Weekly Update on Immigration: Obama Pressed On Immigration; Local Police Add Immigration Beat?; What's Happening in Mexico?

I. Obama Pressed on Immigration -  The latest news from this morning, the CHC is ramping up activity, and Simon explains how immigration reform can be used as a tool to improve the economy.

II.
Happening in Our Own Backyard - A friend of mine from Nashville shared with me that the Lt. Governor of Tennessee had not taken any action for or against the "English Only" provision that was voted on in TN shortly after January 20th.  The Lt. Gov. was in D.C. for the inauguration, and as he was driving home, having just heard the President's moving speech on the dream that is America, on moving forward, on how "We are One,"  that "I am my brother's keeper," and that we are not the "native" or "foreign," "black" or "white" states of America, but rather the United States of America, he began hearing anti-immigrant talk radio as he crossed the state of Virginia.  And it hit him - how could he come from hearing his President's inspired words, then go home and ignore what was happening in his own backyard?  And he got home to rally against the "English-only" provision, which failed.  This lesson applies to all of us.

Two years ago, in Prince William County, Virginia - a mere 30 minutes away from the home of our President, Congress, and federal Judicial Branch - the County Council decided it was a good idea to turn citizens and local police into immigration officers.  Now Montgomery and Frederick County in Maryland are following suit.  Following the GAO report on 287(g) that we discussed last week, NPR had a great interview with the Frederick County sheriff, Charles Jenkins - who is encouraging this policy - and our friend Frank Sharry, of America's Voice.  How can we say that we support our country, our President, and his values if we don't fight against these laws?

Sheriff Jenkins argues this initiative is in response to an "increase in crime involving people in the country illegally," but as indicated during the interview, of the 337 arrests of undocumented immigrants in Frederick County, only 12 of those individuals had actual criminal records, and only 9 participated in gang-related activity.  These individuals should be arrested and prosecuted for their offenses as part of the normal county policing efforts, but there is no reason to pinpoint "immigrants" specifically.  Data demonstrate that native-born individuals are 5 times as likely as foreign-born to have a criminal record.  This effort is not a strategy to go after actual criminals, it is an effort to turn community police into deportation agents, which has unintended consequences.  We recommend Sheriff Jenkins take a good look at the counties that have already had experience with the 287(g) program, and learn from it. 

In Prince William County, Chief of Police Deane warned the County Council of these unintended consequences:

1. Community policing efforts in minority communities will end.  Best practices in policing indicate that effective policing is based on trust.  This trust is undermined when communities - particularly minority communities - feel they, or their friends and family, are in danger of being deported or persecuted.   

2. Sharp rise in unsolved crimes and underreporting of crimes in the minority population.  As stated by Frank - there is a reason 95% of police departments choose not to participate in this program, it undermines their policing efforts.  If police are seen as "la migra" or immigration enforcement, as opposed to protectors and partners in the community, this is the expected result.

3. Crime rates among youth will rise.  These programs lead to feelings of persecution and marginalization, which translates to frustration.

4. Rise of vigilantism.  These programs cause greater "citizen activism" and embolden those with anti-immigrant feelings to feel more comfortable acting out on those feelings.

5. A more radical population.  These programs cause a greater rift between immigrants, minority communities, and those who are very anti-immigrant.  Chief Deane noted that eventually both sides become increasingly polarized and harder to deal with.

6. Perceptions of racism will increase.  The reputation and perception of life in that County changes, as we saw with the exodus of many Hispanics from Prince William.

7. Higher taxes, skyrocketing expenses.

Sheriff Jenkins believes that he is, "not spending an enormous amount of resources on this program. I am simply performing this duty as an extension of law enforcement duties."  But participation in 287(g) necessarily requires additional processes and resources, which will be felt in the county, as happened in Prince William.  In a time of economic crisis, Prince William County had to cut back on their 287(g) initiative because of the unforeseen amount of resources that went into it.  Sheriff Jenkins might want to take a look at this presentation by Chief Deane before the Prince William County Board over one year after the implementation of the 287(g) program:

III. Immigration and Latin America - President Obama wants to develop a renewed and more engaged relationship with Mexico and our other neighbors in Latin America, but given some of last week's events, one understands why it becomes difficult for these countries to trust the U.S. government - and Democrats in particular.  Last week during the vote in the Senate approving the Omnibus spending bill, the U.S. government sent mixed economic messages and backed out on a major commitment under NAFTA.  The bill that passed on Tuesday would end funding for the cross-border trucking program that was signed into law in 1993 as part of the North American Free Trade Agreement.  Regardless of the success or flaws in this program, the bottom line is that the United States agreed to this pact, signed it into law, and is now going back on its obligations (it's reported that access to U.S. roads granted to Mexican trucks in NAFTA would be terminated).  Critics cite safety concerns, but a spokesman for the Mexican Embassy argues:

 

"During the cross-border trucking demonstration program's 18 months of operation, 26 carriers from Mexico -- with 103 trucks -- and 10 from the U.S. -- with 61 trucks -- crossed the border over 45,000 times without a significant incident," said spokesman, Ricardo Alday.

Mr. Alday adds, "Mexico would expect that at a time of global recession and economic distress, the U.S. would play by the rules, fulfill its international treaty obligations and ensure that bilateral trade is a level playing field, rather than erect trade barriers that undermine much-needed incentives to foster growth," predicting the action would increase consumer costs.  We can expect Secretary of State Clinton will have to address this issue while she's in Mexico next week.

This issue ties into immigration because Congress must come to the realization that we are indeed connected to the rest of the world, and to the Latin America region in particular.  As long as members of Congress like Sen. Byron Dorgan and others continue to use serious policy issues to do politicking, and as long as they scapegoat our neighbors for domestic problems, it will be impossible to have a political atmosphere that is rational and balanced enough to deal with major domestic problems, like the economic crisis and the broken immigration system.  This takes me to the next issue:

IV. Mexico is No Failed State- Much was said last week about reports and academic studies calling Mexico a "failed state."  First, let's return to our basic University level Theory of State and government classes:  a "failed state" is a term used by commentators to describe a state perceived as losing basic conditions of a sovereign government.  Per Noam Chomsky, these conditions include:

  1. Loss of physical control of its territory - Last I checked, not a single mayor or Governor in Mexico has ceded control to organized crime.
  2. Erosion of legitimate authority to make collective decisions. - Again, President Calderon, the Judicial branch and Congress are still carrying on with daily business.  
  3. Inability to provide reasonable public services. - If anything, service providers in Mexico have improved, with new education and other service providers.
  4. An inability to interact with other states as a full member of the international community.  Considering the U.S. Secretary of State is visiting her counterpart in Mexico next week, and given Mexico's active participation in everything from the UN, to the OAS, to the upcoming Summit of the Americas, this is evidently not the case.

Let's stop demonizing a country that is in fact our second largest trading partner, with whom we share much more than a border and economic ties.  We share ideology, common goals, strategic benefits, the fact is we share a people and many aspects of culture and customs.

If Mexico were a failed state, we'd have to apply the same title to the U.S., given the events of 2007 that revealed unexpected shocks - primarily the implosion of the U.S. subprime market, which burst housing bubbles worldwide, slowed trade, and sent currencies into tailspins.

V. Congressional Hearing on Border Crime - It is important that all our advocates for immigration reform refute these claims as quickly as they refute attacks on our immigrant population because as long as Mexico and Mexicans continue to be seen as harmful to the U.S., immigration will continue to be equated to "Mexicans," "security," "terrorism," and other "hazards," as was evidenced during last Thursday's hearing of the House Subcommittee on Border issues.  At Thursday's hearing, Chairwoman Sanchez asked Mr. Alonzo Pena, the Homeland Security Attaché at the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City, whether all of Mexico was truly as dangerous as reports make it seem.  Mr. Pena responded that his family had just vacationed in Mexico, and that while the border region and specific areas are dangerous, tourist areas and the country in general remains safe:

"While there is violence in Mexico, it is not, and I repeat not, an indication of the government of Mexico's inability to maintain control," he said. "Rather it is an indication of President Calderon's success in confronting transnational criminal organizations in Mexico."

I left the hearing very concerned that "immigrants" continue to be bundled into "border threats" and "other hazards."   Organized crime is organized crime, many times carried out by U.S. citizens on both sides of the border.  Organized crime is one thing, immigrants are an entirely different phenomenon.  The Administration and specifically the Department of Homeland Security must separate "immigrants" and "immigration" from "gangs" and organized crime.  The ICE gang unit should certainly seek out and persecute gang members, but the ICE gang unit should not constitute all of ICE's work, nor can it serve as the foundation of ICE's ideology and priorities.

We saw progress in that both ICE and ATF agents finally recognized the harm U.S. arms are causing as they're being shipped into Mexico.  But not once was drug prevention mentioned throughout the entire hearing as part of the strategy to combat organized crime.  It took Congressman Al Green to remind the panelists that this is not a border problem, or a U.S.-Mexico problem, but a "transnational problem," and a "growth problem," due to the increase in drug use in the U.S. When none of the panelists were able to provide the number of ICE/ATF employees dedicated to "following the money trail" of organized crime, Mr. Green reiterated: the Government of Mexico has asked for our help on two fronts: control the guns, and control the money, and U.S. authorities have so far been unable to do either.

Congresswoman Kirkpatrick accurately noted, as long as we don't address the issue of drug consumption, there will be "no appreciable change" in this situation, we'll just continue with "spurts of arrests."   Instead of fanning fears of destabilization in Mexico, people like Sen.Cornyn of Texas should instead focus on what Texas can do and what they can do to stop the elements that are feeding this violence: guns and drug consumption.

VI. In Case you Missed It - A fantastic New York Times interactive map that shows immigration trends and data, and the Los Angeles Time graphic showing a decrease in arrests of undocumented immigrants along the border (while border violence is on the rise, so let's stop blaming the immigrants).  

VII. UPDATE: A very fine border line between cartels, immigration debate.

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