Posts Tagged ‘Immigration and Customs Enforcement’

Beyond the Panopticon: The NSA Isn’t Alone

Thursday, December 26, 2013 at 11:01 am by

This article is the second in a two part series that began with “Beyond the NSA: other agencies spy on you, too,”  originally published by TruthOut.org on December 16, 2013.

The Panopticon is real. It siphons billions of dollars each year from a federal budget in crisis. And it is watching you and your children. Lost in the debate about NSA spying, however — and even most public resistance to it — have been the various other federal agencies also complicit in Fourth Amendment abuses.

Even critics of domestic surveillance have largely failed to recognize how many government agencies spy on Americans.

A presidential review panel recently recommended substantial changes to FBI powers, including ending the authority to issue National Security Letters. NSLs are secret data requests used to circumvent both First and Fourth Amendment protections, demanding information about third parties and gagging the recipients. The FBI’s pattern of abusing undercover infiltration to disrupt First Amendment protected organizations, however, stretches back decades, threatens democracy even more deeply than NSLs, and continues unabated.

Beyond the NSA and FBI, many other agencies are also involved in domestic surveillance. And all of them continue to evade public and congressional scrutiny.

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Immigration enforcement as incarceration faces resistance

Tuesday, October 15, 2013 at 12:52 pm by

saynoOn Saturday, October 5, California Governor Jerry Brown signed the Transparency and Responsibility Using State Tools (TRUST) Act. The TRUST Act will limit California’s cooperation with the federal government’s “Secure Communities” program, which has led to an increase in the incarceration of immigrants.

Secure Communities, begun in 2008 as a pilot program and expanded under President Obama, requires local and state police to submit fingerprints of anyone arrested to a federal database to check the person’s immigration status. If the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) deems a person potentially deportable, it issues a “detainer request ,” requesting local police to detain him or her for up to forty-eight hours for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents to take custody. Secure Communities has been part of a larger effort by ICE, since its creation in 2003, to remove all “deportable” residents. ICE contracts with state and county prisons throughout the United States to detain immigrants for potential deportation. This has caused a surge in the population of incarcerated immigrants, as the total number of immigrant detainees held per year rose from about 204,000 in 2001 to a record 429,000 in 2011.
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Grassroots groups push better policies in Seattle and San Francisco

Tuesday, July 30, 2013 at 8:13 am by

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Tuesday, July 23, was an exciting day for grassroots organizers on the west coast fighting against overbroad national security policies that extend to immigration enforcement. Coalitions in San Francisco County and King County (which includes the city of Seattle) both moved forward with legislation that would curtail the participation of local law enforcement in mass deportation.

Local action is particularly important as “immigration reform,” in the form of severe border militarization and increased enforcement, moves through Congress.

In King County, the committee on Law, Justice, Health, and Human Services held its first public meeting on a policy proposed by celebrated civil rights leader King County Councilmember Larry Gossett. The room was packed with supporters of the new policy.

The proposal, based on the language of a policy adopted by Santa Clara County, California in 2010, would limit county compliance with detainer requests from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to those inmates who have been convicted of violent or serious felony. The hearing made the need for the legislation, and the huge amount of support for it, very clear.

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Montgomery County Civil Rights Coalition proposes a Rapid Response Network

Thursday, May 2, 2013 at 11:03 am by

The Montgomery County Civil Rights Coalition (MCCRC) held a public forum on April 18 to discuss what effect “The War on Terror” has had on free expression and grassroots political organizing in Maryland and across the United States since 9/11.  The forum featured four speakers whose presentations discussed a number of demonstrations of federal, state and local surveillance and their disruption of peaceful activism.  The forum was opened by Kit Bonson, who explained the MCCRC’s desperate formation, saying:

The Montgomery County Civil Rights Coalition (MCCRC) started because in the fall of 2010, 7 activists in Minneapolis and Chicago awoke one morning to find that their houses were being raided by the FBI. Boxes and boxes of their possessions were confiscated, including computers, papers, and family photos. Although they were never charged with any crime, they were called to testify in front of a Grand Jury.

In response, activists here in our area, as well as in cities around the country, came together to protest the use of the FBI and the Grand Jury process to harass and intimidate movement organizers. Basically, we wanted to stand in solidarity with activists who had not committed crimes or advocated anything other than nonviolence action. It was from these events that MCCRC was founded.

Forum Speakers

Saqib Ali, formerly a Maryland state legislator,  is now the Director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations Maryland chapter (CAIR-MD).  Ali spoke about the overwhelming surveillance of Muslim-American communities throughout the United States, describing the three major issues facing these communities as the “No Fly” list; the FBI’s infiltration of mosques and the growing presence of FBI informants in mosques; and the near-constant surveillance of Muslim communities.  Ali explained that the “No Fly” list prohibits many Muslim-Americans from travel back and forth between the United States and countries abroad where family members may still be located.  Ali specifically noted that the Transport Security Administration (TSA) compiles their “No Fly” list fairly arbitrarily, and lacks any legal recourse; not only  is the reason for being on a “No Fly” list murky at best, but it becomes nearly impossible to remove oneself from that list.

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Ali also discussed the FBI infiltration of mosques, both as a means to surveil Muslim community worshiping therein, as well as to persuade mosque members towards terrorist action and subsequently stage their arrests.  He also discussed the more local development of an NYPD “Demographics” Unit, which singled out Muslim community centers of all kinds throughout New York and New Jersey for surveillance.  He described the “Demographics” Unit as a “wide, indiscriminate dragnet of Muslim everyday things: barber shops, bookstores…”

Sue Udry, the Executive Director of the Defending Dissent Foundation (DDF), broadened the discussion beyond the Muslim-American community to discuss the many different examples of legitimate activism being disproportionately targeted by local, state and federal law enforcement agencies.  She specifically mentioned the “Ag Gag laws,” which aim at preventing whistleblowers from exposing any wrongdoing within agricultural operations.  Within these Ag Gag laws is the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA) which Udry and DDF describe as:

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Alameda County passes resolution against Secure Communities policy

Tuesday, April 30, 2013 at 9:16 am by

In Alameda County, the local Board of Supervisors recently voted 3-1 in passing a proposal requesting Sheriff Greg Ahern to withdraw from the federal Secure Communities program. Implemented in 2008, the voluntary Secure Communities program is an immigration policy operated by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which is directed towards the deportation of immigrants convicted of violent and dangerous crimes.

The Secure Communities policy implements a process through which state and local police may coordinate with federal agencies in the enforcement of immigration programs. The initial process begins when individuals are arrested, as law enforcement oft fingerprints those detained in violation of criminal offenses.  This fingerprint data is then electronically transferred to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), who alternatively collects and stores such information in their organizational databases. Subsequently, the FBI then sends such fingerprint information to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), so that ICE may assess whether the individual in question can be subject to removal from the country.

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In Alameda County alone, this policy has already led to the deportation of over 2,000 residents since its adoption. As such, the Secure Communities policy has been subject to significant criticisms, particularly regarding its overbreadth, as the program can produce negative consequences for immigrants who have never violated criminal statutes. Supervisor Richard Valle, who originally drafted the resolution states:

The underlying tone in Secure Communities denies people the due process and very democracy that we are here to defend.

As another proponent of the new resolution, Supervisor Wilma Chan, iterates a similar argument, and elaborates:

There’s nothing in this ICE hold that really helps because under the current system, immigrants just like anybody else who commit crimes are still going through the system. If they committed a felony, they are going to serve time in jail. Our job in Alameda County is not to do the job of [Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

This recent resolution possesses numerous similarities with a previous policy in Berkeley, California, where the City Council voted unanimously against continued support for the Secure Communities program. Nadia Kayyali, legal fellow at the Bill of Rights Defense Committee (BORDC), provides significant insights into the pushback against Safe Communities, and examines both the ineffectiveness and inaccuracies of the program:

It decreases community safety as police become equated with immigration enforcement, thus leading to a lack of willingness to call the police or assist in community policing or investigations. The federal government has stated that S-comm is aimed at “criminals” but according to Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) own numbers, 79% of deportees under S-Comm had no criminal records, or had been picked up for low-level offenses such as traffic violations. In California alone, almost 80,000 deportations have taken place.

As Supervisor Chan stated, local communities should not be delegated the task and jobs of the federal immigration officials. While the passing of this resolution is undoubtedly commendable, it remains incomplete and more work will be necessary in transforming this symbolic resolution into a complete victory. 

Strict immigration enforcement both wasteful and harmful

Wednesday, March 13, 2013 at 7:40 am by

immigration-enforcementEver since the preliminary efforts by the US government to curb undocumented immigration in the 1980s, such as the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA), our nation’s immigration enforcement machinery has steadily become stronger, stricter and much more rigid. With current net undocumented migration from Mexico at or below zero and increased consequences for illegal crossing, new reports show that this level of strict enforcement is wasteful in terms of the federal budget and harmful as it attacks civil liberties of immigrants and citizens alike.

Monumental transformations in immigration law and enforcement since the 1990s have included border control, strict visa requirements, advanced data systems, and detention or deportation of aliens. Moreover, increasing integration of  immigration control systems with criminal investigation mechanisms has also become a pillar of this drive to secure borders and address immigrant influx into the US.

A recent report by the Migration Policy Institute shows that these enforcement mechanisms are supported by a colossal increase in federal spending on immigration control:

The US government spends more on its immigration enforcement agencies than on all its other principal criminal federal law enforcement agencies combined. In FY 2012, spending for CBP, ICE, and US-VISIT reached nearly $18 billion. This amount exceeds by approximately 24 percent total spending for the FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Secret Service, US Marshals Service, and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF), which stood at $14.4 billion in FY 2012.

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The sequester: a promise of immigration reform?

Tuesday, March 12, 2013 at 6:41 pm by

President Obama has had a complex (and somewhat contradictory) stance on immigration for as long as he has been in office.  His administration has proudly touted its aim to deport record numbers of  undocumented immigrants, while simultaneously pushing for the passage of the DREAM act, which would grant citizenship to undocumented immigrants who fall into one of two socially acceptable categories: those willing to risk their lives for the United States military, and those who are interested in pursuing a college degree.

Immigrants not interested in either of the two straight-and-narrow paths offered by the DREAM act can say goodbye to a life in the U.S.

The exact number of undocumented immigrants deported under Obama is somewhat unclear. Some sources report over 400,000 in the 2012 fiscal year alone and a continuous increase in removals since President Bush left office, while other sources suggest these numbers have been inflated, and that there has actually been a steady decrease in deportation since Obama first came to office in 2008.

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Immigration enforcement: a trojan horse?

Wednesday, March 6, 2013 at 10:25 am by

Comprehensive immigration reform, along with the fiscal cliff and sequester, has recently dominated Washington. But observers have overlooked how calls for stronger immigration enforcement could undermine the rights of not only immigrants, but also US citizens.

Conservative members of Congress have demanded tighter enforcement as a condition of considering meaningful reform of federal immigration policy. But enforcement-first immigration reform could wreak havoc with the fundamental liberties of citizens. If libertarians recognized how conservative policy proposals threaten their interests, the debate could shift dramatically.

What enhanced immigration enforcement could look like

Immigration enforcement takes primarily two forms: border security and interior enforcement. Each poses a threat to Americans who value their own freedom. The border security debate hides the most severe potential pitfalls, only because the privacy implications of interior enforcement have at least been discussed in public.

Many conservatives want to lock down our borders even more than our federal agencies already have. Yet American’s borders have never been more secure. In 2012, our government spent $18 billion on civil immigration enforcement, more than combined spending on all agencies that enforce criminal laws.

Proposals to further tighten border security have included increasing the deployment of domestic surveillance drones, expanding immigration checkpoints, building a fence, and adding more agents to the already bloated rosters of CBP and ICE.

Beyond border security is interior enforcement, which Bush and Obama both escalated, reflected in record numbers of deportations. Recent proposals emphasize technology: the controversial E-verify program to force employers to enforce federal immigration law, or similar programs like 287(g), Secure Communities, or the Next Generation Initiative, which co-opt local police and undermine public safety.

Confused premises

Whether at the border or within the US, the demand for tighter enforcement ignores reality: net migration across the southern border has already turned negative, driven by harsh profiling, alongside continuing stagnation in job growth, which has made immigration less economically attractive.

In other words, tighter border security and enhanced interior enforcement are unnecessary, at best. According to Marc Rosenblum from the Congressional Research Service, “additional investments at the border may be met with diminishing returns.”

Beyond diminishing returns, enhanced border security could prove nightmarish — not just for undocumented families, but also US citizens. Border security could diminish our own freedom to travel, while interior enforcement poses a covert threat to privacy.

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BORDC opposes E-Verify system, warns Capitol Hill of dangerous implications

Friday, March 1, 2013 at 10:10 am by

E-VerifyLast week, the Bill of Rights Defense Committee (BORDC) joined a large contingency of other organizations in presenting a letter to Capitol Hill concerning public worries over the implementation of the national “E-Verify” system. In the hopes of uncovering undocumented workers, this controversial system would establish an electronic employment verification process, and compel employers to submit employee information to a governmental database. Consequently, both sets of information will be compared against one another, and any discrepancies between the two records would result in a revocation of that particular employee’s ability to work until the error is corrected.

While the letter adamantly rejects the validity and usefulness of the E-Verify system, it outlines several judicious amendments to the system in order to mitigate the following flaws, as:

E-Verify imposes immigration enforcement costs on Americans, disproportionately impacts minority groups, conscripts employers to act as immigration agents, exacerbates identity theft, and creates a de facto national ID system.

Additionally, the Cato Institute has also severely admonished this employment verification process, and likened the E-Verify system to a biometric national identification system reminiscent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) “Next Generation Identification” (NGI) project.

Referred to by some commentators as the Big Brother of the next generation, NGI became publicized in 2011 through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request concerning a divisive immigration deportation program. Sarah Berlin, of BORDC, described the NGI project as fundamentally dangerous, in that it would result in the creation of:

A database of biometric information such as fingerprints, iris scans, and facial recognition data — of not only immigrants, but all Americans. In other words, the FBI designed this program to use immigrants as the guinea pigs for a national biometric ID system that will eventually include all Americans. In such a system, there would be no ID cards — our bodies would be our IDs.

As outlined in the letter, E-Verify represents a disastrous assault upon civil liberties, and unnecessarily encroaches upon an individual’s rights to privacy and speech. Though it is directed towards a specific group of individuals, the negative effects of the system will inevitably impact the population in general. As evidenced by the supporters of the recent letter, E-Verify is no longer an issue confined solely within the realm of immigration reform, but has generated considerable criticism from an increasingly large variety of groups ranging from small business owners to workers’ rights organizations.

An implausible inauguration speech

Friday, January 25, 2013 at 10:10 am by

If observers want to criticize the President, they should challenge his derogation in practice of the same values he professes.

Critics of Mr. Obama have described his inaugural address as radical.  But insisting on values as fundamental as “equality before the law” and the “enduring strength of our Constitution” are hardly radical.  Indeed, they are simply restatements of principles that have long united America.

If observers want to criticize the President, they should instead challenge his derogation in practice of the same values he professes in lofty speeches. Rhetoric is no substitute for reality, and given the President’s unfortunate extension of the Bush-Cheney assault on civil liberties, his administration deserves criticism.

Forgotten promises

The President seems no more inclined than his neo-con predecessors to heed longstanding constitutional limits on executive power. Indeed, his first term witnessed several extensions of the Bush-Cheney legacy.

Extrajudicial assassination using armed drone aircraft, the use of unmanned aerial drones for unwarranted domestic spying, the NSA’s dragnet domestic wiretapping, the FBI’s resurrection of COINTELPRO, the unprecedented crackdown on immigrants under President Obama, the use of immigration enforcement as a pretext to create a national biometric identification scheme for all Americans (including citizens), continued racial profiling in the drug war, and the new threat of military detention within the US, all reflect a dark side of President Obama’s legacy.

I’ve written at length about the secrecy pervading the administration’s national security efforts, which butcher constitutional rights in many ways that are unfortunately even worse than the sum of their parts.

If President Obama wants to leave a legacy in his second term, he need cite no transformative agenda. He need merely remember his own campaign promises from 2008, or the need to ensure accountability for documented recent violations by federal agencies, or alternatively the oath of office he adopted again this week.

Several looming policy issues offer opportunities for the administration to finally walk the President’s talk in its second term.

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