Sunday, July 18, 2010


America’s growing crackdown against unwanted immigrants is prone to abuse, activists say, and the deeper it goes, so will the incidence of injustice.

A forum on racial profiling held at the Dar Al Hijra Mosque in Falls Church, Virginia over the weekend revealed the raging battles between pro- and anti-immigrant groups in America.

Lawyers and activists speaking at the forum say the crackdown is well underway despite the more publicized legal contest in Arizona, and warn it is starting to overwhelm the police, swamp prisons, undermine human rights and deepen America’s already palpable racial divide.

Among those caught in the middle are millions of Filipinos in America, who because of the very nature of racial profiling, could be targeted. Some reports suggest one in every four Filipino in America is undocumented.

Arizona just tip of the iceberg. Much of the attention has been focused on Arizona’s controversial immigration law, SB1070, which takes effect at the end of the month.

However, the Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) has already been enforcing “Secure Communities” in 20 states, mostly those sharing or in proximity to the border with Mexico.

“Secure Communities” allows state and local law enforcers to automatically search a person’s criminal and immigration history in Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) databases.

Sold to the public as a “technology tool” to help ICE, immigration lawyers say “Secure Communities” has actually become a weapon for the police.

It gives legal cover for police to jail any suspect for 48 hours through the issuance of so-called “detainer” orders even if no charges are filed but who the police may believe to be undocumented.

“Secure Communities” was intended to ferret out undesirable aliens – illegal immigrants as well as legal residents wanted or previously arrested for serious crimes (e.g., murder, drug trafficking, money laundering, etc.) – so they can be deported.

Out of the 825,000 people subjected to “Secure Communities”, over 100,000 turned up positive in the DHS and FBI databases.

Of this number, only 9% were wanted for serious crimes; 5% turned out to be US citizens; and 86% were wanted for incidents of domestic violence, drunk driving and misdemeanor offenses.

At the forum, lawyers warned that “Secure Communities” exacerbates profiling – the police technique of identifying suspects according to race, gender, age or religious affiliation.

Opening floodgate for abuse. Largely because it has evaded the public eye, lawyer Jorge Figueredo said “Secure Communities” is prone to abuse, especially the use of “detainers” that could victimize US citizens as well.

“Sheriffs and the police don’t know the rule,” he averred.

Loudoun County, Virginia, jails bill the government $95 for each day ICE fails to pick up a suspect 48 hours after he is held on a “detainer”. This creates a situation, Figueredo noted, where jails profit by keeping someone locked up longer.

ICE spent over $1.4 billion last year for “Secure Communities”.

Virginia is building the biggest immigrant detention center in Prince Edward County. It is a privately-run jail. When completed, it would have cost $21 million and can hold up to a thousand prisoners snagged under “Secure Communities”.

Lawyer Arnedo Valera, executive director of the Virginia-based Migrant Heritage Commission (MHC), recited a litany of cases involving mostly Filipinos victimized by racial profiling.

Profiling, he stressed, “Is unconstitutional because it violates the 14th amendment (which sets equal protection to all people) of the US Constitution”.

“When you’re a Muslim, you’re a terrorist. When you’re Latino, you’re an illegal immigrant,” lawyer Ofelia Calderon summarized the most prevalent type of racial profiling.

She wryly added, “the Constitution does not always count in immigration court.”

Figueredo said “Secure Communities” could actually make America less safe, more unsecure.

A white resident of nearby Alexandria County related how someone in her neighborhood was stabbed recently, and the culprit jumped aboard a taxi to escape. The cab was driven by a man who turned out to be an illegal immigrant, but whose testimony was pivotal to solving the crime.

She expressed the fear that as the immigrant crackdown grows, that same cab driver may now be afraid to talk with the police.

Broken system spawns grassroots legislative, legal battles. Arizona’s SB 1070 requires police to check the immigration status of everyone they accost. Five states, including Virginia, are trying to enact identical measures.

Arizona enacted SB 1070 ostensibly in response to mounting crimes, largely blamed on undocumented Hispanics, although independent data shows the number of crimes has actually been falling there for the last four years.

Immigrant rights groups assail the law as discriminatory, possibly providing the biggest boost yet to racial profiling.

The US Department of Justice is challenging it in court, and several groups have also sued to prevent it from being implemented.

Separate American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) studies in Arizona, New York and Los Angeles showed law enforcers stopped and searched a disproportionately higher number of African Americans and Hispanics than whites, even when data showed whites were more likely to be carrying contraband or weapons.

The National Conference of State Legislatures revealed the number of immigration-related laws enacted by states surged from 32 in 2005 to over 300 last year. Over a thousand similar bills and resolutions have been filed since the start of the year.

There is a veritable tug-of-war raging between pro- and anti-immigrant advocates across the nation.

The city of San Francisco tried to opt-out of California’s memorandum of agreement with ICE to enforce “Secure Communities” but was blocked by the state’s attorney general.

Immigrant rights groups are optimistic they can convince the Arlington City council in Virginia to also opt-out of “Secure Communities”.

Congressman John Conyers (14th District, Michigan) filed earlier this year HR 5748 that bans the use of profiling, sets the right of action for profiling victims and mandates the US Attorney General to report discriminatory policing practices by federal, state and local law enforcers.

Until the US Congress can enact a nationwide immigration reform law, advocates warn abuses against the nation’s immigrant community will only worsen.

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