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Court Closes Door for Lawsuits to Hold Officials Accountable

May 19, 2010 - Posted by Lena Graber


On May 3, 2010, the Supreme Court ruled that government doctors are immune from personal liability for inadequate medical care of immigration detainees.  The bereaved family of deceased immigration detainee Francisco Castaneda can only win limited remedies by filing suit against the government itself, where no jury trial or punitive damages are available, even for egregious conduct.

Francisco’s case rests among the many horror stories of medical care for immigrant detainees.  Despite advanced penile cancer, he was held in detention without treatment for 10 months before receiving a biopsy.  He was abruptly released before the results came in, because the government did not want to pay for treatment.  Upon release from ICE custody, Francisco went to the emergency room, where his penis was amputated, but the cancer had spread and he died a year later, at age 36.

Under the Obama administration, DHS has promised an overhaul of immigration detention, but Francisco Castaneda’s case reminds us that promised reforms come too late for many.  Despite months and months of discussions, very little has changed for the hundreds of thousands of immigrants shunted through the system.  A pervasive attitude that immigrant detainees who complain are just “acting out” or “faking it” has contributed to many detainees not receiving the care they desperately need.  Since 2003, there have been over 100 deaths in ICE custody.  Detainees with physical or mental illness are often segregated, further exacerbating their condition.

Despite continued pressure from advocates that detention should be a measure of last resort, not a default decision, ICE continues to plan new and larger detention centers to hold more people.  Immigrants are held in jails despite being innocent of committing any crimes, face persistent obstacles to receiving adequate medical care in detention, are separated from family and loved ones, and are transported hundreds of miles, usually in shackles, to be held in isolated facilities while awaiting their fate. Meanwhile intended reforms of the detention system drag on with painfully small incremental changes. 

Francisco Castaneda’s case once again shows us exactly what is at stake when detention standards are not only inadequate but unenforceable, and when there is broad immunity enjoyed by the persons responsible for the treatment of immigrants in their charge.  With minimal accountability for how they treat people in their own custody, DHS continually fails to provide dignified or tolerable treatment of immigrant detainees. 

Photo from America's Voice.

Harsh Lessons and Border Choices

May 13, 2010 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

Border Patrol


As Arizona's SB 1070 moves closer to the day of implementation (end of July), the press has begun to examine some of the economic impacts Arizona is beginning to experience or soon will be.


The National Council of La Raza and other organizations have called for a boycott of Arizona, and the Arizona Republic reports that the city of Phoenix alone may lose $90 million over the next five years from conventions that have either cancelled since the law passed or have expressed reservations and may cancel. 


Senator Robert Menendez earlier this week issued a statement urging the Major League Baseball Players Association to boycott the 2011 All Star game if it is not moved from Phoenix, where it is scheduled to take place.  Michael Weiner, executive director of the Players Association, has urged repeal of the law and suggested that, if it is not, the Association will consider "additional steps" to protect its members.


According to the Los Angeles Times, city officials in Los Angeles, who have called for a boycott of Arizona along with officials in other cities across the country, have identified $56 million in Arizona-based investments that may be re-examined.  For the future, officials "recommended that the City Council suspend travel to the state, refrain from entering new contracts, and review current ones for possible termination."


While the boycotts are mostly a future threat, Reuters reports that some of Arizona's 50,000 Latino-owned businesses have already taken a hit, as their customers change their habits or prepare to leave the state.  While supporters of the law would probably rejoice at that news, the state's economy suffers no matter the ethnic origin of the business owner.  The Arizona Hispanic Chamber of Commerce estimates the buying power of Latinos in Arizona to be more than $30 billion.  Economically, this law targets not just "illegal immigrants," and the Reuter's story points out that:


some business owners say the plunge in spending since the measure was passed has thrown the future of their firms into doubt and threatened the jobs of their legal immigrant and U.S.-citizen employees.


According to the New York Times, a spokesperson for Governor Brewer,


"called boycotting the state 'thoughtless and harmful' and said it was a distraction from the underlying issue of the federal government’s failure to control immigration and the border."


It was the Governor, however, who decided to follow immigration hard-liners and sign SB 1070 into law.  An alternative course would have been to press Arizona's congressional delegation, including Arizona's two Senators, to work for immigration reform at the federal level.  Politicians who pursue the more divisive path should not be surprised when the result is … divisiveness. They are putting their political careers ahead of their states' economies.


Speaking of distractions from the underlying issue, Arizona Senator John McCain, engaged in a primary race against immigration hardliner J.D. Hayworth, recently put out an ad claiming to show support for his "border plan" from a border sheriff.  The ad features McCain and Sheriff Paul Babeau walking along the border near Nogales, Arizona.  Sheriff Babeau, however, is from Pinal County, 115 miles north of the border.  Perhaps McCain had difficulty recruiting an actual border sheriff.  Law enforcement on the border tends to think that the hysteria about controlling the border is all politics.  Assistant Police Chief Roy Bermudez, who actually is from Nogales, recently told the Arizona Republic, "I think Nogales, Arizona, is one of the safest places to live in all of America."  Bermudez is not alone in his view of the border.  John David Franz, the Mayor of Hidalgo, Texas, a small town opposite the substantially larger Mexican city of Reynosa, reported yesterday than there has not been a single murder in Hidalgo in his 20 years as mayor, and the only kidnapping was by a registered sex offender from California.


Mayor Franz was in Washington on May 12 and 13 as part of a delegation of experts from the southwest border to brief Congressional staffers and the press on the border as seen by actual border residents.  Among the issues they raised:

  • The border is not "out of control."  Border residents and local elected officials reiterated the sentiment that the widespread perception of chaos at the border is primarily generated by politicians trolling for votes (the subject of ImmPolitic articles here and here).  From the perspective of actual border residents, backed up by federal statistics, crime is down and there is already plenty of border enforcement.  (One delegate noted that there are now 8.8 Border Patrol agents per mile along the entire southern border.) 

  • The lack of federal attention to the infrastructure at ports of entry is economically costly to border communities.  Rather than endless increases in security forces between the ports, border communities would rather see adequate staffing and renovations for the ports of entry.

  • More is not necessarily better.  The government needs to be more concerned about quality, not quantity.  Border security would be more effective if the government targeted the right people.  We now have thousands more Border Patrol agents than we did a few years ago.  They need to be better trained if they expect to gain the trust of community members.

  • It's the Border Patrol.  Why aren't they deployed on the border?  In some communities, Border Patrol agents roam through communities instead of being stationed on the border.  This results in significant police presence in the daily lives and activities of border residents, and this creates tension in the community.

It was refreshing to have the perspective of actual border residents in Washington.  Let's hope their perspective begins to be taken into account going forward as Congress considers border policy.


Image by Flickr user quinn.anya.

In Arizona, It’s Politics, Not Crime, Driving Border Insecurity

May 05, 2010 - Posted by Maurice Belanger

Border patrol trucks

In signing Arizona's new "Papers Please" law, Governor Jan Brewer gave her reasons.

Border-related violence and crime due to illegal immigration are critically important issues to the people of our state….  There is no higher priority than protecting the citizens of Arizona.

As we noted last week, however, it appears that the law was more about politics and discomfort with demographic change than about protecting the citizens of Arizona.  Property and violent crime rates in Arizona are lower than they've been in decades. 

CNN last week also noted declining crime in Arizona.

"…violent crimes reported in Arizona dropped by nearly 1,500 reported incidents between 2005 and 2008. Reported property crimes also fell, from about 287,000 reported incidents to 279,000 in the same period. These decreases are accentuated by the fact that Arizona's population grew by 600,000 between 2005 and 2008."

CNN also checked out illegal border crossing trends.  In the Tucson Border Patrol sector, apprehensions of persons crossing illegally have fallen from 600,000 in 2000 to 241,000 in 2009.

The May 2nd Arizona Republic took a look at crime in some of Arizona's border communities.  Assistant Police Chief Roy Bermudez, of Nogales, Arizona, told the paper that he thinks "Nogales, Arizona, is one of the safest places to live in all of America."  The Republic didn't take his word for it.  They examined FBI statistics for border communities.

"In 2000, there were 23 rapes, robberies and murders in Nogales, Ariz. Last year, despite nearly a decade of population growth, there were 19 such crimes. Aggravated assaults dropped by one-third. No one has been murdered in two years."

The Republic looked at statistics in other border towns.

"…crime rates in Nogales, Douglas, Yuma and other Arizona border towns have remained essentially flat for the past decade, even as drug-related violence has spiraled out of control on the other side of the international line."

The Republic writes “politicians and the national press have fanned a perception that the border is inundated with bloodshed,” perception that helped push Arizona’s “Papers Please” legislation into law.  The perception of law enforcement officers on the border, however, is very different. 

Here is the perception of Clarence Dupnik, the sheriff of Pima County (which includes Tucson).

"This is a media-created event.  I hear politicians on TV saying the border has gotten worse. Well, the fact of the matter is that the border has never been more secure."

According to the Border Patrol, slain rancher Robert Krentz, whose death led to the latest round off politician demands to “secure the border,”

“…is the only American murdered by a suspected illegal immigrant in at least a decade within the agency's Tucson sector, the busiest smuggling route among the Border Patrol's nine coverage regions along the U.S.-Mexican border.”

Though politicians and the press were quick to spread the rumor that Krentz was killed by an “illegal alien,” according to the Arizona Daily Star police are looking at an American suspect.

Over the last 20 years, the border region has been flooded with law enforcement resources—the subject of this new Fact Sheet from the National Immigration Forum.  As Assistant Chief Bermudez of Nogales noted,

"Everywhere you turn, there's some kind of law enforcement looking at you.  Per capita, we probably have the highest amount of any city in the United States.”

Politicians calling for more border security are doing so more to further their own political carriers than out of concern for public safety.  They appeal to voters not in border communities who can witness the reality, but to others whose perception is shaped by the hysteria the politicians themselves are generating (and unthinkingly fanned by the press).  They are not doing border communities any favors.  The conclusion of the Republic’s story sums up the situation well:

Leo Federico, 61, a retired teacher, said he has been amazed to hear members of Congress call for National Guard troops in the area.

"That's politics," he said, shrugging. "It's all about votes. . . . We have plenty of law enforcement."

Photo by Flickr user Threaded Thoughts.

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