On the Anniversary of the Senate Immigration Bill

A year is a long time to wait. The Sen­ate passed an immi­gra­tion bill a year ago today, but the House has yet to act to make vital changes to our bro­ken immi­gra­tion sys­tem. Mean­while, South Asian and oth­er immi­grants are lan­guish­ing in the fam­i­ly and employ­ment visa back­logs, endur­ing deten­tion and depor­ta­tion, or liv­ing in the shad­ows of our soci­ety due to their undoc­u­ment­ed sta­tus. Lead­er­ship in the House has changed, and it’s time for the House to lead. Tell the House that a year is too long to wait and that action is need­ed today on immi­gra­tion.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

287(g) and Morristown, New Jersey

A dis­patch from SAALT’s New Jer­sey Out­reach Coor­di­na­tor, Qudsia Raja, on state and local enforce­ment of immi­gra­tion laws and what it means in NJ.

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As advo­cates and com­mu­ni­ties nation­wide mobi­lize to cam­paign for more just and humane immi­gra­tion laws in the US, New Jer­sey res­i­dents pre­pare to cope with the actu­al­iza­tion of ten­ta­tive­ly dis­crim­i­na­to­ry man­dates that will, if put into place, adverse­ly affect the immi­grant com­mu­ni­ty in the state. 287(g), a fed­er­al immi­gra­tion pro­gram ini­ti­at­ed by Immi­gra­tions and Cus­toms Enforce­ment (ICE), allows for local law enforce­ment agen­cies to go beyond their call of duty of enforc­ing local and state laws by addi­tion­al­ly allow­ing them the lib­er­ty to enforce fed­er­al immi­gra­tion laws.

Ear­li­er this year, sev­er­al coun­ties in New Jer­sey, includ­ing Mor­ris, Hud­son, and Mon­mouth Coun­ties, applied to become a part of the 287(g) pro­gram. Mor­ris­town was approved for the pro­gram last month, and May­or David Cre­sitel­lo has every inten­tion of sign­ing onto the pro­gram, which would be in effect for 3 years.

The idea of dep­u­tiz­ing local law enforce­ment agen­cies has long been con­tro­ver­sial, with strong advo­cates on both ends of the debate hold­ing firm to their beliefs on whether the pro­gram should or should not be put into place. SAALT, like many oth­er immi­grant advo­cates local­ly and nation­wide, believes that 287(g) does in fact neg­a­tive­ly impact the immi­grant com­mu­ni­ty at large. By dep­u­tiz­ing law enforce­ment, we would essen­tial­ly be cre­at­ing a bar­ri­er between law enforce­ment and the com­mu­ni­ties they are sworn in to serve – an irony so obvi­ous that I can’t seem to under­stand why some pub­lic offi­cials are so adamant about putting the man­date into place.

Con­sid­er this. New Jer­sey is not only home to a large, diverse, and emerg­ing immi­grant com­mu­ni­ty, but also thrives eco­nom­i­cal­ly because of the con­tri­bu­tions of this very com­mu­ni­ty, accord­ing to a report pub­lished ear­li­er this year by Rut­gers Uni­ver­si­ty. As an emerg­ing com­mu­ni­ty, how­ev­er, com­ing from numer­ous cul­tur­al, lin­guis­tic, eth­nic, and reli­gious back­grounds, it’s impor­tant for us as pub­lic offi­cials, advo­cates, ser­vice providers and com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers to be mind­ful of the needs of our fel­low com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers. These needs could range from being aware of cul­tur­al and lin­guis­tic needs in access­ing basic gov­ern­ment and pub­lic ser­vices; nav­i­ga­tion the school, med­ical, and legal sys­tems; and address­ing racial and reli­gious dis­crim­i­na­tion tar­get­ed towards immi­grant com­mu­ni­ties, often more vul­ner­a­ble when they are unable to com­mu­ni­cate because they are lim­it­ed-Eng­lish pro­fi­cient (LEP), or because they are unaware of the prop­er chan­nels avail­able to them to report inci­dences and crimes of the sort. Addi­tion­al­ly, many immi­grants migrate from coun­tries where the rule of law is often cor­rupt, mak­ing them fear­ful of approach­ing (or being approached by) law enforce­ment.

287(g) has been crit­i­cized by immi­grant advo­cates for many jus­ti­fied rea­sons, one of the most dis­con­cert­ing being that the man­date would allow for local law enforce­ment to essen­tial­ly pro­file immi­grant con­stituents in the process of mak­ing arrests based on ‘sus­pi­cion’. It will detract from their job of keep­ing the peace in local com­mu­ni­ties and pro­tect­ing con­stituents by cre­at­ing a sense of fear amongst the immi­grant com­mu­ni­ty of being round­ed up by the police based on the col­or or their skin, or the accents in speech.

Recent­ly, New Jer­sey Attor­ney Gen­er­al Anne Mil­gram issued a strong­ly word­ed let­ter to Hud­son, Mor­ris, and Mon­mouth Coun­ty offi­cials warn­ing them to not use 287(g) as a mech­a­nism to racial­ly pro­file con­stituents. Addi­tion­al­ly, she made clear that the man­date does not allow for sweeps or ‘on-the-street-encoun­ters’, where law enforce­ment uses round ups as a means to con­duct immi­gra­tion checks, and that any inci­dences of vio­lat­ing NJ laws will be dealt with by the AG’s office.

All that aside, though, what does it real­ly mean to be an immi­grant in New Jer­sey, where 287(g) may ten­ta­tive­ly be put into place?

Imag­ine this. You are an immi­grant moth­er of two. You speak lim­it­ed Eng­lish, and rely on your hus­band to deal with the intri­ca­cies of life out­side of your home. You have been in this coun­try for many years, and your chil­dren are enrolled in the local school sys­tem. Your hus­band spon­sored you to migrate to this coun­try when you first mar­ried. You find your­self in an abu­sive rela­tion­ship, and con­sid­er reach­ing out to the police to inter­vene. How­ev­er, your hus­band tells you that report­ing him to the police will result in your depor­ta­tion, that they’ll take away her chil­dren and she’ll nev­er see them again. So, you weigh out the pros and cons, and some­how jus­ti­fy stay­ing in a vio­lent mar­riage for the sake of your chil­dren, and for the fear of being deport­ed back to your coun­try of ori­gin, where you may face even more vio­lence for leav­ing your hus­band. Some­how, the thought of dai­ly vio­lence isn’t as bad as the thought of approach­ing the police, the threat of depor­ta­tion and sep­a­ra­tion from your chil­dren loom­ing over­head.

Imag­ine this. You are a sec­ond-gen­er­a­tion immi­grant. You are Mus­lim, with a very com­mon first and last name. You are dri­ving late at night on your way home, and you are pulled over because you are speed­ing. Along with your license and your reg­is­tra­tion, you are asked for your immi­gra­tion papers – some­thing you don’t car­ry around with you, because you are a legal res­i­dent and you tell them this much. You are asked to come to the sta­tion. You grudg­ing­ly com­ply, think­ing of it as an incon­ve­nience, but that you will be out as soon as they run your name through the sys­tem. Your name, a com­mon one, shows up with some alarm­ing news attached to it. You tell them it’s a mis­take, and that you are in fact not that indi­vid­ual. You are detained for sev­er­al hours, per­haps days, as they sort out the sit­u­a­tion and real­ize that you are in fact not who they think you are. In the mean­time, you are not allowed to make a call to fam­i­ly mem­bers or a lawyer, and no one knows of your where­abouts. You are told that this is nor­mal pro­ce­dure – a crim­i­nal until proven inno­cent. You are let out even­tu­al­ly, but with a bit­ter taste in your mouth in regards to local law enforce­ment. You know you will think twice about approach­ing them should a prob­lem arise in the future, if only to avoid the painful and humil­i­at­ing process they have just sub­ject you to.

Imag­ine hun­dreds of oth­er sce­nar­ios that immi­grant con­stituents will face should 287(g) go into affect. Imag­ine being racial­ly pro­filed and being treat­ed like a crim­i­nal. Imag­ine being fear­ful of the police when you need them most, when you are placed in a dan­ger­ous sit­u­a­tion, but the fear (be it real or imag­ined) of being deport­ed holds you back from call­ing for help.

Is this the sort of com­mu­ni­ty you want to be a part of?

Due Process: What it Means for South Asian Immigrants

This post was pre­vi­ous­ly pub­lished at the Asian Pacif­ic Amer­i­cans for Progress blog as part of the Asian Pacif­ic Amer­i­can Week of Action on immi­gra­tion reform.

Before I start­ed law school, I had def­i­nite­ly heard the term “due process.” I have to con­fess, though, I was­n’t real­ly sure what it meant. All I knew is that it sound­ed good, seemed to be a core Amer­i­can val­ue, and was root­ed in fair­ness. It was some­thing that this coun­try prid­ed itself on as a hall­mark prin­ci­ple that came down from our Found­ing Fathers.

When we talk about immi­gra­tion, there is often talk about due process vio­la­tions affect­ing the lives of immi­grants, but what does that real­ly mean? Of course, we could always turn to our trust­ed friend, the Web­ster’s Dic­tio­nary for some guid­ance: “legal pro­ceed­ings that are car­ried out fol­low­ing estab­lished rules and laws that result in unfair or arbi­trary treat­ment of indi­vid­u­als.” (The legal eagles among us can rely upon the defin­i­tive Black­’s Law Dic­tio­nary for some fanci­er and tech­ni­cal lan­guage, too.) But these lofty and abstract def­i­n­i­tions did not hold much trac­tion for me. It was­n’t until I encoun­tered the real life expe­ri­ences of immi­grants whose due process rights were vio­lat­ed that I under­stood why this val­ue is so dear and needs to be pro­tect­ed in our coun­try’s immi­gra­tion sys­tem.

Below are just a few exam­ples spot­light­ing South Asians seek­ing asy­lum that made clear to what due process (or the lack there­of) tru­ly means.

Due process means access to legal representation and legal information: Mon­isha, orig­i­nal­ly from Pak­istan, was an hon­ors grad­u­ate from UC Berke­ley who came from Mum­bai to Texas to seek asy­lum with her par­ents and broth­er when she was ten years old. While in India, her father was very involved in the local Mus­lim com­mu­ni­ty — as a result of his activ­i­ties, thi­er fam­i­ly became the tar­get of Hin­du fun­da­men­tal­ist groups. They were denied asy­lum because their attor­neys failed to meet nec­es­sary fil­ing dead­lines. Immi­gra­tion author­ites lat­er arrest­ed her par­ents and broth­er and placed them in depor­ta­tion pro­ceed­ings. Nav­i­ga­tion the com­plex world of immi­gra­tion law is often worse for those who do not have lawyers and have to rep­re­sent them­selves because immi­grants fac­ing depor­ta­tion are not guar­an­teed an attor­ney. Does it seem fair that accu­rate legal infor­ma­tion and com­pe­tent rep­re­sen­ta­tion is often unat­tain­able par­tic­u­lar­ly when the immi­gra­tion sys­tem is so com­pli­cat­ed?

Due process means ensuring that immigrants are not criminalized and placed in detention: Harpal, a Sikh man, chose to be deport­ed back to India where he had been tor­tured, rather than lan­guish in lim­bo in immi­gra­tion deten­tion. When he arrived in the U.S., he set­tled in the Bay Area, began work­ing as a truck dri­ver, and applied for asy­lum. He was lat­er arrest­ed by U.S. gov­ern­ment and immi­gra­tion offi­cials. After being detained for more than eight years in Cal­i­for­nia, much of it in soli­tary con­fine­ment, and tired of wait­ing for Con­ven­tion Against Tor­ture claim to be resolved in the courts, he decid­ed to return to a coun­try where offi­cials had pre­vi­ous­ly mis­treat­ed him severe­ly. Does it seem fair to lock up indi­vid­u­als for years who have com­mit­ted no crime and are wait­ing exces­sive peri­od of time for their immi­gra­tion cas­es to be resolved?

Due process means guaranteeing fairness of immigration court proceedings and case review on appeal: A Sri Lankan woman flee­ing per­se­cu­tion in Sri Lan­ka was denied asy­lum by an immi­gra­tion judge who did not believe her case sim­ply because she was “look­ing up at the ceil­ing” dur­ing tes­ti­mo­ny. The judge ignored detailed evi­dence of her fear of return and based denial on this minor point about her demeanor. Even worse, the appel­late body, the Board of Immi­gra­tion Appeals, did not dis­agree with the judge’s rul­ing. It was not until a fed­er­al court reviewed her case that the ini­tial judge was ordered to con­sid­er her case more thor­ough­ly. Does it seem fair that the safe­ty and lives of immi­grants depend upon often arbi­trary and unfair deci­sions that can occur in Immi­gra­tion Courts and are giv­en lim­it­ed review?

These are just a few sto­ries that you find repli­cat­ing them­selves with­in the South Asian com­mu­ni­ty that con­vey in real terms what the lack of due process looks like. As immi­gra­tion reform moves for­ward, it is cru­cial that due process and fun­da­men­tal fair­ness be restored to poli­cies and pro­ce­dures that affect the lives of so many immi­grants in this coun­try.

Sci-Fi Age of E‑Verify

I recent­ly attend­ed a ses­sion at the Migrant Pol­i­cy Insti­tute that focused on E‑Verify, the sys­tem that would require employ­ees to ver­i­fy their iden­ti­ties and legal sta­tus through an elec­tron­ic pro­gram. The Migrant Pol­i­cy Insti­tute dis­cus­sion focused on pos­si­ble ways to expand this sys­tem and per­haps bet­ter it for every­one involved. The only peo­ple who don’t seem to ben­e­fit from the expan­sion of E‑Verify are the employ­ees. They would have to jump through addi­tion­al hoops to main­tain or obtain employ­ment.

I was more than a lit­tle sur­prised by the types of solu­tions offered by MPI to improve E‑Verify, as they seemed very inva­sive and expen­sive, not to men­tion Big Broth­er­ish. Pos­si­ble solu­tions includ­ed bio­met­ric cards and reg­is­ter­ing for a per­son­al­ized PIN that would be pro­vid­ed to employ­ers who could then access a data­base that ver­i­fied iden­ti­ties.

While MPI said it was try­ing to address issues of iden­ti­ty fraud in order to pro­tect employ­ees, I real­ly don’t think that the work­ers’ inter­ests are at the heart of these pro­pos­als or the E‑Verify sys­tem. Anoth­er con­cern is how E‑Verify might be used to check the sta­tus­es of cur­rent estab­lished employ­ees as well as new-hires, which would require peo­ple set­tled in their employ­ment to go over the same hur­dles as a new-hire. There must be a bet­ter way to reg­u­late employ­ment prac­tices than to strike fear in the hearts of immi­grant employ­ees who just want to cre­ate a new life for them­selves and their fam­i­lies.

Death in Detention: Tanveer Ahmad

Here’s a case for you to pon­der about. When you first read it, you might not think it that sym­pa­thet­ic. But, by the time you read the end of this post, maybe you’ll change your mind.

The New York Times recent­ly report­ed on the sto­ry of Tan­veer Ahmad. He came to New York City from Pak­istan on a vis­i­tor’s visa. In 1997, he was arrest­ed for pos­sess­ing an unli­censed gun. He mar­ried U.S. cit­i­zens and applied for mar­riage-based green cards to stay in this coun­try. His wife was threat­ened with mar­riage fraud alle­ga­tions by the gov­ern­ment. Immi­gra­tion author­i­ties lat­er caught him in 2005 for over­stay­ing his visa and detained him because of his gun offense. A few weeks lat­er, he died in deten­tion in New Jer­sey.

At first blush, you might be think­ing, “Hey, the gov­ern­ment should be going after these crim­i­nals! Why should I care that he got locked up and hap­pened to die?” After all, the lat­est buzz word with­in immi­gra­tion enforce­ment cir­cles is to go after “crim­i­nal aliens”, right? But dig a lit­tle deep­er into the facts — things aren’t quite that cut and dry.

What’s the most shock­ing about this case? Is it that Mr. Ahmad showed his gun while pre­vent­ing a rob­bery at the gas sta­tion where he worked the night shift and that had been held up 7 times in about a month? Is it that fol­low­ing 9/11 his U.S. cit­i­zen’s wife’s friends said, “You bet­ter watch it. You may be mar­ried to a ter­ror­ist,” caus­ing him to always watch his back? Is it that he was detained near­ly 10 years after his offense even though he paid the req­ui­site $200 fine for the mis­de­meanor? Is it that his arrest was con­sid­ered a “col­lat­er­al appre­hen­sion in Oper­a­tion Secure Com­mute” as part of the gov­ern­men­t’s sweep of immi­grants over­stay­ing visas fol­low­ing the 2005 ter­ror­ist attacks in Lon­don? Or is it that when he suf­fered a heart attack in deten­tion, the jail guard report­ed­ly blocked med­ical atten­tion for one hour, even after the jail received numer­ous pre­vi­ous com­plaints about detainee abuse and neglect?

I’ll leave it to you to decide. But remem­ber that our immi­gra­tion and deten­tion poli­cies can change to become more humane. In fact, there is a bill in Con­gress known as the Immi­gra­tion Over­sight and Fair­ness Act (H.R. 1215) pro­posed by Con­gress­woman Roy­bal-Allard of Cal­i­for­nia that would cod­i­fy deten­tion stan­dards and improve med­ical care for immi­grant detainees.  In my mind, such a case should not have come to this, but, sad­ly, it did. And we can let Con­gress know that through pol­i­cy reform, hope­ful­ly, they won’t hap­pen again.

(Check out this pre­vi­ous arti­cle in the NYT on this sto­ry, too.)

Immigration, Appropriations, and Frustrations

Well, there is no oth­er way to say it. This past week has been a tough one when it comes to immi­gra­tion. The Sen­ate, through recent amend­ment votes, put their stamp on poli­cies that focus on pri­or­i­tiz­ing enforce­ment rather than just and humane solu­tions to fix the bro­ken immi­gra­tion sys­tem.

Below is a quick round-up of leg­isla­tive activ­i­ty of the past week. But, as you read this, keep in mind that, if they become law, these poli­cies will def­i­nite­ly have a neg­a­tive impact on the South Asian com­mu­ni­ty … in ways that you may not expect. Pri­or­i­tiz­ing enforce­ment means that hard­work­ing undoc­u­ment­ed immi­grants (of which there are many South Asians; in fact, Indi­ans alone made up the 10th largest undoc­u­ment­ed pop­u­la­tion in the U.S. in 2008) will be fur­ther rel­e­gat­ed to the shad­ows out of fear of appre­hen­sion by immi­gra­tion author­i­ties. But it also means that many law­ful­ly present immi­grants may inad­ver­tent­ly also be caught up in the web of enforce­ment. Take a look for your­self; the impact may sur­prise you …

Dur­ing debates on the Sen­ate Home­land Secu­ri­ty Appro­pri­a­tions Bill (which is basi­cal­ly leg­is­la­tion that allows the gov­ern­ment to spend mon­ey with regard to the Depart­ment of Home­land Secu­ri­ty), sev­er­al anti-immi­grant amend­ments passed, includ­ing:

  • SSA No-Match Program: An amend­ment passed pre­vent­ing funds from being used to rescind the much crit­i­cized “SSA no-match rule.” (By way of back­ground, let­ters are sent by the Social Secu­ri­ty Admin­is­tra­tion to employ­ers when Social Secu­ri­ty num­bers pro­vid­ed by employ­ees do not match gov­ern­ment data­bas­es. Under the rule, immi­gra­tion author­i­ties could use these let­ters as evi­dence than an employ­er should have known than an employ­ee is not autho­rized to work.) You might think the rule sounds good in the­o­ry. But, how good can it be when the data­bas­es used are know to be inac­cu­rate and could net a range of work­ers, regard­less of sta­tus? Or when a fed­er­al court stopped the rule from being applied? Or when even the Depart­ment of Home­land Secu­ri­ty itself just announced it would rescind the rule? It does­n’t make much sense.
  • Making E-Verify permanent and retroactive: E‑Verify is a pilot employ­ment ver­i­fi­ca­tion sys­tem that cer­tain employ­ers use to check the work autho­riza­tion of their work­ers. Again, this might sound good to you in the­o­ry, but one major prob­lem with the pro­gram is that it relies upon data­bas­es with unac­cept­ably high error rates. (Wan­na know more? Check out this resource by the Nation­al Immi­gra­tion Law Cen­ter for more info on what’s wrong with the pro­gram.) Instead of paus­ing for a moment and assess­ing the prob­lems that exist with­in its data­bas­es, the Sen­ate instead passed an amend­ment mak­ing the pro­gram per­ma­nent for all fed­er­al con­trac­tors; in addi­tion, they man­dat­ed that all employ­ers cur­rent­ly employ­ing E‑Verify to use it on ALL employ­ees, no mat­ter when they start­ed. Can you imag­ine work­ing for a com­pa­ny for over 20 years — even if you have work autho­riza­tion — and your name some­how pops up as being inel­i­gi­ble due to data­base errors or name mix-ups and then you face pos­si­bly los­ing your job all because of this? It’s a fright­en­ing prospect.
In these dif­fi­cult eco­nom­ic times, South Asians — like all oth­er Amer­i­cans — fear los­ing their jobs and have dif­fi­cul­ty get­ting by. If flawed pro­grams like the SSA No-Match Let­ters and E‑Verify are left unchanged, South Asian work­ers stand to lose, regard­less of immi­gra­tion sta­tus. Mea­sures that not only hurt immi­grants, but also the econ­o­my, don’t make sense — call your mem­bers of Con­gress and urge them to sup­port just and humane immi­gra­tion reform rather than set­tling for obsta­cles towards real solu­tions.

More Reflections from Atlanta Town Hall for Civil and Immigrant Rights

Here are more reflec­tion on the kick-off town hall in Atlanta, GA of the Nation­al Coali­tion of South Asian Orga­ni­za­tions’ One Com­mu­ni­ty Unit­ed cam­paign for civ­il and immi­grant rights. This time we’re hear­ing from Nureen Gula­mali, intern at ACLU-Geor­gia  (one of the cospon­sors of the town hall):

I’m lucky to be intern­ing at the Amer­i­can Civ­il Lib­er­ties Union (ACLU) of Geor­gia this sum­mer and was grate­ful to be a part of the SAALT/ACLU forum.  After attend­ing the Immi­gra­tion Forum, my per­spec­tive has been enlight­ened and tru­ly widened.  Immi­gra­tion is a hot top­ic in today’s world – tell me some­thing I don’t know.  But how it affects the actu­al immi­grants is tru­ly the issue at hand.  I’ve heard accounts of the tri­als and tribu­la­tions that so many peo­ple have had to go through in order to get a bet­ter start in this world, and my heart goes out to them.  The forum itself not only pro­vid­ed more infor­ma­tion to the unin­formed, but allowed for a healthy and knowl­edge­able dis­cus­sion for both the informed and unin­formed.  It’s so impor­tant to stand up for what is right and immi­gra­tion rights are, in essence, human rights.  What know­ing indi­vid­ual wouldn’t stand up for human rights?

So, I sup­pose the more impor­tant ques­tion is, what can we do about it?  Well, real­ly, every­one who was able to make it to the forum has already tak­en the first step – stay informed.  It’s as sim­ple as that.  You can make a dif­fer­ence by stay­ing informed, whether that’s catch­ing up on the cur­rent issues on Google News, or join­ing a human rights advo­ca­cy group (GA Deten­tion Watch, Human Rights Atlanta, Rak­sha, SAALT, etc.).  The more allies we have, the big­ger the impact we can have – not to men­tion strate­gic pull.  So, take ten min­utes a day to read what’s going on in the human rights/immigration front and from there, I swear, it will be plen­ty easy to get involved!

For more infor­ma­tion about the One Com­mu­ni­ty Unit­ed cam­paign for Civ­il and Immi­grant Rights, vis­it here <http://www.saalt.org/pages/One-Community-United-Campaign.html>.