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In my inbox tonight:

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:

December 30, 2010

Contact:
Michelle Fei, 917.881.2638
mfei@immigrantdefenseproject.org (English)
OR
Angela Fernandez, 646.734.4932
(Spanish & English)

Advocates Disappointed by New "Secure Communities" Agreement and Vow to Continue to Push for Full Rescission

New York, NY (Dec. 30, 2010) - Representatives of a wide coalition of advocates responded to news of Governor Paterson's revisions to the State's "Secure Communities" agreement with dissatisfaction and frustration over its lack of meaningful changes. They also declared that they will continue to push incoming Governor Cuomo to fully rescind the agreement based on the program's fundamental flaws.

"While we greatly appreciate that the Governor has listened to our concerns, the new agreement does not narrow the class of targeted immigrants as the State appears to think it does," said Angela Fernandez of the Northern Manhattan Coalition for Immigrant Rights, one of the more than 75 groups that has advocated with the Governor and elected officials to end the agreement. "We remain as adamantly opposed to Secure Communities because it is a costly program that undermines trust with the police, encourages racial profiling, and funnels immigrants into an unjust deportation system."

Further, advocates assert, ICE has repeatedly demonstrated its lack of accountability and transparency, making it an agency for which New York should not subject itself to liability. Examples cited by advocates include ICE's changing position on its classification of those targeted for deportation, priorities for deportation, and conflicting statements about the ability of localities to opt out of Secure Communities.

"Sadly, this new agreement is simply a reformulation of the flawed original that dramatically widened ICE's deportation dragnet," stated Michelle Fei of the Immigrant Defense Project, another coalition group member. "New York officials are still letting themselves get hoodwinked by ICE if they think this version is any improvement. We hope Governor-Elect Cuomo will do more to recognize that immigrants who have gone through the criminal justice system should not face deportation as an unfair second punishment."

With no public input, the Division of Criminal Justice Services had signed an agreement with ICE in May this year to bring Secure Communities to New York. Under the controversial program, law enforcement agencies in the State would be required to automatically forward to federal immigration databases the fingerprints of US citizens, undocumented immigrants, and lawful permanent residents alike. Those suspected of being deportable would be transferred directly into the detention and deportation system, separating them from their families and communities.

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The New York State Working Group Against Deportation is a broad coalition of domestic violence, criminal justice, immigrant rights, family services, labor, faith-based, civil rights, and community-based organizations that aims to stop Secure Communities and other deportation programs.

Governor Paterson's press release can be found here.

In memory of symsess's Sanctuarysphere, here are the immigration stories that caught my eye today:

  • The DOMA Project works to raise awareness of how binational same-sex couples are often forced apart by anti-LGBT immigration laws and the federal Defense of Marriage Act.
  • David Bacon writes about the cynicism of the Obama administration's strategy of pressuring employers to fire undocumented workers in targeted workplace audits. By conducting these actions under the radar, Obama is able to maintain the strategy of "enforcement through attrition" while avoiding the embarrassing press of large workplace raids.
  • Marisa Treviño explains the futility of the current narrow bipartisan focus on "border security" when insecurity in Mexico is rising, creating a steady stream of refugees from the drug violence there.
  • And advocates for mentally-ill immigrant detainees scored a victory when a federal judge ordered the government to provide them with free attorneys. This makes sense, since under the current laws, a shoplifter gets a free attorney while countless mentally-incapacitated immigrants face permanent exile from their communities with no legal counsel.

This Christmas Eve come two reminders of the suffering that migrants in the U.S. currently endure. Each shows us the distance we still have to travel, the imagination, courage, love, and tenacity still required of us in this struggle. Each reminds us that the suffering of migrants is a small subset of the suffering of the disenfranchised who remain in their home countries.

First, via Jaya Ramji-Nogales at IntLawGrrls, comes a new report from the Women's Refugee Commission on the harsh impact on families that ICE enforcement actions can have. The intersection of immigration enforcement and state and local child custody rules leaves a dangerous gap through which immigrant children fall. Too often, the result is that the U.S. government doesn't just take a parent's freedom, but also takes their child. Baby theft from indigent immigrant parents wasn't just something Americans did in Guatemala and other poor countries in recent years, it is happening now to immigrants in the U.S.

Jaya breaks it down:

To start, when U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) apprehend undocumented immigrants, their protocols are insufficient to identify parents and prioritize them for release. Indeed, the guidance for agents who encounter juveniles during fugitive operations directs officers to contact child welfare services, which can complicate parents rights. In any case, there are no procedures to ensure that parents can make care arrangements for their children before they are detained.

Once undocumented parents are detained, it becomes extremely difficult to communicate with their children and the child welfare system due to limitations on telephone access and frequent distant transfers of immigration detainees. Not only does this pose serious obstacles to ensuring safe care for immigrants' children, it may contribute directly to termination of parental rights. For example, the child welfare system's family reunification plan may require regular phone calls and contact visits that are all but impossible for detained parents. Detained parents are also often unable to participate in family court proceedings, either because child welfare services cannot locate them so they do not receive notice of the hearing or because they are unable to be present at the hearing.

Finally, when undocumented parents are deported, the dearth of information provided by ICE about the timing of deportation can make reunification very difficult. Parents are often notified of their deportation at the very last minute -- too late to make travel arrangements for their children -- or ICE changes travel plans after parents have already purchased expensive, nonrefundable tickets for their children to accompany them. This and the other failures of coordination between immigration and child welfare systems described above result in the long-term and in some cases permanent separation of families, inflicting serious psychological trauma on the citizen children of undocumented immigrants.

Second, the Economist has a piece on the heartbreaking challenges undocumented farmworkers in California face today. The article follows poor indigenous families from Mexico who have relocated to the fields of California, following the "Okies" generations ago.

One family left Oaxaca after their oldest son died because they couldn't afford to pay a doctor after he became ill after a flood. They have been robbed by coyotes, chased and beaten by border patrol, exploited by employers, poisoned by pesticides, harassed by police, and threatened by neighbors. They faced these obstacles so their other children could have a future, so their children could survive childhood.

This is the dark side of the American Dream, the one most Americans prefer to ignore and forget. But pretending not to see migrants and their problems doesn't mean they don't exist. It does mean that all Americans are responsible for this moral monstrosity--voters, elected officials, consumers, and taxpayers all have a hand in maintaining this perverse systemic injustice. Building the border wall higher and sturdier won't make the poor and their problems disappear, either, whether inside or outside the U.S. It only underscores our culpability and the hypocrisy of our willful blindness.

The Economist correspondent reminds us of the globalization of poverty and the connectedness of all human beings by ending the report in this way:

People like the Vegas will always keep coming, no matter the fences that go up on the border and the helicopters that circle above. For they are like the Joads. As Steinbeck wrote: "How can you frighten a man whose hunger is not only in his own cramped stomach but in the wretched bellies of his children? You can't scare him--he has known a fear beyond every other."

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.

Bill Kunstler.jpg"Gentlemen, I have some information that may be of interest to you ... We have been having some trouble in our town with housing for Negros ... These Negros all have the same lawyer ... It looks like the same old Commie pattern" - 1961 letter in Bill Kunstler's FBI file.

Last week I learned who Bill Kunstler was for the first time. I went to college for four years, law school for three. I've worked as a public interest lawyer since 2006. But still I'd never heard of one of the most influential civil rights lawyers of the last 50 years until I saw the documentary his daughters made, "Disturbing the Universe."

Kunstler represented a string of high-profile defendants over the course of 30 years:

-- 1961 - represented Freedom Riders in Mississippi
-- 1969 - defended "Chicago 7"
-- 1971 - attempted negotiation between Attica prisoners and authorities before NY State Police stormed the prison and slaughtered 28 prisoners and 9 guards
-- 1973 - helped negotiate at Wounded Knee, later represented members of the American Indian Movement
-- 1989 - defended Gregory Lee Johnson's First Amendment right to burn the U.S. flag
-- 1989 - defended Central Park jogger rape defendants, who were later exonerated

Later, he represented the 1993 World Trade Center bombers and the Gambino crime family. His daughters believed that toward the end of his career, he lost perspective and looked for clients who were unpopular, no matter how they got that way.

Even so, the thread running through his career was the idea that when the government throws its resources at a high profile case against unpopular defendants, chances of a fair outcome are greatly reduced. And Kunstler believed the criminal justice system was just another symptom of a flawed society. If the criminal justice system, supposed to be the core of American democracy, was rotten, what did that say about American democracy? Kunstler's advocacy showed that the law, so often used as a tool of oppression, could be used for social change instead.

He never believed incremental change was enough. The cases he fought and causes he promoted advanced that change, but it was never enough for him.

Kunstler was clever enough to avoid the mistake of blaming the problems he saw on a particular leader or political party. Rather, he blamed systems, which is to say he held everyone responsible, including himself.

His goal was to flip the script. Instead of letting the government put his clients on trial, he used his cases to put the government on trial.

Seth Williams.jpg

Cross-posted at Young Philly Politics.

Julio Maldonado was deported to Peru on Thursday, October 22, 2009, after arriving in the U.S. 38 years ago at the age of 3.

He and his cousin, Denis Calderon, had been victims of an attack based on their ethnicity in 1996. Julio was wrongfully convicted of aggravated assault, incarcerated for a total of 8 years, and then deported.

His family's pleas for justice were ignored by local, state, and federal decisionmakers--except for the convicting judge, Judge Gregory Smith, who actually vacated his own verdict after an evidentiary rehearing. That decision was appealed by the District Attorney's office and overturned. A jury of Julio's peers also found him not guilty of the murder of one of his attackers. So how then was Julio locked up for so long and deported, when the convicting judge (in the aggravated assault trial) and the jury (in the murder trial) both decided he was not culpable?

When it came to wrongfully convicting, imprisoning, and deporting Julio, prosecutors and the Department of Homeland Security zealously worked to prevent a just result. When it came to acknowledging that a mistake had been made and families would be torn apart, everyone's hands were tied, from prosecutor Seth Williams to Governor Rendell (mayor of Philadelphia in 1996, now with the power to pardon an egregious error that occurred on his watch) to Thomas Decker, director of Immigration Customs and Enforcement in Philadelphia, to Janet Napolitano, head of DHS.

The case has broader significance, as Seth Williams will likely be Philadelphia's new District Attorney. He will have to decide, along with the mayor and police commissioner, whether to continue along Philadelphia's current track of close cooperation with ICE to target immigrant communities. Currently, Philly PD is routinely arresting Latin@ immigrants for minor traffic stops and turning them directly over to ICE, or actually joining ICE on home raids. This is in direct contravention of Mayor Nutter's expressed desire to make Philly an immigrant-friendly city. It is hard to be friendly when the immigrant community is terrified of the police, which is working hand in glove with the local ICE contingent to deport every last one of them.

Seth Williams didn't lift a finger to undo the damage he had done to Julio Maldonado and his family, despite repeated promises to the family. At least, we have no evidence he took any favorable action.

Will Philadelphia's elected officials side with the immigrant community, or with Lou Dobbs and others who want to see immigrants chased out of the U.S.? Right now, they are saying one thing and doing another.

[Image: Democratic candidate for District Attorney of Philadelphia, Seth Williams.]

julio-denis-faith.jpg

Julio Maldonado will be deported this week unless DHS exercises its discretion to wait until Julio's pardon request can be heard. **Action requested: call DHS and Governor Rendell at the numbers below!**

Julio and his cousin Denis Calderon, longtime lawful permanent residents from Peru, were victims of a racially-motivated attack in Philadelphia in 1996 during which Denis was beaten and stabbed. Julio and Denis were wrongfully convicted of aggravated assault while their white attackers were never charged with any crime. The original convicting judge later vacated his own verdict after reviewing expert testimony that later came to light, but the District Attorney's office appealed the decision and won on a technical argument. Now Julio stands on the brink of deportation, 38 years after arriving in the U.S. as a toddler and 32 years after receiving his green card.

Julio has spent the last 4 years in jail for "hindering his own removal" by refusing to sign the papers required to process his Peruvian travel documents. Now the Peruvian consulate has issued temporary travel documents that do not require Julio's consent, and DHS wants to deport him now. Julio filed a request for a pardon from governor Rendell on July 1, 2009, but DHS does not want to wait for a decision on the pardon. In denying Julio's request for a stay of removal last month, DHS held that Julio's desire to remain with his family instead of accepting permanent exile to Peru was considered an adverse factor weighing against an exercise of favorable discretion.

Why does DHS view family unity as an "adverse factor"?

***Please call David Venturella, Acting Director of ICE's Office of Detention and Removal Operation, at (202) 732-3100 to request that DHS allow Julio to stay in the U.S. until his request for a pardon is reviewed by Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell.***

***Please call Governor Rendell's office at (717) 787-2500 and ask the governor (1) to expedite review of Julio's pardon request and (2) to request that DHS wait to deport him until the pardon request is reviewed.***

If you have not yet signed the petition for Julio and Denis, please do so here.
More complete summaries of the case are available here and here, and a list of coverage is here.

Obama pensive.jpgBarack Obama recently explained to Univision anchor Jorge Ramos why he used the term "illegal immigrants" in his health care speech, prompting Rep. Joe Wilson to yell at him (via Latina Lista):

Well, keep in mind what I was addressing. I was addressing misinformation by the other side that was engaging in scare tactics. So I was essentially quoting them. I was saying, "for those of you who are saying that illegal immigrants are going to be covered under this plan," I said that's not true. Right? So I'm using their language because I was addressing the misinformation that they are providing. And I was speaking directly to an audience, the American people, who because of this misinformation, I think actually were very responding often times in a negative way.
I don't buy it. 

Obama's use of the term dovetails with his ally Senator Schumer's public repudiation of the term "undocumented immigrant" in favor of the tough-sounding but legally meaningless term "illegal immigrant."  Obama's usage dates back to a decision in early 2008 to adopt right-wing framing on immigration in the hope of later passing a legalization bill. 

If that was the plan, it hasn't worked very well so far.  We have no idea when the Democrats will introduce an immigration bill.  Schumer keeps pushing the date back.  I've seen little evidence congressional Democrats or the administration are interested in expending political capital on immigration.  They want it to be easy.  They want something handed to them on a platter, with the work already done.

Meanwhile, opponents of immigration reform are deeply committed to their cause.  Most so-called supporters are lukewarm at best about the issue, and right now I place Barack Obama in that category.

Arpayaso.JPG

Lawrence Downs brings us the corrido of Saúl Linares, an organizer from Hempstead, Long Island (next door to one of my least favorite places on earth, the Garden City USCIS office). Linares sings about the exploits of Sheriff Joe "Arpayaso," Arizona's clown prince.

Postville Part II

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As the Democratic National Convention gets underway, DHS continues its campaign to terrorize immigrant communities for the administration's political ends.  Adam Nossiter reports in the NY Times today:

LAUREL, Miss. -- In another large-scale workplace immigration crackdown, federal officials raided a factory here on Monday, detaining at least 350 workers they said were in the country illegally.

Numerous agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement descended on a factory belonging to Howard Industries Inc., which manufactures electrical transformers, among other products.

As of late Monday afternoon, no criminal charges had been filed, said Barbara Gonzalez, an agency spokeswoman, but she said that dozens of workers had been "identified, fingerprinted, interviewed, photographed and processed for removal from the U.S."

The raid follows a similar large-scale immigration operation at a meatpacking plant in Postville, Iowa, in May when nearly 400 workers were detained. That raid was a significant escalation of the Bush administration's enforcement practices because those detained were not simply deported, as in previous raids, but were imprisoned for months on criminal charges of using false documents.

The mass rapid-fire hearings after the Postville raid took place in a temporary court facility on the grounds of the National Cattle Congress in Waterloo, Iowa. An interpreter was later sharply critical of the proceedings, saying the immigrants did not understand the charges against them.

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