Friday, February 27, 2009

It's Been a Busy Week on Immigration

Hey everyone!

There is a lot to update you on today and so that all these posts don't just get lost in cyberspace, I'm creating a content-guide post here to help you along the way.

President Obama Releases Top Line Budget Numbers for FY2010

Yesterday, President Obama released his top line budget numbers for fiscal year 2010.

While it's too early to offer a full analysis of how these figures will be allocated to individual programs/agencies that affect immigration, this is what we know as of now:

  • The overall budget request by the president for the Department of Homeland Security's discretionary spending is $42.7 billion. This is a 6.4% increase over last year's $40.1 billion appropriation.
  • Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) will receive $1.4 billion for programs that focus on apprehending and deporting criminal aliens. It is not clear yet how this figure plays into ICE's overall discretionary spending. I will be watching these numbers, in particular, closely over the next couple of weeks to see how ICE funds are being allocated.
  • Customs and Border Patrol will receive $368 million within their existing funds to support 20,000 Border Patrol agents
  • The budget also includes $110 million to continue the expansion of the (problematic) E-Verify program.
The Department of Homeland Security's Funding Highlights report also states that "the Budget... supports strengthening the delivery of immigration services by streamlining and modernizing immigration application processes." However, the budget does not include a number of how much money will be dedicated to this process.

So, as I said, it's too early to make many judgments, comparisons, or analyzes with these numbers. But as I get more information, I will let you know.

Congresswoman Roybal-Allard Introduces Legislation to Ensure the Humane Treatment of Immigrant Detainees

Yesterday, Congresswoman Roybal-Allard introduced the Immigration Oversight and Fairness Act of 2009 (H.R. 1215) which works to "better ensure immigrant detainees receive fair and humane treatment while in detention."

This bill comes in response to the numerous deaths and cases of abuse in immigrant detention centers that have garnered media attention in recent months. These cases are not isolated however; in fact, over 80 people have died while in DHS detention during a five-year period beginning in 2003. A large portion of these deaths, it appears, could have been avoided if adequate and timely medical attention had been provided.

Although the federal government established immigration detention standards in 2000, these standards are not enforceable by law and not consistently implemented. The Immigration Oversight and Fairness Act seeks to correct the failure to provide safe and humane conditions by setting binding, clear, and enforceable detention standards.

In particular, the Immigration Oversight and Fairness Act:
  • Improves detainees' access to telephones and medical care, including treatment for survivors of sexual abuse
  • Improves mental health care standards, which are critical for persons who have suffered persecution, torture, or other trauma
  • Promotes alternatives to detention which enable detainees to be released on their own recognizance, bond, or other non-custodial supervision programs
  • Provides protections for unaccompanied children taken into DHS custody
While providing water and food to children who are sometimes held for 72 hours or more at the border seems like common sense, reports show that children on the border are often held in deplorable conditions.

FCNL supports this effort by Congresswoman Roybal-Allard to implement clear and binding standards for the detention of immigrants. We have joined other national, regional, and local faith-based organizations in writing a letter of support for this bill. To view the letter, click HERE.

To read the full text of the Immigration Oversight and Fairness Act of 2009, click HERE.

Cocktails and Criticism: Deepak Bhargava--Executive Director of the Center for Community Change--Responds to the Bellingham Raid

Yesterday, Deepak Bhargava wrote a moving response to the Bellingham raid on the Center for Community Change's blog.

Bhargava wrote first of his opportunity to meet with President Obama last week during a cocktail reception for progressive leaders at the Whitehouse. He was pleased at that time with the response he received from Obama regarding comprehensive immigration reform.

Like most of us, however, he was disappointed when he received a call 10 pm on Tuesday night--just as Obama's address to the nation was finishing--that the first worksite raid under the Obama administration had taken place.

And also like most of us, he was pleased by the quick response of Secretary Napolitano and the Whitehouse to call for an investigation of the raid and publicly state that such enforcement tactics are not the Obama administration's immigration strategy.

What I would most like to point to you all, however, is the part of the blog where Bhargava asks "What lessons might we draw from this whole experience?"

He responds:

First, we are not agents of the Obama Administration – or any other politician. Our highest commitment as progressives is to the most vulnerable people in our society, and being progressive means nothing at all if it doesn’t mean standing up for and with them. Second, we shouldn’t expect to get change that we don’t help to make happen. To paraphrase Frederick Douglas, there is not progress without agitation. Third, if we take the view that the Administration is potentially an ally – rather than reflexively assuming bad intent -- and we are clear and specific about what we want to see happen, we can in fact make real progress by working together. I am heartened by what this Administration has gotten done for low-income people in an incredibly short period of time through the recovery bill and SCHIP legislation – and the speed of their response to our concerns about this tragic raid further confirms their sincere commitment to change.

I am also heartened that the President is leading a national conversation on shared responsibility and shared sacrifice – two critical elements of the community values that are at the center of all the work to which we community organizers are passionately committed.

So, maybe cocktails and criticism – in the context of a respectful and real relationship that grows and develops over time — can go together and deliver results.

I think these are important lessons for us all to consider as we move forward in our work for a more just and equitable society. The campaign is over and now it is time for us to create the change that we believe in.

More Posts on the Bellingham Raid

Congressional Hispanic Caucus Hopeful After Meeting with Napolitano

After a meeting with DHS Secretary Napolitano, The Hill reports that Hispanic lawmakers are hopeful that she will end workplace raids by Immigration and Customs Enfocrement (ICE).

Yesterday, members of the Congressional Hispanic Congress (CHC) held a closed door meeting with Secretary Napolitano. According to members of the CHC, she raised the issue of the Bellingham riad on her own accord and said that she had "grave concerns" over what happened.

Congressman and CHC Immigration Task Force Chairman Luis Gutierrez said the meeting was "very, very constructive. We’re happy....We shared with her our concerns about the raid. She shared with us that she had grave concerns about the manner in which it was carried out and that it’s under evaluation. I think the most important words were that she had ‘grave concerns.'"

The CHC is made up of Hispanic members of Congress who work to advance national and international issues that have an impact on policies related to the Hispanic community. The CHC pushes for comprehensive immigration reform and, right now, they are also focused on scaling back intimidating and agressive enforcement tactics impletmented under the Bush administration.

More Posts on the Bellingham Raid

Thursday, February 26, 2009

*UPDATE* The Whitehouse and Department of Homeland Security Respond to the Bellingham Raid

While testifying before Congress yesterday, Secretary Napolitano vowed that she would "get to the bottom" of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raid in Bellingham, Washington. As the Washington Times reported, a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) official stated that "the secretary is not happy and this is not her policy."

In further developments, Whitehouse spokesman Nick Shapiro told the Washington Times that "these raids are not a long term solution." I was also pleased to hear him say that "The president believes we must respect due process and our best values as we enforce the law. The real answer to our broken immigration system is to fix it. The president has said that we will start the immigration reform debate this year, and this continues to be the plan."

This is one of the first statements from the Whitehouse signaling that they plan to follow through with their campaign promise of pursuing comprehensive immigration reform during the first year in office.

It appears that Obama does still get it. But we need to make sure that his "getting it" turns into actual policy.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

While the President Addressed the Nation

Last night President Obama addressed the joint chambers of Congress laying out his administration's priorities for the next year. The entire speech focused on the economy, but emphasized energy, healthcare, and education as the top three areas of focus--all issues that I strongly support.

I was disappointed, however, that President Obama failed to mention immigration even once during his address.

I was even more disappointed that on a day when he calls for the U.S. to take responsibility for its future once more, for its people to join in rebuilding their country, the first worksite raid of the Obama administration took place in Bellingham, Washington.

In their usual militarized and heavy-handed fashion (including the helicopter), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents raided Yamato Engine Specialists arresting 28 undocumented immigrants from Mexico and Central America.

As it appears now, they are attempting to charge these individuals with identity fraud, which--unlike "unlawful presence" or "entry without inspection" --is a criminal offense. This is the same tactic ICE piloted in Postville, Iowa last summer, a tactic that's legality is currently being reviewed by the U.S Supreme Court.

But the first worksite raid of the Obama administration is especially disappointing given that during the campaign last summer Obama said:

"When communities are terrorized by ICE immigration raids, when nursing mothers are torn from their babies, when children come home from school to find their parents missing, when people are detained without access to legal counsel, when all that is happening, the system just isn’t working, and we need to change it."

At that moment back in July, he seemed to get it. Yet the raid that took place yesterday was no different, three mothers with young children were among those arrested.

And I can't say that Obama doesn't get it now. As I posted last week, when he was on the radio show El Piolín por la mañana, Obama clearly spoke of the need for immigration reform precisely in light of the current state of the economy.

I think he does get it. But as his address to the nation last night showed, it is not currently a priority of the Obama administration. This is problematic for two reasons:
  1. Without reform, raids like that the one that took place yesterday in Bellingham will continue to terrorize our communities, tearing mothers from their children, separating families, placing hardworking members of our communities in detention centers with inadequate standards, and even placing further strain on local economies.
  2. By not prioritizing humane immigration reform, immigration will continue to be a divisive issue used to derail critical initiatives of the administration like healthcare and education.
As we've seen in congressional debates over SCHIP and the Recovery Act, immigration has been an issue which almost causes their failure. What will happen in a debate over universal healthcare if we have not already rectified the status of undocumented immigratants? What about education when hardline anti-immigrant advocates say they don't want money going to schools if it will fund ESL programs?

How will we move forward in what is best for our country without finding a way to include and recognize core members of our communities?

I wish Obama would answer that. Even President Bush left the Whitehouse saying one of his biggest regrets was that he did not push for immigration reform first, before social security reform. I don't want the Obama administration to leave with such regrets. I want change.

But I can say that I am left hopeful by the continued and growing efforts of communities around the country to speak out on the issue of immigration. As we saw last week, over 150 communities nationwide held prayer vigils calling for Congress to act on humane immigration reform. And in April, another national grassroots effort will take place in the form of "Neighbor-to-Neighbor" in-district visits with Congresspeople.

May theirs be the winds of change that move us forward.

Congratulations, Secretary Solis!

I am pleased to say that the Senate finally confirmed Congresswoman Hilda Solis as Secretary of Labor!

Her confirmation had previously been postponed due to partisan bickering and a review of her husband's taxes. But the Senate continued with her hearing yesterday and came out with a positive vote.

This is great news for our communities. As Frank Sherry, the director of America's Voice said:

"Secretary Solis understands how our dysfunctional immigration system leads to worker exploitation. When millions of undocumented workers are without the protection of the law, it encourages unscrupulous employers to undercut the wages and working conditions of all workers. These bad actor employers also undercut honest competitors who do play fair. Strong labor law enforcement combined with immigration reform that brings undocumented workers out of the shadows will restore the rule of law to both the labor market and the immigration system. We look forward to working with Secretary Solis and other members of the Obama Administration to make this goal a reality in the coming year."

Congratulations, Secretary Solis!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Update: More prayer vigils took place last weekend

Even more communities held prayer vigils last weekend as part of the Interfaith Immigration Coalition's campaign "Prayer, Renewal, and Action on Immigration." They called for the protection of immigrants, empowerment of the faith community, and moral courage for Congress to take action on immigration reform.

These vigils attracted significant media attention which I've added to my prior post on the prayer vigils here. I especially encourage you all to check out the TV clips, as they demonstrate the hope and determination of people of faith to overcome racism and xenophobia in their communities and our country.

abUSed: The Postville Raid

"...the desperate need for immigration reform needs a face, and that face might well be in Postville, Iowa."
~One of the many articles written about Postville

On May 12, 2008, Postville, Iowa experienced one of the most heavily armed and militarized immigration raids in U.S. history. 389 undocumented meatpacking workers were arrested and chained while working at Agriprocessors, Inc by 900 armed Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents.

In less than 4 days, over 3/4 of those arrested were fast-tracked through the U.S. legal system where, as one of the certified interpreters brought in to translate these cases testified, "defendants whose words he translated...did not understand the criminal charges they were facing or the rights most of them had waived." The defendants were allowed little time with their legal counsel--if any--and many did not understand why they were in criminal court.

Unlike previous raids were ICE apprehended undocumented immigrants to be deported, in Postville they were trying a new tactic: charging as many people as they could with criminal offenses. They then used these criminal charges--many of which carried a mandatory two-year sentencing--to persuade people to plead guilty to lesser immigration charges, spend 5 months in detention, and deportation.

While the legality of this ICE tactic is currently be reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court, the devastation the Postville raid has had on the community is still evident. Families have become dependent on churches and other social services for food and shelter. The economy is tanking. U.S. citizen children are left in the foster care system or exiled to a country they have never seen. Restaurants who served the Agriprocessors workers have been forced to shut down. The company itself cut the jobs of even more workers and filed bankruptcy.

As I heard many faith groups and individuals who went to Postville to offer humanitarian relief after the raids say, the Postville raid created a natural disaster zone, only it was manmade.

abUSED: The Postville Raid is a documentary by acclaimed director Luis Argueta capturing the stories and effects of the Postville Raid. Even this short, 8 minute trailer gives a face to current, unjust enforcement practices and the dire need for comprehensive immigration reform in our country.

I encourage everyone to watch it and use the full documentary once it comes out as a educational tool for your communities.

For more information on the continued devastation in Postville, see this Times article that I included in my February 2nd news update.

Last Week: In Our Community

Immigration news and updates from February 16th- Monday February 23rd.

There was a lot of interesting coverage last week (not even including all of the great media coverage the Interfaith Immigration Coalition's prayer vigils received!), so I'll highlight a few articles with annotations up top, and then just include a list of links after that.

TRAILER- AbUSed: The Postville Raid
While I'm going to create a separate post on this later today, I figured I'd go ahead and link to the trailer for a new documentary coming out about the immigration raid at Agriprocessors, Inc. in Postville, IA last year. This trailer is extremely powerful (I look forward to seeing the documentary in full) and demonstrates the continued devastation facing the community of Postville emotionally, economically, and spiritually.

NYT Editorial: Enforcement Gone Bad

This NY Times editorial outlines the failures of the federal government's enforcement-only immigration strategy.

NY Times: In Lonliness, Immigrants Tend the Flock
This heartfelt article discusses the work of (legal) temporary migrant workers who come to the US to work as sheepherders in the U.S.-American West. The article notes how, in particular, the "harsh, solitary lives of foreign sheepherders in the American West have remained virtually unchanged for more than a century. And government oversight of their circumstances remains piecemeal."

Immigrant Removed During Church Service Near Conroe, Jailed
This article tells the story of Jose Juan Hernandez who was arrested for re-entering the country after deportation while sitting in a church santurary during a church service near Conroe, TX. Hernandez had no prior record of violence. The arrest inside the church caused great controversy in the community, many of whom felt ICE's tactics violated sacred worship.

THE HILL: Immigration Reform Advocates Push Forward in Tough Economy
This article discusses the continued push for comprehensive immigration reform in the coming year. The article provides a nice overview of the political climate on the Hill around immigration given the current state of the economy, unemployment, etc.

Conflicting Accounts of an ICE Raid in MD: Officers Portray Detention of 24 Latinos Differently in Internal Probe and in Court
This Washington Post article discusses the controversial arrests of 24 Latino men at a 7/11 in MD over two years ago. The arrests were caught on security camera footage and the footage was then obtained by the Washington Post. The footage demonstrates how ICE agents tended towards random sweeps for undocumented immigrants--which perpetuated racial profiling--rather than focusing on their stated goal of apprehending fugitive criminals.

100,000-plus Citizen Children Find Parents Deported: Serrano Releases DHS Study Showing Families Being Torn Apart
Congressman José Serrano released a study last week which he commissioned from the Department of Homeland Security showing that DHS has deported more than 100,000 parents of U.S. citizen children. DHS also admitted that this number could be higher if their records were more accurate. In response, Congressman Serrano has re-introduced the Child Citizen Protection Act which would take allow the courts to take family unity into account when considering the cases of parents with U.S. citizen children. For further coverage, see this Associated Press article.

Helping Workers in Hard Times
This NY Times editorial does a great job at linking protection of labor rights to undocumented immigration. Pointing out that undocumented immigrants most often fill the "most dangerous, dirty, and low-paying jobs," the editorial argues that the best strategy to combat undocumented migration and protect U.S. workers is to "fight back against abuses that make wages and job conditions worse for everyone."

Now for the list:

LA Times: Illegal Immigration Case Stemming from Van Nuys Work Site Raid Is Dismissed: ICE agents violated regulations in 2008 raid, judge says in ruling that could affect dozens of other cases

Washington Post: ICE Halts Detentions at Piedmont Facility After Death

Chicago Tribune: Law Allows Religious Workers More Time With Jailed Immigrants

NPR: Napolitano Outlines Immigration Priorities

Politico: Rahm's Immigration Turnabout

NY Times: U.S. Military Will Offer Path to Citizenship

Associated Press: Supreme Court Hears Immigrant's ID Theft Case

Texas Observer- Access Denied: Countless women are sexually assaulted as they attempt to immigrate into the United States. What happens to their reproductive rights when they wind up in U.S. custody?

Brownsville Herald: America's Immigration Gulags Overflowing With Mentally Ill Prisoners

Guardian- America's 'Toughest Sheriff' Faces Lawsuit Over Crime Crackdown: Call for Investigation into Alleged Anti-Hispanic Sweeps

Omaha World-Herald: Mom Worries as Woman Faces Deportation

NY Times: Facing Graduation, Not Deportation

Associated Press: In Enforcement Era, Communities Prepare for Raids

Friday, February 20, 2009

Prayer, Renewal, Action

Throughout this week, over 150 communities nationwide have joined together to pray for humane immigration reform in the 111th Congress.

In a campaign sponsored by the Interfaith Immigration Coalition (of which we--FCNL--are members), participants in these vigils are calling for:
1. Protection for immigrants and their families
2. Empowerment of the faith community to advocate on behalf of immigrants
3. Moral courage for Congress to take the necessary leadership to see that humane comprehensive immigration reform is passed


As my colleague with the United Methodist Church, Bill Mefford, said: "This tremendous response by people of faith is due to seeing the devastation of raids on immigrant families and local communities and the need for Congress to have the moral courage to enact just and humane comprehensive immigration reform."

Bishop Carcaño, who was in town last week for the Interfaith Immigration Coalition's press conference launching the Interfaith Platform on Humane Immigration Reform, followed by saying that "prayer is a powerful, fundamental aspect of our faith. When nothing else has changed hearts and changed minds in the past, prayer has been that changing factor. I believe in the power of prayer."

And seeing the impact and coverage these vigils have brought to the issue of comprehensive immigration reform in the last week, I'd be inclined to believe her. Not even 3/4 of the vigils have taken place, but here is a hint at what sort of impact they're having:

TV Coverage
**Please note: These links will only be live for 30 days, so check them out now while you can!**

News 2 This Morning Nashville, TN [Updated 2/26/2009]

Fox 2 News at 5 PM St. Louis, MO [Updated 2/26/2009]

KWWL News at Noon Cedar Rapids/Postvile, IA [Updated 2/26/2009]
Today in Iowa Cedar Rapids/Postvile, IA [Updated 2/26/2009]
KWWL News at Ten Cedar Rapids/Postvile, IA [Updated 2/26/2009]
CBS 2 News at 5 Cedar Rapids/Postvile, IA [Updated 2/26/2009]
KCRG TV9 News at Midday Cedar Rapids/Postvile, IA [Updated 2/26/2009]

Good Morning Washington Washington, DC [Updated 2/26/2009]
Eyewitness News Morning Edition Baltimore, MD [Updated 2/26/2009]
Good Morning Washington at 5:00 Washington, DC [Updated 2/26/2009]

Good Morning Arizona 6 AM Tuscon, AZ [Updated 2/26/2009]
Good Morning Arizona 5 AM Tuscon, AZ [Updated 2/26/2009]
Tuscon Tuscon Today at 5:30 AM Tuscon, AZ [Updated 2/26/2009]

Fox 4 at 6 pm Kansas City, MO [Updated 2/26/2009]
NBC Action News Midday Kansas City, MO [Updated 2/26/2009]
NBC Action News Today at 5:30 A.M. Kansas City, MO [Updated 2/26/2009]
Fox 4 at 9 pm Kansas City, MO
Fox 4 at 12 Noon Kansas City, MO

Good Morning Arizona Phoenix, AZ [Updated 2/23/2009]
ABC15 News at 5 am Phoenix, AZ [Updated 2/23/2009]
12 News at 10 pm Phoenix, AZ [Updated 2/23/2009]
ABC 15 News at 10 pm Phoenix, AZ [Updated 2/23/2009]
3 TV News at 9 Sunday Phoenix, AZ [Updated 2/23/2009]

News 10 NBC Today Rochester, NY
News 10 NBC Today at Eleven Rochester, NY

NBC 17 News at 6 Raleigh- Durnam, NC
ABC 11 Eyewitness News at 5 Raleigh-Durnam, NC
WRAL TV News at Noon Raleigh-Durnam, NC
ABC 11 Eyewitness News at Noon Raleigh-Durnam, NC

News 8 Update Dallas, TX

Channel 2 Action News Atlanta, GA
CBS Atlanta News at 11 Atlanta, GA

News Coverage
Newsday: Prayer Vigil Focuses on Immigration Reform [Updated 2/23/2009]

Ashville Citizen Times: Immigration Vigil Focuses on Reform
[Updated 2/23/2009]

Jackson Clarion Ledger: Immigration Prayer Vigil Set for Carthage
[Updated 2/23/2009]

Waterloo Courier- A Prayer from Postville: Vigil Urges Reform of Immigration Laws
[Updated 2/23/2009]

Iowa Independent: Calls for Immigration Reform Continue in Postville [Updated 2/23/2009]

Decorah Journal: Renewed Hope [Updated 2/23/2009]

Bradenton Herald: Church to Hold Vigil for Migrants [Updated 2/23/2009]

Waco Tribune: Local News Briefs [Updated 2/23/2009]

El Diario La Prensa: Oran por reforma migratoria [Updated 2/23/2009]

Dallas Morning News: From Dallas church, people pray for ‘humane and just’ immigration reform

Idaho Press Tribune: Vigil will focus on immigration

Aurora Sentinel: Faith calls together crowd for immigration vigil

Rochester Democrat and Chronicle: Interfaith church vigil calls for immigration reform

WHEC News: Immigration reform prayer service

ABC 11 News: Immigration supporters pray for change

North Carolina News Network: Prayer For An End To Immigration Raids

Raleigh News & Observer: Prayer vigil focuses on immigration

WRAL News: Raleigh joins national vigil for immigration reform

Omaha World Herald: Bishops take on immigrant policies

Virginian Pilot: Religious group to host immigration talk in Va. Beach

Alter Net: Religious Leaders Help Shape Immigration Debate

Christian Post: Faith Leaders Re-Ignite Immigration Debate

The Hill: Immigration reform advocates push forward in tough economy

Decorah Journal: Postville prayer vigil Thursday

MSNBC: Immigration reform prayer service

Jersey Journal: Immigration vigil tonight

Catholic News Agency: Nebraska bishops use input from laity to tackle immigration reform

Columbus Telegram: Bishops urge care with immigrants

Cary News: Cary immigration reform group holds training session

Great Falls Tribune: Immigration bill targets illegal workers

San Diego Union Tribune: Bilingual workshop set to help with immigration

Annapolis Capital: Immigrants march to protest Va. county’s policies

Thursday, February 19, 2009

More Reports Conclude That Enforcement Is "Missing Its Mark"

As Immigration Impact recently blogged, new reports by the University of North Carolina/North Carolina ACLU and the Pew Hispanic Center further confirm what we reported last week: immigration enforcement is missing its mark.

The University of North Carolina/North Carolina ACLU report, "The Policies and Politics of Local Immigration Enforcement Laws: 287(g) Program in North Carolina," analyzes the partnership between Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and local law enforcement, a partnership that is known as the 287(g) program.

The 287(g) program is essentially a law that grants local police and sheriffs to act as immigration officers when faced with "dangerous fugitive aliens." But what long term observation by the UNC/ACLU of NC law team shows is that this program "has instead created a climate of racial profiling and community insecurity."

Similarly, the new report by the Pew Hispanic Center, "A Rising Share: Hispanics and Federal Crime" demonstrates that enforcement measures like raids, detention, and deportation are placing a significant burden on the federal court system.

As the report points out, most immigration violations like "unlawful presence" or "entry without inspection" are civil--not criminal--infractions. However, all immigration matters are managed in federal courts.

The result is that the steep increase in immigration enforcement in recent years has flooded the federal court system with individuals who are non-violent and pose absolutely no threat to community safety. In turn, this has taken time and resources away from prosecuting those individuals who are actually criminals.

With all these reports coming out, you'd hope that DHS and the new administration might get the picture: Enforcement-only does not work. It hurts our communities.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Obamas Talk Immigration

Over the past few days, both of the Obamas--Barack and Michelle--have had something to say about immigration.

On Tuesday, President Obama interviewed with El Piolín, or Eddie Sotelo, the popular radio host of El Piolín por la mañana (which is THE top ranking radio show in Los Angeles--regardless of language--and its 50 syndicated markets).

Prior to that, Michelle responded to questions about immigration when she participated in a roundtable at the Mary's Center Teen Program.

President Obama's telephone appearance made a number of important statements (literal and political) about immigration and, in general, to the Spanish-speaking community:
  1. Obama is keeping his promise to the Latino and Spanish-speaking community by reaching out and making sure that the community stays involved and has access to the Whitehouse
  2. Obama's response to El Piolín's questions demonstrated his understanding that--as studies have shown--Latinos are being disproportionately affected in the current economic crisis.
  3. Obama spoke directly about the need for immigration reform when he said:
"Well, as I've said every time I've been on the show, Piolín, we're going to make sure that we begin the process of dealing with the immigration system that's broken. We're going to start by really trying to work on how to improve the current system so that people who want to be naturalized, who want to become citizens, like you did, that they are able to do it; that it's cheaper, that it's faster, that they have an easier time in terms of sponsoring family members.

And then we've got to have comprehensive immigration reform. Now, you know, we need to get started working on it now. It's going to take some time to move that forward, but I'm very committed to making it happen. And we're going to be convening leadership on this issue so that we can start getting that legislation drawn up over the next several months."

Then, when Michelle visited the Mary's Center Teen Program last week, one of her host asked her what she thought her husband and the new administration could do about the issue of family separation, that is, families being split up because one or both of the parents are deported.

She responded: "Well I think that's something that the President has talked a lot about, in terms of immigration reform, which has to be tackled at some point, is keeping families together. So that definitely has to be a part of the conversation when we talk about any kind of immigration reform. And I think some of it is creating awareness through your own stories about, you know, the challenges that you're facing, and, you know, what happens when you've got a parent who's in one place and a parent in another, and kids who are here learning and contributing, and how important it is to make sure we keep families together. "

Michelle also praised the passage and signing of SCHIP, a program which provides health insurance to children and last month was extended to cover legal immigrant children and pregnant women.

I think these interviews indicate that the Obamas know the effects our broken immigration system is having on our communities. And they believe in a community response to these effects rather than defering to hate and fear.

But, as Michelle said, we also have to do our part by creating awareness of what is going on and building the political space for President Obama to bring immigration reform to the forefront of U.S. politics.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Last Week: In Our Community

Immigration news and updates from Monday February 9th-Monday February 16th.

VIDEO: President Obama Talks About Immigration with Univision
This video shows Univision's coverage from their interview with President Obama. The conversation discusses comprehensive immigration reform, legalization, and current enforcement practices like raids.

Political Economy of Immigration
This Border Lines blog post discusses the political economy of immigration as we enter into a new administration. In particular, the post distinguishes the politics of fear which have driven the immigration debate over the last few years from the realities of the current economy.

Bad Economy Forcing Immigrants to Reconsider U.S.
This CNN article discusses the effects the current economy is having on immigration and immigrants. With fewer jobs on the market, many immigrants are returning to their home countries; others are choosing to stick it out as their home countries have been hit even harder by the economic crisis.

Liberians Facing Mass Deportations from U.S.
On March 31st, thousands of Liberian refugees will face deportation as their Temporary Protected Status visa--which has provided many of these people with protected status in the United States for over 18 years--expires. Communities where there is a large Liberian population are questioning what will happen to their communities? To their businesses? And to the American-born children and family members that are left behind? Many Liberians fear going back to a country which drove them away in a bloody civil war and currently still faces mass unemployment.

NPR: Immigration Crackdown Overwhelms Judge
This NPR piece discusses the effects the current immigration crackdown has on the judicial system. Discussing issues from court backlogs, lack of testimony, and denied access to legal counsel, one immigration judge is quoted as saying, "For some people, these [sentences] are equivalent to death penalty cases, and we are conducting these cases in a traffic court setting."

Feds Return for Immigration Raid
This article discusses the arrest of Julia Morales, a local pentecostal pastor in New Haven-New York, who has lived in the U.S. for a quarter of a century. A leader in the community and a person without so much as a traffic ticket on her record, the community is fuming over her arrest.

Jailed Immigrants Buoy Budgets
This article discusses what among immigration advocates is known as the "migrant military complex;" that is to say, the industry developed around the detention of migrants. As this article discusses, both public and private facilities "aggressively try to market" themselves in order to get immigrant detainees in their facilities due to the price ICE pays per day per detainee. Meanwhile, there is increasing concern about the standards of immigrant detention.

AP: Immigrant Raids Often Mark Start of Years in Limbo
This Associated Press article discusses the years of hardship that is often sparked due to immigration raids. Backlogs in the courts, as well as no legal "speedy trial" requirements as exist in criminal courts, mean that immigrants often wait years to learn the status of their immigration cases. During this time, many are held in detention, but others who continue to live in their community are not lawfully able to work. This has placed a huge burden on communities, especially churches which provide services to immigrants and their families.

Use of Federal Database for ID Checks Hits Some Bumps

This USA Today article discusses a few of the many problems caused by E-Verify, including database discrepancies, employer discrimination, lack of transparency, and its inability to address identity fraud. A Wall Street Journal Editorial, "The Last Thing Employers Need: A Screening Program That Doesn't Work," discusses similar issues.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Just a FYI...

Since today is a holiday, my usual Monday post updating you all on last week's top news articles on immigration will take place TOMORROW, Tuesday February 17th.  

Friday, February 13, 2009

E-Verify Is Out!

As I posted last week, immigration and labor advocates have been working nonstop to track the stimulus package in the House, Senate, and Conference to make sure that participation in the E-Verify/Basic Pilot program is not made mandatory for people receiving stimulus funds (S. 1 or H.R. 1).

Our work paid off!

The conference report released this morning confirmed that we managed to keep E-Verify out of the stimulus package. Page 135 of the report reads:

"The conference agreement does not include the following provisions proposed by the House: requirements for timely award of grants, use it or lose it requirements for grantees; set-asides for management and oversight; as these issues have been addressed, in certain circumstances, within the appropriate appropriating paragraphs. In addition, the conference agreement does not include the following provision proposed by the House: requirements regarding funding for the State of Illinois; and requirements for participation in E-Verify."

Good work friends! And if our victories over SCHIP and the E-Verify say something about the future of immigration policy, things are looking good!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Interfaith Immigration Coalition Announces Campaign for Action on Immigration Reform

Today, my colleagues from the Interfaith Immigration Coalition and I held a press conference down at the Capitol officially announcing our Interfaith Platform on Humane Immigration Reform and our new campaign "Prayer, Renewal and Action on Immigration."

The press conference had an impressive list of speakers: Congressman Gutierrez, Congressman Honda, Sister Eileen Campbell (Sisters of Mercy), Bishop Minerva Carcaño (United Methodist Church), Rabbi David Ssaperstein (Reform Judaism), Jim Wallis (leading evangelical voice, President and CEO of Sojourners), and John Crestwell (Unitarian Universalist). And while I expected the conference to be good, I didn't expect to be quite as moved by what people said.

First, Congressman Gutierrez gave an impassioned speech about the need for comprehensive immigration reform, speaking specifically about family unity. He said, "Respecting family values should be fundmental to our nation's laws, but instead, across America families are torn apart by a system that values quotas over parents and their children or husbands or wives."

Then, Congressman Honda talked about the legacy of the Japanese internment camps and how our current system reflects a racial profiling that we had once sworn "never again" to.

The faith leaders then spoke about peoples of faith call to welcome the stranger and love our neighbor as ourself. Some highlights from the press release are:

"The often politicized and divisive debate around immigration calls for a deeper dialogue shaped by our best religious values of compassion, mercy, justice, and tolerance...The faith community has a clear responsibility in leading this conversation and helping those who are most vulnerable due to their immigration status."
~ Reverent Jim Wallis

"Our nation's soul is at risk. Families are being torn apart. Human rights are being denied. Comprehensive immigration reform is needed now. We recognize an urgent duty and challenge to stand in solidarity with immigrants, refugees, and trafficked persons seeking fullness of life, and to act as a voice for those whose needs get lost in the political debate."
~ Sister Eileen Campbell

"We read in the Torah more frequently than any other commandment that we should love the stranger as ourselves, love our neighbor as ourselves. Leviticus says, 'The strangers who sojourn with you shall be to you as the natives among you, and you shall love them as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.' And who was the ger or the ger toshav, which we interpret as 'the stranger'? It was the resident alien, the person who came to Israel, lived in Israel, worked and participated in the life of Israel, but did not convert to Judaism. Is that not exactly the status of the immigrant in America today?"
~Rabbi David Saperstein

"As the suffering of immigrants and their families grows every day, we as people of faith long to bring healing to them and this land. As with people of all faiths, United Methodists stand with our immigrant brothers and sisters. Immigration reform that is just and humane is the only way to bring healing to our land."
~Bishop Minerva Cacaño

"When we move toward a day where our words and deeds embrace instead of erase we will witness Beloved Community. Immigration legislation must be humane and written in light of our common humanity. We are interconnected and interrelated."
~John Crestwell

Then finally, in response to a question asked about whether or not we believed we had the political clout to bring about immigration reform in the first year, Jim Wallis replied: "At the end of his campaign Obama said that now we must create the winds of change that will push him along. But winds of change are already blowing in the faith community with regards to immigration. We are clearing the way."

Monday, February 9, 2009

A Story from the Community: An Iowa Perspective on Immigrant Workers

By Deborah Fink, a member of Iowa Yearly Meeting. She serves on FCNL's General Committee.

AMES, IA- I have experience with rural immigrant workers in Iowa. In 1992, I worked undercover in an IBP pork processing plant in rural Iowa. IBP was one of the notorious union-breaking outlaws that restructured the meatpacking industry in the 1980s primarily. Now it has been taken over by Tyson. When I worked in the plant, there were about 40% Anglos, 40% Latinos, and 20% Asians and Blacks combined. Since then it has gone to almost completely immigrant workers. I was instrumental in starting up the immigrant workers program in the North Central Region of AFSC in 1993. In 1998, I published a book called Cutting Into the Meatpacking Line about the changes in the lives of Midwestern rural workers.

When I was working in the plant, we got paid on Thursdays. On Thursday evening, my coworkers – many of them Mexicans – would go out and buy Iowa lottery tickets. I gave them a hard time about this: the odds are against you when you play the lottery, you are throwing away your money.

Not so, my Mexican friends replied.

For $5 a week, they could buy the hope of being able to return to live in Mexico. Without hope they could not get themselves to the grimy plant each morning.

They ached to return home.

My coworkers routinely sacrificed seniority to take a month or so to go back to Mexico and then return to the plant. This was expensive. For the undocumented, it was dangerous and there was always the possibility that they wouldn’t get back. They still wanted to go.

A Mexican co-worker told me this story. In Mexico, there was a tree that fell over a ditch or canal. People used it as a bridge, walking back and forth across the ditch. Then one day the tree righted itself and stood up straight. That was a miracle. In Mexico.

The Mexicans I worked with weren’t simple or gullible, but they maintained a mystical reverence for Mexico. If someone were sick, he or she would get better by going back to Mexico. The sun shines brighter there. There is color and music in Mexico. People are friendly and decent.

If there were any way they could live in Mexico, most of them would. I am convinced of that.

As important as uniting families in America is for those who want to stay, we must resist the ethnocentric assumption that everyone in the world wants to come to America. They don’t.
For Mexicans, living in Iowa is very hard in many, many ways.

The actions of the United States – going back for many years – have made life very difficult in Mexico. NAFTA is the tip of the iceberg. In my view, NAFTA is even something of a red herring. The larger story is much worse than NAFTA. It is outrageous that this story is not well known in the United States. I think that if American citizens did know this story they would be horrified.

I believe that ameliorative steps to lessen the suffering of Mexican immigrants are appropriate and should be done. Yet more important is going to the root of the “immigration problem” and looking at why so many Latinos are showing up in America to do our crappy, low-paying jobs.

Last Week: In Our Community

Immigration Priorities Questioned
As the Obama administration sets up shop, they have a lot of work to do re-examining the immigration policies set up by the Bush administration. This article outlines some of the areas that it will be most pertinent to review, including immigrant detention, workplace and residential raids, family separation, and other human rights abuses.

NEW! Report: The Nativist Lobby: Three Faces of Intolerance
This new report put out by the Southern Poverty Law Center, "The Nativist Lobby: Three Faces of Intolerance" outlines how three well-known DC based organizations--the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), and NumbersUSA--stand at the center of the American nativist movement. As it turns out, all three have white supremicist roots even though the first (FAIR) puts itself forward as an anti-immigrant lobbying group, the second (CIS) as an independent think tank, and the third (NumbersUSA) as a grassroots organizer. To read the full report, click here.

US Faces Challenges in the Protection of Unaccompanied Children
A recent report, "Halfway Home: Unaccompanied Children in Immigration Custody," put out by the Women's Refugee Commission has determined that while the conditions and care of unaccompanied immigrant children in detention has improved markedly over the last six years, the U.S. still has a long way to go. To read the full report, click here.

Target of Immigrant Raids Shifted
This NY Times article discusses how, without consulting Congress, Immigration and Customs Enforcement switched its focus from apprehending dangerous criminal and terrorist suspects to finding and deporting "ordinary status violators."

Books: Julia Alvarez embodies the human problems hidden in the politics>>Book gives voice to families caught up in immigration fights
Julia Alvarez's new young adult book, Return to Sender, relates the complexity of global migration, in particular undocumented migration into the United States, through the eyes of a child. Getting rid of the usual bitter and angry politics of the immigration debate, this story humanizes immigration without simplifying the issue.

As the Global Economy Sinks, Tensions Over Immigration Rise

This TIME article discusses how the current economic crisis has sparked further tensions over immigration. As the article indicates, even though migrants typically do not compete for the same jobs as the native population, the current unemployment rate can create a ficitonal friction between working populations.

Immigration raid spotlights rift among the have-nots: The competition for jobs during a recession pits have-nots against have-nots
This article discusses how the current recession has deepened divides between immigrant and minority communities in the United States, as well as enboldened the work of white supremecist groups like the KKK.

Friday, February 6, 2009

The Economic Stimulus: Boosting Our Economy or Hurting Workers?

As I write, advocates across DC are glued to CSPAN-2 watching the Senate debate over the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (S. 1).


Because we're waiting to see if an amendment offered by Senator Sessions that requires all recipients of stimulus funds to use the E-Verify/Basic Pilot Program will be voted upon today.

You may wonder why we're so concerned. Worker authorization and oversight makes sense when we're talking about a package that will pump over $800 billion into our economy, right?

Unfortunately, in this case, it's wrong. The E-Verify/Basic Pilot Program is known for being extremely flawed, as has been documented by three different House committees in five separate hearings.

The E-Verify program works by having employers enter the information of a recent hire into a an automated system where the social security number of the new employee is checked against the Social Security Administration's (SSA) database. The SSA then confirms whether the social security number matches or not.

However, the Social Security Administration has admitted that 17.8 million of its records contain errors or discrepancies related to name, date of birth, and citizenship status, with 12. 7 million of those errors pertaining to US citizens. That means that a HUGE number of workers will be wrongfully non-confirmed as having authorized work status.

And the amendment offered by Senator Sessions represents a MASSIVE expansion of the program, expansion by over 75%. It would require any entity--public or private--that receives stimulus funds to use the program. That means schools, hospitals, churches, social service organizations, transportation agencies, farms, and small businesses, many of which do not currently have the E-Verify/Basic Pilot Program.

So not only would it make more difficult for workers to get jobs, it would also delay the implementation of the stimulus as we waited for all of the entities receiving stimulus funds to both get and undergo training for the E-Verify program. It would also cost an additional $10 billion to implement it nation wide and in general increase the cost of doing business. And those negative effects don't even include the increased potential of employer abuse created by the program.

Overall, at a time when our economy needs a boost, we should not be trying to make flawed programs that hurt workers and business a mandatory part of our recovery package.

Want to learn more about FCNL's analysis of the recovery package? Click here.

Report: ICE Fugitives Operation Program is "Missing Its Enforcement Mark"

A new report released by the Migration Policy Institute (MPI), "Collateral Damage: An Examination of ICE's Fugitive Operation Programs," has found that 73% of the 97,000 people arrested under federal fugitive operations program are in fact non-criminal undocumented immigrants.

The National Fugitive Operations Program (NFOP) was established in 2003 by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to locate, apprehend, and remove dangerous fugitive aliens. NFOP's own website states that it will "give top priority to cases involving aliens who pose a threat to national security and community safety, including members of transnational street gangs, child sex offenders, and aliens with prior convictions for violent crimes."

And no immigration enforcement program has seen such a dramatic increase in funding or staffing than NFOP.

When the program was initiated in 2003, the Fugitive Operations Teams as they're called received only $9 million in the first fiscal year. By 2008, this number had soared to $218 million.

While NFOP has apprehended an estimated 97,000 people since its inception, the Fugitive Operations program has also been criticized for carrying out some of the most controversial immigration enforcement tactics, including sweeping residential raids and arrests.

MPI's findings that 73% of the program's arrests are of non-criminal immigrants, therefore, throw NFOP into an even more controversial light. Key findings include:
  • Nearly 3/4 of NFOP's arrests are NOT dangerous fugitives; rather, they are "status" violators whose civil offense is equal it little more than a traffic violation
  • The arrest of dangerous criminals has actually DECREASED throughout the tenure of the National Fugitive Operations Program
  • The implementation of a quota-system of NFOP arrests led to an increasing arrest of "ordinary status violators" as they are called by ICE
For me, at least, these findings raise numerous questions about how we should be spending our federal tax dollars and the effectiveness of enforcement only policies.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

House passes Deaths in Custody Reporting Act

Yesterday afternoon the House passed the Deaths in Custody Reporting Act (H.R. 738). The measure passed with a vote of 407-1.

The ease at which the bill went through the House came as a surprise to some, given the fierce objections that came out of the Senate debate last year.

Nonetheless, we should all be pleased with this vote. Very simply, the Deaths in Custody Reporting Act requires any local, state, or federal detention facility which receives federal funds--including those which house immigrant detainees--to report annually to the Department of Justice any death of a person in their custody.

This bill is especially pertinent given the recent attention immigrant detention facilities have received due to unnecessary and preventable deaths of immigrants in their custody.

An image speaks a thousand words

Here are some photos that Jack Kurtz captured yesterday of the immigrant detainees being marched to their new tent city prison in Maricopa County, AZ.

I think the images speak for themselves.

If you want to see the entire slideshow, click here.
Undocumented immigrant prisoners in the Durango Jail walk in chains and shackles to Tent City. Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio marched about 200 undocumented immigrants in the Durango Jail to Tent City where he will house the prisoners awaiting possible deportation.
Undocumented immigrant prisoners in the Durango Jail walk in chains and shackles to Tent City. Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio marched about 200 undocumented immigrants in the Durango Jail to Tent City where he will house the prisoners awaiting possible deportation.
Undocumented immigrant prisoners in the Durango Jail walk in chains and shackles to Tent City. Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio marched about 200 undocumented immigrants in the Durango Jail to Tent City where he will house the prisoners awaiting possible deportation.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Chain Gangs and Tent Cities: 21st Century America?

So I have to admit, when I hear the words "chain gangs" or "tent cities" the first images that pop into my head are, respectively, of the early 20th century deep South when racism was rampant and refugee camps of persons escaping war-torn countries.

I don't think "today," "21st Century America," or "Arizona."

But apparently I should.

Today, Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County, Arizona plans to place 220 immigrant detainees in a chain gang and march them to the tent city where they will now be housed. The tent city will then be surrounded by an electric fence which the sheriff jokes, the immigrants "won't want to scale."

He even issued a press release inviting the press to come and watch the spectacle:


Maricopa County Sheriff's Office
Deputy Lindsey Smith
Media Relations - M.C.S.O.
Office: 602-876-1802


Electric Fence to Minimize Escape Risk

(PHOENIX, AZ.) At 1:00 PM tomorrow, Wednesday, February 4, 2009, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio will order of approximately 200 illegal aliens to be chained and marched into a separate area of Tent City, their new place of incarceration until their sentences are served and the illegal aliens are deported to their home countries.

The move to Tent City frees up much needed space in the Sheriff's hard facilities serving as a management tool for potential jail overcrowding, Arpaio says.

More importantly, the move is a financially responsible alternative to taxpayers already over burdened by the economic drain imposed by a growing number of illegal aliens on social services like education and healthcare.

The move also facilitates security and transportation issues as well as provides easier and quicker access for foreign government visits to these inmates, the Sheriff says.

The move to Tent City also makes room for the future. Now that the Arizona state government has given Arpaio back his $1.6 million dollars slated for fighting illegal immigration, more arrests by the Sheriff's human smuggling unit and crime suppression operations are anticipated.

"We have expanded the tents to be able to house as many as 2500 inmates out of the 10,000 currently incarcerated in the jails," Arpaio says. "As we planned the expansion, I decided to have a special area to house this particular population of inmate more effectively and safely. Starting tomorrow, Tent City will be their new address," Arpaio says.

Tent City is Arpaio's canvas incarceration compound which he opened in August of 1993. Since then, it has been a safe and cost effective way of housing inmates and has gained worldwide attention as a model jail program. The consolidation of a large number of illegal aliens into Tent City, Arpaio says, should pose no substantial security problems as the area where they will be housed is protected by an electric fence.

"This is a population of criminals more adept perhaps at escape," the Sheriff says. "But this is a fence they won't want to scale because they risk receiving quite a shock - literally."

Tomorrow's move is expected to take about an hour as the illegal aliens make their way from the Durango Jail complex to Tent City on Gibson Road. Traffic will be rerouted during the transfer, Arpaio says.

The inmates will enter Tent City through the west gate and pick up their bedding before making their way to their section of the tents.

They will be treated like all other inmates incarcerated here with two exceptions. Arpaio wants them to be instructed in American immigration laws, as a way to help them understand that the violation of these laws has serious consequences not only to them but to society as a whole. And anyone found to violate jail rules, may end up on a chain gang. This chain gang will work to clean the areas of the valley, which have been impacted by human trafficking trade.

The inmate march begins at 1:00 PM on Wednesday beginning at the entrance gate of Durango Jail on Gibson Street. The 220 inmates will march east to Tent City. Interested media are asked to park on the access road west of Estrella Jail at 2939 West Durango. SEE MAP ATTACHED. Sheriff Arpaio will answer questions at 1:30 PM from inside Tent City. Call the on call Media Relations person for more information.

But maybe people should watch it. So they realize that this spectacle belongs to centuries of the past, not our present, and god forbid our future.

Chain gangs, tent cities, and forced's not the vision that I have for my community.

As my colleague wrote: Sunlight and Underwear, what they have in common besides a human's need for them

Today, like most days, when I came into work I spent the first 45 minutes of my day siphoning through news articles, op-eds, and editorials that have been emailed to me since I left work at 5:30 the day before. These help keep me up-to-date on all that is happening in the immigration realm across the country, and in turn, enable me to better inform you (once or twice a week I post a blog with what I consider the top 5-6 most recent articles that talk about how immigration affects our community. To check last week's out, click here or here).

Today, a couple articles in particular stuck out to me. One was titled: "The Big Business of Family Detention: It's not just alleged terrorists who are suffering from our inhumane treatment of detainees. It's also children." The second was called: "ICE Raids--Detention Centers Not About Immigration, All About Money!"

These titles disturbed me, even though the issues the articles discuss are well-known subjects to me.

They made me think about my own trip to a local detention center about two weeks ago. Some colleagues of mine had set up the trip so that those of us who work on immigration issues here in Washington could actually see firsthand some of the situations that immigrants deal with.

Overall, the facility was quite well kept and run in an orderly fashion. The guards and superintendent of the facility were unbelievably gracious to our group, spending over 4 hours with us and answering any question that we had. The facility didn't appear to be the harrowing place that we hear about in so many news articles where people are abused or dying because of substandard treatment.

However, I think my colleague Katrine from NETWORK (a Catholic social justice lobby) put it best when she wrote:

"Underwear and sunlight, sunlight and underwear. The two never seemed to go together as underwear would theoretically never see sunlight nor sunlight see underwear. I thought that the only commonality was the person, wearing the underwear, basking in the sunlight. I did not realize that at Hampton Roads they would have another thing in common: their classification as non-essentials. So non-essential that the sun is to be felt only through the small crack of one window in a gym, and bras worn only if one has five or ten dollars to pay for a pair from the jail commissary. In the end, a very intriguing and educational tour came down to the simplest of things: underwear and sunlight, sunlight and underwear."

It's the so-called small things that immigrants are deprived of that perhaps is most shocking: underwear, sunlight. No contact visits are allowed. Spouses cannot see each other if they are in the same facility. Parents cannot hug their children. Children are born while their mothers are shackled to the bed.

And you can be in there for years.

And in some facilities, children are held wearing criminal jumpsuits. Children raised behind bars without sunlight and underwear, underwear and sunlight.

All because of civil infractions that are about equal to a traffic ticket in legal terms.

When I think about these realities in relation to the economic gain made by companies who run the immigrant detention centers like those discussed in the two articles I received today, I can't help but envision it as a caricature in which there is a huge corrupt traffic cop with his foot on the roof of a car that he's pulled over, holding the people inside indefinitely and charging them $200 a day for their "criminal activity."

Except in this case, it's a private company and not a cop. And children and families seeking better lives after economic deprivation, war-torn countries, and exploitation rather than someone who drove too fast.