Posts Tagged ‘Texas’

Guilty as Suspected

December 21, 2009

After listing off his numerous legal options over the phone and across the plexiglass, Fidencio looks right at me and says, “Yo quiero salir. Quiero regresar.”  I translate to the Minnesota Detention Project attorney that he simply wants to leave, to return home.  She explains briefly that this will result in a ten-year bar to his re-entry, that it will be very difficult for him to get back in again.  Fidencio shuffles his feet, chains jangle, and he crosses his arms across his orange County prison jumpsuit.  “No importa, I just want to get out. I can’t stay another week at Ramsey. Every day I stay in here I cannot make money for my family.  Just get me out ahora.”

And so another father and husband is deported back to Honduras, his family left here to continue living in the shadows or to return to a country with little opportunity.  About 8,000 people in Minnesota are currently in deportation proceedings, and some 200 to 300 are housed in one of five county jails where Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) rents space.  The Ramsey County Jail in St. Paul typically houses 50-75 detainees, most of whom do not have any criminal conviction and are merely suspected of illegal entry.  They share residence with indicted murderers, rapists, burglars, and drug addicts.  Since most county jails are designed for one-night stays, few have outdoor yards and, as a result, detainees rarely see the light of day.  At Ramsey County, detainees are incarcerated an average of 100 days.  Most immigrants, by the time their day in Immigration Court finally arrives, will argue their case pro se before the Court and simply beg the judge to deport them back to their country of citizenship. [Aslanian, Sasha. MPR]

The number of immigrants detained each night in the United States is roughly 32,000.  Many of that number have not been convicted or even charged with a crime but are, according to ICE, a flight risk.   Immigrants represent the few civil court defendants incarcerated in such a way.  Despite the obvious flight risk of certain delinquent fathers awaiting judgment on child support or traffic offenders awaiting their day in court, few other civil defendants are held in jail at all, let alone for months on end.  Although anklet transponders are used by parole officers in oyhrt areas of law, ICE has so far rarely used such minimal safeguards for supposedly “innocent until proven guilty” immigrants, opting instead to pay $80/night for a total of $1.8 million/year. [Aslanian, Sasha. MPR].

Anklet Transponder

Nationally, the housing and transfer system is so haphazard that some detainees are moved to a new detention facility without ever being served a notice detailing why they are being held.  From 1999 to 2008 some 1.4 million detainee transfers occurred, often moving longtime residents of New York and LA to remote jails in Texas or Louisiana, far away from friends, legal counsel, or evidence for their immigration case.  These detainee transfders typically send immigrants to the Fifth Circuit, the most hostile jurisdiction toward immigrants and the worst ration of immigration lawyers to detainees.  [Bernstein, Nina. "Immigration Detention System Lapses Detailed. NYTimes].

This week, Rep. Gutierrez from Illinois introduced the first of a new wave of comprehensive immigration reform bills, this one entitled C.I.R. A.S.A.P.  As Congress wraps up healthcare debates and begin to take up the issue  Obama shelved until 2010, any comphrensive bill must seek to alleviate and remedy the current system of criminal detention of civil immigrant cases.

Detention Watch Network MAP

Letter to Gates, McHugh, Casey RE. Former Student

October 22, 2009

Robert Gates

U.S. Secretary of Defense

1400 Defense Pentagon
Washington DC 20301-1400

 

 

Re: The War Budget Generally & Specifically the Sending of My Student to Afghanistan

 

 

Dear Mr. Gates,

 

I write to you as a former high-school teacher, a person of faith, and a citizen concerned for marginalized communities and our national values.  The current debate about funding and sending more troops to Afghanistan misses the point in that it frames the choice as between Iraq and Afghanistan.  War is not inevitable; conflict is.  War is not a viable long-term solution to conflict – it has never brought about real peace in any circumstance, unless it was the stillness of a cemetery. General Barry McCaffrey himself has said, “We can’t shoot our way out of Afghanistan;” this is not solely limited to Afghanistan but applies to war in general.

 

In a time of rebuilding after a worldwide economic crisis, Dr. King’s words ring louder than ever: “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.” The trillions of dollars funding the killing of other human beings overseas would be better served in feeding hungry children, funding small business, investing in schools, and enabling social welfare programs which have been gutted recently by many state and federal budgets.

 

One of my former students, Tony, is leaving for Afghanistan this week because of your orders.  He was one of the most intelligent and promising students I had the pleasure to work with as a high-school English teacher at Rivera High School in Brownsville, Texas.  Tony plans to one day attend law school and give back to his community.  Tony joined the military to fund his higher education. 

 

While he will be in my daily prayers, I owe more to my student than that.  I am writing to you in hopes that you will reconsider all our current wars and pursue peace-building, civil solutions with all parties involved.  I close with another quote from Dr. King:  “I speak as a child of God and brother to the suffering poor . . . I speak as a citizen of the world, for the world as it stands aghast at the path we have taken. I speak as an American to the leaders of my own nation. The great initiative in this war is ours. The initiative to stop must be ours.”

 

Please take the initiative to end our current military engagements, for Tony, for me, for our nation, for the world.

 

Respectfully,

 

Matthew Webster

Outburst Over Immigrant Health

September 13, 2009

Wednesday night at Obama’s speech, several shameful acts occurred.  Rep. Louie Gohmert from Texas wore a sign around his neck reading, “What Bill?”, as the President spoke on healthcare reform just a day after his speech to America’s schoolchildren raised protests from certain school districts as well.  As Obama finished stating that his health plan would not insure undocumented immigrants, Rep. Joe Wilson from South Carolina shouted, “You lie” in one of the most overtly disrespectful acts of uncivil discourse seen in political discourse.  While many politicains rightfully spoke out against Wilson’s sad outburst, they all centered on the disrespect it directed at the Executive office. [CNN.com]

There was “no place for it in that setting or any other and he should apologize immediately.”  – John McCain on Larry King Live

“It was crude and disrespectful. I think the person who said it will pay a price.” – Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin

“I was always taught that the first sign of a good education is good manners. I think that what we saw tonight was really bad manners. And having a spirited debate is one thing, exercising bad manners is another. That was beyond the pale — and I would hope that he would publicly apologize on that same floor to the president of the United States for that insult.” -House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, D-South Carolina -

While it is  certainly a sad day in our nation’s history when civil discourse devolves to hateful, warrantless vocal fussilades, it is even sadder when the more than 12 million undocumented immigrants Obama was talking about go completely ignored.  Wilson has defended his nativist stance by stating that he has been an immigration attorney and that he is all for “legal immigration,” yet his xenophobic comments exhibit a powerful antagonism toward our nation’s immigrant community.  The current plans being discussed would require “resident aliens” under tax law to buy health insurance, though it would not provide federal subsidies to undocumented immigrants.  It is bewildering to try to decipher Wilson’s vehemence.  Was his “You Lie!” comment directed at the fact that immigrants would be paying into a healthcare system largely targeted at providing healthcare to our nation’s aging, largely native-born population? Is Wilson frustrated that immigrants, legal or otherwise, pay their taxes and therefore have been supporting Social Security for years while never receiving an M.D. dime for it?

Surely everyone watching Wednesday night’s charged speech felt a repulsion at watching a civil debate turn into a heckler’s vaudeville act.  The saddest thing, however, is that nativism once more got publicity on national television.

The End of Hutto, The Beginning of Something New

August 11, 2009

Although programs like 287(g) are still being expanded by the Obama administration, last week saw a positive shift in immigrant detention policy. The administration announced that it hopes to create a “truly civil detention system,” which, if achieved, would be a much-needed change indeed.

The plan announced by the Department of Homeland Security, stipulated that it would be reviewing the detention of the 400,000 immigrant detainees that come through the system annually. The review will focus on the mistreatment of detained individuals and families, as well as the medical care, or lack thereof, received by immigrants in these centers. [Bernstein, Nina. New York Times]

Marking this noticeable shift from the Bush-era DHS operations is the closing of the T. Don Hutto Center north of Austin, Texas. This 512-bed center was a for-profit jail run by the Corrections Corporation of America, one which netted $2.8 million per month. Opened in 2006, it is one of two such family detention centers in the United States, the other being in Berks County, Pennsylvania. Its closing comes at the end of years of lawsuits by the ACLU and protests by immigrant advocates like Jay Johnson-Castro, as well as a scathing expose by the New Yorker in 2008.

The conditions at Hutto were deplorable. According to Vanessa Gupta, the lead ACLU attorney on the case, before the 2007 lawsuit some children under 10 stayed longer than a year, were confined to cells with open toilets, and received only 1 hour of schooling a day. Now, children are allowed to have crayons in cells and pajamas for the evenings.

While DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano said last week that she expects the number of detainees to remain constant or increase over the coming years, assistant secretary of homeland security and head of Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE) John Morton stated that ICE will be exploring alternative options to monitor non-dangerous immigrants awaiting trial dates. [Talbot, Margaret. The New Yorker]

Hutto will not be used for family detention from now on; instead, it will be used to house women. While the family detention center in Berks County will still remain open for the time being, new alternatives are being explored such as the Intensive Supervision Appearance Program. This program utilizes electronic monitoring bracelets, curfews, and regular contact with caseworkers while the immigrants live in the greater community. The pilot program has been established in 12 cities and reports more than 90% attendance in court. This seems like a much more cost-effective and humane way to treat immigrants awaiting their day in court.

Roundup-Ready Grapes of Wrath

August 1, 2009

“The tractors came over the roads and into the fields, great crawlers moving like insects, having the incredible strength of insects…Snub-nosed monsters, raising the dust and sticking their snouts into it, straight down the country, across the country, through fences, through dooryards, in and out of gullies in straight lines. They did not run on the ground, but on their own roadbeds. They ignored hills and gulches, water courses, fences, houses.

That man sitting in the iron seat did not look like a man; gloved, goggled, rubber dust mask over nose and mouth, he was a part of the monster, a robot in the seat…The driver could not control it – straight across country it went, cutting through a dozen farms and straight back. A twitch at the controls could swerve the ‘cat, but the driver’s hands could not twitch because the monster that built the tractor, the monster that sent the tractor out, had somehow gotten into the driver’s hands, into his brain and muscle, had goggled him and muzzled him – goggled his mind, muzzled his speech, goggled his perception, muzzled his protest. He could not see the land as it was, he could not smell the land as it smelled; his feet did not stamp the clods or feel the warmth and power of the earth. He sat in an iron seat and stepped on iron pedals. He could not cheer or beat or curse or encourage the extension of his power, and because of this he could not cheer or whip or curse or encourage himself. He did not know or own or trust or beseech the land. If a seed dropped did not germinate, it was no skin off his ass. If the young thrusting plant withered in drought or drowned in a flood of rain, it was no more to the driver than to the tractor.

He loved the land no more than the bank loved the land. He could admire the tractor – its machined surfaces, its surge of power, the roar of its detonating cylinders; but it was not his tractor. Behind the tractor rolled the shining disks, cutting the earth with blades – not plowing but surgery…The driver sat in his iron seat and he was proud of the straight lines he did not will, proud of the tractor he did not own or love, proud of the power he could not control. And when that crop grew, and was harvested, no man had crumbled a hot clod in his fingers and let the earth sift past his fingertips. No man had touched the seed, or lusted for the growth. Men ate what they had not raised, had no connection with the bread. The land bore under iron, and under iron gradually died; for it was not loved or hated, it had no prayers or curses.” (Steinbeck, John. Grapes of Wrath, 35-36)

In the midst of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, it is only fitting that I am reading Steinbeck’s great novel while working with migrant farmworkers in southeastern Minnesota this summer.  In that book, as in that time, farmers and families were displaced by the dust storms, drought, banks, and mechanization.  The Okies migrated to California and Washington, seeking a decent day’s wage to feed their roving families.  The poignant scene above describes what replaced the tenant-farming Okies from the Great Plains – tractors, mass production, industrial-sized operations.

This summer, we have seen 2/3 less migrant farmworkers in southeastern Minnesota than usual. This is not because they have found alternate work in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, but rather because the economy is so bad that the farmers and canning companies in Minnesota recruited very little this year.  For pea-pack and corn-pack (when the canning companies pack the various vegetables into tin cans), the numbers of migrant families driving to Minnesota in their overloaded trucks fueled with tax-return dollars has dwindled.  Some came without contracts, hoping beyond hope that somehow there would be jobs for them here in the Land of 10,000 Lakes, jobs that didn’t exist in the 115 degree drought of southern Texas.  (Benning, Tom. Wall Street Journal) Some found odd jobs; others made the long lonely trip back to Texas, poorer than when they arrived.

Because budgets are tight in 2009, farmers are hiring fewer workers and trying to mechanize as much as possible, to cut costs and widen any sort of profit margin.  Years ago, migrant farmworkers from Texas picked rocks during the month of May; now, farmers have machines that do almost as good a job and for cheaper.  Many vegetables that were once hand-picked through back-breaking manual labor now are harvested with a tractor-pulled reaper.  Farmers also shied away from planting more labor-intensive crops. Additionally, migrant farmworkers in some places are now competing with recently laid-off local workers who were hired months before the migrant season began in May.  In a nation experiencing 9.5% unemployment (the highest since just before I was born in 1983), there is no such thing as plenty, particularly in the margins of society.  (http://www.tradingeconomics.com/Economics/Unemployment-rate.aspx?Symbol=USD)

Weeding, once a mainstay of migrant farmworkers’ summer jobs, has been reduced through modern technology.  Controversial genetically modified crops are cropping up in more and more Midwestern fields.  Rather than using this technology to increase the yield for mainstay crops in third-world countries and combating worldwide famine, GMOs (genetically modified organisms) are predominantly being created to reduce the amount of manual labor per crop in first-world countries.  In Minnesota, for example, “Roundup Ready” beets are planted throughout the state. Rather than being larger, or sweeter, or more nutritious, or better for the land, these beets have only one advantage over regular sugar beets – they do not shrivel up and die when exposed to high levels of herbicides or pesticides.  From 1994 to 2005, the United States saw 15-fold increase in the direct application of glyphosate to our major field crops. (Sourcewatch)  Hundreds and thousands of jobs for migrant farmworkers across the United States have been eliminated through the creation of such GMO crops. Whereas in the past humans weeded the rows and tended the plants, now a single sprayer or a lone airplane can douse an entire field with herbicides, leaving only the hardy genetically-modified food crops behind.

One has to wonder what good this is doing. While these plants can survive herbicides and insecticides, few long-term studies have been conducted to see if humans can withstand them.  Additionally, the thousands of migrant families that depended on weeding work are now jobless.  And farmers still need to spend a good deal to purchase the premium Roundup Ready seeds and the gallons and gallons of chemicals to keep their fields tidy. When these vegetables finally make it to the plate of the average American, has any positive change taken place?

Family farms are now a thing of the past.  John Steinbeck, in his beautiful novel assigned to most 9th-graders throughout the US, details the dawn of a new age where mass production, tractors, and cash crops replaced family tenants, horse-drawn plows, and subsistence farming.  In 2009, a new book could be penned about the coming age of Roundup-Ready plants, genetically modified crops, and roaming jobless migrant farmworkers.

As my wife and I roved through the Olmsted County Fair last night, we were mesmerized by the draft horses.  Morgans, Blondies, Clydesdales – these beautiful beasts gracefully pawed the dust and pulled carts in synchronized canter.  I was reminded of a writer at the turn of the 19th century who, upon seeing one of the first automobiles driving through an American city, quipped that these machines would replace horses and make urban living quieter (without the hoof beats) and cleaner (without the manure on streets).  While a laughable prophecy in the 20th century, it seems like writers today could tell a similar story about the wonders of modern agriculture in the Breadbasket of the World.  Seeing those beautiful beasts in Rochester, I had to think we’d sold our birthright for a bowl of porridge.  And we’re doing so again.

Fingerprinting, Home Raids, and a Rare Apology to Immigrants

July 27, 2009

The Obama administration this past week opted to vastly expand a George W. Bush program to run fingerprints through immigration scans in Houston, TX.  In the past, only serious criminals were fingerprinted and screened for immigration conflicts.  With this program though, even those accused of misdemeanors and nonviolent crimes are fingerprinted and checked in the USCIS database. (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/26/us/26secure.html?pagewanted=2&tntemail1=y&_r=1&emc=tnt)

Federal officials stated that the automatic fingerprint checks in Harris County resulted in the deportation of 94 people for felonies and 1,624 people accused of misdemeanors and nonviolent crimes. Cesar Espinosa of the immigrant advocacy group America for All said, “People are getting deported for even minor offenses like not having an ID or a driver’s license.” (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/26/us/26secure.html?pagewanted=2&tntemail1=y&_r=1&emc=tnt)

Another symptom of America’s flawed immigration enforcement was chronicled in a report released by the Benjamin Cardozo School of Law this past week. The Cardozo Justice Law Clinic partnered with several law enforcement experts like Nassau County’s police commissioner, to analyzing 700 arrest reports obtained from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement [ICE] agency through Freedom of Information Act [FOIA] lawsuits.

In the home raids scrutinized by this report, the ICE agents acting without a search warrant were required to obtain consent. However, 86% of the home raids in Nassau and Suffolk counties, no consent was recorded as required by law. The report condemned the “cowboy mentality” that ran rampant throughout these raids: in Paterson, NJ, a nine-year-old legal citizen of Guatemalan descent was threatened at gunpoint while his legal resident mother was in the shower; in a Staten Island case, an immigration judge ruled that similar agents’ actions were an “egregious violation” of basic fairness; an email message exchanged between an ICE agent in Connecticut and a state trooper invited him to a set of raids scheduled for New Haven, stating, “We have 18 addresses – so it should be a fun time! Let me know if you guys can play!”

Such an abuse of power stems from having a system which criminalizes individuals merely suspected by their ethnicity of being guilty of a civil violation.  The Cardozo report suggests that these ICE home raids should be “a tactic of last resort, reserved for high-priority targets,” and accompanied with a search warrant.  The report also recommends that supervisors be on site and home raids videotaped. Lastly, the report states that agents should have to note why the initially seized or questioned any person, rather than merely waiting for the results afterwards [i.e. in law, “the end should not justify the means”].  Hopefully DHS Secretary Napolitano reads this insightful report and begins to deescalate the fear and violence perpetrated against our nation’s immigrant population through such negative programs. (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/22/nyregion/22raids.html?emc=tnt&tntemail1=y)

As California worked around the clock to vote on a budget that would alleviate its 26 billion dollar deficit, they also passed an important public apology a long time coming.  The California Legislature apologized for its states’ past persecution of Chinese immigrants who worked on the state’s railroads, farms, and gold mines.  On Friday, the State Secretary released this public apology for the 19th and 20th century wrongs done to Chinese Americans.  If only the United States as a whole would apologize for the xenophobic, nativist legislation it passed in the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act which banned all Chinese-Americans, and later all Asian-Americans, from legally immigrating to the United States for some 60 years. (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/23/us/23brfs-APOLOGYTOIMM_BRF.html?emc=tnt&tntemail1=y)

It is entirely possible that in 70 years, the United States will be uttering its own apologies to third and fourth-generation immigrants for the inhumane home raids and invasive fingerprint checks we are conducting now.

Plainview Migrant Fest

June 16, 2009

In a little Minnesota town of 3,000, more than 100 people gathered on a Friday evening for Migrant Fest.  Hosted by the Incarnation Church, this local festival in Plainview has been running for several years now to welcome the migrant farmworkers back to their summer home.  They come to work for Lakeside Foods, by far the largest employer in this small rural hamlet in southeastern Minnesota.

I had the privilege to man an information booth for legal services, speaking with immigrant families about everything from employment and immigration to domestic violence and housing questions.  Being a legal assistant, I couldn’t give them legal advice, but I was able to chat it up in Spanish, set appointments, and hand out alertas which provided them with more information.  Although it was difficult to keep los ninos from taking all my candy and “colors” (the border word for crayons), it was great to speak with families who had traveled all the way from Mission, Pharr, and Brownsville just this week.

The Plainview Migrant Fest boasted numerous other immigrant agencies.  Some were Migrant Health Services, AAA (Aging), Mayo Clinic Diversity Research Unit, Olmsted County Medical Center, San Joachim Church, MET, Tri-Valley Action Council, and Three Rivers Community Action Center. I learned right alongside the immigrant families, as I hadn’t known about many of these organizations previously.  I look forward to working with them to help aid and protect these migrant farmworkers in their vulnerable position as transient denizens of Minnesota.

While we were disseminating information to the migrant families, Latino reggaeton and rancheros were playing in the background, courtesy of DJ Armando.  It was refreshing to hear the children laughing and running around with musical chairs and sack races.  I even got the chance to run in the sack race, though I lost to Christina Gonzalez, the representative from Mayo Clinic Diversity Research Unit, a program designed to increase minority participation in research so as to increase the data’s accuracy.

At this festival, I learned that many of these families are in a bad way this summer.  A nearby meat processing plant in Chatfield burned down on April 17 (NPR.org), and many of those workers came to Plainview looking for work while the plant rebuilds.  As a result, the migrant farmworkers’ awaited jobs have dwindled, and several of the families don’t have the money to return to Texas, even if there was the promise of work there.  This year particularly, farmworkers are going to struggle to find work for a living wage.

Leaving Plainview with the taste of a taco still in my mouth and Latino pop songs ringing in my ears, the Lakeside Foods plant stands just a hundred yards from the road, a beacon which has drawn whole families more than 1000 miles north for a four-month stint.  Though it doesn’t look like much, some of these families’ savings from their work this summer will have to last them until the next.

Migrant Families Make their Way to Midwest Once More

May 30, 2009

Every year for decades, migrant families have boarded up their houses, told friends to check their mail, taken final exams a few weeks early, packed up their cars, and headed north to weed, tend, harvest, and process the foods we buy in the produce section of our local grocery stores.  Many families pay for the journey with their income tax return, arriving with scant assets and little more than a hope of a good growing season.  Migrant workers fall into one of three categories.  Some are recruited by a corporate employer, such as a processing or canning company.  They receive written contracts, sometimes are granted free housing in a labor camp, and are guaranteed work.  Others have a longstanding relationship with a particular farmer.  While the agreement might not be oral, some of these relationships extend back to a handshake between grandfathers.  This form of migrant work is more tenuous, however, than the corporate employer, as it hinges on good weather – if a drought or infestation should occur, the migrants could be 2000 miles from home with no money and no work.  Finally, some migrant families head North with only a hope of work – no contract, no contact, no housing, no plan other than to find a farm and pitch their services.

Migrant farmworkers are not immigrants; instead, they are either legal visitors with temporary work permits, legal permanent residents or citizens migrating internally within the United States.

This summer looks to be a difficult one for migrant families. Fargo remains inundated after the Red River flooding, and is months behind its agricultural calendar.  Other areas of the country are struggling with drought or other natural difficulties.  More importantly, however, is the economic depression. Farmers that once employed workers are either hiring less or none at all, in hopes of saving even just a few dollars.  Some farmers are using more pesticides or herbicides this year, in order to save money on paying migrant workers to weed or tend the rows.  Other farms have filed bankruptcy. Many farmers that have hired migrant workers for decades have called to tell them they will not be needing their services this year.

While the migrant families working for corporate employers or specific farmers will surely find this year a difficult one, the workers who just leave their hometowns in the Rio Grand Valley for the possibility of work in the Midwest could face a devastating summer.  Unable to find work and with little resources to return home, they will be easy prey for less-than-ethical employers. (Druley, Laurel. “Life on the Bottom Rung: No Place for Migrants”)

This summer, I will be working with the Migrant Farmworkers unit of Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services, Inc. Under my supervisor Ana Maria Gomez-Gomez, I will primarily be working in Rochester, Owatonna, Plainview, and Elysian, though I will be covering cases in Dakota, Steele, Olmsted, Le Seur, and Waseca counties.  My work will focus on assisting migrant farmworkers with their adjustment to life in Minnesota, with any housing claims, employment wage claims, immigration questions, and any other legal questions that come up in the course of the summer.

I so look forward to working with migrant families from the Rio Grande Valley as they make their temporary homes here in southeastern Minnesota.  Having made that same journey myself, from Brownsville, TX, to Rochester, MN, I hope to be able to offer them some meaningful support and aid.  I wonder if any of the students to whom I gave early exams will be coming up with their families this season… Regardless, I hope to be able to help them get at least a minimum wage, secure decent housing, receive their security deposits at the end of the summer (something I have yet to ever receive myself), work in safe conditions, receive any public benefits to which they are entitled and require, renew or apply for new immigration status, and generally become adjusted to a new community.  It’s going to be a busy summer, but certainly one filled with meaning.

My work with SMRLS this summer comes at a dynamic time in immigration law, with Obama pledging to make progress towards comprehensive immigration reform in his first year of presidency. It comes less than a month after the first anniversary of the first large-scale ICE raid in Postville, IA, just a few hours south of here.  The work begins in a time when local law enforcement officers through 287(g) are attempting to enforce federal immigration laws in many of our nation’s cities and towns, resulting in racial profiling, arbitrary searches and arrests, and a terrified immigrant community unwilling to cooperate with the law enforcement they need and that needs them. (Moffett, Dan. “Cops aren’t Border Patrol”).  My role as Summer Advocate with SMRLS also comes at a time when Ms. Sonia Sotomayor, a Latina woman from the Bronx, has been put forth as Obama’s candidate to replace Justice Souter on the Supreme Court.  It also comes at a time that xenophobic individuals are seeking to place the blame of Wall Street on immigrants who don’t even own a bank account, when states and municipalities are balancing their budgets by cutting public welfare and other services to the indigent (in New York state, for example, elderly, disabled and blind legal residents will now get half of what they had previously received after the ruling in Khrapunskiy v. Robert Doar). But, my summer advocate role also coincides with bipartisan legislation like AgJobs, a bill supported by both the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association and Farmworker Justice which seeks to relieve labor shortages while securing rights for migrant workers and discouraging agriculture’s exploitation of unauthorized workers (purportedly some 75% of the workforce by some estimates). (“Farms and Immigrants.” New York Times).

As I scan the cucumbers, corn, sugar, beets, potatoes, onions, asparagus, garlic, peppers, and tomatoes, I think of the migrant families making the drive to Minnesota and other states in the Midwest right now.  I look forward to learning from them and advocating for them, starting next week.

High Time for Social Uplift

February 24, 2009

If a local law enforcement agency incarcerated 81 innocent people for every 19 criminals it caught, we would say it was violating civil rights and was wildly inept. When that same jurisdiction continued to hold those innocent 81, sometimes for a year, the media would run an expose and the public would be crying out for resignations.

This scenario is currently being played out through America’s immigration strategy of massive deportation over the last 15 years. Last week the Pew Hispanic Center revealed that Latinos make up 40% of those sentences in federal courts in 2008 while comprising only 13% of the adult population. It went on to state that Latinos are 1/3 of federal prison inmates as of 2007. With our prisons facing massive overcrowding and public defender’s offices around the nation facing debilitating budget cuts, one would assume that this prison population was all dangerous felons, but in fact, 81% of them did nothing more than cross an imaginary line in a desert or overstay a student visa. (“Enforcement Gone Bad. New York Times)


Earlier this month, the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute published findings that while the Department of Homeland Security’s budget went from $9 million in 2003 to $218 million last year, it ceased to arrest the undocumented felons and “terrorists” it was charged with capturing and instead shifted its focus to families, workers, children, women – none of whom had a previous record or anything besides an overstayed visa or lack of documentation. Of the 72,000 arrested through February 2008, 73% had no criminal record. (“Enforcement Gone Bad. New York Times)


As Homeland Security USA continues to run on ABC, the reality is that since 2006, DHS has shifted its focus to more “easily apprehended” targets. The raids on factories like Postville, Iowa, and on homes netted few criminals but a myriad of working families. Catchy names like “Operation Return to Sender” fail to mask the fact that while there were more than ½ million immigrants with removal orders in 2006, ICE raids honed in on families and workers rather than criminals and terrorists. According to the Migration Policy Institute’s report, internal directives in 2006 set quotas for operatives in the National Fugitive Operations Program but disbanded the standard that 75% of apprehended individuals be criminals. Fugitives with criminal records dropped to 9% of those captured, while immigrants without deportation orders increased to account for 40%. The 2006 directive sent by acting director John P. Torres raised each team’s goal to 1,000 a year, from 125. (Bernstein, Nina. “Target of Immigrant Raids Shifted”)

An author of the report, Yale Law Professor Michael Wishnie stated that random arrests of extralegal immigrants in such residential raids was “dramatically different from how ICE has sold this program to Congress,” not to mention the civil and human rights issues it raises where ICE agents enter private homes without consent and/or warrants. From New Haven to Brownsville, from Maricopa County to San Diego County, ICE abused its power by passing legislation in one form and then enforcing it in a completely different format. As she reviews the agency, Janet Napolitano must take this into account, realizing that our resources must be spent on legalizing our workforce and apprehending our criminals, and never the twain shall meet. (Bernstein, Nina. “Target of Immigrant Raids Shifted”)


DHS recently released statistics of the last decade’s deportations, and of the 2.2 million immigrants deported from 1997-2007, 108,000 of them were parents of legal American citizens. If these immigrants even had two children [a low estimate], then more than 200,000 children were affected. And if they took their children with them when they were removed, then essentially the United States was deporting two legal citizens for every undocumented one. Executive Director of the Center for Immigration Studies, Mark Krikorian, revealed a calloused, nativist sentiment when he responded, “Should those parents get off the hook just because their kids are put in a difficult position? Children often suffer because of the mistakes of their parents.” Mr. Krikorian seems to have a firm grasp on the Old Testament principle that Yahweh will punish “the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation” [Exodus 34:7], though he seems to have stopped his reading of the Torah just before 2 Chronicles 25:4 which repeals this vengeful promise [“Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their fathers; each is to die for his own sins."] (Falcone, Michael. New York Times). Children are not acceptable collateral damage.

In the spirit of reform under the new administration, one would hope that high on Attorney General Eric Holder’s agenda would be reversing Mukasey’s January ruling that immigrants lack the Constitutional rights to effective representation as secured by the Due Process Clause and the 5th and 14th Amendments. Mukasey’s eleventh-hour statement overruled a twenty-year standard. Because immigration cases are civil cases rather than criminal, there is no requirement for representation [a single day in immigration court drives home the fact that this default to pro se representation is manifestly unfair for the majority of immigrants who cannot speak English yet]. (“Deportation and Due Process. New York Times)

In 2009, the United States stands as a country in an economic depression which is poring vast amounts of money into detaining its workforce, deporting its own citizens, and constructing a 700-mile during peacetime. As Dr. King warned, “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.” It’s high time we renounced our declaration of war against the 12 million extralegal people within our borders and instead moved towards a nonpartisan, comprehensive immigration reform which affirms the humanity of all.

Students Experience Flawed Immigration System

January 25, 2009

On Friday, the Minnesota Daily ran an article about America’s flawed immigration system.  While it uses words like “illegal alien,” the thrust of the article is focused on the harsh realities of an immigration system which criminalizes children and families and which detains men and women for extended periods of time.  It was truly an honor to partner with groups like Las Americas and Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid, Diocesan Migrant and Refugee Services and Texas Civil Rights Project; please support them in their ongoing efforts to represent our nation’s most vulnerable community.

U students experience flawed immigration system


BY Alex Robinson
PUBLISHED: 01/22/2009

As immigration issues continue to frequent court rooms, political speeches and circles of public debate, about 70 first-year law students helped illegal immigrants work their way through the legal process during their winter break.

The law students, who were all members of the Asylum Law Project spent about a week scattered across the country volunteering with nonprofit legal aid organizations that specialize in assisting illegal immigrants.

The students filed briefs, met with clients and helped lawyers fight through their heavy caseloads.

Asylum Law Project President Jordan Shepherd volunteered in border town El Paso, Texas and said it was an invaluable experience.

“I was finally able to get my hands dirty in law,” Shepherd said. “It was a lot of people’s first opportunity to get actual legal experience.”

While the students enjoyed their first taste of legal work, they also witnessed glaring problems with the current immigration system.

“There are difficult things that lie ahead for [immigrants],” Shepherd said. “Immigration courts have their hands full.”

Problems in border town

First-year law student Matthew Webster also volunteered in El Paso and said that he met with many detainees who were being held in detention for unreasonably long time periods.

Webster said he met a man from Mexico who had been held at the immigration detention center for about 14 months and the man still did not know where he was going to be sent. He also said there were children detained in El Paso; the youngest he saw was only six months old.

“Most of the rhetoric focuses on crimes or laws but too often we forget these are people,” Webster said.

There are three centers that detain children in El Paso, and combined they can hold about 160 children, said Adriana Salcedo , a lawyer who worked with the law students in El Paso. In the summer they’re completely full.

Salcedo’s organization, Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center, located in El Paso, turns away clients every week because case loads are too heavy.

Illegal immigrants are not appointed an attorney because they are not U.S. citizens, Salcedo said.

If they cannot afford a lawyer and they are not lucky enough to get representation from a nonprofit organization, they are forced to explore their legal options on their own.

Salcedo said some detained illegal immigrants simply choose deportation instead trying to work through the legal system.

“They do not know what their legal rights are and they don’t recognize they have some sort of immigration relief,” Salcedo said.

Border fence controversy

University student Webster marched 125 miles along the Texas border last March to protest the 670-mile border fence which is currently under construction and is projected to cost about $1.6 billion.

Only days after Webster returned from his volunteer trip with the Asylum Law Project this January, the Texas Border Coalition asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear its case, which claims the fence violates a variety of state and local laws.

Proponents of the border fence argue that it will reduce crime and drug trafficking by illegal immigrants, and many politicians voted in favor of it in the Senate in 2006, including President Barack Obama, Sen. John McCain and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

However, Chad Foster , chairman of TBC and mayor of Eagle Pass, Texas — another border town — said the fence is a waste of resources and will only slow much needed immigration reform. The fence is currently under construction in Eagle Pass.

According to Foster, border security and illegal immigration are not a border town problem, but rather a national problem.

“If you want to clean up undocumented immigrants you have to start within the Beltway because they are serving the Department of Homeland Security coffee,” Foster said.

Increasing the amount of border patrol and implementing more new technology to guard the border would be far more effective than a border fence, Foster said.

Foster said he has good relationships with some politicians in Mexico, and working with his neighbors to the south is far more productive than trying to fence them off and lock them out.

But proponents of the fence have given Foster plenty of heat for his stance on border security.

“I’ve been called a narcotraficante ,” he said. “People ask me if I’m an American.”


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