When the White House Calls

From As a staff attorney with the Durham-based nonprofit Southern Coalition for Social Justice, Rosenbluth witnesses firsthand, every day, the consequences of our nation’s immigration policy, specifically, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s 287(g) and Secure Communities programs.

As a staff attorney with the Durham-based nonprofit Southern Coalition for Social Justice, Rosenbluth witnesses firsthand, every day, the consequences of our nation’s immigration policy, specifically, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s 287(g) and Secure Communities programs.

When the White House calls
By Taylor Sisk
Staff Writer
When Marty Rosenbluth received a call summoning him to the White House, his first reaction was that it was a friend goofing around.
“I thought it was a gag,” Rosenbluth said, though he really should have known better. As a staff attorney with the Durham-based nonprofit Southern Coalition for Social Justice, Rosenbluth witnesses firsthand, every day, the consequences of our nation’s immigration policy, specifically, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s 287(g) and Secure Communities programs.
Rosenbluth defends clients in deportation proceedings. The White House staff responsible for immigration policy wanted to pick his brain.
It was a Thursday when the call came in. He was wanted in D.C. the following Monday for a meeting with White House staffers, representatives of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and other offices within the Department of Homeland Security and staff from the Department of Justice.
Rosenbluth had been invited along with members of other immigration advocacy groups to talk about a report released in March by the Government Accounting Office that indicates that ICE’s programs to identify and deport criminal aliens are failing – that, in fact, individuals picked up for minor offenses are overwhelmingly those who are being sent away. ICE officials argue that the report is inaccurate, that with the implementation of a new memorandum of understanding its programs are now operating much more effectively.
Rosenbluth disagrees. “To put it in the most polite possible way,” he said, “we went up there to say that that ain’t so.”
Word of mouth
In just a matter of months, Rosenbluth’s work at the Southern Coalition for Social Justice has gone from being about 99 percent advocacy and 1 percent representation of clients in deportation proceedings to the inverse. Now 99 percent of his time is spent in such proceedings.
“The reason for that is that once word got out that we were representing clients in deportation proceedings pro bono, people came,” Rosenbluth said. There are very few, if any, options in North Carolina for pro bono representation for those facing deportation under 287(g) or Secure Communities, he said.
The 287(g) program – formally called the Agreements of Cooperation in Communities to Enhance Safety and Security (ICE ACCESS) – provides money to local law-enforcement agencies to help identify illegal immigrants and process them for deportation.
The Secure Communities program involves fingerprinting individuals picked up for offenses and checking them against FBI criminal history records and immigration records maintained by the Department of Homeland Security. According to a statement from ICE, if the fingerprints match those of someone in the DHS’s system, “the new automated process notifies ICE, enabling the agency to take appropriate action to ensure criminal aliens are not released back into communities. Top priority is given to individuals who pose a threat to public safety, such as those with prior convictions for major drug offenses, murder, rape, robbery and kidnapping.”
But the overwhelming majority of cases the coalition takes on, Rosenbluth said, are people who were placed into deportation proceedings after being arrested for minor violations.
“Shoplifting is probably the most serious offense we see on a regular basis,” Rosenbluth said. No driver’s license, failure to yield, running a red light, expired tags or no registration are other typical offenses.
“We get a lot of people who get picked up for failure-to-appear violations because they’re scared to go to court because they’re afraid of being picked up due to 287(g),” he said. “So it’s kind of like a cycle.”
Lately, he said, they’ve seen a lot of people who were picked up at their probation appointments.
“So they go to meet with their probation officer, they’re complying with the conditions of their parole, and ICE is waiting for them when they show up.
“Why would you want to have an intentional policy of discouraging people from showing up for their probation appointments?”
In addition to his work with the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, Rosenbluth is a member of the Orange County Human Relations Commission. Orange County does not participate in 287(g) but has been one of 21 North Carolina counties selected by the federal government for the Secure Communities program. A Secure Communities memorandum of understanding was signed at the state level and the counties were selected based on ICE’s capacity (manpower and beds available in jails) to act on the information in that county.
Rosenbluth said that Sheriff Pendergrass isn’t doing anything any differently under Secure Communities than he was previously: “All he’s doing is fingerprinting detainees. That’s the only active thing the sheriff does.”
Almost every jail in the state has an automatic fingerprint identification system (AFIS). AFIS is connected to a central computer in Raleigh, which is in turn connected to ICE’s database.
“Once ICE has the ability to act on the information,” Rosenbluth said, “the county is formally enrolled in the Secure Communities program.
“The only way Orange County could opt out of Secure Communities – since it’s Orange County to AFIS to Washington, D.C. – is if they stopped fingerprinting.”
“I don’t know what would have happened if [Pendergrass] had said no. I don’t think it would have had any effect, because the computers are still connected.
“I guess Orange County could say, ‘We refuse to participate and you can’t come into our jails to pick these people up.’ But then you’re dealing with the right of the federal government to determine immigration policy.”
Pendergrass was unavailable for comment.
Commission seeks help
The Orange County Board of Commissioners went to the Human Relations Commission to ask for help in dealing with the ramifications of Secure Communities.
“We decided to try to put safeguards in place to prevent people from getting caught up in Secure Communities unless they were truly dangerous criminal aliens,” Rosenbluth said.
The first of their recommendations was a demand for accountability. They wanted hard data from ICE regarding, for example, who was being put into deportation proceedings, where they were from and what they had been charged with.
“We figured human rights violations occur best under the shadow of darkness,” Rosenbluth said, “so if we had accountability, it would be very embarrassing for ICE if [the data] shows that everyone who was picked up through ICE was picked up for jaywalking and none of them was a dangerous criminal.”
The second recommendation was for a complaint procedure. The third was training for local law-enforcement officers to raise awareness about racial profiling. And the fourth was for a policy whereby the county commissioners would indicate to officers that they would prefer a consistent use of citations rather than arrests for minor offenses.
The recommendations were presented to the commissioners in January; no response has yet been received.
Commissioner Mike Nelson said the board asked the Human Relations Commission for input “because we wanted their unbiased opinion about whether or not these programs were being used to violate the civil rights of residents.
“I don’t want to live in a community that engages in racial or ethnic profiling or one that harasses immigrants. I want our government, federal and local, to deal with immigration in a respectful and thoughtful manner.”
Rosenbluth, Nelson said, has been “a valuable citizen resource for us.”
A positive step
A particular concern Rosenbluth has about the Secure Communities program is that it presents what he sees as an “accountability vacuum”:
“Local law enforcement can say, ‘We’re not engaged in racial profiling; we’re just picking people up for driving without a license or littering. It’s ICE’s decision to put them into deportation proceedings.’
“And ICE can say, ‘We’re not engaging in racial profiling. We’re sitting in a computer command center in Chicago and this data is coming in. We’re just acting based on the information we receive.’”
Rosenbluth said that unless there’s a clear policy directive from ICE not to put people who are picked up for minor offenses into deportation proceedings under 287(g) or Secure Communities, the overwhelming majority of people deported will be those with minor offenses.
“I’ll say this on the record, even though a lot of immigration advocates would hate me for saying it,” Rosenbluth said, “but ICE officials in the field are doing their jobs in deporting people who are here illegally. They’re not looking at it from whether or not this is the intention of the 287(g) policy. They’re looking at it as, ‘Look; I’ve got this guy in my custody. He’s sitting here in my office; he’s basically admitted he’s here illegally. You want me to let him go?’ How is that possible?
Rosenbluth doesn’t believe the ICE officials he met with in D.C. are being disingenuous about their perceptions of how things are playing out in the field: “I think they really don’t have a clue about how things actually work outside the Beltline.”
ICE’s new memorandum of understanding for law-enforcement agencies reads: “The agency is expected to pursue to completion all criminal charges that caused the alien to be taken into custody and over which the agency has jurisdiction.”
“They’re encouraging law enforcement to complete the state charges before someone passes into ICE custody, to make sure they are truly targeting criminal aliens,” Rosenbluth said. “Those are really pretty words if you’re sitting inside the Beltway. But in the field, they make no difference whatsoever, because that’s not the way things happen.”
Rosenbluth believes that ICE’s own data shows that the 287(g) and Secure Communities programs are not working, that few criminal aliens are being deported.
“It’s not a question of what the law is, it’s how it’s interpreted,” he said. President Obama or Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano could say, “‘We are not taking people into deportation proceedings anymore unless they’ve been convicted of a felony,’ and they could do that with the stroke of a pen. And that’s really what it’s going to take – a very clear policy directive.”
Since his White House visit, Rosenbluth has returned to D.C. for a meeting with ICE and immigrant advocacy groups, keeping the dialogue alive.
“I’m really glad they’re listening,” he said. “I’m really glad they’re hearing; I’m really glad that they’re trying to engage in the dialogue, and I think it’s a really positive step.
“Is anything actually going to change? I guess that remains to be seen.”

Source: Carrboro Citizen

From http://www.carrborocitizen.com/main/2010/06/10/when-the-white-house-calls/