, there must be voluntary and knowing consent. ICE officers forcing themselves inside homes does not constitute consent."

The ICE raid followed a long period of neglect and deterioration in the living conditions at the complex, which have worsened markedly since Tritex Realty Advisors purchased the property in July, Greystar Real Estate Partners assumed management responsibilities, and Crime Suppression Services took charge of armed surveillance.

Management has routinely ignored tenants' complaints about chronic maintenance problems, water leaks, lack of essential services, mold problems and widespread pest infestation. Several buildings have had limited or no water supply and no heat for months. Three weeks ago, Greystar abandoned the onsite management office, posting a sign to call a number that, when dialed, rang inside the empty office. Calls placed weeks ago remain unreturned.

"Government actions such as raids that make life miserable for immigrants will not fix the problems with our broken immigration system. They only create more problems for society such as the public health concerns at Clairmont Apartments, where people are afraid to report appalling living conditions for fear of retaliation," said Stephen Fotopulos, TIRRC Executive Director. "We need to decide which America we want to live in--one that makes life intolerable for millions of people who live here, or one that brings immigrants out of the shadows and enables them to be taxpaying, contributing citizens."

ACLU-TN has developed an Immigrant Resource Center in English and Spanish that provides information to help people better understand the justice system and the safeguards it offers to ensure fair treatment. Resources cover obtaining visas in cases of abuse or human trafficking, encounters with law enforcement, the detention system, safety planning and raids. The Resource Center can be found at http://www.aclu-tn.org/immigrantresourcecenter.htm

TIRRC's Know Your Rights and Raid Toolkits can be found at http://www.tnimmigrant.org/community-resources/2009/6/26/toolkits.html


TIRRC is a statewide, immigrant and refugee-led collaboration whose mission is to empower immigrants and refugees throughout Tennessee to develop a unified voice, defend their rights, and create an atmosphere in which they are recognized as positive contributors to the state. Since its founding in 2001, TIRRC has worked to develop immigrant leadership, build the capacity of its immigrant-led member organizations, help immigrant community members understand and engage in the civic process, and educate the public about policies that would better promote integration of new immigrants and facilitate their full participation in US society. In just a few years TIRRC has grown from a grassroots network of community leaders into one of the most diverse and effective coalitions of its kind, a model for emerging immigrant rights organizations in the Southeast and throughout the United States.

ACLU-TN is making Tennessee more open and forward-looking. We are a watchdog against government abuse of rights, fighting for fairness in our laws & their enforcement through public education, advocacy, legislative lobbying and litigation.

I've been away from blogging since the vote.  Sometimes a break is necessary for me.  There only so much energy that my soul can put out in the world for all the world before I have to recenter myself.  I put everything I had into that vote and, with no regrets, I'm paying for it now.   

The consequence of putting myself out there in an unsustainable way is that I've neglected my responsibilities since then, specifically to move people to get out and vote for the 2010 elections. 

That's the beauty of being part of a movement, though.  No one person makes or breaks an effort.  While I've stepped away, United We Dream, the United States Student Association, the Generational Alliance, and Voto Latino have launched an unprecedented effort to get U.S. citizens to vote on behalf of migrant youth through Vote for Me 2010Dreamactivist.org has been putting out voters guides ever since.

Undocumented and Unafraid

Guest poster Mark, a DREAM Act-eligible activist ("DREAMer"), responds below to progressive activist Sally Kohn's recent criticism of a Truthout article written last month by four California-based DREAMers.

When identifying myself as an undocumented student (self-labeled as a DREAMer/ once-in-a-while DREAM Activist), I've never let any derogatory terms thrown at me get under my skin. As DREAMers, we've pretty much heard it all from all sides. According to the extreme xenophobic right, undocumented students who've worked hard to fund their own higher education, without so much the help of any federal aid, are still nothing but freeloading illegal alien [undocumented] scum of the earth. Meanwhile, here I am still struggling to pay off my AmEx from charging my college tuition. (Btw, shout out to AmEx CEO for supporting the DREAM Act)

Then of course, we also have our frenemies, those who claim to have our best interests in mind and have consistently told us to trust them. All the while they whisper behind our backs and call us selfish students, elitist at the core, with our falsely perceived "DREAM Act first / CIR-be-damned" attitude. In addition to that, there was the recent remark made by Sally Kohn in a fresh article labeling DREAMers as "petulant children." Being called a "petulant child" is the last thing that I'll allow to get under my beautiful brown and proud skin.

Of course the irony of it all is where we learned the strategy to display our so-called "petulant" attitudes [...more on that later].

What I'm actually upset about is the defeatist attitude that Sally personally admitted within her own article. Forget the name-calling; I can easily brush that off the same as some uneducated xenophobic minuteman calling me a foreign invader. [Hmm...okay, after re-reading that last remark, I'll make an admission of my own, maybe I personally am elitist at times, but only towards true enemies] But as I was saying, reading about how Sally had already waved her white flag before the battle even began this year, is what got my full attention:

stop deporting refugees.jpg
Survivors of the Cambodian genocide who came to the U.S. as child refugees are now being deported by the Obama administration for crimes committed in the U.S. years ago. These refugees are longtime permanent residents who have reintegrated into their Philadelphia communities after release from prison. Many have U.S. citizen wives and children. Some have started small businesses. The Obama administration has the discretion to exercise lenience in cases of compelling humanitarian or family interest like these, but is more interested in appearing tough on immigration ahead of the elections.

A group of the refugees' family members and supporters confronted President Obama on his visit to northwest Philadelphia on Sunday, spelling out the message "STOP DEPORTING REFUGEES" to his motorcade as it passed by on the way to a rally in support of Democratic candidates in Pennsylvania.

Holly Otterbein recently wrote in the Philadelphia City Paper about the deportations that are tearing the city's Cambodian community apart. These deportations stem from a bipartisan law passed in 1996, the most anti-immigrant federal legislation since Congress slammed shut the doors to Ellis Island in 1924 in a fit of anti-Semitic, anti-Italian panic. Otterbein writes:

[I]n 1996, Congress passed the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility [IIRIRA] and the Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty acts, which made deportation mandatory for any immigrant who commits an "aggravated felony," an opaque term that includes everything from non-violent drug offenses to tax evasion. (Prior to '96, refugees and other legal immigrants were deportable only if they committed a crime with a sentence of five years or more.) The laws also rendered non-citizen immigrants ineligible for both forgiveness and individual consideration before the court, effectively disintegrating their right to due process.

But these Cambodian refugees have been living in the community for years now--one of the men profiled in the article, Mout Iv, finished his prison sentence in 2004 and has since opened a popular barbershop in North Philly. The government has not yet explained to the community why now is the time to deport these refugees back to the country where their families were murdered, leaving advocates to speculate about the Obama administration's motives.

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