What you gonna do, Mr. Obama?

The recently released report from the Migration Policy Institute, “DHS and Immigration: Taking Stock and Correcting Course” [downloadable here], got written up in today’s NY Times.  The report outlines the current problems and abuses in the Department of Homeand Security’s immigration efforts and offer a list of policy recommendations for the current administration.

Detailing such inefficiencies as the $4 million per mile “border fence,” as well as the fear inspiring ICE raids, the report  advocates for a more humane immigration policy, one rooted in greater sensibilities regarding how unauthorized migrations work and can be curtailed.  In both its fundamental assumptions and its prescriptions for change, the report is a veritable testament to moderate and balanced policy formation (neo-liberal doctrine, for those interested).


The report–like the government’s policies–is problematic at various points.  An assumption of  human rights as a foundational principle would have produced a report far more damning of the federal government.  It would also challenge our misguided belief that immigration is some kind of labor pressure valve we can turn on and off at will to suit our needs.  Many of the recommendations offered by the repor hinge on the use of the E-Verify system, or at least an statistically-improved version of electronic verification.  Anybody who works in the government knows such fantasies of a flawles system are just that, fantasies.  At the same time, as this report and a growing number of people of conscience recognize, any verification system is only as strong, useful and just as it inaccuracies.

Irrespective of this one report, it is clear that the time has come for the Obama administration to start the process of amending DHS’s current proactice.  more importantly, it is time to institutionalize (as best that can be done) a fair and just immigration policy whose practices meet the standards of international human rights.

Another U.S. citizen deported for looking Mexican

The ICE raids and the legal processes which follow in their wake have been repeatedly criticized for their imperfections.  Raids rely on sometimes dubious tips and on a database of employment information that has been proven to be flawed.  Who is picked up and detained is often determined by who “looks” Latino or who fits the profile of an immigrant.  Then the legal system essentially requires people to prove their citizenship if they claim to have been falsely arrested.

I’m not sure anyone expects a bureaucratic system in the U.S. to work without its glitches, but that is hardly the point.  What our proclaimed system of rights and checks on government incursions on those rights must determine is whether the existence of the imperfections outweigh the injustice of their result.

For example, you may be comfortable with a death penalty which results in the wrongful death of one prisoner, but how about 100?  Where is the line?

The unfolding record of ICE and our immigrant deportation protocol is increasingly crying out for some kind of relief.  There is a human tragedy in people who are wrongfully deported and detained, to be sure.  But the greater tragedy is the slow and eroding protection of rights based almost entirely on race.

This story, from the print and online versions of Hoy, recounts the experiences of Guillermo Olivares Romero.  This U.S. citizen, who has a criminal record for burglary and forgery, was recently released after having spent two weeks in an immigration detention center.  He was released only after ACLU attorneys produced his birth certificate, vaccination and health records, and school records.

Olivares had been refused entry into the U.S. on two previous occasions.  In 2007, he was deported to Mexico after having served his time in state prison.

ICE claims Olivares said he was born in Mexico.  One part of his criminal record also mistakenly lists his birthplace as the same.  But would these bureacratic snafus (accentuated, no doubt, by Olivares’ own lack of skill at navigating the bureaucracy of the criminal justice system) have resulted in deportation if Olivares had looked different?  If his name were John Smith?

Here’s the story as it ran in today’s Hoy:

Ciudadano regresa a casa después de ser deportado

Paula Díaz
29 de octubre, 2008

Sentado en la sala de su hogar, Guillermo Olivares Romero respira tranquilo después de los momentos que vivió cuando estuvo detenido por Inmigración a pesar de ser estadounidense.

“No me creyeron. A pesar de que muchas veces les dije que había nacido aquí. Me decían que yo era mexicano porque me parecía a los mexicanos”, dijo Olivares. “Estuve muy estresado. Ahora estoy tranquilo”.

Olivares salió libre el 9 de octubre, dos semanas después de haber sido detenido, cuando la Unión Americana de Libertades Civiles (ACLU) presentó su certificado de nacimiento, las vacunas y los archivos de la escuela.

Olivares señaló que ha sido deportado dos veces y se le ha negado el ingreso al país en varias ocasiones. Su encuentro con las autoridades migratorias inició en el 2000, cuando fue detenido al intentar cruzar la frontera con un primo que llevaba el acta de nacimiento de él, y él llevaba la de uno de sus hermanos.

“Ese día me regresaron a México y mi mamá me llevó el acta de nacimiento. Después pude pasar”, dijo Olivares, cuyo récord penal incluye robo y estafa.

En el 2007 fue deportado a México, luego de pasar un tiempo en prisión y ser transferido a Inmigración. En ese entonces, él le había dicho a las autoridades de que no era mexicano pero ellos aseguraron de que él había firmado un documento diciendo que lo era, según él.

Olivares se fue a vivir con unos familiares a Jalisco. En verano quiso regresar porque su padre estaba enfermo y no le permitieron entrar al país. Debido a la gravedad de su padre, dijo, cruzó ilegalmente y fue detenido y deportado el mismo día que murió su papá. “Mi mamá fue por mí y tratamos de entrar legalmente y ellos no me creyeron que era ciudadano a pesar de tener mi acta de nacimiento y que mi mamá [residente legal] estaba conmigo”, contó.

Virginia Kice, vocera de la Oficina de Control de Inmigración y Aduanas (ICE), dijo a HOY que Olivares fue dejado en libertad pero su caso continua en investigación. “Este hombre repetidamente afirmó a los agentes de ICE que el nació en México y firmó papeles indicando que nació en México”, señaló Kice. “Los archivos del Departamento de Corrección de California, porque el tiene récord criminal, reflejan que él es ciudadano mexicano”.

“Su caso está pendiente de una audiencia en una Corte de Inmigración. Obviamente, nosotros continuamos investigando. En la corte se presentará evidencia para determinar si es o no un inmigrante”, agregó Kice.

Jennie Pasquarella, abogada de ACLU que defendió a Olivares, dijo que este caso es un ejemplo de las fallas de Inmigración. “Lo que hicimos fue escribir una carta diciendo que ellos no tenían la autoridad de detenerlo porque él es un ciudadano americano”, explicó Pasquarella. “Entregamos copia de su acta de nacimiento, copia de sus vacunas y archivos de escuela y a las dos horas me llamó un oficial y me dijo que lo dejarían salir”.

Sin embargo, Olivares tendrá que presentarse ante un juez de Inmigración el 6 de enero.

The “Border Beat” (October 6, 2008)

The combination of the upcoming presidential election and the catastrophe that is the U.S. global economy are but two of the sets of forces shaping the world Latinos live in.  To our shared human detriment, thousands of lives are being tragically and inhumanely affected in government round-ups, deportations, and imprisonments, not to mention layoffs.

The lessons of this week are a testament to power, of the powerful to maintain their status at the expense and excuse of those with little.

• “Statewide immigration raids result in 1,157 arrests” (Los Angeles Times)
This is a powerful demonstration of the ways this society “criminalizes” immigrants as media blindly help the government manufacture the context for its own actions.  In a widely publicized effort involving “fugitive operations teams,” ICE and local law enforcement dedicated themselves to hunting down over a thousand human beings recently.  They made special efforts to advertise how these efforts targeted criminals like child abusers and drug dealers.  In truth, well over half committed no other crime than struggling for survival in this country.  For a treat, watch the accompanying video.

• “Phoenix sheriff adored, reviled on immigration” (San Francisco Chronicle)
Joe Arpaio has become a national (and to some extent international) celebrity for his radical stances on immigration and his wholesale persecution of Latinos in Maricopa Country, Arizona.  To paraphrase Marlon Brando, Arpaio is a pimp.  What is really important here are the sectors of this society who elevate him to the status he enjoys, who glorify it, and who will continue to support it.

• “Mexican children struggle when they return home” (Houston Chronicle)
In the 1930s, when local law enforcement throughout the Southwest conspired with regional corproate interests to deport well over a million Mexicans from the U.S., one of the greatest casualities were the children who “returned” to a nation they never knew.  This very human story found its most tragic embodiment in the literaly hundreds of thousands who were legal U.S. citizens.  Now, resultant to both increased governemnt deportations and a faltering economy, history is repeating itself.  While many or even most of these children may be “illegal,” they have no less of a claim to being “American” than did their forebearers.

• “Fewer People Entering U.S. Illegally, Report Says” (New York Times)
Here is the paper of record covering the story which ran in nearly every paper this week.  The Pew HIspanic Center released a report analyzing current immigration trends.  Among them, “illegal” immigrants are entering the country at a rate lower than “legal.”

• “Over 1,300 gang members arrested in past 4 months” (Yahoo/AP)
In what is becoming an annual effort to target (mostly) Latino gangs, the government is advertising their successes this year.  Undoubtedly, the vast majority of those arrested here are–by any definition–criminals.  The human tragedy is no less present, however.  More importantly, is the ease with which the “criminal” Latino male can find the attention of the power that be, and as compared to the “lawful.”  [See previous post on this story.]  You may also be interested to learn of the growth and spread of organized Latino crime.

• “ICE arrests 78 illegals in week-long Pa./Del. sweep” (Sussex Countian)
It isn’t just California and the West.  Immigrants–Latinos and others–are being rounded-up accross the country.

• “New citizenship exam brings new questions and new fears” (Los Angeles Times)
There’s a new test for proving you’re “American.”  I suspect the majority of so-called “Americans” would flunk.  And then what would that make you?

• “Drawing Parallels Between Immigrant Experiences” (New American Media/Pacific Citizen)
Let’s end on a happy note.  For all the myopic, fearful folk in this nation there are also empathic humanists.  Members of the Sonoma County (CA) Japanese American Citizens League (JACL), a group with strong roots in the Japanese community stretching back to the era of internment, have spoken up and out in support of sanctuary and immigrants’ rights.  There is hope and, in this case, in comes in the memory of the past.


Historical Photograph of the Week

Mexicans being deported from Los Angeles, circa 1931.  [Source]

The “Border Beat” (June 18, 2008)

I’m away on a research trip, and so feel a little funny about spending too much time blogging while I’m on someone else’s dime. Plus, the archive I’m in gives back only as much love as it gets. But, in case you just need something juicy to read in the news, check out this little tidbit.


Agents arrest 4 supervisors at poultry plant

6 others are expected to be arrested in an ongoing investigation of possible immigration violations.

By Ames Alexander, Franco Ordonez, Kerry Hall
Staff Writers for The Charlotte Observer

GREENVILLE, S.C.–Federal agents arrested four supervisors at a House of Raeford Farms poultry plant Tuesday and are expected to arrest six more as part of an ongoing investigation into alleged immigration violations.

Immigration officials made the arrests after finding what appeared to be false information on employment records kept at the company’s Greenville chicken processing plant, according to Kevin McDonald, first assistant U.S. attorney for South Carolina.

“It’s an ongoing investigation – one that (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) and our office have been working on for a number of months,” McDonald said.

In a February series about working conditions in the poultry industry, the Observer found N.C.-based House of Raeford increasingly relied on Latino immigrants. Of 52 current and former Latino workers who spoke to the Observer about their legal status, 42 said they were in the country illegally. Former supervisors said managers were well aware that undocumented immigrants worked for the company.

McDonald said that while he can’t discuss the next steps in the federal investigation, “certainly those arrested will be given an opportunity to discuss any relevant information with investigators should they choose to do so.”

Federal immigration agents allege that those arrested used false Social Security numbers and alien registration numbers to get jobs at the plant. Some of the numbers belonged to other people, while others were invalid, the court affidavits state.

In a statement issued Tuesday, House of Raeford said it is “cooperating fully” with immigration officials.

“We have supplied the information they requested for their … audit of this facility and support their efforts to enforce immigration laws,” the statement reads.

Immigration officials, spurred by the Observer report, recently questioned two former House of Raeford supervisors about how immigrant workers were hired and whether company managers knew some of those workers were in the country illegally, according to those supervisors. Those supervisors are U.S. citizens and were not among those arrested Tuesday.

House of Raeford has said it doesn’t knowingly hire undocumented workers and regularly asks outside counsel to audit company records and hiring practices. “We take all necessary efforts to comply with applicable law, including immigration laws,” the company wrote in a statement last month.

With eight processing plants in the Southeast and about 6,000 employees, House of Raeford is one of the nation’s top chicken and turkey producers. In the early 1990s, when another company owned the Greenville plant, most workers were African Americans. Now, most are Latino.

“We can only hire those who apply to work for us, and at the moment between 85 percent and 90 percent of our job applicants are Latino,” Greenville complex manager Barry Cronic wrote in response to previous questions from the Observer.

Former House of Raeford officials previously told the Observer that the high percentage of Latinos at the Greenville plant was no coincidence.

Human resources employees at the plant were directed not to examine actual IDs when hiring, but instead to copy them, one former department staffer has told the Observer. The black-and-white copies concealed flaws in fake IDs, the staffer said.

House of Raeford has said the plant examines all documents as presented and makes copies only for its records.

Federal immigration law requires little of companies when checking applicants’ IDs. Employers aren’t required to verify workers’ immigration status or check that their IDs are valid. Instead, companies must accept applicants’ documents if they “reasonably appear to be genuine.”

ICE increasingly is targeting “egregious” employers with fines and arrests when they knowingly violate immigration law. The agency often proceeds in stages, starting with arrests of illegal workers, then conducting interviews and reviewing records to build criminal cases against employers.

Late Tuesday, more than a half dozen House of Raeford workers sat on the stoop of their apartment complex near the plant. News of the arrests was the talk of the production line, they said. Some questioned whether it was safe to return to their shifts today. Two of the supervisors were arrested while working their night shifts at the plant, the men told the Observer.

“Everyone is scared, said Francisco, 29, a chicken hanger.

The workers all said they were in the country illegally, either from Mexico or Guatemala. The Observer is not using their full names to protect their identities.

Alejandro, 21, a chicken packer, said he learned of the arrests when his shift started at 9:30 a.m. When he got to the plant, his supervisor wasn’t there, said the Mexican native. His supervisor, Simon Gutierrez-Gomez, was arrested and charged Tuesday with using a false document and making a false statement to a federal agency.

Alejandro said Gutierrez-Gomez is a good person, with a wife and young daughter.

Others arrested Tuesday were:

Juan Ramon Macias-Rodriguez, charged with aggravated identity theft and making a false statement to a federal agency.

Juan Juarez-Suarez, charged with false use of a Social Security number and making a false statement to a federal agency.

Evaristo Merino-Vasquez, charged with aggravated identity theft, using a false document and making false statements to a federal agency.

All of the men are from Mexico, according to an ICE spokeswoman. They had their initial court appearance Tuesday and are in the custody of U.S. marshals. Authorities say they’ve issued warrants for the six additional supervisors and expect to arrest them soon.

Lucas Alonzo, 25, a native of Guatemala, works at a manufacturer but lives within a mile of the poultry plant. He said he heard Tuesday morning about the arrests and that his neighbors, many of whom are poultry workers, are worried.

“Everyone is nervous,” he said. “No one here has papers.”

The “Border Beat” (May 19, 2008)

Today’s selection of articles includes features on some recent immigration raids as well as the evolving and emerging political fights including Latinos.

  • Two articles on the Iowa ICE raids on Agriprocessors Inc. (Washington Post and Chicago Tribune)
  • McCain might have a shot at the Latino vote in November (Reuters)
  • Baltimore cops say the best way to do their job is to do it and leave “illegals” alone (Baltimore Sun)
  • The Hispanic Congressional Caucus slams their Democratic leadership (Houston Chronicle)
  • When local Arizona cops do the fed’s job even God-fearing Latinos better watch out (Tucson Citizen)

The struggle brewing between the Congressional Hispanic Caucus and the Democratic leadership has been slowly emerging for the past months, as the Caucus tries to block any immigration legislation until meaningful reform legislation is proposed.  It has been a bold move, one marked by their refusal to support pieces of legislation that are positive for Latinos and immigrants because these items have not been part of a alrger legislative effort.  In the end, this discord reflects the extent to which the Democrats offer more of the same when it comes to immigration.