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Thursday, Sep 10, 2009, 9:27 am

Weekly Immigration Wire: Piecemeal Reform is Dangerous

By Nezua

We're coming to the close of the year in which President Obama said that immigration reform would be a priority. But to date, the Obama administration has only extended harsh immigration enforcement provisions put in place by the Clinton or second Bush administrations. These punitive pieces of legislation include E-Verify, a 100% detainment policy, the Secure Communities initiative, and the infamous 287(g) agreement. Cumulatively, they do not reflect a workable philosophy on immigrants, society, or the U.S. economy. Instead, this enforcement agenda destabilizes communities with police persecution and terror.

As Christopher W. Ortiz writes for AlterNet, "Comprehensive immigration reform is large-scale systemic reform encompassing all aspects of social, political and legal life here in the United States." Ortiz, a police sargeant and criminal justice lecturer, presents an enforcement-heavy view of immigration reform, yet he does not agree with the current system of patchwork, or "band-aid" legislation. It is "a system of haphazard enforcement and piecemeal policies" that are "usurped" in some areas of the country and fully "ignored" in others. Ortiz calls for "a complete overhaul of the immigration system, from entry to citizenship."

But on all fronts, the White House is rapidly backing away from anything resembling a systematic overhaul. On the same day that the E-Verify mandate went into effect, as Daphne Eviatar reports for The Washington Independent, Dora B. Schriro, the woman appointed to overhaul detention system, left the Obama administration to run New York's jails. Shiro's sudden departure is another stall for meaningful reform of the nation's growing network of detention systems.

In another article, Eviatar highlights some of the issues that make E-Verify controversial. "In the middle of the toughest job market in decades, the administration has chosen to erect another roadblock to gainful employment for U.S. workers," Eviatar writes. But is it a roadblock to economic growth or simply to justice? The cash still flows, but the stream is diverted to the growing detention industry. Productive members of our society are simply shifted into incarceration. Instead of earning money to spend in their communities, the funds are redirected to the Corrections Corporation of America, and to Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

The recent mass firings at American Apparel also punishes productive workers in favor of harsh immigration enforcement. M. Junaid Levesque-Alam at Wiretap tries to find the logic, and justice, in these firings. The Los Angeles-based clothing manufacturer let go of 25 per cent of its workforce due to pressure from a federal immigration probe. Levesque-Alam doesn't find logic or justice in the Obama administration's approach to immigration—only the hypocrisy of Obama's use of a Cesar Chavez rallying cry—"Sí Se Puede!"—to gain Latino votes. "When a corporation can offer vulnerable people better prospects than the most respected elected officials, then something is very wrong with liberal policy—or the lack thereof," Levesque-Alam writes.

New America Media's Marcelo Ballvé reports on a cosmetic, if not useless, change to the detention industry. On August sixth, ICE announced "the creation of two new government offices, one to oversee ongoing reforms to the detention system, and another to monitor and inspect detention centers." This comes in response to a flood of complaints from human rights activists who charge the detention centers overall with a substandard level of care. As the Wire reported on March 19th, the quickly growing detention industry has been soundly criticized for a lack of humane standards in reports issued by both the Human Rights Watch and the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center. But ICE overseeing itself hardly solves the problem.

Ballvé also points out that in the first five months of Obama's presidency, ICE raids have spiked, and despite promises given by the President or the Department of Homeland Security, there is no greater focus on employers whatsoever.

"Despite the significant uptick in prosecutions," Balivé writes in another piece for New America Media that "none of the May 2009 ICE cases targeted employers under the statute that makes it a criminal offense to knowingly hire undocumented immigrants."

Finally, Sherriff Joe Arpaio, the public face of the 287(g) provision, is in the news again. Arpaio, who has anointed himself "America's Toughest Sheriff," is being sued by the American Civil Liberties Union, which charges that Arpaio used racial profiling in detaining a father and son who are both U.S. citizens, thus "violating the U.S. Constitution's guarantee of equal protection under the law and prohibition on unreasonable seizures." Arpaio is legendary for using humiliation as standard operating procedure. He's made inmates dress in pink, parade through town in shackles, and this case is rife with it. It is repugnant and sadistic.

This country's approach to immigration cannot rely on force, prisons, and persecution—no matter how well they self-regulate. We are not so young a race or civilization that we cannot employ a scope that doesn't rely on prison-oriented profits and xenophobia. The White House needs to rethink its entire approach, and with originality and courage. The alternative is that this issue will become more problematic, manifesting greater chaos down the line.


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