Wednesday, June 2, 2010

A Real Solution: Replace SB 1070 with Comprehensive Immigration Reform

Mobilized to overturn Arizona's anti-immigrant law (SB 1070), an amazing coalition of labor, civil rights organizations, students, recording artists, healthcare professionals, faith-based groups, professional athletes, Arizona elected officials, city governments around the country, and police groups want swift federal action. Critics charge the law is a draconian legalization of racial profiling to target people who appear to be Latinos. Police organizations have slammed the authors of the law as "fear mongering" and as pushing for ineffective local enforcement of federal laws that will overwhelm police agencies. A combination of education on the law's racist effects and its negative impact on public safety can build pressure on federal authorities to replace SB 1070 (and other laws like it) with comprehensive immigration reform.

Public opinion is complex

While a number of public opinion polls show some six in 10 Americans support SB 1070, additional analysis of the data reveals that only a small portion of that support comes out of right-wing or racist hostility towards immigrants. Xenophobia and racism are palpably dangerous in the current climate, and right-wing leaders of the Republican Party and Tea Party use these influences to promote and cover for their discredited policies. Key portions of their program and ideology are built with the planks of racism.

At the present moment these influences may not and need not be the dominant ideas and forces at work on this issue, however. It is important to avoid the mainstream media's error of attributing support for the law solely to xenophobic or racist sentiments. If the mud of hate can be cleared, we may discover an important chance for the country to move in a new direction on immigration.

Most sentiments about the law seem to center on a desire for urgent federal action on immigration reform. A poll conducted by Lake Research Partners and Public Opinion Strategies in May found that while supporters of the Arizona law are most likely Republicans and supporters of the Tea Party, a significant number do not fit these categories and say they support the law only out of frustration with the lack of federal action on comprehensive reform.

In fact, more than three in four Americans from both major parties and in all geographic regions of the country support comprehensive immigration reform. People view the Arizona law as an unfortunate reaction to decades of federal foot-dragging on reform. Instead of the punitive or enforcement-only responses to immigration on the state or local level favored by the Republican Party, Americans, including a significant majority of Latinos, want comprehensive federal action with four basic parts:

1) Increased security at the border
2) Crack down on employers who knowingly hire unauthorized workers
3) Require unauthorized workers to register, undergo background checks and learn English
4) Unauthorized immigrants should get in line for citizenship

Simply put, Americans agree with the immigration reform agenda the Obama administration has repeatedly called for.

David Mermin, a pollster with Lake Research Partners, explained apart from extremist anti-immigrant sentiments, "the sense that the system is out of control and that there isn't a legal orderly process by which people are immigrating" drives most attitudes about immigration reform.

"The vast majority of Americans think we should still be welcoming immigrants," he said, "but they want that done in a legal way."

"Folks don't want some sort of draconian enforcement effort where you try to round up millions of people," Mermin added, "they want people to register, to get in line, to pay taxes, to learn English, to become American."

"People aren't angry at immigrants," said Frank Sharry, executive director of the pro-immigration reform group America's Voice, in a recent conference call with reporters. He noted that the polling data proves that instead "they are frustrated that the government hasn't solved the problem." He warned that Congress should not use the fallout from SB 1070 as an excuse to avoid dealing with comprehensive immigration reform.

The evidence suggests that most Americans sharply break with Republican Party and extremist views on immigration. They do not support right-wing hostility towards inclusiveness or provision of legal status and eventual citizenship for new immigrants.

False claims

Shifting the terms of debate away from draconian and racist proposals toward inclusive solutions will marginalize extremist voices. Right now, without momentum towards comprehensive reform, far-right hysteria seems to dominate public discourse. As part of their scare tactics, these voices promote at least three major falsehoods about immigrants: they cause an economic drain, they steal jobs, and they increase crime rates.

According to recent analysis published by the
Immigration Policy Center, the economic contributions of undocumented immigrants far outweigh perceived costs of illegal immigration. In the state of Arizona alone, unauthorized immigrants add some $26.4 billion each year to the state's economy, including at least $1.5 billion in added state revenues. Significant parts of this added economic activity results in purchases from local businesses that create jobs. A number of other states share similar experiences.

Economists also point out claims that immigrants "steal" jobs from citizens haven't been substantiated. In fact, current enforcement-only measures add to the federal deficit and will reduce the GDP by $2.6 trillion over the next 10 years, a new study from the
Center for American Progress Action Fund found. Under the broken immigration system, wages across the board are depressed. Comprehensive reform that allows immigrants to gain legal status without fear of punishment would see improvements in their wages and increase their consumption, helping to expand economic activity. In the middle of an economic crisis, an anti-immigrant policy that depresses wages and reduces economic activity seems at best stupid, at worst destructive.

Exaggeration and promotion of public fears about the link between crime and immigration has also driven much support for local enforcement of immigration laws – the main goal of SB 1070. These fears, however, have no basis in reality. A number of studies of federal crime statistics in the past few years have repeatedly shown that immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than the native-born population. According to a study from the University of North Carolina this year, for example, a dramatic reduction in crime in North Carolina over the past 14 years coincided with that state's largest growth in numbers of unauthorized immigrants in its history. Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank echoed this point and called the promotion of anxiety about crime "fear mongering." "[Salt Lake City's] Latino population and even the undocumented Latino population," he pointed out, "are not committing crimes at a higher rate."

Most police chiefs agree the demand for local enforcement of immigration laws would force the police to divert attention from the "criminal element" to a "civil enforcement role." Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck explained bluntly, "Crime is not on the rise in Arizona or anywhere else."

Response and resistance

The labor movement immediately and unequivocally rejected the Arizona anti-immigrant law and has urged its members and supporters to join protests against the law. Describing the law as a violation of civil rights and the legalization of racial profiling, the AFL-CIO and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights (LCCR) earlier this month jointly called on the Obama administration to terminate federal relationships with Arizona's law enforcement agencies for immigration enforcement through the so-called 287(g) program. Right now, the Immigration and Custom Enforcement (ICE) agency operates what is called the 287(g) ACCESS program, which authorizes local police departments to enforce immigration laws. (The odd name for this program comes from section 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act passed by Congressional Republicans in 1995 as part of welfare "reform.")

The AFL-CIO/LCCR letter pointedly stated:

Unless DHS terminates all 287(g) program agreements in Arizona, the federal government will be complicit in the racial profiling that lies at the heart of the Arizona law. Such a result would place the DHS at odds with this administration's stated views on SB 1070, and at odds with basic American values of tolerance and non-discrimination.

It is important to note 287(g) programs carry a number of other hidden problems. The North Carolina study found that they bring additional financial burdens to state and local communities from more "litigation fees, reduction in local business revenue, lower sales tax revenue, and higher costs of services and goods." On top of these new expenses, the program seems ineffective in curbing violent crime as traffic violations and DWI were the main charges filed under the program. In fact, only about 13 percent of all charges filed were felonies. The report concluded, "[t]he focus on detaining and deporting immigrants for driving related incidences and misdemeanors suggest that the program is not prioritizing high risk criminal aliens, as outlined in its stated goals." Simply put, local enforcement of federal immigration is expensive and ineffective. SB 1070 is only the latest incarnation of this failed direction on immigration enforcement.

Labor and civil rights groups have emphasized the harmful impact the law will have on working families. Both the United Food and Commercial Workers union and the Service Employees International Union have joined several civil rights organizations, including the ACLU, the National Immigration Law center, the Mexican American Legal Defense Fund, and the NAACP, in a lawsuit seeking to strike down SB 1070.

"Arizona's legislation is unworkable, it is unconstitutional and it undermines our nation's rich immigrant history and heritage. It is a recipe for racial profiling and a marked retreat from the values and ideals that make America strong," UFCW President Joe Hansen told one reporter. "We are filing this suit to protect the rights of our members and all workers in Arizona – and to uphold the values and ideals that make our nation strong."

The Women's Emergency Human Rights Delegation, a coalition of labor organizations for women workers that includes National Day Laborer Organizing Network, the National Domestic Worker Alliance, and Jobs with Justice, met in Phoenix in early May to denounce SB 1070. The coalition found that the law will have a special impact on women workers. SB 1070 "constitutes a violation of every principle we hold dear to safeguard women as mothers, workers and leaders," the group stated. The law will "rip families apart," expose women to humiliation by enforcement agents, permanent scar children whose families encounter police due to the laws provisions, and will instill "terror" in the families and communities impacted by the law. "We are humans. We are not animals. We are not criminals," the coalition's statement concluded.

The Major League Baseball Players' Association, the union for professional baseball players, slammed the law for its potential impact on its members who come from other countries. In a statement, it suggested immigrants are a much a part of our common American life and culture as citizens:

These international players are very much a part of our national pastime and are important members of our Association. Their contributions to our sport have been invaluable, and their exploits have been witnessed, enjoyed and applauded by millions of Americans. All of them, as well as the clubs for whom they play, have gone to great lengths to ensure full compliance with federal immigration law.

The Phoenix Suns basketball team joined protests of the law by wearing "Los Suns" on their team jerseys during a recent playoff game.

A new coalition of recording artists have joined the boycott against Arizona's anti-immigrant law. The "
Sound Strike" includes hip hop artist such as Cypress Hill, Kanye West, and Streetsweeper Social Club and rock acts like Sonic Youth, Tenacious D, and Billy Bragg and Serj Tankian of System of a Down. In a statement, the group described opposition to the law as a civil rights struggle. "We are asking artists the world over to stand with us, and not allow our collective economic power to be used to aid and abet civil and human rights violations that will be caused by Arizona's odious law," the artists said.

Faith-based organizations have also expressed opposition to SB 1070-type laws and are calling for comprehensive reform. In a press statement, Ian Danley, a youth pastor with the Evangelical organization Neighborhood Ministries in Phoenix, said, "The local community here feels under attack. People talk about leaving but most have nowhere to go. They've lived here for so long and everything they have is here in Arizona. People in faith communities here in Arizona are calling for real political leadership that goes past border showmanship and calls for real change."

Rev. Sam Rodriguez of the conservative National Hispanic Christian Leadership Coalition added, "We have reached a point of crisis in Arizona and across the nation as other states seek to fill the void left by Congress' inaction. Until we see leadership from Republicans in the Senate and the President, the chaos of piecemeal laws and families torn apart will only get worse."

Police chiefs slam SB 1070

Late last month 10 police chiefs from major U.S. cities across the country, including Phoenix and Tucson, Ariz., expressed strong disapproval of Arizona's anti-immigrant law in a meeting with US Attorney General Eric Holder. Representing the Police Executive Research Forum, the police chiefs explained they told Attorney General Holder that Arizona's immigration law will drive a "wedge between police and the communities they serve."

Tucson Chief of Police Roberto Villaseñor, an outspoken critic of the law, said, "We have all expressed concern that this will cause a divide between our communities and our agencies." Recent declines in crime, he explained, have resulted from hard-won close relations between the community and the police. Police are more successful in protecting communities from crime when they have good communication and meaningful ties to the people they protect.

When those relations are disrupted, as SB 1070 will cause, policing becomes far more difficult. "What we feel will happen with this legislation is it will put a level of mistrust and will break down the relationships we have worked so hard to establish over the last several years," he said.

"We're concerned that it will increase crime as opposed to reduce crime," the 30-year Tucson police veteran added.

If people believe that they or a loved one may be deported if they report a crime to the police, they may not come forward to report crimes. Because of this, LAPD Chief Charlie Beck explained, a law like SB 1070 would be "dangerous." "It inhibits people from coming forward as victims. It inhibits people not only coming forward as a witness but also testifying and going through the extensive process that is required in the legal system," he said. If people are afraid to come forward, crimes will go unsolved and "we're doomed to failure."

Because of this the law will have a special impact on women, said National Organization for Women President Terry O'Neill in a recent press statement. It could pressure women who are victims of criminal violence from seeking help, from medical care to police protection. "By deterring immigrant women from seeking help, SB 1070 would increase the risk of violence to them and their children, often with tragic consequences. Additionally, when husbands and fathers are deported, many families lose their primary means of support and are left destitute, with no access to social services or public assistance," O'Neill said.

Such a punitive approach to immigration policy will not have the desired impact on controlling the flow of people across the border, the police chiefs pointed out. Arizona Association Chiefs of Police President John Harris pointed out the law won't change the immigration issue. "(SB 1070) when it goes into effect, it still will have not the impact that we want to have on the border."

Echoing this statement, Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey noted that forcing police to divert resources to immigration enforcement will not improve border control as claimed by supporters of SB 1070. "It will not stop the flow of illegal immigrants across our borders," he predicted. "It will only strain relationships."

"The immigration system is broken right now, and it it needs to be fixed. But it needs to be fixed at a federal level not a local law enforcement level," Villaseñor remarked.

After passage of the bill, Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., urged a boycott of the state. At least a dozen U.S. cities, from Los Angeles to Boston, followed suit, announcing boycotts on travel and business dealings with Arizona. Four major organizations who had planned to hold their annual conventions in Arizona moved their meeting elsewhere, costing the state an estimated $90 million dollars.

Needed: federal action

It is clear that the passage of SB 1070 by Arizona Republicans served as a distraction. Though they have dominated that state's politics for several years, their fiscal policies failed to prevent and probably will worsen the state's serious economic crisis. Without meaningful solutions for balancing their budget, paying for public services and reducing unemployment, they turned to a traditional right-wing stand-by: bashing immigrants. They successfully created this uproar to give a false impression that their policies are popular, to shift their increasingly discontented political base's (the Tea Party) attention from jobs to immigrants, and to mobilize sympathy by presenting themselves as victims of outside pressure.

Attacks on immigrants have never provided meaningful solutions to economic crisis. Take, for example, the Hoover administration's mass deportations of Latinos after the onset of the Great Depression. In 1931, federal authorities used military personnel to forcibly deport some 500,000 immigrants from Mexico. After this, the unemployment rate worsened. Only until serious government intervention began to put people back to work under the New Deal did American workers find relief.

Today, right-wing media personalities lash out at Democratic proposals for reform as "amnesty" and are demanding more enforcement-only responses to immigration. Republican lawmakers want to throw more money at the broken immigration system, which already consumes $20 billion annually for the Border Patrol and ICE combined, rather than find a comprehensive solution that keeps families together, reduces exploitation, enables police to protect communities, and improves views of the U.S. held by the rest of the world. Congressional Republicans want to spend more taxpayer dollars on a border wall and thousands of more troops, both of which have proven wasteful and ineffective in solving the problem. From a nation of immigrants, they want America to become a fortress of exclusion.

President Obama tried to preempt Republican demands on this point late last month by announcing plans to move 1,200 National Guard troops to the border. But without legislative action on the other three parts of reform Americans say they want, he pointed out in a May news conference, militarization will fail to provide a meaningful solution. President Obama expressed opposition to SB 1070 on civil rights lines, adding, it encourages "a patchwork of 50 different immigration laws around the country in an area that is inherently the job of the federal government."

"We have to have a comprehensive approach to immigration reform," the president said. "We're not going to solve the problem just solely as a consequence of sending National Guard troops down there. We're going to solve this problem because we have created an orderly, fair, humane immigration framework in which people are able to immigrate to this country in a legal fashion; employers are held accountable for hiring legally present workers."

Early media reports say Attorney General Eric Holder's office is writing legal briefs in preparation for challenging SB 1070 in federal court. But congressional Democrats seem less than anxious to answer the President's call for comprehensive reform. They have done little more than outline some basic proposals for reform similar to the four basic areas listed above.

Congressional Democrats have a big opportunity to pass legislation that protects families, improves the immigration system, enables people to gain legal status, along with its rights and responsibilities, and reverses the mistaken notion that civil rights abuses and racism offer the best ways to handle immigration. Leadership on this question could eliminate the issue as a wedge and force Republicans to run on their "party of no" slogan. Taking the correct action could also give immigrant working families a chance at fair and equitable treatment in a nation of immigrants.


Vicente Duque said...

Immigrant beaten and electrocuted to death, being tasered by US Customs and Border Patrol in a detention facility - Kicked on the floor and punched by many agents - Five Children born in America

RTAmerica — June 03, 2010 — Anastasio Hernandez Rojas, an immigrant who died after being tasered by US Customs and Border Patrol during Memorial Day weekend, is now being mourned. A father of five children who were born in the United States, Hernandez was recently deported to Mexico after living in the US for many years. Christian Ramirez says this is an excessive use of force and he is asking that criminal investigation be opened so that the perpetrators can be brought to justice.

Immigrant beaten and electrocuted to death

RTAmerica — June 03, 2010 — Friends for Anastasio Hernandez Rojas are holding a vigil after he was killed by US Customs and Border Patrol officers beat him and used a taser on him until he died. The officers have said that Anastasio Hernandez Rojas was out of control and they had to use a taser to restrain him. Enrique Morones says that he is outraged over what has occurred to Anastasio Hernandez Rojas who was deported after being caught for a traffic violation.

Innocent immigrant murdered by Border Patrol

Look for the videos in or watch them directly here :

Vicente Duque

HLADC-SF said...

Hi Vicente,

Really appreciate your adding to the posts.

I saw the video, Enrique Morones makes another great point, the same police Jurisdictions where the act occurred, are the same ones who make the investigations.

Not to throw any aspersions on their integrity, but under these circumstances, it is inevitable that there usually is a 'conflict of interest perception' on the public.

The sad part is that we see it all of the time involving all ethnic groups, black, white, latino, etc.