Immigrants Are Welcome Here, Arizona Copycat Bills are Not!

By Lisa Adler, Field Organizer for Amnesty International USA

[UPDATE: Pick up the phone and call GA House Speaker David Ralston (404) 656-5020 and your GA Representatives now. When you reach the office, please be sure to make a statement along these lines:  "Vote 'no' on the Arizona Copycat HB 87 bill and all other anti-immigrant legislation. Any legislation that leads to racial profiling or pushes immigrant workers out of Georgia harms our state economically and morally."]

As they promised, Georgia state Republicans have introduced Arizona SB 1070 copy cat bills, HB 87 in the House and SB 40 in the Senate.  On Monday, February 28th, HB 87 passed out of the House Judiciary Non-Civil Committee, which means a vote on the House Floor is imminent. We need your help in defeating this blatantly discriminatory bill.

If enacted, HB 87 would empower police officers to ask any individual to prove his/her lawful immigration status or citizenship during the course of a stop, including routine traffic stops, jaywalking or a variety of other commonplace actions.  This bill—and its Senate companion SB 40–has no safeguards against racial profiling.  Despite the claims by the bill’s author that race cannot be used, documentation of racial profiling related to immigration and criminal stops is widely available.

Furthermore, all Georgians—including citizens–will essentially be forced to carry their legal documents for fear of being arbitrarily stopped and detained.  For example, if these bills pass, and  I walk to the store, I must now carry my US passport? Because if I am stopped and do not carry any proof of my status, I may be detained.

While police officers may give some people the benefit of the doubt, a person of color with a Central American accent is not likely to receive the same benefit, even if s/he is a US citizen.  These portions of the bills raise serious due process, racial profiling and privacy concerns.

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Immigration: A Human Rights Issue, Not a Political Issue

By Aida V. Nieto,  Bill Archer Fellow for Amnesty International USA

On November 5th, the United States appeared before the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva to review its human rights record.  As a follow up, a Town Hall was held for activists and nongovernmental groups to ask questions and offer their criticism and recommendations regarding the U.S.’s human rights record.  During this meeting a topic that continued to come up throughout the ninety-minute discussion was the lack of human rights protection in programs designed to enforce federal immigration law.

Programs such as the controversial 287 (g) agreement and Secure Communities, a measure recently making headlines were widely criticized as they have proven to provide a venue for racial profiling.  After the public exposure of the lack of human rights protections for immigrants and people of color in the United States, I hope that people and the government realized that immigration is a human rights issue, not a political issue.

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Amnesty International & Gael García Bernal Release Immigration Films

Today Amnesty International released The Invisibles, a series of four short documentaries about the wretched journey thousands of Central Americans make traveling across Mexico in an attempt to reach the U.S. These migrants carry with them the hope of a new life in the U.S. and an escape from the grinding poverty and insecurity back home.

In its report with the same name, released in April,  Amnesty documented that thousands of these migrants confront beatings, abduction, rape and even murder along their journey to the U.S., their lives and deaths largely hidden from view.

While many of their stories will never be told, The Invisibles provides a small look into the reasons people leave their homes and the desperate measures they take in attempting to provide for their families.  Sometimes aware of the risks, mothers and fathers keep going because no other avenue for livelihood exists.

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Posted in USA

Prison Lobby's Ties to Arizona Anti-Immigration Law

The [undocumented] person, without right to residence and without the right to work, had of course constantly to transgress the law. He was liable to jail sentences without ever committing a crime … Since he was the anomaly for which the general law did not provide, it was better for him to become an anomaly for which it did provide, that of the criminal. Hannah Arendt, 1951

An immigrant stands in a holding cell at the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention facility for illegal immigrants on July 30, 2010 in Florence, Arizona. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

For almost two decades, legislators and Presidents have treated immigration detention as some sort of “magic bullet” that will deter would be immigrants from crossing the U.S. border, instill terror in communities so that immigrants will voluntarily leave, and criminalize individuals through incarceration if they choose to fight deportation because they are U.S. citizens, refugees, lawful permanent residents, or breadwinners with long-time ties to their U.S. families, communities and workplaces.

Today NPR reported that Arizona’s recent draconian immigration law, SB1070, was written in collusion with the leadership of for-profit prisons and their lobbyists. The law requires Arizona police to stop and ask for papers proving legal residency if the officer has “reasonable suspicion” to believe the person is undocumented. If the person can’t immediately produce papers, she will be arrested and detained. Lawsuits arguing that the law was unconstitutional were almost immediately filed because it would be almost impossible to “identify” an undocumented person without resorting to racial profiling.

Criminalizing immigrants through detention has proven to be no magic bullet in managing migratory trends, but it has certainly proven to be a golden goose for these private prison operators. As the President of Geo Group,Wayne Calabrese, explained to its investors, according to NPR:

“I can only believe the opportunities at the federal level are going to continue apace as a result of what’s happening. Those people coming across the border and getting caught are going to have to be detained and that for me, at least I think, there’s going to be enhanced opportunities for what we do.”

Depriving someone of their liberty through detention is a very coercive measure, which carries a strong stigma and severely impacts on individual rights. Criminalizing immigrants, not only by imposing criminal penalties for entering or remaining in the U.S without permission, but also by stigmatizing and criminalizing third parties who care for them, may have the effect of limiting or entirely denying protection and access to fundamental human rights, such as adequate housing or health care.

At the same time, documentation shows that “inflexible policies of exclusion, which are enforced through severe punishments of a penal nature and deportation for their breach, feed directly into the hands of traffickers,” who each year enslave thousands of women, men and children in the U.S., while the federal government adamantly declares its intention to protect trafficked persons.

For years, advocates have linked the massive growth in immigration detention with the exponential profits reaped by private prisons. Meanwhile, the U.S. government has picked up the enormous bill for a prison system that is widely viewed as cruel, inept and dysfunctional. It’s not good immigration policy, but it’s a terrific business strategy.

Tell Your Senators to Support the DREAM Act!

This Tuesday Senator Majority Leader Harry Reid announced that he would include the DREAM Act in a defense authorization bill.  The DREAM Act will help thousands of committed students and military officers to legalize their status in the United States.  Currently, they face unique barriers to higher education, are unable to work legally in the U.S., and often live in constant fear of exposure to immigration authorities.

The DREAM Act would provide certain conditional legal status, if students attend college or join the military. It would also allow immigrant students access to higher education by returning to states the authority to determine who qualifies for in-state tuition. Amnesty International supports the DREAM Act because it upholds significant human rights goals including the right to education and the right to family life and unity.

This is an incredible opportunity to fulfill the human rights of young immigrants in the United States. Urge your Senator to support passage of the Dream Act now!

Call the US Capitol switchboard at (202) 224-3121

Passage of the Dream Act will support a variety of human rights obligations including:

1. Right to Education:
Currently, undocumented children in the US are constitutionally guaranteed the right to access public education. However, their ability to complete high school, as well as the opportunity to pursue university studies, is undermined by their lack of legal status. Undocumented children are ineligible for federal financial aid for higher education and, in most states, for in-state tuition at public universities.

Education is a right worthy of protection itself. It is also an indispensable means of realizing other human rights. All children, without discrimination of any kind, including on the basis of their status or the status of their parents, have a right to education. General Comment No. 13 of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights establishes that states are obliged to ensure that education is accessible to everyone, without discrimination, within the jurisdiction of the state. Accessibility includes non-discrimination, physical accessibility, and economic accessibility.

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A State of Siege in Texas?

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced this week that the 1,200 National Guard troops that President Barack Obama ordered to the southwest border were deployed on Aug. 1, and hundreds of additional Border Patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents are being sent to the border to target dangerous criminals and help shore up security.

I asked Erica Schommer and Celestino Gallegos, Amnesty International members in Texas, what it’s been like living near the border. They were glad to set me straight!  They wrote:

If you are like most Americans, you probably believe that our southern border is under siege.  Recently, media coverage has had many people from D.C., New York, and other places far from the border talking about the crime and violence in the borderlands as if there was a crisis in the U.S.  For those of us who live on that border, the report released by the FBI was welcome news, confirming what many of us know:  statistics show that the border is safer than many places in the U.S.

We live ten miles from the Mexican border.  The increase in violence in Mexico has indeed impacted our lives: we do not go to Mexico nearly as much as we used to, and when we do, we are much more cautious. But no, the violence that has plagued Mexico since the inception of President Calderon’s war on the drug cartels has not “spilled-over” into the U.S. as many outside commentators have claimed.  Here in the U.S., life feels no different.

Nevertheless, pundits and opportunistic politicians have seized on the dramatic violence in Mexico to justify border militarization and undertake draconian immigration enforcement measures in the U.S.  While these measures may cater to the fears of the American public, they neither offer a long term humanitarian solution to our broken immigration system, nor provide any security to border residents.  Moreover, if adopted, these measures will result in significant human and civil rights violations of border residents.

We don’t want to live in a militarized zone. Would you? As it is, Border Patrol vehicles are a daily reminder of enforcement in our neighborhoods.  We don’t want to hear helicopters over head and see tanks stationed by the bridges, like there are on the Mexican side of the border.  We don’t want surveillance cameras in unmanned drones tracking our mundane daily activities.  It is not necessary and it is not welcome.

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A Small Victory for Arizonans, A Bigger Victory For Human Rights

Opponents of Arizona's immigration enforcement law SB 1070 embrace after a judge blocked some controversial provisions of the law on July 28, 2010 in Phoenix, Arizona. (c) John Moore/Getty Images

In a welcome, 11th hour order that prevents Arizona from putting into place much of its immigrant profiling law [SB1070], Judge Susan Bolton ruled that the offensive sections of the state law — authorizing police to check the papers of a person whom they reasonably suspect of being an illegal immigrant, requiring immigrants to carry their papers at all times, making it a crime for an undocumented immigrant to apply for work, and permitting the warrantless arrest of a person suspected of a crime that would make him deportable from the U.S. — will not go into effect July 29th as scheduled.

Amnesty International applauds Judge Bolton’s decision as a major victory for all those who support civil and human rights and oppose SB 1070.

The preliminary injunction issued by Judge Bolton means that the court views these sections of  SB1070 as likely to be found unconstitutional and permanently barred from taking effect.  The Court condemned mandatory immigration verification upon arrest, acknowledging that the portion of the law requiring that immigration status must be determined “before the person is released” would “inevitabl[y] increase the length of detention”  elevating it to unconstitutional proportions.

The Court also found the law impermissibly restricts the liberty of those in the U.S.  lawfully due to “the intrusion of police presence into the lives of legally-present aliens (and even United States citizens), who will necessarily be swept up” by enforcement of the law.

As Amnesty International USA consistently has pointed out in opposing SB1070, the law is based on unconstitutional racial profiling that targets any immigrant or citizen who may “look like an immigrant,” and violates the human right to be free from racial discrimination, live with one’s family, and enjoy freedom of movement in Arizona.  What is more, the flagrant imposition of detention on broad sections of the population without any standards or safeguards to prevent the unjustified deprivation of personal liberty cannot be tolerated.

The overreaching aspects of SB 1070,  struck down at least preliminarily in  the Court’s opinion, illustrate not only the need for reform of federal immigration law and policy,  but the need for state officials to observe and protect the constitutional and human rights of all persons within their jurisdiction. Today’s ruling should send a cautionary note to the several other state jurisdictions thinking of following the blatantly unconstitutional path taken by Arizona.

SB1070: What Starts in Arizona, Stops in Arizona

On April 23, 2010 Governor Jan Brewer signed SB1070 – Arizona’s discriminatory and unfair bill that essentially makes racial profiling legal – into law.

At its core, SB1070 requires any person about whom the police have a “reasonable suspicion” to produce documents proving that s/he is legally in the US.  SB1070, however, does not offer a safeguard against racial profiling if  “reasonable suspicion” cannot be formed without resorting to racial profiling. The law fundamentally increases the likelihood of arbitrary arrest and requires detention once an arrest is made.

In just 2 days, on July 29, this harmful law will officially go into effect and the streets of Arizona will never be the same. Families will be torn apart and innocent people will surely be detained.

But the insanity doesn’t stop there – 9 more states want to follow suit and pass discriminatory immigration policies of their own. Alabama, Florida, Michigan, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, and Virginia are all considering their own versions of Arizona-style legislation against immigrants. And other instances of anti-immigrant measures continue to pop up all across the U.S.

These proposed laws don’t just threaten human rights. They also flagrantly violate the Constitution by threatening every status of U.S. immigrant – including those who have immigrated here legally, those who are in the process of obtaining their legal status, and those who are eligible for legal status. What’s more frightening – anyone who even “looks like an immigrant”, including a U.S. citizen, can be treated as a threat.

This kind of vigilante policy making is dangerous because it completely disregards human rights, including those to freedom of movement, privacy, family unity, and equality under the law. Human rights are protected under international law regardless of a person’s citizenship status. International human rights law is rooted in the principle of non-discrimination, which this law violates; it is all too easy to deny a person’s human rights if you consider them to be as less than human.

Human rights exist regardless of nationality, ethnicity or immigration status. In passing SB1070, Arizona public officials have ignored this truth to the detriment of every individual who passes through the state.

In the next 2 days, let decision-makers know that you oppose these flawed notions about immigration control! Call on your Governor to take a stand against discriminatory immigration policies.

Utah's Immigrant Hit List

Last week, at least two Utah state employees were involved in distributing a list of 1,300 names of supposedly illegal immigrants. This 29-page list was sent out to Utah government offices and media and included such personalized details as social security numbers, addresses, and even pregnancy due dates. The Governor of Utah, Gary Herbert, told CNN’s John King on Friday night that those listed have Hispanic names and not all of them are in the state illegally.

While Herbert condemned the actions saying the “release of such private, sensitive information is deplorable”, it isn’t just the violation of privacy rights and the rogue behavior of public servants that makes this incident so troubling.  It is also the irrepressible undercurrent of racially-based targeting of those with Hispanic surnames as outsiders, creating a climate of intimidation and fear in communities of color and among people of foreign national origin.

As emphasized in the Amnesty Report Jailed Without Justice, all people, whatever their immigrant or citizenship status, have fundamental human rights which include the right to privacy and the right to be free from police harassment. Utah Attorney General Shurtleff  acknowledged:

“Clearly, it’s not even meant as a blacklist. It’s more like a hit list. It is, I think to put people at fear, to terrorize, to get people mobilized to do things.”

I agree. State policymakers and officials must understand that discriminatory stunts such as “listgate” don’t occur in a vacuum.  This incident has to be viewed in the larger political context of states like Utah’s neighbor Arizona rushing to adopt harsh and restrictive immigration initiatives without regard to the human rights violations involved. In fact,  no one has been able to demonstrate persuasively how it will be possible to enforce Arizona’s anti-immigrant law, SB1070, without resorting to racial profiling, a blatant human rights violation.

Nevertheless, without a court-issued injunction to stop it,  SB1070 will take effect next week, not only requiring police to arrest and detain anyone they reasonably suspect of being present in Arizona without a legal immigration status, but giving Arizona citizens the power to sue the police if they do not do so.  You can speak out against SB1070 by sending a message to your senators.

When governors and other public officials pass laws allowing themselves to abrogate the human rights they are otherwise obligated to uphold, it’s no wonder that state workers are emboldened to engage in lawless and discriminatory conduct that terrorizes communities. There’s simply no justification for violating human rights. What’s next? Tolerance of hate crimes?

Posted in USA

Human and Immigrants' Rights Movement Reacts to Arizona Defiance

Amnesty International is extremely disappointed that Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed into law SB1070, a bill that will significantly increase the likelihood of racial profiling, arbitrary arrests, and detentions in the state. By forcing Arizona police, the vast majority of whom opposed this law, to implement it or face lawsuits is bad policy and will drastically undermine communication between communities of color and the police who are supposed to keep them safe.

As the governor said when signing the bill, national immigration legislation is desperately needed, but the absence of it does not abdicate the governor’s own responsibility to preserve, promote, and protect the human rights of every individual in Arizona, whether citizen, resident, or visitor. Human rights exist regardless of nationality, ethnicity or immigration status. In passing SB1070, Arizona public officials have ignored this truth to the detriment of every individual who passes through the state.