We Need Meaningful Immigration Reform, Not Just Theatrics

We don’t have a criminal problem at the border

Since the beginning of this humanitarian crisis, elected and law-enforcement officials in the Rio Grande Valley have observed no increase in crime. These are children who are running into the arms of the Border Patrol agents. They aren’t sneaking in. They aren’t resisting arrest. They have come to escape the violence and crime in their own countries.

Our border is secure

Our border communities already face the most militarized zone in the nation, with 3,000 Border Patrol agents in the Rio Grande Valley. The border region does not need more law enforcement agents sent to the area nor does it need the Texas National Guard, whose role is especially unclear. Neither the state Department of Public Safety nor the National Guard has any authority to enforce immigration law.

Increasing, yet again, the number of law enforcement personnel patrolling our border communities only escalates the potential for violating border residents’ constitutional rights and reducing the quality of life for everyone at the border.

We need to get our priorities straight

There are only two kinds of additional boots on the ground needed in the Valley: humanitarian agencies like the Red Cross and more administrative and judicial personnel to screen these immigrants to determine whether they warrant consideration for asylum or refugee status or for U or T visas. Their welfare should be our top priority.

What does “securing the border” look like?

How you measure success matters. In most of our businesses, we set goals and establish metrics to determine success. The state should do no less. To secure the border, our nation needs legal programs that respect family reunification and more clearly hew to labor demands, among a number of other changes.

If you want real change, if you truly want to secure the border, and not just engage in theatrics, then urge Gov. Perry to send needed aid to the border, not more law enforcement.

El Secretario Johnson visita la frontera para reunirse con los jefes, no con los abusados.

La semana pasada, el Secretario de Seguridad Interna Jeh Johson visitó dos de los estados fronterizos de Estados Unidos con México, Texas y Arizona, la ACLU espera que esta sea la primera de muchas visitas a registrar de primera mano los efectos que ha causado el aumento masivo de recursos a la Oficina de Aduanas y Protección Fronteriza (CBP) en la última década.

Durante su visita al Bajo Valle del Río Grande, en donde la economía local en problemas contrasta con los billones de dólares que se gasta en muros fronterizos y vigilancia, el Secretario Johnson dio un tour por el Centro de Detención de Puerto Isabel, instalaciones que destacan la necesidad de CBP de mejorar sus estándares de condiciones y confinamiento en dichos centros. Asimismo, se reunió exclusivamente con agencias del orden público, Congresistas, y alcaldes de frontera, mismos que hicieron énfasis en la importancia de asegurar nuestra frontera, pero también en la necesidad de facilitar y hacer más expedito el comercio en nuestros puertos de entrada.

El Secretario Johnson perdió una valiosa oportunidad de escuchar directamente de sus grupos más importantes: los residentes fronterizos y los líderes comunitarios de todos los sectores. Él podría haber visto y entendido la urgente necesidad de tener mayor supervisión y rendición de cuentas por parte del personal de CBP.

Cuando regrese a la frontera, esperamos que el itinerario del Secretario Johnson refleje un compromiso de apreciar lo que en realidad sucede en la frontera, esto con el propósito de reformar las prácticas y las políticas de CBP que día a día impiden seriamente la calidad de vida de los residentes de frontera.

El Secretario Johnson no debe de olvidar que la verdadera “seguridad” de nuestras comunidades fronterizas es el objetivo vital y lo más importante de su Departamento. Los residentes de frontera han pagado el precio de una zona militarizada impuesta en nombre de la seguridad nacional, pero no se sienten a salvo ni seguros. Ellos son acosados, abusados y discriminados por el mismo personal de CBP que juró protegerlos y defender la Constitución

Sec. Johnson Visits Border to Meet with the Brass, Not the Abused

Last week, United States Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson visited two states of our U.S.–Mexico border, Texas and Arizona, for what the ACLU hopes is the first of many visits to inspect first-hand the effects caused by a massive increase in Customs and Border Protection (CBP) resources over the last decade.

On his visit to the Rio Grande Valley, where a struggling economy contrasts with billions of dollars spent on border fencing and surveillance, Secretary Johnson toured the Port Isabel Detention Center, a facility that highlights CBP’s need to improve the standards and conditions of confinement in its detention facilities. He met exclusively with various law enforcement agencies, U.S. Representatives, and border city mayors, all of whom emphasized the importance of securing our borders but also the necessity of facilitating and expediting trade and commerce through our ports of entry.

Secretary Johnson missed an opportunity to hear directly from his most important stakeholders: border residents and community leaders from all walks of life. He could have better seen and understood their urgent need to have proper oversight and accountability for CBP personnel. When he’s next at the border, we hope Secretary Johnson’s itinerary reflects a commitment to appreciating what life here is really like, in order to reform the CBP policies and practices that every day seriously impede the quality of border residents’ lives.

Secretary Johnson must not forget that true “security” of our border communities is the most vital objective of his Department. Border residents have paid the price of a militarized zone imposed in the name of national security, but they don’t feel safe or secure. They are harassed, abused, and racially profiled by the same CBP personnel sworn to protect them and to uphold the Constitution.

Does the punishment fit the crime?

By Adriana Pinon
Staff Attorney

The October 25th shooting of two Guatemalan immigrants by a DPS sharpshooter triggered a firestorm of criticism from various organizations and public officials.  For the past month, the public has been trying to understand the details of this tragedy and whether the policy that allowed it should be revised.  This piece, written by Geoffrey A. Hoffman, an Associate Professor at the University of Houston  Law Center, analyzes the legality of the shooting astutely and accessibly.

Investigate Border Agency, Stop Abuse at Ports of Entry

By Vicki B. Gaubeca, ACLU of New Mexico and Krystal Gómez, ACLU of Texas

A year ago this week , a young woman working with the ACLU of New Mexico arrived at the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) offices at the Ysleta-Zaragoza port of entry in El Paso/Ciudad Juárez. She was there to meet with a New Mexico State Police sergeant investigating her allegations of sexual assault by a Border Patrol agent that occurred while she was detained at a fixed checkpoint in NM. The meeting had been arranged in advance with CBP officials at the port of entry by the NM State Police, and CBP was made aware of the nature of the meeting.

What happened next frightened the young woman  so much that she dropped the investigation. This story, along with other stories of CBP abuse, will be featured tonight in a PBS special report on the program Need to Know. (Please see local listings for air times.)

This case is only one of many stories of abuse and impunity at the hands of CBP officers. The ACLU recently documented eleven cases of abuse at official ports of entry in a letter to the Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The cases come from ports of entry along the U.S.-Mexico border, and most involve U.S. citizens. The letter calls for an investigation into the cases and increased oversight of DHS Customs and Border Protection, an agency that has swelled in size to become the largest federal law enforcement agency in the country.

This PBS Need to Know documentary is the second installment in the series, “Crossing the Line,” that aired April 20 and focused on deaths and serious injuries caused by CBP officials.  The April 20th segment told the story of Anastasio Hernandez-Rojas, a 42-year-old father of five who, in May 2010, died after a group of CBP officers beat him and shocked him with tasers at the San Ysidro port of entry near San Diego.  Live videotape of the beating shows bystanders calling on the officers to stop beating Hernandez-Rojas, hogtied and lying prostrate on the ground, as he screamed in pain and pled for his life.

On July 24-26, 2012, a delegation that includes members from ACLU-San Diego and Imperial Counties, ACLU-New Mexico and ACLU-Texas will travel to Washington, D.C., to meet with White House staff members, top officials at DHS and CBP, and congressional members to demand more accountability and oversight of Border Patrol agents.

Congress should create an external, independent oversight commission with investigatory, auditing, and subpoena power to respond to complaints from whistleblowers and the general public about CBP abuses, while protecting the identity and status of complainants. The oversight commission, which should include non-governmental organizations among its members, should be required to issue public reports on its activity and have the authority to make legislative, regulatory, or policy recommendations.

The time has come to create a mechanism for holding CBP accountable and to check the rising trend of abuse and deaths.

“I think I witnessed someone being murdered.”

By Dione Friends
Online Media Coordinator

The ACLU of Texas Immigrants’ Rights campaign and the Southern Border Communities Coalition has worked to shed light on Border Patrol brutality and rights abuses—including the eight men and boys agents have shot and killed over the past two years. On April 20, we shocked the nation with the exposé “Crossing the Line,” which aired on the PBS show Need to Know.

Watch Crossing the line at the border on PBS. See more from Need To Know. WARNING: Watching this video will take you to an outside website with a privacy policy that differs from ACLU of Texas. A copy of PBS’s privacy policy can be read here.

Take Action

Join the the ACLU of Texas community action network to help stop the abuse of power.

All You Missed at the Civil Rights Conference in Houston if you Weren’t There

By Dione Friends
Online Media Coordinator

Deaths of Trayvon Martin and a beaten Iraqi mother in San Diego are extreme examples of the need for civil rights dialogue in America. We started that much needed dialogue at our day long Civil Right Conference last month. A civil rights coalition made up of civil rights organizations from around the state came together to discuss Civil rights post 9/11, immigrants’ rights, and Criminal Law Reform. Hundreds of concerned Texans gathered for an entire day to listen. The day was topped off with a moving speech from Amy Goodman, host and executive producer of Democracy Now!

Check out our full recap:

Oscar Chacon, Executive Director of the National Alliance of Latin American and Caribbean Communities, kicked off the conference with a civil rights overview.

Understanding Civil Rights Post 9/11

Mustafaa Carroll of CAIR Texas Houston Chapter moderated the Understanding Civil Rights Post 9/11 track.

Corey Saylor from CAIR spoke about islamaphobia and civil rights post 9/11.

Rick Halperin of SMU said, “Free speech in this country stops at the sidewalk of the supreme court” during his presentation on the right to protest and free speech. One Twitter follower wrote: “Rick Halperin of SMU killer speech on US history of oppression and free speech.”

Matt Simpson [Pictured middle] from the ACLU of Texas followed with a great speech about national security and privacy issues post 9/11.

Immigrants’ Rights

Baldo Garza of LULAC moderated the immigrants rights panel.

Krystal Gomez [Pictured far left] from the ACLU of Texas presented on detention and deportation. Brent Wilkes [Pictured middle] from LULAC followed with a talk on immigration reform. Geoff Hoffman [Pictured far right] from the UH Law Center Immigration Clinic ended the discussion with a presentation about local, state, and federal enforcement.

Tribute to Cesar Chavez

Lunch was served during a tribute to César Chávez by Frank Curiel who was once Chávez’s bodyguard and close friend.

Our twitter followers wrote: “Things I didn’t know about Cesar Chavez: he was an environmentalist and vegetarian.”

And “Great perspective on Cesar Chavez life & struggle of farm workers by Frank Curiel.”

Criminal Justice Reform

Watch the Criminal Justice panel. Tarsha Jackson from Texas Families of Incarcerated Youth moderated. Ana Yanez-Correa [Pictured far right] from TCJC presented on over-incarceration. Gislaine Williams [Pictured middle right] from the ACLU of Texas discussed the school-to-prison pipeline and bullying in public schools. Gislaine said, “talking in class shouldn’t be a class c misdemeanor!”

Bob Libal [Pictured middle left] from Grassroots Leadership talked private prisons.

Dave Atwood [Pictured far left] from HPJC and TCADP closed the discussion with a speech about the death penalty in Texas. Dave stated, “The death penalty on its way out. Except in Ohio and Southern states.”

Amy Goodman

The room filled up for the keynote address by Amy Goodman, host and executive producer of Democracy Now!

Amy urged listeners to actively fight for civil rights by quoting Barack Obama, “I don’t disagree with anything you say but you’ll have to make me do it.” If you missed her speech watch it here now.

We addressed the important issues facing our community today. Check out the Houston Chronicle’s article about the civil rights conference.

Special thanks to all the coalition members that made the conference a success:

American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Texas
Black Heritage Society
Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) Texas – Houston Chapter
Central American Resource Center (CARECEN)
Houston Interfaith Workers Justice Center
Houston Peace and Justice Center (HPJC)
Houston United – Houston Unido
League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC)
National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP)
Shades of White
Texas Criminal Justice Coalition (TCJP)
Texas Families of Incarcerated Youth
Think Peace International Inc.
Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty (TCADP)
KPFT Radio

For more information visit http://civilrightscoalition.wordpress.com/.

One more nail in the ‘Secure Communities’ coffin

By Kirsten Bokenkamp
Communications Coordinator

The New York Times published an article today that explored yet another reason why the misnamed Secure Communities program is a bad idea – it has led to a number of American Citizens being detained and, in some cases, deported. The faulty Homeland Security database has somehow misidentified these U.S. citizens as being undocumented immigrants.  I guess in Texas, the proper response is … oops.

For example, between 2006-2008, in just two immigration detention centers in Arizona, 82 people were wrongly held, some for periods up to a year, before an immigration judge determined they were U.S. Citizens. That’s in the so-called Land of the Free?   The ACLU of Texas has long argued that a major problem with local police getting involved in monitoring immigration status is that it is discriminatory – people are often assumed to be an undocumented immigrant based solely on the color of their skin or the language they speak.  If, by some mistake, a person’s name is in the homeland security database (which does happen), he or she will be wrongly accused of being in this country without permission.  In Texas, with almost 38% of the population being from Hispanic or Latino origin, there is major concern about discrimination and abuse.

These incidences should cause local law enforcement to think twice about honoring federal immigration holds.  As acknowledged by John Morton, director of ICE, ICE has no authority to detain American citizens.  Additionally, ICE has stated that it will not recompense local law enforcement for costs associated with extended detention and it will not indemnify for any litigation that local law enforcement may be subject to due to an unlawful detention.

A low but persistent percentage of the nearly 400,000 people held for deportation each year are U.S. citizens.  This is unacceptable and is just another example of our freedom being slowly chipped away at in the name of so-called security.  And, it’s just another reason why the Secure Communities Program makes our communities anything but secure.

Tearing Families Apart

By Kirsten Bokenkamp
Communications Coordinator

Imagine that you have been living the constant nightmare of being physically abused by your spouse.  Fearful of being deported, you have never called to report this crime, but finally the day comes when you can’t take it anymore, and you make that fateful 911 call.  The local police come to your aid – until they realize that you are living in the country without sufficient documentation.  At that point, some communities require local police to detain you and turn you over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).  Your kids?  They are picked up by Child Protective Services (CPS) and put into the foster care system. If you’re lucky, you might see them again.

A new report by the Applied Research Center shows that this practice happens altogether too often.  According to the report, SHATTERED FAMILIES: The Perilous Intersection of Immigration Enforcement and the Child Welfare System, in the first six months of 2011 the federal government removed more than 46,000 mothers and fathers of US-citizen children.  In the best case, once the legal proceedings are finished (which can take many months), the families are reunited.  But, due to barriers to reunification, many parents experience the worst case:  They are indefinitely detained or deported to their home country and may lose contact with their children. How does this happen?

As the report details, a parent, while detained in an immigration detention facility, may be prevented from complying with a CPS’ child welfare case plan for various reasons.  In some instances, court-ordered attorneys may not be able to find them, so they miss their dependency court hearings.  In other cases, ICE may refuse to transport them to a hearing.  Often it is completely out of the immigrant parents’ control what happens to their children during their detention and a parent’s worst nightmare:  They have no  idea where her children are, and if they are okay.

If a parent is deported, CPS often has a hard time locating and contacting the mothers and fathers to apprise them of their  children’s’ whereabouts.  Assuming  mothers and father are finally able to contact CPS from their home countries, they are told  CPS will not consider reunification unless they can arrange  for a home study, complete parenting classes, and find a job within a certain federal deadline – often difficult in many developing countries.  If the parents fail to complete this plan, or if the child is out of their custody for 15 months out of any 22 month period, federal law requires CPS to petition the court to terminate parental rights.

Immigration policies and laws are based on the assumption that families should be united, but in practice this is not always the case.  The report estimates that there are at least 5,100 children currently living in foster care whose parents have been detained or deported, and this number is projected to increase by 15,000 more children in the next five years.

Not surprisingly, the report found that areas where local law enforcement is more involved in immigration enforcement have a higher incidence of families being torn apart.   Victims of domestic or gender-based violence face the unconscionable choice of continuing to live in an abusive relationship or risk losing their children.   This is a decision no parent should ever have to make.

Breaking up families is detrimental to society and is not consistent with American values.  According to the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform, children in foster care are more likely to wind up in the juvenile justice system, become pregnant as teenagers, and are less likely to hold a job. Tearing children away from their parents whose only crime is not having the right papers is a cruel practice, destroys families, serves no benefit to society, and underscores  yet another reason why local enforcement of federal immigration law is the wrong policy.

A Great Day for Human Rights and Sensible Law Enforcement

By Frank Knaack, ACLU of Texas Legal Advocacy Coordinator

Human rights organizations, including the ACLU of Texas, opposed it. Senior law enforcement officials in Texas opposed it. And now, a federal judge blocked it.

The next question: will Arizona, a state with a similar budget crisis to that of Texas, now cease its assault on the Constitution or continue to waste its scarce taxpayer dollars defending its unconstitutional and discriminatory racial profiling law (SB 1070)? We hope the former prevails … but as usual, hope will probably not be enough.

As Arizona’s government ponders its next move, some of our legislators continue to assert that Texas needs a similar law. Maybe their cable and Internet are down and their newspaper delivery person is on vacation? With a multi billion dollar budget crisis awaiting the 82nd Texas Legislature, there is no time for our legislators to engage in Arizona style shenanigans, especially shenanigans that make our communities less safe and violate our basic fundamental values.

In addition to troubling statements from some of our legislators, our Attorney General, as we wrote last week, officially dragged Texas into Arizona’s mess when he filed a legal brief in support of SB 1070.

On Wednesday, the values that make our country great prevailed. But, unless we continue this fight Wednesday may become the exception.