The UnDocs on the Bus: No Papers, No Fear (DALLASNEWS)

The UnDocs on the Bus: No Papers, No Fear


Those without papers are often described as living in the shadows, a tired phrase that perhaps survives because it very neatly captures the predicament.

If your life is defined in this manner, you can see the world but the world doesn’t see you, or at least doesn’t see you in all your dimensions.  A part of our labor market depends on this arrangement, whether we like it or not.

Years ago, a story on one of these shadowy folk created quite a stir in journalistic circles because the subject was named and photographed in a Page One story, when that term meant more than it does today. But that’s not what made news. The furor erupted when  immigration authorities, using the information contained in the article, promptly arrested the subject of the profile and journalists and others angrily debated naming those “in the shadows.”

There are no easy answers to this one. As an editor, I argued that we had a responsibility to describe, with some specificity, the risks people would run if they volunteered to have their names appear in a story.  I felt—and to some extent still feel—that we had an obligation to do so because many of the people we write about are not always aware of the personal risks.

A lot has changed on this front. There’s something called National Coming Out of the Shadows Week, which includes specific instructions on how to “declare yourself undocumented.” The shift began with the immigration protests in 2006, and now it is pretty common to see young people publicly brand themselves in this fashion.

As we write, the UndocuBus is making its way east, twelve days into a journey that began in Phoenix and will end at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, N.C.  Many of the people on board have one thing in common: they are here illegally.

In fact, they wear their illegality on their sleeve, as well as on t-shirts, placards and banners strung across the bus . No Papers, No Fear–Sin Papeles, Sin Miedo–is the official slogan.

The bus has already crossed Texas, uneventfully by all accounts, in case you’re wondering. Austin, we hear, was welcoming. The road trip will go through Georgia and Alabama, where new immigration laws pose a considerable risk, at least on paper.

I caught up with it the travelers this morning, by phone, when the bus was still in the Big Easy.

What’s been the reception?

“We’re drawing a lot of energy, a lot of strength,” said Maria Cruz Ramirez,  46, a mother of three from Mexico who has been in the United States for 11 years.

I detected no fear in Maria.

Two of her children went even more public with their status by taking part in an act of civil disobedience directed at Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the Arizona lawman whose take prisoners approach to immigration now has him as lead defendant in a federal civil rights trial.

Her two kids, also undocumented, spent several nights in jail as a result of their very public protest. Ramirez sees the bus ride as part of the same strategy—to bring attention to a population that is all around us and at the same time invisible.

“We should be seen with respect, and treated with dignity,” Ramirez told me. “Just because we don’t have documents doesn’t mean we don’t have rights.”

I wondered at the reception the bus has gotten. Perhaps by design, contact with the world is generally limited to host communities in each city. Still, these people are now out there, literally and figuratively, so the potential for adventures is in theory around every corner.

“We have gotten looks, and some comments, along the way,” said Tania Unzueta, a spokeswoman who is along for the ride. It is pretty tepid stuff. Someone in a car offered something rude. On the other side of the equation, some people offered raised fists in solidarity.

Ramirez had never ventured from Phoenix. Not having papers, somewhat paradoxically, roots you in place. The bus has broadened her vistas, in many ways. And she says she is the better for it.

“Each state is like being in our own house,” she told me.

No doubt that reflects the reception she and the others are getting from immigration rights groups. But the way she said it resonated in another way. People who live in the shadows are now everywhere, and so everywhere to some extent is home to them.

Even when you’re on a bus, rolling east,  in the sunlight of a southern summer.

Analyst Files Suit Against DHS for Unwarranted Detention (INDIAWEST)

Analyst Files Suit Against DHS for Unwarranted Detention

Sunita Sohrabji


An Indian American computer analyst, who has been a U.S. citizen since his parents adopted him as a newborn from a Kolkata, India orphanage, filed suit against several federal agencies July 3 for branding him deportable.

James Aziz Makowski, 25, is the first U.S. citizen to challenge the Secure Communities program, which allows federal agencies to exchange information with the aim of finding serious undocumented criminals and deporting them. Civil rights activists have long opposed S-Comm, as the program is colloquially known, saying it violates the privacy rights of individuals. Makowski’s suit names U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, FBI director Robert Mueller, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement director John Morton, among others.

“I just want the U.S. government to put in safeguards to ensure that citizens and permanent residents are not subject to being detained for immigration issues,” Makowski told India-West in a telephone interview.

On July 7, 2010, Makowski was arrested for making and distributing heroin. When he was arrested, the Dupage, Ill., county sheriff’s department sent his fingerprints to the FBI for a background criminal check. Under the provisions of S-Comm, the FBI turned Makowski’s fingerprints over to ICE.

Mark Fleming, an attorney with the National Immigration Justice Center who is representing Makowski with Geoffrey Vance of McDermott Will and Emery, told India-West that Makowski had been naturalized through his parents shortly after arriving in the U.S., and held a U.S. passport and a certificate of naturalization.

But the DHS had not updated their records in 20 years, so that he appeared to be undocumented and deportable. ICE then put an immigration detainer on Makowski, the first step in deportation proceedings.

Makowski was never asked about his immigration status, said Fleming. “DHS is now starting to rely exclusively on electronic records, rather than interviewing individuals. They are not taking that extra step to ensure their information is correct,” he stated.

In December of that year, Makowski pleaded guilty to distributing heroin, a felony crime. He was sentenced to seven years, but given the option of an alternate sentence that would have allowed him to serve 120 days at a “boot camp.”

While being processed, however, Makowski – through his attorney – learned that he was ineligible for boot camp because of the immigration detainer. He spent the next two months in prison while his father tried to get him out.

“It was definitely the most unpleasant experience of my life. I was very depressed. Nobody seemed to care that I was a U.S. citizen,” said Makowski.

Since his release, Makowski – who sold heroin to support his cocaine habit – has gone through drug rehabilitation and is clean and sober and employed. The Robert Morris University graduate said he started experimenting with drugs while in college, but soon found himself addicted.

While in jail, before he pleaded guilty, Makowski alleged he was questioned several times by FBI counterterrorism agents, who would ask him about his affiliation to India, and whether he had visited the country and if he sent money there. FBI agents also asked him if he attended mosques and what languages he knew besides English. The Indian American believes he was questioned because of his middle name – Aziz – which he has retained. He has never visited India nor been to a mosque.

Under S-Comm, any time an individual is arrested, his fingerprints are sent to the FBI, and then automatically to DHS to see whether there are grounds for immigration enforcement, Fleming explained, adding that S-Comm is the first step in a larger program known as the Next Generation Identification System, which he characterized as a “one-stop shop” for various law enforcement agencies, which could potentially bring in the IRS, the Social Security Administration and even child support agencies.

According to the lawsuit, the FBI in the past decade has sent 16 million fingerprints to ICE, of which 15 million belonged to U.S. citizens or legal residents.

Anoop Prasad, a staff attorney at the Asian Law Caucus in San Francisco, told India-West that S-Comm was initiated as a program to root out people who pose a threat to society. But S-Comm has cast a wide net and is detaining people who should not be deported.

“S-Comm does not have safeguards to protect U.S. citizens or people who have committed low-level offenses or no offenses at all,” he stated.

The program is particularly problematic to victims of a violent crime or domestic violence, said Prasad, noting that those who call the police are also checked against federal databases.

“S-Comm has turned the entire country into Arizona,” stated Prasad, referring to controversial measure SB 1070, which requires local law enforcement to demand documentation from those they believe to be undocumented. “Anyone who’s arrested is potentially deportable,” he stated.

The California state Legislature is considering the TRUST Act, which would override S-Comm. The bill passed the Senate earlier this month, and is now in the State Assembly, which passed a weaker version of the bill last year. California Governor Jerry Brown has remained mum on the bill, said Prasad.

Protest at New Orleans Sheriff’s Office (Youtube)

Protest at New Orleans Sheriff’s Office


The Sheriff of Orleans Parish has collaborated with ICE to detain people in his jails for extra time at immigration enforcement’s request. The ride for justice joined a demonstration with New Orleans women like Delmy who have been in his jails and are organizing to defend their civil rights and to keep their families together. They met with Sheriff Gusman’s wife and demanded the Sheriff reject ICE hold requests when they ask him to detain people for extra time.


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.

New Developments in S-Comm and Next Generation Identification

New Developments in Secure Communities and the Next Generation Identification Initiative

Advocates Confront FBI about its Role in Massive Deportation Program

In June, advocates traveled to Buffalo, New York to confront the FBI about its role in the Secure Communities deportation Program. Representatives from the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, the Criminal Defense Immigration Project of the New York State Defenders Association, and the Cardozo Immigration Justice Clinic, and NYU doctoral candidate Travis Hall attended the semi-annual meeting of the FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Services Advisory Policy Board (APB) and presented to the group about the negative impacts of S-Comm on public safety, community policing, and privacy. They also obtained updates on developments in Secure Communities and the Next Generation Identification initiative, of which S-Comm is one part.

Today, advocates released a factsheet highlighting key new developments. and the meeting materials are available as PDFs in three parts: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3.

An analysis from the Electronic Frontier Foundation of the privacy concerns raised by these new developments will be available shortly as well.

The APB advises the FBI on how to manage the FBI’s civil and criminal databases. It was the APB that first decided to make Secure Communities a mandatory program. But the APB made this decision without considering any of the public safety and privacy issues that have made S-Comm so controversial. At the June meeting, advocates forced those issues onto the agenda.

The next APB meeting is scheduled for December, in a location to be determined. For more information, or to get involved, contact jkarp at