False hype about crime in border cities has tragic implications

From the Restore Fairness blog.

On June 7th, a Border Patrol agent allegedly shot and killed Sergio Adrián Hernández Huereca, a 14- year old Mexican boy in El Paso, Texas. While exact details of the incident remain murky, the FBI said that the shooting was prompted when border patrol agents were assaulted by rock throwers across the Mexican border. Even though no border patrol agent was injured, T.J. Bonner, the president of the union representing Border Patrol agents released a statement saying that given the common occurrence and potential danger of rock throwing incidents at the border, he classified it as a “deadly force encounter” that “justifies the use of deadly force.” Susan Lee, American director of Amnesty International condemned the shooting of the young boy saying-

This shooting across the border appears to have been a grossly disproportionate response and flies in the face of international standards which compel police to use firearms only as a last resort, in response to an immediate, deadly threat that cannot be contained through lesser means.

Following condemnation from the Mexican President and government and from civil rights groups in the US, the FBI has launched a full scale investigation into the shooting. At this point it is still not known whether the boy was even involved in the rock throwing. This incident comes only weeks after Anastacio Hernandez, a 32- year old father of five U.S. born children, was hit in the stomach with a baton and then shocked with a stun gun fired by a Customs and Border Protection officer at the San Ysidro border crossing when he resisted being deported. Once again, the officers involved were completely unharmed and insisted that their use of force was necessary given the situation. Last week, the San Diego County coroner ruled his death a homicide.

Speaking to CNN, State Department spokesperson P.J. Crowley acknowledge that the death of the young Mexican boy is not an isolated incident and committed to a fully transparent, large-scale investigation. He said that the only long-term solution to tragic incidents like these was the passage of comprehensive immigration reform.

Instead of working towards comprehensive immigration reform, the White House has succumbed to political pressure to increase immigration enforcement. This tragic incident occurs in the wake of the White House decision to add $500 million to border enforcement and send 1200 more troops to “secure the border” against so-called waves of violence at the border. Bipartisan members of Congress wrote to President Obama about the “urgent” need for increased border enforcement saying-

Violence in the vicinity of the U.S.-Mexico border continues to increase at an alarming rate. We believe that this violence represents a serious threat to the national security of the United States as well as a serious threat to U.S. citizens that live along the 1,969-mile long border.

In spite of numerous reports that constantly disprove such hype about increased border crime rates, politicians continue to take recourse to it time and again. As politicians like John McCain and Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer insist on the need for increased enforcement at the border to protect U.S. citizens from crime committed by immigrants, a recent FBI report obtained by the Associated Press on the basis of the Freedom of Information Act has found that the top four safest big cities in the U.S. are all in the border states. According to the new FBI report, San Diego, Phoenix, El Paso and Austin are big cities that have the lowest rates of violent crime in the U.S. With respect to killings at the hands of U.S. Border Patrol it is important to note a Customs and Border Protection report that shows that Border agents face far less danger than local law enforcement in most U.S. cities. From the Associated Press:

The Customs and Border Protection study, obtained with a Freedom of Information Act request, shows 3 percent of Border Patrol agents and officers were assaulted last year, mostly when assailants threw rocks at them. That compares with 11 percent of police officers and sheriff’s deputies assaulted during the same period, usually with guns or knives. In addition, violent attacks against agents declined in 2009 along most of the border for the first time in seven years.

In the face of concrete research, evidence and admissions from U.S. Border and Customs personnel themselves stating that the southern U.S. “border is safer now than it’s ever been,” is it astonishing that politicians and lawmakers continue to use the myth of the “immigrant threat” to safety as justification for increased immigration enforcement. Arizona Gov. Brewer, who signed off on the draconian anti-immigrant law, SB1070, made numerous statements justifying the law that relied on the myth of widespread crimes being perpetrated as a result of immigration at the border. Before her meeting with President Obama to express her frustration at the Federal Government’s lack of action in securing the border, Gov. Brewer told the press-

We are out here on the battlefield getting the impact of all this illegal immigration, and all the crime that comes with it.

A few days ago we brought you concrete statistics proving that Arizona’s “crime wave” is nothing but racist hype and fear-mongering. Research released by the Immigration Policy Center proves that immigrants are, in fact, less likely to commit crime than non-immigrants, with crime rates being lowest in cities with El Paso, Texas, with a high population of undocumented immigrants. El Paso, where 14-year old Sergio Adrián Hernández Huereca was killed, is one of the poorest and safest cities in the United States.

It would be useful if lawmakers and politicians took note of police chiefs from around the country who have taken a stance against the implementation of SB1070, Arizona’s new law. 8 police chiefs, including two from Arizona, met with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder on May 27 to urge the Department of Justice to put a stop to SB1070, which they believe will make their jobs harder by diverting resources away from policing actual crime and eroding the trust between the community and local police; trust that is necessary for effective law enforcement. It is surprising that more local law enforcement officials have not spoken out against laws such as SB1070. On June 10th, 55 organizations in NYC, including us at Breakthrough, signed a letter to NYPD chief Raymond Kelly urging him to break his silence and publicly condemn SB1070 just as New York Mayor Bloomberg and the New York City Council has done.

With states like Arizona taking immigration law into their own hands, and the Federal Government pushing an enforcement only approach appeases politicians and invests in border security and partnerships between Federal immigration officials and local law enforcement, valuable time and energy is being diverted away from the only sustainable solution- humane and comprehensive immigration reform.

Photo courtesy of the elpasotimes.com

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ICE rolls out detention reforms on one hand, and endorses stun-guns on the other

From the Restore Fairness blog.

Immigrations and Customs Enforcement has not been able to keep itself out of hot water recently. Between the agency’s own admissions of mismanagement, a leaked memo, records highs in deportations, and the recent sexual assault cases in detention centers calling for greater oversight, ICE has been under a lot of fire from civil rights advocates to fulfill their delayed promises of overhaul and detention reform.

In the context of ICE’s multiple misadventures, an internal ICE email obtained by the Houston Chronicle a few days ago comes as a huge relief to advocates as it announces a series of concrete changes that ICE is planning to implement at several privately owned detention centers. The 28 changes listed in the email range from superficial changes like “softening the look of the facility” with new paint, new bedding, hanging plants and “fresh carrot sticks,” to more substantive ones like eliminating pat-down searches, lock-downs and lights-out for low risk detainees, providing unmonitored phone calls and email access, extending the duration that visitors can stay, increasing attorney access and allowing low-risk detainees to wear their own clothing or non-penal attire.

Beth Gibson, ICE’s senior counselor to Assistant Secretary John Morton and a leader of the detention reform effort, has committed to some of the changes being carried out within 30 days, while others will take up to 6 months to be effected. The changes outlined in the email are slated to be implemented in nine detention facilities in Texas, Arizona, New Jersey, California and Georgia, all owned and managed by the Corrections Corporations of America, one of the nation’s biggest private contractors that ICE uses for immigrant detainees. It does not seem like a complete coincidence that ICE and CCR decided on these changes while CCR is under investigation for allegations of sexual assault against one of their guards at a Texas facility, who allegedly groped female detainees on their way to being deported.

Most important is the much needed shift in philosophy behind immigrant detention that ICE senior counselor Beth Gibson attested to when speaking about the changes. Speaking about the purpose of detention facilities, she said-

When people come to our custody, we’re detaining them to effect their removal…It’s about deportation. It’s not about punishing people for a crime they committed.

Increasing recreational activities for low-risk detainees and introducing dance, cooking, computer classes as well as movie nights and and a dinner menu that has expanded to include a vegetable bar might seem like minor changes, but are, in fact, hard fought victories for immigrant advocates. Lory Rosenberg, policy and advocacy director for Refugee and Migrants’ Rights for Amnesty International was pleased with the changes. She said-

A lot of these measures are what we’ve been advocating for. Many of these points are very important to changing the system from a penal system, which is inappropriate in an immigration context, to a civil detention system.

As expected, there has already been opposition to the reforms from various quarters. Union members are worried for the safety of the staff at the detention facilities, and feel that the absence of pat-down searches and lock-downs could be potentially dangerous as “some detainees may be classified as low-risk because they have no serious criminal history but still may be gang members that haven’t been caught doing anything wrong yet.”

When it comes to local jails that house immigrant detainees, it is precisely this argument of jail administrators and union members that seems to have won. Ironically, while ICE makes detention reform plans that lean towards a more humane and less penal detention system, the agency has simultaneously relaxed their ban on the use of stun guns or tasers on detainees in local jails. When a Sheriff’s Deputy in a Sherburne County jail used a stun-gun on Salaad Mahamed (a pre-trial immigrant detainee who had come to the U.S. seeking political asylum) in 2007, the action was in violation of federal immigration standards for the treatment of immigrant detainees. ICE had banned the use of Electro-Muscular Disruption Devices (Tasers) for safety reasons in 2003, and gave the Sherburne County jail in Minnesota an evaluation rating of “deficient” for its use of stun-guns on detainees.

However, while Mahammed, who was shot in his hand and testicles for arguing with a guard over a TV channel, suffers from incontinence, impotence, mental trauma and blackouts as a result of his ordeal, in August of 2009, ICE seems to have relaxed its ban on Tasers and reversed its previous “deficient” rating for Sherburne County jail to “acceptable.” This shift seems largely attributable to pressure from local law enforcement that runs these jails, and their insistence on having the same rules apply for “civil detainees and jail inmates who live under the same roof.” Worse still, ICE only communicated this change in policy directly to the individual jails it deals with, without making a public announcement of it. Helen Harnett, director of policy for the National Immigrant Justice Center in Chicago, which monitors detainee treatment was shocked at the change. She said-

It’s a radical shift. I think the reason it’s so surprising is Secretary Napolitano and ICE assistant secretary John Morton announced a series of changes. They called it ‘an overhaul to the immigration system to make it truly civil,’ and there’s a lot of staff at ICE national working on this change right now.

As long as ICE continues to rely on the disparate combination of government-run detention centers, private facilities and local jails to house immigrant detainees, there will continue to be extreme inconsistencies in detention conditions across the board. Moreover, promising reforms supporting a more humane civil detention system, while sanctioning violence against detainees at the same time shows a drastic contradiction in detention policy from within ICE itself that needs to be addressed before more and more people suffer life-long trauma and even death at the hands of immigrant detention.

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Why Doesn't US Condemn Israeli Human Rights Abuses UPDATE

The above question was posed to Obama one day after the SOTU address at a townhall meeting in Tampa FL. His response was on the front page of Huffington Post. Considering our humanitarian response to Haiti, it is a highly confronting question because it asks, how can America, a beacon for liberty around the world, support human rights abuses carried out by an ally, Israel. Everyday abuses of the human rights of Palestinians continue, not just through the inhumane blockade of Gaza, but even within Israel, let alone the Palestinian territories in general where nonviolent activists are being arrested, one by one. There is no need to describe the atrocities of Gaza a year ago and the continuing deprivations, but smaller human rights abuses occur daily all over the territories.

Obama was asked the above question in a public forum, why doesn't "he" condemn Israeli human rights abuses, only one day after his State of the Union speech where foreign policy was somehow ignored, especially the ideals laden in his Cairo speech of a year ago.

Instead of posting Obama's response in text, here is the CNN video of the interaction:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2010/01/28/obama-asked-why-us-doesnt_n_440816.html

After listening, I'm beginning to think that at this stage in his political career, Obama is capable of out slicking Clinton at this game. Nobody doesn't believe that Obama is any less scared of the Israel Lobby than any other elected politician like Clinton, but it is obvious that he will continue the practice of pandering to Israel, human rights abuses or not.

UPDATE

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Amnesty: Israeli Detention of Palestinian Activists Must End

In an effort to curtail non-violent resistance to its 42 year occupation of the Palestinian people, in this case in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, Israel has begun imprisoning prominent resistance leaders from various Palestinian communities. The dangerousness of these leaders to Israel's colonialism is apparently becoming more evident as their non-violent protests achieve wider international press coverage.

Amnesty International recently condemned these arrests/imprisonments which take place without charge.

<blockquote>

The Israeli authorities must immediately release, or bring before a fair trial, three Palestinian human rights activists detained in Israel following their protests against the construction of the West Bank fence/wall, Amnesty International said on Friday.

In a letter sent to Ehud Barak, Israeli Defence and Deputy Prime Minister on Thursday, Amnesty International expressed concern that Jamal Juma', Abdallah Abu Rahmah and Mohammed Othman were prisoners of conscience, held for legitimately voicing their opposition to the fence/wall.

"These men have all been involved in campaigning against the building of this construction, much of it on the land of the occupied West Bank, and we fear that this is the real reason for their imprisonment," said Malcolm Smart, Director of Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa Programme. "If this is the case they must be released immediately and unconditionally."

Jamal Juma' is the co-ordinator of the "Stop the Wall" campaign and a prominent human rights activist. He was arrested by the Israeli authorities on 16 December 2009. He has not been formally charged with any offence since his detention and information relating to his arrest has not been shared with his lawyer.

Abdallah Abu Rahmah, head of the "Popular Committee Against the Wall" in the village of Bil'in, was arrested on 10 December 2009. He has been charged with three offences: incitement, stone-throwing, and possession of arms.

Amnesty International said it understands the possession of arms charge relates to Abdallah Abu Rahmah collecting used M16 bullets, and empty sound and gas grenades, employed by Israeli forces to disperse demonstrators against the wall, and exhibiting them in Bil'in museum to raise awareness of Israeli practices against protestors.

Mohammed Othman, a volunteer with the "Stop the Wall" campaign, has been detained continuously since 22 September 2009. He was arrested on his return from Norway, after meeting activist groups there campaigning against the fence/wall and is being held without charge or trial in Israeli administrative detention.

Read on HERE: http://www.alternativenews.org/english/2365-amnesty-international-israeli-detention-of-palestinian-activists-must-end.html

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On January 9, 2010, the wife of Abdallah Abu Rahmah, Majida, who is a school teacher, wrote a “message” to Americans, which was frontpaged by Huffington Post (thank you Ariana for not being deceived during your recent trip to Israel). It was called, <b>A Message of Non-Violent Resistance From Within Israeli Prison</b>.

(Does anyone recall the arrest and jailing of Martin Luther King?)

<blockquote>

On Tuesday, January 5, I attended the trial of my husband Abdallah Abu Rahmah in an Israeli military detention camp. Ofer Military Base is a dark and dehumanizing place, but I was happy to go there because it meant that I would finally see my husband.

I joined my friend Fatima, wife of Adib Abu Rahmah in the crowd of families waiting outside the gates of the base hoping to be admitted. Fatima's husband is another committed nonviolent activist from Bil'in who, like my husband, is being accused of incitement, that is, of encouraging demonstrations against the Wall. Adib and Fatima have nine children. He has been in detention for over six months now.

Diplomats from the US, Germany, Sweden and Spain who know Abdallah also came to support him.

Just one month ago these diplomats had visited Abdullah in Bil'in and had seen for themselves how Israeli settlements and the Apartheid Wall have stolen over 50% of our village's land. They promised then that they would do what they could to help our popular struggle and here they were, true to their word. The Spanish consul who represents the new president of the European union tried to shake Abdullah's hand but the soldiers wouldn't let him.

Read on HERE: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/majda-abu-rahmah/a-message-of-non-violent_b_415139.html

</blockquote>

I recall videoed scenes of the weekly protests in Bil'in, West Bank. The violence of the Israeli soldiers is reminiscent of the gas and water cannons used by southern policeman and state troopers to stop segregation protests in the US. Eerie.

America's shame: Israel's inhumane siege of Gaza UPDATE

Robert Naiman, a sometimes diarist at MyDD, posted this diary, Egypt Says It Will Block Gaza Freedom Marchers, on Daily Kos yesterday.

It reports that on December 31, together with more than 1000 peace advocates from around the world entering Gaza through the Rafah border crossing, Naiman is planning to join tens of thousands of Palestinians in a march to the Erez border crossing inside Gaza to protest the Israeli blockade, and to demand that international action be taken to relieve Gaza of its humanitarian crisis.

There's more...

Diaries

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