On the heels of several reports critical of the Department of Homeland Security’s enforcement and detention policies, grassroots advocates for immigration reform took to the streets today to protest the continuation and expansion of ineffective Bush-era tactics. Their protests echo the findings of credible reports and the recommendations of law enforcement officials, all of whom are calling on DHS to make significant changes in policy and strategy.
In New York today, DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano was met by protesters from the New York Immigration Coalition and allied organizations who demanded an investigation of flagrant abuses by immigration agents in residential raids carried out under the Bush Administration. This call is based on a recently released public study of the U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency’s home raid operations by the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law and Yeshiva University.
The report found that immigration agents engaged in widespread constitutional violations over the course of several years. Some of the agents’ most egregious violations include entering and searching homes without legal authority, and seizing people without any basis other than their racial or ethnic appearance or limited English proficiency. In response to the Cardozo report, whose findings were endorsed by leading law enforcement officials, DHS said only the following in an e-mail to the New York Times: “The men and women of I.C.E. are sworn to uphold the laws of our nation. We do so professionally, humanely and with an acute awareness with the impact enforcement has on the individuals we encounter. While I.C.E. prioritizes our efforts by targeting fugitives who have demonstrated a threat to national security or public safety, we have a clear mandate to pursue all immigration fugitives.”
Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Right of Los Angeles (CHIRLA), workers and advocates will be marching today to the downtown federal building to ask Secretary Napolitano to stop the expansion of the 287(g) program that allows local law enforcement to become de facto immigration agents, halt the new I-9 audits recently announced by DHS, and suspend the expansion of the error-prone E-Verify program. With respect to the 287(g) program, the highly-regarded Police Foundation has called for fundamental reforms, arguing that “local law enforcement executives say civil immigration enforcement by local police undermines their core public safety mission, diverts scarce resources, increases their exposure to liability and litigation, and exacerbates fear in our communities.” The Police Executive Research Forum (PERF) also recently raised serious questions about the 287(g) program, and called for Congress and the White House to enact comprehensive immigration reform, and soon.
Yesterday, the National Immigration Law Center and allied organizations released a scathing report on DHS’ current management of immigration jails. According to today’s New York Times, the Obama Administration is now refusing to make standards regarding immigration detention conditions legally enforceable. In the story, Nina Bernstein writes: “The decision, contained in a six-page letter received by the plaintiffs this week, disappointed and angered immigration advocacy organizations around the country. They pointed to a stream of newly available documents that underscore the government’s failure to enforce minimum standards it set in 2000, including those concerning detainees’ access to basic health care, telephones and lawyers, even as the number of people detained has soared to more than 400,000 a year.”
Tomorrow, Senators Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Kristen Gillibrand (D-NY) will introduce two bills that begin to correct some of these excesses crafted during the Bush years and continued under Secretary Napolitano.
“People on the ground are becoming increasingly frustrated with DHS, and with good reason,” said Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice. “Candidate Obama promised a new approach to immigration policy and highly energized Latino and immigrant voters turned out for him in record numbers. But recent developments suggest a gap between the President’s promises of significant change and DHS’s continuation of ineffective and counterproductive Bush-era policies.”
Sharry added, “For example, DHS recently announced the expansion of 287(g) program that encourages local police involvement in immigration enforcement, and while new regulations promise change, the fact is that Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County in Arizona – the Bull Connor of our generation – still operates under the 287(g) umbrella as he conducts controversial sweeps of Latino neighborhoods. When ICE agents are accused in a carefully documented study of flouting basic constitutional protections by kicking down doors, running up arrest totals and terrorizing Latino families and communities in the bargain, the DHS response is a press release stating that ‘our agents uphold the law.’ And when DHS is presented with a well-researched report on systemic problems in the nation’s monstrous detention system, the agency’s response is to refuse to set rules that are legally enforceable. Taken together, these decisions threaten to offend many voters who turned out last November in hopes of achieving significant changes in our nation’s dysfunctional immigration system.”
“Secretary Napolitano has made some important corrections to Bush-era policies in the areas of workplace raids and enforcement priorities, and deserves credit for doing so. But she needs to pay attention to the growing chorus of voices – from advocates to researchers to law enforcement professionals – that are calling for reform of current enforcement strategies and swift action on comprehensive immigration reform,” said Sharry. “Not doing so could carry a heavy political cost for the Administration.”