El Pueblo Blog

El Pueblo is an active, vital organization helping immigrant communities along the Mississippi Gulf Coast. This blog is where we write what's on our mind, what we're doing, or anything else that we think you'd be interested in knowing about our organization's current activities.

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William J. Bratton está jubilándose como jefe del Departamento de Po-licía de Los Ángeles después de casi 40 años en la agencia del orden público, incluso servicio como Comisionado de Policía de Boston y de Nueva York. Estas tres ciudades grandes tienen unas de las poblaciones étnicamente más diversas de la nación. ¿Qué ha descubierto el Jefe Bratton de su experiencia vasta en la agencia del orden público?

 

Según un artículo de opinión publicado en The Los Angeles Times el 27 de octubre, “Criminales son los benefactores más grandes cuando inmigrantes teman a la policía. No podemos esclarecer delitos que no se denuncia porque los víctimas tienen miedo de presentarse ante de la policía.” Según el Jefe Bratton, ésta es una razón que el LAPD ha rehusado de participar en un programa controvertido de la agencia del orden público conocido como 287(g). El programa les da a las agencias municipales del orden público las fuerzas de agentes federales de inmigración por inscribir en acuerdos con Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) de Homeland Security. “Mis agentes no pueden prevenir o esclarecer delitos si víctimas o testigos no están dispuestos de hablar con no-sotros por temor a ser deportados,” dice Bratton.

Pero ésta no es la única razón. “Todos nosotros tenemos interés en ayudarles a nuestros jóvenes a desarrollarse en adultos saludables y respetuosos de la ley,” dice Bratton. “Engendrando temor y desconfianza de la autoridad entre unos de nuestros jóvenes podría aumentar tasas de delincuencia, violencia y desordenes mientras estos niños se hacen mayor en adolescentes y adultos miedosos y desconfiados.” Es importante recordarse que muchos de estos niños son ciudadanos de EE.UU.

A veces cuando hablo sobre este asunto, la cuestión se levanta, “¿Por qué no deberían temer los indocumentados a la policía? ¡Son criminales ellos mismos!” Esto es lo que dicen implacablemente los opositores de la reforma de inmigración, pero no es exactamente la verdad. La vasta mayoría de los extranjeros indocumentados en EE.UU. no han cometido ningún crimen, aunque entraron en el país sin autorización. Cruzando la frontera de EE.UU. sin autorización no es un crimen; es un delito menor de tipo violación del código civil (no penal). No supone ni multa ni condena. Vistas para averiguar si un extranjero ha violado esta ley no se llevan a cabo en los tribunales federales, sino en los procedimientos de un juez administrativo quien está bajo la autoridad de Executive Office of Immigration Review. La única pena es la deportación, aunque el extranjero actualmente pudiera estar detenido mientras espera su vista. Por supuesto hay violaciones de inmigración más serias que suponen penas más duras, pero el mero hecho de haber entrado en el país sin permiso no es entre ellas. Lo mismo se puede ser dicho de ellos quienes quedan más de su visa no-inmigrante. Una pudiera compararlo a manejando un auto sin licencia de conducir. No le hace un criminal.

Así, cuando el jefe del LAPD dice que criminales se benefician con el temor de la policía que tienen algunos víctimas y testigos, él sabe que estos víctimas y testigos NO son criminales, sino que gente que son generalmente respetuosa de la ley quien se arriesga deportación si reporta crímenes reales y muy graves contra ellos mis-mos a la policía. Esto conduce a una explo-tación vergonzosa de una comunidad vulnerable. La esposa indocumentada de un ciudadano de EE.UU. se puede ser maltratada con impunidad porque él sabe que ella tiene miedo de la policía. Trabajadores indocumentados le han robado de su sueldo por sus empleadores quienes les amenazan con llamar a las autoridades de inmigración si alguien se queja. Trabajadores quienes entraron en el país legalmente con visas de trabajo temporal se están detenidos en esclavitud virtual por empleadores inescrupulosos porque hasta ellos quienes están legalmente presentes se pueden ser amenazar con deportación. Matones dan una paliza y roban a los trabajadores inmigrantes en el día de paga porque saben que ellos no les reportarán a la policía quien es igual interesada en deportándole al víctima como arrestándole al criminal.

Hasta la Policía de Tráfico de Mississippi (Mississippi Highway Patrol) está tan preocupada por hacer cumplir la ley de inmigración que no expedirá licencias de conducir a muchos inmigrantes quienes cumplen las provisiones de la ley estatal. Según la ley, los extranjeros deben demostrar su identidad, su edad, y no deben estar ilícitamente presentes. Pero la Highway Patrol va aún más lejos. Solamente expedirá una licencia de conducir a ciudadanos, residentes legales permanentes y personas con una visa y permisos de entrada que son válidos por 6 meses en la futura. Su falta de conocimiento sobre las muchas maneras que un inmigrante puede “no estar ilícitamente presente” les permite renegar licencias de conducir a muchas personas que cumplen los requisitos de la ley. Cuando hemos intentado informarles de este hecho, se aclara que su problema verdadero es la idea que la mayoría de inmigrantes son criminales.

 

Es la hora que dejamos de estereotipar de los indocumentados como criminales. Es la hora que dejamos de encargar del policía local y estatal con hacer cumplir la ley de inmigración.


 

William J. Bratton is retiring as chief of the Los Angeles Police Department after nearly 40 years of law enforcement, including service as Police Commissioner of Boston and of New York City.  These three large cities have some of the most ethnically diverse populations in the nation.  What has Chief Bratton learned from his vast experience in law enforcement?

According to an opinion piece published in the Los Angeles Times on Oct. 27, “Criminals are the biggest benefactors when immigrants fear the police. We can't solve crimes that aren't reported because the victims are afraid to come forward to the police.”  According to Chief Bratton, this is one reason why the LAPD has declined to participate in a controversial law enforcement program known as 287(g). The program gives local law enforcement agencies the powers of federal immigration agents by entering into agreements with Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).  “My officers can't prevent or solve crimes if victims or witnesses are unwilling to talk to us because of the fear of being deported,” says Bratton. 

But that isn’t the only reason.  “We all have an interest in helping our young people develop into healthy, educated and law-abiding adults,” says Bratton.  “Breeding fear and distrust of authority among some of our children could increase rates of crime, violence and disorder as those children grow up to become fearful and distrustful adolescents and adults.”  It is important to remember that many of these children are U.S. citizens. 

Sometimes when I speak about this issue, the question is raised, “Why shouldn’t the undocumented fear the police?  They’re criminals, themselves!”  This is the drumbeat the opponents of immigration reform pound out relentlessly, but it isn’t exactly true.  The vast majority of undocumented aliens in the U.S. have not committed any crime, even if they entered the country without authorization.  Crossing the U.S. border without authorization is not a crime; it is a misdemeanor violation of the civil (not criminal) code.  It carries no fine or jail time.  Hearings to determine whether an alien has violated this statute are conducted before an administrative judge who is under the authority of Executive Office of Immigration Review, not the federal courts.  The only penalty is deportation, although the alien might actually spend time in detention while he awaits his hearing.  Of course, there are some more serious immigration violations which carry harsher penalties, but the mere fact of having entered the country without permission is not one of them.  The same can be said of those who overstay their non-immigrant visas.  You might compare it to driving without a license.  That doesn’t make you a criminal.

So, when the Chief of the LAPD says that criminals benefit from the fear some victims and witnesses have of the police, he knows that those victims and witnesses are NOT criminals, but generally law-abiding folks who risk deportation if they report real and very serious crimes against them to the police.  This leads to a shameful exploitation of a very vulnerable community.  The undocumented wife of a U.S. citizen can be abused with impunity because he knows she is afraid of the police.  Undocumented workers have their wages stolen by their employers who threaten to call immigration if anybody complains.  Workers who entered the country legally on temporary work visas are held in virtual slavery by unscrupulous employers because even those who are legally present can be threatened with deportation.  Thugs beat up and rob immigrant workers on payday because they know they won’t report them to a police force that is just as interested in deporting the victim as arresting the criminal.

Even the Mississippi Highway Patrol is so worried about enforcing immigration law that they won’t issue driver licenses to many immigrants who satisfy the provisions of state law.  The law says that foreign nationals must prove their identity, their age, and must not be unlawfully present.  But the Highway Patrol takes it much farther than that.  They will only issue a license to citizens, lawful permanent residents and people with a visa and entry card that is valid for at least 6 months into the future.  Their lack of knowledge about the many ways that an immigrant can “not be unlawfully present” leads them to deny driver licenses to many who qualify under the law.  When we have tried to educate them about this, it becomes evident that their real problem is this idea that most immigrants are criminals.

It is time we stop stereotyping the undocumented as criminals.  It is time we stop tasking local and state police with enforcing immigration law. 


Nov 05, 2009

No Person is Illegal

“…We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed…” The Declaration of Independence, adopted by Congress, July 4, 1776.

 

I learned these words in Junior High Civics Class.  I understood them to mean that the rights we have are given us by God and that governments are meant to protect those rights.  Today, all too often, people believe that those rights are given to us by our government. 

 

During the 2007 comprehensive immigration reform debate, I heard Todd Schnitt of radio’s “Schnitt Show” talk about an undocumented woman worker who was suing her employer for sexual harassment.  It seems the employer wanted sex from the woman; if she refused, she would lose her job.  Mr. Schnitt’s commentary shocked me.  “Who does she think she is?  She has no rights in this country!  Only citizens have rights!”  I almost ran my car off the road.  What?  Only citizens have rights?  When did that happen? 

Then today, as I was doing some research, I came across a similar statement from an organization called New Media Alliance, with the tag line, “Partnering for Truth and Liberty.”  Here’s a quote from their “fact sheet” (all emphases from New Media Alliance):

 

·         “Claim: ‘Illegal immigrants are being denied [their] civil rights’

 

False: Civil rights pertain ONLY to citizens. The Merriam-Webster online Dictionary defines civil-rights as: “The nonpolitical rights of a citizen; especially: the rights of personal liberty guaranteed to U.S. citizens by the 13th and 14th amendments to the Constitution and by acts of Congress.” If one is not a citizen of the country, civil rights do not apply.”

 

Again I was stunned.  So I looked up the 13th and 14th amendments.  The 13th is short; it abolishes slavery.  The 14th is longer.  A lot of it defines who is a citizen, who can hold office, etc.  But the first paragraph also says this:

 

“No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” (Emphasis mine.)

 

It seems very clear to me that the protections of the civil rights of ANY PERSON are guaranteed by this amendment, regardless of citizenship status, including the right to sue one’s employer for sexual harassment.  EQUAL protection of the laws.”

 

This idea that only U.S. citizens are entitled to equal protection of the laws might well spring from the use of the term “illegal alien” to describe a person who has no immigration status.  People are not legal or illegal.  They are human beings with rights given them by their Creator.  Where they were born does not determine whether they have rights.  And in the USA, it is unconstitutional to deny equal protection to any person because that person is not a citizen.

 

That is why immigrant rights advocates refer to those who have no immigration status as undocumented, not illegal.  It might seem like a small thing but words have power to shape how we think about things. 

 

When the Declaration of Independence was proclaimed in 1776 it was a radically new way of thinking about government and the rights of men.  Ever since then we have been perfecting our understanding of it.  It took until 1865 for slavery to be abolished, and then another three years before the 14th Ammendement was ratified to guarantee citizenship to those freed slaves and equal protection under the law to every person.  It was another hundred plus years before the descendents of those slaves could begin to claim those protections for real.  We must never go back to a time when only the privileged few enjoyed full protection of the law.  NO PERSON IS ILLEGAL.

What is the work of El Pueblo Immigration Legal Services?

We provide professional, low-cost immigration legal services to those who qualify for an immigration benefit under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). 

 

Do you have lawyers on staff?

No.  Our office is recognized by the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) to provide immigration services.  The BIA is an agency of the U.S. government; it is the highest administrative body for interpreting and applying immigration laws.  In addition to hearing appeals from certain decisions of Immigration Judges and District Directors, the BIA is responsible for the recognition of organizations and accreditation of representatives to practice immigration law before the Department of Homeland Security, the Immigration Courts, and the BIA.  As of this writing, Rev. Bevill and I are the only two BIA accredited representatives in the state of Mississippi.  We subscribe to CLINIC (Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc.), a nationally recognized organization of expert immigration lawyers, who provide us with training on the law and are available daily to answer our technical questions.

Whom do you represent?

As immigration practitioners we represent aliens who are entitled to an immigration benefit under the INA.  For example, if a U.S. citizen marries an alien, that citizen may file a petition for an immigrant visa for his or her alien spouse.  Then the alien spouse may apply for permanent resident status.  Whether the spouse can receive permanent resident status here in the U.S. or at a consulate in the home country depends on various factors.  We analyze the situation and advise the clients as to the options available to them and the process they must go through.  With the evidence they provide we help them to fill out and file all the required forms properly.  If necessary we may accompany them to their interview at the local district office in New Orleans.   U.S. citizens may apply for immigrant visas for other family members, too, including parents, children and siblings.

Aliens who have lawful permanent resident status can apply for visas for their family members, including the spouse and unmarried children.  Permanent residents can also apply to naturalize (become U.S. Citizens).  Tourists who are here lawfully with a tourist visa can apply to extend their visa.  Aliens from designated countries can apply for and renew Temporary Protected Status (TPS).  There are also immigration benefits available to refugees and asylees; they can find immigration services locally at the Migrant and Refugee Center of the Catholic Diocese of Biloxi.  

Do you help “illegal aliens?”

People are not “illegal.”  Certain activities are illegal, but they do not render people devoid of all rights and legal recourse.  If you drive without a license, are you “illegal?”  Do you forfeit all rights to legal representation?  Of course not.  Using the term “illegal” to describe people is a way to dehumanize and demonize them.  We are talking about actual human beings, children of God, many of whom have been oppressed beyond most of our abilities to imagine and have taken the only course of action they deemed possible to provide as decent a life as they can for their families.  We refer to such people as undocumented or unauthorized.

There are also various ways in which an undocumented person may gain legal status.  It is our job to study the law and help our clients to know whether they qualify for any of these benefits.  These include victims of domestic violence and other violent crimes, victims of human trafficking, some family members of citizens and lawful permanent residents, asylum seekers, and aliens who are eligible for deferred action or other relief from removal.  Immigration law is very complex.  The issues are not as simple as some would like to make them.

 

Then aren’t you breaking the law by aiding the undocumented?

When we help the undocumented access the immigration benefits available to them, we are not breaking the law.  If I, as a BIA accredited representative, help the undocumented, abused spouse of a U.S. citizen to self-petition under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), I am definitely rendering assistance to an undocumented alien.  But I am doing nothing illegal.  I am following the law to the letter.  The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) and VAWA specifically provide legal remedies for someone in this position and it is my responsibility to assist her in obtaining that remedy.

If a guest worker who entered the country on an H2B work visa has been abused and terrorized by his employer, has been kept in virtual slavery by that employer who has confiscated all the alien’s legal documents and kept him by threats working for him long after his visa expired, that alien is a victim of human trafficking.  He has a legal remedy under the INA.  How will he access that remedy if nobody can assist him because of his unlawful status?  The criminal in this case is the employer.  The alien is the victim.  But the alien is definitely in unlawful status or, as some would say, “illegal.”  I would be at fault if I did not represent this alien and help him to escape from this oppressive employer and bring that employer to justice.

 

Do you verify the status of the people who use your other programs?

Outside of Immigration Legal Services, why would we ask?  Is it proper to assume that a person is in some sort of unlawful status just because that person is Hispanic/Latino?  Should every non-profit or business ask every person they come in contact with if they have broken any laws?  When the poor arrive at a church door asking for food and assistance, are they asked first if they have robbed anyone?  Killed anyone?  Paid all their speeding tickets?  The question reveals a prejudice against those one perceives to be foreign-born.  One might even suspect the questioner of an unrecognized racism or, at the very least, class-ism, believing that anyone who is not white, English-speaking and affluent must be up to no good.  El Pueblo’s Immigration Legal Services provides the same services to immigrants, whether in lawful status or undocumented, that they would receive from an immigration attorney.  Any other services we provide (English classes, etc.) do not require us to know their immigration status and it would be arrogant and presumptuous of us to ask.

 

Then aren’t you violating the law and subverting the legal process?

Absolutely not.  On the contrary, we promote it and help those who are qualified for immigration benefits to navigate the legal system.

 

Why do you do this work?

Our commitment to welcoming the stranger is based upon our faith.  Throughout the Old Testament, God calls upon his people to take care of the most vulnerable among them, including the alien.  See Exodus 22:21, 23:9, Leviticus 19:10, 19: 33-34, Deuteronomy 10:18, 24:14-21, 26:12-19, and Psalm 146: 9.  Read the prophets Jeremiah 22:3; Ezekiel 22:7, 22:29; and Zechariah 7:10.  If you read all these passages in context it becomes abundantly clear that God values the alien and expects us to do the same.  He confers the same protection upon the alien as he does upon widows and orphans.  Jesus makes an even stronger statement in the Gospel of Matthew 25: 31-46. 

The God of all creation calls us to welcome the stranger, to do good to everyone in need.  Jesus Christ identified himself with the poor, the marginalized, the stranger, and the prisoner.  To treat the alien with suspicion and anger, to hold on to our position of privilege by holding others down, reveals a deep misunderstanding of who God is and of the mission of Jesus Christ. 

By serving the immigrant, we believe we are helping to build the Kingdom of God.  But more than that, we recognize Jesus in the faces of the people we serve.  When we help the immigrant, we are helping Jesus.  When we feed the hungry, we are feeding Jesus.  When we provide clothing to the homeless, we are clothing Jesus.  If anyone does not understand this, I’m afraid he will find himself asking at the last judgment, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or naked or thirsty or in prison?  When did we see you a stranger and not give you welcome?” And the Lord will say to him, “Truly I say to you, whenever you did it to the least of these, you did it to me.”

 

Peace,

 

Mary


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