Immigrant Roundup Program Expanded by Obama Administration

 By Larry Jones


 During his presidential campaign, Barack Obama’s website president never mentioned anything about immigrants, much less immigrant rights. The only related promise read like this: “Improve border security. Americans know that our national border security program is broken, leaving our country vulnerable. Barack Obama will support the virtual and physical infrastructure and manpower necessary to secure our borders and keep our nation safe.” 
 
So it appeared that he would do nothing to ameliorate the horrible treatment immigrants received during the Bush regime.
 
STREET POLICE, TRAFFIC COPS, PRISON GUARDS, AND SHERIFFS ARE DEPUTIZED
Some immigrant rights people hoping for positive change said, “It’s a touchy subject. Wait until he gets in office.” Now that his administration holds power, things look even worse for immigrants, both documented and undocumented. Former Arizona governor Janet Napolitano was selected to be head of Homeland Security, under which comes ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement.) The administration now has expanded a policy which bodes ill for all immigrants, the 287(g) program, which is described by the non-profit research group Justice Strategies as:
“… a tiny provision in federal immigration law [signed by Clinton in 1996] that allows Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement to take local police away from their mission of fighting crime, and pull them into the murky territory of targeting immigrants for arrest without suspicion of crime.” A year-long study which Justice Strategies reported on in February stated:
“ICE has recruited any and all law enforcement agencies to do its bidding, hastily devolving deportation powers into ill-equipped local hands.Partners include street police and traffic cops, corrections officers in state prisons and local jails. By August 2008, more than 840 officers in twenty states were deputized, and 70,000 immigrants detained. … ICE granted the largest and most powerful 287(g) contract to Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County in Arizona after mismanaged jails cost his county over $43 million in death and abuse lawsuits; and after he trespassed into neighboring jurisdictions to unlawfully dump immigrants at the border for deportation.” 
 
In a previous article a month after the Obama November victory I wrote: “Joe Arpaio … was catapulted into the national news in the '90s when it became known that in his jails, usually tents in the desert, inmates were fed rotting bologna, were demeaned by being forced to wear pink underwear, and required to work on Jim Crow-days chain gangs.” Plus they have been paraded through the streets in striped prison suits. 
The move to enlarge 287(g) is a horrendous expansion of the worst aspects of America’s immigration policies. It combines both criminal and civil law enforcement, a weird mixture of two very different aspects of the justice system. In the first place, being in the U.S. “illegally” is a civil immigration infraction, but it isn’t a crime. So the move to expand this law results in immigrants, both undocumented and documented, being treated like criminals when they are not. This appears to be unconstitutional on its face. The Constitution protects people in the U.S., as Judicial Strategies puts it, “from arrest without probable cause, indefinite detention, trial without counsel, double jeopardy, and self-incrimination.” But “these do not apply equally (or in some cases at all) in the civil immigration context.” 
The Phoenix system even used a state law against trafficking to prosecute immigrants who “conspired to smuggle themselves into the country from Mexico.” This sounds ridiculous, but this is  the kind of thing that results from the rantings of anti-immigrant loudmouths on talk radio and TV. The Lou Dobbs, Rush Limboughs, Michelle Malkins and a host of others create a xenophobic political climate that puts pressure even on Obama, the “change” agent. Change in immigration policy has come, but not the kind many sincerely hoped for from one who used to sound like something of a humanitarian.
Nor is Napolitano any gentle and compassionate individual. As Arizona governor, she called for the National Guard to further fortify the border. Such use of the military, along with the border fence/wall begun by Bush and continued by Obama, has led to the deaths of hundreds of immigrants who are forced to cross at remote desert regions.
Forty-three House Democrats recently wrote a letter to Janet Napolitano urging the administration to consider the environmental and cultural consequences of throwing up a 20-foot-tall concrete barrier at the Mexican border. “This massive federal project has had deleterious consequences upon natural and cultural public resources,” the lawmakers wrote, “and has caused hardship for private land owners, whose lands have been condemned and livelihoods have been disrupted.”
That’s not exactly a rousing call to humanize immigration legislation, but it does speak to more problems related to the wall. For example, construction of the wall led to the desecration of 69 graves of ancestors of the Tohono O’odham Native American tribe south of Tucson.
RACIAL PROFILING
As Aarti Shahani, who helped write the Justice Strategies report, put it on Democracy Now, “Officers that want to be able to have the power to pick up Latinos, brown people, while driving, these are the self-selecting group of people that joined to 287(g). And unfortunately, two weeks ago, Napolitano gave us our first really blatant betrayal when she decided not only not to suspend 287(g), but to expand it around the country.”
 
We have recently witnessed a major national discussion over racial profiling in the case of the attack on the noted Black Scholar Henry Louis Gates by Cambridge cop James Crowley, which reminded us all that racial profiling is alive and well in this wrongly-named “post-racial” America. Meanwhile, those who are brown, look Latino, or have the “smell unique to ‘illegal’ immigrants,” as one racist sheriff put it, have been increasingly stopped while driving or swept up in community raids under Bush’s intensification of the 287(g) policy which is now expanded even further by the Obama/Napolitano team.
 
Robert Lovato writes on his Of America website that even U.S. citizens are being deported, as in the case of Brian Lyttle. His case is but one of hundreds of wrongful deportations, but it is especially egregious. “Thirty-one-year-old Lyttle, a North Carolinian who has no Mexican ancestry, speaks no Spanish and suffers from mental illness, was deported by ICE to Mexico last April.” 
According to a report released at the end of July by the Cardozo School of Law, ICE raids have led to constitutional violations through racial profiling. The report states that “approximately 90% of the collateral arrest records reviewed, where ICE officers did not note any basis for seizing and questioning the individual, were of Latino men and women – though Latinos represented only 66% of target arrests.”   ICE simply dismisses this with the term “collateral arrests,” much like hundreds of civilians killed by U.S. munitions in Afghanistan are dismissed by the military as collateral damage.
 
THE FEDS SHIFT COSTS TO LOCAL GOVERNMENTS
The cities, towns, counties or municipalities who sign on to the 287(g) program get no financial help from the federal government. The costs of jailing immigrants and the increased costs of police salaries under the program must be borne by the judicatory which implements the program. In a time when states like California are on the very brink of bankruptcy, or counties hard hit by the economic downturn, (a reality existing everywhere) increased taxes, layoffs or furloughs are the result.
This program is neither fiscally sound nor effective immigration policy. It is supposed to make it easier to capture fugitive immigrant criminals, but in a number of places police deputized to enforce immigration policy are spending time chasing after suspected immigrant crime while major crimes by non-immigrants are being overlooked.
As Lovato summarized: “287G is the program that allows local and state law enforcement officials to act as enforcers of federal immigration law and provides the legal means for the racial profiling, mass arrests and other violations of the most basic civil and human rights”
 
IMMIGRANT RIGHTS GROUP ARE FIGHTING BACK
 
The Law Office of the Southern Center for Human Rights on July 17 released a document entitled “Statement Condemning Obama Administration’s Expansion of DHS’s failed 287(g) Program.’ It begins: “Civil rights and community groups across the country denounce Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano’s plans to expand the highly criticized 287(g) program to eleven new jurisdictions around the country.” 
 
The more than 25 signatories to the statement include such varied groups as the Center for Constitutional Rights, Judson Memorial Church in New York City, National Immigration Law Center, and Homies Unidos in L.A. (what a great title). A number of such groups had hoped Napolitano would end this failed program and the condemnation statement lists many of the worst failures in some detail. 
 
Since Obama was inaugurated in January there have been numerous protests against the 287(g) program and in Chatham County, N.C., the County Commissioners passed a resolution in strong opposition to the county’s participation in 287(g). In Arizona there have been several protests against Sheriff Arpaio’s misuse of the policy, frequently against innocent Latinos.
What is needed now? National awareness and overtly expressed outrage over the Obama administration’s expansion of this repressive, unjust course of government action.
 

 

Main Projects Organizers Larry Jones Immigrant Roundup Program Expanded by Obama Administration

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