Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Anti-Immigrant Group Opts for Troubling "Legal" Strategy

By Brianna Almaguer Sandoval
Human Migration and Mobility/Project Voice Policy Graduate Intern

"This is the worst it's been. There is a lot of unfriendliness and disrespect against immigrants, and a lot has been happening quiet...We need big help in this town."- Flor Gonzalez, director of Latin American Coalition (Plainfield, NJ)(New York Daily News)

Located just south of Newark, New Jersey, Plainfield is a city of an estimated 50,000 persons. Some disconcerting signs have recently surfaced in this mid-size town. It would appear that a quiet but palpable tension has been brewing in Plainfield; the tension has been focused on the town's undocumented immigrants.

This month a federal lawsuit challenging a homeowner's right to rent to undocumented immigrants was filed. This should sound familiar; similar lawsuits or municipal ordinances have also been filed in several of towns such as Hazelton (PA), Riverside (NJ), and Escondido, (CA). In Hazleton, a federal judge overturned the town's actions. So what's the twist? This time an anti-immigration legal group has used specific legislation to pursue their actions against immigrants.

The suit was brought by the Federation for American Immigration Reform's Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI). The latter is the legal arm of FAIR, an organization that has opposed substantive and humane immigration reform. The suit alleges that Connolly Properties, a property-management company with rental complexes in Northern New Jersey and Allentown, (Pennsylvania), has rented its units to undocumented tenants, which constitutes unlawful harboring. IRLI cites this as a criminal enterprise that encouraged immigration. (Philadelphia Inquirer)

The suit was brought on behalf of a former employee and two tenants. According to Mike Hethmon, a lawyer for IRLI the tenants claim that the buildings they were steered into renting were occupied by undocumented immigrants who were too afraid about their immigration status to complain about the poor housing conditions. Furthermore, Hethmon said that the group decided to take on the case as part of its "attrition through enforcement" strategy or the pushing of undocumented immigrants to leave the country by making it more difficult to live in the U.S.

A Troubling Tactic to Target Undocumented Immigrants

The Immigration Reform Law Institute has opted to use the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) to target undocumented immigrants. Originally, the law was designed to prosecute organized crime and alleged criminal syndicates. RICO was expanded in 1996 to include immigration related provisions; under RICO the violation of certain provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) meets the definition of racketeering activity.

Anti-Immigration's Golden Tool

Plainfield City Council President Harold Gibson said "I think that the people in Plainfield, in terms of the City Council and the general population...frown on illegal immigration...However, my position is that I don't think we should set ourselves up as an immigration authority in terms of people who come from other countries and work here to better themselves and help their families." (Philadelphia Inquirer)

The suit comes at a time where Plainfield's immigrant community members have suffered from a recent rise in beatings and robberies, police ticketing of day laborers, and raids by federal immigration officials.

Now lawyers who are using RICO in immigration cases argue that RICO should be more broadly interpreted to include those who hire or rent to undocumented immigrants. Donald W. Benson, a lawyer with Little Mendelson has been following the use of RICO in immigration cases states that, "Congress couldn't reach a consensus to reform the immigration laws, states are trying to fill the ga...and local groups are trying to work through local ordinances, so it's just part of a much bigger picture of immigration struggles in the U.S." (North New Jersey News)

AFSC Supports Justice and Dialogue in Plainfield

Backed by a 90-year history working for peace, justice and reconciliation in troubled areas of the world, American Friends Service Committee is a faith-based organization grounded in Quaker beliefs respecting the dignity and worth of every person regardless of their immigration status. AFSC's Project Voice initiative presses for comprehensive immigration reform that does not diminish the civil and human rights of immigrants, refugees or asylees and calls on Plainfield leaders, faith institutions and community residents to enter into a process of dialogue which would lead to a deeper understanding of both immigrant and non-immigrant residents and how both can work to promote harmony, positive growth, and a united future for the all the people of Plainfield..

Related Article: Escondido Housing Ban Threatens Human Rights