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October 7, 2009
by Faiz Shakir, Amanda Terkel, Matt Corley, Benjamin Armbruster, Andrea Nill, and Zaid Jilani
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Reining In ICE
Yesterday, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced a series of "sweeping changes" to the country's broken immigration detention system. DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano and Assistant Secretary for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) John Morton rolled out a series of initiatives meant to rein in the web of federal centers, state and county lockups, and for-profit prisons that constitute a multi billion dollar "patchwork" of detention cells created by the Bush administration. The changes are in addition to the detention reforms presented in August and part of an ongoing effort on behalf of DHS to clean up its immigration agency. This summer, Napolitano also announced that DHS would standardize ICE's 287(g) program, a widely-criticized initiative that gives state and local police agencies that enter into agreements with ICE the authority to enforce immigration laws. Earlier this year, DHS suspended controversial workplace raids and introduced a new set of guidelines that require ICE officials to focus on the employers who knowingly hire undocumented workers rather than the workers themselves. "It's out of date in terms of what needs to happen in a modern-day world," explained Napolitano in a press conference yesterday afternoon.
SHIFTS IN DETENTION: In August, Morton announced that ICE would begin implementing reforms that move away from the "scandal-plagued" and "decentralized, jail-oriented approach" of the Bush administration, with the goal of bringing "improved medical care, custodial conditions, fiscal prudence, and ICE oversight" to the U.S. detention system. The second set of initiatives arose out of a comprehensive review which stressed that the purpose of the detention system isn't to punish people as a penal system does, but to simply process them for deportation. As a result, ICE will begin assessing the risk of danger posed by its detainees and start placing them "in an appropriate facility." Proposals include presenting Congress with a plan for alternatives to detention for low-risk detainees that may include housing them in converted hotels and nursing homes, or using ankle-bracelet tracking devices. ICE will also centralize its more than 300 active prison contracts, which are currently managed by disparate ICE field offices, and "aggressively monitor and enforce contract performance." Within the next six months, ICE promised to implement a "sound" medical classification system to support i mmigration detainees with unique medical or mental health needs. The proposed reforms are expected to be "budget neutral" or result in cost savings, though Morton explained, "it's not just about saving money -- it's about getting it right."
THE RE-DEPUTIZATION OF IMMIGRATION LAW: Earlier this year, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a report slamming ICE for failing to provide local police participating in the 287(g) program with clearly defined objectives or a consistent system of supervision. "Contrary to the objective of the program," the GAO report found that participating local police were removing immigrants for minor violations amidst rampant allegations of discrimination and racial profiling instead of curbing serious crime committed by "removable aliens." Napolitano responded by announcing new objectives and guidelines aimed at "providing uniform policies" that prioritized the deportation of immigrants who commit serious crimes. ICE is requiring all of its participating police agencies to resign the standardized agreements. Two Massachusetts law enforcement agencies have already decided to halt their participation in the program, with one Massachusetts police chief explaining that "it doesn't benefit the Police Department to engage in deportation and immigration enforcement." ICE also presented Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio with a contract that "clips his wings" by stripping his agency of its authority to enforce immigration laws on the streets of Maricopa County, though ICE and the county's Board of Supervisors Chairman have yet to sign it. Arpaio -- who is currently facing a Department of Justice investigation into racial profiling allegations associated with his immigration enforcement activities, 2,700 lawsuits, a local budget shortfall, and an increase in unsolved violent crimes -- has defiantly pledged to continue his "immigrant crime sweeps," whether or not he is granted the federal authority to do so.
BABY STEPS: The entire U.S. immigration system is in desperate need of an overhaul, and DHS does not have the resources, expertise, or authority to undertake it alone. To begin with, the National Immigration Law Center points out that detention reform lacks teeth because it is not accompanied by legally enforceable standards. However, DHS claims that such "rule-making would be laborious, time-consuming and less flexible." Several immigration advocates also report that racial-profiling persists under the revamped 287(g) program. Last week, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus called on Obama to terminate the 287(g) program, indicating that "no amount of reforms, no matter how well-intentioned," will address the program's misuse. ICE's decision to start punishing employers who hire undocumented workers has also been criticized for devastating local businesses and leaving thousands unemployed. Most recently, ICE forced American Apparel -- one of the few American-made clothing manufacturers still left -- to lay off 1,800 employees. The Los Angeles Times points out that "throwing American Apparel's undocumented workers out on the street only re places one problem with another." That is, the unemployed workers will likely be driven deeper into the "underground economy or into sweatshops, maybe into crime, maybe homelessness." The news comes just one year after American Apparel took its "Legalize LA" campaign for immigration reform national. Much like the position supported by the collective advocate, faith, and business communities, Legalize LA believes that the best way to fix the nation's immigration system is through a complete legislative overhaul undertaken by Congress that legalizes the millions of hardworking undocumented workers who are currently being targeted and abused in the various communities that they contribute to. It's a promising sign that DHS's U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services is already planning ahead for the possibility of giving legal status to millions of undocumented immigrants.
ECONOMY -- TEXAS POLITICIANS WHO VOTED AGAINST RECOVERY ACT BEG FOR STIMULUS MONEY: Every single Republican in the House voted against the $819 billion Recovery Act in January. Among the Republican senators who voted against the stimulus were Texas Sens. Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn, who complained that they wanted to see more tax cuts rather than government spending. But now they are both joining a bipartisan group of Texas lawmakers, including 19 House Republicans -- to pressure the Obama administration to redirect "$3 billion in unspent stimulus funds" to Texas for NASA funding. The group signed onto a letter drafted and circulated by GOP Rep. Pete Olson, which argued that "Since the stated purpose of the stimulus package was to secure good jobs and stabilize our economy," the funds should be directed toward Texas through NASA in 2010. Cornyn said that while the stimulus funding "that has already been spent [is] clearly not working, it is my hope that the Administration will use a portion of the remaining, authorized, unspent stimulus dollars to safeguard our nation's space program." Texas politicians aren't the only ones displaying stimulus hypocrisy. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA), who voted against the Recovery Act and told the National Review last week that the stimulus "is not working," recently announced that two grants funded by the Recovery Act "will give a hand up to our veterans who have fought bravely and selflessly for our country." Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) is now criticizing Gov. Tim Kaine (D) for being "slow" to spend the stimulus money allocated for Virginia -- even though if Wolf and his Republican colleagues would have had their way, there would be no extra money for the state at all. "We could use that money desperately," Wolf told reporters. "We're in a critical situation."
Five constitutional experts told the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday "that President Obama's extensive use of policy 'czars' is legal -- as long as the officials do not overstep their authority." Their "practical authority...is not legal authority, and as long as the distinction is rigorously maintained there will be no legal problem," said University of Virginia law professor John Harrison.
President Obama told Congressional leaders yesterday that "he would not substantially reduce American forces in Afghanistan or shift the mission to just hunting terrorists there." He is also "undecided about the major troop buildup proposed by his commanding general." White House officials said Obama wants to "dispense with the straw man argument that this is about either doubling down or leaving Afghanistan."
A new Pew poll has found that 61 percent of Americans would support military action to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Only 24 percent said it is more important to avoid military action, even if it means that Iran develops such weapons.
Top House Democrats slammed health insurers yesterday "who claim that domestic violence is a pre-existing condition that can be used to deny coverage to battered women." The lawmakers "pledged to incorporate a ban on the practice in the health care reform legislation winding its way through Congress." "That will all be gone," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who called the practice discrimination.
A proposal by Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE) to supplant a robust national public health insurance option with health-insurance plans run by state governments is gaining momentum. "The Delaware Democrat's plan won praise from some in his party Tuesday as a way of bridging differences among them."
Attorney General Eric Holder admitted yesterday that it will be "difficult" to close Guantanamo Bay before President Obama's January 2010 deadline. "As important as when Guantanamo is closed is that it is closed right," responded ACLU National Security Project director Jameel Jaffer. "In a democracy, there is no room for a system of detention that allows human beings to be imprisoned indefinitely without charge or trial."
The head of Mexico's climate delegation said today that the U.S. is a "stumbling block" in U.N. climate change talks. "I think that they are in an uncomfortable position since they cannot put on the table any figures unless the Congress process is clearer," said Fernando Tudela, Mexico's lead climate negotiator.
D.C. Councilman David Catania introduced a bill that would allow same-sex couples to marry in the nation's capital, "a measure that even opponents acknowledged seems almost unstoppable." Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), the ranking Republican on the House subcommittee overseeing D.C. issues, said he "would like to try to stop" the legislation, but doesn't think he has the votes to do so.
The Associated Press is considering "whether to sell news stories to some online customers exclusively for a certain period, perhaps half an hour." AP chief executive Tom Curley complained that sites such as Google "have reaped a fortune off their articles, photos and video without fairly compensating news organizations that produce the material."
And finally: You're not going to be able to see former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay tango and samba on "Dancing with the Stars" anymore. The Hammer has been struggling with stress fractures in both his feet, but has insisted that the show will go on: "What's a little pain when we can party?" However, last night during the live results show, DeLay quit. "If you can't practice you'll make a fool out of yourself out here, and I don't want to do that to Cheryl," he said, referring to his dance partner. View his announcement here.
Evaluating civilian casualties in Afghanistan.
Bankers say people like paying exorbitant overdraft fees.
A look at the political lessons to be learned from Mad Men.
Washington, DC is near a tipping point for urban transportation.
Max Blumenthal: Conservatism isn't dead, it's undead.
Fox News' coverage of the Patriot Act gets a video fisking.
Do surgical strikes work?
Fox host Shep Smith demolishes his own network's health care talking points.
"I think they're going to have a hard time doing reconciliation [for health care reform] because that would be the first time on a major tax bill that that's been done in our nation's history."
-- Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK), 10/05/09
"I've used reconciliation. ... It's budgetary stuff. And so I did use it for tax cuts and all."
-- Former Senate Majority Leader Bill First, 10/05/09=================================================================
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