Category Archives: enforcement

The Growing Human Rights Crisis on the Northern Border

For three years, OneAmerica community organizers had been hearing about the fear and mistrust border residents harbored toward U.S. Border Patrol. Residents living in Snohomish, Whatcom, and Skagit counties were too afraid to go to the courthouse to pay a fine, too mistrustful of the authorities to call 911, or too fearful to leave their home to attend church or go to the grocery store.

How could they become active participants in their communities if they were too scared to leave home?

Organizers interviewed residents in their homes, at work, and in church. We researched and observed how U.S. Border Patrol’s funding soared, its jurisdiction crept further and further inland, and how its role in the community became virtually indistinguishable from local police and 911 emergency service personnel.

Download the Executive Summary (2MB pdf)Download the Executive Summary

 

Download the full report (5MB pdf) Download the full report

OneAmerica compiled this research into a report and, in April 2012, released The Growing Human Rights Crisis on the Northern Border, which truly demonstrates the transformation of these border communities in the wake of the post-9/11 buildup of U.S. Border Patrol activity in the area.

The report shares the findings from 109 on-the-ground interviews with mothers, fathers, workers, and students. The majority of stories are marked by fear, mistrust, harassment, and abuse. They are rooted in specific—and avoidable—patterns of practice implemented by the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP), working in close coordination with Immigration and Customs and Enforcement and local law enforcement agencies.

In particular, Growing Human Rights Crisis calls attention to three interrelated patterns of practice:

  • First, in its own independent operations, the Border Patrol engages in systematic profiling of religious and ethnic minorities.
  • Second, collaboration between Border Patrol and other agencies, including local law enforcement, emergency responders, and the courts, results in a confusing and dangerous fusion where vital services are perceived as immigration enforcement.
  • Third, these first two patterns result in a third: U.S. Border Patrol’s behavior and dangerous partnerships with other agencies have created extensive fear and mistrust, leading to community members’ unwillingness to call 911, access the courts, and even to leave their house to attend worship services or fulfill basic needs.

We believe firmly that we must not trade away our rights for security. Documenting what is happening allows us to educate our policy makers so we can push together to change the situation. Our report offers policy recommendations aimed at correcting these wrongs while still protecting our borders, improving the ability for CBP to carry out its mission, and protecting the safety and rights of all who live in these communities.

This report is the product of a unique three-way partnership between OneAmerica, theUniversity of Washington Center for Human Rights, and the residents and leaders of these border communities. It culminates the first stage of a long process of organizing, educating, and empowering northern border communities to defend their human rights.

Rep. Lofgren Calls for Investigation of Secure Communities

By Mary Moreno

One of the major reasons deportations have surged under the Obama administration is the expansion of the so-called Secure Communities program. Under Secure Communities, everyone who’s picked up by the police, be it for traffic, minor or major violations, has their fingerprints sent to DHS by the FBI to be checked for legal status. This program has led to the deportations of people who were never charged with a crime or who were accused, but not convicted, of offenses.

DHS used to insist that the program was voluntary. DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano even asserted this “fact” to members of Congress. One congressional member to hear this from Napolitano, Rep. Zoe Lofgren of California, is calling for an investigation of the program after documents released under a Freedom of Information Act request showed that the program, in fact, is not voluntary, opting out is not an option.

Lofgren told the LA Times:

“It is inescapable that the [Department of Homeland Security] was not honest with the local governments or with me” about whether local jurisdictions must participate, said Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-San Jose). “You can’t have a government department essentially lying to local government and to members of Congress. This is not OK.”

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Napolitano Brags About Obama Administration Outdoing Bush on Immigration Enforcement

Unfortunately, this bit of news really isn’t surprising. According to America’s Voice, Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano today proudly stated the Obama Administration has granted fewer deferred actions than did the Bush Administration in its last year in office. A deferred action allows individuals a stay in deportation, usually because of compelling humanitarian concerns and is given at prosecutorial discretion.

Napolitano’s answer to a question posed by Sen. Chuck Grassley, Republican of Iowa, fits the misguided strategy the Obama Administration has followed for the past two years. As Roxie Bacon, an ex-Obama immigration official, recently wrote in a post for a law journal, the administration is bent on winning over immigration reform opponents by showing its toughness, seemingly with little concern for the devastation these policies are causing and showing surprising naivety in thinking they can ever satisfy the enforcement lust of GOP hard-liners.

Sen. Grassley’s questions were prompted by a memo leaked last year proposing administrative actions DHS could pursue to temper laws that by Napolitano’s admission need revising. Napolitano told Grassley the administration granted fewer than 900 deferred actions during FY2010 while deporting more than 395,000 immigrants.

What is surprising is that a hardliner like Grassley seemed a bit stunned that the number was so low. The Obama Administration should note that number, however, will never be low enough for Grassley to endorse reform that promotes family unity, protects all workers and allows everyone to live freely and without fear of deportation. Ever.

Texas GOP Turning Texas Blue

Today, the Texas House will not address closing the Texas-sized deficit. Nope. Instead it will hold a hearing on banning “sanctuary cities” and other nonsense legislation aimed at appeasing its conservative base and alienating the Latino population.

From the Dallas Morning News:

The State Affairs Committee takes up several bills designed to punish cities or other entities that adopt policies limiting police or sheriff’s officials from enforcing federal immigration laws. The bill would withhold state grant money and other funding and allow the Attorney General to sue if such policies become known. Gov. Rick Perry has condemned such so-called sanctuary cities, although he has declined to name any cities that have such policies.

The House is pursuing this harebrained idea despite the protest of much of the state’s police and without much regard to the financial strain it will add to local governments.

Dallas County Sheriff Lupe Valdez said the county jail already holds 3,200 undocumented inmates and costs $6 million a year. This legislation would add about another $1 million to that bill, she said. A cost estimate done by the city of Houston and Harris County said implementing the legislation would cost local taxpayers $4.5 million a year, including 22 officers for immigration functions, 33 jail guards for additional prisoners and increased jail and housing costs.

There will be a lot of hearings in Texas similar to this one.  Republican legislators have been tripping over each other to file anti-immigrant and anti-Latino bills, which is really puzzling considering the 2010 Census numbers confirmed what everyone already knew: Latinos in Texas will soon be the largest ethnic group.

Harold Meyerson of the Washington Post wrote about the growth of the Latino population and the Republicans all out effort to alienate Latinos:

Don’t look now, but Texas is turning blue.

Not today, to be sure, nor tomorrow. But to read the newly released census data on the Lone Star State is to understand that Texas, the linchpin of any Republican electoral college majority, is turning Latino and, unless the Republicans change their spots, Democratic.

The GOP in Texas, though, is showing no sign of changing its spots. They’ve done the opposite. You would think after what happened to Sharron Angle in Nevada or all the Republicans in California that Republicans would know better than to actively agitate and enrage the fastest growing voting bloc in the state. Nearly half of all Texas under the age of 18 are Latino, a staggering statistic. Talk about sacrificing the future for a fleeting victory today.

Of course we shouldn’t wait until all these young Latinos are of voting age. We should let the GOP know today we do not want Texas to follow Arizona’s lead. The Reform Immigration FOR America campaign is encouraging people to send faxes to their Texas representatives. Go here to send yours.

Tragedy on the border

By guest blogger, Mary Moreno.

The loss of life is always tragic, though sometimes necessary and unavoidable. The loss of a young life when completely unnecessary and completely avoidable is about as tragic as it gets.

Sergio Adrian Hernandez Güereca, 15, was a high school student in Juarez, the border town directly across the river from El Paso, the youngest child in a family of 5 and a good student. On Monday, Sergio was shot and killed by a U.S. Border Patrol agent who thought it was appropriate to respond to rocks thrown at him by shooting his gun several times at a group of kids where the rocks were coming from. Sergio was shot in the head. The agent was not injured.

According to various news sources Sergio and a group of teens had tried to cross the border at a dry aqueduct adjacent to the international bridge. The teens were spotted by the Border Patrol, which was really inevitable considering the sheer quantity of agents guarding our border. The agents chased the kids and managed to capture two. The others continued running to the Mexican side of the border. From there, they threw rocks at the agents.

According to a witness:

The teens were playing a kind of “cat-and-mouse game,” said Bobbie McDow, 52, a U.S. national who said she witnessed the shooting from the middle of the bridge where she was standing. The teenagers, Ms. McDow said, appeared to be trying to make it to the U.S. side and quickly back to Mexico without being caught by officials, a pattern that Ms. McDow said she has noticed.

One of the youths—not the young Mr. Hernández—had thrown rocks at the border patrol agents, Ms. McDow said, but she stressed that the agent’s “life wasn’t under threat.”

Ms. McDow’s husband, Raul Flores, 52, a Mexican national, also said he witnessed the incident. Mr. Flores said the teenager who was shot had stepped out from behind a pillar on the Mexican side of the border with his hands in the air. The agent and the teenager “had four seconds to look at each other” before the young man was shot, first in the shoulder and then in the head, he said.

The details provided by these witnesses are incredibly disturbing. In what world is ok to respond to a group of teenagers throwing rocks by shooting indiscriminately into that group not knowing who your target is, not knowing if your bullet will strike an innocent?

The most recent update by the Associated Press unveils even more disturbing news:

Hernandez was found 20 feet (six meters) into Mexico, and an autopsy revealed that the fatal shot was fired at a relatively close range, according to Arturo Sandoval, a spokesman for the Chihuahua state attorney general’s office. Mexican authorities said a .40 caliber shell casing was found near the body, suggesting that the Border Patrol agent might have crossed into Mexico to shoot the boy.

In my previous career, I spent 7 years on the cop beat in Texas, including more than two spent on the border where I also covered Border Patrol. One of the most maddening aspects of reporting on any federal agency is the inaccessibility to information. If this had been done by a local police officer, we would by now at least know his name and some of the officer’s history. With Border Patrol, it might be a long while before the details of this death are known.

Nothing about this story makes sense, and everything about it makes me nauseous. Why would a trained officer shoot a gun at a group of people? Why would a trained officer not know how to diffuse rock throwers without resorting to deadly force? The El Paso area is flooded with immigration agents. Why not call for back up?

Even if the worst allegations made against this boy were true – that he was trying to cross illegally, that he threw rocks at the agent – none justify the result.  I would like to know the history of this Border Patrol agent. Is he one of the recent hires, hires made during a historic expansion of Border Patrol? Was he properly vetted and trained? Or was this vetting and training process compromised by the need to rush bodies to the border to quash unfounded fears about border violence?

Recently, I had a conversation with a staffer of a border congressman about the 1,200 National Guard troops President Obama is trying to deploy to the border. This congressman’s office had applauded the move. I asked the staffer why they had approved of it when the border already has some of the lowest crime rates in the country and is saturated with border agents. The staffer said it couldn’t hurt.

This incident shows that it can and will hurt. If Border Patrol agents who are trained to keep a border brimming with civilian and business traffic flowing and safe, what kind of response will we get from soldiers who are trained to kill?

The outrage to this killing is just gaining steam. Amnesty International joined the Mexican government in calling for a quick and transparent investigation:

“This shooting across the border appears to have been a grossly disproportionate response and flies in the face of international standards which compel police to use firearms only as a last resort, in response to an immediate, deadly threat that cannot be contained through lesser means,” said Susan Lee, Americas director at Amnesty International, in a statement Wednesday on the organization’s website.

In El Paso, dozens of residents protested, calling for a complete investigation:

“We want also for Border Patrol to clarify what are the protocols for use of lethal force against immigrants, but more than anything we’re asking for justice and accountability on this incident,” said Fernando Garcia with the Border Network for Human Rights.

Of course, not everyone is concerned about the use of lethal force in response to rock throwing. The National Border Patrol Council under the moniker BPunion tweeted:  “Don’t bring rocks to a gunfight. Border Patrol agents shoot two illegal aliens assaulting them.” The tweet was in response to Saturday’s shooting of two men who were throwing rocks at agents near Tucson. The men were hospitalized with what were described as non-life threatening injuries. The agents were not hurt. (The tweet was pulled down on Tuesday)

Of course the tweeter at the union has a habit of making glib comments about very serious life-and-death incidents. About the man border agents tasered to death, he tweeted: “He had meth in his system and chose to fight an agent. In the BP you don’t get one bean you get the whole burrito!” Wow. Racist much?

Nothing can be done to bring Sergio back, but we should take this opportunity to reexamine how we patrol the border and the use of lethal force. Preventing future deaths would help us heal from this tragedy.

Advocates to DHS: Fire John Morton

Today, during a telephonic press conference FIRM and partner groups called on the Obama administration and Secretary Janet Napolitano to dismiss John Morton, the director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“The reality is that ICE has gone rogue and needs to be reined in with dramatic action,” said one of the speakers, Deepak Bhargava, executive director of the Center for Community Change. “We call on President Obama to take control of the agency in order to ensure that public assurances from the top are reflected in the behaviors and practices of the enforcement agents on the ground.”

While the Obama administration and Secretary Napolitano have made clear their stance on targeting only undocumented immigrants with criminal records, recent memos from ICE and public statements made by Morton have directly contradicted those priorities.

“This department is under the control of our president, and we expect the president to hold it accountable,” said Maria Rodriguez, executive director of the Florida Immigrant Coalition. “We are not going to be victims to politics. We are demanding they stop the criminalization of immigrant families.”

You can check out an audio recording of the event

Who is in charge at Immigration and Customs Enforcement?

Much has been said about the lip-service that immigration reform has been given from the Obama administration and members of Congress. The continued pledges of support don’t mean anything in the face of increased deportations. The administration and the Department of Homeland Security have stated various times that deportation and enforcement practices are being aimed only at undocumented immigrants with a criminal record.

However, on March 18th:

John Morton, the head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, stated that his agency would be ramping up enforcement efforts against undocumented immigrants with no criminal records. Morton’s statement was in response to pressure from Homeland Security Appropriations Subcommittee ranking member Hal Rogers, (R-KY).

Also, on March 10th, while grassroots leaders were meeting with President Obama at the White House and hearing (yet again) his pledge of support for the cause, there was a workplace raid in Annapolis, MD where Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents detained 29 workers.

Talk about hypocrisy.

Then, Saturday, a story dropped in the Washington Post exposing that ICE  has issued quotas as incentives to round up and deport even more undocumented immigration without criminal records.

From Immigration Impact:

The memo stated that ICE had set a quota of 400,000 deportations for the year without regard to whether those individuals were criminals or not, and laid out strategies for doing so. In other words, it’s not about keeping us safe, it’s about achieving big numbers.

So, while families continue to suffer and communities are destroyed, ICE is trying to make themselves look good with the ‘enforcement-only, deport ’em all’ crowd.

Excuse me, but where are you Mr. Obama?

Yesterday the Reform Immigration For America campaign released a statement calling for accountability.

This is directly at odds with statements from the President and Secretary Napolitano whose purported enforcement and security goals are to focus deportation efforts on dangerous or violent criminals.  To explain the contradiction, an agency spokesman indicated that Chaparro’s memo was “inconsistent” with the administration’s point of view and inconsistent with Secretary Napolitano.  Adding to the disorder, Chapparro later issued a ‘clarifying’ memo that neither rescinded nor abandoned the controversial and ‘inconsistent’ quota system he enumerated in his memo to field.

Which is it?  Is there a quota system or not? Who is actually in charge at ICE? Whose word is to be believed?

Today, grassroots groups are gathering for a press conference to call out the administration on these inconsistencies and seeming lack of leadership.

Until we have comprehensive immigration reform, ICE is going to be saddled with an enormous list of targets, and many people watching to see how they’re going to tackle it. If they want big numbers, they can achieve big numbers. But that won’t make us any safer or make the system any better. In any case the Administration and ICE have to figure out what their enforcement strategy is, articulate it clearly and consistently, and resist the urge to change it on a dime to please “enforcement-only” types who will never support comprehensive reform. (via Immigration Impact)

In short: get it together, guys. Stop playing politics with people’s lives and start working to solve problems. After all, isn’t that what you were put in office to do?