Sunday, March 30, 2008

Pro-Peace Imam In NJ Threatened With Deportation For Not Revealing What He Might Not Have Even Known

The Bergen Record and The Associated Press have written news stories about Imam Muhammad Qatanani's fight to escape deportation in May 2008 before Judge Alberto Riefkohl in Newark, New Jersey Immigration Court.

The legal issue is whether USCIS and ICE can deny his green card application for not revealing of a conviction in Israeli military court of aiding Hamas militants. According to his lawyer, Claudia Slovinsky, the Israeli military court entered the conviction without him being present and he only found out about it years after he filed his green card application (in which he never mentioned the military court conviction).

As Ms. Slovinsky pointed out to one of the reporters, if he did not know about the military conviction when he filled out his application, he legally did not misrepresent his past -- he did not know at the time that what he was saying was not accurate.

Supporters have created a new organization Americans For Qatanani, collected almost 1,000 signatures on a petition, raised over $100,000 for his defense, and obtained a supporting letter from Congressman Pascrell about how he is a gentleman who has had a tremendous positive influence.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Questions Continue About NJ AG Directive on Immigration

Kareem Fahim of the New York Times wrote an article on March 23, 2008 titled "Immigration Referrals by Police Draw Scrutiny" in which he recounts ongoing questions about New Jersey Attorney General Anne Milgram's directive in August 2007 that ordered local police to question people arrested for certain types of crime if there is a reason to believe the person arrested may be undocumented. The certain types of crime include, strangely, indictable offenses and driving while intoxicated (even if the DWI charge is a misdemeanor).

Kareem Fahim reports that in the last seven months, referrals to ICE have nearly doubled (8,874 from September to February as opposed to 4,589 for the same period the previous year). Advocates, though, complain that some people may have been unfairly referred due to overzealous enforcement of confusion about how to implement the directive. And that as a result, immigrants' relationships with police are chilled.

Advocates complain that the directive is being violated by, for example, local police asking about immigration status during routine traffic stops and during witness interviews. This happens especially in rural areas and NJ Attorney General Anne Milgram has said that should not happen.

NJ AG Milgram says only two credible complaints have come to her office but advocates point out that immigrants are not likely to lodge complaints with the NJ AG. The NJ AG is not releasing statistics about the referrals for another five months. Interviews show that the directive is not being used evenly across New Jersey.

Francisco Escobar has legal immigration status and went to the West Deptford, NJ police office to discuss his nephew. The local police, though, asked a series of questions about his immigration status, identity, and address. That would seem to violated the AG's directive.

Manuel Guzman said that during a traffic stop in South Harrison, NJ, the police asked for identification of his passenger and arrested, though ultimately released without even a traffic ticket. The local police told the reporter that the arrest was because the police officer suspected the passenger might have been someone else they were looking for.

Very few police stations have given training on how to apply the directive. The Newark Police department started a comprehensive training program after a Newark police officer violated the directive in September 2007 by asking two people who were reporting a crime about their immigration status.

It's not clear what type of monitoring and training an AG should normally provide and share with the public when issuing new, wide-ranging directives. But the clear implication from the article is that the NJ AG might not be providing enough monitoring and training (if any) and certainly is not sharing enough with the public.

Before the NJ AG Directive, local NJ police reported a crime victim and witness to ICE for deportation, probably violating what the NJ AG recognizes is the victim's rights under the New Jersey Constitution. ICE has continued to pursue deportation and refuses to stop the case, even after the NJ AG's directive. There is no explanation of how the NJ AG will address when police mistakenly report victims to ICE -- without basic protections for crime victims, there is a danger that victims will be afraid to report crimes because if someone slips up and tells ICE, hearing someone say "oops" would be little comfort to a crime victim being deported after reporting a crime to police.

When victims are afraid to report crimes to police, everyone's safety is threatened.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

USCIS Officer Allegedly Demanded Sex From Applicant

On March 21, 2008, the New York Times printed an article by Nina Bernstein on "An Agent, a Green Card, and a Demand for Sex."

The article alleges that Isaac R. Baichu worked as an adjudicator for USCIS (United States Citizenship and Immigration Services) and during an interview of a married couple about their request for the wife to obtain a green card, he got her cellphone number and a few days later demanded sex from the wife in exchange for him approving their green card application.

According to the article, the woman used her cellphone's video function to record what he said when he met her and led her to his parked car in Queens, demanding oral sex during that meeting. Mr. Baichu was arrested last week. Of course, people are presumed innocent until proven guilty and these are just allegations at this point. They have a 16-minute recording, but we have to wait to see how the criminal justice system deals with the charges.

Nina Bernstein points out how difficult and dangerous it is to make a complaint, even if you have a tape recording of alleged improper conduct. It is so difficult to make a complaint that the victim did not call the police and could not figure out any way to file an anonymous complaint to USCIS so she and some friends instead turned to the New York Times.

The difficulty of making complaints brings attention to how USCIS does not have clear methods for filing and resolving complaints. In one situation, someone filed a complaint with allegations to USCIS in Newark, but the USCIS-Newark's treatment of the complaint demonstrated that their approach was one of cynicism for the allegations and made great efforts to point out all the reasons the complaint might not be well-founded without necessarily investigating what happened or updating the complaining person on how any investigation might have turned out. And not trying to talk to or interview the person filing the complaint.

In a climate where it is difficult to file complaints and it seems that USCIS does not treat complaints in a productive manner, it increases the risk that USCIS officers might be able to act improperly and not be caught. Nina Bernstein wrote in her article of criminal charges against immigration agents in Atlanta, Miami, and Santa Ana, California.

Michael Maxwell, the former director of USCIS internal investigations, testified in 2006 that more than 3,000 backlogged complaints of misconduct had gone uninvestigated because they lacked enough staff to check into them. Since 2006, USCIS has tripled its staff and says their backlog is down to under 200. In 2006, Mr. Maxwell testified that internal corruption in immigration was rampant and that employees faced constant temptations to commit crime.

Nina Bernstein wrote of examples such as:
  • Lloyd Miner of Hyattsville, MD, sentenced to a year in prison for inducing a woman to stay in the US illegally and harboring her in his house.
  • Eddie Romualdo Miranda from Santa Ana, CA, accused of demanding sexual favors from a woman seeking citizenship. Ultimately acquitted of sexual battery but pled guilty to misdemeanor battery and sentenced to probation.
  • Adjudicator Kelvin R. Owens from Atlanta convicted in 2005 of sexually assaulting a woman during her citizenship interview.
  • A Miami-ICE agent charged with taking a female detainee to his home and raping her.
When the question comes up about fraud and deceit in the immigration process, a big focus should be on the professionalism and honesty of USCIS and ICE employees. Nobody is suggesting that the average worker is breaking the law or is in any way corrupt. But the government, which charges huge fees to immigrants seeking their services, should work harder to find and punish corruption and fraudulent conduct by government employees. It should also make it much easier for people to file complaints and report improper conduct. Just as many police officers welcome police brutality investigations because they want bad police officers to be found and punished, it would not be surprising if the average USCIS employee would support stronger protections to find and punish USCIS employees who act improperly.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Lawsuit Filed For ICE Deportation Of Developmentally Disabled United States Citizen

As reported by several newspapers including an article by Paloma Esquivel "Suit filed over disabled U.S. citizen's deportation ordeal" on February 28, 2008 in the Los Angeles Times, a family filed a lawsuit against the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department and the federal government for wrongly deporting a United States citizen to Rijuana, where he was left with $3 and wandering Mexico until family members found him almost three months later.

Pedro Guzman is developmentally disabled according to his lawyers and pled guity in the US to trespassing. Before his 120 days in the county jail (later cut to 40 days) were completed, sheriff's officials turned him over to ICE who deported him to Tijuana.

Guzman's family is alleging that when arrested, the government had documents showing he was a citizen and that they probably were influenced by preconceived notions about Latinos in deciding that Mr. Guzman was not a US citizen. The government, though, is alleging that Mr. Guzman kept saying he was born in Mexico and agreed to voluntarily "return" to Mexico.

ICE officials have alleged that what they did to Mr. Guzman is an isolated incident.

Continuing stream of articles on immigrants afraid to report crimes

And even more stories of immigrants afraid to report crimes to police because of the fear that they will be turned over for deportation. (Something that actually has happened in New Jersey when someone called the local police to provide key information to help the police catch some alien smugglers.)

As reported in "Pair disguised as police robbing homes" by Michael Levenson and Brian R. Ballou in the Boston Globe on March 4, 2008, a pair of men have committed over a dozen robberies in the past four months by apparently targeting undocumented immigrants, pretending to be police or from Immigration Services, and searching and stealing items in peoples homes.

Police investigators believe there are more victims who never reported the crimes because the victims were afraid of being deported. Chelsea (MA) police are working with police in Boston and Everett (MA) and trying to assure residents that police will not ask about immigration status if people report a crime. They may have a very difficult time convincing people about that because of the stories of local police for example in New Jersey actually turning crime victims over for deportation.

This is a terrible public safety problem and one solution is to adopt a policy to protect crime victims from being turned over for deportation by local police -- and to authorize judges to throw out deportation cases if the immigration authorities misguidedly try to deport someone they only found out about because the crime victim called local police. ICE counsel in Newark, NJ and an immigration judge in Newark, NJ refused to throw out that type of case and the government is defending in court a deportation order entered against the crime victim who called the local police for help.

Judge Concludes Refusing Urgent Medical Treatment For 11 Months Would Be "Beyond Cruel and Unusual Punishment"

As reported by Henry Weinstein of the Los Angeles Times on March 13, 2008, in an article "Judge calls immigration officials' decision 'beyond cruel,'" Los Angeles federal district court judge Dean Pregerson agreed with the family of Francisco Castaneda that if as alleged immigration authorities refused for 11 months to authorize an urgently needed biopsy to treat a growing lesion on the penis of someone in immigration detention, that would be cruel and unusual punishment. How could the government even argue this and require the family and the judge to spend time deciding this issue -- seems like an obvious conclusion.

According to the allegations, instead of treating and testing the detainee, government officials instead did nothing -- just gave him antihistamines, ibuprofen, and more boxer shorts. It was so bad that Judge Pregerson called it one of the most, if not the most, egregious cruel and unusual punishment that the court had ever encountered.

Let's see, in March 2006, an ICE physician wrote down the need for a biopsy and to consult with a urologist "ASAP" according to government records. For 11 months, other doctors made similar requests, with increasing urgency. In June 2006, though, Dr. Esther Hui of the Division of Immigration Health Services wrote down that ICE would not let the detainee go to a hospital because they considered a biopsy to be an elective outpatient procedure and the federal government does not pay for elective procedures. The ACLU intervened in February 2007 (11 months after the ICE physician wrote down the need for a biopsy) and suddenly ICE released the detainee who then rushed to a hospital's emergency room, started chemotherapy, and died of the long-untreated cancer.

Sometimes it takes a particularly horrifying example to turn people's attention to whether the overall treatment is adequate. Not everyone receives as bad treatment as Mr. Castaneda did before he died, but it does raise a question that the U.S. Government Accountability Office also raised -- whether immigration detainees are receiving adequate outside medical and mental health care. Who is looking into this? From a financial standpoint, taxpayers would rather give people the health care that they legally deserve rather than have detainees mistreated, seriously injured or killed, and then pay out huge amounts after the government is sued.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

ICE Accused Of Illegal Workplace Searches During Raids

As reported in a February 26, 2008 article by N.C. Aizenman in the Washington Post titled "Immigration Agency Accused of Illegal Searches" on page A04, a private commission of labor and immigrant advocates held a hearing to publicize allegations that ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) routinely violates workers' constitutional rights during workplace raids.

Participants in the hearing accused ICE of using arrest warrants for a small number of workers as a pretext to conduct illegal searches and detentions of everyone at the workplace while ICE tries to search through illegal means for other undocumented people in the same workplace.

These are just the latest accusations of widespread Fourth Amendment violations by ICE. The growing chorus of accusations and evidence of widespread Fourth Amendment violations is significant because the United States Supreme Court announced in a case called Lopez-Mendoza v. INS in 1984 that it would consider imposing the exclusionary rule to exclude all illegally obtained evidence in immigration court if there one day was proof of widespread illegal searches by the immigration authorities. There are several cases raising this issue, including an appeal that is pending with the Third Circuit.