Sunday, February 01, 2009

General Immigrant

Rights News

General Immigrant Rights News
Activist networks have sprung up to prepare illegal immigrants for possible federal activity in their communities.

By Nicole Gaouette
Los Angeles Times
September 14, 2008

WASHINGTON -- Reeling from work-site raids that have jailed thousands of illegal workers, immigration organizations are quietly assembling informal networks to gather advance information about federal enforcement operations and to help locals and laborers prepare.

Students, union officials, waiters and others are volunteering to call in tips about Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents checking into hotels or renting facilities, about the sudden appearance of out-of-town cars and about a surge in action at the local courthouse.

"Is ICE going to tell us when they're coming? What they're doing? No," said Socorro Leos, a community organizer for Mississippi Immigrants' Rights Alliance. "You have to be working with the grass roots, on the ground, training them to be alert, to be very, very conscious, to open their eyes and senses."

The spontaneous development of these intelligence networks stems from the scale of recent ICE raids: hundreds of agents and vehicles plus a major infrastructure.

"These are huge paramilitary operations," said Joshua Hoyt, executive director of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights. "They use helicopters, jeeps, mobile homes for processing people. They have to have jail space lined up. It's very hard to do that in secrecy."

Still, ICE raids rely on the element of surprise.

Immigrants' advocates say they do not use warnings to block raids or urge workers to flee; rather, they say, they try to soften the blow. They liken the effect of a raid to a natural disaster.

"We cannot tell people, 'Don't go to work,' " Leos said, adding that the networks cannot know for sure when or where ICE agents will appear.

Organizations hold "know your rights" sessions and encourage workers to set up phone trees for rapid information sharing. Activists arrange legal help for those who are detained and make sure court-appointed lawyers have access to experts who can explain the complexities of immigration law. Groups ensure that food pantries are stocked, that caregivers are ready for any children left unattended, and that funds are collected for families that lose breadwinners.

The effort has parallels to the sanctuary movement of the 1980s, when churches brought Central American refugees to the U.S. to protect them from political violence. More recently, churches have offered shelter to illegal immigrants facing deportation.

"The sanctuary movement is certainly an appropriate precedent" to the networks, said David Cole, a law professor at Georgetown University. "Both arose out of a sense that the immigration law and its enforcement are fundamentally unjust and illegitimate."

ICE, however, believes the immigration advocates' efforts are misdirected.

"The work of advocacy groups is very important and while we appreciate their right to do so, we believe their efforts would better serve the public if they encouraged individuals to comply with the law rather than impede our efforts to enforce it," said ICE spokeswoman Kelly Nantel.

Advocates for expanded restrictions on immigration consider the strategy appalling.

"This really is to make it as difficult as possible for ICE to do its job," said Mark Krikorian, director of the Center for Immigration Studies. "The idea that this is just to soften the blow after the enforcement happens is just disingenuous."

In communities where raid fears run especially high, advocates try to vet intelligence before launching preparations.

"You have to step back and say, 'Is this immigration, or is this something else?' " said Diego Bonesatti, a community organizer in Melrose Park, Ill. A routine traffic stop for seat belts could easily be misinterpreted, Bonesatti said. "Because people are on edge, you have to have people check it out and verify."

Organizers also emphasized the need to separate rumor from fact. "Now, if there are rumors of white vans, people won't go to church or school," said Julien Ross, director of the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition. "Rumors and panic easily spread. We want to make sure we don't say there's a raid when there isn't."

Federal officials have conducted a number of big raids recently.

At a manufacturing plant in Laurel, Miss., where about 600 workers were detained late last month, organizers knew something was afoot in the region. But they thought the raid would be on the Gulf Coast, perhaps at a casino.

A week before the raid, workers called to say that ICE agents -- lots of them -- had checked into area hotels. The next day, a caller reported overhearing a conversation at the local courthouse about a short-term need for interpreters.

"The only thing you have is alert workers," Leos said. "That's the way we were able to anticipate a little ahead. Not because we have a top-secret organization that called us, but because the workers have been taught to open their eyes and ears."

The calls kept coming, from waiters, residents, even the spouse of a local official.

At one area restaurant, so many fearful workers left that other customers had to help the owner finish serving meals, said Bill Chandler, executive director of the Mississippi Immigrants' Rights Alliance.

Tips gleaned from black workers were key to learning about ICE's presence in Mississippi, Chandler said, despite a history of tension between blacks and Latinos. He attributed the cooperation to long-standing efforts by labor and religious leaders to build ties between the two groups.

"Some of the industries here -- poultry, hospitality, food processing -- are 50-50 [black and Latino], so there's a bond there," Chandler said.

Ultimately, the tip-offs did not seem to prevent many arrests. But on the morning of the raid, Chandler and his staff were in the office at 5:15, waiting. When calls started coming in just over an hour later, the organization's staff, volunteers and local church groups were ready to help.

Last spring in Postville, Iowa, activists similarly got wind of an imminent raid.

Sources began calling in information to Sandra Sanchez, an immigrants' rights advocate with the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker organization.

The clearest tip, about 10 days before the raid, was that ICE had leased the National Cattle Congress grounds in Waterloo, Iowa, for a "training exercise," information later borne out by news reports. Sanchez and her colleagues knew to start preparing.

Even so, they were overwhelmed when ICE finally moved in on a meatpacking plant. About 300 people were convicted and sentenced.

Sanchez isn't sure how much groups like hers can do, even with advance warning.

"Immigration officials and the district attorney's office were a step or two ahead of us," she said. "And they'll continue to be. They have billions of dollars at their disposal and an entire machinery . . . that community groups cannot match. We're David and the government is Goliath."
Tactics Used in U.S. Raids Draw Claims of Brutality

MIAMI — Advocates for immigrants here demanded an investigation Tuesday into a series of federal raids last month that they said left at least six Guatemalan men bloodied and bruised in a roundup of nearly 100 people.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement denied all accusations of misconduct by agents in the raids on Nov. 19 in three South Florida counties, noting that the operation focused on sex trafficking and led to charges against seven people and the release of several women.

But lawyers working with other detainees said they were concerned that the agency was using human trafficking laws as a front for broader operations, and a cover for harsh tactics.

“There is a way that these operations should be conducted,” said Jose Rodriguez, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union of Miami-Dade County. “And this is not it.”

At a news conference, Mr. Rodriguez and others said agents had relied on vaguely worded warrants to invade people’s homes and arrest nearly anyone who looked Hispanic. In all, according to the federal agency, 77 illegal immigrants were detained in the operation, and only a handful appear to have been charged with a crime.

In the case involving the accusations of beatings, none of the men have been charged with sex trafficking. Lawyers working with the men said the agents used excessive force: bursting into their home in Homestead about 8:30 p.m., pulling their guns in front of a 4-year-old girl, then forcing all 10 or 11 men inside onto the floor in handcuffs.

No guns or drugs were found. All the men were Guatemalan immigrants, and the advocates said at least six of them arrived at a nearby detention center with bruises and cuts.

The wife of one detainee, the mother of the 4-year-old girl, said she saw agents kick her husband and others while they were on the floor. She declined to give her name because she feared retribution.

Agency officials, in a statement denying the accusations of abuse and the display of a weapon near a child, said they were required to arrest anyone found to be violating immigration law, regardless of the circumstances.

The statement also said the accusations would be forwarded to the agency’s Office of Professional Responsibility for review.

But the advocates said that was not enough. Witnesses have already been deported, they said, and without a robust investigation by the agency’s inspector general or the United States attorney’s office in Miami, agents who might have violated the law might never be punished.




[Editorial] Look at the Whole Immigration Picture

December 10, 2008

Immigrants and their children sent a loud message last week. About 50 people marched on the capitol, protesting recent raids at a Laurel factory and a new Mississippi law that puts people in jail for being undocumented and employed at the same time.

SB 2988 has more intrinsic flaws than a wax frying pan. Business advocates say it unfairly snatches the licenses of business-owners whose sub-contractors and suppliers hire undocumented residents. They’re right. But the greater horror in SB 2988 is its ability to put a guy in jail for holding a job. It doesn’t matter if he has any American children born on American soil—that guy is likely on his way back to the motherland, with or without his kids.

But Senate Bill 2988’s greatest flaw, by far, is the emotion that fueled it. Frank Curiel, vice president of the Laborers International Union, said it best: “You know why they have the raids? Because (whites) don’t want to see people like us take over this house.”

Sure, legislators base their backing for SB 2988 on protecting the economy, but they’d just as likely spit their whiskey at the thought of a Sen. Sanchez. The money complaints, after all, just don’t add up. Employers of immigrants say Americans didn’t want the jobs they’re giving immigrants in the first place, and you can’t say immigrants—no matter how “illegal?don’t pay taxes when they pay the same payroll, sales and property tax as the rest of us. The companies they work for also pay the same money to the state that every other state company pays. In fact, the economic benefit of cheap labor on the state economy is very clear, when you only look at the money. The truth is, the immigrant issue is about race, and this problem can’t be solved by institutionalizing that racism.

Fixing immigration starts from the ground up, with a hard look at every-damn-body. American consumers want the cheapest brand available, sold by the cheapest outlet—and the recent economic downturn will place an even higher preference on the cheapest widget out there.

Meanwhile, those same buyers will also be sure to tell their representatives, during this economic downturn, to cut taxes and short state and local governments of infrastructure investments, forcing those governments to hire the cheapest contractors around, who stay good and cheap, of course, through immigrant labor.

Fixing the immigration problem starts where it always did: in our own hearts and minds, just like it did when the problem immigrants were those damned Irish Catholics, or those damned Italians. Like then, the debate will only be complicated with an “us vs. them” mentality.

Take out the emotion and the blame—and let’s really solve the problem.

North Carolina

By Amanda Fitzpatrick

RALEIGH (WTVD) -- More than 100 members of the Southern Human Rights Organizer conference, organized in front of the Wake County Jail Saturday to protest against Wake County's 287-G program.

Jaribu Hill came from Mississippi and says the program is unfair. "287-G is a measure put in place by law enforcement to chill and the measure to chill and curtail the movement of immigrant people," Hill said.

The measure gives local authorities some ability to enforce federal immigration laws. Inside the Wake County jail, they are allowed to check the legal status of every inmate that comes through the doors, using the inmates' fingerprints.

Rosa Saavedra, a Wake County activist says she met a pregnant woman whose family was destroyed because of the new bill.

"I met a lady whose husband was taken away due to this 287-G," she said. "The police took him here, haul him away for a minor traffic violation."

Some argue the program encourages racial profiling. They believe the police target Hispanics and take them to jail for minor traffic violations so they can fingerprint them to find their legal status --later deporting them out of the country.

But Wake County Sheriff Donnie Harrison disagrees, in an earlier interview he says the 287-G program has kept criminals off the streets.

"We've already caught people that were wanted in other states and other counties," he said. "So to me, when we get a criminal off the street, regardless of how we do it, if we're doing it legally, then it's a plus for us."

Harrison says they've found more than 550 illegal immigrants at the jail since 287-G started in Wake County and with the new technology, that number could increase.

South Carolina

Editorial - A Death in Patchogue

Marcelo Lucero was killed late Saturday night near the commuter railroad station in Patchogue, N.Y., a middle-class village in central Long Island. He was beaten and stabbed. The friend who crouched beside him in a parking lot as he lay dying, soaked in blood, said Mr. Lucero, who was 37, had come to the United States 16 years ago from Ecuador.
The police arrested seven teenage boys, who they said had driven into the village from out of town looking for Latinos to beat up. The police said the mob cornered Mr. Lucero and another man, who escaped and later identified the suspects to the police. A prosecutor at the arraignment on Monday quoted the young men as having said: “Let’s go find some Mexicans.” They have pleaded not guilty.

The county executive, Steve Levy, quickly issued a news release denouncing this latest apparent hate crime in Suffolk County. That should be the first and least of the actions he and other leaders take.

A possible lynching in a New York suburb should be more than enough to force this country to acknowledge the bitter chill that has overcome Latinos in these days of rage against illegal immigration.

The atmosphere began to darken when Republican politicians decided a few years ago to exploit immigration as a wedge issue. They drafted harsh legislation to criminalize the undocumented. They cheered as vigilantes streamed to the border to confront the concocted crisis of Spanish-speaking workers sneaking in to steal jobs and spread diseases. Cable personalities and radio talk-show hosts latched on to the issue. Years of effort in Congress to assemble a responsible overhaul of the immigration system failed repeatedly. Its opponents wanted only to demonize and punish the Latino workers on which the country had come to depend.

A campaign of raids and deportations, led by federal agents with help from state and local posses, has become so pervasive that nearly 1 in 10 Latinos, including citizens and legal immigrants, have told of being stopped and asked about their immigration status, according to the Pew Hispanic Center. Now that the economy is in free fall, the possibility of scapegoating is deepening Hispanic anxiety.

It is not yet clear how closely connected Mr. Lucero’s murder is to this broad wave of xenophobia. But there is both a message and opportunity here for officials like Mr. Levy, an immigration hard-liner whose relations with his rapidly growing Latino immigrant constituency have been strained by past crises and confrontations.

Deadly violence represents the worst fear that immigrants deal with every day, but it is not the only one. It must be every leader’s task to move beyond easy outrage and take on the difficult job of understanding and defending a community so vulnerable to sudden outbreaks of hostility and terror.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: November 19, 2008
Editorials on Nov. 11 and Nov. 14 about the murder of an Ecuadorean immigrant on Long Island used an incorrect spelling of his name that was given by police. He was Marcelo Lucero, not Marcello.


Immigrant, Pregnant, Is Jailed Under Pact
By Julia Preston, The New York Times
Published: July 20, 2008

It started when Juana Villegas, an illegal immigrant from Mexico who was nine months pregnant, was pulled over by a police officer in a Nashville suburb for a routine traffic violation.
Juana Villegas and 2-week-old son in her lawyer’s office Thursday in Nashville. Mother and son had been separated for two days.

By the time Mrs. Villegas was released from the county jail six days later, she had gone through labor with a sheriff’s officer standing guard in her hospital room, where one of her feet was cuffed to the bed most of the time. County officers barred her from seeing or speaking with her husband.

After she was discharged from the hospital, Mrs. Villegas was separated from her nursing infant for two days and barred from taking a breast pump into the jail, her lawyer and a doctor familiar with the case said. Her breasts became infected, and the newborn boy developed jaundice, they said.

Mrs. Villegas’s arrest has focused new attention on a cooperation agreement signed in April 2007 between federal immigration authorities and Davidson County, which shares a consolidated government with Nashville, that gave immigration enforcement powers to county officers. It is one of 57 agreements, known formally as 287G, that the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency has signed in the last two years with county and local police departments across the country under a rapidly expanding program.

Nashville officials have praised the agreement as a successful partnership between local and federal government.

“We are able to identify and report individuals who are here illegally and have been charged with a criminal offense, while at the same time remaining a friendly and open city to our new legal residents,” Karl Dean, the mayor of Nashville, said in a statement on Friday.

Lawyers and immigrant advocates say Mrs. Villegas’s case shows how local police can exceed their authority when they seek to act on immigration laws they are not fully trained to enforce.

“Had it not been for the 287G program, she would not have been taken down to jail,” said A. Gregory Ramos, a lawyer who is a former president of the Nashville Bar Association. “It was sold as something to make the community safer by taking dangerous criminals off the streets. But it has been operated so broadly that we are getting pregnant women arrested for simple driving offenses, and we’re not getting rid of the robbers and gang members.”

Mrs. Villegas, who is 33, has lived in the United States since 1996, and has three other children besides the newborn who are American citizens because they were born here.

She was stopped on July 3 in her husband’s pickup truck by a police officer from Berry Hill, a Nashville suburb, initially for “careless driving.” After Mrs. Villegas told the officer she did not have a license, he did not issue a ticket but arrested her instead. Elliott Ozment, Mrs. Villegas’s lawyer, said driving without a license is a misdemeanor in Tennessee that police officers generally handle with a citation, not an arrest.

After Mrs. Villegas was taken to the Davidson County jail, a federal immigration agent working there as part of the cooperation agreement conducted a background check. It showed that Mrs. Villegas was an illegal immigrant who had been deported once from the United States in March 1996, Karla Weikal, a spokeswoman for the county sheriff, said. She had no other criminal record.

As a result, immigration agents issued an order to take charge of Mrs. Villegas once she was released by the local authorities. Based on that order, county officers designated her a medium-security inmate in the jail, Ms. Weikal said.

So when Mrs. Villegas went into labor on the night of July 5, she was handcuffed and accompanied by a deputy as she was taken by ambulance to Nashville General Hospital at Meharry. Cuffs chaining her foot to the hospital bed were opened when she reached the final stages of labor, Mrs. Villegas said.

“I felt like they were treating me like a criminal person,” Mrs. Villegas said, speaking in Spanish in a telephone interview. The phone in her room was turned off, and she was not permitted to speak with her husband when he came to retrieve their newborn son from the hospital on July 7 as she returned to jail, she said.

As Mrs. Villegas left the hospital, a nurse offered her a breast pump but a sheriff’s deputy said she could not take it into the jail, Mrs. Villegas said.

Mr. Ozment, the lawyer, said Mrs. Villegas would never have been detained without the 287G cooperation agreement.

“Whether this lady was documented or undocumented should not affect how she was treated in her late pregnant condition and as she was going through labor and bonding with her new baby,” Mr. Ozment said.

On July 8, Mrs. Villegas was taken to court, where she pleaded guilty to driving without a license and was sentenced to time served. Immigration agents immediately released her while a deportation case proceeds, following a policy adopted last year by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement to avoid separating babies from nursing mothers.

Ms. Weikal said Mrs. Villegas’s jail stay was prolonged by the Independence Day holiday weekend, when the courts were closed.

“There is a perception that she was treated different from other inmates, and it just is not true,” Ms. Weikal said. “Unfortunately the business of corrections is that families are separated. It’s not pretty, it’s not understandable to a lot of people.”

She said that it was standard procedure to bar medical equipment like a breast pump from the jail.

More than 60,000 illegal immigrants have been identified for deportation since 2006 through 287G cooperation programs, said Richard Rocha, a spokesman for the federal immigration agency. Most of the agreements are aimed at increasing the screening of immigrant convicts serving sentences in local jails, in order to speed their deportation. Some, like Nashville’s, provide for immigration screening right after any foreign-born person is arrested.

Arrests of immigrants have increased rapidly in Tennessee since early 2006, when the state stopped allowing illegal immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses, after five years when they had been able to drive legally.

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