David Bennion: February 2010 Archives
Since I work as an immigration attorney at a nonprofit, it is only natural that ICE is not my favorite government agency. Regular readers of the blog probably know that by now. If I worked at the Public Defender's Office, I would regularly (as opposed to occasionally) blog about the perfidy of the Assistant District Attorneys. If I were a cop, I would blog about those weaselly public defenders or the DFHs at the ACLU.
But once in a while I read a story about ICE that surprises me, and I'd like to think I've developed a thick skin about these things over the last few years.
Helen O'Neill writes for the AP about a brother and sister who became confidential informants (CIs) for ICE. Emilio and Analia Maya were introduced to ICE by a friend of Analia's, a police officer named Sydney Mills.
According to Mills, the deal was straightforward: In exchange for working as informants, ICE would help the brother and sister get coveted S visas, which, in rare instances, are awarded to immigrants who help law enforcement.
After working for ICE without pay from 2005 to 2009, sometimes in dangerous undercover situations, ICE turned on the Mayas, arresting and detaining Emilio and putting both siblings into removal proceedings. Officer Mills doesn't know what to make of this:
A 10-year veteran of the police department, Mills had long worked undercover narcotics operations, sometimes with the FBI. He knows how deals are stuck with informants. And though he had never dealt with ICE before, "I assumed it was just another law enforcement agency and the rules would be the same."
The golden rule: "You protect your sources, and you never renege on a deal."
At first, I concluded from this story that ICE is just not very good at law enforcement. ICE's stated mission is to "protect the security of the American people and homeland by vigilantly enforcing the nation's immigration and customs laws." Wouldn't that goal be better served by cultivating trustworthy CIs to help ICE target violent offenders, human traffickers, and transnational crime syndicates?
Then I remembered what I've learned from my daily experience dealing with ICE and the immigration bureaucracy: preventing crime is hard, deporting the nearest undocumented gardener, cook, or nanny is easy. When politicians and the press give DHS a free pass, the stated goal of protecting the security of the American people often takes a back seat to the unstated goal of deporting as many brown people as possible.
ICE spokespersons talk up its Criminal Alien Program and Fugitive Operations teams, but don't mention the fact that 73% of people apprehended by the Fugitive Ops teams in recent years had no criminal records, or that the Criminal Alien Program targets people after an arrest, not a conviction, leading to racial profiling by local police who know an arrest on any pretext may lead to deportation.
ICE's shameful treatment of its CIs sends a clear message about its true priorities: Deport the easiest targets first, then combat crime if we get around to it. That's not something I'm happy about supporting with my earnings this tax season, and I won't be voting this fall for any politician who shovels money at ICE's "law enforcement" operations without asking what the agency is doing with it.
Maria @ Dreamactivist brings word that University of Pennsylvania President Amy Gutmann has endorsed the DREAM Act and asked members of Pennsylvania's Congressional delegation to support the Act. This development didn't appear out of nowhere, but rather was the result of organizing by Penn student groups MEChA and the Latino Coalition and coverage by the Penn student newspaper.
Those in the Philadelphia area will have the chance next week to check out two screenings of the documentary "Papers," about undocumented youth and their struggle for equality.
Date: Thursday, February 25
Time: 5:30 p.m.
Location: Arch Street United Methodist Church, Broad and Arch Streets.
Date: Saturday, February 27
Time: 2:00 p.m.
Location: Chestnut Hill United Methodist Church, 8812 Germantown Avenue
More info here. (Note: I blog at Citizen Orange in my personal capacity, not on behalf of my employer.)
Dreamers fighting for their rights know the stakes--the consequences of failure are imprisonment and deportation. One anonymous Dreamer got an unpleasant reminder of this fact, and used his experience in detention in upstate New York as a call to action.
Lastly, Felipe blogged last week from the Trail of Dreams as the walkers left Florida on their way to D.C. If you've not yet read about the 1,500-mile Trail of Dreams and the walkers' efforts to raise awareness of the DREAM Act, visit the website. (via Dream Act Texas)
No filibuster can derail this train, Joe Lieberman and Susan Collins will not stand in the way of GIR this time. Even industry lobbyists are sitting out this fight ... they know their time is better spent elsewhere.
And don't miss last month's update on GIR 2010.
I know from my interactions over the years with DOS that many foreign service officers join DOS because they want to improve U.S. relations with other countries or show non-Americans that we're not all in thrall to Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin. In fact, I completed an internship at the Rome Embassy in college and once dreamed of becoming a foreign service officer, or "FSO" for those in the know.
But Mayer experienced some inner conflict in Haiti that he didn't quite know how to deal with:
To say that it was heart-wrenching to do this work doesn't fully capture the feeling. Many tears were shed and many voices were raised. Time and time again, we would hear people begging us, "Please, what are we supposed to do?" It was so, so hot, and we all perspired copiously, but we knew that the people waiting in the queue were hotter and thirstier than we were. As much as it hurt, we had to say no to the unqualified cases; not doing so would be against the law and would also disadvantage those American citizens whose safety and well-being was our first priority. Under U.S. law, the State Department has very clear guidelines for the aid and assistance we provide American citizens in times of crisis, and our office of Overseas Citizen Services in Washington is there to support and guide us every step of the way. The Foreign Affairs Manual (we call it "the FAM") explains things in precise detail.I propose that this inner conflict stems from Mayer's job description: to prevent the poorest and most vulnerable from coming to the U.S. It is the organizing principle of the entire immigration system. As he points out with some regret, the laws are clear and he must not stray from enforcing them. Yet as Consular Section Chief at the U.S. Embassy in Montreal, Mayer has uncommon insight into the impact of the screening function of the immigration bureaucracy. He knows that the people he turns away will suffer; he knows that some will die.
The FAM, however, doesn't prepare you for the feeling you get from saying, "No" and "I'm sorry" over and over. The FAM doesn't tell you how many bottles of water you will need to give people who've been standing in line for six hours. The FAM doesn't tell you how quickly you need to take the Power Bars you'd bought at Wal-Mart out of your backpack, just so you can give them to the people who are saying, "Please, j'ai faim." The FAM does not tell you whether you're permitted to shed a tear when you see the look of resignation in a person's eye after you've said, firmly, "I'm sorry, but you do not qualify." People just walked away, with their kids in one hand and their suitcase in the other. There were 500 more in the queue, waiting for their turn to come. This was Day 6 after the earthquake.
This is the particular tragedy of FSOs around the world: cosmopolitan and compassionate, their instinct is to give refuge to the dispossessed, but rules are rules and must be obeyed. Who are they to challenge the System That Keeps Us Safe? Those who question authority tend not to work for the most powerful institution in the world, policing the boundaries between Us and Them.
But there are other paths.