Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Landmark Settlement in Hutto Detention Case

Dozens of children released from detention as a result of litigation

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) yesterday announced a settlement with the federal government to improve conditions for immigrant children and their families at the T. Don Hutto detention center in Taylor, Texas.

ACLU and the University of Texas law school immigration clinic filed lawsuits in March against federal officials on behalf of 26 immigrant children between the ages of 1 and 17 years old detained at the center with their parents. Requirements of the settlement include eliminating the "count" system that forced families to stay in their cells 12 hours a day; installing privacy curtains around toilets; providing a full-time, on-site pediatrician; and improving the nutritional value of food.

Emotional Release for Immigrant Children

For twelve-year old Andrea Restrepo from Colombia, the settlement means the end to a nightmare. "I am trying to forget everything about Hutto. I feel free. It was a nightmare," said Restrepo, who was held for nearly a year in a small cell in the Hutto Detention Center with her mother and 9-year-old sister.

Restrepo was among the final six children listed as plaintiffs released days before the finalized settlement. Since the ACLU filed the original lawsuits in March 2007, all of the children represented by the ACLU and co-counsel have been released. The children, who are now pursuing their asylum claims, live with U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident family members.

"We are thrilled at what we were able to accomplish through litigation and mediation," said Lisa Graybill, Legal Director of the ACLU of Texas. "But the fact remains that our government should not be locking up innocent children — period. That is not what America is about. It is time for Congress to intervene and end the policy of family detention."

The settlement between the ACLU and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) requires the approval of United States District Court Judge Sam Sparks, who previously called the children's detention in "substandard conditions" an "urgent problem." Watch a video about the Hutto detention center here.

Detention of Children For Profit Continues

"Despite the tremendous improvements at Hutto, the facility remains a former medium security prison managed by the Corrections Corporation of America, a for-profit adult corrections company," the ACLU said in a statement. "The ACLU remains adamant that detaining immigrant children at Hutto is inappropriate, and calls on Congress to compel DHS to find humane alternatives for managing families whose immigration status is in limbo."

Learn more about how you can take action by visiting the Detention Watch Networks's website at : www.detentionwatchnetwork.org.

To read the full settlement click here

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Human Rights Disappearing in Prince William County

Prince William County Resolution "Sounds Like Profiling" Fairfax Official Says
updated August 24, 2007

The Prince William County measure recently came under scrutiny from County Chairman Gerry Connolly of Fairfax County, which borders Prince William County. The July 10 resolution issued by Prince William County calls for police to question criminal suspects about immigration status if they have "probable cause."

Chairman Connolly questioned what constitutes probable cause, "Is it how someone looks? Is it their accent? Is it what they're wearing?" he asked. "That sounds like profiling, and I don't know how they're going to get over that," Connolly said, the Examiner reports.

According to Prince William County Chairman Corey Stewart, "The way we are going to do that is with a standardized probable cause that has nothing to do with race, ethnicity or language." Failure to produce a driver's license during a criminal investigation may result in an automatic immigration check, Stewart said.

Gabriela Rivera-Oven, a resident of Montgomery County in nearby Maryland for the past two decades, said, "It's easy to blame the all the ills of this world on this group, because they don't have a real political voice." According to Rivera-Oven, "They're blamed for everything: from usage of hospitals, school money. But there's really no facts on this."

Local police questioning about immigration status during investigations "creates a lot of fear among immigrants particularly in domestic violence situations where we have seen both women and men are afraid to report crimes," observes Ruben Chandrasekar, AFSC staff in Baltimore, Maryland. "It's a public safety issue and eroding a lot of trust that police may have built in immigrant communities," he added.

Earlier this month Stewart sent a letter to the county's Human Rights Commission calling for the body not to criticize the resolution. "It is not the role of Board-appointed citizen advisory groups to critique the Board's policies after those policies have been adopted," Stewart wrote.

Take Action: The Prince William resolution does not become operative until October 10 and can be overturned. Join Prince William County residents and partners including Mexicans Without Borders and the Woodbridge Workers Committee. Let them know they are not alone in this call for equal treatment and respect for civil rights.

"... And Who Is My Neighbor?"
Join the peaceful march and rally against Prince William's
pending anti-immigrant ordinance

3:00 p.m., Sunday, September 2, 2007
McCoart Administration Bldg. 1 County Complex Ct, Woodbridge, VA 221921 (at Prince William Pkwy)
For more information click here or contact msf@mexicanossinfronteras.org.

Starting at 12 noon on Sunday, September 2 buses will travel from Malcom X Park (Corner of 16th & Euclid Street NW) in Washington, DC to the rally. For more information and to RSVP contact NCIC at (202) 462-7042 or e-mail info@ncic-metro.org.

Community Press Conference
On August 27 at 11:00 am at Chinn Regional Library of Prince William County (13065 Chinn Park Drive Prince William, VA 22192-5073) organizations from around the region will mark the beginning of the week long economic boycott in Prince William to rescind the resolution.

The press conference will be followed by a 2 hour vigil outside of Potomac Mills Mall to remind people of the economic contributions made by immigrants. Businesses which display signs against the resolution will be exempt from the boycott. For more information contact msf@mexicanossinfronteras.org.

Monday, August 20, 2007

U.S. policy should keep families together, not separate mothers from their children

AFSC gravely concerned by arrest and deportation of Elvira Arellano

In the wake of the arrest and deportation of Elvira Arellano - a Mexican immigrant who, with her 8-year old son, sought church sanctuary - AFSC continues its call for a rational, humane, and fair system of immigration that provides a path to legal residency and citizenship and keeps families in this country intact.

"Elvira exemplifies what's wrong with current immigration laws," says Christian Ramirez, an AFSC national immigrants' rights coordinator. "Ripping a mother away from her 8-year old child is unconscionable. Such dramatic and drastic measures fail to address the root causes of migration to the United States and ignore the needs of multi-status immigrant families, specifically families with children born in the United States who have known no other life beyond the one they have had in this country."

Ramirez saw Elvira Arellano this morning, soon after she was deported to Mexico. He reports that she vowed to be reunited with her son and to continue her campaigning for just and humane treatment of immigrants.

"With her strength, passion and admirable response, Elvira demonstrates these inhumane actions will not take away her dignity," Ramirez adds. "However, the repressive worksite raids and harsh, punitive enforcement tactics now adopted by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement only compel thousands of families - such as Arellano and her son - to live their lives underground in a complicated and traumatic immigration limbo."

The Service Committee is compelled to speak out at this critical moment when many mixed-status families, such as Elvira Arellano and her U.S.-born son, have nearly lost all hope of remaining together.

As an undocumented immigrant mother facing deportation for the past year, Elvira Arellano had been given sanctuary by one of Chicago's Methodist congregations. She had traveled to Los Angeles with community and faith leaders from Chicago as part of a nationwide advocacy campaign calling for humane immigration policies and an end to immigration raids in worksites and homes across the country.

The deportation occurs at a moment of great anxiety in immigrant communities. Last week, the Department of Homeland Security issued a new immigration enforcement plan that, among other initiatives, increases the number of border agents, detention beds, and workplace immigration raids.

Instead of giving free rein to repressive worksite raids and other punitive enforcement measures, this country needs constructive immigration policies that enable Elvira Arellano and other undocumented parents to remain with their children and find a path to legal residency and citizenship.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

DHS "No Match" Rule a Detrimental Setback for the Nation's Workers

On August 13th the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) published its final rule specifying an employer's legal obligations when the employer receives a letter from the Social Security Administration (SSA) stating that the information submitted for an employee on W-2 Forms do not match SSA records(commonly referred to as an SSA "no-match" letter).

The new rule, which becomes effective 30 days after publication, outlines "safe harbor" procedures that employers should follow in order to avoid liability under U.S. immigration laws.

"We are worried with this new development. We already know of several work sites in our area who are indiscriminately telling workers they will lose their jobs. This does nothing but worsen the already difficult existence of many of these workers and their families" comments Martin Cuevas, staff member of AFSC's Proyecto Campesino in Visalia, California.

Previously, the purpose of the SSA no-match letter was to inform employees that they would not receive credit for their earnings, which can affect SSA benefits. The new rule changes the SSA no-match letter from an administrative notice into a tool for DHS to identify undocumented workers in the United States. In the past, however, there have been errors and incorrect information the "no match" letters.

>For more information visit the National Immigration Law Center's "SSA No Match" webpage.

Under the new regulation,
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) can use an employer's receipt of a "no-match" letter as evidence that the employer has "constructive knowledge" that the employee is unauthorized to work in the United States. If the employer does not resolve the discrepancy within 90 days the employer must fire the employee or the employer will face criminal liability.

Farmworkers, farmers, and growers associations agree that the rule could disastrously impact America's farms resulting in lost jobs and in thousands of lost crops. "There's always more pressure on the immigrant community," said Gerardo Reyes, a farm worker from Immokalee, Florida. "We're making sure food gets to everyone's tables," he said. (Fresno Bee)

Action Step: >Email your Senators today to call for workable solutions that keep immigrant families together and provide a path to citizenship for all who have built a life here.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Transcending the "Language" Line

My childhood is a memory of sounds and neighbors, and families who spoke Spanish, Greek, Polish, Arabic, and Italian. Language was never a barrier when I visited my friends or spoke to their parents. Most of their parents also spoke English, but spoke to their children in their native language. Parents were passing on their language, while also instilling in their children the importance of school and speaking English.

In today's immigration debate, immigrants have been characterized as unwilling to learn English or lacking the willingness to be part of the nation. These characterizations are unfounded and contrary to studies and a history which demonstrates that, in fact, new immigrants strive to ensure that their children learn English and the customs, norms and mores of their new country.

Early immigrants to the US also faced assumptions and stereotypes. Germans, Irish and others also faced the onslaught of ignorance and racism. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, restrictionists claimed that Italians could not speak English and were different from previous immigrants. We know these views were false.

According to local elected officials such as Walter Tejada (Vice Chair of the Arlington, Virginia County Board), local anti-immigrant measures such as those in Prince William and Loudon Counties are motivated by a lack of information or education about the contributions of immigrants to communities and xenophobia.

"We are talking about people who want to be a part of the American community," Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett of Maryland said during a recently held panel on local immigration ordinances in Washington, DC.

According to a National Conference of State Legislatures' report, in the absence of federal legislation on immigration reform, state legislatures, considered 1,404 immigration measures this year and passed 170 of them.(New York Times)

According to Vic Walczak, ACLU attorney in the Hazleton Pennsylvania case, "Every single judge, this includes state and federal, appointed by Republicans and Democrats, every judge has said these laws are likely to be unconstitutional." The measures are also premised on myths that immigrants burden health care and increase crime rates, which the evidence in the Hazelton case disproves, Walczak said.

According to Tejada and Leggett, local anti-immigrant ordinances only make communities less welcoming and demonstrate the need for substantive solutions on federal immigration reform. As Village President Bill Sarto (Carpentersville, Illinois) has noted about a proposed English-only ordinance, "Passing this ordinance is not going to make one person learn English any faster ... All it will say is this: 'This is not a welcoming community.' The immigration problem is not going be solved here in Carpentersville."(NYT Magazine)

At the American Friends Service Committee, "we work from the conviction that fences that criminalize aspirations for decent, productive lives do not make for good neighbors, and that temporary worker programs exploit people but welcome no guests," writes Paul Lacey, clerk of AFSC's national board of directors and a member of the Society of Friends (Quakers).

This past week, several Senators introduced Senate Bill 1984 which continues to press for beefed up enforcement including walls, an employment identification card and other measures. Sadly, this latest action does nothing to address the underlying causes of immigration nor does it provide workable solutions that keep families intact and allow for the adjustment of the estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants in the United States.

Take Action: Tell Congress that we need to fix our immigration system and that fences, raids, and detentions are not the answer.
E-mail Your Senator Now >

Listen to Local Voices on Immigration

Monday, August 06, 2007

Dropping the Temperature On the Immigration Debate's Heat

Are you having a cookout next weekend? Invite your local Congressperson!

The temprature in Washington rose last week in a debate on the federal agriculture approrpations. House Republicans stormed out of the Congressional chambers when a motion to bar the provision of housing to undocumented agricultural workers in the FY 2008 agricultural appropriations bill (HR 3161) failed. The bill eventually passed the bill by a vote of 237-18, which most Republicans boycotted.

The August recess provides the opportunity to bring cool conversations to the heated debate and allow for cooler heads - and temperaments - to prevail. Starting today, legislators are in their home districts for the month-long Congressional August recess. When not spending quality time with their families, Congressional leaders will be attending picnics and barbecues, back-to-school events, town hall meetings and social activities which provide a refreshing opportunity for constituents to seek out their Congressional representative.

One message from this year's immigration debate rang loud and clear - the movement for immigrants rights will be won at the grassroots level. Now is the time to make your voices heard. Your members' ears will be closer to those whose voices matter most - you.

Here are some tips on bringing your concerns and how to bring your representative to your backyard cookout and gathering:

  1. Contact Your Members' District Offices

  2. Check FCNL's online Congressional directory for your members' contact information, as well as background information, committee assignments, and voting records. You can also call the Capitol switchboard at 202-224-3121 or check the government pages of your phone book.

  3. Schedule a Meeting or Host an Event: Invite Your Congressperson!

  4. For tips on how to schedule a visit click here. For tips on making your visit successful click here. Remember to invite Congressional staff as well.

  5. Share Your Voice in Town Hall Meetings

  6. Some members host August Town Hall meetings in their districts. Visit www.senate.gov and www.house.gov for your members' websites and information.

  7. Involve the Press

  8. Invite the press to events and write letters to the editor. If you are hosting an event with a Congressional member work with your member's office to include local reporters.

  9. Maintain the Momentum

  10. After sharing your concerns, make sure you establish a verbal or written relationship with your Congressperson. Identify her/his key aides including the legislative aide involved in immigration policy, civil and human rights matters.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Immigration Proposal Far Short of Substantive Solution

Legislative Actions Continue Downward Spiral and Same Old Policies

The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) expresses its strong opposition to the recently introduced bill S. 1984. This latest attempt is not a sound or constructive legislative remedy to the nation's immigration problem.

In fact, it is a proposal that re-hatches failed immigration policies, continues a troubling trend to include additional penalties that harm undocumented immigrant families, and the steady drumbeat of punitive enforcement measures while doing little - if anything - to repair and rebuild the current immigration system. This legislative proposal offers little hope of producing workable, realistic or constructive solutions.

U.S. Sens. Jon Kyl (R-AZ), Jeff Sessions (R-AL), John McCain (R-AZ), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and John Cornyn (R-TX) are the lead sponsors of this bill which contains an assortment of already failed provisions. These include
  • the ongoing militarization of the southern border and the construction of 700 miles of border fencing by the Department of Homeland Security;
  • enforcement of immigration laws by state & local law enforcement bodies;
  • increased worksite enforcement and the establishment of a national electronic employment verification system;
  • increased border personnel (to 14,000 new Border Patrol Agents), augmented technology and vehicle barriers; and
  • new detention space to hold border crossers.
"Why are legislators repeating the mistakes of the past? There is nothing new or creative about this bill. This latest proposal leads down the same punitive path of enforcement and border militarization. The proposal lacks substantive solutions and does not resolve the presence of 12 million undocumented immigrants currently in the United States," remarked Esther Nieves, director of AFSC's national immigrant rights program.

AFSC's immigrant rights work has historically been grounded in its successful partnerships with local and national allies including faith, labor and community organizations. The enforcement-only approach presented in this latest legislative plan is not what immigrant communities need - or want. Nor does this proposal reflect the consistent support the nation's citizenry has expressed for bringing undocumented immigrants and workers into the full light of our society.

AFSC is troubled that these measures will lead to the violation of the basic due process, civil and human rights of non-status immigrants. This severe approach to the presence of undocumented immigrants and laborers will do nothing to integrate those who are already here nor will new walls, fences, technology or increased personnel patrolling the southern border alter the reality of global economic, political and social forces. Moreover, succumbing to disturbing nativist and restrictionist tendencies is not an effective method for the formulation of sound and workable national public policies.

"The increased militarization of the border has already created a human rights nightmare along the US-Mexico divide, increased fencing and beef-up at the border without taking clear steps towards accountability and oversight will have deadly consequences for our communities," said Pedro Rios, director of AFSC's San Diego Area Office. Since 1994, over 4,500 men, women and children have lost their lives attempting to enter the United States.

AFSC, therefore, strongly urges Congressional leaders to soundly reject S. 1984. AFSC urges the general public to contact their Congressional legislators and press them to continue a bipartisan dialogue which leads to solution-based, and achievable immigration legislation. These solutions include a path to lawful permanent residency, fair labor laws for immigrants and non-immigrants, and the opportunity to keep families intact, and able to contribute to the growth and future vibrancy of our nation.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Fee Hike Puts New Price Tag on American Dream

On July 30th, as excessive immigration fee hikes went into effect, Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-San Jose) introduced bill H.J. Res. 47, which would stop the recent fee increases set by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). The bill would void the new fee structure and reinstate the previous fee structure.

Advocates and members of Congress contend that the USCIS failed to effectively justify the increases or outline a concrete plan. "Our immigration services need to move into the 21st century...But, USCIS has consistently failed to explain or justify the amounts and distributions of this new fee increase," Representative Lofgren said.

"The USCIS says they need to improve the system, and that is very true," said Gabriela Flora, regional organizer with AFSC's Colorado office. "I'm not so sure this is going to result in that. And putting it on the backs of hardworking people in this country doesn't make sense," she said.

"We're setting up a system that creates barriers," Flora said (Rocky Mountain News).

>For the full text of the bill click here.

>For the final fee schedule click here.

Take Action: Contact your Congressional representatives (Capitol Hill Switchboard: 202 - 224 - 3121) and urge them to support H.J. Res. 47.