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< Back to current issue of Immigration Daily < Back to current issue of Immigrant's Weekly

TESTIMONY OF THE
MEXICAN AMERICAN LEGAL DEFENSE
AND EDUCATIONAL FUND (MALDEF)

HEARING ON
THE IMMIGRATION AND NATURALIZATION SERVICES’ INTERIOR ENFORCEMENT STRATEGY

SUBMITTED TO THE
HOUSE COMMITTEE ON THE JUDICIARY’S
SUBCOMMITTE ON IMMIGRATION AND CLAIMS

ON
JUNE 19, 2002

BY
MARISA J. DEMEO, REGIONAL COUNSEL
AISHA QAASIM, LEGISLATIVE STAFF ATTORNEY

INTRODUCTION

 

The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) appreciates the opportunity to provide testimony regarding “The Immigration and Naturalization Service’s (INS’) Interior Enforcement Strategy” and some of the changes INS has made since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.  MALDEF is a national nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting and promoting the rights of Latinos in the areas of education, employment, political access, immigrants’ rights, criminal justice, and public resource equity.  We achieve our mission through community education, litigation and advocacy.  Founded in San Antonio, Texas, in 1968, MALDEF now is headquartered in Los Angeles with offices in Sacramento, San Antonio, Houston, Albuquerque, Phoenix, Chicago, Atlanta, and Washington, D.C.

 

In order to evaluate the changes to the interior enforcement actions of the INS and their effect on national security and the civil rights of the Latino community, this testimony raise two issues: 1) the federal government’s changing interior enforcement strategy at work sites does not forward the goal of fighting terrorism but impacts greatly the Latino community; and 2) allowing local law enforcement to engage in immigration enforcement when crime is not involved decreases public safety and increases mistrust between Latinos and local law enforcement.

 

CHANGING INTERIOR ENFORCEMENT STRATEGY AT WORK SITES DOES NOT FORWARD THE GOAL OF FIGHTING TERRORISM BUT IMPACTS GREATLY THE LATINO COMMUNITY

 

Traditionally, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) has focused its interior enforcement strategy in areas that are designed to protect the public safety.  According to the latest estimates from the census in 2000, approximately 8.7 million undocumented immigrants were living in the U.S. in April of 2000.[1]  The largest group is from Mexico, which is estimated to be about 3.8 million.[2]  Another 1.4 million are from other Latin American countries in South America, Central America, and the Caribbean.[3]  As a result, any interior enforcement strategy will greatly affect not only the Latinos who are here in an undocumented status, but their families with whom they live, including spouses, children, and siblings who are in many cases either U.S. citizens or legal immigrants.

 

We supported the INS’ past policy to focus primarily on crime, smuggling of undocumented immigrants, fraud rings, and work sites where there is also smuggling of undocumented immigrants, human rights abuses and other criminal violations.[4]  Since the terrorist attacks on September 11, however, the INS interior enforcement policy has changed significantly.  In this section, the testimony will review the current trend in the INS’ activities in work site raids.  In the following section, the testimony will discuss the INS’ increasing cooperation with local law enforcement.

 

Soon after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the U.S., the INS initiated an interior enforcement operation, which has been called either “Operation Safe Travel” or “Operation Tarmac” on different occasions.  This Operation was first reported in the press in Seattle, Washington; however, the Operation is a national strategy. According to media reports, over 350 individuals have been arrested by authorities at 13 airports throughout the country mainly because of presenting false information regarding their immigration status or using false documentation to obtain employment.[5]  Hundreds more have lost their jobs as a result of the raids.

 

In Seattle, INS officials met with representatives from employers who employ individuals at the Sea-Tac Airport.[6]  While INS officials spoke about their activities as fulfilling the need to fight terrorism, the INS did not just search the records of security screeners and baggage handlers.[7]  INS also searched records of individuals who worked in the food service sector and in maintenance.[8]  Further, the INS provided no evidence that the status of being undocumented per se means that one is a security risk.

 

Another report of work site enforcement at an airport came from the Lindbergh Field airport in San Diego, California.[9]  Again, the search was not limited to those who arguably might hold high security positions.[10]  The search included employers who hire individuals to work at McDonald’s, retail shops, newsstands, candy shops and bookstores.[11]  INS spokesperson Lauren Mack stated, “This is a part of our commitment to protect the nation’s security and safety in the wake of Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.”[12]  She went on to say, “We’ve received information that some airport employees with access to sensitive security areas, especially the tarmac, may have been working in this country without the appropriate authorization to do so.”[13]  What Mack did not say was that the INS had facts to establish that working without authorization equaled being a security threat.

 

In Salt Lake City, Utah, the INS not only checked work authorization papers, it ensured that 202 individuals were fired from their jobs.[14]   In addition, INS worked with the U.S. Attorney’s office in Utah to secure 69 indictments.[15]  Of the 69 indictments, most were from Central and South America.[16]  Except for six of the indictments, the rest were brought against individuals who are allegedly in the country in an undocumented status.[17]  Their indictments were for allegedly using false Social Security cards.[18]  Based on information and belief, the six individuals indicted for allegedly lying about their past criminal histories were white non-Latinos. The indictments were brought against employees who worked for private companies in areas such as security screening, janitorial and food services.[19] Of the 69, 3 were involved in security screening.[20]

 

While the INS operation in Salt Lake City, Utah, was done to fight terrorism, U.S. Attorney Paul Warner admitted that none of the suspects have been tied to terrorism.[21]  He stated, “While there is no evidence that anyone indicted as a part of Operation Safe Travel has attempted any kind of terrorist activity at the airport or that the airport is anything less than safe, in today’s environment, we are not going to wait around for something to happen.”[22]  Warner also said about those who were caught in this operation, “We think we simply had people who wanted to work.”[23]

 

After Salt Lake City, the INS continued its Operation in Portland, Oregon.[24]  INS detained thirty individuals for allegedly providing false information to work for employers serving the Portland International Airport.[25]  It found an additional 94 who allegedly were unauthorized to work.[26]  Two of the individuals indicted in Portland are Jose Fortanel Garcia and Victoriano Royas Modesto, both from Mexico living with their spouses and children in the U.S.[27]  Their attorney indicated that neither had been charged with a violent crime, using a weapon, or a serious drug crime, and that the two are not dangerous in any way.[28]  The Assistant U.S. Attorney handling the case, Kathleen Bickers, stated “This is part of the federal government’s increased vigilance to ensure airport security and safety.”[29] This was said despite the fact that officials reported that there was no evidence linking those arrested to terrorist activities.[30]  Ed Sale, an INS spokesperson claimed that those who are undocumented are “trying to hide (their illegal immigration status), [therefore] they’re subject to coercion and bribery.  That could be a security threat.”[31]  Although Sale made this claim, he produced no facts to substantiate it.

 

In Phoenix, Arizona the INS cooperated with the Social Security Administration, the FBI, and U.S. Marshals Service to indict 33 workers at Sky Harbor International Airport for document fraud.[32]  Almost all of the workers are Latinos. Again there was no evidence connecting any of these workers with terrorist activities.

 

In the Washington, DC area, a total of 104 workers have been arrested who were employed at Dulles, Reagan National and Baltimore Washington International Airports.[33]  Many of these workers were undocumented immigrants and were charged with supplying false information to obtain jobs.  Yet again, none were linked to terrorism in any way.[34]

 

In San Francisco, 25 immigrants were arrested at San Jose and San Francisco International Airports. Eleven of those arrested were undocumented immigrants, and 14 were lawful permanent residents with prior felony convictions.  All of them were subject to deportation.[35]

 

In Las Vegas, 27 workers at McCarran International Airport were indicted on charges of providing false information regarding their immigration status or using false social security numbers to obtain employment.[36] Maria Del Carmen Reyes and Mirella Bravo-Zambrano, two workers who were arrested, were described by their employer as  outstanding examples of quality workers who “. . . are wives and mothers and didn’t deserve to be handcuffed and shackled like they were.”[37]

 

While the INS has argued that its Operation Safe Travel or Operation Tarmac focusing at airports across the country is a good tool to fight terrorism, it has so far failed to prove the effectiveness of the tool that is hitting the Latino community particularly hard.  After the federal government’s operations have resulted in hundreds of employees being fired and hundreds more being indicted most often for document violations, the federal government has yet to connect any of those arrested at the airports with terrorism or terrorist activities.  Justice Department officials admit that had these workers done the same thing in order to work in a restaurant or at Wal-Mart they might not have been prosecuted.[38]  Government officials admit time and again that there have been no ties to terrorism yet they keep insisting that this is an effective tool to fight terrorism.  While the INS’ efforts so far have focused heavily at airports, other sites that the government will allege are national security concerns will also be targeted.[39]  The firing and indictments of hard-working, family-oriented Latinos and other immigrants are not helping our war on terrorism but are causing grave economic and other hardships on our community.  Congress should provide strict oversight of the INS’ interior enforcement strategy post-9/11 and re-direct those efforts to methods that actually achieve the goal of increasing national security.

 

ALLOWING LOCAL LAW ENFORCEMENT TO ENGAGE IN IMMIGRATION ENFORCEMENT WHEN CRIME IS NOT INVOLVED DECREASES PUBLIC SAFETY AND INCREASES MISTRUST BETWEEN LATINOS AND LOCAL LAW ENFORCEMENT

 

MALDEF traditionally has been opposed to allowing local law enforcement to engage in immigration enforcement where crime is not involved.  There are already many tensions between local law enforcement agencies and minority communities in different parts of the country for a variety of reasons.  The fear and mistrust of local law enforcement in the Latino community is only heightened when local law enforcement engages in immigration enforcement. 

In order to address this issue through litigation, MALDEF filed a case last year against the Rogers, Arkansas police department.  In our case, we allege that Rogers police pulled over our plaintiff, Miguel Lopez, while he was driving his car with his family in July 2001 as he was approaching his home.  After detaining Lopez and his wife, the officers asked to see their immigration papers and searched their car without their consent.  The offices left without issuing a citation.  It was racial profiling similar to that experienced by African Americans with the added offense of asking for immigration papers without any reason other than race or national origin.

 

Immigrants, generally, prefer not to draw attention to themselves from the government or the private sector even if they are here legally.  This explains, in part, why Latino immigrants under-report when they are the victims of crime or when they are the victim of illegal civil practices, such as employment discrimination, unsafe working environments, or housing discrimination even though they experience these practices in significant numbers.  Current trends post-9/11 to involve local law enforcement in enforcing immigration laws, particularly civil laws, will only drive Latino immigrant communities further underground and make them less willing to provide information to law enforcement that would be helpful in solving crimes and resolving legal violations that affect not just Latinos but others with whom they work and live.  It will also lead to less cooperation from immigrant communities with law enforcement searching for leads to fight terrorism.

 

On December 5, 2001, at a House hearing before the House Committee on Government Reform Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, Drug Policy and Human Resources, INS Commissioner James W. Ziglar announced that the INS would for the first time input data on over 300,000 individuals who have overstayed their visas or somehow violated their visas into a federal criminal database.[40]  Although Ziglar claims that this was not part of the anti-terrorism strategies, it was done at a time when local law enforcement is looking for ways in which they can help fight terrorism.[41]  South Carolina Attorney General Charlie Condon, for example, wants the INS to delegate more authority to local law enforcement to enforce immigration laws.[42]  About half of the individuals on the list of 300,000 are originally from Mexico.[43]  It has been reported that most of the individuals are people who have violated civil immigration laws but are not dangerous criminals.[44]

 

The FBI runs the database, known as the National Crime Information Center (NCIC), to which the 300,000 names will be added.[45]  Over 80,000 law enforcement agencies have access to NCIC.[46]  INS officials have said that once the names are in the system, local law enforcement officials who stop motorists for a traffic violation or for minor infractions could have access to the database and detain the individual until the INS comes to take over the detention.[47]  INS Commissioner Ziglar has admitted that, “It’s a huge project and it absolutely will create more work at the field level.”[48]

 

The State of Florida has already begun working on a broader agreement with the INS that would allow Florida law enforcement agencies to arrest immigrants on civil immigration violations.[49]  Under this plan, 35 police officers, sheriff’s deputies and other state law enforcement agents would be trained in immigration policies and procedures and would carry out limited immigration enforcement responsibilities.[50] 

 

The Attorney General of the State of South Carolina, Charlie Condon, has also initiated a similar plan to deputize a special unit of state law enforcement officers to investigate immigration violations.[51]   Claiming that undocumented immigrants are easy to identify on sight, Condon stated during his announcement of his effort that, "You can go around the streets of Columbia, [South Carolina] and you can see people that there's every reason to suspect they're not here legally."[52]   He went on to explain that, "You've got our borders being overrun in this country. I'm sure we're going to find out that the major problem in South Carolina will be those of Mexican origin."[53]  Although the details of these plans have yet to fully emerge, it is clear that there will be ramifications for the Latino and immigrant communities.  In South Carolina, those of Mexican origin are the express targets of local law enforcement involvement with federal immigration law enforcement.

 

To make things worse, on June 5, 2002, Attorney General John Ashcroft announced that the Justice Department would soon affirmatively seek the assistance of local and state law enforcement agencies to help enforce, not only the criminal, but also the civil immigration laws as part of the new National Security Entry-Exit Registration System.[54]  This change in procedure reverses the Department’s longstanding position that local law enforcement had no authority to enforce the civil immigration laws.[55]  Although the Justice Department is requesting, at least initially, that local law enforcement limit its enforcement activities to the names contained in the NCIC database as part of the new registration program, the Justice Department will soon issue an Office of Legal Counsel opinion granting local law enforcement with the “inherent authority” to enforce both the civil and criminal provisions of the immigration laws.[56]

 

The National Security Entry-Exit Registration System will require certain non-immigrant visa holders to register with the INS and have their fingerprints and photographs taken when entering the country. They will then be required to register their departure within 30 days. If they remain in the country after thirty days, they must report to an INS office to re-register, and appear every 12 months after that.[57]  These regulations will apply to all nationals of Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Libya and Syria; certain nationals of other countries whom the State Department determine to be an elevated national security risk; and any other alien identified by INS inspectors upon specific criteria which have not yet been revealed.[58]  Any individual that fails to comply with these requirements will be entered into the NCIC database, and the Department of Justice will seek the assistance of local law enforcement in their apprehension.  The listing of violators includes any visitor that fails to re-register within the required time periods or otherwise overstay their visas.

 

Not only will the INS find itself busier, of even greater concern, are 80,000 local law enforcement agencies having access to a database and believing they have inherent authority beyond the database listing to enforce civil immigration laws, for which the law enforcement agencies are not trained and which will increase fear in Latinos of interaction with local officials.  It will not just be undocumented immigrants who will fear the local officials, it will be brothers, sisters, cousins, parents, co-workers, and neighbors of documented and undocumented immigrants who will take every opportunity to avoid interaction with local officials out of fear that somehow they will be detained or someone they know will be if they interact with police.  If the INS wishes to prioritize and detain individuals who have been issued deportation orders or are in violation of our laws, it can do so under our laws but it should steer away from involving local officials.  If criminal activity or suspicion is not involved in the immigration context, Congress must take steps to remove local law enforcement’s involvement to reduce the possibility of civil rights violations of Latinos and a reduction in overall public safety.

 

CONCLUSION

MALDEF and the Hispanic community support the President, the Congress, and our Government as they move through the difficult task of preventing future terrorist attacks.  Many in our community are already serving our country in the military and in a number of other ways.  While the country must take steps to protect our national security, it is incumbent upon Congress to monitor the INS to ensure that its own activities and its cooperative relationships with local law enforcement do not have the unintended effect of decreasing public safety and unnecessarily depriving hard-working Latinos who are not security-risks of the chance to work.



[1]  Genaro C. Armas, Illegal Immigrant Population Doubled, Assoc. Press., Jan. 23, 2002 (visited Jan. 23, 2002) .

[2]  Id.

[3]  Id.

[4]  See, e.g., Immigration and Naturalization Service, Investigations (visited Jan. 23, 2002) <www.ins.usdoj.gov/graphics/lawenfor/interiorenf/investigations.htm>.

[5]  Matthew L. Wald, Officials Arrest 104 Airport Workers in Washington Area, N.Y. Times, Apr. 24, 2002 at A11.

 

[6]  Sam Skolnik, Seattle Post-Intelligencer Rptr, Nov. 28, 2001.

[7]  Id.

[8]  Id.

[9]  Marisa Taylor & Ronald W. Powell, INS Checks on Lindbergh Workers’ Status, San Diego Union-Trib., Dec. 1, 2001, at A-1.

[10]  Id.

[11]  Id.

[12]  Id.

[13]  Id.

[14]  Pat Reavy, Airport Bust Rounds Up 271, Deseret News, Dec. 12, 2001.

[15]  Id.; Jerry Seper, 50 Alien Workers At Airport Arrested, Wash. Times, Dec. 13, 2001, at      A6; Salt Lake Airport Workers Arrested, Assoc. Press, Dec. 11, 2001.

[16]  Reavy, supra note 14.

[17]  Id.

[18]  Id.

[19]  Id.

[20]  Seper, supra note 15, at A6.

[21]  Reavy, supra note 14.

[22]  Seper, supra note 15, at A6.

[23]  Reavy, supra note 14.

[24]  Mark Larabee, 30 Workers at PDX Arrested, Oregon Live, Dec. 12, 2001.

[25]  Id.

[26]  Id.

[27]  Id.

[28]  Id.

[29]  Id.

[30]  Id.

[31]  Id.

[32]  Department of Justice, Office of the U.S. Attorney, District of Arizona, Press Release, Federal Agencies Cooperate in Joint Investigation to Promote Airport Security—Arrests Made Involving Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix, Apr. 18, 2002.

 

[33] Wald, supra note 5.

 

[34]  Id.

[35]  Id.

 

[36]  Juliet V. Casey, Operation Tarmac: Advocates: Hispanics Unfairly Targeted, Las Vegas Rev.-Jrnl, Feb. 9, 2002.

 

[37]  Id.

 

[38] Id.

[39]  See, e.g., Megan Boldt, Border Patrol Arrests Eight Illegal Aliens at Energy Plant, Assoc. Press, June 13, 2002.

[40]  Chris Adams, INS to Put in Federal Criminal Databases The Names of People Ordered Deported, Wall St. Jrnl., Dec. 6, 2001, at A22.

[41]  Jonathan Peterson, Response to Terror: INS Fugitives to Be Listed on FBI Database, L.A. Times, Dec. 6, 2001.

[42]  OP-ED, Immigrants Aren’t Terrorists, The Herald (Rock Hill, SC), Oct. 26, 2001, at 8A; Charlie Condon, States Can Help Stop Illegal Immigration, The State (Columbia, SC), Oct. 26, 2001, at A15; Assoc. Press, South Carolina Editorial Roundup, Sun News (Myrtle Beach, SC), Oct. 30, 2001.

[43]  Peterson, supra note 41.

[44]  Id.

[45]  Mary Beth Sheridan, INS Seeks Law Enforcement Aid in Crackdown: Move Targets 300,000 Foreign Nationals Living in U.S. Despite Deportation Orders, Wash. Post, Dec. 6, 2001.

[46]  Id.

[47]  Peterson, supra note 41.

[48]  Id.

[49] Mike Branom, Fla. Police May Aid INS in Detaining Immigrants, Wash. Post, March 5, 2002 at A5.

 

[50]  Id.

 

[51] Jim Davenport and Kim Baca, Attorney General Wants All Illegal Immigrants Removed From the State, Assoc. Press, Oct. 12, 2001.

 

[52]  Id.

 

[53]  Id.

[54] Department of Justice Fact Sheet, National Security Entry-Exit Registration System, June 5, 2002. (visited June 18, 2002) <http://www.ins.usdoj.gov/graphics/exittrackingsys.pdf>

 

[55]  See, e.g., Department of Justice, Office of Legal Counsel, Assistance by State and Local Police in Apprehending Illegal Aliens, Feb. 5, 1996 (visited June 18, 2002) <http://www.usdoj.gov/olc/1996opinion.html>.

 

[56]   Department of Justice, Attorney General Prepared Remarks on the National Security        Entry-Exit Registration System, June 6, 2002 (visited June 18, 2002) <http://www.ins.usdoj.gov/graphics/preparedremarks.htm>

 

[57] Department of Justice, supra note 54.

 

[58]  Id.


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