National Immigration Forum

Practical Solutions for Immigrants and America

Blog & Updates

Get ‘em In; Get ‘em Out

June 11, 2008 - Posted by Douglas Rivlin

This has been a bad month or so for the Department of Homeland Security.  Congressional oversight hearings have been called to examine recent revelations of deaths in detention, lack of health care, and forced drugging of detainees.  Processing of citizenship applications remains hopelessly backlogged to the point that hundreds of thousands – perhaps more than a million – legal immigrants will not be able become citizens in time to vote in November.  This week, the Bush Administration announced that the flawed E-Verify worker verification system would be extended to all companies with federal contracts, thus placing additional pressure on an experimental system that is already underperforming.

As the bad news keeps piling up, editorial boards are taking notice.

Today the Los Angeles Times addresses E-Verify and other wacky developments in our hysteria to do something about immigration:

It’s legitimate to demand that contractors seeking Uncle Sam’s money jump through a few more hoops. And although Chertoff’s claim that E-Verify is “99.5%” accurate seems overstated (a new Government Accountability Office report indicates that the system produces uncertain results 8% of the time, and a 2006 report cited a 4% error rate in Social Security records, which E-Verify relies on), the collateral damage may be less troubling than the damage to the country’s sense of itself.

As we hustle to show resolve in the immigration “crisis,” we’re getting used to the idea that all private endeavor is subject to Washington’s prior approval. What kind of country do we want? A few years ago, a border wall would have seemed a relic from medieval China or Central Europe in the totalitarian era. Now it is official U.S. policy. – Los Angeles Times editorial, “Over the line: The anti-immigration furor is pushing us toward irrational policies, June 11, 2008

The New York Times in an editorial supporting a new bill introduced by Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) and Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) that would create mandatory detention standards across the immigration detention system including basic, minimal medical care, has this to say about deaths in detention:

The government should be rushing to improve the oversight and care in its sprawling detention system to protect all detainees. Instead, the official reaction has been slow and defensive, promised improvements are piecemeal, and criticism of the system is making immigration hard-liners indignant…

Whether immigrants are legal or illegal has nothing to do with their right to humane care. As Ms. Lofgren bluntly put it: “You are not supposed to kill people who are in custody.” – New York Times editorial, “Dying in Detention, June 11, 2008

Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff will be called before the House Committee on Homeland Security again on Thursday at 10 a.m. for additional questioning, presumably about these and other matters.

One of the new trends that we see as more bad news is the expeditious way immigrants swept up in home and workplace raids are being railroaded through the criminal justice system to deportation.  In the aftermath of the massive raid in Postville, Iowa, last month, immigrants were strongly encouraged – some would say coerced – into waiving rights, waiving access to relief from deportation, and pleading guilty to criminal, not just civil, charges during mass drive-by hearings.  The best overview we’ve seen comes from New America Media, a consortium of ethnic media outlets.

Wendy Sefsaf, a Washington-based writer for NAM, breaks down this complicated issue of due process denied and legal immigration status denied, using Postville and other recent stories to illustrate (We recommend you read the whole article).

In May, an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raid took place at an Iowa kosher meat-packing plant. It was the largest raid ever. Nearly 400 employees at Agriprocessors were rounded up and interrogated by immigration officials. The search warrant executed by ICE also laid out a range of workplace abuses, including physical abuse. According to the government’s own warrant: “In February, Source #7 told ICE agents he or she observed a Jewish floor supervisor duct-tape the eyes of an undocumented Guatemalan worker shut and hit the Guatemalan with a meat hook.”

If the government warrant itself outlined abuse, the workers should have been eligible for protected status. However, they were treated as criminals, not victims.

In another case in Louisiana, Indian workers were trafficked to the United States and housed in substandard conditions while their wages were held back, in order to pay back the $20,000 they were charged to come the United States to work at Signal Construction in New Orleans. After they walked out on their jobs en masse, the Department of Justice opened a trafficking investigation case acknowledging their victimization, yet refusing to protect them.

In past cases similar to Signal Construction, “continued presence” was automatically granted, allowing the workers to stay on in the United States while the case went ahead. According to Dan Werner of the Southern Poverty Law Center, “Continued presence is discretionary on the part of the Department of Justice, but people used to get processed on the spot. This delay is a new thing.” The lawyers representing the Indian workers have been told they must submit their clients for deportation hearings.

The remedies available to victims of trafficking and crimes are known as “T” and “U” Visas, and 5,000 T visas and 10,000 U visas are available annually.

Congress created these visas to protect victims, particularly those who could serve as witnesses to crimes. However, these cases show a possible change in policy to deport instead of protect these victims. – New America Media, News Report by Wendy Sefsaf, “Rush to Prosecute Leaves Immigrant Victims of Crimes Without Protection,” June 11, 2008

Advocates who watch the troubling world of immigration detention and due process closely (eg: the Detention Watch Network, Lutheran Immigrant and Refugee Service, and the Rights Working Group, among others) have recently been emphasizing “alternatives to detention” like ankle devices and regular check-ins with authorities who can also provide legal services to those who have a path to become legal.  These alternatives are not only more humane, they are cost-effective.  Unfortunately, to the Department of Homeland Security, “alternatives to detention” means getting people deported as quickly as possible, preferably without all that pesky due process or those meddlesome immigration judges, lawyers and translators.

Crossroads Campaign Solutions