Wednesday, June 03, 2009

A Look at Migrant Detention Under President Obama

Crossposted from The Sanctuary

The American Prospect lays out some numbers that show how little has changed with respect to migrant detention under the leadership of a new President, specifically through the usage of the Secure Communities initiative.
Secure Communities relies on police in jails like the one where Martinez was processed to enter fingerprints into a joint Department of Homeland Security and FBI database monitored by ICE. Federal officials then decide whether to take "appropriate action" and issue a detainer on an immigrant before he or she is released. The program began in Texas in late 2008, is now in place in 48 counties in seven states, and is set to reach full implementation nationwide by 2012. It receives a 30 percent funding boost in Obama's proposed 2010 budget and has support from key Democrats such as Rep. David Price of North Carolina, who chairs the Appropriations Subcommittee on Homeland Security and pushed for much of the new funding. "One thing liberals and conservatives and everyone in between can agree on is that truly dangerous people should be at the top of the list for deportation," Price says.

The American Prospect

Programs like this sound good on paper, but those of us who happen to be brown know that we are in for unequal application of these types of laws. The country needs to stop pretending that immigration enforcement is about whether or not a person has their papers. People of color will always be targeted unfairly and beyond that, this is a central part of a long effort to eradicate migrant cultures.

Obama's budget also maintains funding for the 287(g) program, though at a decreased level. Civil-rights advocates note the bulk of counties that signed up to participate in the program are in Southern states with rapidly growing Latino populations. "The program gets mediated by a history of racism and nativist hostility," says Deborah Weissman, a law professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill who co-authored a study on the politics of local immigration enforcement. The study recounts how Alamance County Sheriff Terry Johnson told the Raleigh News & Observer that he applied to participate in the 287(g) program because Mexican "values are a lot different -- their morals -- than what we have here." He linked the county's growing Latino population with a rise in crime rates. Never mind that Latinos make up 10 percent of the population in Alamance County and account for about 12 percent of its criminal cases. About 70 percent of immigrants detained in Alamance County through 287(g) were guilty only of traffic offenses. (emphasis mine)

I would argue, of course, that "Mexican values" are indigenous to the United States, but when you're dealing with a law enforcement officer who comes right out and states boldly that they are targeting people for being Other, why bother? The bigotry shines more strongly than the glean off the gold badge on his uniform.

With incarceration rates for Latinos and African Americans off the charts, media and political forked tongues that reinforce a false message that we are more criminally prone, and the gravy train of funding to the privatized prison industry continuing unabated, President Obama's promise of change has yet to arrive with respect to migrant detention and deportations.

The abuses will continue unless we force D.C. to act. This week there is a huge gathering of immigration organizations in the nation's capitol, will this diseased part of the immigration system go unchallenged?

Let's hope not.

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