August 28, 2009

ACLU's outrage with CBP's 4th amendment violation

ACLU has stepped up and confronted CBP about their 4th amendment violation. Despite the lawsuit, Customs & Border Patrol (CBP) continues to search laptops upon arrival to the United States. Read about it...

ACLU sues for laptop search details

By Andrew Noyes
CongressDaily 08/26/2009

The American Civil Liberties Union wants federal government records pertaining to the U.S. Customs and Border Protection's policy of searching travelers' laptops without suspicion of wrongdoing. The watchdog group filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit Wednesday in a New York federal court to learn how the agency's policy, issued last year, has impacted the civil liberties of travelers during the first year of its implementation. The ACLU made an initial FOIA request for CBP records in June.

"Traveling with a laptop shouldn't mean the government gets a free pass to rifle through your personal papers," ACLU staff attorney Catherine Crump said. "This sort of broad and invasive search is exactly what the Fourth Amendment's protections against unreasonable searches are designed to prevent." According to the ACLU, the CBP policy permits agents to read the information on travelers' laptops "absent individualized suspicion" including personal financial information, photographs and lists of Web sites travelers visited.

CBP's policy extends to suspicionless searches of "documents, books, pamphlets and other printed material, as well as computers, disks, hard drives and other electronic or digital storage devices," the ACLU said. The policy covers all persons, whether or not they are U.S. citizens, crossing the border. Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced in January that she was reviewing a range of immigration and border security policies and in May said clarification is needed with respect to the laptop issue. She said a team at DHS will "issue pretty firm guidance and protocol for how you conduct a laptop search."

New DHS Standards For Electronic Border Searches Not Adequate
(8/27/2009) ACLU

Good First Step But Not Enough To Protect Privacy Or Curtail Profiling, Says ACLU

WASHINGTON – The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released new privacy standards for border searches of electronic devices today which, while a welcome first step, do not go far enough. The new standards fail to address the fundamental constitutional problems of suspicionless searches that have been occurring at the border.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit yesterday on suspicionless searches at the border, demanding records about the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) policy of searching travelers' laptops without suspicion of wrongdoing. CBP is a component of DHS. The lawsuit was filed under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to learn how CBP's policy, issued last year, has impacted the civil liberties of travelers during the first year of its implementation.

The following can be attributed to Catherine Crump, staff attorney with the ACLU First Amendment Working Group:

“DHS’s latest policy announcement on border searches is a disappointment, and should not be mistaken for one that restores the constitutional rights of travelers at the border. Members of the public deserve fundamental privacy rights when traveling and the safety of knowing that federal agents cannot rifle through their laptops without some reasonable suspicion of wrongdoing. The ACLU does not oppose border searches, but it does oppose a policy that leaves government officials free to exercise their power arbitrarily. Such a policy not only invades our privacy but can lead to racial and religious profiling.”

The following can be attributed to Christopher Calabrese, counsel for the ACLU Technology & Liberty Program:

“There are two key aspects of this new policy worth applauding – the limitations on the time that electronic devices can be held by Customs officers and requirements that information from electronic devices only be retained if there is probable cause that a crime has been committed. These procedural safeguards recognize that the old system was invasive and harmed many innocent travelers.

“But unless and until the government requires agents to have individualized suspicion before reviewing such sensitive information as medical records, legal papers and financial information, even the most elaborate procedural safeguards will be insufficient for the government to live up to its constitutional obligations. It is now time for Congress to act and create concrete standards for searches and directly confront the problem of racial and religious profiling.”

The ACLU's FOIA request is available online at:

The ACLU statement on legislation improving laptop searches is available online at:

August 27, 2009

Immigration advocates mourn the death of Ted Kennedy

Edward Kennedy, a great leader in immigration reform, passed away on Tuesday. His death is mourned by the immigration and immigrant rights advocates across the nation. Read about it...

Where Immigration Reform Stands Without Kennedy
Posted by Stephanie Condon 8/27/2009
CBS News

While Democrats in Congress are hoping to push health care reform forward in honor of the late Sen. Ted Kennedy, the senator's death serves as a reminder that Congress and President Obama have substantial work to do to accomplish another of Kennedy's lifelong causes: immigration reform.

In a column in Roll Call newspaper, editor Morton Kondracke writes that passing immigration reform would also be a fitting tribute to the stalwart liberal, who died Tuesday night.

Kennedy dramatically changed the United States' immigration system with the Immigration Act of 1965, which eliminated the quota system and allowed immigration from Latin America and Asia to dramatically increase. The bill "will go down as one of our nation's core civil-rights bills of that era," the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute's Vice President Don Kerwin said in a statement.

He also worked to pass the Refugee Act of 1980, and in 1986 he supported a measure that allowed nearly three million undocumented immigrants to gain legal status and established penalties against employers who hired illegal immigrants. He supported the Immigration Act of 1990, which increased the number of immigrants that could enter the country, including those who could enter with permanent job-related visas and temporary worker visas.

"Senator Kennedy was the driving force behind every significant piece of immigration legislation over the past 40-plus years," the American Immigration Law Foundation noted in a statement (PDF).

August 24, 2009

Study: Immigration judge as stressed out as emergency room doctors, prison wardens

Immigration Judges: Working the ER of immigration.
Read about it...


Study: Immigration judge as stressed out as emergency room doctors, prison wardens
By Howard Mintz

On any given day, Immigration Judge Dana Leigh Marks can find herself listening to a wrenching tale of an immigrant seeking asylum, fearing everything from torture to death if returned to his or her homeland. Or she could be deciding the fate of one of thousands of immigrants who find themselves facing deportation each year, some of whom have been in the United States for years, going to school, working and raising families.

In a cramped corner office in San Francisco's financial district, the case files stacked on Marks' desk show the sheer volume of her task. The roughly 215 immigration judges in the country last year decided an average of more than 1,600 cases, dwarfing the workload of a full-time federal judge, who may have about 350 cases on their docket at a time.

For Marks and other immigration judges around the country, it appears all those stories and case files are starting to take their toll. In a study released this summer by University of California-San Francisco researchers, immigration judges, it turns out, are as stressed out and burned out as emergency room doctors and prison wardens. And the study found female immigration judges far more stressed than their male counterparts.

As U.S. Department of Justice employees, immigration judges ordinarily do not speak publicly. But they didn't hold back with UCSF researchers. One judge told researchers they have to "grovel like mangy street dogs" to convince top immigration officials
they need more time to deal with the crushing caseloads. Another reported a "knot in my stomach" deciding asylum cases. And another told researchers: "I can't take this place anymore. What a dismal job this is!"

The study does not entirely surprise Marks, president of the National Association of Immigration Judges. She's now using the findings to push for long-sought reforms to the system, including a proposal for the immigration courts to break from Justice Department oversight.

"The depth and the severity is what was surprising,'' Marks said of the study. "It's gotten a lot worse a lot faster."

Immigration courts have come under closer scrutiny in recent years as caseloads exploded across the country. The number of immigration cases jumped from more than 282,000 in 1998 to a projected 385,000 this year, with only a modest increase in the number of immigration judges. Northern California's immigration judges are based in San Francisco.

Federal appeals courts, which often review the work of the immigration courts, have grown increasingly frustrated with some of the justice dispensed. A Mercury News review three years ago found a San Francisco-based federal appeals court was regularly overturning the immigration courts in the most important immigration matters it decided.

A spokeswoman of the Executive Office of Immigration Review, which runs the immigration court system for the Justice Department, said officials are aware of the recent study and working to address its findings, which included recommendations to provide far more resources to immigration judges.

Elaine Komis, the EOIR spokeswoman, said 19 new judges are being hired this year, and the department is asking for 28 more judges in 2010. And during a weeklong training session for all the judges earlier this month in Washington, D.C., one segment included stress management.

But the findings of widespread stress and burnout in the study are cause for concern among immigration rights advocates, who worry that frustrated, overworked immigration judges are too often giving short shrift to immigrants in their courtrooms.

Experts such as Karen Musalo, a Hastings College of the Law professor and leading asylum lawyer, say there are ample numbers of judges who don't deserve sympathy because "there are judges that just shouldn't be there."

But Musalo and others say many judges are well-intentioned but overburdened. In particular, department pressure to push judges to decide immigration cases quickly and erase backlogs has aggravated the tension in the system, according to experts.

"We're driven by numbers, statistics,'' said Gilbert Gembacz, who retired last year as an immigration judge in Los Angeles after 12 years on his court. "The bean counters have taken over."

Bay Area immigration lawyers recently provided the San Francisco judges with a survey of their performance, and the main concern in those findings — which are not public — was ensuring judges remain patient and empathetic to the rights of the immigrants.

"A lot of these judges appear easily frustrated,'' said Philip Hwang, who runs the asylum program for the San Francisco Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights and summarized the survey.

The UCSF study identified asylum cases as a leading cause of stress for the immigration judges because of the stakes involved and the limited resources to fully examine asylum claims.

"We're dealing with death penalty cases in a traffic court setting," Marks said.

On an ordinary day in immigration court, most asylum cases unfold behind closed doors, one at a time. A government lawyer shooed a reporter out of Marks' courtroom on a recent day earlier this month as the judge considered the asylum petition of an Afghan woman.

Down the hall, more routine hearings involving deportation matters unfolded in the courtroom of Judge Lawrence Di Costanzo, who plowed through a calendar of cases, speaking slowly into a microphone to produce recordings of the proceedings.

There was little sign of stress in the small, antiseptic courtroom, but most of the hearings were routine matters far from resolution. For the judges and the system, the stress comes later, when the decision is made on whether an immigrant can stay in the country or must be sent away.

"You're dealing with someone's life,'' said Gembacz, the retired Los Angeles judge. "I felt the stress disappear quickly when I retired."

August 20, 2009

ALCU sues over the detainment of a LPR and a USC

Two men, one a US Citizen the other a LPR, were detained by police authorities in Arizona. Read about ALCU's outrage, and the subsequent lawsuit:

American Civil Liberties Union
August 19, 2009
ACLU Sues Maricopa County Sheriff's Office For Illegal Arrest And Detention Of U.S. Citizen And Legal Resident

PHOENIX – The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Arizona filed a lawsuit today challenging the illegal arrest and detention of a U.S. citizen and a legal resident by Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office (MCSO) deputies. The two men were driving down a public roadway when they were stopped and arrested without justification, and transported to the site of an immigration raid.

"Our clients suffered egregious constitutional violations and were terrified when held against their will for three hours by armed MCSO personnel," said Dan Pochoda, Legal Director of the ACLU of Arizona and lead counsel on the case. "Sheriff Joe Arpaio's deputies had absolutely no reason to stop these two men and drag them off to a worksite raid. This is yet another example of MCSO sacrificing the rights and well being of workers in the name of immigration enforcement."

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona on behalf of Julian Mora, a legal permanent resident who has lived in the U.S. for 30 years, and his son Julio Mora, a U.S. citizen, against Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and Maricopa County. The lawsuit charges that the MCSO deputies racially profiled the father and son as they drove their pickup truck on a busy public road and illegally arrested and detained them, violating the U.S. Constitution's guarantee of equal protection under the law and prohibition on unreasonable seizures.

Julian Mora was driving to work when, without provocation, an MCSO vehicle cut in front of him forcing him to stop abruptly. MCSO deputies then ordered the father and son out of their vehicle, then frisked and handcuffed them. Although the deputies had no reason to believe that the Moras had broken any law or were in the country unlawfully, they transported the Moras to Handyman Maintenance, Inc. (HMI), where MCSO was conducting a raid that morning. For the next three hours, the Moras were held at HMI, where they were denied food and water and forbidden contact with the outside world. They were not released until they were interrogated.

The ordeal was particularly humiliating for 66-year-old Julian Mora who, due to his diabetic condition, has difficulty controlling his bladder and had an urgent need to use the bathroom. MCSO personnel, however, rejected his repeated requests. Eventually, deputies escorted him outside where he was made to urinate in the parking lot. MCSO personnel later mocked his son Julio when he had to use the bathroom, because he had difficulty going with his hands still cuffed.

"To this day, I don't know why the officers stopped us out of all the cars on the road," said 19-year-old Julio Mora. "We were treated like criminals and never told why. I was very scared. I never thought something like this would happen to me. Now I know it can happen to anyone, citizens too. I don't think it's fair."

Arizona's draconian employer sanctions law and the federal 287(g) program have enabled MCSO personnel to question and arrest workers for alleged violations of federal immigration law. As a result, MCSO has aggressively stepped up local immigration enforcement efforts and conducted raids at worksites across the county with predominantly Latino employees. The raids have not resulted in the conviction of any employer for an employer sanctions violation.

"Local sheriff and police forces simply should not be in the business of enforcing immigration laws. Where state or local officers try to determine who is in the U.S. without permission, we see a pattern of conduct where law-abiding people cannot go about their business without government interference," said Cecillia Wang, a managing attorney with the ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project. "Instead of violating our basic American rights by seizing people without any reason and singling them out for 'looking foreign,' MCSO should focus on dangerous crimes and maintaining a safe environment for everyone in Maricopa County."

Annie Lai, an ACLU of Arizona staff attorney, said "Arpaio's worksite raids – such as the raids last year on Artistic Land Management in Mesa, Gold Canyon Candle Company in Chandler, last week's raid on Royal Paper Converting and this raid on HMI – are frequently conducted in total disregard for people's constitutional rights and have resulted in the arbitrary detention of many law-abiding citizens and legal residents."

Lawyers on the case, Mora, et al. v. Arpaio, et al., include Wang and Harini Raghupathi of the ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project and Pochoda and Lai of the ACLU of Arizona.

August 19, 2009

Obama Vows to Focus on Borders

Our hope for Comprehensive Immigration Reform was fueled by Obama's recent declaration of his promise to create legislation by the end of the year. Read about it:

Obama Vows to Focus on Borders

The Washington Post
Cheryl Thompson and William Booth
August 11, 2009

GUADALAJARA, Mexico, Aug. 10 -- President Obama, attending a North American summit with the leaders of Mexico and Canada, said Monday that his administration will pursue a comprehensive overhaul of the U.S. immigration system this year but that no action on legislation will happen before 2010.
This Story

Wrapping up the two-day meeting, Obama said that there needs to be "a pathway to citizenship" for millions of illegal immigrants in the United States, and that the system must be reworked to avoid tensions with Mexico. Without it, he said, Mexicans will keep crossing the border in dangerous ways and employers will continue exploiting workers.

"We can create a system in which you have . . . an orderly process for people to come in, but we're also giving an opportunity for those who are already in the United States to be able to achieve a pathway to citizenship so that they don't have to live in the shadows," Obama said during an hour-long news conference at the CabaƱas Cultural Center in downtown Guadalajara. "Am I going to be able to snap my fingers and get this done? No. This is going to be difficult."

The president said he expects draft legislation and sponsors by the end of the year, but no action until 2010 because of more pressing issues, including health-care reform, energy legislation and financial regulatory changes.

"That's a pretty big stack of bills," he said.

John Morton Announces no Deportation Quotas


Immigration official says agents will no longer have quotas
August 17, 2009

The head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced today that he has ended quotas on a controversial program designed to go after illegal immigrants who have ignored deportation orders and that he planned to make more changes to the program soon.

John Morton, who took over as head of the federal agency in May, said during a meeting with reporters in Los Angeles that the program needs to do what it was created to do -- target absconders who have already had their day in court.

“The fugitive operations program needs to focus first and foremost on people who have knowingly flouted an immigration removal order and within that category obviously we will focus first on criminals,” he said.

Beginning in 2003, the agency dispatched teams around the country to arrest and deport immigrants with criminal records and outstanding deportation orders. During widely publicized sweeps, armed agents showed up at homes and apartment buildings and arrested tens of thousands of immigrants.

Immigrant rights groups criticized the early morning raids, saying they divided families and resulted in the arrests of many who had no criminal records or deportation orders.

A report by the Migration Policy Institute this year showed that 73% of the nearly 97,000 people arrested by those teams between 2003 and early 2008 did not have criminal records. The report also showed that in 2006, the agency stopped requiring that two-thirds of those arrested be criminals and allowed the teams to include nonfugitives in their tally.

That same year, the teams were expected to increase their annual arrests from 125 to 1,000, the report said.

Morton said Monday that there is nothing wrong with targets but that hard quotas don’t make sense.

“I just don’t think that a law enforcement program should be based on a hard number that must be met,” he said. "I just don't think that’s a good way to go about it. So we don’t have quotas anymore.”

Morton said, however, that he would continue enforcing the law against immigrants who have fought their cases and lost.

“It is important that the system have integrity,” he said. “I am not signaling in any way that we are not going to enforce the law against noncriminal fugitives.”

There are 104 fugitive operation teams, up from 8 when the program started. The immigration agency received $226 million for the program this year, up from $9 million in 2003.

- Anna Gorman

August 06, 2009

U.S. to Reform Policy on Detention for Immigrants

U.S. to Reform Policy on Detention for Immigrants

Published: August 5, 2009

The Obama administration intends to announce an ambitious plan on Thursday to overhaul the much-criticized way the nation detains immigration violators, trying to transform it from a patchwork of jail and prison cells to what its new chief called a “truly civil detention system.”

Details are sketchy, and even the first steps will take months or years to complete. They include reviewing the federal government’s contracts with more than 350 local jails and private prisons, with an eye toward consolidating many detainees in places more suitable for noncriminals facing deportation — some possibly in centers built and run by the government.

The plan aims to establish more centralized authority over the system, which holds about 400,000 immigration detainees over the course of a year, and more direct oversight of detention centers that have come under fire for mistreatment of detainees and substandard — sometimes fatal — medical care.

One move starts immediately: the government will stop sending families to the T. Don Hutto Residential Center, a former state prison near Austin, Tex., that drew an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit and scathing news coverage for putting young children behind razor wire.

“We’re trying to move away from ‘one size fits all,’ ” John Morton, who heads the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency as assistant secretary of homeland security, said in an interview on Wednesday. Detention on a large scale must continue, he said, “but it needs to be done thoughtfully and humanely.”

Hutto, a 512-bed center run for profit by the Corrections Corporation of America under a $2.8 million-a-month federal contract, was presented as a centerpiece of the Bush administration’s tough approach to immigration enforcement when it opened in 2006. The decision to stop sending families there — and to set aside plans for three new family detention centers — is the Obama administration’s clearest departure from its predecessor’s immigration enforcement policies.

So far, the new administration has embraced many of those policies, expanding a program to verify worker immigration status that has been widely criticized, bolstering partnerships between federal immigration agents and local police departments, and rejecting a petition for legally binding rules on conditions in immigration detention.

But Mr. Morton, a career prosecutor, said he was taking a new philosophical approach to detention — that the system’s purpose was to remove immigration violators from the country, not imprison them, and that under the government’s civil authority, detention is aimed at those who pose a serious risk of flight or danger to the community.

Janet Napolitano, the secretary of homeland security, said last week that she expected the number of detainees to stay the same or grow slightly. But Mr. Morton added that the immigration agency would consider alternative ways to assure that those who face deportation — and are not dangerous — do not flee.

Reviewing and redesigning all facilities, programs and standards will be the task of a new Office of Detention Policy and Planning, he said. Dora Schriro, special adviser to Ms. Napolitano, will become the director, assisted by two experts on detention management and medical care. The agency will also form two advisory boards of community groups and immigrant advocates, one focusing on detention policies and practices, the other on detainee health care.

Mr. Morton said he would appoint 23 detention managers to work in the 23 largest detention centers, including several run by private companies, to ensure that problems are promptly fixed. He is reorganizing the agency’s inspection unit into three regional operations, renaming it the Office of Detention Oversight, and making its agents responsible for investigating detainee grievances as well as conducting routine and random checks.

“A lot of this exists already,” he said. “A lot of it is making it work better” while Dr. Schriro’s office redesigns the detention system, which he called “disjointed” and “very much dependent on excess capacity in the criminal justice system.”

Asked if his vision could include building new civil detention centers, he said yes. The current 32,000-bed network costs $2.4 billion a year, but the agency is not ready to calculate the cost of a revamped system.

anita Gupta, an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer who led the lawsuit against the Hutto center, was jubilant over the decision to stop sending families there, but cautious about the other measures.

Times Topics: U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement

“The ending of family detention at Hutto is welcome news and long overdue,” she said in an e-mail message. “However, without independently enforceable standards, a reduction in beds, or basic due process before people are locked up, it is hard to see how the government’s proposed overhaul of the immigration detention system is anything other than a reorganization or renaming of what was in place before.”

Ms. Gupta said the changes at Hutto since 2006 illustrated the importance of enforceable rules. Before the A.C.L.U. lawsuit was settled in 2007, some children under 10 stayed as long as a year, mainly confined to family cells with open toilets, with only one hour of schooling a day. Children told of being threatened by guards with separation from their parents, many of them asylum-seekers from around the world.

Only through judicial enforcement of the settlement, she said, have children been granted such liberties as wearing pajamas at night and taking crayons into family cells. The settlement also required the agency to honor agency standards that had been ignored, like timely reviews of the decision to detain a family at all. Some families have been deported, but others were released or are now awaiting asylum decisions in housing run by nonprofit social service agencies.

That kind of stepped-up triage could be part of the more civil detention system envisioned by Mr. Morton and Dr. Schriro, who has been reviewing the detention system for months and is expected to report her recommendations soon.

But the Hutto case also points to the limits of their approach, advocates say. Under the settlement, parents and children accused of immigration violations were detained when possible at the country’s only other family detention center, an 84-bed former nursing home in Leesport, Pa., called the Berks Family Shelter Care Facility. The number detained at Hutto has dropped sharply, to 127 individuals from as many as 450.

Advocates noted that Berks, though eclipsed by the criticism of Hutto — the subject of protest vigils, a New Yorker article and a documentary — also has a history of problems, like guards who disciplined children by sending them across the parking lot to a juvenile detention center, and families’ being held for two years.

The Hutto legal settlement expires Aug. 29. In the most recent monitoring report last month, Magistrate Judge Andrew W. Austin wrote: “Although the use of this facility to hold families is not a violation of the settlement agreement, it seems fundamentally wrong to house children and their noncriminal parents this way. We can do better.”

Mr. Morton, a career prosecutor, seemed to agree. Hutto will be converted into an immigration jail for women, he said, adding: “I’m not ruling out the possibility of detaining families. But Berks is the better facility for that. Hutto is not the long-term answer.”

AUGUST 5, 2009