labor / racism / US Politics

Defend and Extend Immigrant Rights! Papers for all!


The  Immigrant Community after Obama’s First Term: From Record Deportations to  Deferred Action, With Raids and Deportations Happening at Both the Federal and  State Levels

As  a result of the Supreme Court’s decision on Arizona’s anti-immigrant laws, the  announcement by President Obama that qualifying immigrants will not be deported  for at least two years — though there is no guarantee of that — and other  developments, the issue of immigrant rights has come much more to the fore  nationally than was the case some months ago. This was heightened by the  “debate” among Republican candidates for president during which each tried to  outdo the others in strident ant-immigrant rhetoric. This only underscores the  fact that repression against the immigrant community is being promoted on a  bi-partisan basis.

What  follows is an analysis by two immigrant rights activists, Melina Juárez and Reyes Zavalza, on  what is at stake here and a program of action to deal with it, a program  supported by the ELN. It is the first of a two-part series on immigrant rights;  the second posting will deal with the AgJobs program sponsored by Obama and key  Republican leaders and is titled, “AgJobs: Modern Day Bracero  Program.”

Following  is Melina’s and Reyes’ statement.

First and foremost, we must be clear on  the fact that Obama’s immigration policy has not only failed to heed the mandate  of Latinos for papers for all, but it has completely devastated the immigrant  community through raids and deportations.

The New York Times reported in June 2012  that Obama had deported a record 400,000 undocumented immigrants for each year  in his term, totaling over 1 million deportations. Families have been torn  apart, and whole communities have been decimated. And it is always the most  vulnerable and helpless who suffer the harshest consequences — thousands of  U.S.-born children have been forced into foster care (an already overburdened  and fragile system) after undocumented parents have been detained. These kids  are left helpless, confused, and without their families.

The conditions  at the privately run, taxpayer-funded detention centers have also been highly  controversial. Mistreatment and abuse are rampant, with stories of beatings,  rape, denial of medications, and even disappearances coming out of the detention  centers.

In addition to these detrimental effects, Obama’s record number  of deportations has also had the consequence of giving overtly anti-immigrant  groups the upper hand in pushing for even tougher immigration policies at the  state level. S.B. 1070 in Arizona was  instituted in this context, and together with the slew of copy-cat legislation  it inspired in Alabama, South Carolina, Utah, Georgia, and Indiana, this marked a  new level of repression against the immigrant community.

This is all the  more true now that the Supreme Court has upheld the constitutionality of S.B.  1070’s “papers please” measure, which requires police officials to determine the  immigration status of anyone they stop or detain. Given existing practices by  police departments across the nation, this policy of “papers please” can only  lead to more racial profiling, more deportations, and further hampering of the  civil rights of Latinos and others.

             Deputizing Local  Authorities to Act as INS/ICE Agents

Years  before the passage of S.B. 1070, however, federal policies had already begun to  use local authorities in deporting immigrants. In examining the repercussions of  these policies, we get the clear picture of what S.B. 1070-type legislation has  in store for the immigrant community.

Beginning  in 1996 (under Democratic Party President Bill Clinton) the 287(g) program was  included into the Immigration and Nationality Act and allowed the Immigration  and Naturalization Service (INS) — renamed Immigration and Customs Enforcement,  or ICE, in 2003 — to enter into agreements with local authorities. These  agreements essentially gave local police and sheriff departments the ability to  deputize their officers as INS/ICE agents. Local officers were now allowed to  act as immigration-enforcement agents demanding papers, detaining people for  immigration-related issues, and serving on INS/ICE task forces.

The most  famous of these agreements undoubtedly has been that between ICE and Maricopa County, Arizona, where Sheriff Joe Arpaio has gone to  great lengths to exploit the powers bestowed by the 287(g) agreement. Arpaio’s  abuse of 287(g) powers and the ruthless persecution of undocumented immigrants  in his jurisdiction have spurred several civil rights lawsuits. Apart from  accusations of abuse of power and money laundering, the Maricopa Sherriff’s  department has come under fire for their treatment of undocumented immigrants in  their custody. The most appalling of these are the cases of two pregnant women  who were forced to endure labor while shackled to their hospital beds and in the  presence of deputies.

These horror stories of maltreatment and abuse are  not unique to Arizona. In communities throughout the 24  states with 287(g) agreements, there have been reports of abuse by officials  ranging from racial profiling to inhumane treatment like that seen in Arpaio’s  county. Ultimately, programs like 287(g) have only served to increase the number  of non-priority deportations through minor traffic violations and other similar  situations. Most importantly, it has served to further alienate immigrant  communities from their local authorities and institutions. Undocumented  immigrants are hesitant or outright refuse to report crimes or interact with  police officers who double as immigration agents. There is fear that reporting a  crime can lead to the victim’s or witness’ deportation.

With  the recent Supreme Court ruling these abuses are bound to become more  commonplace. Indeed, the court’s decision seems to be relegating immigrants and  Latinos to a permanent police state. Under these state of affairs, it is more  than likely that what occurred in Anaheim, Calif., will become even more  prevalent.

                               Anaheim — Police  Repression

Keeping  the immigrant community under a constant state of siege (as the Supreme Court  now enables) can only lend itself to such unwarranted killings and abuses as  those that occurred in Anaheim, California.

The nightmare began on July  21, 2012, when neighbors and passersby looked on at Manuel Diaz laying face  down, handcuffed, and with an Anaheim police officer’s bullet imbedded in the  back of his head. As Diaz helplessly struggled for his life with no ambulance in  sight, officers pushed back the crowd and cordoned off the area. Diaz’s shooting  was not an uncommon ordeal for the Anaheim community, and as word spread through  the area more and more community members came to protest the shooting. The  incident made headlines when police officers unleashed a police dog on the  crowd. The police dog charged toward a woman with a baby in a stroller and  injured the father. Police fired pepper balls and bean bags to disperse the  peaceful gathering. The Anaheim Police Department later apologized for the  police dog incident, but defended their use of the non-lethal weapons used on  the crowd.

The massive outrage sparked by Diaz’s shooting was only  compounded by another police killing the following day. Joel Acevedo was shot  while fleeing from police. With two Latino men dead within 48 hours in a  majority immigrant and working- class community, Anaheim was consumed with unrest by a people  tired and angry over the rampant inequality and repression by authorities. The  anger reached a boiling point the night of July 24 as large numbers of  protesters descended upon City Hall and the Anaheim Police Department. Although  most protesters marched peacefully, there were others who began hurling rocks,  smashing windows, and lighting garbage cans on fire. Police responded with bean  bags and pepper balls to disperse the angry rioters. The night ended with 20  protesters arrested and four people injured.

The killings and the riots  they ignited revealed a situation common in many immigrant communities under the  Obama administration — growing inequality, lack of resources and funding, high  unemployment, and disinterest from local authorities to the plight of their  communities. The total lack of disregard by authorities for the safety of the  Latino and immigrant community of Anaheim was exposed on July 21. This alienation  between authorities and the immigrant community is a common characteristic  throughout the nation. Cases such as that of Luis Gutierrez Navarro, who was  murdered by Yolo County Sherriff’s deputies in California, have proved that authorities  continue to disregard the safety and well-being of the immigrant  community.

Indeed, it seems that in the eyes of politicians and  government officials, the immigrant and Latino community are a surplus  population deserving attention only during election  cycles.

                                 Obama’s Deferred Action

This  is why it’s no surprise that now that it’s election season, President Obama has  decided to turn his attention to the plight of immigrants — a plight very much  aggravated by his policies. Just on June 15, in an attempt to line up the Latino  vote, Obama issued an announcement declaring that certain undocumented  immigrants could qualify for deferred action. This announcement was later  followed by a memorandum written by Secretary of Homeland Security Janet  Napolitano and issued to all agencies of the Department of Homeland  Security.

However, this initiative taken by the Obama administration is  more of a ploy for votes than any serious attempt to heed the demands of the  immigrant community. In fact, in analyzing what deferred action actually is, it  becomes apparent that there are several issues involved which may endanger those  who apply.

First and foremost, deferred action applies only to a small  minority of immigrants. The qualifications required for consideration of  deferred action make this clear (see Napolitano Memo, 6/15/2012). These  requirements leave out the majority of undocumented workers and families. But  even within the undocumented youth population, these requirements exclude a  large portion of applicants who have criminal records. Immigrant communities are  often subject to police violence and un-proportional arrests via racial  profiling. The requirements for deferred action also introduce the legal  category of “significant misdemeanor,” which is open to interpretation, and as  such could be used to disqualify otherwise viable candidates.

The  biggest issue with applying for deferred action, however, is that one must get  his/her finger prints taken and entered into the ICE database. This means that  in order to qualify, immigrants must come out of the shadows and submit their  personal information to the Department of Homeland Security — that very same  department which, since its inception, has spearheaded the offensive in  deporting immigrants. The danger with this is obvious. But this danger is made  worse by the fact that neither the announcement made by President Obama, nor the  memo issued by Janet Napolitano, are executive decrees, and thus carry no legal  weight. This makes deferred action ultimately contingent on the discretion of  the Department of Homeland Security.

In fact, deferred action is nothing  more than a type of prosecutorial discretion “practiced” by the Department of  Homeland Security. Prosecutorial discretion gives ICE officials, as well as  other immigration agencies within the department, certain policy guidelines by  which to direct their deportations (by prioritizing immigrants with criminal  records, for example). However, because this is not a law, it assures  nothing.

And even if you meet the criteria for deferred action, there is  nothing in place that can prevent Homeland Security from rejecting your  application and entering you into deportation proceedings. In the memo, phrases  like the following permeate the document: “DHS cannot provide any assurance that  relief will be granted” (Napolitano Memo, 6/15/2012). What is more, decisions  cannot be appealed, as with actual legal proceedings. Thus, things like due  process, accountability, or any form of transparency, are simply not  guaranteed.

But the issues with deferred action don’t end there. Even if  you are granted deferred action, it only lasts for two years, and can be revoked  arbitrarily. This raises the question of, “What if Romney wins the presidential  elections?” or, “What will happen if after two years immigration reform still  isn’t passed by Congress? Will ICE revert back to deporting these individuals?”  Given the purpose of the Department of Homeland Security, these are all valid  questions. But the memo simply doesn’t address them.

Another uncertainty  comes with the process of applying for work authorization, for which deferred  action recipients are eligible. The memo completely omits what criteria will be  used to determine eligibility for work authorization (see Napolitano Memo,  6/15/2012). At best, work authorization would last the lifetime of deferred  action; or it can be denied. In any case, neither deferred action nor a work  authorization permit could lead to amnesty.

In the memo it is clearly stated  that, “this memorandum confers no substantive right, immigration status or  pathway to citizenship.” (Napolitano Memo, 6/15/2012) Arizona Governor Jean  Brewer recently cited this section of the memo to support her executive decree  ordering all state departments in Arizona to deny driver licenses or any public  service to those who apply for deferred action.

Not only is deferred  action built on shaky grounds, but previous memos have often times been ignored.  For instance, two similar memos on prosecutorial discretion have been issued by  President Obama since June 2011, but they haven’t always been followed by the  Department of Homeland Security.

The first of its kind was the Morton  Memorandum issued on June 15, 2011. This memo set out policy guidelines that  prioritized the deportations of criminals, and de-prioritized the deportations  of students and veterans with no criminal records. However, since this memo was  issued, the Department of Homeland Security has continued these  practices.

And  while there have been cases in which these memos have been followed, the  uncertainty is too great for us to advocate this memo in a positive light. Plus,  the fact that past failures to comply with similar memos has yet to result in  any consequences for those responsible makes it unlikely that the tenuous  guidelines of deferred action will actually be followed in the future. There is  simply no accountability (or teeth) to deferred action.

Due  to the uncertainty involved in applying for deferred action as well as the track  record of similar memos — not to mention the nature of the Department of  Homeland Security itself — it would be a grave mistake to hype-up deferred  action as a victory for the immigrant community. Not only would this let Obama  off the hook for terrorizing the immigrant community since day one, but, even  worse, it would send the wrong message and ultimately misguide immigrants into  taking a dangerous action that may culminate in their deportation. Instead, it  is our responsibility to expose the dangers that come with applying for deferred  action and characterize it for what it is: a ploy for votes.

At the same  time, it’s more urgent than ever that we provide a fighting alternative that  centers on political independence: We want neither the Republicans’ “get-tough  immigration policies” nor Obama’s deportations! The alternative is to mobilize  in the streets to demand tangible legal rights, not just memos which carry no  legal weight.

* No more raids and deportations, no more police  repression!
* Justice for those killed and injured by the police in Anaheim, CA!
* Repeal the “papers please”  measure of S.B. 1070!
* Papers for all now!

 

Issued by the Emergency Labor Network  (ELN)

For more information write emergencylabor@aol.com or P.O. Box 21004, Cleveland, OH44121 or call 216-736-4715 or visit our website at www.laborfightback.org. Donations gratefully accepted. Please make checks payable to the ELN  and mail to the above P.O. Box.

 

 

 

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