Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Immigration and the Texas Ledge

Immigration is not a big issue at the Texas Legislature this session.  It seems like the big hot button issues are Medicaid Expansion, Education, and Gun Control.  Immigration not being a hot topic is surprising to me, due to the large focus of Immigration in the federal government and the "gang of 8."  Maybe that is why it is not being focused on so much.  

A couple weeks ago a came across this article that outlines a couple immigration bills at the leg.

It does not focus on either of the bills that Apryl and I are following but others that are related and equally important  

One that caught my eye was a bill that is very similar to HB 359,  HB 2187.  This bill would take SComm a step further and introduce it into city jails.  By expanding not only to all state law enforcement jurisdictions, but to all city jails, people of color will be targeted more than they already are.  It is bills like this that perpetuate structural racism and racial profiling in our great state .  

A bill that would benefit undocumented immigrants in Texas is HB 152.  This bill would  allow undocumented immigrants to get drivers licenses.  Allowing this group to be eligible for drivers licenses, which is something that seems so very trivial to many Texans, opens so many doors for them and their families.  

Alonzo, R., (2012, December 11). H.B. No. 152. Retrieved from http://www.legis.state.tx.us/Search/DocViewer.aspx?K2DocKey=odbc%3a%2f%2fTLO%2fTLO.dbo.vwCurrBillDocs%2f83%2fR%2fH%2fB%2f00152%2f1%2fB%40TloCurrBillDocs&QueryText=HB+152&HighlightType=1

del Bosque, M. (2013, March 25) Immigration just a blip on the Texas political radar. Fox News Latino. Retrieved from http://latino.foxnews.com/latino/politics/2013/03/25/immigration-just-blip-on-texas-political-radar/

Krause, M., (2013, March 4). H.B. No. 2187. Retrieved from http://www.legis.state.tx.us/Search/DocViewer.aspx?K2DocKey=odbc%3a%2f%2fTLO%2fTLO.dbo.vwCurrBillDocs%2f83%2fR%2fH%2fB%2f00152%2f1%2fB%40TloCurrBillDocs&QueryText=HB+152&HighlightType=1

Friday, April 5, 2013

Department of Homeland Security in Action: Thanks for your Support of America's Frontline

This picture was taken on the way back from my most recent trip to the Valley - at the Falfurrias Checkpoint.  

According to Customs and Border Protection the goal of this checkpoint (located just south of Falfurrias Texas on HWY 281) "is to maintain traffic check operations, to detect and apprehend terrorists and/or their weapons of mass effect as well to prevent the passage of illegal aliens and/or contraband from the border area to major cities in the interior of the United States via U.S. Highway 281."

I wonder what ever happened to all of those "undocumented aliens?"

Saturday, March 30, 2013

SComm in Travis County and Proposed Ways Around it.

A little over a year ago, the Austin American Statesman published an article that stated that the Travis County Jail has become one of the busiest and most efficient deportation hubs in the Unites States since ICE increased it's presence there in 2008.  in January 2012 it was ranked 11th in number of people deported from a jail through Secure Communities.

The Statesman reported:

"Despite repeated statements from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement that its main deportation targets are undocumented immigrants considered threats to the public or national security, more than 1,000 people have been flagged for deportation in Travis County in the past three years after arrests for minor infractions such as traffic tickets or public intoxication, an American-Statesman analysis has found."

The Statesman found this after deciding to launch an investigation of the county jails bookings.  They looked at more than 250,000 bookings between 2009 and 2011.  Their findings indicate that: 
  • For each undocumented immigrant deported from Travis County due to being arrested for a serious felony, two undocumented immigrants were deported for misdemeanors (traffic violations, public intoxication, etc.)
  • More than 10,000 people who were detained by ICE over that three year period.  Over the three year period 1,054 people charged with Class C misdemeanors were detained  (almost 90 percent of these were traffic violations).
  • They deport approximately 2100 people per year

When I was growing up I was taught the the police are here to help the people.  I could never understand the fear one has when they see a police officer on the street or hear sirens outside their house.  I see how Secure Communities could negatively impact many of the students and parents who I help at my internship. 

An Article by Rachel Ray (from UC Davis School of Law - not the T.V. personality) in the Seattle Journal for Social Justice looks at ways for law enforcement jurisdictions to resist complying with SComm and ways to implement the program less stringently in cases involving non-criminal immigrants who are undocumented.  She suggests the use of Sanctuary cities  and opting out as a methods of resisting SComm however, she points out that opting out of SComm is likey not an option because it seems that the program is mandatory.

The article goes on to offer suggestions to the federal government on how to change SComm to ensure its constitutionality.  Her suggestions to DHS are:

  • "Individuals arrested for suspected acts of domestic violence should not be screened for S-Comm programs until they are convicted. This delay in sending fingerprints could spare wrongly arrested victims of domestic violence the additional torment of deportation."
  • "Second, S-Comm should screen only those individuals convicted of serious Level 1 offenses, and only upon conviction (rather than at the pre-conviction stage), and not Level 2 or 3 offenders who are not a threat to public safety."
  • "DHS should rethink its stance on S-Comm’s mandatory implementation requirement and provide clear procedures and guidelines for options available to states and counties firmly opposed to S-Comm."
  • "All participating jurisdictions should also be trained on illegal racial or ethnic profiling in an effort to avoid discriminatory police practices."
  • "In order to determine the actual effects and efficacy of S-Comm, quarterly data collection and analysis made available to the public should include more than just match rates, proportions of “lower-level alien offenders,” and removal proportions."
  • Most importantly, the federal government should explicitly allow local governments, especially sanctuary cities, and [Local Law Enforcement Agencies] to opt out of S-Comm... Once a locality opts out, the FBI should not share fingerprints from that locality with ICE."
A report issued by the Immigration Policy Center outlines multiple concerns and recommendations they have for ICE regarding SComm.  They mention the same recommendations mentioned above plus: that DHS must implement a strong system to handle complaints of those who feel they have been wrongly arrested or detained; and that DHS must be more transparent "and clarify the statutory authority for Secure Communities, the purpose and goals of the Secure Communities program, how the program works, and whether it is mandatory." 

Read More
Undocumented Immigrants in Jail: Who Gets Deported?

Harmon, D. (2012, March 17) Undocumented immigrants in jail: Who gets deported? Austin American Statesman. Retrieved from: http://www.statesman.com/news/news/special-reports/undocumented-immigrants-in-jail-who-gets-deporte-1/nRmHz/

Ray, R. R. (2012) Insecure communities: Examining local government participation in US immigration and customs enforcement’s “Secure Communities” program. Seattle Journal for Social Justice. 10(1), 327-286. Retrieved from: http://digitalcommons.law.seattleu.edu/sjsj/vol10/iss1/23 

Waslin, M. (2011, November 1) The secure communities program: Unanswered questions and continuing concerns. Immigration Policy Center. http://www.immigrationpolicy.org/sites/default/files/docs/Secure_Communities_112911_updated.pdf

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Lauren's Trip to the Texas Capitol

This post does not have anything to do with immigration.  It is merely about my most recent visit to the Texas Capitol.

Going to the capitol is nothing new for me.  Having worked for the state (and living in Texas my whole life) I have been to the capitol many times.  It is such a beautiful building.  It is pink.  The picture below is a picture of the inside of the dome.  There is a gold star that says T-E-X-A-S in the indentions.

My trip this time was very different than my other visits.  Yesterday, (March 5) I went as an advocate for bills that support Social Workers with the National Association of Social Workers Texas Chapter.

HB: 591 which is a social work resource centerfor the collection and analysis of educational and employment trends for social workers in Texas.  This center would be completely funded by Social Work licensing fees.

HB: 444 relates to the liability of social workers who provide volunteer services to charitable organizations when needed - say, in the event of a natural disaster.

HB: 1 which is the appropriations bill.  This includes reimbursement rates from Medicaid for LCSWs (LCSW's get reimbursed 70% of what physicians and psychiatrists are reimbursed from Medicaid).  This bill also includes a pay increase for Child Protective Services workers.

HB: 969 is a loan repayment program for Social Workers who work for Child Protective Services

HB:1698 is requesting to add School Social Workers to the Texas Education Code

I was paired with Virginia Manuel who is a medical social worker at Ben Taub General Hospital in Houston, Texas. We met with Representatives Dan Huberty and Tim Kleinschmidt and the Honorable Joan Huffman (we actually met with their office aides).  It was pretty cool watching a professional Social Worker interact with others in this venue.  

I also had the opportunity to observe the reading of the Social Work Resolution in the Senate Chambers.  The picture below is a picture of the ceiling of the senate chambers.  

The final thing that I did was attend the Texas Medicaid Rally.  Thousands of people showed up to support the expansion of Texas Medicaid.   I was even spotted on National News.

My dad recorded the above video.  He likes to tell his friends that I was on fox news, he does not like to tell them why. 

Friday, March 1, 2013

Interview with Amelia Ruiz Fischer

Amelia Ruiz Fischer is an Equal Justice Works Fellow at Texas Civil Rights Project (TCRP).  She received her Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Texas at Austin, where she majored in Latin American Studies and Plan II Honors and volunteered in the litigation against the T. Don Hutto Immigrant Detention Center in 2007. Before heading to law school, Amelia worked at American Gateways, formerly the Political Asylum Project of Austin, as the case manager for the Program Representing Immigrant Survivors of Abuse, preparing and submitting clients’ Violence Against Women Act applications. She graduated from the University of Texas School of Law in May of 2012, where she was involved in the law school’s Immigration Clinic, held leadership positions in the Domestic Violence Survivors Support Network and Street Law, served on the Student Advisory Board of the William Wayne Justice Center for Public Interest Law, was a Public Service Scholar, and received the Justice Center Graduating Student Award.  Amelia is also my best friend of 16 years

Lauren: Why did you decide to become an immigration and civil rights attorney?

Amelia: When I was 6 years old, my dad came home from work one night and I noticed he was crying. I followed him into his room and asked him what was wrong, and he told me that he had lost a case, and that a nice man was going to be deported and separated from his children. I decided that night that I was going to be a lawyer to help people the way that my dad helps. Every experience I have had since then serving the immigrant community and learning about immigration law has only served to push me in the same direction. I feel a strong calling to help the indigent immigrant community, and this is the best way I've found to do that.

Lauren: Other than your dad, who is someone that you look up to?

Amelia: I like Judge Justice because he had the courage to make incredibly unpopular rulings, sometimes putting his life at risk, because they were the right thing to do. He led school desegregation in Texas, prison reform, and helped the undocumented immigrant population in Texas find justice where there was little hope of it in many ways.
Lauren: What made you decide to apply for a fellowship with Texas Civil Right Project?

Amelia: I thought TCRP provided the best place for me to work in Austin. It focuses on civil rights litigation, and my project is right at the intersect of civil rights and immigration law. TCRP also has a long history of helping underserved, vulnerable, indigent populations, including immigrants, so it just made sense.

Lauren: Tell us about your project.

Amelia: Well, Secure Communities (SComm) is a federal program that creates a partnership between Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and local police.  SComm is one of the most serious threats immigrants face today. SComm unjustifiably deports thousands of immigrant victims of domestic violence and crime, causes the immigrant community to distrust police officers, and leads to widespread civil rights violations such as police brutality, racial profiling, and wrongful arrest. My project counteracts the harm SComm has had on the immigrant community. I will use direct representation in civil rights litigation and immigration proceedings, along with community organizing and advocacy, to fight SComm and stop undeserved deportations. I am also heading TCRP’s DACA Project where I organize clinics to assist undocumented young people with their applications for immigration relief.

Lauren:  On February 22, 2013 you attended an immigration reform rally at the capitol.  Tell me a little bit about that.

Amelia:  The march was hosted by the Austin Immigrant Rights Coalition, but it was Reform Immigration for Texas Alliance's statewide march. There were immigrants rights organizations there from El Paso, Dallas, Irving, Arlington, San Antonio, Brownsville, Alamo, Houston---all over the place! The purpose of the march was to demand humane comprehensive immigration reform that focuses less on harsh enforcement tactics that violate people's civil rights and more on a balanced approach to enforcement that takes into account the great contributions that immigrants make to our society. It was about human dignity for all, regardless of immigration status.

Below are some pictures Amelia took at the march.  

If you or someone you know has been victimized by secure communities please have them contact Amelia Ruiz Fischer (ella se habla espanol)

Monday, February 25, 2013

Get in Line!

Recently, President Obama addressed the country in his State of the Union speech and touched briefly, and I mean briefly, on immigration. Among the things mentioned was a call for immigration reform and the harnessing of "talents and ingenuity of striving, hopeful immigrants." 
As hopeful as I have been about the passage of comprehensive immigration reform, I found myself disillusioned by the President's speech, particularly at what Obama seems to think that "earned citizenship" means in addition to who should be granted citizenship. Obama has mentioned a desire to increase H1-B visas, work visas for those in specialty occupations which typically require a minimum of a bachelor's degree. While this is obviously very desirable as we as a nation try to play catch up in the ever growing technological age, Obama made absolutely no mention of migrant workers or those in less skilled jobs. 
Additionally, Obama said "real reform means establishing a responsible pathway to earned citizenship – a path that includes passing a background check, paying taxes and a meaningful penalty, learning English, and going to the back of the line behind the folks trying to come here legally." I won't expand on the nativist rhetoric Obama used throughout his speech, but to tell people to get to the back of the line came across as a bit insensitive. For years, countless families have tried to "come here legally" but are unable to because there are yearly caps on immigration into the United States with priority given to "highly skilled" workers. The nation has continuously changed its immigration policies to accept and later reject immigrants as it pleases with little regard to the consequences of doing so (e.g. the Bracero program and Operation Wetback.) There are a significant number of immigrants in the United States that are here because at one point or another, they arrived to the United States legally.  Families who are just trying to scrape by may not have any means to pay for the application fees to "come here legally," so in a sense, the application itself weeds out certain persons from applying. Finally, the line that Obama speaks of is already about 4 million people long, and in order to join the line to get a greencard there is roughly an eight year waiting period. Personally, why would anyone want to wait in line, hoping to maybe get in when you know that the "in crowd" had a front of the line pass?  

Read More:

Truth-Out: Remanding Migrants "To the End of the Line"
NPR Article: The 'Line' for Legal Immigration is Already About 4 Million People Long
Obama’s Plan Sees 8-Year Wait for Illegal Immigrants

Monday, February 11, 2013

H.B. 359: Just Trying to Secure our Communities, Y'all

Today House Bill 359 (HB 359) of the 83rd Texas legislative session was read and referred to the State Affairs Committee.  

Bill Status

If this bill were to pass, it would require that within 48 hours making an arrest the law enforcement agency (that made the arrest) must verify immigration status of the person by using Secure Communities (SComm), by requesting immigration status from a law enforcement officer who is authorized under federal law to verify immigration status, or by requesting the information from a federal immigration officer.  Further, if the arrested person is a non-citizen and found to be "unlawfully present in the United States" the arresting entity would be required to notify the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), as well as, the the judge who would grant or deny the arrested person's release on bail.  

For those who are unaware, SComm is a federal program that uses an information sharing database created by ICE and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to attempt to identify immigrants who are undocumented.  In 2008, ICE expanded SCOMM to more than 3000 jurisdictions in the United States, including all law enforcement jurisdictions along the southwest US border.  According to their website, they plan to expand SCOMM to all law enforcement jurisdictions nationwide in 2013.  

Many agencies find SComm to be a gross violation of civil and constitutional rights.  For instance, on November 10, 2010, the ACLU released a statement about it's stance on SCOMM that echoes my own sentiments about the program.  

The ACLU states that SCOMM: 

  • "Deter[s] people from accessing the criminal justice system and receiving equal protection of the laws.  S-Comm has contributed to a loss of trust in local law enforcement among immigrant communities.  Because any interaction with police and sheriffs in S-Comm jurisdictions carries the risk of apprehension and deportation by ICE, S-Comm deters immigrants—including lawful immigrants and permanent residents—from reporting crimes, seeking protection from domestic violence, serving as witnesses in criminal prosecutions, and receiving  equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment.  Moreover, when community members are afraid to cooperate with local law enforcement, local law enforcement is less able to prevent and respond to all types of crime.  This jeopardizes the public safety of all, including U.S. citizens.
  • Creat[es] the risk of unlawful and extended detentions by local jails.  Under S-Comm, once ICE identifies an individual through a database match, it can transmit an "immigration detainer" to the local jail.  A detainer is not a warrant.  It serves only to advise a local jail that ICE is investigating a detainee in the jail's custody, and to request that the jail continue holding the detainee up to 48 hours (excluding weekends and holidays) after the detainee's scheduled release date.  In practice, immigration detainers can result in an individual's detention even if he or she is facing no state criminal charges and would otherwise be entitled to release.  And detainers can extend an individual's detention for days after state charges have been resolved—even for weeks, in cases where the local jail fails to release the individual after the 48-hour period expires.  Moreover, ICE has failed to provide any mechanism by which individuals can find out whether they are subject to a detainer, challenge the basis for a detainer, have an erroneous detainer removed, or complain about how they came to the attention of local authorities. 
  • Invit[es] racial profiling by state and local law enforcement.  S-Comm gives local law enforcement agencies an incentive to book people into jail if they suspect they are undocumented immigrants.  Because S-Comm shares fingerprints with ICE at the booking stage, rather than at state charging or conviction, ICE will be notified almost immediately after an individual encounters state or local law enforcement—even if no state criminal charges are ever filed, or even if the arrest is later found to have been unlawful or unconstitutional.  S-Comm thus invites local law enforcement agencies to arrest "foreign-looking" individuals for minor infractions or for no reason at all, purely in order to transmit their fingerprints to ICE and trigger their possible deportation.  Data obtained through a FOIA lawsuit by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON), and the Cardozo Law School show that from the date of S-Comm's activation until April 2010, in some localities—including Maricopa County, Arizona, and Travis County, Texas—the proportion of individuals arrested and deported under S-Comm who had no criminal convictions at all were dramatically higher than the national average.  This data suggests that, much like the federal government's much-criticized 287(g) program, S-Comm may create an atmosphere of impunity, giving the green light to racially motivated arrests for minor infractions."

SComm is one of the most serious threats undocumented immigrants face in the United States.  Reports show that SComm leads to the detention of crime victims, people who were wrongfully arrested, and even United States Citizens

If HB 359 were to pass, each person arrested in Texas would be subject to this law.  This will create more distrust of law enforcement entities and make Texas a more dangerous place for those who are undocumented.  Further, the passage of this bill will help to perpetuate racial profiling and discrimination in the Lone Star State. 

Urge your representatives to vote no on HB 359.  

Read More:
Secure Communities ("S-Comm")
Department of Homeland Security: Secure Communities Field Training Manual 


American Civil Liberties Union, (2010, November 10) ACLU statement on secure communities. Retrieved from http://www.aclu.org/immigrants-rights/aclu-statement-secure-communities

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (2008) Secure Communities. Retrieved from http://www.ice.gov/secure_communities/

Krause, M., (2013, January 7). H.B. No. 359. Retrieved from http://www.legis.state.tx.us/Search/DocViewer.aspx?K2DocKey=odbc%3a%2f%2fTLO%2fTLO.dbo.vwCurrBillDocs%2f83%2fR%2fH%2fB%2f00359%2f1%2fB%40TloCurrBillDocs&QueryText=HB++359&HighlightType=1