Category Archives: Editorials

“Immigrant” does not mean “criminal”

Guest blog by Julia Clunn

One major problem when talking about the treatment of undocumented immigrants in this country is that they are often branded as “law-breakers” or “illegals.” Instead of looking at these people as individuals with different backgrounds and situations, they are clumped together and treated like criminals. This is how Saad Nabeel’s case was handled, despite the fact that he had lived in the US since he was 3 and never committed a crime. He and his family came here as political refugees and were deported while their green card renewals were being processed.  This kind of treatment of honest people as delinquents is unfair, and sadly Washington is only taking baby steps to remedy the problem.

The pressure exerted through the “Change Takes Courage” campaign has brought a tiny glimmer of sunshine in an otherwise bleak outlook for immigration reform.  In a memo recently sent by John Morton, the head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), it was advised that the agency use “prosecutorial discretion” when detaining and deporting immigrants. Continue reading

Reporters Win Pulitizer for Work on Arpaio, Colbert Asks for ID


In 2007, reporters Paul Giblin and Ryan Gabrielson began investigating Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Arizona. Their findings (as many of you know) were that Arpaio’s hellbent focus on hunting down undocumented immigrants was detrimental to overall public safety in the county. The  five-piece set of articles entitled “Reasonable Doubt” highlighted the racial profiling inherent in Arpaio’s 287(g) campaign.

With the help of an editor, the two exposed slow response times to emergencies and reduced law enforcement as the sheriff dedicated more of his agency’s resources to seeking out and arresting illegal immigrants.

Yesterday, it was announced that the two reporters were awarded a Pulitzer Prize for their work on Sheriff Joe. Meanwhile, Joe himself made an appearance on the Colbert Report. Barely coherent, the nation’s toughest Sheriff bumbled his way through Colbert’s questions and seemed oblivious that the two reporters who had done such a compelling expose of his hypocrisy even existed. Click here to watch the video (I will embed later).


Colbert took it easy on him, since it was clear Arpaio had no real answers to even the simplest questions. Avoiding the truth about Arpaio’s backlogs of warrants, thousands of complaints of racial profiling and egregiously press-hungry efforts to self-publicize,  Colbert asked

“How do you determine that someone might be Hispanic without using your eyeballs?…How do you do it?  Do you have a secret sixth sense that you’re going to ask for one guy’s ID, and not another?”

Arpaio never gave a clear answer to that question. And though Colbert did ask for his ID, multiple times, it was never really clear whether Arpaio knew he was being mocked.

While I would have loved to see Colbert rip him to shreds, I am at least satisfied with Arpaio’s own attempts to make himself look incompetent. They were effective.

Congratulations to Giblin and Gabrielson for their Pulitzer Prizes, they deserve them for going after a villian like Arpaio. Let’s hope this draws more attention to the injustices facing the immigrant community across the country.

Remade in America


The New York Times is featuring a series on the impact of immigration in the United States. Right now the series features two interesting articles (here and here) on immigrant children and growing up in the United States.The pieces follow the story of Jesselyn Bercian, daughter of El Salvadoran immigrants, who lives in Washington, DC.

Growing up in this corner of immigrant America, Jesselyn Bercian saw herself as an ordinary Salvadoran-American kid. She dropped out of high school, hung out with gangs and identified with poor, streetwise blacks. To the extent she gave it any thought, she considered poverty a Latina’s fate.

How representative is she?

Though the articles approach the topic of assimilation (a tricky concept for many), they also note that sometimes assimilation can mean something other than what we typically expect.

The problems of young people like Jesselyn are sometimes called failures of assimilation. But they can also be seen as assimilation to the wrong things: crime, drugs and self-fulfilling prophecies of racial defeat.

As Jesselyn tells it, she assimilated to the surrounding values of gangsta rap.

“If you’re Hispanic, people already expect you to steal, to fight, to be rude, to be ghetto,” Jesselyn said. “If everyone thinks wrong of you, eventually you’re going to start thinking wrong about yourself.”

To read the full series, click here.

Courage, President Obama


An editorial in today’s NY Times speaks to the upcoming fight for immigration reform and the hard, but hopeful,  road ahead. The endorsement of labor unions has bolstered the White House’s announcement of a move on reform this year and we are gearing up to push back against the sure-to-come rhetoric that reform is somehow not compatible with economic recovery. (If you would like some black and white proof of why this is wrong, check out the Immigration Policy Center’s most recent report.)

American workers and businesses continue to be undercut by the underground economy. The economic potential of some of the country’s most industrious workers is thwarted. Working off the books — and living in constant fear of apprehension — they earn less, spend less, pay less in taxes and have little ability to report abuses or to improve their skills or job prospects.

The ingredients of reform are clear: legalization for the 12 million, to yield bumper crops of new citizens, to make it easier to weed out criminals and to end the fear and hopelessness of life in the shadows; sensible enforcement at the border that focuses resources on fighting crime, drugs and violence; a strengthened employment system that punishes businesses that exploit illegal labor; and a future flow of workers that is attuned to the economy’s needs and fully protects workers’ rights.

We stand strong with the President and with the AFL CIO and Change to Win in their endorsement for reform. There is a lot of work to do, but I am confident that, together, we can make it happen.

We expect to hear more from Mr. Obama soon. It will take courage to defend the wisdom and necessity of fixing the immigration system. It will take even more courage to engage in the serious fight to do so. It is what the country needs and what American voters elected Mr. Obama to do.

Immigration Reform is an Urgent Priority


Deepak Bhargava, Executive Director of FIRM’s parent organization, the Center for Community Change, has a blog post up at the Hill Blog about why immigration reform is not only a priority, but an urgent one.

Our immigration system is broken.  We all know it.  And it’s time to do something about it.  Why now?

  • Fixing our immigration system is critical component of fixing our economy.   Just and humane immigration reform will protect all low-wage workers, punish unscrupulous employers who undercut their honest competitors, create a level playing field for workers and employers, and increase tax revenues for cities, states, and the federal government.  The President gets that putting America on the path to brighter economic future is not merely about fixing banks – it’s about better education, fixing our health care system, achieving a sustainable energy future and reforming our immigration system
  • The election created enormous political momentum towards immigration reform.     The 2008 election was a game-changer, and it’s now clear that the Democrats need to deliver on immigration reform and Republicans need to change course.   Pro-Reform candidates beat hard-liners in 19 of 21 battleground House and Senate races.  The lesson of the 2008 election when it comes to immigration reform is that immigrant voters want respect and swing voters want solutions.
  • Immigrant workers and families are under siege.  Many are being exploited. Families are being divided. Hate crimes are on the rise. Raids in workplaces and neighborhoods are terrorizing immigrant workers and families. Hundreds of thousands of immigrants are being detained; scores have died in detention. Hundreds die each year crossing the desert in hopes of a better life for their families. As human beings and as Americans, we find this kind of treatment of hard-working people who come to pursue the American Dream unacceptable.

This is a challenge to who we are as a nation, who we are as human beings, and whether we are going to stand up for American ideals and reject those who appeal to our worst instincts. Let’s do the right thing and fight for fair treatment and practical solutions that benefit us all.

“No More Heroes”: Why America Must Stand Up


Today on the Huffington Post,  long-time community organizer Gabe Gonzalez writes about the historic moment we face as Americans. He cites our long tradition of creating American heroes that symbolize or catalyze social change and why, at this moment we need collective action, not heroes.

We should have a country that has no need for heroes. One in which you can get health care, save your home, work in peace. We have the ability to do this. Even in the midst of crises we remain the most powerful country on Earth.

I believe firmly that what this country needs, wants, and what it must have if we are to prosper again is a focus on community values of shared responsibility and shared sacrifice. That’s why I organize, and why I work so hard to get others to do the same. If there is one thing we saw clearly in the debate around the stimulus, it is that entrenched interests in both parties are the biggest obstacle in our path. And right now, with so much on the line, we need to ensure that they do not prevail.

We know from history, that for change to happen, we must have a bold president and an electorate willing to have his back. This is the only way to seize the opportunity presented by crises and act to change the fundamental structures that put us here.

Were we stand right now is with a President that has laid out a bold vision. But that cannot become real if we, those that chose him, are silent. We need to become active in ways that this country sees only once in a generation. We need to all act with consistency and determination to support an agenda that includes healthcare, immigration reform and fair banking laws. We cannot fail — even America cannot create enough heroes to save us from the repercussions of missing this opportunity. I believe our president has the capacity for greatness, but not if we let him stand alone. Mass public action is what this country needs most of all if we are going to create the change we so clearly demand.

As a country, we must work together (all of us) in order to overcome the crises and obstacles in our way. During times of turmoil, America has historically looked for a scapegoat (typically immigrants) and turned to the politics of divisiveness and finger-pointing to alleviate the fear and tension the country was facing. We must learn from our history and understand that, like MLK Jr. said “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly”.

I encourage you all to read Gabe Gonzalez’s full post here.

Failing Families: How Current Immigration Enforcement Hurts Children

74170262DM014_Immigrant_GroLast week, the Baltimore Sun featured an op-ed on immigration enforcement and its impact on children. Lavanya Sithanandam, a member of South Asian Americans Leading Together, is a practicing physician and wrote about her own personal experience with children whose families have been victims of immigration raids.

When I walked into the exam room, I knew something was wrong. My 8-year old patient, usually an extroverted, charming boy, was angry. He sat with his arms crossed and refused to look at me. His exhausted mother recounted how one week ago, her husband, after arriving home from a 12-hour shift at work, had been arrested in front of his children and taken away in handcuffs. He was now sitting in an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention center in Frederick. The mother asked me to evaluate her son for a one-week history of poor appetite, difficulty with sleeping, and wheezing.

Sithandam emphasizes that many of the children who suffer because of immigration raids are citizens of the United States and “Yet these children often experience what no U.S. citizen (or any child, for that matter) should. They live in constant fear of abandonment because they have seen and heard of neighbors and family members being picked up and deported within days.”

The future for families like my 8-year-old patient’s looks grim. My patient’s suffering will probably have no influence on his father’s deportation proceedings, given the high legal standards of “extreme hardship” that must be met in order for his father to stay with his family. The boy will most likely be forced to start a new life in a country he has never even visited.

Immigration policy is complicated and emotionally charged, but punishing citizen children should be at the bottom of ICE’s priorities. It is time to once again consider a fair and comprehensive approach to immigration reform.

As House Speaker Nancy Pelosi noted last week “Taking children from their parents is un-American”. It is time to end the raids on our families and communities and push for comprehensive immigration reform. It will be reform, not raids, that will keep families together and ensure a bright future for our children.

Who’s Running Immigration?

Today’s New York Times has a powerful editorial on immigraton enforcement under the Obama administration. Using the exmaples of Saturday’s peaceful protest against Sheriff Joe Arpaio and last week’s unexpected immigration raid in Bellingham, WA, the piece picks apart the notion that Bush-era enforcement-only tactics can somehow solve the immigration issue in this country.

An excerpt:

Americans who might applaud any crackdown on illegal immigrants, particularly in a recession, should know that scattershot raids and rampaging sheriffs are not the answer. The idea that enforcement alone will eliminate the underground economy is a great delusion. It runs up against the impossible arithmetic of mass expulsion — no conceivable regime of raids will wrench 12 million illegal immigrants from their jobs and homes.

The country is not a safer or better place because one more business and two dozen more families are torn apart outside Seattle or because Sheriff Arpaio has much of Maricopa County terrified. The system under which illegal immigrants labor, without hope of assimilation, is not any less broken. A new report from the Government Accountability Office shows that federal oversight of the 287(g) program has been sorely lacking.

So, a question: Are Mr. Obama and Ms. Napolitano in charge or not? Let them show it by ending the raids and Sheriff Arpaio’s abuses. Something has to be done about immigration, but it has to be smarter than this.

To read the full article click here.

Cocktails and Criticism – Deepak Bhargava Reacts to the Washington state Raid

Deepak Bhargava, Executive Director of the Center for Community Change, FIRM’s parent organization, has taken to the Center’s blog today, to discuss the ICE raid in Bellingham, Washington.

Last week, I had the honor of representing CCC at a cocktail party for progressive leaders at the White House with the President and First Lady. Honestly, I was pretty excited. I even bought a new tie. I had a chance to talk to the President about immigration reform, and got very encouraging responses about changing the way immigration enforcement happens and about prospects for immigration reform this year.

I was then taken aback when I learned this week about an immigration raid in Bellingham, WA that resulted in 25 immigrants being shackled and detained. The call from Marissa Graciosa, who leads our immigration work at CCC, came in close to 10 pm, just as the President was wrapping up his brilliant address to the Congress and the country. Working with our allies at One America in Washington state who are fiercely leading the response on the ground, grassroots groups around the country that are part of the FIRM network, the National Immigration Forum, America’s Voice, the National Council of La Raza and many others we sprung into action.

We called everyone we know at the White House and asked what the hell was going on and pressed specifically for a public response within 24 hours clarifying that the Administration does in fact intend to shift its approach on enforcement. We reached out to the press and the Hill which also began to ask hard questions. Hundreds of calls went into the White House. We criticized the Administration publicly, for the first time, literally a week after the cocktail party!

The result? DHS announced an investigation of the Bellingham raid within 24 hours –and Secretary Napolitano told Congress she didn’t know the raid was happening and that the Administration was looking to take enforcement in a different direction –away from workplace raids to focusing on unscrupulous employers. Now, that is change we can believe in.

What lessons might we draw from this whole experience? First, we are not agents of the Obama Administration – or any other politician. Our highest commitment as progressives is to the most vulnerable people in our society, and being progressive means nothing at all if it doesn’t mean standing up for and with them. Second, we shouldn’t expect to get change that we don’t help to make happen. To paraphrase Frederick Douglas, there is not progress without agitation. Third, if we take the view that the Administration is potentially an ally – rather than reflexively assuming bad intent — and we are clear and specific about what we want to see happen, we can in fact make real progress by working together. I am heartened by what this Administration has gotten done for low-income people in an incredibly short period of time through the recovery bill and SCHIP legislation – and the speed of their response to our concerns about this tragic raid further confirms their sincere commitment to change.

I am also heartened that the President is leading a national conversation on shared responsibility and shared sacrifice – two critical elements of the community values that are at the center of all the work to which we community organizers are passionately committed.

So, maybe cocktails and criticism – in the context of a respectful and real relationship that grows and develops over time — can go together and deliver results.

Deepak Bhargava is Executive Director of the Center for Community Change

Enforcement Gone Bad


There has been so much published recently about the wrong turn taken by the Bush administration’s approach to immigration enforcement. Reports from the Pew Hispanic Center and the Migration Policy Institute have been especially damning. On Sunday, the NY Times ran an editorial reiterating that our immigration system is broken and that comprehensive reform is needed now more than ever. Here is an excerpt:

A report last week from the Pew Hispanic Center laid bare some striking results of that campaign. It found that Latinos now make up 40 percent of those sentenced in federal courts, even though they are only about 13 percent of the adult population. They accounted for one-third of federal prison inmates in 2007.

The numbers might suggest we are besieged by immigrant criminals. But of all the noncitizen Latinos sentenced last year, the vast majority — 81 percent — were convicted for unlawfully entering or remaining in the country, neither of which is a criminal offense.

The country is filling the federal courts and prisons with nonviolent offenders. It is diverting immense law-enforcement resources from pursuing serious criminals — violent thugs, financial scammers — to an immense, self-defeating campaign to hunt down … workers.

The Pew report follows news this month that even as a federal program to hunt immigrant fugitives saw its budget soar — to $218 million last year from $9 million in 2003 — its mission went astray. According to the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute, of the 72,000 people arrested through last February, 73 percent had no criminal record. Border Patrol agents in California and Maryland, meanwhile, tell of pressure to arrest workers at day-labor corners and convenience stores to meet quotas.

The country needs to control its borders. It needs to rebuild an effective immigration system and thwart employers who cheat it. It needs to bring the undocumented forward and make citizen taxpayers of them.