Thursday, March 27, 2008

And now for something lighter: Click Here to See Lou Dobbs Mocked (very funny)

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Tuesday, March 25, 2008

SAVE: A War of Attrition Against the Immigrant Community and its Advocates

Republican Nativists have come up with a new way to harass immigrants and their advocates and families without addressing the root causes of immigration or the larger issues relating to immigration. Thelma Drake (R-Va), the SAVE Act sponsor, (Secure America with Verification Enforcement; H.R. 4088) on March 11, 2008, filed this reprehensible piece of legislation. The goal of the Republicans is to force this malicious legislation to the floor where the Republicans will uniformly back it and beat their chests about how “tough” they are on immigration. Needless to say, a number of Blue Dog Democrats* will be cowed into signing on to this bill, lest they be labeled as soft on immigration.

The Act is the product of the same Nativist mindset which gave us the 2005 Real ID Act. From almost every perspective, the 2005 Real ID Act is tremendous breach on what we have come to call civil liberties. As recently articulated by Smitheus on DailyKos:

The Real ID Act is reprehensible. Its most obnoxious component creates in effect a national ID card by imposing draconian restrictions upon how states may issue drivers licenses. It requires the states to conduct expensive (and essentially impossible) background checks, and create and share databases with extensive personal information for all drivers. It also requires that airline passengers and anyone seeking to enter a federal building in the future must present a Real ID, or face extensive screening and delays. There's every reason to believe that in the not too distant future, the uses of this nascent national ID card would be extended both in public and private spheres until it became nearly impossible to do without one. Furthermore, the state databases would almost certainly be fed into federal systems, including data-mining programs like Total Information Awareness (or whatever the government is calling its Orwellian program now). It's hard to believe as well that these vast state databases could be kept secure from snoopers and identity-thieves, when so many "low-level" employees will have direct, daily access to them. Real ID is a nightmarishly bad idea.

( The Save Act goes farther in encroaching on civil liberties and ratcheting up the war on the immigrant community and its advocates.

The SAVE ACT (H.R. 4088) would:

  • Broaden the definition of "alien smuggler" to include anyone who provides assistance to an undocumented immigrant. This would impact churches, humanitarian groups, bus drivers, and others who are in no way "smugglers" but simply do not examine immigration status prior to helping people in need.
  • Force employers to rely on an inaccurate verification system for all employees, without any safeguards against racial profiling, misuse, privacy, or error.
  • Increase imprisonment of asylum seekers and other immigrants, including children, while ignoring the lack of humanitarian standards in detention centers.
  • Divert local police resources from community safety and force them to act as immigration officers, which will result in racial profiling and unreported crime.

The Act insidiously steps up criminal actions against immigration advocates, familial members and others who are associated with undocumented workers. As well, the Act would increase the type of incarceration currently being visited on asylum seekers at the infamous Hutto prison in Texas. (see: So Much for Family Values: Cheney Crony CCA Gets Contract to Mistreat Asylum Seekers).

The radical Nativists are delighted at what they have rightly referred to as "Attrition Through Enforcement." As the radical Nativist website, NumbersUSA, glibly asserts: “The principle behind Attrition Through Enforcement is that living illegally in the United States will become more difficult and less satisfying over time … The goal is to make it extremely difficult for unauthorized persons to live and work in the United States.” (emphasis added - In other words, Nativists can now have the government institute a complete war of attrition against immigrants and their advocates and families.

The SAVE Act is a cynical and politically motivated attack on immigrant families and a foolish burden on our fragile economy.

  • It would require approximately six million employers to verify the work status of more than 130 million workers within four years. If passed, the SAVE Act would place a tremendous financial and regulatory burden on businesses and employees at a time when our economy is already fragile. This is a foolish proposal at a time when our economy is already fragile.

  • The federal database that would be used to enforce the SAVE Act is known to have an unacceptably high error rate – nearly 10 percent! An independent study of the E-Verify/Basic Pilot program found that the ½ of 1 percent of employers that use the program often misuse it, and that the data base would need to be significantly improved before it can be expanded.

  • This is a recipe for a full scale assault on worker protections and anti-discrimination laws. Nothing in this legislation addresses real world concerns that this new mandate would lead to employers firing workers involved in union organizing drives or would have the resources to ensure that they are not discriminating against Latinos or other immigrants applying for employment.

  • It will represent an unprecedented intrusion into the lives of millions of United States workers, regardless of their status. If this law were in place now, the errors in the SSA database alone could result in 2.5 million people a year being misidentified as unauthorized for employment. Workers, including U.S. citizens, will get caught in this faulty system and lose their jobs. The "SAVE Act" contains no assurances that government databases will be accurate and updated, no privacy protections for the vast amounts of personal information to be handled by employers, and no recourse for workers who are wrongfully denied employment.

  • It would make it easier for the government to put religious and humanitarian workers behind bars for so-called "alien smuggling." Humanitarian workers – like nuns, priests, volunteers – would be constantly forced to navigate this confusing legislation, or run the risk of arrest, fines and imprisonment.

  • It would waste millions of tax-payer dollars on enforcement, detention and deportation programs that have been tried for the last twenty years and failed to end undocumented immigration. Any scenario that begins with enactment of this legislation is likely to lead to haphazard and uneven implementation and widespread fear of raids and deportation in immigrant communities at a time when undocumented workers, who are contributing to this economy, have no where else to go.

  • Most Americans want sensible solutions to our broken immigration system and are fully able to recognize what amounts to real leadership on this critical issue and what is simply pandering to irrational and angry anti-immigrant activists.
Help Defeat this Legislation

MigraMatters has an excellent comprehensive view of the Act, as well as legislative updates. ( It is imperative that the progressive community mobilize against this odious and underhanded breach of civil liberties. To get updates and information, check out the following websites:

· Church World Service

· The Catholic Campaign for Immigration Reform

· National Immigrant Justice Center


· Dream Act – Texas

· Find out if your representative has signed the Bill

Here are some numbers to call and help defeat this rapacious legislation:








See if your Rep. is a Sponsor Here:

Your Representatives' phone number is online here:




Blue Dog Dems

(Ala.) - Rep. Cramer
(Ala.) - Rep. Davis
(Ark.) - Rep. Berry
(Ark.) - Rep. Ross
(Calif.) - Rep. McNerny
(Colo.) - Rep. Perlmutter
(Colo.) - Rep. Udall
(Fla.) - Rep. Boyd
(Fla.) - Rep. Klein
(Ga.) - Rep. Barrow
(Ga.) - Rep. Bishop
(Ga.) - Rep. Marshall
(Ill.) - Rep. Bean
(Ind.) - Rep. Donnelly
(Ind.) - Rep. Ellsworth
(Ind.) - Rep. Hill
(Ind.) - Rep. Visclosky
(Iowa) - Rep. Boswell
(Kan.) - Rep. Boyda
(La.) - Rep. Melancon
(Mich.) - Rep. Stupak
(Miss.) - Rep. Taylor
(N.H.) - Rep. Hodes
(N.Y.) - Rep. Arcuri
(N.Y.) - Rep. Gillibrand
(N.Y.) - Rep. Higgins
(N.C.) - Rep. McIntyre
(N.C.) - Rep. Shuler *
(Ohio) - Rep. Ryan
(Ohio) - Rep. Space
(Okla.) - Rep. Boren
(Pa.) - Rep. Altmire
(Pa.) - Rep. Carney
(Pa.) - Rep. Holden
(Pa.) - Rep. Kanjorski
(Pa.) - Rep. Murphy
(Pa.) - Rep. Murtha
(Pa.) - Rep. Sestak
(Tenn.) - Rep. Cohen
(Tenn.) - Rep. Cooper
(Tenn.) - Rep. Davis
(Tenn.) - Rep. Gordon
(Tenn.) - Rep. Tanner
(Texas) - Rep. Lampson
(Texas) - Rep. Rodriguez
(Utah) - Rep. Matheson
(Va.) - Rep. Boucher

(Wash.) - Rep. Baird
(Wis.) - Rep. Kagen

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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Nativist Republican Candidate Jim Oberweis Loses in Safe Republican Seat

On March 8, 2007 something extraordinary happened in Illinois. Republican candidate and avowed nativist, Jim Oberweis lost a safe Republican (Ill-14th) seat to Democrat Bill Foster. The seat had been the domain of Republicans for 20 years, and has been occupied for most of those by the former Republican majority leader J. Dennis Hastert. In fact, Oberweis had the strong backing of Hastert as well as that of John McCain, who campaigned for him. The loss stunned the Republican Party – Karl Rove compared it to voter backlash following Watergate. What is most heartening for the pro-immigrant community is that Jim Oberweis was an avowed nativist. “Illegal immigration” was not merely a part of Oberweis’ platform, illegal immigration was Oberweis’ platform. Illinois blogger, archpundit, succinctly described Oberweis’ status:

What’s most interesting about the Illinois-14 race is that hardcore immigration opponents lost again and with one of their standout candidates….

Oberweis staked out the hardcore send back 12 million people immediately and no exceptions kind of policy and not only embraced the position, but embraced fairly radical anti-immigrant activist organizations.

Most amazing is that John McCain, long a reasonable voice on the immigration debate embraced Oberweis as McCain’s flip flop to the dark side of several issues continues.

Oberweis is a Board of Director for NumbersUSA which is one of the leading right wing anti-immigration groups.

He’s spoken at Illinois Minutemen meetings such as this one on May 6, 2006 mntmn017.wav
( Oberweis' campaign in 2004 campaign was notable for a television commercial where he flew in a helicopter over Chicago's Soldier Field, and claimed enough illegal immigrants came into America in a week (10,000 a day) to fill that facility. The stadium seats 61,500 people. Almost, no other candidate is more closely identified with an anti-immigrant platform than Oberweis. His loss, in what is a very Republican district, indicates that the politics of hate don’t sell well even in Republican suburbs.

Needless to say, the nativist websites have been apoplectic over this loss. Michelle Malkin has written numerous screeds calling Oberweis’ critics and commentators “delusional.” The hate-group V-Dare has decried the fact that Oberweis lost despite the strong backing of the powerful retiring incumbent, J. Dennis Hastert. (Ill-14th)

As we have stated in previous posts, undiluted anti-immigrant rants will not carry the day as a wedge issue. This should put the Republican Party (and stray Democrats) on notice that the anti-immigrant wave has crested. Reasonable immigration policies may carry the day following the November election. All those who believe in a humanitarian policy towards immigrants can take heart in Oberweis’ loss.

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Monday, March 17, 2008

McCain: Republicans Need to Abandon Anti-Immigrant Rhetoric

In a prior posting, “Immigration: The Myth of the Third Rail of Politics,” I noted that the conventional wisdom which holds “that any serious political candidate dare not articulate a pro-immigrant platform lest they get burned by the charged rail of American politics,” no longer holds true. (posting on March 3, 2008). A March 17, 2008 interview with Republican presidential candidate, John McCain, on NPR’s Morning Edition firmly underlines this point. ( Senator McCain, along with Senator Edward Kennedy introduced, The Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2007, or, in its full name, the Secure Borders, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Reform Act of 2007 (S. 1348) ( The legislation went down in flames but the fact that McCain was and is so closely identified with comprehensive immigration reform did not stop him from gaining the Republican Presidential nomination and recent polls give no indication that this issue will hurt him in the general election.

In the NPR interview McCain makes the observation that the Republican Party lost Dennis Hastert’s congressional seat to Democratic rival, Bill Foster. Hastert's district was considered a safe Republican seat and should have been an easy win for the Republican candidate, Jim Oberweis. McCain notes that Oberweis ran on an aggressive anti-immigrant platform and that this likely contributed to his loss. While the loss of this seat to Democrats has shocked the Republican establishment, it is once again worth noting that candidates for office need not be afraid from articulating a pro-immigrant position. Polls consistently show that most Americans are not in league with nativist activists like Michelle Malkin or Lou Dobbs.

The Wall Street Journal (no friend of Democrats or immigrants) noted as follows:

Republicans such as Mr. Oberweis remain convinced that illegal immigration is a winning issue. And if the electorate were comprised mostly of Internet screechers and cable news anchors, they might be right. But the fact that Mr. McCain, the Presidential candidate most closely associated with immigration tolerance, has outlasted Mitt Romney, Rudy Giuliani, Mike Huckabee and other immigration hardliners, should be an indication that other issues are foremost in the minds of even GOP voters.

Saturday’s result showed once again that a hard line on illegal immigration doesn’t win elections. The longer Republicans pretend that it does the more elections they will lose.

Speaking of screeching web hate-mongers, Michelle Malkin tried bravely to spin this as anything but a loss for the nativist crowd. But the reality is that, despite so-much nativist chatter on the web and the cable networks, anti-immigrant hate-mongering will not carry the day as a wedge issue. As I have previously noted, this does not mean that anti-immigrant talk does not resonate with a portion of the electorate but that politicians who spew extreme positions will get burned. Conversely, pro-immigrant candidates need not fear that this issue will bring them down.

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Friday, March 14, 2008

Geraldo Rivera and the Zeitgeist of the New Nativist

Geraldo Rivera has written a book, entitled His Panic: Why Americans Fear Hispanics in the U.S., which deals in large measure with the current debate over immigration. I have read excerpts of the book as well as the positions advanced in the book but this is not meant as a review of Rivera’s book. Rather than reviewing the book, I am interested in exploring what the reaction to the book says about the opponents of immigration reform. Rivera was recently interviewed on National Public Radio. I am in complete agreement with at least two of the propositions set forth by Rivera. The first proposition is that much of the anti-immigrant animus is motivated by the changing demographics of America, to wit the growing Latino population in the United States. The second proposition is that the current wave of immigration is no different than previous waves of Italian, Irish, or Jewish immigration. As such, the arguments advanced today by nativists are remarkably similar to the xenophobic sentiments of yesteryear. provides a nice forum for reactions to Rivera’s book. The discussion on Amazon is un-moderated and hence the comments are mostly unfiltered. The “book reviews” and the comment reactions to those reviews are open to anyone with an internet connection.

I anticipated that many of the “reviewers” had not read the book but would use it as an opportunity to rant on the issue of immigration. I was not disappointed. At most, half a dozen contributors on the Amazon site had actually read the book. The rest, mostly of an anti-immigrant persuasion, were merely using the book as the means to express their positions (such as they are).

What I found most interesting was how few of these people actually endeavored to deal with the issues raised by Rivera’s book. What they lack in substance they make up for in vitriol. The responses form an exemplar of the nativist sentiment. The comments are a road-map to the nativist community and its sources.

Every legitimate review (i.e., people who had actually read the book) garnered the same group of nativist respondents (who clearly had no interest in reading the book, let alone discussing its tenets). The most vocal and revealing commentators included Clarisa “Heather” McDonald, Zeezil, “stoptheinvasion”, JDunn58 and most self-incriminating, E. Baumgartner, of Jewish descent and from New York City. I will refer to this group as the nativists. Several rational people tried to inject reason into the debate, but as the old saw goes, you can’t reason with a madman.

In all of the comments, there was a tendency to ratchet up the number of alleged illegal immigrants in this country. Most respected commentators put the number of undocumented immigrants living in this country at between 8 and 12 million. Zeezil declared that “there are 28 million illegal aliens here,” a number which would indicate that more than half of the Hispanic population is here illegally, since the Census indicates that Hispanic citizens number 40 million. Clarisa McDonald argues as well that the country is experiencing an “invasion of 28 million illegal aliens.” Clearly, both Zeezil and Clarisa are getting their numbers from a similar source. What sources do Zeezil and Clarisa consult for their information?

Clarisa and Zeezil provide their sources and encourage others to do likewise. They share a common source of information: with Roy Beck, Ann Manetes, Rosemary Jenks, with Dan Stein, and and, with Dr. Diana Hull, with Jason Mrochek,, with William Gheen, with Xelan Bonn, with Steve Elliot, and with David Durham. As for authorities on the subject the nativists, they recommend Governor Richard D. Lamm, Tom Tancredo, Dr. Albert Bartlett, Roy Beck, Terry Anderson, William Gheen, Jason Mrochek, David Durham, Dr. Diana Hull, Rosemary Jenks, Fred Elbel, Mike McGarry, Russell Pearce, Don Collins and David Pimental. No surprises here. Not exactly a list of unbiased sources of information, but well worth watching as sources of hatred.

Those readers who actually read the book and commented substantively on its positions were viciously attacked personally.

The most telling of these nativists, E. Baumgartner, was a Jew from New York, who quite freely disclosed his bigotries. When told that Geraldo Rivera is half Jewish (Rivera’s mother is Jewish), Baumgartner had no problems maligning his own kind. “Oh, he's half Jewish, well that fits. I'm Jewish and I can say that I'm sometimes embarrassed to be Jewish. A lot of Jews have no real loyalty to this country; they are only loyal to Israel. America is simply a place they live and work.”

Baumgartner makes no bones of his bigotry and unlawful discrimination.

My brother-in-law owns 18 apartment buildings in the Chicago area. He will not rent to hispanics because of their [sic] repuatation. Most of his landlord friends feel the same way. He says, "as soon as Mexicans move in, they take a toll on the building. Their kids get involved in gangs or their kids have friends in gangs who visit and spray graffiti everywhere, crime goes up, etc". He continues, "also, if you have a few Mexican families in your building, it makes it a lot harder to rent to non-hispanics because they too know Mexicans reputation, so then you would get stuck and have to rent to more hispanics because you have to keep your building full. Of course though, with each new Mexican family, the building gradually turns into a mini-barrio and then your property value goes way down, this is why I won't allow even one hispanic tenant in any of my buildings".

So why are Mexicans so bad for the neighborhood? And is one really a bigot for making such generalizations? Not according to Baumgartner.

I wouldn't call it "bigotry", it's more like well grounded distaste for Mexicans (at least the one's in the USA). Every Mexican neighborhood here is a gang infested, graffiti scrawled, crime ridden garbage pit. If Mexicans were more like Asian immigrants, nobody would care one bit about their skin color. Do you see people complaining about Asians? Hardly ever. … … “Mexican parasites”…

Mexicans have been in the USA for more than 160 years and they still have the crappiest jobs, the highest poverty rate, the highest crime rate, endless gangs, highest teen [sic] pregancy rate, highest high school dropout rate (56% nationally). Mexicans will never be anything but an underclass, as they have always been. Sure a handful of Mexicans go to college, but overall, they are extremely low achievers. … “Have you ever been to a predominately hispanic neighborhood in the USA? They are all garbage pits. I can assure you that NOBODY wants to live near Mexicans, they are so dirty and their kids often get involved in gangs. That is the truth about your people. …

Well, now that we have that cleared that up, we can see that the problem is not illegal immigration but rather the presence of dirty Mexicans. What we need to check is not the illegal entry of Mexicans but the growth of the Mexican population. Perhaps we should deport all Mexicans, native-born, 5th or 6th generation, we need to get rid of all of “them Mexican parasites.” Is it unfair to lump nativists with the naked bigotry of Baumgartner? Not according to Rivera’s book. And on this point I have to wholeheartedly agree. One need not read too far into most nativist postings to see that their target is not undocumented immigrants but rather the Hispanic community as a whole. This is what bothers Lou Dobbs, Tom Tancredo, Michelle Malkin, and the rest of the nativist hacks. Bigotry: pure and simple.

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Wednesday, March 5, 2008

So Much for Family Values: Cheney Crony CCA Gets Contract to Mistreat Asylum Seekers

It is self-evident that despite a lot of rhetoric about “family values,” Republicans don’t give a sh*t about families. For starters, they have gutted every effort to provide basic health coverage to American children. The mindless Iraq war has forced long separations of service people from their spouse and children. Successive Republican administrations have made the rich richer and have made working families poor. And then there are the aggressive enforcement actions by agents of the Immigration and Custom Enforcement. (“ICE”) According to government statistics, ICE deported 276,912 persons in 2007. ICE’s more aggressive worksite enforcement strategy dramatically increased penalties against employ­ers, securing fines and judgments of more than $30 million while making 863 criminal arrests and 4,077 administrative arrests. Ever since Michael Chertoff, head of the Department of Homeland Security, (“DHS”) announced that ICE was “gonna get ugly” the immigrant community has gotten the worst of all possible worlds, gung-ho raids on workplaces, inhumane treatment and a massive wave of deportations. Not content to tear apart families, the Government took the extraordinary step of imprisoning whole families.

In a fit of patronage to Cheney cronies at the Corrections Corporation of America, (“CCA”) the Department gave CCA a fat contract to detain persons awaiting administrative adjudication of their claims for asylum or relief. The nominal reason for this was that many claimants did not appear for their hearings. Problem was that many of these claimants had families. So DHS decided to incarcerate not just the claimant but his or her whole family. The most infamous detention center is a prison in Taylor, Texas known as the T.Don Hutto Residential Center.

Hutto is one of two immigrant-detention facilities in America that house families—the other is in Berks County, Pennsylvania—and is the only one owned and run by a private prison company. The detention of immigrants is the fastest-growing form of incarceration in this country, and, with the support of the Bush Administration, it is becoming a lucrative business. At the end of 2006, some fourteen thousand people were in government custody for immigration-law violations, in a patchwork of detention arrangements, including space rented out by hundreds of local and state jails, and seven freestanding facilities run by private contractors. This number was up by seventy-nine per cent from the previous year, an increase that can be attributed, in large part, to the actions of Michael Chertoff, the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, which runs the Immigration and Customs Enforcement division.

“The Lost Children: What do tougher detention policies mean for illegal immigrant families?” by Margaret Talbot, (The New Yorker, March 3, 2008).

One complication was that hundreds of children were among the immigrant detainees. Typically, kids had been sent to shelters, which allowed them to attend school, while parents were held at closed facilities. Nobody thought that it was good policy to separate parents from children—not immigration officials, not immigrant advocates, not Congress. In 2005, a report by the House Appropriations Committee expressed concern about “reports that children apprehended by D.H.S.”—the Department of Homeland Security—“even as young as nursing infants, are being separated from their parents and placed in shelters.” The committee also declared that children should not be placed in government custody unless their welfare was in question, and added that the Department of Homeland Security should “release families or use alternatives to detention” whenever possible. The report recommended a new alternative to detention known as the Intensive Supervision Appearance Program—which allows people awaiting disposition of their immigration cases to be released into the community, provided that they are closely tracked by means such as electronic monitoring bracelets, curfews, and regular contact with a caseworker. The government has since established pilot programs in twelve cities, and reports that more than ninety per cent of the people enrolled in them show up for their court dates. The immigration agency could have made a priority of putting families, especially asylum seekers, into such programs. Instead, it chose to house families in Hutto, which is owned and run by C.C.A. Families would be kept together, but it would mean they were incarcerated together.

“The Lost Children,” Talbot. Given that Hutto was a prison and that it operated as a prison, the facility was ill-equipped to deal with the incarcerated families. Fathers were separated from their wives and children. The children were housed in prison cells with their mothers. The children were denied toys, crayons or pictures and all had to dress in prison scrubs.

Hutto has more than five hundred beds, though the population fluctuates, and the facility appears never to have been at full capacity; about half the detainees are children. At the time the Yourdkhanis got there, many of the four hundred or so detainees were from Latin-American countries (these did not include Mexico, because Mexicans caught without documents are automatically sent home), and some of those were people who had come to the United States for economic reasons; that is, they were the kind of undocumented immigrants that most people probably think of when they hear of immigrants being rounded up somewhere in Texas. But a substantial number of the families were asylum seekers—people from Iraq, Somalia, Iran, Romania. Like the Yourdkhanis, they were people who said that they had been persecuted in their home countries, and many of them had passed the first test for achieving asylum in the United States—a so-called “credible fear” interview. None had criminal records.

Families were placed in former inmate cells. Each cell had a twin bed or a bunk bed with a thin mattress, a small metal or porcelain sink, and an exposed toilet. Generally, mothers and very young children stayed together in one cell, fathers in a separate cell, and older children in another. Husbands and wives were not allowed to visit each other’s cells. . . The cell doors were metal, and each had a window two inches wide; the floor and walls were bare, except for a shatterproof acrylic mirror. Doors were to remain open during the day, but they were wired with laser-detection alarms that were triggered when anyone came or went at night. A 2007 report by two advocacy groups—the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service and the Women’s Commission for Refugee Women and Children—noted that if a child sleeping in a separate cell woke up at night and went looking for his parents the alarm would sound, and only C.C.A. staff members were allowed to respond.

The guards at Hutto conducted as many as seven head counts a day, during which all detainees, even toddlers, were supposed to remain in place, usually by their beds, for as long as it took to complete the count. In practice, this meant that detainees might be in their cells twelve hours a day. (When head counts were not taking place, detainees could assemble in the common area within their “pod” of cells, where there were couches and two televisions.) Last March, an immigration lawyer named Griselda Ponce testified before the U.S. District Court in Austin about conditions at Hutto, and told of an occasion when the five- or six-year-old daughter of a woman she was interviewing had to go to the rest room. The captain on duty told the girl that she could not do so during a head count. Ponce said that the girl made “six or seven requests,” and was rebuffed each time; after about fifteen minutes, the girl “smelled of urine.”

No contact visits were allowed at Hutto—relatives had to sit behind Plexiglas partitions and talk through phones in the old prison visiting room. In any case, few relatives visited, since Hutto was so far from where most of them lived.

Children were regularly woken up at night by guards shining lights into their cells. They were roused each morning at five-thirty. Kids were not allowed to have stuffed animals, crayons, pencils, or pens in their cells. And they were not allowed to take the pictures they had made back to their cells and hang them up. When Hutto opened as an immigration-detention center, children attended school there only one hour a day.

It’s easier to gain access to the death-row section of most publicly run prisons than it is to get into Hutto, unless you are a detainee or an employee of C.C.A. Even Jorge Bustamante, a sociologist and a former Nobel Peace Prize nominee, who is the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Human Rights of Migrants, was denied access to Hutto. .. No reporters have been admitted on any occasion since a single-day group media tour, in February, 2007.

Last March, the A.C.L.U., along with the immigration-law clinic at the University of Texas and the law firm LeBouef, Lamb, Greene & MacRae, brought suit against Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and the immigration officials who oversee Hutto. . . . The A.C.L.U. commissioned a psychiatrist to investigate conditions at Hutto, and, not surprisingly, the resulting report documented depression and fearfulness among children housed there, and predicted that, until the facility overhauled its “policies and procedures beyond recognition” and replaced its “current (correctional) staff,” it would not be appropriate for children. More surprising, a psychiatric report commissioned by the government defendants also questioned the “authoritarian milieu fostered by this excessive number of security personnel,” and criticized an atmosphere “capable of contributing to the development of unnecessary anxiety and stress for these children.” The report’s author, Richard Pesikoff, a professor of psychiatry at Baylor College of Medicine, concluded that it was “essential” to make changes at Hutto, in order to protect the mental health of the children.

“The Lost Children,” Talbot. A lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union obtained a modicum of relief regarding the worst conditions.

Children are no longer required to wear prison uniforms and are allowed much more time outdoors. Educational programming has expanded and guards have been instructed not to discipline children by threatening to separate them from their parents.

In addition to making those improvements permanent, the settlement also requires ICE to provide, among other things:

· allow children over the age of 12 to move freely about the facility

· provide a full-time, on-site pediatrician

· eliminate the count system which forces families to stay in their cells 12 hours a day

· install privacy curtains around toilets

· offer field trip opportunities to children

· supply more toys and age- and language-appropriate books

· improve the nutritional value of food

Despite the tremendous improvements at Hutto, the facility retains its essential character: it was a medium security prison managed by the Corrections Corporation of America, a for-profit adult corrections company. The ACLU remains adamant that detaining immigrant children at Hutto is inappropriate and calls on Congress to compel DHS to find humane alternatives for managing families whose immigration status is in limbo.

ACLU Challenges Prison-Like Conditions at Hutto Detention Center, ACLU website, And that, my dear readers, is how a free and proud nation treats the children of people seeking asylum from dictatorships, autocrats, Middle-Eastern despots and anyone else who serves our interests.

See video on Hutto at:

Keep up to date with developments at Hutto:

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Monday, March 3, 2008

Immigration: The Myth of the Third Rail of Politics

Now that the last three presidential candidates still standing are all in favor of comprehensive immigration reform it is becoming clear to most astute observers that immigration is not the third rail of politics. The conventional wisdom is that any serious political candidate dare not articulate a pro-immigrant platform lest they get burned by the charged rail of American politics. In fact, the most likely Democratic nominee, Barack Obama, marched with the thousands who protested in the summer of 2006 supporting immigrant rights. As New York Times reporter, David Leonhart notes in the March 2, 2008 issue of the New York Times:

Mr. McCain will all but clinch the Republican nomination on Tuesday with victories in the Ohio and Texas primaries. In the Texas campaign, except for a couple of obligatory questions about a border fence during a Democratic debate, immigration has been the dog that didn’t bark. The candidates who would have made an issue of it exited the race long ago.

The Border and the Ballot Box by David Leonhart, (New York Times, Mar 2, 2008)


Leonhart gives some historical perspective and notes that although the issue has always attracted a wave of xenophobia it has rarely impacted national elections. Given the Nativist laws that have been passed in prior eras, it is still a stretch to say that the immigration issue has little currency. The truth is that in economically challenging times, American workers will often focus their anger on the jobs allegedly lost to immigrants. Combine this with a pernicious racism and you still have a combustible political mixture.

Nonetheless, those of us who favor a humanist policy towards immigrants, especially those immigrants who live underground lives, can take comfort in seeing the likes of Tom Tancredo and his ilk go down in flames. The Nativist appeal clearly resonates with a portion of the American electorate but it does not carry the day as a wedge issue. Nativists do their cause ill by aligning themselves with the racists, like Michelle Malkin and the VDare folks who spew irrational hatred. We, at least, have reason on our side.

The task for progressives, as stated by Abe Lincoln, is to appeal to the better angels of our nature.

We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

I harbor no illusions that we will easily overcome cultural resistance to the immigrant population and more broadly to the Latino community within our midst. But having been raised in Texas, with its Hispanic roots going back five centuries, I have seen some amazing melding of cultures. Surely, an appeal to simple humanity and perhaps a modicum of self-interest, we can find a way to move the issue of comprehensive immigration reform in a direction that finds some resonance in the humanity that is the American people.

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