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2011: Securer Communities, Safer Neighborhoods?

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In 2011, some notable government actions influenced immigration policy across the US.  The federal Secure Communities program came under fire, five more states, following Arizona’s lead, enacted independent immigration laws and deportations reached an unprecedented high level.


Secure Communities

Objections to the Secure Communities program include the possibility that communities will, in fact, become less secure.  If racial profiling increases and ethnic minorities are targeted, these same people will avoid the police when they are needed.  Certain groups may feel that contacting authorities is too risky and crimes may go unreported, while victims go unprotected. In the initial stages, Secure Communities was a voluntary program but in 2010, it became mandatory.  The mandatory nature of state participation in Secure Communities was reaffirmed this year when Illinois, Massachusetts and New York expressed a desire to opt out of implementation of the act.  In August 2011, ICE Director, Joe Morton stated :

"I seek to clarify an issue that has been the subject of substantial confusion: whether a memorandum of agreement (MOA) between ICE and a state is necessary to operate the program in that state. ICE has determined that an MOA is not required to activate or operate Secure Communities for any jurisdiction. Once a state or local law enforcement agency voluntarily submits fingerprint data to the federal government, no agreement with the state is legally necessary for one part of the federal government to share it with another part. For this reason, ICE has decided to terminate all existing Secure Communities MOAs." 

Despite the federal position that the program is no longer voluntary, entities including Washington, DC, San Francisco, CA and Cook County, IL, continue to pass resolutions against the program or seek to have their participation terminated. Colorado sought to impose limitations by customizing their agreement with ICE.  The California State Assembly passed the TRUST Act in May 2011, creating an opt-out requirement and severely curtailing the program’s impacts.  The bill passed the state senate public safety committee and will be re-written and submitted to the senate in January 2012 for approval.  Likewise, the Illinois House of Representatives passed legislation against Secure Communities, followed by Illinois Governor Pat Quinn formally rescinding the state’s participation in the program on May 4.  On June 1, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo also “suspended participation” in Secure Communities.  And on June 6, Governor Deval Patrick of Massachusetts notified ICE that Massachusetts would not sign on to the program.

The Chief Justice Earl Warren Institute on Law and Social Policy at UC Berkeley reviewed Secure Communities data and found:

• Approximately 3,600 United States citizens have been arrested as a result of Secure Communities

• Latinos comprise 93% of individuals arrested through Secure Communities though they only comprise 77% of the undocumented population in the United States

• Only 24% of individuals arrested through Secure Communities and who had immigration hearings had an attorney compared to 41% of all immigration court respondents who have counsel

• Only 2% of non-citizens arrested through Secure Communities are granted relief from deportation by an immigration judge as compared to 14% of all immigration court respondents who are granted relief

• 83% of people arrested through Secure Communities are placed in ICE detention as compared with an overall DHS immigration detention rate of 62%

Janet Napolitano says it takes time to transform federal agencies and that ICE agents need to use “sound prosecutorial practice” to follow priorities. Current priorities are to deport convicted criminals, serial violators of immigration law and recent border crossers.

“The priorities did not apply for Neida Lavayen, 46, an American citizen in Elizabeth, N.J. After a three-year courtship, she had planned on Sept. 23 to marry Rubén Quinteros, an illegal immigrant from Uruguay. Mr. Quinteros, 43, had come legally to the United States, then stayed past his time limit. But once he and Ms. Lavayen married, he would be eligible for a permanent resident’s green card as the spouse of a citizen.

Eight days before the wedding, Mr. Quinteros was arrested by immigration agents. His lawyer, Heather Benno, argued that he should benefit from prosecutorial discretion, since he was days away from resolving his immigration status. He had no criminal record, had paid taxes and had provided vital support for his fiancée, who suffered domestic abuse in her first marriage.

Ms. Benno’s motions were denied. Ms. Lavayen found a pastor to marry the couple in the detention center, but immigration agents declined to release Mr. Quinteros for a few hours so he could go with Ms. Lavayen to get the marriage license, since registrars would not issue one without him. They were not able to marry, and Mr. Quinteros was deported Oct. 27.

“I never thought I would fall in love again and have dreams again and live such a beautiful romance,” Ms. Lavayen said in a telephone conversation, pausing often to cry. “How did my country take away my happiness?”

By contrast, a student from Germany received good news that he had not asked for. Manuel Bartsch, now 24, was brought to the United States when he was 10 years old, then remained without documents. He stuck to his studies and is now nearing graduation from a private university in Ohio. After a legal fight in 2006, the immigration agency suspended Mr. Bartsch’s deportation, said his lawyer, David Leopold. On Nov. 3, the agency surprised Mr. Bartsch by terminating his deportation case entirely.

Like others whose deportations are canceled under the new policy, Mr. Bartsch will remain in limbo without any positive immigration status, Mr. Leopold said. But he will be able to apply for a work permit, an identity document that can open many doors.”

Safe Neighborhoods

On April 23, 2010 Arizona signed the “Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act” into law, also known as SB1070.  In the first half of 2011, lawmakers from all 50 states introduced a recording-breaking 1,592 bills and resolutions dealing with immigration.  Of those, five states were successful in creating omnibus bills that were crafted in the likeness of SB1070.  These laws, enacted in Utah, Georgia, Indiana, Alabama and South Carolina, include provisions that: require law enforcement officers to determine the immigration status of people involved in a lawful stop; require all businesses to implement E-verify (part of Secure Communities); require aliens to carry registration documents at all times.  In addition, Alabama’s new law requires public schools to verify the immigration status of students. Conversely, in addition to strict enforcement, Utah’s law also pilots a temporary worker visa program.

As a result of enactment of these laws and localized resistance to Secure Communities, a battle over control of immigration has ensued.  The Justice Department has filed legal challenges against all the immigration laws passed by states, arguing that enforcement of immigration policy belongs exclusively to the federal government.

State immigration statutes are currently facing difficult challenges.

The public has turned against these laws in some cases due to the economic impact on states where Latinos are migrating to avoid the new regulations.

Russell Pearce, the Arizona state legislator who authored SB1070 was forced out of office in a 2011 recall election, signaling a drop in support of this law among the electorate.  In Arizona, conferences were cancelled within days of enactment of the law.  To date, the state has lost at least $141 million in lost conference income, and an estimated 2,761 jobs resulting in $253 million of economic output and $9.4 million in taxes.

With passage of the Georgia law, the Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association estimates that if their survey results are viewed as representative of all agricultural acreage, overall economic losses will total at least $391 million per year. A study in Georgia looking at just seven crops noted a shortage of 11,000 agriculture workers. Georgia’s overall economy is slated to take a substantial hit this year, and the drop in the agricultural sector is a significant contributor.

Meanwhile, in Alabama, where courts upheld immigration legislation, a shortage of available farm laborers left farmers with few options for handling crops that traditionally require manual labor. It’s estimated that the state's economy would shrink by $40 million if 10,000 illegal immigrants left the workforce, according to the Center for American Progress.  

However, Alabama’s law is expected to undergo major changes after several embarrassing incidents occurred, including the arrest of a Mercedes Benz executive who was visiting a local automobile plant.  An Alabama police officer stopped a rental car without a tag and asked the driver for his license.  Because the driver only had a German ID card, he was arrested and taken to police headquarters.  He was then charged with violation of the state immigration law for not having proper identification.  Due to the unintended consequences brought to light by this arrest, Alabama is considering revisions to the law. In addition, the provision in the Alabama law requiring schools to verify immigration status has been halted by a federal judge.

With the lack of movement by Congress to pass immigration reform, advocates on both sides of the issue believe it can only be resolved by a decision of the Supreme Court.  In April a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals upheld a federal judge's ruling that halted the enforcement of key provisions in the Arizona law, including the requirement that police determine the immigration status of all individuals arrested prior to their release.  Despite a brief filed by the Justice Department to the high court asking the justices to let the lower court rulings stand, December 12, the Supreme Court agreed to hear a challenge to the Arizona law.


President Obama’s support among Latino voters has fallen to 48 percent, a new low, according to a September 2011 Gallup Poll. Some advocates link this decline to the mandatory adoption of Secure Communities and an upsurge in deportations since he took office. While the president says he wants immigration reform, his administration deported more than 1 million illegal immigrants in 2-1/2 years.  If the current rate continues, more people will be deported in Obama’s first term than were deported in George W. Bush’s entire presidency. In 2011 alone, the Obama Administration deported close to 400,000 people.  This is the highest yearly number on record and it does not include those arrested at the borders while attempting to enter the country illegally.

These deportations are having some unforeseen effects. According to a recent study by the Applied Research Center, 46,000 parents of children (who are U.S. citizens) were detained or deported in the first six months of 2011, leaving an estimated 5,100 children in U.S. foster homes and unable to reunite with their parents.  If current policies stay in place, the report estimates that 15,000 more children may face a similar fate.  Cases where parents are deported or detained leaving children in the care of the state have been reported in 22 states, but separation of families is more likely in states where immigration enforcement is aggressive.  Additionally, most child welfare departments lack policies to keep families united in the case of deportation or detention of parents.

Farm workers across the country face fear and discrimination on a daily basis. In the National Agricultural Workers Survey, 83% of farm workers identified themselves as a member of a Hispanic group.  The FBI’s 2010 Hate Crime Statistics report numbers show a dramatic spike in crimes against Latinos. There was an 11 percent increase from the previous year’s report and showed Latinos accounting for more than 66 percent of hate crimes based on ethnicity or national origin. It is the highest percentage of victims targeted for their Latino heritage in almost a decade. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that half the agricultural labor force is unauthorized, equaling close to half a million workers. With an upswing in deportations, detentions, and hate crimes, a climate of fear has developed that pushes undocumented farm workers deeper into the shadows.  Their vulnerability creates an imbalance of power between themselves and “the system.”  The possibility of  violence, deportation and loss of employment creates stress and impacts the mental health of farm workers.  Many of them have sacrificed to immigrate to the United States and now live with the psychological burden of managing the daily risks involved with this choice.

The current food system is designed to take advantage of these powerless individuals.  How can the governmental view of free trade and a borderless economy be reconciled with current immigration policies that promote the strengthening of borders and building of walls?

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