Archive for February, 2009

U.S. Immigration Policies Bring Global Shame on Us

February 26, 2009

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As one of the five full-time media relations specialists working for Maricopa County Sheriff and reality TV star Joe Arpaio- “America’s Toughest Sheriff” – Detective Aaron Douglas deals with the world’s media more than most. Though he is a local official, his is often the first voice heard by many of the foreign correspondents covering immigration in the United States.

“We talk to media from literally all over world: New Zealand, Australia, United Kingdom, Mexico, Chinese and other parts of the Orient,” Douglas drawled in a Southern accent. “We just did a series with a TV station from Mexico City about the isolation of illegal immigrants and why we’re putting them in a tent.” He was referring to a controversial march reported and discussed widely by international media and bloggers last week.

Alongside reports on Pres. Barack Obama’s announcement in Phoenix last week of his plan to revive the American Dream by fixing the U.S. housing crisis that led to the global economic crisis, millions of viewers, listeners and readers around the world also got stories reminiscent of the American nightmare Obama was elected to overcome, Guantanamo. “Immigrant Prisoners Humiliated in Arizona,” was the title of a story in Spain’s Onda Cero radio show; “Arpaio for South African President,” declared a blogger in that country; an op-ed in Mexico’s Cambio newspaper denounced “the inhuman, discriminatory and criminal treatment of immigrants by Arizona’s radical, anti-immigrant Sheriff, Joe Arpaio.” Stories of this week’s massive protest of Arapaio will likely be seen and heard alongside reports of Obama’s speech to Congress in media all over the world, as well.

The proliferation of stories in international media and in global forums about the Guantanamo-like problems in the country’s immigrant detention system- death, abuse and neglect at the hands of detention facility guards; prolonged and indefinite detention of immigrants (including children and families) denied habeas corpus and other fundamental rights; filthy, overcrowded and extremely unhealthy facilities; denial of basic health services – are again tarnishing the U.S. image abroad, according to several experts. As a result, reports from Arizona and immigrant detention facilities have created a unique problem: they are making it increasingly difficult for Obama to persuade the planet’s people that the United States is ready claim exceptional leadership on human rights in a soon-to-be-post-Guantanamo world.

Consider the case of Mexico. Just last week, following news reports from Arizona, the Mexican government, which is traditionally silent or very tepid in its criticism of U.S. immigration and other policies, issued a statement in which it “energetically protested the undignified way in which the Mexicans were transferred to ‘Tent City'” in Maricopa County.

David Brooks, U.S correspondent for Mexico’s La Jornada newspaper, believes that immigrant detention stories hit Mexicans closer to home because those reportedly being abused in detention are not from a far off country; they are family, friends, neighbors and fellow citizens. In the same way that Guantanamo erased the idea of U.S. leadership in human rights in the Bush era, says Brooks, who was born in Mexico, practices in immigrant detention facilities like those reported by global media in Maricopa County may begin to do so in the Obama era if something does not change. “Mexicans have never seen the U.S. as a great model for promotion of human rights. But with Obama we take him at his word. We’re expecting some change,” said Brooks. “But that will not last long if we see him continuing Bush’s [immigration] policies: raids, increasing detention, deportation. Regardless of his excuse, he will quickly become mas de lo mismo (more of the same) in terms of the experience down south.” If uncontested, the expression of such sentiments far beyond Mexico and Mexican immigrants could lead to the kind of American exceptionalism Obama doesn’t want.

In a March 2008 report, Jorge Bustamante, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights of Migrants, concluded that “the United States has failed to adhere to its international obligations to make the human rights of the 37.5 million migrants living in the country a national priority, using a comprehensive and coordinated national policy based on clear international obligations.” Asked how his report was received in different countries, Bustamante said, “The non-governmental organizations have really responded. In the United States and outside the United States- in Mexico, in Guatemala, in Indonesia and other countries- NGO’s are using my report to frame their concerns and demands in their own countries- and to raise criticism about the United States.”

For her part, Alison Parker, deputy director of the U.S. program of Human Rights Watch, fears a global government “race to the bottom” around immigrant detention policies. “My concern is that as the rest of world sees the United States practices, we increase the risk that this will give the green light to other governments to be just as abusive or more abusive as the United States.”

If there is a positive note to be heard in the growing global chorus of critique of and concern about U.S immigration policy, it is to be found among those human rights activists and groups doing what W.E.B. DuBois, Paul Robeson and other civil rights activists did in previous eras: bring their issues to the global stage. Government documents from the civil rights era, documents that were released just a few years ago, illustrate how members of the Kennedy and Johnson State departments and even Kennedy and Johnson themselves were acutely aware of and sensitive to how denunciations in global forums of racial discrimination in United States had a devastating impact on the U.S. prestige abroad.

Such a situation around the rights of migrants today, says Oscar Chacon of the National Alliance of Latin American and Caribbean Communities, a Chicago-based global NGO run by and for immigrants, creates an opportunity out of the globalization of the images of both Sheriff Joe Arpaio and Barack Obama. “The world will be able to see him as the rogue sheriff that he is” said Chacon, who was in Mexico City attending a conference on immigration at which U.S. detention practices were criticized. “And it will be up to the Obama Administration to show the world that Arpaio is not a symbol of the rest of the country when it comes to immigration.”

Yes We Can Raid: Latinos, Immigrant Advocates Denounce Obama Administration’s 1rst Raid

February 26, 2009

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While Department of Homeland Security (DHS) chief Janet Napolitano testified before a Congressional subcommittee about changes to Bush Administration immigration and security policies, DHS and Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers in Washington state were signaling no change: they launched the Obama Administration’s first major immigration raid. This story in the Seattle Times describes the raid on the Yamato Engine Specialists in Bellingham.

Shortly after announcement of the raid, immigrant rights and Latino organizations across the country condemned the actions of the Obama Administration.“President Obama told us to believe in change as he prepared to work on behalf of all Americans. “Workplace raids are remnants of failed immigration policies that have done nothing to solve the undocumented immigration problems we face,” said Jorge-Mario Cabrera of Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA). “We need immediate actions that support our President’s personal commitment to the American electorate, including the more than 10.5 million Latino voters, that a just and humane immigration solution is a priority,” added Cabrera. Even groups that have called for “tough and smart” enforcement as part of an immigration reform “tradeoff” for the legalization of 12 million undocumented workers denounced the raid., groups like America’s Voice and the National Council of La Raza, whose Executive Director, Janet Murguia, declared in response to the raid, “At a time when messages of change and hope abound, we are left to wonder how change will come to these failed policies.

That Obama and Napolitano’s loud roar of “Si se Puede Redar” (Yes We Can Raid) was received with such uniform and vociferous condemnation bodes well for the immigrant rights movement, which has too often, been divided between those emphasizing legalization and those concerned about detention, raids and other enforcement issues. At the same time, the universal condemnation also serves as a measure of the depths of the immigrant detention abyss the country is mired in; It may indicate that stories of a “softening” on immigration by Obama hard-liners like Rahm Emanuel may not be sufficient for many in the immigrant rights movement to drop their guard. We’ll see.

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On the action front, should these policies continue, my own preferred response would be to create a petition asking the President to cease and desist from using the “Si Se Puede” slogan and its English language variant, “Yes We Can” and to instead adopt the increasingly popular “Si Se Pedo” slogan, which Of América can give him exclusive rights to.

Those of you wanting to denounce these actions by the Obama Administration can join the National Network for Immigrant and Refugees Rights call for letters, phone calls and other actions (see below.)
Call President Obama and Congress

Demand an End to ICE Raids & Abuses

Dear NNIRR members, partners, allies & friends,

Please call President Obama and your Representative and two Senators to denounce the brutal ICE raid against immigrant workers that took place yesterday in Bellingham, Washington (see background information below).

Call (202) 456-1414 and tell President Obama:

Ø The ICE raid yesterday in Washington state violates the rights of immigrant workers, harms the economy and makes our communities vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.

Ø You must end all raids and suspend all detentions and deportations.

Ø Restore and protect our Constitutional rights

Ø Please investigate ICE abuses and end the inhumane treatment immigrants are suffering in detention and deportation.

You can also send fax President Obama at: (202) 456-2461

Call (202) 224-3121 and ask to be connected to your Representative’s and Senators’ offices, tell them:

Ø The ICE raid yesterday in Washington state violates the rights of immigrant workers, harms the economy and makes our communities vulnerable to abuse and exploitation.

Ø End all raids and suspend all detentions and deportations.

Ø Restore and protect our Constitutional rights

Ø You must hold hearings to investigate ICE abuses and end the inhumane treatment immigrants are suffering in detention and deportation.

You can also get full contact information for your Congressional delegation at:

http://www.usa.gov/Contact/Elected.shtml

Please take action today!

For more talking points and messages to our elected officials, see NNIRR’s letter with signatures

to President Barack Obama at

www.nnirr.org

The Age of Crimmigration is Upon Us: Latinos New Majority-In Federal Prisons

February 19, 2009

A Rising Share:  Hispanics and Federal Crime

A recently released report provides another startling indicator of how Latino demographics are being used to lead the United States into a new age, the Age of Crimmigration. Produced by the Pew Hispanic Center, the report found that Latinos are now the largest single ethnic group in the federal prison system.

Fueled, in large part, by changes to immigration law that have multiplied exponentially the ways in which undocumented immigrants can be prosecuted and jailed as criminals, the new Latino federal prison majority documented in the report provides definitive proof of the “crimmigration” thesis developed by legal scholars like Juliet Stumpf of the Lewis and Clark Law School in Oregon. Stumpf’s groundbreaking paper, “The Crimmigration Crisis: Immigrants, Crime, & Sovereign Power,” predicted how a lethal combination of forces-changes to immigration laws, political shifts, intensified prosecution and enforcement – would lead to what she called, in 2006, “the most important development in immigration law today: the convergence of immigration and criminal law.” On a less legalistic level,the news of the new Latino federal prison majority also means the convergence of hundreds of thousands of the poor white, black and Latino families in terms of their dealings with a prison system fed increasingly with immigrant bodies. Nearly half of all Latino offenders were convicted of immigration-related crimes, crimes that only became crimes as a result of relatively new sentencing laws and policies.

Although normalized over the course of several years by a confluence of separate but symbiotic interests – opportunistic politicians (Republican and Democrat), nationalistic and race-baiting media personalities, multi-billion dollar security and prison-industrial interests, “immigrant rights advocates” (and the major foundations that fund and legitimate them) promoting “smart” & “tough” immigration policies in exchange for legalization for 12 million undocumented-the immigrant=criminal axiom is, in legal terms, a relatively recent historical development. And it will likely worsen without major mobilizations from below.

As the new Latino federal prison majority overtakes the sizeable populations of whites and African Americans in federal facilities, it should be noted that the criminalization of immigrants and immigration policy described by the crimmigration thesis comes as an extension of previous legal and other institutional practices. For example, the exponential increase in laws facilitating the mass incarceration of mostly Latino migrants appears to follow the same pattern and logic that led to the exponential increase in the disproportionate drug sentencing laws and policies that led to the mass incarceration of African and other, mostly poor Americans. Without radical intervention from below or a definitive change of heart from above- or both, immigration laws will join drug laws as the drivers of the prison system in the Obama era.

Latinos already account for 40 percent of those convicted of federal crimes, a percentage that has doubled from 1991 to 2007 (see chart below). And, according to this report in the New York Times, “Of Latino federal offenders, 72 percent are not United States citizens and most were sentenced in courts from one of the four states that border Mexico.” (contd. below chart)

(from NY Times)

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Because crimmigration combines two political third rails -criminal justice and immigrant rights-, legal reform, enforcement and prosecution and detention issues in immigration policy have been and may continue to be largely ignored by elected officials and other policy influentials. That candidate and now President Obama and his allies have remained largely silent on the crisis of incarceration and criminal justice in black and Latino communities does not bode well for the “hope” that the Obama administration will be willing to take on powerful lobbies of the fast growing immigration prison-industrial complex: aerospace, surveillance and prison-building industries like Halliburton and Boeing, prison guard unions (whose fasest-growing group are Latino prison guards), and super predatory private prison management firms like GEO. Soon, we will likely see increasing numbers of immigrants themselves joining the ranks of those profiting from mass imprisonment of immigrants.

But, if there’s an opportunity to be found (and there always is) in the cloudy complexities of crimmigration policy it is the realization that the silver lining is actually and truly black and brown. Growing Latino majorities in the already overcrowded federal penitentiary system are nothing if not an unprecedented opportunity to create a visionary, mass-based movement of blacks and Latinos and others committed to ending the disgrace that makes us the largest carcereal country on earth. Rather than operate piecemeal and in separate silohs, criminal justice and immigrant detention activists can together lead a powerful movement the likes of which this country has never seen. Crimmigration represents as much a historic opportunity as it does a great danger in times of economic and political crisis.

Homeland Security Chief Napolitano Outlines Top Immigration Priorities: Militarism & Militarism

February 16, 2009

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano.

Looks like Napolitano’s -and Obama’s- version of “hope” and “change” on immigration means pressing down on the undocumented with even more boots and guns, according to this interview on NPR.

Given the spikes in anti-immigrant hate crimes that continue spilling blood on our streets and given the colossal humanitarian crisis festering in detention centers throughout the country , such a militaristic approach to immigration policy is nothing less than immoral and inhumane. Such an approach begs the questions, “Where is the hope?” and “Is this what you meant by “change?”

If the Obama Administration continues along this deadly path, I predict that the immigrant rights movement and growing numbers of Latinos will start politically attacking Obama and his backers in DC in anticipation their support for policies that will worsen further the growing humanitarian crisis in detention. I also predict the Dems and their allies will counter with a modified version of the PR strategy used to promote McCain-Kennedy: focus media on legalization while avoiding or simply paying minimal lip service to detention, raids enforcement and other issues involving the most vulnerable. By adding more jaded chants of “Si Se Puede” to such grotesque policies, Obama and Napolitano will only make even more of us hear even more clearly the echoes of “Si Se Pedo” politics: sounds similar to something good until you get close to the smell that’s toxically bad.

In a such a dangerous climate, a climate in which economic decline worsens the undocumented condition -death in jail, hate crimes, death in deserts, daily doses of dehumanizing media-, it is our duty to reject as extremely dangerous and in the most forceful terms any of the “smart enforcement” and other militaristic language and policy used by Napolitano, GOP & Dems and some “immigrant rights advocates.” Without a powerful pushback against these powerful interests who claim to be “liberal” and “progressive” on immigration reform, their institutional advantages – government bully pulpit & policy leadership, massive foundation funding for polls, media work and even blogging, media predisposition to be DC-centric- will again push non-legalization issues into the gulag of neglect, the further normalization of the nefarious things we’re seeing in the treatment of the undocumented.

So, beware: the workings of “hope” and “change” lurketh on the horizon.

Immigration Detention Reform Moves to Front Burner

February 2, 2009

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New America Media, Roberto Lovato, Posted: Feb 02, 2009

Guantanamo Bay isn’t the only prison crisis that President Barack Obama will have to deal with. There’s another crisis growing – in the many immigration detention centers carpeting the interior of the country. Long ignored by policymakers because they make up the politically lethal combination of immigration and prison reform, calls for major restructuring of the immigration detention system may soon become unavoidable. The death of German immigrant Guido Newbrough in a Virginia detention center has pushed the issue to the front burner, helped along by incessant calls for change from advocates like Gil Velazquez.

“I went through that system. I was there. I could have died too,” says Velazquez upon hearing of Newbrough’s death. Velazquez, a recently released immigrant detainee from Oaxaca, Mexico who now lives in Richmond, Virginia, is looking for action from Washington. “I wish I could speak to Mr. Obama. I would tell him ‘They (immigration authorities) jail so many people and they don’t know what they’re doing. They have no right to let people die,'” said Velazquez.

His mobility and work possibilities are limited by the big black ankle bracelet that the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency is forcing him to wear until his hearing in June. He cannot leave his sister’s apartment in the evenings. But Velazquez does not let his undocumented status limit his freedom.

“I want him (Obama) to know that we should be building schools and hospitals, things that help people, not these prisons,” the very soft-spoken Velazquez declared in his most strident cadence as he took a break from folding flyers for a protest to halt the construction of another immigrant detention center in Farmville, where Newborough died.

Velazquez’s indefatigable efforts form part of a large and growing movement to put immigration detention issues front and center of any upcoming reform of the larger immigration system from the Obama administration. He and other critics of the system see the root of Newbrough’s death and a host of other problems –death from medical neglect, denial of habeas corpus and other basic legal rights, lack of sanitation, food and other basic necessities, violent and abusive guards, to name a few- in the exponential growth of the immigrant detainee population. It has tripled since 1996, according to ICE records.

Demands for a radical restructuring of the detention and deportation system have become the main message on the placards, press statements and posters of a growing galaxy of older and new advocacy groups outside the Beltway. Groups like the Detention Watch Network, an umbrella organization made up of immigrant detention advocates from across the country, report rapid growth in membership and actions since the failure of immigration reform unleashed an unprecedented regime of raids and incarceration targeting immigrants.

Fueled by what groups like Virginia’s People United, a multi-issue activist organization, are calling the “humanitarian crisis” in immigrant detention, Velazquez and others’ increasingly vociferous calls for changes to the detention system have also created a political crisis for supporters of the more legalization-centered approach to immigration reform favored by supporters of some version of the McCain-Kennedy bill of 2006-2007 which was also supported by then Senator Barack Obama. The failure of McCain-Kennedy, gave rise not just to exponential increases in the numbers of ICE raids (an average of 11 per day); it also gave long-ignored detention reform flank of the immigrant rights movement more motivated troops and unprecedented resources – more than a dozen reports on detention issues are expected in coming months.

Many new detention reform groups have arisen and established groups like People United have placed immigrant detention near the center of their agenda in the last two years thanks to the constant stream of sad and often bizarre detention stories. “I just spoke with a man being held in the jail where Mr. Newbrough died,” said Jeff Winder, a regional organizer with People United. “The man told me that they’re cutting even more services to save money. Less than two months after the second death in that prison they’re cutting heat, toilet paper, food and other basic services. He even told me that there are 30 lights on the ceiling but that only 5 are turned on. People are crowding under lights just to read.”

Winder also pointed to several recent events – a hostage situation in Texas, hunger strikes across the country, legal victories for detainees claiming they were physically and psychologically abused, other deaths in detention – as examples of the “scandal in immigrant detention we see every week.” The steady stream of bad detention news is forcing Winder and other activists to find balance in the optimism mirrored by the Obama moment. “There’s a real mood of hope in the country. The end of the horrible abuses of Bush is very important and historic. I celebrate that, he said, adding, “But I’m waiting to see what President Obama will do about creating really viable alternatives to detention.”

Asked about the alternatives, Winder cited a 1998 government-funded study by the Vera Institute of Justice. The study found that, with a battery of community services costing less than $12 per person per day (versus the national average of $120 per day for people in immigration detention centers) the government could drastically reduce the numbers of people in immigrant detention facilities. “Reducing the number of people is important,” said Winder. “But the more important question President Obama will have to answer why we have so many people rotting in immigrant prisons in the first place.”