A project of the Center for Community Change

enforcement only

Why the Era of “Enforcement Only” Has Failed

ICE raid

The time has long passed, since our country lost it’s way in the struggle to figure out how to effectively deal with our broken and outdated immigration system. There are multitudes upon multitudes of missteps that I could point to along the way on our tragic misadventure. However, if I had to point to one specific decision that continues to confound this issue on a daily basis through to this day, it would have to be President Bush’s decision to “appease” the Restrictionists, in the wake of his second loss to get Comprehensive Immigration Reform passed in 2007.

Bush never was one for subtlety. He made an assumption that Restrictionists would eventually go along with the concept of CIR, if they saw that America was taking our existing immigration enforcement laws seriously. Therefore, he set us on a course of “enforcement only,” in an effort to prove that he could be tough on undocumented immigrants.

In the abstract, one could theoretically see the simple logic of his simple plan. By ramping up the enforcement side of the equation, he assumed that he could cozy up to his conservative base, while at the same time, cause just enough economic havoc in the marketplace for people to start calling for reform. His plan misread the tea leaves on many levels.

First of all, his economic policies imploded so severely, that we are now experiencing such massive unemployment, as to obscure any signs that the enforcement only approach has hurt our domestic economy (it has, actually). But because of the upheaval that his fiscal policies have wrought upon us, the undocumented labor issues, such as the recent firings of 1,800 undocumented employees at American Apparel, have barely been noticed on a national scale.

Similarly, in the absence of the passage of a CIR bill, his enforcement policies have served to tear apart families and crush the dreams and aspirations of thousands, if not millions of aspiring Americans, and citizens alike. The vacuum of reform has lead to the continuing alienation of millions of people, and has fostered or nurtured an atmosphere of racial tension and a climate of scape-goating.

Back in October of 2007, actually two years ago this week, I wrote an article that warned of the problems that the environment of “Enforcement Only” would engender upon us. The article, “The “Enforcement Only” Approach: Be Careful What You Wish For, You Just Might Get It,” spoke to the situation that we now find ourselves in.

In the article, I mention…..the Director of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff’s dire yet understated warning that “there will be some unhappy consequences for the economy out of doing this”. Of course, he probably didn’t realize just how right he was. I warned in the article that

“the myopically short sighted anti-immigration reformers simply don’t have a clue as to how the economy works in the real world, and furthermore, exposes the dangers that the enforcement only approach posses to not only our economy here at home, but to the economic stability of our entire region of the World.”

However, it is actually the issue of social injustice that moves me to write today. The time to put the enforcement only environment on hold has never been more important than it is right now. We need to completely re-think what we are doing, until such time as we can put together a CIR package that makes sense, and that is fair and just, and allows for enforcement that targets only the right people, for only the right reasons.

Anna Gorman of the Los Angeles Times had two articles last week that addressed our current and continuing path down the wrong road on this issue, and the policies that are striking fear into our nation’s neighborhoods. She wrote that,

Despite continuing criticism about the program, authorities announced Friday that 67 local and state law enforcement agencies across the country would continue enforcing immigration law under special agreements with the federal government….Since 287(g) began, more than 1,000 local officers have been trained to enforce immigration law. More than 130,000 illegal immigrants have been identified under it, according to officials. In 2009, roughly 24,000 illegal immigrants identified have been deported.

She also wrote about how these programs are truly on the wrong track:

Yolanda Diaz, who was arrested on a charge of simple assault, said the arrest has dashed her plans of going to college in the United States. Her sister, Diana, arrested on a disorderly conduct charge, said she just wants to graduate from her high school. “It’s not fair,” she said. “Other people have done much worse things than this.” Marty Rosenbluth with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, said the government’s 287(g) program wasn’t designed to pick up illegal immigrants like the Diaz sisters. “I appreciate that they are saying they are prioritizing dangerous criminal aliens,” he said. “That is not what we are seeing.” Another one of his clients, Luis Cruz Millan, 30, an illegal immigrant from Mexico, was ordered to report to an immigration officer after being arrested last month for allegedly listening to music too loudly in a car outside the Raleigh house where he was living.

Professor Kevin Johnson, Dean of the University of California Davis Law School, wrote passionately about how this climate of fear and hate has escalated our worst societal demons:

Sadly, it continues to be open season on Latinos — especially Latino immigrants — in the United States. The “sport” of “beaner hopping” is even defined in the Urban Dictionary.  What the heck is going on?  The latest news on this subject to report is a hate crime in Brooklyn, with the poor Mexican victim who was beaten senseless (and now unable to work and support his family) afraid to report the crime to police because of his and his wife’s immigration status. Will the federal government ever act?  How many senseless deaths of Latinos must occur before the Obama Administration condemns what is happening?  The spike in hate crimes against Latinos has long been in the news, as the debate over immigration reform, state and local anti-immigrant agitation, and Lou Dobbs and others have fomented hate..  Where is the U.S. Department of Justice, especially the Civil Rights Division? During the Presidential campaign, we were told by Senator Obama himself that “help was on the way.”  Many of us hoped and believed.  We have been patiently waiting on immigration reform, responses to hate on the streets, etc.  The wait has to end.  What has to be done to trigger a federal response to the daily injustices affecting Latinos in the United States?  Is there anyone out there?

Last week, I attended a meeting of community leaders in Los Angeles, and the issues of 287g agreements and our “enforcement only” policies are impacting communities in ways that surely our leaders never intended. This is a huge issue in the inner cities around the country.

Many misguided people have wrongly assumed that just because our local police have the capacity to arrest people, and jails in which to incarcerate them, that they would naturally be the right people to enforce immigration laws. They couldn’t be more wrong. The whole concept of police departments, is inherent in the motto of the LAPD: To Protect and Serve. How can our police people protect and serve our neighborhoods, when a large percentage of the population fears them, and won’t go to them for protection, because they rightly fear that they would end up being deported for their trouble?

Again, I want to make a plea to our nation, and particularly to our Government, that it is time to assume a full mantle of responsibility and sanity during this debate, and to re-examine our policies and tactics. If we have been trying to show that we can be tough on enforcement, I think that we have made that point, and we don’t need to continue to beat that dead horse. Clearly, at some point in our near future, we will come together in a dialogue aimed at restoring order to this atmosphere of chaos. Until that time, which should be within the next few months, let us put aside the tactics of fear and, what could be labeled an environment of institutionalized terror to our undocumented population of millions. The time for a rational federal – and federal only – policy is now. The time for fear and hate has long since passed.

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VIDEO: A Hidden System

Our government’s current “enforcement only” policy towards immigration continues detain and deport immigrants across the country. The system used in this policy, however, is extremely secretive. Practices include: blacking out windows on buses transporting immigrants, denying due process during legal proceedings and forbidding families from contact with their detained loved ones. In short, the system is ripe for widespread abuse.

The Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR) has released a video called “A Hidden System”. Our immigration policy is broken and people are suffering abuse and injustice as a result.

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Committee Hearing on Immigration (Part 1)

Yesterday the House Judiciary Committee met to discuss the increasingly frequent immigration and customs raids – specifically the largest raid in history, which occurred in Postville, Iowa this past May.

Committee members heard from a number of panels and the hearing lasted virtually all day. I attended the first half of the hearing, which was standing room only; a testament to the high interest in the immigration debate, that seems to be approaching a critical mass.

The committee hearing was spurred by the tell-all report, released by Dr. Erik Camayd-Frexais earlier this month and featured in a recent front-page NY Times article. Dr. Camayd-Frexais, a federally contracted interpreter with years of experience, denounced the “fast-tracking” of the legal proceedings following the raid, the excessive use of force by ICE agents and the denial of the “bill of rights and democractic values threatened by the breakdown of checks and balances”.

Representatives from the Department of Justice defended the legal process following the raids, stating that the choice to “fast-track” detainees was somehow a humanitarian show of compassion.

Committee member Luis Gutierrez (IL-4) strongly disagreed with this version of the Postville legal proceedings. He pointed out, various times, that immigrants, many of whom did not understand the charges against them, were pressured and intimidated into signing plea agreements, without adequate legal counsel.

Representatives from other districts across the country testified to the effects of the SWAT team style raids on their communities.

Especially poignant was Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey (CA) describing the traumatic affects the raids in San Rafael, CA had on the children in the community. Teachers rode buses home with students, to ensure they didn’t go home to empty houses. Hundreds of children missed school for weeks at a time. She told the story of one small child, who was instructed by her mother to pack a backpack of essentials to leave by the front door of the house at all times and was told if she came home and nobody was there, she should take the backpack and go to her aunt’s house. “Can you imagine?” asked Woolsey, “Can you imagine what that small child must have felt?”

Despite the passionate testimony of various panelists, many committee members seemed un-moved on their position that undocumented workers are “illegal aliens” who are “displacing Americans” who might otherwise be employed in the same positions the immigrants occupy.

Specifically telling was the minority committee members’ insistence that undocumented immigrants were taking the jobs of “African American males ages 18 to 35″. This statistic, rattled off various times, seemed so disconnected from the reality of what’s happening in our country that I became angrier each time it was spoken out loud.

Do I think these Representatives actually care of the communities of people of color? The honest answer is no. I think they care about somehow supporting their “enforcement only” policy in order to continue with what they see as ”legal” law enforcement efforts. Meanwhile, families continue to be torn assunder, communities devastated and children abandoned.

As Gutierrez (IL) pointed out, undocumented immigrants, unlike the big businesses that continue to employ them, have no power, they have no Political Action Committees or well-paid lobbyists who can influence lawmakers. So working people, people who are struggling to survive, continue to be raided, arrested and shuffled through our “justice” system, so that our administration can tell people they are “doing something” about immigration.

The truth is, they are doing something that will be looked back upon with shame. They are doing something that contradicts the founding principles of liberty and justice for all.

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