Tag Archives: department of homeland security

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  Adding to the disorder, Chapparro later issued a ‘clarifying’ memo that neither rescinded nor abandoned the controversial and ‘inconsistent’ quota system he enumerated in his memo to field.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?

Napolitano: Hopeful for immigration reform in 2010


This morning Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano (or as I lovingly call her – J Nap) spoke about immigration reform at the Center for American Progress. While I wasn’t able to attend, I followed along via Twitter thanks to America’s Voice and Voto Latino.

Though much of Sec. Napolitano’s perspective emphasized enforcement – no shock there – she also stated that she is hopeful about immigration reform in early 201o. This is welcome news amidst a lot of speculation and pessimism as to whether reform will even come up for debate early next year. Sec. Napolitano noted that much has changed this time around in the debate. Perhaps the most notable is the new allies joining in the fight for reform.

Here’s the other thing that has shifted in this debate: a larger segment of the American public has embraced the need to engage this debate and arrive at a sensible solution to this problem.

There are leaders of the law enforcement community speaking out, saying that immigration reform is vital to their ability to do their jobs keeping Americans safe. Faith leaders, including the National Association of Evangelicals, have announced their support for immigration reform as a moral and practical issue. We are seeing more business leaders and more labor leaders engaged in this debate in a constructive way than we have ever seen before.

These constituencies have all arrived at the same conclusion that prevails among the American people: this is a problem that needs to be fixed—and the best way to ensure that we can uphold our laws is to make sure our laws are rational and enforceable.

This is a huge point of strength that shows hope for immigration reform efforts in 2010. We have new communities and constituencies on our side and they aren’t just the same old familiar faces. The anti’s who have been screaming for years about law and order now have to answer to law enforcement officials who are chiming in to say that they can’t enforce the laws on the books because those laws are outdated. Business leaders and the Labor community, who before have had a tenuos relationship with immigration reform efforts are fully on board this time around, with a plan for how this reform will boost both the economy and the rights of workers across the board.

In short, its a different landscape for immigration reform in 2010. There is the support for this legislation, but we must keep pressure on Congress to act.

Sec. Napolitano reaffirmed President Obama’s committment to the issue, saying:

The President is committed to this issue because the need for immigration reform is so clear. This Administration does not shy away from taking on the big challenges of the 21st century, challenges that have been ignored too long and hurt our families and businesses. When Congress is ready to act, we will be ready to support them.

With Representative Luis Gutierrez hosting a National town hall on immigration reform next week – and thousands of people participating across the country – its clear that there are champions in Congress who are ready to move on this issue.

So, Chuck Schumer, where you at? Who wants to start sending him calendars  as per suggestions last week? You promised us a bill and we’re ready to see it.

H/T to Erin Rosa at the CampusProgress Blog and Jackie Mahendra at America’s Voice.

Catching up: Arpaio, detention reform and veterans facing deportation

I have been in San Francisco (thus the picture) for the past few days at a training with the New Organizing Institute. The training was a wonderful experience and I met some amazing people doing very exciting and important work (more on this later). But being away from the blogosphere for even a few days always stresses me out. So much has happened while I’ve been gone. There are a couple of things I want to write full-length posts on, but in the mean time, I’m going to do a quick round up of updates and news.


First things first, Sheriff Joe Arpaio, long time Latino terrorize in Maricopa County, has lost some of his swagger! It was decided that Arpaio is to be stripped of his power to arrest undocumented immigrants in the county. What this actually means is that he can no longer racially profile and target people of a certain skin color. Though Arpaio says that he will continue to conduct raids, this is at least a step in the right direction coming from the Department of Homeland Security. Read more about it here and here.

Next up, this week the Department of Homeland Security announced its plans for reform of the nation’s immigrant detention system. DHS announced its outlines for reform this past Tuesday. And, like I’ve said before, they are certainly a step in the right direction. However, they will not be effective unless they are incorporated into a comprehensive reform of the full immigration system in this country. Kevin Johnson from NILC sums it up nicely here:

The DHS announcement today identifies several of the steps the agency must make to create a “truly civil system” and correctly notes that our current immigration enforcement programs “identify large volumes of aliens with low level convictions or no convictions” who should not be the focus of immigration enforcement efforts. The detention system can’t be viewed in isolation from how immigration enforcement is conducted.

Read more about proposed detention reform here and here.

In other news, Marisa Treviño from Latina Lista reports on the over 3,000 veterans who have fought for a country that won’t even make them citizens. And to repay them? They are now battling deportation. Read her full post here. And also check out the Reform Immigration FOR America blog’s write-up of  a new documentary on military families being torn apart of the broken immigration system. Those who risk their lives for our country deserve better – and as Marisa points out they even  “deserve extra kudos because their volunteerism runs much deeper than someone who is a citizen.”

Last on the list (which is by no means exhaustive) is a report that was released by the U.N. on Monday. The report’s main finding is simple: migrants contribute much more to their new countries than they take. For more on this check out CAUSA Oregon’s blog and listen to their podcast. So for all of the folks out there who continue to shout about immigrants who are “draining” our country, listen up!

Napolitano and the enforcement problem

I feel like starting this post with a frustrated sigh, but since you guys can’t actually hear me, I’m going to start by letting you know that I just sighed in frustration.

Today, the New York times is running a story on Janet Napolitano’s continued focus on immigration enforcement. Her speech, at a conference on border security in El Paso, TX, was on the heels of Obama’s announcement that immigration reform will have to wait until 2010. [insert another frustrated sigh here] Napolitano defended the administration’s policies as “different” than those of the Bush administration:

But Ms. Napolitano argued that the Obama administration had changed Mr. Bush’s programs in critical ways, such as putting an emphasis on deporting criminals and holding more employers responsible for hiring illegal workers.

“Make no mistake, our overall approach is very, very different. It is more strategic, more cooperative, more multilateral and, in the long run, more effective.”

I really wanted to believe that this could be true and that this administration understood what was at stake in this debate, but patience is really wearing thin. It is PAST time that this administration delivered on their promise of fixing our broken system. More enforcement, I don’t care how much the strategy has shifted, is not contributing to a solution to the many, many issues plaguing our immigrant population.

“How many more millions if not billions of dollars are we going to put into the border without fixing the immigration system?” asked Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum.Joshua Hoyt, executive director of the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, said of Ms. Napolitano, “She’s increasing enforcement of laws that President Obama and she have both said are broken, and the result is going to be a lot of human misery.”

I’ve been trying to defend the administration, in hopes that each somewhat disappointing move has been political posturing that is setting up for the big CIR push to come. But, there is only so many times they can dangle the carrot, just out of our reach, and promise that we will get it eventually, before people start to lose trust. I am offically pissed off – and I know I’m not the only one.

DHS Plans to Reform Immigrant Detention Policy


This morning the New York Times broke the story of the Department of Homeland’s Security new effort to reform the immigrant detention system.

The Obama administration intends to announce an ambitious plan on Thursday to overhaul the much-criticized way the nation detains immigration violators, trying to transform it from a patchwork of jail and prison cells to what its new chief called a “truly civil detention system.”

While I’m not sure what a “truly civil” way of detaining non-criminal immigration violators would look like, I do know that this is at least a step in the right direction for the administration, which has been frustratingly unwilling to tackle this issue until now.

The best news of today’s announcement is that the administration will stop sending families to the T. Don Hutto “family” detention center near Austin, Texas.

The T. Don Hutto Detention Center where families are being detained in inhumane conditions - even children, pregrant women and

Hutto was one of the more outrageous moves by the Bush administration to “get tough” on immigration – by jailing whole families, including small children, in inhumane conditions.

Before [an] A.C.L.U. lawsuit was settled in 2007, some children under 10 stayed as long as a year, mainly confined to family cells with open toilets, with only one hour of schooling a day. Children told of being threatened by guards with separation from their parents, many of them asylum-seekers from around the world. Only through judicial enforcement of the settlement…have children been granted such liberties as wearing pajamas at night and taking crayons into family cells.

This is, perhaps, the most symbolic departure from Bush-era policies in this reform effort. However, in order to truly reform this system, I think that there must be a drastic change made to the underlying network of corporations profiting off of the detention of immigrants. Take the recent quote from Daniel Cooney, chairman of the board of the Donald Wyatt Center, an immigrant detention center in Rhode Island:

“Frankly, I’m looking at it like I’m running a Motel 6. I don’t care if it’s Guantanamo Bay. We want to fill the beds.” He was eventually fired in the fallout from this remark, but his candor is revealing. Immigrant prisoners are valuable commodities to local jails.

So, I applaud the administration for (finally) tackling this urgent issue, but I am only cautiously optimistic. As the New York Times notes:

Details are sketchy, and even the first steps will take months or years to complete.

But it is a step in the right direction – a step that should be incorporated into a much broader comprehensive immigration reform plan.

Death in Detention: Details of a Life Lost


Yesterday’s New York Times covers the story of an immigrant detained in 2005 who then died three weeks later, captive of a broken system. Until February of this year, the government refused to acknowledge the existence of Tanveer Ahmad.

Tanveer Ahmad, it turns out, was a longtime New York City cabdriver who had paid thousands of dollars in taxes and immigration application fees. Whether out of love, loneliness or the quest for a green card, he had twice married American women after entering the country on a visitor’s visa in 1993. His only trouble with the law was a $200 fine for disorderly conduct in 1997: While working at a Houston gas station, he had displayed the business’s unlicensed gun to stop a robbery.

After September 11th, this small misdemeanor was enough to get Ahmad arrested, under new and stricter laws.

It would come back to haunt him. For if Mr. Ahmad’s overlooked death showed how immigrants could vanish in detention, his overlooked American life shows how 9/11 changed the stakes for those caught in the nation’s tangle of immigration laws.

In the end, his body went back in a box to his native village, to be buried by his Pakistani widow and their two children, conceived on his only two trips home in a dozen years. He had always hoped to bring them all to the United States, his widow, Rafia Perveen, said in a tearful telephone interview through a translator.

“He said America is very good,” she recalled. “When it comes to the treatment of Muslims in the U.S., he had faith in the rule of law. He said, ‘In America, they don’t bother anyone just for no reason.’ ”

When immigration agents burst into Mr. Ahmad’s two-room Flatbush apartment on Aug. 2, 2005, they were looking for someone else, his friends say — a roommate suspected of violating his student visa by working. But they ordered Mr. Ahmad to report to immigration headquarters in Manhattan on Aug. 11.

Ahmad is the poster child of the almost impossibly complicated legal paths immigrants must walk in order to gain documents to back up their presence in this country.

Though he had overstayed his first visa, he had repeatedly been authorized to work while his applications for “adjustment of status” were pending. Twice before 9/11 he had been allowed back into the country after visits to Pakistan.

While the DHS cover-up of Ahmad’s death (and even his existence) are shocking, it is evident that this situation is not isolated. The backlogs and complications of the immigration bureaucracy in this country are driving away some of the best and the brightest in the country, while others die, locked up for a questionable reason and unacknowledged except for statistics used to bolster the very forces that killed them.

Yet if his death was not counted, his arrest was — it had been added to the agency’s anti-terrorism statistics, according to government documents showing he was termed a “collateral” apprehension in Operation Secure Commute, raids seeking visa violators after the London transit bombings.

I find this to be the worst kind of hypocrisy.

Jailed without Justice: Report Slams Immigrant Detention in the U.S.


Adding to the growing concern over immigrant detention in this country, a report released by Amnesty International last week blasts the current system. The report finds that tens of thousands of immigrants – both undocumented, legal residents and even some U.S. Citizens – have been held without access to due process and many have been left to “languish” in deplorable conditions.

Among the findings of the report are:

  • People in immigration custody don’t have the same guarantees as criminal detainees to challenge their detention before a court, make a phone call or obtain legal representation.
  • Detainees can be transferred from one facility to another, sometimes in another state, with no notice given to their families or attorneys.
  • Two-thirds of people in federal immigration custody are housed in state or county detention facilities, usually alongside criminal detainees, even though violations of immigration law are considered administrative, not criminal, and asylum seekers have committed no violation.
  • Immigrants are subject to excessive use of restraints such as handcuffs, waist chains and leg restraints.

This is not news to many of us who have followed the shocking stories of immigrant deaths in detention, complaints of the horrible conditions and proof that the privatized prison system has made a fortune off of the exponential increase in the number of immigrants detainees.

As Keith Olbermann said during his “Still Bushed” segment this week, where he referred to immigrant detention centers as “Gitmo Jr.’s”:

The most startling fact about Amnesty‘s report, nobody at Immigration, nobody at the horrifically acronymed ICE, nobody hearing the details of this American Gulag is denying anything.

Dora Shriro, who was hired by the DHS head Janet Napolitano to oversee the immigrant detention system, recently said that she will be open to working with organizations such as Amnesty International to help improve the system. Shriro said:

I have learned that the best way to achieve change is to work closely with partners inside and outside of government, including vital organizations such as Amnesty International, which will issue a report raising concerns about immigration detention later today. I will carefully consider this important report.

Read the full Amnesty Internation report here.

FIRM Spotlight: OneAmerica – Helping Families Affected by the Bellingham Raid


On February 24th, in Bellingham, WA an engine remanufacturing plant was raided by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents. 28 undocumented workers were arrested. Janet Napolitano has since called for an investigation into the raid and it has become clear that ICE conducted the action without the knowledge or consent of the new Secretary. Regardless of the many political implications of the raid, the hard reality is that a community has been ripped apart and local organizations and community members are left to pick up the pieces.

Our partners at OneAmerica have been doing great work, along with local community groups in the Bellingham area.

Local groups, Community to Community Development and the Whatcom Community Foundation have set up a special fund called Los Niños Bellingham to solicit donations from individuals or foundations to help provide support for rent, food, clothing and other essential and basic needs of the families who have been affected. To donate, click here.

These groups will also be holding a fundraiser during today’s Cesar Chavez day at the Oregon State Capitol.

In other encouraging news, last week, the remaining 13 detainees who were still in the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, were released without having to pay bond. This is a wonderful result and extremely unusual. The detainees have been reunited with their families, but OneAmerica is not yet clear about how long they will be able to stay in the country or what is expected in return for their freedom. There are concerns over y reports from family members who have been receiving phone calls and visits from ICE officers to their homes.

The day after the release of the remaining detainees, OneAmerica met with U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen and at least 10 of the individuals who were detained during the raid.  Detainees discussed their tremendous pain and suffering; many have lost their apartments and homes, do not have enough money to feed their children and  have children or parents who are legal permanent residents or U.S. citizens and do not know what their future holds. Rep. Larsen re-committed himself to comprehensive immigration reform, recognizing that these workers should not be punished for working, and stressing the need for comprehensive immigration reform.

We are proud of the great work being done by OneAmerica and their local partners on the ground in Washington.

ACTION: Hold DHS Accountable


National Week of Action April 8-15, 2009

Take action to demand Department of Homeland Security (DHS) oversight and meaningful reform to protect our communities’ due process and human rights.

In its first 100 days, the Obama Administration has taken some important steps to hold the DHS accountable.   However, fundamental reform is needed to ensure that DHS is held accountable to enforcing our immigration laws in a sensible and fair manner.


During this National Week of Action from April 8-15, demonstrate your community’s need for DHS accountability and reform:

  • Visit Congressional representatives in their home districts to raise awareness for the need for DHS reform.
  • Hold vigils outside of local ICE offices or detention facilities.
  • Host a community conversation to share the stories of those who have been affected by inhumane and unfair DHS policies.
  • Write letters to the editor of your local and regional newspapers to explain the need for DHS reform.

Register your action with the Rights Working Group and Detention Watch Network.

Join the Rights Working Group and Detention Watch Network on a national call on March 19th to learn more about how to participate in the National Week of Action to Hold DHS Accountable! RSVP for the March 19th call at 1:00pm ET/10:00am PT.

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.