March 30, 2009

Watching for Immigrants Off California's Coast

Boat capsized. Twenty-five passengers, fully clothed, flailing in the surf. Hypothermia setting in." Ed Vodrazka, 50, has a feeling he'll be hearing that call come in over the radio any day now. As a lieutenant lifeguard, Vodrazka, who lives near Torrey Pines Beach, about 17 miles (27 km) north of San Diego, would be the first to respond. But would the victims — illegal immigrants from Mexico who pay $4,000 each to get to American shores — accept his help? "They've just spent their life savings to get to the free world," he says. "They're scared people who are desperate and may try to avoid being saved."

To most, Torrey Pines evokes an image of Southern California splendor, an endless beach dwarfed by sea cliffs. But its seclusion has also made it the preferred landing spot for human smugglers, who often pack two dozen illegal immigrants onto fishing boats and hustle them into the country across dangerous nighttime seas. Since last July, four unmanned boats believed to have been piloted by smugglers have washed up onshore, with another intercepted nearby. All have been long, narrow panga-style fishing boats with outboard Yamaha motors. Food wrappers and life jackets littered the interiors. (See pictures of San Diego's high seas border patrol.)

The landings are part of a recent spike in illegal immigration by sea to the San Diego area. In the past five months, federal agents with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) have intercepted 14 boats and made 122 arrests. This year they are on pace to double their record arrest total for 2008. On March 19, a fishing boat was intercepted 33 miles (53 km) off the coast; 21 illegal immigrants were aboard, including a pregnant woman. The jump in sea crossings is mostly due to a clampdown at the land border between Tijuana and San Diego, which has become almost impassable thanks to an increase in border-patrol agents, a National Guard presence, a refortified fence and ubiquitous cameras. "It's virtually impossible to cross," says David Kyle, associate professor at the University of California at Davis and an adviser to the U.N. on human smuggling. The tightened border has left smugglers three alternatives, he says: try to bribe a border-patrol agent, cross east in the treacherous desert or go west into the sea.

Three years ago, a trip north in a rickety boat ran about $900 a head, says Juan Munoz-Torres, spokesman for the CBP agency. Now the spike in demand has jacked up the price to $4,000 or $5,000. For smugglers, the economic incentive is obvious. "[They] can make in a night what they can't make honestly in a year," says Myron Ackerman, a fisherman with a quarter-century on San Diego waters. (See pictures of the border fence between the U.S. and Mexico.)

The Federal Government has stepped up enforcement dramatically since 2006 through a task force led by the air-and-marine branch of the region's CBP agency. Agents patrol the waters in boats and aircraft at all hours and coordinate intelligence and operations with the Coast Guard, border patrol and Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

At 4:30 a.m. on a recent Sunday, Keley Hill piloted a 39-ft. (12 m) Midnight Express powerboat near the border. The boat sloshed in the 4-ft. (1.2 m) chop, running lights out to avoid detection. Supervisory agent Mark White stood on the bow, peering through night-vision goggles that revealed an empty sea clear out to Coronado island, 8 miles (13 km) away. Hill, director of the CBP's marine-interdiction unit in San Diego, busied himself scanning the green squiggles on the radar screen and radioed to agents in helicopters hovering above the coastline. "They're the bird dogs," Hill says of the choppers. "We're the hunters."

There's not much hunt in it, though. If the agents sight a smuggler's boat, it's game over — the feds' boats are faster, their drivers better trained and their guns bigger, Hill explains. Typically the smugglers just surrender, as their cell phones and BlackBerrys fly overboard. "The first thing we'll see are little black things going 'splash, splash, splash,'" he says. Should boats escape notice on the water, overnight lookouts now stand watch at Torrey Pines Beach. "It's cat and mouse," Hill says. "We watch them. They watch us."

Australian Immigration News; Changes to Immigration Act for Same-Sex Couples

The government has announced changes to the Immigration Act, in order to eliminate any discrimination against same-sex couples and their children.

These changes will result in same-sex couples receiving the same treatment as opposite-sex de facto couples, both as partners and parents. Currently the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC) recognize same-sex relationships within its migration and citizenship programmes. The proposed changes will result in same-sex couples being eligible for a greater range of visas, as well as citizenship provisions. Changes will include same-sex couples included in the definition of "de facto partner" and a new definition of "spouse".

The changes will simplify the visa framework, along with making it more equitable. All visas that currently include provisions for "spouse" will be available to opposite-sex and same-sex de facto partners alike. The key dates in which legislation will change are as follows:

From 15 March 2009, changes will be made to the Immigration Act 1946 and the Australian Citizenship Act 2007.

From 1 July 2009m changes will be made to the Immigration Act 1971, Migration Regulations 1994 and the Migration Act 1958.

If you are interested in Visas to Australia, contact Migration Expert for information and advice on which visa is best suited to you. You can also try our visa eligibility assessment to see if you are eligible to apply for a visa to Australia.

Foreign Ways and War Scars Test Hospitals

March 29, 2009

By: Denise Grady

MINNEAPOLIS — The man from Somalia sat nervously in an examining room at Hennepin County Medical Center, gingerly brushing his fingertips against the left side of his head.

“You’re having surgery to remove shrapnel from your skull,” Dr. Steven Hillson told him, pausing to let a Somali interpreter dressed in a black head scarf and a floor-length skirt translate.

The patient, Abdulqadir Jiirow, 31, nodded and explained that the shrapnel had been there since 1991, when he was 14 and civil war broke out in Somalia and an artillery shell smashed into his home. It had not bothered him much until recently, when he began to work at a meat-packing plant and the helmet and goggles needed for the job pressed on it painfully.

Mr. Jiirow said he worked in a small town several hours away and shared an apartment with other Somalis, while his wife and child lived in Minneapolis. He saw them on weekends.

“It’s still astonishing,” the doctor, shaking his head, said after Mr. Jiirow left. “ ‘Someone sent artillery into my home.’ But it’s common.”

Hennepin County Medical Center, a sprawling complex in downtown Minneapolis near the Metrodome, offers an extraordinary vantage point on the ways immigrants are testing the American medical establishment. The new arrivals — many fleeing repression, war, genocide or grinding poverty — bring distinctive patterns of illness and injury and cultural beliefs about life, death, sickness and health.

In a city where Swedes and Norwegians once had separate hospitals, Hennepin spends $3 million a year on interpreters fluent in 50 languages to communicate effectively with its foreign-born patients.

Many arrive with health problems seldom seen in this country — vitamin deficiencies, intestinal parasites and infectious diseases like tuberculosis, for instance — and unusually high levels of emotional trauma and stress. Over time, as they pick up Western habits, some develop Western ailments, too, like obesity, diabetes and heart disease, and yet they often question the unfamiliar lifelong treatments these chronic diseases need.

Some also resist conventional medical wisdom or practices, forcing change on the hospital. The objections of Somali women to having babies delivered by male doctors has led Hennepin, gradually, to develop an obstetrical staff made up almost entirely of women.

Doctors here say that for many of these newcomers, the most common health problems, and the hardest to treat, lie at the blurry line between body and mind, where emotional scars from troubled pasts may surface as physical illness, pain and depression.

“Being an immigrant, it will be a chronic illness for the rest of your life,” said Dr. Veronica Svetaz, a physician from Argentina who works at one of Hennepin’s neighborhood clinics. “You don’t belong anywhere anymore.”

From Far-Flung Countries

Like many American cities, Minneapolis has seen a tremendous influx of Hispanics, many of them here illegally from Ecuador and Mexico. Hispanics, both legal and illegal, make up the biggest immigrant group in the state, as well as in the nation.

But since the late 1970s, this once lily-white city on the prairie, frozen solid half the year, has also been taking in waves of legal refugees from more far-flung parts of the world: Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Russia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Liberia, Ethiopia, Somalia, Myanmar and other countries.

So many people came here from war zones that a nonprofit group opened the nation’s first Center for Victims of Torture in Minneapolis in 1987. Statewide, the number of foreign-born people more than doubled in the 1990s and is nearly a quarter million now. They make up 5 percent of the population.

The influx from Somalia has been especially large. A million people fled the country when civil war broke out. Many spent years in squalid, disease-ridden refugee camps or shantytowns in Ethiopia or Kenya.

The lucky ones, granted refugee status, started arriving in the United States in the mid-1990s. Many were relocated to Minneapolis by the State Department because of the city’s strong social services and its many civic groups that help newcomers. There are an estimated 35,000 to 40,000 Somalis in Minnesota, most in Minneapolis, more than in any other American city. But the exact number is not known because refugees are not tracked when they move from state to state. Some officials and Somalis themselves think the figure is much higher than the state estimates, perhaps even double.

“Nobody can count us,” said Dr. Osman Harare, a physician and public health official in Somalia who became a patient advocate and interpreter at Hennepin. “We are nomads.”

The community is thriving, though it is not without troubles. The F.B.I. has been investigating whether young Somali men in Minneapolis have been recruited to commit acts of terrorism in Somalia, and health officials have been looking into reports of unusually high rates of autism in the children of Somali immigrants.

A 446-bed public hospital, Hennepin has a tradition of turning no one away, and it has become the first stop for many immigrants who need a doctor.

No questions are asked about immigration status. About 20 percent of the center’s patients were born in other countries, and they account for $100 million of its $500 million yearly expenses for patient care. Hennepin’s interpreters are called on to help patients more than 130,000 times a year. The greatest demand by far is for Spanish, followed by Somali.

One of the challenges in treating immigrants is money. Hennepin has $45 million a year in costs that are not reimbursed, and though immigrants by no means account for all of it, they are “a major contributor,” said Mike Harristhal, the hospital’s vice president for public policy and strategy.

Most Somalis are in this country legally and qualify for various government health insurance programs. For people here illegally, it is a whole other story. They used to be eligible for Medicaid, but are not anymore, except for emergencies or if they are pregnant or under 18. Hennepin has sliding-scale fees for the indigent, but some cannot afford even those prices.

Minnesota has its share of people who oppose immigration and resent footing the bills for foreigners, and Mr. Harristhal acknowledged that the melting-pot atmosphere at Hennepin drives some potential customers away. But the hospital is a renowned trauma center; even those who turn up their noses at the clientele accept that for someone in a car accident, there is no better place to be.

Complex Needs at the Clinic

Much of Hennepin’s work with immigrants takes place in a stretch of examining rooms and offices on the seventh floor, which has become an international health clinic with certain days set aside for various ethnic groups.

On a Tuesday afternoon last fall, a 62-year-old woman from Somalia made her first visit to the clinic. Initially, she was exuberant, speaking so rapidly that an interpreter could barely keep up.

“I love this big government hospital, the same government that welcomed me here after the war and the sadness of Somalia,” she said, beaming at Deborah Boehm, a nurse practitioner. “Your face welcomes me.”

The patient’s broad smile showed gaps in her teeth. She wore a traditional Muslim head scarf, a floor-length skirt in bright blue and purple, flip-flops and a gauzy, pale aqua shawl over a sweatshirt. Her fingernails were tinted orange with henna.

She had a dozen bottles of pills from other clinics in the Twin Cities, and a long list of ailments: arthritis, digestive trouble, allergies, insomnia and, worst of all, pain. Twice in recent months she had gone to the emergency room for terrible aches in her legs and burning pain in her side.

Ms. Boehm said she would order a blood test to measure vitamin D, because deficiencies are common in Somalis and are a frequent cause of aches and pains. (Aching all over is not uncommon among Somalis, and older people sometimes tell doctors they feel as if camels or horses have been walking on them all night.)

The body uses sunlight to make vitamin D, and dark-skinned people make less than whites. Somali women are especially prone to deficiencies because their traditional clothing covers so much of their skin.

The patient said she sometimes could not recall how many of her children were still alive. The forgetfulness had begun when she left Africa and all the problems there.

Ms. Boehm, 56, with short, curly hair and glasses, looked at the patient intently as she took notes and said, “Haa,” the Somali word for yes. “Tell me about the problems.”

The woman’s face crumpled. She rocked in her seat, choked out a few words, then bit her hand and wiped her eyes with her shawl.

The translation, “Don’t remind me,” was unneeded.

Ms. Boehm calmly changed the subject to matters of digestion and a local supermarket that sold camel’s milk.

Later, Ms. Boehm predicted that much of her new patient’s physical trouble would turn out to have emotional roots in Somalia. Anguish morphing into physical pain and depression is something Ms. Boehm has seen time and again in treating Somali refugees.

Ms. Boehm began working with Somali women at the clinic in 1997, and her job quickly became complicated.

“I began to hear about the pain,” Ms. Boehm said. “I couldn’t find any reason for it. They would say it felt like fire or electricity, descriptions I wasn’t familiar with. I did X-rays, lab tests, ordered physical therapy. Somehow, I just couldn’t get it to go away. After 6 to 12 months I said, ‘We have to look at the mental health piece.’ ”

At her urging, the clinic brought in a psychologist, and Ms. Boehm said, “I aggressively worked on getting these women into therapy.”

Dr. Mary Bradmiller, the psychologist, said the rates of depression and post traumatic stress disorder were high. Most of her Somali patients are mothers with “tremendous psychosocial stress, domestic violence, child protection issues, war trauma, nightmares, flashbacks and separation from their families,” Dr. Bradmiller said.

A study of 1,134 Somali and Eritrean refugees in the United States in 2004 found that 25 percent of the men and 47 percent of the women had been tortured, rates that the researchers considered shockingly high. The torture of women frequently involves rape.

Survivors often resist psychological help and deny their problems. Somali culture, like many others, stigmatizes mental illness. In Somalia, mental troubles are often attributed to spirit possession, and psychotherapy barely exists. “They might have talked to a sheik or an imam or a female healer,” Dr. Bradmiller said.

She has deliberately kept an office in the medical clinic, a familiar place to patients, so they do not feel as if they are going to a mental hospital. The director of care for the Somalis, Dr. Douglas Pryce, and Ms. Boehm urge certain patients to see Dr. Bradmiller and sometimes even walk them down the hall to make sure they go.

“They never come for therapy unless there’s a strong recommendation from a medical person they trust,” Dr. Bradmiller said.

Still, it has not been easy. Early on, she noticed insulted looks on patients’ faces when her role was being explained and found out that some interpreters were calling her the “crazy doctor.” Other interpreters laughed at what patients said.

Indeed, Dr. Bradmiller said, some therapists have left the clinic because of their struggles with interpreters. Now, she introduces herself as a “talk therapist” and chooses interpreters carefully.

“Some patients have completely checked out,” Dr. Bradmiller said. “The older children are bringing up the younger ones, and the mother doesn’t leave the house.”

If patients reach the point of talking about what happened to them in Somalia or at the refugee camps, it has to be handled carefully to prevent their being traumatized all over again, Dr. Bradmiller said.

The patients’ stories may also bring back the interpreters’ horrific memories, so Dr. Bradmiller has tried to find the interpreters who are the least vulnerable.

“I try not to digest what is being said so it doesn’t affect me,” said one, Abdi Rahmansali. “I try my best, but I’m a human being. I do get affected. Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, you feel your hair standing up.”

Dr. Bradmiller estimated that about only 10 percent of her patients saw the connection between their physical and emotional pain.

But for those who do, she said, the changes can be striking.

“They go to school, they cook, they put on makeup and colorful clothes, they start talking to you in English,” she said. “When life becomes more interesting than therapy, it’s time for therapy to be done.”

Home Health in Question

On an afternoon in late September, Dr. Pryce and Dr. Harare, the interpreter and patient advocate, emerged from an examining room looking tired but wryly triumphant.

They had just finished negotiating, politely but persistently, with a patient who — just as politely but persistently — had refused to allow any blood tests because it was the holy month of Ramadan and he feared that having blood drawn might be a sin.

Finally, they telephoned an imam, who declared there was no sin. The blood was drawn.

Dr. Pryce says one of the great joys of working in a hospital like Hennepin is finding ways to bridge such cultural divides — and knowing that his patients are better off because of it. But the cultural challenges can cut both ways, he said, and lately one issue has begun to grate on him and Ms. Boehm.

Somali patients have been asking them to fill out forms stating that they need personal-care assistants. Some do not need the help, Dr. Pryce said, but are being egged on by Somali-run health care agencies that want to collect insurance payments for the services.

Somalis in Minneapolis, often entrepreneurial and business minded, have opened the agencies to take advantage of relatively generous rules in Minnesota that were originally meant to help keep the elderly and chronically ill out of nursing homes.

Tricia Alvarado, director of home care for the Minnesota Visiting Nurse Agency, which evaluates requests for home help, agreed that there had been an explosion of Somali agencies, with 100 or so opening in just the last three years. Many are run by people without any medical training. And Ms. Alvarado confirmed that the agencies were putting a hard sell on potential clients.

“ ‘Diabetes?’ ” Dr. Pryce said, relaying what he said was a typical conversation between a sick Somali and a Somali-run agency. “ ‘You need a personal-care assistant. Here’s a form. Give it to your doctor.’ ”

Dr. Pryce turns down requests that he thinks are unwarranted, but patients argue and sometimes even act sicker than they really are.

The whole thing leaves him “hopping mad,” Dr. Pryce said. “I want to be a good steward of our resources, the tax money we’re all paying.”

The same thing happened with Russian immigrants in the 1990s, he said, even though state regulations were stricter then.

The current situation with the Somalis is part of a larger problem in Minnesota: the number of clients, and the costs of personal care, more than doubled from 2002 to 2008, and the number of agencies more than tripled. A report in January by the state legislative auditor said, “Personal care services remain unacceptably vulnerable to fraud and abuse”; the state is drawing up plans to tighten its control of the services.

“I love the Somali people and their culture,” Dr. Pryce said. “I like taking care of them. It’s rewarding and interesting. They don’t drink, they don’t smoke much, they’re living the American dream, they need our help. Then you have this other side that’s really painful, this contentious issue of who gets what.”

March 27, 2009

May Day Immigration Marches

By: David Bacon
March 27, 2009

In a little over a month, hundreds of thousands, perhaps even millions, of people will fill the streets in city after city, town after town, across the US. This year these May Day marches of immigrant workers will make an important demand on the Obama administration: End the draconian enforcement policies of the Bush administration. Establish a new immigration policy based on human rights and recognition of the crucial economic and social contributions of immigrants to US society.
This year's marches will continue the recovery in the US of the celebration of May Day, recognized in the rest of the world as the day recognizing the contributions and achievements of working people. That recovery started on Monday, May 1, 2006, when over a million people filled the streets of Los Angeles, with hundreds of thousands more in Chicago, New York and cities and towns throughout the United States. Again on May Day in 2007 and 2008, immigrants and their supporters demonstrated and marched, from coast to coast.
One sign found in almost every march said it all: "We are Workers, not Criminals!" Often it was held in the calloused hands of men and women who looked as though they'd just come from work in a factory, cleaning an office building or picking grapes. The sign stated an obvious truth. Millions of people have come to the United States to work, not to break its laws. Some have come with visas, and others without them. But they are all contributors to the society they've found here.
The protests have seemed spontaneous, but they come as a result of years of organizing, educating and agitating - activities that have given immigrants confidence, and at least some organizations the credibility needed to mobilize direct mass action. This movement is the legacy of Bert Corona, immigrant rights pioneer and founder of many national Latino organizations. He trained thousands of immigrant activists, taught the value of political independence, and believed that immigrants themselves must conduct the fight for immigrant rights. Most of the leaders of the radical wing of today's immigrant rights movement were students or disciples of Corona.
Immigrants, however, feel their backs are against the wall, and they came out of their homes and workplaces to show it. In part, their protests respond to a wave of draconian proposals to criminalize immigration status, and work itself for undocumented people. But the protests do more than react to a particular congressional or legislative agenda. They are the cumulative response to years of bashing and denigrating immigrants generally, and Mexicans and Latinos in particular.
In 1986, the Immigration Reform and Control Act made it a crime, for the first time in US history, to hire people without papers. Defenders argued that if people could not legally work they would leave. Life was not so simple.
Undocumented people are part of the communities they live in. They cannot simply go, nor should they. They seek the same goals of equality and opportunity that working people in the US have historically fought to achieve. In addition, for most immigrants, there are no jobs to return to in the countries from which they've come. Rufino Dominguez, a Oaxacan community leader in Fresno, California, says, "The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) made the price of corn so low that it's not economically possible to plant a crop anymore. We come to the US to work because there's no alternative." After Congress passed NAFTA, six million displaced people came to the US as a result.
Instead of recognizing this reality, the US government has attempted to make holding a job a criminal act. Some states and local communities, seeing a green light from the Department of Homeland Security, have passed measures that go even further. Last summer, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff proposed a rule requiring employers to fire any worker who couldn't correct a mismatch between the Social Security number the worker had provided an employer and the SSA database. The regulation assumes those workers have no valid immigration visa, and therefore no valid Social Security number.
With 12 million people living in the US without legal immigration status, the regulation would lead to massive firings, bringing many industries and businesses to a halt. Citizens and legal visa holders would be swept up as well, since the Social Security database is often inaccurate. Under Chertoff, the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement has conducted sweeping workplace raids, arresting and deporting thousands of workers. Many have been charged with an additional crime - identity theft - because they used a Social Security number belonging to someone else to get a job. Yet, workers using another number actually deposit money into Social Security funds, and will never collect benefits their contributions paid for.
The Arizona legislature has passed a law requiring employers to verify the immigration status of every worker through a federal database called E-Verify, which is even more incomplete and full of errors than Social Security. They must fire workers whose names get flagged. And Mississippi passed a bill making it a felony for an undocumented worker to hold a job, with jail time of 1-10 years, fines of up to $10,000, and no bail for anyone arrested. Employers get immunity.
Many of these punitive measures were incorporated into proposals for "comprehensive immigration reform" that were debated in Congress in 2006 and 2007. The comprehensive bills combined increased enforcement, especially criminalization of work for the undocumented, with huge guest worker programs under which large employers would recruit temporary labor under contract outside the US, bringing workers into the country in a status that would deny them basic rights and social equality. While those proposals failed in Congress, the Bush administration implemented some of their most draconian provisions by executive order and administrative action.
Together, these factors have produced a huge popular response, which has become most visible in the annual marches and demonstrations on May Day. Nativo Lopez, president of both the Mexican American Political Association and the Hermandad Mexicana Latinoamericana, says "the huge number of immigrants and their supporters in the streets found these compromises completely unacceptable. We will only get what we're ready to fight for, but people are ready and willing to fight for the whole enchilada. Washington legislators and lobbyists fear the growth of a new civil rights movement in the streets, because it rejects their compromises and makes demands that go beyond what they have defined as 'politically possible.'"
The marches have put forward an alternative set of demands, which include a real legal status for the 12 million undocumented people in the US, the right to organize to raise wages and gain workplace rights, increased availability of visas that give immigrants some degree of social equality, especially visas based on family reunification, no expansion of guest worker programs, and a guarantee of human rights to immigrants, especially in communities along the US/Mexican border.
At the same time, the price of trying to push people out of the US who've come here for survival is that the vulnerability of undocumented workers will increase. Unscrupulous employers use that vulnerability to deny overtime pay or minimum wage, or fire workers when they protest or organize. Increased vulnerability ultimately results in cheaper labor and fewer rights for everyone. After deporting over 1,000 workers at Swift meatpacking plants, Homeland Security Secretary Chertoff called for linking "effective interior enforcement and a temporary-worker program.'' The government's goal is cheap labor for large employers. Deportations, firings and guest worker programs all make labor cheaper and contribute to a climate of fear and insecurity for all workers.
The May 1 actions highlight the economic importance of immigrant labor. Undocumented workers deserve legal status because of that labor - their inherent contribution to society. The value they create is never called illegal, and no one dreams of taking it away from the employers who profit from it. Yet the people who produce that value are called exactly that - illegal. All workers create value through their labor, but immigrant workers are especially profitable, because they are so often denied many of the union-won benefits accorded to native-born workers. The average undocumented worker has been in the US for five years. By that time, these workers have paid a high price for their lack of legal status, through low wages and lost benefits.
"Undocumented workers deserve immediate legal status, and have already paid for it," Lopez says.
On May 1, the absence of immigrant workers from workplaces, schools and stores demonstrates their power in the national immigration debate and sends a powerful message that they will not be shut out of the debate over their status. They have rescued from anonymity the struggle for the eight-hour day, begun in Chicago over a century ago by the immigrants of yesteryear. They overcame the legacy of the cold war, in which celebrations of May Day were attacked and banned. They are recovering the traditions of all working people for the people of the United States.

March 25, 2009

Obama's Aunt Back in Boston for Deportation Hearing

By Maria Sacchetti, Globe Staff

President Obama's aunt, a Kenyan immigrant who ignited controversy last year for living in the United States illegally, has returned to her quiet apartment in a Boston public housing complex to prepare for an April 1 deportation hearing.

When her case emerged in the waning days of the presidential race last year, Zeituni Onyango, a tall, frail-looking woman in her late 50s who walks with a cane, fled the media attention to stay with relatives in Cleveland.

She attended Obama's inauguration in January and, according to neighbors, returned to Boston a few weeks ago for her third attempt to fight removal from the United States. She had been living in the country illegally since she was ordered deported in 2004.

Onyango is a half-sister of the president's late father, Barack Obama Sr., who was absent most of Obama's life and who died in a car accident in 1982. The president met his aunt during a trip to Kenya and included her in his 1995 memoir, "Dreams from My Father," but has said he was unaware of her immigration issues.

Now the woman Obama called "Auntie Zeituni" is in a national spotlight, where she is being seen as a test for the president's commitment to enforcing immigration laws.

Obama has not had any involvement in the case, and believes that the case should run its ordinary course, White House spokesman Ben LaBolt said today.

Critics, outraged that she is living in taxpayer funded public housing while thousands of citizens and legal immigrants are on waiting lists, are scrutinizing the case for political favoritism. Others caution that she may have legitimate grounds to stay in the United States.

"The case is unusual in American history because it�s a relative of the president involved in immigration matters," said Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Washington-based Center for Immigration Studies. "It really does present the White House with an opportunity or a minefield. If they follow through on a decision that she should go home, that would actually raise the president�s credibility enormously on immigration enforcement."

Onyango's fate will play out behind closed doors before veteran immigration Judge Leonard Shapiro in Boston. Onyango's lawyer Margaret Wong of Ohio successfully argued to reopen her case in December and have the proceedings closed to the public, according to the Executive Office for Immigration Review, which oversees immigration courts.

Onyango declined two requests for interviews in recent days.

Wong has not responded to repeated requests for comment. But her spokesman told the Cleveland Plain Dealer in January that Onyango would present new evidence to back an asylum claim.

Mexicans Grasp for Asylum

Rights groups are challenging the U.S. position that violence by Mexican drug cartels does not entitle a refugee to haven.

The drug-related violence plaguing Mexico has led to a surge in asylum requests from Mexicans seeking safe haven in the United States.

The number of asylum petitions from Mexican citizens increased from 1,331 in 2005 to 2,231 last year. While most are denied because the U.S. does not recognize fear of violence as grounds for automatic admission, the approval rate has grown during that time from 5 percent to 13 percent.

At least 68 Mexican asylum cases have been received since October 2007 in Denver's Immigration Court — more than from any other country — with more than 3,749 cases in courts nationwide, federal records show.

Lawyers who represent asylum-seekers point to the approximately 6,000 people killed over the past year in Mexican drug wars and worry that a failure to grant more requests will lead to more deaths.

"The way our government is interpreting the law will cause people to die," said Jeff Joseph, head of a Denver immigration law firm.

Among Joseph's clients is a former Mexican police officer named Jesus, who asked that his last name not be used for fear of repercussions against his family and friends still in Mexico.

Three days after drug-cartel gunmen killed his police partner, Jesus resigned from the force. He fled northern Mexico to Denver with his family.

They entered the United States legally as tourists. Now Jesus is seeking political asylum.

"If I go back, I'd be waiting for death," Jesus said.

But even cases in which Mexico's government and police are unable to protect citizens "generally (do) not rise to the level needed" for asylum, said Jedidah Hussey, deputy chief of the asylum division at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, part of the Department of Homeland Security.

Qualifications disputed

Human-rights advocates are challenging the U.S. position that violence or threats of violence by nongovernmental entities such as drug cartels do not entitle a refugee to asylum.

"Asylum jurisprudence is replete with examples of cases in which people fleeing their home countries based on persecution by a nongovernment actor have received protection," said Regina Germain, the Denver-based author of a textbook on asylum and legal director of the Rocky Mountain Survivors Center, a nonprofit human-rights group.

Germain cited cases in which the United States has granted asylum to Colombians fleeing FARC rebels, Filipinos fleeing the New People's Army, El Salvadorans fleeing paramilitary death squads and Togolese women fleeing genital mutilation.

The United Nations "recognizes that individuals are entitled to refugee status based on persecution by non-state actors," she said.

Historically, rapidly changing governments and dictatorships, such as the former one in Iraq, were more likely to provoke asylum petitions, but federal immigration judges in Denver and elsewhere now are poised to hear details of alleged persecution in Mexico.

Retired federal immigration Judge Bruce Einhorn, now a candidate to be chief immigration judge, said he believes judges will make compassionate decisions as cases from Mexico move through the system. Mexican police officers and people who witnessed crimes "fall within the categories that are protected" under U.S. asylum law, Einhorn said.

"As our world evolves, as persecution evolves, it's appropriate to allow the law to be applied to those who are persecuted," he said.

Asylum protection traditionally is granted to refugees, regardless of their country of origin, who can prove persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution based on race, religion, politics, nationality or membership in a particular social group. Those seeking asylum can apply at U.S. ports of entry — records show 312 Mexicans did so last year, up from 50 in 2002 — and at U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services offices nationwide.

Cartel violence growing

U.S. officials generally grant fewer than 10,000 requests a year — a tiny portion of total immigration — usually the result of government persecution. Those granted asylum can remain in the U.S. and eventually become legal permanent residents.

On Feb. 20, the U.S. State Department issued an alert warning that Mexico's cartels "are engaged in an increasingly violent conflict" resulting in "violent attacks in cities across the country."

Mexican consular officials in Denver, acknowledging that people are fleeing for safety, said there's no position on how asylum requests should be handled.

Mexicans receiving threats "should ask for protection from the Mexican government. That should be their first option," legal affairs consul Jorge Gonzalez-Mayagoitia said.

But Jesus had little faith in that suggestion. He and others say rival cartels have infiltrated Mexico's police departments and that officers loyal to cartels can't be trusted. Shortly after he and his family left Mexico, a stranger approached his mother-in-law asking where they were.

Working with a lawyer, he is amassing documents including photos of his dead partner's bullet-riddled truck. He yearns to resume what had been a promising law-enforcement career.

If U.S. authorities wanted to hire him to help combat cartel violence, he'd be interested, Jesus said.

"If I was a seller of pastries, or a mechanic, I might return," he said. "But I worked as a police officer and they know me."

9th Circuit: Immigration Judges Wrongly Denied Asylum to Chinese Christians

March 24, 2009

Immigration judges wrongly denied asylum to three Chinese Christians who suffered alleged persecution at the hands of Chinese authorities after the trio supplied food and clothing to North Koreans fleeing to China.

The Chinese nationals fled to the United States after they were arrested and suffered alleged torture at the hands of Chinese officials for providing humanitarian assistance to North Koreans seeking refuge in China, according to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Monday.

The immigration judge in the lead case of three consolidated appeals rejected asylum finding the aliens were complaining of treatment for prosecution of criminal acts in China, not persecution for political beliefs.

But Judge Kim Wardlaw pointed out there is no Chinese law against providing the help to Korean refugees, only a national policy discouraging it.

"We hold that when a petitioner violates no Chinese law, but instead comes to the aid of refugees in defiance of China's unofficial policy of discouraging such aid, a [Board of Immigration Appeals] finding that the petitioner is a mere criminal subject to legitimate prosecution is not supported by substantial evidence," Wardlaw wrote.

The decision "will help in an area of the law that was nebulous," said Joseph Porta, of Cohen, Porta & Kim in Los Angeles and attorney for Xun Li, one of the three Chinese seeking U.S. asylum.

The appeals court was making a legal distinction, is it persecution or prosecution, said Porta. The question comes up regularly in asylum cases, he said.

Charles Miller, Justice Department spokesman said, "We're going to review the decision and make a determination how to respond."

Li, a Chinese native citizen of North Korean descent, began helping Korean refugees after he converted to Christianity, he told the court. The Chinese arrested him in 2002 during a church service in a private home. Li alleged police beat, kicked and slapped him during an interrogation seeking names of others involved. He was then allegedly stripped to his underwear and left handcuffed to an electric pole in frigid weather for an hour in an effort to get him to talk, the court said.

He fled to Los Angeles after his family paid a bribe to police at a labor camp to free Li, according to the court opinion, Li v. Holder, 05-70053.

The immigration judge found Li's testimony lacked credibility but Wardlaw found the judge's "scatter-shot justifications for his adverse credibility determination, however, are riddled with speculation, and are based on minor inconsistencies that do not go to the heart of the claim."

The appeals court said the case back to the lower court to determine whether circumstances in China have changed sufficiently to eliminate the aliens' fear of persecution. Porta said he did not believe anything has changed for those who harbor North Koreans in China.

In the other two cases, Jarrett Green of New York-based Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom's Los Angeles office represented He Yun Fang and Miguel Olano of Vargas & Assoc. in Santa Clarita, Calif. represented Xiangzhe Cui.

Online Citizenship Test Study Guide

Frederick Vallaey's online citizenship test study guide:

March 23, 2009


By: Marisol LeBrón
Mar 17 2009

In an attempt to deter Mexican immigrants from crossing the border, the Border Patrol has released a music album titled, "Migracorridos." The corrido is a genre of Mexican folk ballads popular in the border region that frequently celebrates the exploits of outlaws and rebels. But like past campaigns, the Border Patrol's new musical initiative fails to address issues of safety and human rights along the U.S.-Mexico border.
For centuries, Mexican narrative folk ballads, known as corridos, have chronicled the exploits of outlaws and rebels. Countless corridos have told the tribulations of smugglers trying to get their contraband across the border. And in recent decades, with the boom of the drug trade in Mexico, the songs have increasingly turned to stories about the narcotrafficking. But these "narcocorridos" existed long before the rise of today's drug cartels.
It's strange, then, that the U.S. Border Patrol would be promoting a genre so infused with anti-authoritarian sentiment. But that's exactly what the law enforcement agency is doing, even releasing its own album of corridos.
In an attempt to deter immigrants from crossing the border, the Border Patrol distributed its "Migracorridos" album to dozens of radio stations in Mexico. The name of the CD plays on the Spanish for "migration" and the pejorative nickname for immigration enforcement agencies: La Migra.

The CD is part of the Border Patrol's "No Más Cruces en la Frontera" (No More Crosses on the Border) campaign, which has focused on purchasing airtime in Mexico for television and radio spots that provide cautionary tales for those thinking about heading to El Norte. The campaign marks the first time the Border Patrol has bought airtime for advertisements. The CD is the next leg of these efforts.
The “migracorridos” always end in death with a family broken apart. In the song “Veinte,” the narrator describes a treacherous journey north in which several people trying to crossover die of thirst in the desert with "blistered" and "scabby" feet from walking. Abelardo watches his cousin die of dehydration in the desert heat in the song "El Más Grande Enemigo." Aberlardo decides to go back to Mexico to give his cousin a proper burial, vowing to his dead cousin: “If God takes my life, let it be in my beloved land.”
In "En La Raya," a young man talks about his friend dying en la raya (on the line) and having to make a cross out of sticks to mark the grave. The sight of the wooden cross gives him the courage to return home and never attempt to cross again because he doesn’t want to see any more "crosses on the border."
Often criticized for focusing almost exclusively on physical enforcement, the Border Patrol began turning to "safety" and "prevention" in recent years. This shift resulted in a multi-pronged approach to enforcement, including continuing construction of the wall and increased patrols along the border, but also things like the "No Más Cruces" campaign instituted as part of the “Border Safety Initiative”
The Border Patrol teamed up Elevación [2], a Washington, D.C.-based advertising agency to work on the campaign. With high-profile clientele like New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Elevación specializes in Latino/a marketing and outreach. The company has been working on the No Más Cruces campaign for seven years. With the help of Elevación, the Border Patrol has put out commercials, posters, and other kinds of promotional materials, but the "Migracorridos" CD is a first.
Elevación President Jimmy Learned told the BBC [3] that he conducted research in Mexico “before deciding to target 25 radio stations in six states with the highest count of U.S.-bound émigrés.” Learned also said the campaign could soon be expanded to Central America.
The Border Patrol has not disclosed the costs of producing and distributing the CD. But an early part of the campaign in 2005 spent $1.5 million on television spots alone, according to the Los Angeles Times [4].
Young migrants caught by U.S. Border Patrol agents in southern Arizona after walking more than 25 miles through the desert. (By Karl W. Hoffman [5])
The agency has been careful to keep its imprint off the album afraid Mexican audiences would disregard the songs if they knew who was behind it. Learned told the AP [6], “A lot of people thought the Mexican government was behind it – the last thing we wanted was to put ‘paid by la migra.'”
The Border Patrol has good reason to be concerned about public reaction if word spread that it was behind "Migracorridos." Jose Gasca, manager of La Zeta radio station in Morelia, Michoacán, told the AP the songs hit a chord with audiences, but that if his listeners knew the message was sent courtesy of the Border Patrol, “They'd feel as if la migra was after them in their own country.”
Some critics see the campaign as emblematic of Bush-era federal funding for media propaganda under the "War on Terror" in the mold of military "psychological operations," or PSYOPs. Nezua, a blogger for The Unapologetic Mexican website [7], notes a better name for the campaign might be “migrapsyops” or “psyop-corrdios.” Although some might argue that claims of PSYOPs are exaggerated, the U.S. intelligence community defines "gray propaganda" as situations in which the source of the information (the U.S. government) is deliberately hidden or ambiguous because disclosure would compromise its effectiveness.
The campaign can also be criticized for deploying notions of deficient masculinity to deter would-be-migrants. Throughout the album, the songs claim it takes a real man not to cross the border. In "Veinte," the singer croons, “Chickening out is also a manly thing to do." Indeed, in these songs stereotypical notions of machismo are simultaneously admonished and appealed to in trying to get immigrants to think twice about crossing.
The Border Patrol touts the campaign as a complete success. Agency spokeswoman Wendi Lee cites the decrease in migrant deaths from a record high of 492 in 2005 to 390 last year. But most interpretations on the decline in fatalities point to several other factors, including reduced migration because of the economic crisis and the immigration crackdown.
Ultimately, the No Más Cruces campaign, contrary to statements by the Border Patrol, does not address issues of safety along the border. The television spots and the songs do not offer any safety recommendations beyond telling migrants not to cross. And when attempts are made to address the safety of migrants, anti-immigrant activists – both within and outside of the U.S. government – roundly criticize these efforts with ridiculous and racist claims.
The cover of the Mexican government's comic book guide for migrants.
The Mexican government, for instance, was harshly condemned by anti-immigrant activists for issuing a "Guide for the Mexican Migrant," a 32-page comic book with information about the risks of crossing and information about foreigners' rights in the United States regardless of immigration status.
In response to the guide, while serving as congressman, the virulently anti-immigrant Tom Tancredo (R-Colorado) issued a statement claiming that publication of the guide "was not an action of a friendly neighbor." In an interview with the New Standard [8] Tancredo's spokesman elaborated on his boss' statement, claiming the guide not only encouraged illegal immigration, but that it also opened the door for terrorist attacks on U.S. soil: "You don't know who is coming here just to look for a job, and who is coming to kill your family…. You've got to remember that the facial structure and skin color of Arabs and Hispanics is pretty similar."
Unfortunately, since addressing issues of immigrant rights and safety is dismissed as an endorsement of undocumented entry – or worse, seen as some terrorist ploy – the death of migrants and the crosses on the border will continue.
Marisol LeBrón is a NACLA Research Associate and writes about pop culture for her blog Post Pomo Nuyorican Homo [9]. She is a doctoral student at the Program in American Studies at New York University.

March 18, 2009

Immigrant Groups, Santa Clara County to Hold Citizenship Day on Saturday

NOTE: The AILA (American Immigration Lawyers Association) Santa Clara Valley Chapter-- of which Randall is President-- is co-sponsoring Citizenship Day in San Jose on Saturday.

By: Ken McLaughlin

Mercury News

Posted: 03/17/2009 05:54:17 PM PDT

Over the past 13 years, the Santa Clara County Citizenship Collaborative has helped more than 120,000 people through the lengthy and often byzantine naturalization process to become American citizens.
But this year, selling the idea of citizenship might face its biggest hurdle.
The problem: Citizenship applications now cost a lot of money, while many low-income immigrants are hurting because the economy is in the tank.
"We realize that paying the rent must come first and food is second," and that paying a $675 fee to the federal government might be unaffordable, said Teresa Castellanos, interim director of the Santa Clara County Office of Human Relations.
When the county held its first Citizenship Day in 1996, the fee was $95. But the government has regularly hiked the fee to recapture much of the cost of processing citizenship applications.
So Castellanos' office and a host of nonprofit groups are encouraging immigrants to show up at Saturday's Citizenship & Immigrant Pride Day to at least start thinking about becoming a citizen, even if they decide not to apply for citizenship just yet.
"Just come out and get the information," said Basil Robledo of the Services, Immigrant Rights and Education Network in San Jose.
According to a national group called Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrants and Refugees, approximately 190,000 Santa Clara County residents are eligible to naturalize but have not done so.
At a news conference Tuesday morning in front of the Center for Employment Training in San Jose, where one of Saturday's citizenship events will be held, some speakers encouraged legal permanent residents to take the next step.
"If you're a green-card holder, I ask you to become a citizen," said Calvin Nguyen, 34, who fled Vietnam in a rickety boat in 1981. "Some of you say you want freedom. But how can you protect freedom if you cannot vote?"
There is one bit of good news this year: There's a new program that gives "scholarships" so low-income people can afford application fees.
If aspiring citizens save $225 over four to 12 months, the San Jose-based Opportunity Fund will pick up the rest of the tab — $450.
The timing is fortuitous, said Angelita Hernandez, the Opportunity Fund's outreach coordinator for the new program, funded by a $1.85 million grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.
About 20 people have applied for the program, but the group has enough funding for 500 grants.
To be eligible, immigrants must make 60 percent or less of the area's median income. For a family of four, that's $63,675 a year.

Cities and Counties Rely on U.S. Immigrant Detention Fees

By Anna GormanMarch 17, 2009At a time when local law enforcement agencies are being forced to cut budgets and freeze hiring, cities across Southern California have found a growing source of income -- immigration detention. Roughly two-thirds of the nation's immigrant detainees are held in local jails, and the payments to cities and counties for housing them have increased as the federal government has cracked down on illegal immigrants with criminal records and outstanding deportation orders.Washington paid nearly $55.2 million to house detainees at 13 local jails in California in fiscal year 2008, up from $52.6 million the previous year. The U.S. is on track to spend $57 million this year.The largest federal contract in the state is with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, whose 1,400-bed detention center in Lancaster is dedicated to housing immigrants either awaiting deportation or fighting their cases in court. The department received $34.7 million in 2008, up from $32.3 million the previous year. Some smaller cities have seen their income rise much faster. Glendale received nearly $260,000 in 2008, triple what it got the previous year. In Alhambra, last year's $247,000 was more than double the previous year's payments.For some cash-strapped cities, the federal money has become a critical source of revenue, covering budget shortfalls and saving positions.Santa Ana's Police Department, for example, expects as much as a 15% budget cut and has had a hiring freeze since October that has resulted in more than 60 sworn and civilian positions remaining vacant, Police Chief Paul Walters said. To offset reductions, Walters plans to convert two multipurpose rooms at the 480-bed jail into dormitory rooms this spring. That will accommodate an additional 32 immigrant detainees, which he expects will bring in $1 million more in revenue each year. He also hopes to get approval to raise the nightly price per detainee from $82 to $87. "We treat [the jail] as a business," Walters said. "The cuts could have been much deeper if it weren't for the ability to raise money there."When Santa Ana received bond money to build a police headquarters and jail, it did so with the future in mind. Rather than constructing a facility to house its own inmates, it built a much larger facility and soon started contracting with Orange County and state and federal governments. The federal contracts cover nearly the entire cost of the jail, said Russell Davis, the jail administrator. On a recent day, the jail housed 20 Santa Ana arrestees, 283 U.S. Marshals prisoners and 165 immigration detainees. Some of the detainees, from Mexico, Vietnam, El Salvador and elsewhere, had landed in immigration custody after serving state prison sentences. Others were arrested after ignoring deportation orders or because of criminal records that made them eligible for deportation.The contract with the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency brought in more than $3.7 million in 2007 and $4.8 million last year.If he had to do it all over again, Davis said, he would have built another floor on the jail. The immigration agency "is inundated with detainees," he said. "If I had 100 more beds, they'd fill them."Immigrant detainees stay in the local jails anywhere from a few hours to many months. At most jails, they are not separated from the rest of the population.Not everyone is as pleased as Davis over those arrangements. Immigrant rights advocates have raised concerns about local jails not following federal detention standards and not segregating detainees from people suspected of committing crimes."Immigration detention is civil, not criminal," said Ahilan Arulanantham, a staff attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California. "If you are holding them in the same place, that distinction is meaningless." Even though the cities may benefit financially, the savings do not get passed along to taxpayers, he said. "We're still paying for it," he said. "It's still a waste of resources to detain people who do not need to be detained."Several of the foreign nationals housed in Santa Ana said they believed they should be let out on bond rather than incarcerated while fighting their immigration cases, especially if they had no criminal records or had already served their time. Victor Hidalgo, 36, finished a five-year sentence in state prison on a drug charge before being transferred into immigration custody. Hidalgo, who is from Nicaragua, said he and others have jobs, families and homes here and are not a danger to society. "We're not national security risks," he said. Immigration and Customs Enforcement spokeswoman Virginia Kice said the jails that house detainees for more than 72 hours -- including in Santa Ana and Lancaster -- are subject to "stringent detention standards" and undergo inspection by a contracted company. Other jails are inspected regularly by the immigration agency.The federal contracts with local jails began about a decade ago but have expanded over the last few years. The federal government operates some of its own detention centers and contracts with private companies to run others but relies heavily on the local jails.The cost varies from around $80 to just over $100 per detainee per day, generally less expensive than the cost of housing detainees at federal immigration facilities."These facilities enable us to place detainees at appropriate sites with minimal travel so we can begin the removal process quickly," Kice said.In Southern California, the need for bed space became more pressing after the immigration agency closed the San Pedro detention center on Terminal Island in 2007. And in Northern California, where there is no dedicated immigration detention center, Santa Clara County began housing the detainees in 2003. "It was a strategy to help us financially," said Edward Flores, chief of Santa Clara County's Department of Correction. Those budget cuts have only gotten worse, with the county expecting $1.25 million less in fiscal year 2010.In turn, the federal contract has become even more important. Flores said he expects to make up about half the expected deficit with federal contracts, both with the immigration agency and the U.S. Marshals Service. He is also trying to negotiate a higher nightly rate.The county received nearly $7 million to house detainees in 2008."We have become very reliant on this revenue," Flores said.

A Fine Border Line Between Cartels, Immigration Debate

By Bridget Johnson

Posted: 03/16/09 07:23 AM [ET]

Fear of the gruesome Mexican drug-cartel violence spilling over America's southern border is reigniting debate over immigration reform and controversial border-security measures.Three dozen Republican representatives penned a letter last week to President Obama asking him to complete the border fence in light of the cartel violence that has seen Camp Pendleton Marines banned from visiting the party town of Tijuana, the Ciudad Juarez mayor relocating his family to Texas for safety, and a State Department travel alert issued last month urging renewed caution in the tourist destination.

"While more than 600 miles of pedestrian fencing and vehicle barriers have been constructed so far, it is out understanding that nearly 70 miles of infrastructure, designated for specific areas that are susceptible to significant cross-border traffic, remains uncompleted," the members — 13 representing border states — say in the letter."In areas where construction has been unnecessarily delayed, the REAL ID Act (P.L. 109-13) provides the Secretary of Homeland Security with the authority to waive any legal requirements that impede the construction of border security barriers," the letter continues. "Given this authority, in addition to the requirement for at least 700 miles of border infrastructure, we request that you take immediate action to finish the 70 miles of uncompleted fence construction projects. "We urge you to also consider expanding this infrastructure to other areas of the border that continue to experience the effects of increased border violence."Joe Kasper, spokesman for Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.), one of the letter's signatories, told The Hill that the infrastructure "is not the silver bullet, but part of a multifaceted approach" to battling both drug and human smuggling.Hunter's district sits in a major smuggling corridor between the border and Los Angeles. "People in any border community feel the effects of illegal immigration and smuggling more than they do elsewhere in the United States," Kasper said. "They continue to call for an enhanced security presence along the border. Their position on the issue hasn't changed."But the leader of the Border Patrol union says the border fencing has just increased attacks on officers, while the director of a pro-immigration organization blasted the call for more fencing as "self-serving."T.J. Bonner, president of the National Border Patrol Council, told The Hill that officers continue to be subject to a "dramatic increase" in assaults, with 1,097 documented incidents in the fiscal year between Oct. 1, 2007, and Sept. 30, 2008. "Obviously, we're extremely concerned about the continued escalation of violence, which has been increasing every year for at least the past six years," he said. While the completed border infrastructure has had a "negligible effect on border violence," Bonner said, "there appears to be a correlation between the fortification of the border and assaults on our agents.""The fence affords cartels a degree of protection to launch assaults on our agents without being detected," Bonner said.Angelica Salas, executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA), said that border restrictions continue to give drug cartels a revenue stream as immigrants pay cartel-controlled human trafficking groups to get across."By sealing off the border in this way, what you end up doing is giving [the cartels] more power," Salas said. "Their money-making is actually increased."David Hernandez, a community activist and founder of Los Angeles Conservative Hispanic Americans, told The Hill that the border violence presents the opportunity to open a dialogue about security issues. "When it was not politically correct to talk about the crimes that the illegal-alien criminal element was participating in, if you were to even mention that you were thrown in with 'you're a racist, you're a bigot,' " said Hernandez, who has run twice as the Republican nominee against Rep. Howard Berman (D-Calif.) and plans to challenge the congressman again in 2010. "It's become so publicized that for even the most timid person on illegal immigration, it's a real concern."While the Department of Homeland Security is anticipated soon to announce assistance to help Mexico crack down on the cartels in terms of weapons and money laundering, the border violence may have an effect not just on the immigration debate but on immigration levels as well."Any steps that you take to curtail Mexican drug violence will help illegal immigration," said Bryan Griffith, spokesman for the Center for Immigration Studies, noting that though stepped-up enforcement may help, the violence itself may spur more northward journeys. "Generally, people come to the U.S. to find jobs," Griffith said. "If you have violence, there's more of a motivation."

Bonner said that at the moment the poor economy seems to be resulting in fewer immigrants ponying up smuggling fees to cross into the U.S. and fewer jobs waiting for migrants on this side. "It's very rare for someone to cross the border without employment lined up," he said.He does say, though, that the possibility remains for a flood of Mexicans being driven north by the bloody streets at home."If Mexican violence continues at this pace, then you're going to have refugees fleeing the violence," Bonner said, adding that cartels have shown they will just follow those who have escaped their wrath into American cities to exact kidnappings, home invasions and killings — "sending the message that you can't run far enough to get away from us."The solutions being offered to the Obama administration to keep drug violence from spilling into America's streets are, again, inextricably linked to the immigration debate.Salas said it's a question of priorities. "Homeland Security should be focused on the criminal element ... but right now they're busy catching farmworkers heading to California to pick crops," she said. "[Their] duty and responsibility is being neglected because they're trying to catch these low-wage workers."The best way to cut the power of the drug cartels in terms of reducing violence is by passing immigration reform this year," Salas said, adding that hope for reform "is one of the main reasons that so many Latinos and Asians decided to support President Obama."Hernandez said civilian border-enforcement groups that have been talking for years about the potential for increased violence will now move the debate toward protecting communities. "It's reached a point where it's going to force politicians to take action to make it appear that they are doing something about it, whether it's moving forward with more funding for building the fence, whether it's sending more National Guard to the border — this time with ammunition for their weapons."The leader of the Border Patrol union said that during Operation Jump Start, in which National Guard troops were deployed to the Mexican border to offer limited enforcement assistance to the Border Patrol by observing and reporting, cartels quickly learned that the rules of engagement meant they could conduct business as usual. "You don't scare the cartels by having a few extra bodies and a few extra guns," said Bonner, noting that he doesn't hear any calls for Guardsmen to assume a different role this time around.Texas Gov. Ricky Perry (R) has asked for 1,000 National Guard troops and Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) has asked for 250. Obama has indicated that while the administration is still weighing its options to combat the Mexican drug violence, he doesn't want to "militarize" the border.And though Obama met with Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, recently to discuss potential aid to Mexico, Bonner says that more military aid could just end up benefiting the cartels — as have the U.S. guns intended as aid that are now used by Mexican police and military working for the drug lords.Bonner said that while having the U.S. military on standby to respond to events such as Mexican military incursions would be a "rational approach," the most important element in combating the border violence is nixing migrant traffic "by revamping the worksite enforcement strategy," thus freeing up overwhelmed border agents to combat the criminal element.Such a refocused strategy would likely clean up the border, he said, and leave cartels looking for air and sea routes like the Colombian cartels of the 1970s."As long as you have such strong demand [for drugs] in the U.S.," Bonner said, "then you'd have cartels trying to find a way in."

Language, Laws a Challenge for Indigenous Migrants

March 18, 2009

MOUNT VERNON, Wash. (AP) -- When immigration agents arrested 16 farmworkers in a mass arrest of illegal immigrants early this year, legal advocates raced to find interpreters for some of the men, a few who spoke only a language called Mixtec.
But by the time an interpreter was found, most of the men were on their way out of the country after signing away their rights to contest deportation -- a procedure they might not have understood.
The deportations alarmed immigrant advocates in this agricultural city 60 miles north of Seattle. It also raised questions about the deportation proceedings for people who speak little Spanish or English.
''There is no way they knew what they were signing. No way,'' said the Rev. Jo Beecher of the Episcopal Church of the Resurrection in Mount Vernon, one of the advocates who tried to help the men.
Although federal courts have ruled that immigration proceedings must be translated into the language of the detainee, Beecher said U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has no interpreters in the area who speak Mixtec -- a tonal language with several dialects.
The case of the Mount Vernon men also highlights some of the clashes that are becoming more common as the growing community of indigenous peoples from Latin America meets the American legal system.
Indigenous peoples are the direct descendants of the inhabitants who lived in the region before colonial times. They have a distinct culture, languages and history than those of their Latino counterparts.
Some observers believe the migration of indigenous Latin Americans to the U.S. is increasing even as the flow of Spanish-speaking immigrants eases.
There are about 500,000 indigenous people in the U.S., according to the Bi-national Center for the Development of the Oaxacan Indigenous Communities, based in Fresno, Calif. That's only counting people from Mexico, not other countries such as Guatemala, El Salvador or Honduras.
Between 10 and 30 percent of the farm workers in California are now estimated to be indigenous, a recent study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture found. Similar growth has occurred in Washington, Oregon and Florida.
''It's been until recently that the immigration has grown to a point that the government has become aware of the language diversity,'' said Gaspar Rivera-Salgado, a project director at the Center for Labor Research and Education of the University of California Los Angeles. ''Authorities are not very well prepared.''
Hundreds of indigenous languages and dialects are spoken in Mexico and Central America, and some of those dialects are drastically different from each other, said Rufino Dominguez-Santos of the bi-national center.
In Oaxaca alone -- the Mexican state where the bulk of indigenous workers in Mount Vernon have come from -- twelve different languages are spoken, Dominguez-Santos said. Fourteen percent of Oaxacans who speak an indigenous language don't speak Spanish, according to Mexican census figures. Mexico's government recognizes 162 living languages, plus some 300 dialects.
''There's a lack of knowledge by immigration agents, police and social workers that there are a lot of languages spoken in Mexico,'' Dominguez-Santos.
In the Mount Vernon case, agents quickly recognized that the group didn't speak Spanish, said Lorie Dankers, ICE's spokeswoman in Seattle.
But the son of one of the arrested men arrested volunteered to translate, and did so for the two Mixtec speakers who joined 12 Spanish-speaking men in choosing ''voluntary return,'' an option that lets illegal immigrants leave the U.S. quickly, avoiding detention and other sanctions, such as a 10-year entrance ban to the U.S.
''The supervisor observed the interview, based on the body language, he believes they fully understood,'' Dankers said.
ICE also has the option of contacting an interpretation service run by Philadelphia-based Language Services Associates, which says it has the ability to furnish interpreters for Mixtec and six other indigenous languages.
Using someone in the community is a common practice among law enforcement and other government agencies, but it can lead to trouble and misunderstandings. In many instances, concepts of American law don't translate easily into indigenous law and should be conveyed by a trained interpreter, Dominguez-Santos said.
''If you have a document where you purport to be giving up certain rights, then you have to have that document translated in a language you can understand in order for the process to comply with due process,'' said Jorge Baron, an attorney and executive director at the Northwest Immigrant Rights Project, a Seattle-based legal aid group. Baron's group helped in finding an interpreter for the men.
But Mark Krikorian, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Immigration Studies, cautions that access to interpreters for immigrants facing deportation is not a right.
''To think it's a right, our responsibility, to help you avoid being deported, it's kind of silly,'' Krikorian said. ''If we don't have a translator in your obscure language, well, that's too bad.''
His organization lobbies for stricter immigration enforcement. He said that bringing up the language barriers is a tactic by immigration attorneys to delay deportation.

March 17, 2009

An Deportation Case Against a Dead Man

Nasin Rivera, an illegal immigrant, died in San Bernardino County in August. Seven months later, the federal government is still proceeding with the deportation case against him.

By Anna Gorman March 16, 2009

Nasin Mauricio Rivera died in San Bernardino County in August and his body was shipped to his native El Salvador for burial.Seven months later, the federal government is still proceeding with the deportation case against him. A hearing is scheduled for this summer.
Attorneys for Rivera, an illegal immigrant, said his case is a waste of resources and should be closed."To us, it's a matter of principle -- a dead person should not be deported," said immigration attorney Edgardo Quintanilla. At a November hearing in Los Angeles Immigration Court, attorney Alberto Lopez presented a photocopy of Rivera's death certificate. Lopez had obtained the copy from Blanca Ramirez, who was divorced from Rivera but still lived with him in Echo Park. Lopez said the attorney from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement told him the copy wasn't sufficient.
There are two types of certified death certificates: an informational copy available to anyone and an authorized copy restricted to certain family members and law enforcement. Lopez said the only type of certificate he or Rivera's ex-wife could obtain was the informational one. At another court hearing last week, Lopez said the judge urged the government attorney to determine the validity of the certificate Lopez presented.Immigration spokeswoman Virginia Kice said she could not talk about Rivera's case but added that if an illegal immigrant dies while in proceedings, the attorney must provide evidence that the person is, in fact, deceased. Typically, she said, a certified copy of the death certificate is enough. "The bottom line is the government is responsible for ensuring the integrity of the immigration hearing process," she said. Rivera came to the U.S. in 1989 and met Ramirez a few years later. The couple married and raised three children. The relationship was rocky and the couple divorced in 2001. Ramirez said she obtained a restraining order against him, citing domestic violence. Soon afterward, she said, he was arrested for violating the order. Rivera had applied for permanent residency but had to appear in immigration court because of the restraining-order violation, his attorney said. Despite that, Lopez said Rivera still had a good case. His immigration trial was scheduled for November 2008. But on Aug. 3, Rivera went with his brothers to Phelan, where he collapsed in the desert. According to the San Bernardino County coroner's office, Rivera was pronounced dead at the scene. The cause of death was a heart condition. At their apartment, Ramirez framed Rivera's funeral home program and placed it on a mantel, alongside an open Bible, a vase of white roses and several family portraits. She said she is angry that the U.S. government is still trying to deport Rivera."It's the most ridiculous thing I have heard," she said.

March 09, 2009

Driving While Latino

In the summer, Osman Maldonado drove less than a mile from his house to a gas station near a busy intersection in northwest suburban Crystal Lake for cigarettes. He spotted a McHenry County Sheriff’s deputy parked in the lot of an adjacent boutique. The deputy walked up to the Honduran immigrant’s window and asked for his driver’s license and registration. Then he examined Maldonado’s wallet.

Inside, the deputy found a fake green card. He arrested the Honduran immigrant and booked him on a felony charge of possessing fraudulent documents. A $25,000 bond was assigned.

Maldonado, who arrived in Chicago in 2003 and had been earning up to $275 a week as a machine operator at a tool storage manufacturing company, spent the next 30 days in jail. He pleaded guilty to a downgraded misdemeanor for the fake documents, with time already served in jail as his sentence.

But his legal nightmare didn’t end there. On the day of his release, the sheriff’s office transported him to a hearing in immigration court. With his petition for asylum already denied, the 25-year-old father of two is facing deportation— with an electronic monitoring device now strapped to his right ankle.

Maldonado said he’s startled to find himself in this predicament—out of something as routine as a traffic stop. “My dream was just to work and get ahead,” he said.

Maldonado’s experience is familiar to many Latinos living in the six-county Chicago area. In many communities with a recent surge in immigrant population, Latino drivers are being stopped at a higher rate by the police than their share of the driving-age population, and they are more likely to have their cars searched than their white counterparts, shows a Chicago Reporter analysis of 2007 traffic stop data collected by the Illinois Department of Transportation.

Given the increasingly tangled relationship between local law enforcement agencies and the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, these traffic stops, as in Maldonado’s case, can have far-reaching consequences for drivers whose immigration status is now being scrutinized more closely.

The Reporter examined the transportation department’s data, which compile records collected from law enforcement agencies throughout the state, and found that 44 out of more than 200 communities in the six-county Chicago area recorded a disparity of at least 10 percentage points when the share of Latino drivers stopped is compared to their size in the driving-age population.

The analysis does not include communities that, according to the 2000 Census, had fewer than 2,500 residents, nor does it include those that recorded less than 200 traffic stops involving Latino drivers or 1,000 overall stops.

West suburban Stickney recorded the highest disparity, with Latinos involved in 52 percent of all traffic stops in the village though they made up only 19 percent of its driving-age population. West suburban Aurora, the most populous of the 44 communities, had a disparity of about 13 percentage points. In all, nine communities, including Stickney, posted disparities of more than 20 percentage points.

The Reporter’s analysis also found that Latino drivers were asked for permission to search their cars at a higher rate in 25 out of the 44 communities than white counterparts—despite the fact that Latinos were less likely to be found in possession of contraband.

The 44 communities are clustered mainly in Lake and Kane counties, along with several communities on the outskirts of Chicago in Cook County, like Berwyn and Stickney. Ten of the communities are located next to the large communities with more than 20,000 foreign-born population—Aurora, Cicero, Elgin, Skokie and Waukegan.

Many of the 44 communities had a sizable increase in their foreign-born population since 1990. According to the census, 23 out of the 44 communities saw their foreign-born population double between 1990 and 2000. During the same period, by comparison, the foreign-born population doubled in 36 percent of communities in the rest of the sixcounty area.

West suburban Plainfield, which had a 11.9 percent disparity in Latino traffic stops, saw the biggest increase in its foreign-born population between 1990 and 2000—a 779 percent growth.

Immigrant advocates point out that the traffic stop disparities come at a time when there are increasing ties between local communities and the immigration agency, and this means that more deportations and other immigration issues have been originating from routine traffic stops.

Several suburban authorities now have arrangements with the immigration agency to house immigrant detainees and have also asked to participate in the agency’s ACCESS program, which offers various ways to address criminal immigrants.

The immigration agency has also been lodging what’s called “detainers,” which put immigrants under its custody for processing of immigration offenses, even after criminal charges are thrown out.

Adam Schwartz, senior staff counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, said this blending of duties between federal immigration and local law enforcement efforts is appalling. “State and local law governments collaborating with the federal government [in immigration matters] is very troubling,” Schwartz said. “It leads directly to racial profiling. We think it drives a wedge between communities. It’s a horrible social policy.”

But police officials contacted for this story said they didn’t believe racial profiling was being practiced by officers in their departments.

Some maintained that the Reporter’s finding was misleading because the 2000 Census, which offers the latest official statistics available for driving-age population, was used in analyzing 2007 traffic stop data. By 2007, they said, the population of their communities had far surpassed that from 2000.

For example, west suburban Montgomery, which had a disparity of about 26 percent in traffic stop figures, saw its population grow from about 5,500 in 2000 to 17,000 last year, according to a special census conducted in May 2008.

Northwest suburban Round Lake, which posted a 15 percent disparity in traffic stop numbers, saw a similar increase in its population, from less than 6,000 in 2000 to nearly 17,000 in 2007, according the census bureau’s American Community Survey, which is conducted annually for selected communities nationwide.

But no officials—in Montgomery, Round Lake or elsewhere— could provide any evidence that the proportion of Latinos among driving-age population in their communities was any higher in 2007 than it was in 2000.

Others argued that the traffic stop disparities could be attributed to nonresidents driving through their communities. Charles Forsyth, chief of the Hometown Police Department, said he has been frustrated ever since the data collection was mandated by the state in 2004. He said the data would not take into account the large out-of-town traffic caused by a hospital and several shopping centers located in his southwest suburban Cook County community.

In 2007, Latinos comprised almost a quarter of all stops in Hometown, though they made up about 3 percent of its 3,500 driving age population.

Forsyth said he doesn’t scrutinize every traffic stop but checks to see if there’s any problem whenever the data show a large disparity.

So far, he said, he has not seen any evidence that his officers are targeting minorities.

But he was less specific when it came to providing details on how many nonresidents drive through his community, and he was unable to offer any proof that such traffic comes mainly from Latino drivers to account for the disparity in the stop numbers.

Similarly, officials in other communities could not provide any detailed account of the drive-through traffic in their communities.

Virginia Martinez, a legislative staff attorney with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund in Chicago, said she is not convinced by the police’s explanation for their disparities. She said the only reason that the issue of racial profiling has not come to the forefront in the suburbs is that immigrants are too afraid to complain. “If you’re undocumented, forget it—you don’t want to say anything,” she said.

State Sen. Iris Martinez said she believes that there’s more to the issue than what police officials acknowledge. “You are being pulled over because you’re Latino, and that’s the bottom line,” said Martinez, a co-sponsor of the legislation that mandated the traffic stop study.

Martinez said deporting criminals is one thing, but casting a wide net against one ethnic group is unfair. She has been lobbying to pass legislation that would grant a driver’s certificate to undocumented immigrants, believing that the absence of a certificate gives police officers a cover for their biased practices. “If there were a certificate in place, we would see less Latinos pulled over,” she said.

State Sen. Kwame Raoul said capturing the data isn’t enough to address the issue. He said the police should review the data internally, against other benchmarks.

“There has to be a good use of the data for law enforcement,” he said. “If [there are] a couple of bad cops, as a police commander or captain, you have to be willing to use this data internally.”

Since March 2008, the booking process at the jail in west suburban Elgin has not only included taking the routine fingerprinting and mug shot, but also running a query for individuals identified as foreign-born to a database maintained by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Elgin also requested in January 2008 to participate in the immigration agency’s ACCESS program—a series of information, training and enforcement programs designed to assist local law enforcement agencies in immigration enforcement. The city’s request has yet to be approved, according to Gail Montenegro, a spokeswoman at the immigration agency’s Chicago office.

Similar scenarios are playing out in other communities as they seek more robust working arrangements with the immigration agency.

North suburban Waukegan, northwest suburban Harvard and west suburban villages of Carpentersville and Bensenville, along with the Lake County Sheriff’s Office, have requested for participation in a program called 287(g) to have authority to enforce immigration laws.

Bob Beeter, deputy chief of the Elgin Police Department, said the new processes for his department were established to make sure that they identify the criminals wanted by the immigration agency. “We focus on the serious crime guy, the guy who is doing the drugs, sex cases,” Beeter said.

But these arrangements are also the mechanism by which ordinary traffic stops can turn into immigration proceedings. According to an analysis of Elgin police’s records obtained by the Reporter, those arrested for driving without a license made up a large share of individuals screened with the immigration database. Between March and November 2008, 93, or about 40 percent, of the 233 individuals screened were arrested for driving without licenses, an analysis shows.

Even in places where formal arrangements with the immigration agency do not exist, federal officials can issue detainers to keep immigrants in custody.

At the Cook County Jail, for example, the immigration agency has at least three agents stationed to review records of individuals going through bond court, Montenegro said. They review arrest records, law enforcement databases and biographical data to identify those who may be deportable. The agents issued nearly 200 detainers in the first 10 months of 2008. Andrew Sagartz, an immigration attorney in north suburban Deerfield, said that the criminal justice system—and its link to immigration matters—are too complex to understand for many immigrants.

Sagartz said he has come across many cases in which immigrants readily plead guilty to minor crimes without understanding the potential immigration implications of a conviction.

Sagartz has printed brochures on legal rights and placed them in libraries throughout Waukegan. He recently opened an office in Aurora because he began hearing that notaries public were advising undocumented immigrants on how they should handle their criminal matters without understanding the immigration consequences.

“We’re experiencing the same thing there that was in Lake County many years ago,” he said. “It’s not so much directly attributable to government action—it’s really from people not having access to good legal counsel, with respect to immigration.”

Jacqui Herrera-Giron, former director of legalization at the Instituto del Progreso Latino in Cicero, said fewer immigrants are now willing to approach law enforcement officers because they are afraid any contact can lead to deportation.

She recalled one case in which a woman called the police to report domestic violence and was asked whether she was here legally. “If the police is stopping me and asking me 50 questions,” Herrera-Giron said, “I’m not going back to the police.”

Wayne Hunter, the director of homeland security at the Lake County Sheriff’s Office, said fear of law enforcement agencies is the last thing they want. He observed that the agency is upholding the law between two poles of public opinion. On one hand, the anti-immigrant groups in Lake County want more done to combat what they consider the growing number of undocumented criminal immigrants. But immigrant advocates believe Lake County is simply interested in deporting all undocumented immigrants, regardless of any criminal record.

Hunter said it’s a difficult balancing act. “Our intention is to skim the top percent of the most violent criminals out of our society and to follow through with deportations, hopefully,” he said.

Lake County Sheriff Mark C. Curran Jr. added that an audit of the inmates at the Lake County Jail showed that 20 percent of them were undocumented immigrants. Curran said he understands that enforcing immigration law is controversial— but it’s simply a necessity. “I can’t sit there and say that I’m not going to do my job because there are political consequences,” he said.

To hear Zane Seipler tell it, the McHenry County Sheriff’s Office sees immigrants as a cash crop. In 2004, Seipler joined the office as a deputy but was fired last year after he alleged that the office is targeting Latinos—proxy for undocumented immigrants, he said—for traffic stops.

Seipler said things changed soon after the county began cooperating with the immigration agency in 2006 and started providing space for immigrant detainees at the McHenry County Jail—for $85 per detainee a day. Seipler said he began noticing the pattern that more Latinos drivers were being arrested. “The goal was to keep the immigration wing packed,” he said.

Seipler began keeping track of arrests. He said a small group of deputies were posting high stop numbers, and many of the individuals they were arresting were Latinos. “They find someone who looks like they are from Central America and follow them around,” he said. “If they’re just pulling them over to see if they have a license, that’s racial profiling.”

He also took notes of every encounter he had with deputies, supervisors and others with whom he raised the issue. For Seipler, it was more than a matter of law; it was personal. His wife is Mexican, and he feared that one day she would get harassed by a deputy looking to up the numbers.

Seipler eventually requested that an investigation be conducted. But, in November, he was fired for, according to McHenry County Sheriff Keith Nygren, violating rules and regulations.

Seipler responded by suing the office, claiming wrongful termination and violation of the Civil Rights Act. And he detailed his allegations in a legal complaint, including a claim that deputies have falsified reports, even marking Latinos as white to conceal any disparities in traffic stop reports mandated by the state.

Nygren said Seipler’s allegations are completely false. “I’ve been sued a lot [during] 42 years, [but] this is the worst that I have ever seen leveled at anybody with no basis in fact,” said

Nygren, noting that the department investigated Seipler’s claims multiple times, finding each time that his allegations were without merit.

“I’m not going to tell you we don’t have people with prejudices and bias, but if we had someone enforcing the law based upon their bias, we would take action. We would not tolerate it,” he added.

Nygren declined to discuss specifics of the case, citing the ongoing suit.

If Seipler’s claims are true, the sheriff’s office’s behaviors illustrate how law enforcement activities can be intricately connected with immigration issues, immigrant advocates say.

They say the lack of national immigration reform and absence of driver’s certificates for undocumented immigrants in Illinois has created a perfect storm of sorts that’s creating an environment in which individual communities are compelled to take immigration matters into their own hands.

Approaches vary in each community.

Since 1996, law enforcement agencies in McHenry County have filed charges against about 3,000 individuals for driving without a license and, since 1999, filed more than 500 charges for those who were in possession of fraudulent documents, according to the Reporter’s analysis. But many of these charges have come from only a handful of communities. Five communities, including Harvard, Woodstock and Crystal Lake, racked up 70 percent of all charges.

But in communities like Round Lake, simple traffic stops lead to only court appearances, not arrests. Francis Foy, deputy chief at the Round Lake Police Department, said officers have discretion to decide whether to arrest a motorist who is driving without a license, and that it’s often more convenient to issue a citation to appear in court.

These varying strategies and realities for motorists mean an extra layer of uncertainties that adds to their sense of fear, advocates say.

Tara Tidwell Cullen, a spokeswoman for the Heartland Alliance’s National Immigrant Justice Center, a Chicagobased nonprofit that represents immigrants facing deportation, said the sentiment extends to all manner of contact with law enforcement agencies.

“People don’t want to answer their doors anymore. It’s tragic. It’s not the country we’re supposed to be,” she said. Laimutis Nargelenas, director of the Illinois Association of Chiefs of Police, draws a line between responsible police activities and immigration enforcement. If police officers encounter an immigrant driving without a license, he said, it is their duty to charge them with the offense. But enforcing immigration offenses, let alone taking part in profiling, is beyond what’s called for, he said.

Ultimately, he said, it falls on each community to keep an eye on its police department if the law is not applied fairly and evenly. “The community needs to hold those police departments accountable,” he said.

For his part, state Rep. Edward Acevedo has pledged to reintroduce legislation securing protections for undocumented immigrants. He hopes that, with a new administration in the White House and support from colleagues in Springfield, he can successfully make his case that granting permits is a safety measure, not an amnesty.

“There are 250,000 undocumented [immigrants] already driving on the roads without licenses and insurance [in Illinois]. When they get into an automobile accident, whose premium goes up? The individual with the license and insurance. Who gets in trouble? The undocumented immigrant,” Acevedo said.

Meanwhile, Raoul, who helped establish a state oversight board to hold the police accountable, said police departments themselves have to step up and make themselves accountable. “You’re not going to [re-]train a racist,” he said. “You have to develop consequences.”