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Trust Act Seeks to End Trivial Immigrant Arrests

Samuel Rodriguez

Sacramento — Juana Reyes provides for her family by selling homemade tamales outside a busy Wal-Mart not far from where I live. At least she used to.

Last month Juana was arrested for selling her tamales without a permit and was held in jail for 13 days, while her two children were placed in foster care. Juana was just released, but she now faces deportation back to Mexico, despite having lived in California for 20 years and being the sole caregiver to her children, both U.S. citizens.

I wouldn’t be surprised to read about a story like Juana’s from Arizona or Alabama, where harsh laws direct police to arrest anyone they suspect to be in the country without papers. These laws have been tearing apart families like Juana’s and have immigrant families living in constant fear of police. In California, we may not have an Arizona-style immigration law, but we do have a federal program that’s having a similar effect in immigrant communities.

It’s called “Secure Communities,” but the name couldn’t be more misleading. When Secure Communities was started in 2008, it was supposed to end this sort of indiscriminate rounding up of American immigrants. In the absence of immigration reform, Secure Communities was supposed to prioritize the removal of serious criminals.

However, the program has strayed far from its original intent. Last year, some 400,000 immigrants were detained and deported, and most of them, like Juana, committed no serious crime. In California alone, 75,000 immigrants were deported last year after being arrested for traffic offenses, selling food without permits or other trivial violations.

California can do better. We can focus our law enforcement resources on serious criminals, not on mothers and fathers simply trying to make a better life for their kids. That’s why I support the Trust Act (“Transparency and Responsibility Using State Tools” Act or AB 1081).

It’s a bill that would instruct California law enforcement to hold any unauthorized immigrants who are convicted of serious or violent felonies in detention. But, it would mean that mothers, like Juana, who are arrested for trivial violations, or fathers stopped for driving with a broken taillight, won’t be fast-tracked into deportation.

This legislation is common sense and it’s the right thing to do. For one, when immigrants fear contact with the police, they don’t report crimes and we all become less safe. Stories like Juana’s quickly spread through immigrant communities and destroy the trust between police and immigrant communities that is so critical to fighting crime.

Second, with our state facing an ongoing budget deficit, the Trust Act would help counties lower costs by reducing the money they now spend to hold people like Juana in jail, when they would otherwise be released with a fine.

Finally, as a pastor in the Hispanic community, I am constantly confronted with families that have been torn apart when a parent is deported, often times after minor contact with police. The long-term consequences for the children are devastating.

The Trust Act passed both the Assembly and the Senate by comfortable margins. Soon it will go to the governor’s desk, and I hope and expect that Gov. Jerry Brown will sign the Trust Act into law.

Enforcement of our nation’s borders is essential, and the continuing failure of Congress to enact comprehensive immigration reform and provide a road map to legal status for the 11 million undocumented immigrants in our country is shameful. But, in the meantime, Gov. Brown and California can lead the way by rebuilding trust in immigrant communities, curbing wasteful spending and keeping families intact.

Migrants’ Freedom Ride (NY Times)

Migrants’ Freedom Ride

On Sunday night or early Monday, about three dozen people are planning to set out on a six-week bus voyage through the dark terrain of American immigration politics. Their journey is to begin, fittingly, in the desert in Arizona, national capital of anti-immigrant laws and oppressive policing. It will wind through other states where laws and failed policies force immigrants to toil outside the law — New Mexico, Colorado, Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee — and end in North Carolina at the Democratic National Convention.

There the riders plan to deliver a defiant message to a president who is hoping to return to office on a wave of Latino support that they believe he has not earned.

There is something very different about this particular protest. Many of those planning to ride the bus are undocumented and — for the first time — are not afraid to say so. Immigrants who dread arrest and deportation usually seek anonymity. These riders, weary of life in the shadows and frustrated by the lack of progress toward reform, will be telling federal authorities and the local police: Here are our names. This is our plan. If you want us, come get us.

The momentum for this daring ride, called the “UndocuBus,” began building last Tuesday at the federal courthouse in downtown Phoenix. The immigrants’ nemesis, Sheriff Joe Arpaio, was testifying at trial that day about his office’s long history of racial profiling and discriminatory policing. Out on the street, the midday glare off the pavement was blinding. Four unauthorized immigrants — Leticia Ramirez, Miguel Guerra, Natally Cruz and Isela Meraz — sat blocking traffic and waited to be arrested. They were taken away in cuffs to spend the night at Sheriff Arpaio’s red-brick jail on Fourth Avenue.

Their civil disobedience should not have been necessary. Hopes for reform were high in 2006, a year of huge, peaceful pro-immigrant marches in cities across the country, after which Congress entertained comprehensive reform that had strong bipartisan support. But Republicans killed the bill, and the years of inaction that followed crushed immigrants’ hopes while reinforcing the broken status quo — to the benefit of border vigilantes, the private-prison industry, the engorged homeland security apparatus and hard-right ideologues who started planting neo-nativist laws in legislatures across the land, starting in Arizona.

As Sheriff Arpaio quickly recognized, demonizing the undocumented was a potent political tool: once an immigration moderate, he recast himself as a relentless hunter of “illegal aliens.” With federal powers delegated to him by the Homeland Security Department, he spent years conducting “saturation patrols” in Latino neighborhoods of Maricopa County, abusing and terrifying those with brown skin.

All this time, as promises were broken and reforms went nowhere, as President Obama ratcheted up deportations to record levels, and as Republicans intensified their assaults, the immigrants lay low. But then groups of students, working outside the regular channels of immigrant advocacy, bravely “came out” as undocumented and demanded justice — and won from Mr. Obama a promise not to deport them.

A few more immigrants have now chosen to come out of the shadows. It is impossible to know how many of the 10 million to 12 million undocumented might dare to do the same. And while each and every one of them deserves a chance to get right with the law, one provocative bus trip may well seem like a voyage to nowhere, given the dismal state of Congress and the low odds of immigration reform.

But this small group has already won an important victory, a victory against fear. At the cramped offices of Puente Arizona, the Phoenix organization behind the “UndocuBus,” volunteers kept busy last week updating calendars and working phone banks. They made papier-mâché masks and silk-screen posters, and decorated plastic buckets for drumming. There was packing to be done, a bus to be painted. Saturday was the day for a march, Sunday will be for the gathering in a city park, for eating, singing and saying goodbyes. After that, the bus will roll.

A Bus Ride to Show the Cracks in Immigration (NY Times)

A Bus Ride to Show the Cracks in Immigration

Published: July 27, 2012


PHOENIX — The route they will take on their cross-country trek resembles a slithering snake — up, down and around in a series of intentional detours that are equal parts political strategy and provocation. Their bus leaves from this sprawling city in the desert at sunrise on Monday, carrying 30 men and women who say they have chosen to live in the shadows no more.

If all goes as planned, they will get to Charlotte, N.C., on Sept. 3, just as the Democratic National Convention is getting started. For the illegal immigrants taking the ride, it is time to make front and center a problem they feel President Obama has failed to confront.

They do blame Congress and the Republicans for stonewalling attempts at immigration reform, but as one of the riders put it, “they’re not the only ones at fault.”

“No papers, no fear” is their motto, and the words are stamped on T-shirts and posters that went on sale at a party here on Wednesday to raise money for food and water, lodging and toiletries, gas and rent of the bus, and also a bail fund. It is not as if anyone is looking to get arrested, but they are preparing for it.

The bus will traverse unfriendly territory for immigrants who are in the country illegally — states like Georgia and Alabama, where the police are allowed to check the immigration status of certain people they detain.

It will cut across Louisiana and Mississippi, both of which tried — and failed — to enact legislation imposing penalties against illegal immigrants. It will slice through Tennessee, where in Davidson County, the sheriff boasts about his role helping federal authorities deport them.

They hope to expand on the activist role carved out by immigrants who were brought to the country as children, many of whom would be shielded from deportation under a policy enacted last month by the Obama administration. (Many of the riders on the bus are the parents of young people whose protests eventually spurred the administration’s action.)

“I’m running this risk because I want us to be respected, I want us to be recognized as the human beings that we are,” Maria Cruz Ramirez said at the party, where she sat before a makeshift stage, surrounded by other bus riders.

Ms. Ramirez, 46, said she came here 11 years ago from the Mexican state of Hidalgo to give her three children, whom she had brought along, a chance at a better life.

Gerardo Torres, 41, said he arrived here 18 years ago from the Mexican state of Aguascalientes so he could live freely as a gay man.

David Ramirez, 22, is among the youngest of the riders — a green-eyed Mexican from the state of Durango who said he was brought to the United States when he was 9, too young to have made his own choice.

“I have a bachelor’s degree in economics, for whatever it’s worth,” said Mr. Ramirez, who graduated in the spring from Dominican University, just outside Chicago, where he lives.

For them, the bus offers a chance for empowerment and kinship. The ride to North Carolina is scheduled to last six weeks, and Ms. Ramirez, who said she had never spent time away from her children, has forged a close friendship with Mr. Ramirez, who is almost as old as the oldest of her sons and is traveling on his own.

She said she had set aside the documents her family would need to run their lives and the household in case she does not make it back: Mexican birth certificates, bank account information, phone numbers of friends who can help them.

Mr. Torres said joining the ride forced him to come out to cousins, aunts and uncles who had no idea he is gay. “I want to be the voice of the queer community,” and the only way to do that is to embrace his homosexuality publicly, he said.

Mr. Ramirez said he had made no special plans.

“I’m walking on faith,” he said.

As the party wrapped up, guests began to collect the chairs as actors from the New Carpa Theater dismantled the makeshift stage, set up in the auditorium of a labor union hall on 24th Street.

It had been a night of performances, like the short play featuring an encounter between Our Lady of Guadalupe, the patron saint of Mexico, and Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, known for his crackdowns on illegal immigrants. In it, Mr. Arpaio asked Guadalupe for her papers, while Guadalupe asked him to repent. He refused, and she left him to find his way out of the desert along the border, a place many Mexicans have died trying to cross.

“This Land Is Your Land” played softly in the background.

Immigration-rights groups condemn federal program (MyrtleBeach)

Immigration-rights groups condemn federal program | Effort in place in Horry, Georgetown counties

By Grant Martin

HILTON HEAD ISLAND — The state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union is among several South Carolina immigrant-rights groups calling for the suspension of a federal program designed to curb illegal immigration.
In a letter this week, the coalition asked Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to stop enforcing a program called Secure Communities, which is in place in more than 3,000 jurisdictions nationwide, including Horry and Georgetown counties.
The program, operated by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, runs fingerprints of all people arrested by local officials through a federal database to determine their immigration status. If they are found to be living in the country illegally, they are subject to deportation, regardless of the severity of the crimes for which they were initially arrested.

The group also asked Napolitano to terminate four “287(g)” agreements in South Carolina delegating immigration-agent authority to state and local police.
“Under these racial profiling laws, citizens and non-citizens alike in South Carolina have reason to fear that they will be harassed and targeted because of how they look or speak, subjected to pre-textual arrest and prolonged detention, and separated from their families,” wrote Victoria Middleton, executive director of the ACLU of South Carolina. “We urge the federal government to act to prevent a civil rights crisis in our state.”

One S.C. sheriff disagrees.
“It’s a great program and has been a huge benefit for public safety and law enforcement,” said Beaufort County Sheriff P.J. Tanner. “It gives us a way to get proper identification of foreign-born illegals.”

He said the county has used Secure Communities for about two years, adding he’s comfortable with the authority the program gives his deputies.
“If you boil it down, it’s all homeland security, what we do,” he said. “This is something we needed years ago.”
In addition to the ACLU, the letter was also submitted by the S.C. Appleseed Legal Justice Center, Carolina Lutheran Outreach Centers, the Council of Mexicans in the Carolinas, the Hispanic Leadership Council, the League of Women Voters of South Carolina, the Lowcountry Immigration Coalition, S.C Immigration Coalition, and the SC Progressive Network.