Posts Tagged ‘New York Times’

Community Service

August 20, 2009

       A young man in Arizona was convicted last week of littering and sentenced to probation and 300 hours of picking up trash.  His petty misdemeanor – littering on national wildlife lands, also known as leaving water bottles for immigrants passing through the most lethal section of the borderlands. [New York Times]

          While officials at Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge allow some groups to maintain water tanks at specific aid stations within the refuge, they stated that the plastic bottles left by Walt Staton of the group No More Deaths endangered wildlife and was unsightly. [New York Times]

          This latest border incident highlights the sad paradox of our nation’s current border enforcement.  Through lawsuits like this which target humanitarian aid to rerouted immigrants and the lack of apprehended drug runners and human traffickers, the modern motto of la policia de la frontera seems to be that if we can’t catch the few criminals crossing the border then at least we can nab a lot of others.  Although the California Border Patrol just nixed its long-running quota system which incentivized agents to catch as many border-crossers as possible rather than focusing on the dangerous criminals, this philosophy still holds credence. 

          A similar lawsuit a few years ago involved another humanitarian aid being sued for illegally transporting an immigrant in critical condition to the local hospital.  Until comprehensive immigration reform is passed (an act which Obama has now hinted might be delayed until next year), these acts of compassion for will be criminalized and more and more border-crossers will die as they turn to more desperate measures.  The ever-lengthening serpentine border wall grows by the month, only serving to channel immigrants to the Scylla and Charybdis of human traffickers or Arizona’s arid desert.

          There is more than a little irony in the fact that Walt Staton was sentenced with community service for his past service to the human community. Until comprehensive immigration reform is seriously discussed, littering will continue to trump human lives.

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.

Obama’s Bipolar Immigration Stance: Comprehensive Reform in the Future, Expanded Enforcement Now

August 6, 2009

While the Obama administration did nominate the first Latino Supreme Court Justice [who was just confirmed today], they have been repulsing a lot of their immigrant and Latino advocates for helped them win the election last November.  According to an article by Julia Preston in the New York Times, the administration’s decision to not only keep but also expand controversial Bush-era immigration enforcement measures has propelled several immigrant groups to begin a national movement to make them make good on campaign promises.

The Obama administration has initiated employee audits at more than 600 employers nationwide, expanded the E-Verify program, increased criminal prosecutions for immigrant violations [up over 30% since this time last year, according to a study by Transaction Records Access Clearinghouse], created a program that runs immigrant checks on everyone who enters a local jail in some cities, and extended the 287(g) program made infamous by Arizona Sheriff Joe ArpaioSecretary Janet Napolitano, formerly governor of Arizona, stated that she wouldn’t call of immigration raids entirely, though they have subsided since Postville, Iowa, little more than a year ago.  Napolitano said, “We will continue to enforce the law and to look for effective ways to do it.”

The problem lies in the fact that some of these programs are not “effective ways to do it.”  Immigrant and business advocates have sued to stop E-Verify because of its woeful inaccuracies.  While the program touts a .3% error rate for the 137,000 employers now enrolled. With 6.4 million queries, however, a .3% error rate still means that over 19,000 legal immigrants or citizens have received false denials so far in 2009.

Additionally, the seriously flawed 287(g) program that deputizes local police agencies to carry out federal legislation encourages civil rights violations, racial screening, and vigilante justice.  Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, the self-titled “toughest sheriff in America,” is currently under investigation for his long laundry list of civil rights abuses, from parading prisoners through the streets in shackles, making prisoners wear pink underwear, feeding them green bologna, and racially profiling Latinos for “random” traffic stops.

While President Obama stated that immigration reform would be passed within the year, Napolitano’s actions with the Department of Homeland Security have been anything but.  Perhaps it is political jiujutsu, designed to convince certain political affiliations that this administration will be hard on those who break the law and will not allow another 12 million undocumented immigrants to enter the country again.  However, by not only maintaining but actually revamping failed immigration enforcement mechanisms, the administration is sending a very mixed message about what that “immigration reform” will resemble.

Postville: The Difference a Year Makes

May 13, 2009

Yesterday, immigrant rights advocates marched down the tiny streets of Postville, IA. They marched to remind the nation that workplace raids cause ongoing devastation, that immigrants deserve basic human rights, and that Obama must live up to his promise to tackle immigration reform in the next year. [Martin, Liz. “Postville story, a year later, told in photos”]

Local businessman Gabay Menahem joined the march and commented on the economic difference a year makes.  “A year ago it was impossible to buy a house in Postville. Now there are 228 houses for sale out of 700 total.”  More than 30% of the Jewish community left after the raid, and much of the Latino community was either deported after entering guilty pleas or fled in fear.  [Love, Orlan] Some still remain, wearing transponders on their ankles more than a year later.  Children still remain [local school attendance has only dropped about 3%], but they are in increasing need of mental health services, and many of them are missing at least one parent.

Father Ouderkirk and St. Bridget’s Church continue to minister to the Latino community of Postville.  They currently care for 30 affected families, aiding them with housing and food and counseling as they seek to be reunited with their family members or as they wait for their day in court.

Most of the 389 workers arrested pled guilty last May.  They were housed in a cattle-barn, expedited through a trailer-home courthouse ten at a time, and threatened with years in prison unless they pled guilty on the spot.  Many of them were from Guatemala, and few of them spoke English.  The majority of them had no idea what a Social Security number was, or why the leading prosecutor Stephanie Rose thought that they had used fake ones.  Many of them had received fake numbers from their employer, Agriprocessor’s Inc., the largest kosher meatpacking plant in the nation.

Last week, the Supreme Court issued its ruling on Flores-Figueroa, ruling that to be convicted of aggravated identity theft, the person must know they are using another person’s identification.  While this ruling does little for the 389 workers, most of whom pled guilty and have since been deported, but it is resulting in dropped charges against some of Agriprocessor’s administration.  Last Tuesday, federal prosecutors dropped aggravated identity theft charges [a mandatory 2 years imprisonment] against human resources manager Laura Althouse, who was allowed to rescind a guilty plea she entered last year. [Preston, Julia. “Dismissal of Guilty Pleas is Sought for Immigrants”]

As the Supreme Court’s decision affects the sentencing of this dubious employer’s administrative staff, many are calling upon Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. to order a case-by-case investigation into the almost 300 guilty pleas entered last May in Postville. “The federal prosecutors used the law as a hammer to coerce the workers,” said David Leopold, vice president of American Immigration Lawyers Association.  Others went farther, including Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-California), chairwoman of the House immigration subcommittee.  She is calling on the Justice Department to start over, since these cases didn’t comport with the law. [Preston, Julia. “Dismissal of Guilty Pleas is Sought for Immigrants”]

Today marks the day after Postville’s raid last year.  Postville no longer represents the largest ICE raid [Laurel, MS, now holds that dubious title].  This tiny town in northern Iowa has largely been forgotten by politicians and lawmakers, if not the general public.  As life goes on and our courts begin to follow the new Flores-Figueroa ruling, it is vital that we make sure it is evenly applied.  There is an unpleasant aroma of injustice when the immigrants who worked in subhuman conditions were imprisoned five months and deported, while the employers were never made to stand accountable for their numerous employment violations [child labor laws, safety protocols, and pay] and look to walk on some of the harsher sanctions of identity theft and employing undocumented workers.

The Pulse of The United States – May 2009

May 2, 2009

Last night, I spent almost half an hour filling out the 2009 American Community Survey, part of the 2010 census.  As my wife and I filled it out, I wondered what the census would show this year.  Many predict that Minnesota will lose a seat in the House, that some serious redistricting will go on, and that the answers from the census will be analyzed and implemented in everything from political campaigns to television commercials.

Although the American public won’t get the results from the 2010 census for a while now, and when it does immigrants and minorities will still probably be underrepresented, this past week saw some encouraging polls released from the New York Times, CBS, ABC, and the Washington Post, just in time for the initiation of immigration reform discussion before the Senate Immigration Subcommittee on Thursday, April 30. (Belanger, Maurice). The New York Times and CBS polls asked:

Which comes closest to your view about illegal immigrants who are currently working in the U.S.: 1. They should be allowed to stay in their jobs, and to eventually apply for U.S. citizenship; OR 2. They should be allowed to stay in their jobs only as temporary guest workers, but NOT to apply for U.S. citizenship; OR 3. They should be required to leave their jobs and leave the U.S. [NYTimes]

44% said they favored allowing immigrants to stay and eventually apply for citizenship, while 21% said they should be allowed to stay in their jobs as temporary guest workers.  Refreshingly contrary to national pundits who typically pit African Americans against recent immigrants, 55% of African Americans favored allowing undocumented workers to stay and work, with only 19% stating they should be required to leave their jobs and the U.S. (Belanger, Maurice)

The Washington Post/ABC poll released on Thursday was similarly encouraging news.  The survey asked,

Would you support or oppose a program giving ILLEGAL immigrants now living in the United States the right to live here LEGALLY if they pay a fine and meet other requirements? [ABC]

61% said they favored allowing undocumented immigrants to continue to live here and have a viable path to citizenship.  Liberals supported this (70%), Democrats supported it (68%), Republicans and Independents supported it (59%), and moderates (63%) and conservatives supported it (56%). (Belanger, Maurice) Despite the repeated statements from nativists that this is a partisan issue and that humane immigration reform is contrary to rule of law in the United States, the poll speaks loudly that the majority of Americans are in favor of treating these new Americans humanely and reasonably.

With 73% of Americans under 30 supporting such legislation (compared to 42% of seniors), this comprehensive immigration reform seems to be the mandate of the future. As the Senate debates the finer points of specific immigration bills, it is highly encouraging to know that the American people have not caved in to nativist and xenophobic fears during this time of economic depression, but instead have chosen to recognize that as Dr. King said, we are all “inextricably linked in the garment of destiny.”

Migrants, Minors, and the Many Unintended Consequenses of Militarized Immigration Enforcement

April 10, 2009

A new Urban Institute report prepared by Minneapolis-based firm Dorsey & Whitney reported on America’s immigration policy’s effect on children. Entitled “Severing a Lifeline: The Neglect of Citizen Children in America’s Immigration Enforcement Policy,” this comprehensive publication released last week highlights the 3.1 million American citizen children who are adversely affected by the increasingly militarized form of American immigration enforcement. Of the 900 immigrants arrested by 2008 ICE raids in Worthington (a December 2006 workplace raid of the Swift plant), Willmar and Austin, MN (sites of several home raids), for example, more than 500 children were affected, 2/3 of whom were legal American citizens.(“Severing a Lifeline: The Neglect of Citizen Children in America’s Immigration Enforcement Policy”)

Estimates from the Urban Institute suggest that for every 2 adult immigrants detained 1 citizen child is affected. More than 1.9 million immigrants have been deported this decade, likely affecting almost 1 million citizen children in our nation’s Boys and Girls Clubs, high schools, soccer teams, cross-country meets, honor rolls, Dairy Queens, debate tournaments.

Despite the insatiable demand for lower-skilled immigrant workers, currently only 5,000 permanent visas are offered for lawful entry each year. Temporary work permits are similarly limited. Under current immigration law, moreover, citizen children under the age of 21 cannot petition for the lawful re-entry of a deported parent or the naturalization of their parents. Those parents will often be barred from any type of legal re-entry for 10 years (often longer than their children have been alive). Although nativist rhetoric often cries that these immigrants should wait in line, currently the line winds ‘round the world for a mere 5,000 spots.((“Severing a Lifeline: The Neglect of Citizen Children in America’s Immigration Enforcement Policy”)

Furthermore, the Dorsey & Whitney report documents that ICE’s “knock and talk” searches are particularly harmful for children. Under pretextual excuses, ICE agents are permitted to enter the homes of suspected extralegals without a search warrant if the scared, often-confused, immigrant opens the door. In these raids, children have seen their parents harassed, racially profiled, interrogated on the living room couch, and sometimes led away in handcuffs. Or, worse yet, sometimes children have come home from school expecting an afternoon snack only to find their home abandoned in the wake of a raid.((“Severing a Lifeline: The Neglect of Citizen Children in America’s Immigration Enforcement Policy”)

The report also touches on other questionable detention techniques, such as the practice of forum shopping (whereby an immigrant detained in the generally lenient 9th Circuit might be moved the next day to the immigrant-hostile 5th Circuit) or isolation (typically, detention centers are isolated with little contact from the outside world). Such techniques employed by ICE hamstring immigrants’ efforts to get effective legal representation, contact their distraught family members, or gather evidence of their legality or asylum claims. When immigrants under these conditions sign “voluntary removal” orders in hopes of seeing their families sooner, the legality of our immigration system is seriously called into question. (“Severing a Lifeline: The Neglect of Citizen Children in America’s Immigration Enforcement Policy”)

Pointedly, the report makes several laudable recommendations including:

• Changing legislation to allow citizen children younger than 21 to petition for lawful re-entry of deported parents.

• That Congress grant immigration judges the discretion to consider the “best interests” of the citizen child in deportation and removal proceedings.

• The appointment of a guardian ad litem to protect and advocate for the interests of the child in all immigration proceedings.

• U.S. Immigration Customs and Enforcement develop guidelines for conducting home raids to ensure that enforcement actions are truly “targeted” and minimize the prospect of harm to children.

This past week, President Obama revealed that he plans to begin addressing our nation’s inadequate immigration system, including solutions for extralegal immigrant workers to become legal. While his statements were met by the usual tumult from NumbersUSA and FAIR (organizations identified as “hate groups” by the Southern Poverty Law Center but curiously referred to as “group[s] that favor[] reduced immigration” in the New York Times article). As Obama looks to make some positive changes in immigration laws which could have positive ramifications on our nation’s workforce and economy by legitimizing millions of people already working, his Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano must also seek to make some serious changes in the way undocumented immigrants and their legal children are treated. One great start to meeting both the needs of citizen children of immigrants and the international community would be to sign on to the Convention on the Rights of the Child.  This 1989 UN treaty has been signed on to by every country in the world but two – Somalia and the United States.  Article 10 of that convention has been a sticking point for the US in the past, but it would help solve the problems highlighted by the Dorsey & Whitney report.  It reads: “applications by a child or his or her parents to enter or leave a State Party for the purpose of family reunification shall be dealt with by States Parties in a positive, humane and expeditious manner.”  Hopefully in the not-too-distant future, we can join the rest of the world in protecting the rights of all children, immigrant and citizen.

Medicine and Migration in Minnesota

April 3, 2009

In this snowy city where once Norwegians and Swedes had their own hospitals, the 446-bed Hennepin County Medical Center (HCMC) currently spends $3 million on interpreters fluent in 50 languages to translate over 130,000 times a year. Minneapolis is home to the largest Somali community in the United States, some 35-40,000. The Twin Cities also have large Hmong and Latino communities, in addition to Liberian, Sudanese, Russian, and most recently Bhutanese immigrants. HCMC has adjusted its practice to better meet the needs of the diverse immigrant population it serves, a community that comprises 20% of its patient base. (Grady, Denise. “Foreign Ways and War Scars Test Hospital”)

Catering to its patient mix, HCMC’s obstetrics unit is now predominantly female, since Muslim women cannot have their children delivered by male doctors. Imams are often consulted prior to medical procedures, such as drawing blood during the month of Ramadan. No questions are asked about immigration status, and indigent patients are offered a sliding-scale fee, though not all can afford even this. Many of these immigrants are refugees from war-torn countries, and their medical care often includes the surgical removal of shrapnel and more difficult treatment of buried pain. Some 47% of women and 25% of men in the Somali community experienced torture (a number extremely high even for refugees), and their care necessarily includes counseling and holistic treatment. (Grady, Denise. “Foreign Ways and War Scars Test Hospital”)

HCMC’s dedication to its immigrant patient population is surely to be lauded. In an economic climate that has hospitals seriously worried about budgets, this Minneapolis hospital is noteworthy in its continued efforts to better serve its community. It is refreshing to see such a positive community response to the new challenges immigration brings; the impact of these efforts at integration and outreach can be seen in the faces of fellow passengers every time one steps on a bus or the Light Rail in this Silver City.



Saint Patrick’s Day in Postville

March 25, 2009

Saint Bridget is one of Ireland’s patron saints.  Born to Dubhthach, a pagan chieftain of Leinster, and Brocca, a Christian Pict who had been baptized by Saint Patrick, Bridget went on to found an important monastery in Kildare or Cill-dara, the “church of the oak.”  Her symbol is the Saint Brigid’s cross, representative of a time when she wove some reeds together to form a cross in the house of a dying peasant in order to teach him the Gospel story.

Driving into Postville, Iowa, on Saint Patrick’s Day, I was immediately struck by the ghost-town feel of the western half of this town that used to boast a population of 2,000.  Dozens of chicken-coop semi-trucks were parked outside the abandoned Agriprocessor’s slaughterhouse.  Hundreds of coops sat outside, vacant, waiting.  A piece of heavy machinery was driving through the property, disposing with some of the tons of junk littered around the lot.  With the whine of its engine, it seems to be disposing with the evidence of what happened here last May.

Agriprocessors slaughterhouse

Agriprocessors slaughterhouse

On this dusty day, one can hardly imagine the cacophony of sounds here before the ICE raid on May 12, 2008.  Chickens squawking, machines whirring, blades thudding, trucks chugging, people shouting to be heard over the din of machinery.  Spanish mixed with Yiddish mixed with Arabic numerals preceded by $ signs.

In this abandoned slaughterhouse site, though, it is all too easy to imagine the eerie silence when the machines stopped, when 900 ICE agents increased the town’s population by 40%, when 389 immigrants were detained and interned in a cattle barn, when the chickens lived to squawk some more and this peaceful Iowa town screeched to a halt.  Only five immigrant workers had prior criminal records, but all were sentenced with working under false documents.  (Bobo, Kim. Religious Leaders Protest Postville Raid)  The public defenders, the translators, the immigration judge – everyone had been told to keep this date open on their calendars, ensuring a speedy process where nearly all the immigrants from Central America pled guilty to charges they didn’t understand in hopes of reduced sentences.  Professional interpreter Camayd-Freixas was so appalled that he published his eyewitness account with the New York Times.

Just down the street, I sit with Father Ouderkirk for a half-hour.  He is the father of St. Bridget’s Catholic Church here in Postville, a safe haven for many of the terrorized families still remaining after that fateful day in May.  “You should have been here earlier,” this once-retired priest tells me.  “On Tuesdays and Thursdays, this turns into the best restaurant in town.'”  Taking his job seriously as pastor to this reeling community, Ouderkirk serves Latino food to needy families on these days, in addition to working to provide housing funds for the scores of families who lost dads, moms, and children in this raid.  “You wouldn’t believe how much we spend each month, trying to keep a roof over their heads.”

Some of the women he serves at St. Bridget’s have been wearing an ankle bracelet for 10 months.  Some of the children haven’t seen or heard from their fathers for almost a year.  Many of the mothers are torn between returning to Central America to reunite with their husbands or staying here so their citizen children can receive a good education.  These families are facing excruciatingly difficult choices, choices one should never have to make.  Father Ouderkirk wipes with his handkerchief and tells me what we really need is comprehensive immigration reform.

As I leave Postville on Tuesday, the day after the mayor announced his resignation, the boarded-up windows and streams of For-Sale signs are a constant reminder that this town was dealt a devastating blow last May.  With a new administration and new DHS Secretary Napolitano, many are hopeful that the days of Postville and Oxford, Mississippi raids are over.  It is not enough, though, to merely hope that this administration will make the hard choices it must to ensure that comprehensive immigration reform wins out over high-profile, low-impact raids such as this.  We must make it very clear that criminalizing immigrant families is useless and inhumane, while opportunistic employers who lure workers under false pretenses (and, as here, actually provide the false identification documents to their unknowing workers) is the appropriate focus of workplace reform.  We must remind Obama that, if he is really attempting to out-do the New Deal, he should learn from FDR’s Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins who shut down the Department of Labor division that was then carrying out workplace raids (Bobo, Kim). We must encourage Napolitano to ensure that such Sinclair-like Jungle conditions never occur again, where immigrants are both victimized and criminalized.  We must urge our judicial department to reexamine current immigration policies which allow such a rushed, clandestine mockery of Due Process.

Father Ouderkirk will be traveling to my home in Rochester on April 2, to give a presentation at Pax Christi Catholic Church.  I encourage anyone and everyone to come and hear this man of faith who is earnestly working for immigration reform.  For all those afar, it is vital that we do not forget such tragedies as Postville.  We must stare at such instances with unblinking eyes and learn from them.  Please urge our administration to do the same.

Saint Bridget's Catholic Church, Postville, IA

Saint Bridget's Catholic Church, Postville, IA

Integration- The Ongoing Immigration Reform

March 16, 2009

As school budgets dry up and the immigration debate remains tabled for the moment, immigrants are often left without the resources needed to integrate into American society. A long article in the New York Times this past week highlighted some schools in the Northeast that are struggling to overcome the isolationism of immigrant students, but this is an issue in every state in the U.S. Without an effective English-as-a-Second-Language program and a school that actively works to engage immigrant students with the entire student body, these new Americans often feel isolated, discriminated, separate. Currently more than 5.1 million students are ESL or ELL learners – 1 in 10 of all students enrolled in public schools- a number which has increased by 60% from 1995 to 2005. (Thomspon, Ginger. “Where Education and Assimilation Collide”)

Some of the immigration influx is from Mexico’s downturned economy in the 1980s and early 1990s, as well as the Mexican baby boom that followed on the heels of the American one. But this only explains a portion of the immigration phenomenon in the United States in 2009. Our immigrant population is growing more and more diverse, with refugees coming from Somalia, Sudan, eastern Europe, Central America, south Asia. Our workforce is now made up of new Americans from India and China, Liberia and Guinea, Iraq and Laos.

ESL teacher Ms. Cain explained the current situation succinctly. “I used to tell my students that they had to stay in school, because eventually the laws would change, they would become citizens of this country, and they needed their diplomas so they could make something of themselves as Americans. I don’t tell them that anymore. Now I tell them they need to get their diplomas because an education will help them no matter what side of the border they’re on.” As the Obama administration nears its two-month mark, immigrant advocates and international families are growing worried that some of his campaign promises might get overshadowed by the economic times, that comprehensive immigration reform might get side-staged by stimulus checks, although immigration reform arguably promises a more sustainable and enduring change for our economy. (Thomspon, Ginger. “Where Education and Assimilation Collide”)

One of the groups who could use some comprehensive immigration reform is Liberian-Americans. If their temporary protected status [TPS] is not renewed by President Obama, they could be deported beginning March 31. President Bush extended TPS in 2007 to this group of 3600 refugees who fled Liberia two decades ago during a grisly civil war. Here in Minnesota, nearly 1,000 of the 3600 Liberians who call Minneapolis “home” could be deported in March, sent back to a country that held elections in 2006 but is far from stable. Many of these families have lived in the U.S. for almost 20 years and are active members in the community and local economy. Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., previously introduced legislation that would provide Liberians with an opportunity to apply for permanent residency, but it has not been passed yet. Therefore, it’s up to President Obama to ensure that these refugees are not only permitted to stay in the U.S. until their country is repaired but also extend to them the hand of permanent residency, an act that would greatly aid in this community’s integration into American life. (http://www.startribune.com/opinion/editorials/41056182.html?elr=KArksc8P:Pc:UthPacyPE7iUiD3aPc:_Yyc:aULPQL7PQLanchO7DiUr)

Similarly, some 30,000 Haitian immigrants face deportation in the coming months, despite the fact that their country, the poorest in the Western Hemisphere, is ill-equipped to handle such an influx. Already short on water, food, housing and natural resources since the tropical storms last summer, some say such deportations could tax the tiny country beyond what it can handle. Despite appeals from the Haitian government to stay such deportations, the Department of Homeland Security has stated it intends to continue deporting undocumented Haitian immigrants. (Thompson, Ginger. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/04/us/04brfs-HAITIANDEPOR_BRF.html?emc=tnt&tntemail1=y)

Recent news highlights our failure to adequately integrate certain immigrant groups into our nation. This past week, several Somali leaders from Minneapolis testified at a Senate Homeland Security Meeting in Washington, DC. The meeting’s purpose was to probe the mysterious disappearance of several Somali youths over the past few months, including one Shirwa Ahmed who was a suicide bomber in Somalia. Osman Ahmed, president of the Riverside Plaza Tenants Association, and Abdirahman Mukhtar, youth program manager at the Brian Coyle Community Center both testified at the DHS meeting. The concern arises from the alleged recruiting of Al-Shabaab — meaning “the youth” or “young guys” in Arabic – which has been able to attract some disaffected, un-integrated, jobless youth in the Somali community. With more than 200,000 Somalis living in the United States, Al-Shabaab poses a problem; however, it is paled in comparison to a failed integration and immigration system which creates such easy prey for extremist groups. While homeland security demands we investigate such terrorist recruiting claims, it is vital we do not forget that empty hands are very easily formed into closed fists. (Star Tribune)

Our government has not totally forgotten this root tenet of community integration. Congress recently passed Consolidated Security, Disaster Assistance and Continuing Appropriations Act of 2009 (Public Law 110-329), creating the Fiscal Year 2009 Citizenship Grant Program.  Awarding approximately $1.2 million of federal funding in the form of $100,000 individual awards, this grant program is aimed to support citizenship programs for legal permanent residents (LPRs). When LPRs make the shift from residents to citizens, everyone wins. The naturalized citizens gain the right to vote and receive benefits; our communities gain involved members and a greater constituency; and our nation integrates one more immigrant family. This grant for community-based organizations will do more than facilitate ESL classes, civics review sessions, and N-400 applications – it will serve to more fully involve and integrate denizens into American life. We can all hope to see more initiatives like this through the Obama administration. (USCIS)

Post-Postville America

March 6, 2009

Though it only occurred last May, the ICE raids in Postville, Iowa, keep resurfacing to the forefront of immigration policy in the United States. On February 25, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano ordered a review of a raid the day before. This raid on the Yamato Engine Specialists engine repair shop in Washington resulted in the arrest of 28 individuals and the first such raid under the new Obama administration (Stark, John and Anna Walters. Bellingham Herald). A top official suggested that Napolitano did not know of the raid beforehand, stating that, “She was not happy about it because it’s inconsistent with her position, and the president’s position on these matters.” The fate of these workers, most of whom await trial in a Tacoma detention center, will also signal the resolve of the Obama administration to focus more on noncompliant employers rather than the employees. So close to the events of Postville where nearly 400 immigrants were arrested and adjudicated in rapid fashion, Napolitano’s review of the raid will demonstrate how far we’ve come as a nation in ten months. (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/26/washington/26immig.html?emc=tnt&tntemail1=y)

Also last week, the Supreme Court heard the oral arguments of Flores-Figueroa v. United States. This case is a test case aimed at getting the Supreme Court to issue a binding national ruling on identity theft. 18 U.S.C. §1028 is an aggravated identity theft statute which extends criminal sentences by two years per charge. §1028 intersects with immigration law, however, when undocumented immigrants make up Social Security numbers which happen to belong to real people.

Six District Courts are evenly split over the extent of mens rea (foreknowledge) required for this crime. Currently, six District Courts are evenly divided in the interpretation of the ambiguous term “knowingly” within 18 U.S.C. §1028(a). The 4th, 8th, and 11th Courts have ruled no mens rea as to the person’s identity is necessary, while the 1st, 9th, and D.C. Circuits have ruled it a requirement. United States v. Villanueva-Sotelo, 380 U.S. App. D.C. 11, 515 F.3d 1234 (D.C. Cir. 2008)(explaining necessity for mens rea because theft is not mere misappropriation); United States v. Sanchez, 2008 U.S. Dist. Lexis 35460 (E.D.N.Y. April 30, 2008)(requiring government to prove scienter for identity theft); United States v. Mejorada-Cordova, 2008 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 44634 (D. Utah, June 5, 2008); United States v. Salazar-Montero, 520 F. Supp. 2d 1079 (N.D. Iowa 2007) (mens rea needed due to statutory ambiguity).

“There’s a basic problem here,” said Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.. “You get an extra two years if it just so happens that the number you picked out of the air belonged to somebody else.” Kevin Russell, attorney for the defendant, is arguing that, at the very least, the rule of lenity requires that ambiguous statutes such as §1028 be resolved in favor of the defendant in criminal cases. Ignacio Flores-Figueroa worked with false identification for years at a steel plant in Illinois. After six years, he changed his false identification documents and was arrested shortly thereafter. The Eighth Circuit convicted Flores on the basis that he knowingly used false identification, despite the fact he was ignorant of a true person’s identity. (Faitek, Adam. New York Times)

10 months ago in Iowa, 270 of the 400 immigrants working in a kosher meatpacking plant were criminally charged with using false identification. A marked departure from past instances where immigrants had faced only civil charges, the predominantly Guatemalan Spanish-speakers were penned in a cattle-barn and hurried through the mobile trailer-courthouse. Prof. Erik Camayd-Freixas of Florida International University, an interpreter who risked his professional life to speak out against the atrocities he witnessed that May, stated that most of the immigrants had no idea what a Social Security card was, let alone that they had “stolen” someone’s identity.

While much of this may seem like obscure legal arguments, what this realistically means for immigrants charged under §1028 is that, rather than the speedy deportation for which they were hoping, they may have to spend years in an American jail. Anxious to return to any jobsite to earn precious money for their families, the long sentences associated with §1028 condemn them and their families to a meager existence. Moreover, the arbitrary nature of §1028’s application means that some unlucky individuals who picked the wrong number are serving the same jail sentence as professional thieves who bilked thousands of dollars from unsuspecting internet users.

With the oral arguments in, the Supreme Court is now deliberating. Their published opinion will be released later this year, and it will certainly have far-reaching repercussions for the immigrant community. Hopefully their decision will ensure that in a post-Postville America immigrants will be guaranteed a fair civil trial.