Sunday, October 28, 2007

INB 10/28/07: Judge Halts SSA Crackdown, Raids Continue

Immigration News Briefs
Vol. 10, No. 26 - October 28, 2007

(Note: Immigration News Briefs did not publish for the past three weeks; the last issue was dated Sept. 30. Sorry for the lapse.)

1. Judge Halts Crackdown on Workers
2. Buffets Raided in Kentucky, Maryland
3. Over 1,300 Arrested in California
4. "Fugitive" Raids in Idaho, Kansas
5. New York Raids Challenged

Immigration News Briefs is a weekly supplement to Weekly News Update on the Americas, published by Nicaragua Solidarity Network, 339 Lafayette St, New York, NY 10012; tel 212-674-9499; INB is also distributed free via email; contact for info. You may reprint or distribute items from INB, but please credit us and tell people how to subscribe.


On Oct. 10, federal judge Charles R. Breyer of US District Court in San Francisco granted a preliminary injunction barring the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) from launching a planned crackdown on workers whose social security numbers don't match the Social Security Administration (SSA) database [see INB 9/2/07]. At an earlier hearing on Oct. 1, a day after immigrant workers and their supporters demonstrated in front of San Francisco's federal building to protest the crackdown, Breyer had extended a temporary restraining order for 10 days. His Oct. 10 injunction blocks implementation of the plan until the court makes a final ruling in a lawsuit on its legality.

The crackdown, announced by Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff on Aug. 10 with new rules originally set to take effect Sept. 14, involves mailing "no-match" letters to 140,000 US employers, warning them that they must resolve questions about their employees' identities or fire them within 90 days. If they fail to do so, employers could face stiff penalties, including fines and even criminal prosecution. The federal government has mailed out "no-match" letters since 1994, but in the past employers weren't required to take action and did not face liability.

The lawsuit against the plan was brought on Aug. 29 by the AFL-CIO and local labor organizations, who were joined on Sept. 11 by the US Chamber of Commerce and trade associations for the agriculture, restaurant and construction industries, and on Sept. 13 by UNITE HERE and the United Food and Commercial Workers union. The national American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), its Northern California chapter, the National Immigration Law Center and two private law firms are representing the plaintiffs. [Washington Post 10/11/07; Blog by Jennifer Chang of ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project 9/14/07; AFL-CIO, ACLU & NILC Press Releases 10/1/07, 10/10/07; David Bacon 9/30/07]

The plaintiffs convinced the judge that the SSA database includes so many errors that its use in firings would unfairly discriminate against tens of thousands of legal workers, including native-born and naturalized US citizens, and cause major workforce disruptions that would burden companies. "There can be no doubt that the effects of the rule's implementation will be severe," Breyer wrote, resulting in "irreparable harm to innocent workers and employers."

"The government's proposal to disseminate no-match letters affecting more than eight million workers will, under the mandated time line, result in the termination of employment to lawfully employed workers," wrote Breyer. "Moreover the threat of criminal prosecution... reflects a major change in DHS policy." Breyer also said that the government may have ignored a 1980 law, the Regulatory Flexibility Act, that requires it to weigh the cost of imposing new regulations that would significantly burden small-business owners.

Chertoff expressed disappointment with Breyer's injunction and said the administration will continue to aggressively enforce immigration laws while considering an appeal, which plaintiffs' attorneys said could take at least nine months. Judge Breyer was appointed by President Bill Clinton in 1997 and is the brother of Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer.

SSA database errors have also hampered DHS' efforts to promote the Basic Pilot Program (now known as E-Verify), a system it launched in 1996 which employers can use voluntarily to verify the social security numbers of new hires. A report provided to Congress showed that between June 2004 and May 2006, the program erroneously rejected 11% of foreign-born US citizens and 1.3% of authorized immigrant workers. That error rate led Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich to sign state legislation in August barring Illinois companies from participating in the program until it is 99% accurate. [Washington Post 10/11/07]


On Oct. 16, local police in Villa Hills, Kentucky, a suburb of Cincinnati, Ohio, pulled over a van carrying immigrant workers to their jobs at the Empire Buffet in nearby Crescent Springs. After a passenger in the van allegedly admitted being an undocumented immigrant, police detained five of the van's eight passengers. The driver was cited for running a stop sign and released. Police then returned to the house where the workers lived, allegedly obtained consent to search there, and arrested another immigrant worker found sleeping. All six immigrants were handed over to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Five men and one woman were in the custody of federal authorities on the night of Oct. 16, according to Villa Hills Police Chief Dan Goodenough. Three others were released when they provided proof of identity.

Police claimed they pulled over the van in a "routine traffic stop," but admitted they had been investigating the home for months. "We had complaints from neighbors due to the volume of people that were living in the property," said Villa Hills Police Detective Joe Schutzman. Schutzman said every room in the two-story home was used for people to sleep.

On Oct. 17, ICE spokesperson Gail Montenegro said nine Empire Buffet workers were detained in the operation: five Mexican men, two Chinese women and two Chinese men. Montenegro said all nine were in the US without permission and would face removal proceedings. [Cincinnati Enquirer 10/17/07; 10/17/07; Cincinnati Post 10/19/07]

City officials say they are in the process of citing Chun Gond Shi, president of the company that operates the restaurant and owner of the home, and Wang Xiu Yun, who is also listed as an owner of the home, for about a dozen building code and city ordinance violations. Both Chun and Wang are naturalized US citizens. [CE 10/17/07]

Early on Sept. 27, ICE agents assisted by local law enforcement agencies raided the Mikayo Sushi and Seafood Buffet, the Panda Buffet and a private home in West Ocean City, Maryland, arresting six immigrant workers from Mexico and China. Following the raids, the restaurants were chained shut. In the nearby private community of Oyster Harbor, ICE officials also served a search warrant at a residence apparently belonging to Zhu Bo Hao, who owns the two restaurants. ICE spokesperson Ernestine Fobbs confirmed the arrests; she said the six workers were transported to the ICE regional office in Baltimore for processing and remain in custody. [Maryland Coast Dispatch 10/5/07]

It was the second federal raid in a week in Worcester County; on Sept. 20, ICE and FBI agents raided two convenience stores and a residence in Snow Hill as part of "Operation Cash-Out," an undercover sting targeting hawala (money transfer) businesses and involving at least 46 defendants in the US, Spain, Canada and Belgium facing bribery, money laundering and other charges. [Maryland Coast Dispatch 10/5/07; FBI Baltimore Office Press Release 9/20/07]


In a two-week sweep that ended Oct. 2, ICE officers arrested 1,327 immigrants in five southern California counties: Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino and Ventura. A total of 530 people were arrested in their communities on immigration violations; ICE said 258 of them--less than half of the total--were "fugitives" who had failed to comply with deportation orders or who had reentered the US after being deported. ICE claimed that half of the 530 people arrested in the communities had criminal histories.

At the same five counties' jails ICE took custody of another 797 people it described as "previously unidentified deportable foreign nationals" who had been scheduled for release. Some of those arrested in the sweep were lawful permanent residents who were said to be deportable because of crimes they committed. Of the total 1,327 people arrested, about 1,100 were from Mexico, 170 were from Central America and others came from more than 25 countries including Armenia, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Jordan, Peru and Vietnam. Nearly 600 of them had already been deported by Oct. 3. The US attorney's office plans to prosecute more than 45 of those arrested on felony charges of reentry after deportation. [Los Angeles Times 10/3/07; ICE News Release 10/3/07]


ICE officers arrested at least 20 immigrants in Idaho's Wood River Valley region over the weekend of Sept. 15. ICE agents in unmarked sport-utility vehicles were seen conducting pre-dawn raids in Ketchum and Bellevue on Sept. 15. ICE officials declined to comment on the raid, but Blaine County Sheriff's Detective Steve Harkins said the federal agents were from a "special fugitive unit" out of Boise that was allegedly searching for immigrants with felony convictions. It was not clear whether any of the individuals arrested had convictions or were among those allegedly being sought, or if they were simply found to be without documents. Harkins said on Sept. 18 that he heard 21 people were arrested. Ketchum police spokesperson Kim Rogers said some of the detainees were Peruvian. The ACLU of Idaho is investigating to see if civil rights were violated in the raids. The sheriff's office and Ketchum police assigned officers as uniformed escorts during the raids. [Idaho Mountain Express (Ketchum) 9/19/07]

Between Oct. 20 and 24, ICE agents arrested 50 out-of-status immigrants in a sweep through the greater Kansas City area of Kansas and Missouri; 29 of the 50 had apparently failed to comply with deportation orders, while the other 21 were merely discovered during the raids and found to be out of status. Nine of those arrested had criminal convictions. ICE was assisted in the raids by local police in Kansas City, Independence, Grandview and Raytown, Missouri; and in Kansas City, Overland Park, Lenexa, Olathe, Shawnee and Topeka, Kansas. [Kansas City Star 10/25/07]


On Oct. 2, officials in Nassau County on New York's Long Island called for a federal investigation into an "anti-gang" sweep carried out by ICE Sept. 24-30 during which 186 immigrants were arrested in Nassau and neighboring Suffolk county [see INB 9/30/07]. Nassau officials said the vast majority of those arrested were not gang members and that local police were misled and endangered by the operation. Nassau County police commissioner Lawrence W. Mulvey noted that many US citizens and legal residents were rousted from bed and required to produce papers during the raids, and that all but 6 of the 96 administrative warrants issued by the immigration enforcement agency in the alleged search for gang members had wrong or outdated addresses. Peter J. Smith, an ICE special agent in charge of the operation, called the Nassau county officials' allegations "without merit."

"We didn't have warrants," said Smith. "We don't need warrants to make the arrests. These are illegal immigrants." Smith said that of the 186 people arrested in the two counties, 28 were identified as gang members (13 in Nassau and 15 in Suffolk) and 129 as "associates of gang members" (79 in Nassau and 50 in Suffolk). Asked how the agency defined "associates of gang members," Smith replied, "If you're hanging with gang members and you're eating with gang members, there's an affiliation there." Smith said 59 of those arrested had previous criminal convictions that might make them deportable. All 186 face deportation proceedings; apparently none face criminal charges. Suffolk County police commissioner Richard Dormer expressed complete support for the ICE raids. [New York Times 10/2/07, 10/3/07]

On Oct. 5, several families and individuals from Suffolk, Nassau and Westchester counties filed a request in US District Court in Manhattan for a temporary restraining order to prevent ICE from conducting further raids without court-issued search warrants. The plaintiffs are represented by the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund and a private law firm. The petition names 27 plaintiffs who are also listed in a class-action lawsuit filed Sept. 20, alleging that ICE raids in the three New York counties in February, March and September 2007 violated their constitutional right to be free from unreasonable searches by the government. [Newsday (Long Island)


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