Sunday, November 4, 2007

INB 11/4/07: Charges Dropped Against LA 8; Raids in CT, NY, GA, VT

Immigration News Briefs
Vol. 10, No. 27 - November 4, 2007

1. Final Charges Dropped Against LA 8
2. Connecticut: New Raid as State's Role Questioned
3. Dozens Snared in Queens Raid
4. Chicago Workers Arrested in Raid
5. Georgia: 30 Workers Arrested Near Fort Benning
6. NY Governor Accepts Federal Licenses
7. Vermont Hotels Raided
8. Migrant Deaths Marked
9. California: Immigrants Affected by Fires

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. 30, the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) dismissed all charges against Palestinian immigrants Khader Musa Hamide and Michel Ibrahim Shehadeh, the last two members of the "Los Angeles Eight" (LA 8) who were still fighting deportation, and approved a settlement submitted by the men's lawyers and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The BIA announced the settlement on Oct. 31.

Hamide and Shehadeh were legal permanent residents when they were arrested on Jan. 26, 1987 and placed into deportation proceedings along with six other activists because of their alleged support for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP). Specifically, the government targeted the eight activists' efforts to distribute Al Hadaf, the PFLP magazine, a publication available in public libraries and college campuses. On Jan. 30, 2007, Los Angeles immigration judge Bruce J. Einhorn terminated the deportation proceedings against Hamide and Shehadeh, calling the government's conduct in the case "an embarrassment to the rule of law." [see INB 2/4/07; see also Einhorn's ruling posted at]

The government had appealed Einhorn's ruling, but under the terms of the settlement it dropped its appeal and agreed not to charge either Hamide or Shehadeh as "removable, deportable, excludable or inadmissible, or bring any other type of proceedings to expel" either of them or take away their lawful permanent resident status "based on any affiliations, associations, information or conduct in any way connected with any organizations that were identified or described in any testimony" or any other legal document in the case or based on any statement they made.

In exchange, Hamide and Shehadeh agreed to have several court orders--including Einhorn's January 2007 order--vacated as moot; and to give up their right to sue any government officials or agencies--including the Justice Department, the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security and Immigration and Customs Enforcement--for any action taken in the course of the case. The settlement also states that Hamide and Shehadeh must wait at least three years before they can apply for citizenship, and could be subjected to deportation or to having their permanent resident status revoked if they violate immigration laws in the future.

In a statement, the DHS said, "After thorough analysis and investigation, the United States government has no information indicating that Khader Musa Hamide and Michel Ibrahim Shehadeh currently pose a threat to national security." [Los Angeles Times 10/31/07]

"The government reasonably believed at the time these men were charged they were a threat because of their membership in a terrorist organization," said Virginia Kice, spokesperson for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in California. "Based on current analysis, we have no information that they are a threat." [New York Times 11/1/07]

"It's a huge victory and certainly a relief for our clients who have lived with this cloud over them for 20 years," said Georgetown University law professor David Cole, representing the Center for Constitutional Rights, which fought the case along with the National Lawyers Guild and the American Civil Liberties Union. [AP 10/31/07]

"This is a monumental victory...for all immigrants who want to be able to express their political views and support the lawful activities of organizations in their home countries fighting for social or political change," said San Francisco attorney Marc Van Der Hout of the National Lawyers Guild, who has worked on the case since its inception. The government's attempt to deport Hamide and Shehadeh "all these years marks another shameful period in our government's history of targeting certain groups of immigrants for their political beliefs and activities."

"My family and I feel a tremendous amount of relief," said Hamide, who lives in Chino Hills, California, and works as a wholesaler of coffee and tea. "After 20 years, the nightmare is finally over. I feel vindicated at long last. This is a victory not only for the LA 8 but for the First Amendment of the Constitution and for the rights of all immigrants."

Shehadeh, who now lives in Oregon, said that although he was "extremely happy" to put the battle behind him, he had mixed emotions. "The government robbed us, and our families, of the best and most productive years of our lives. But we will continue...acting on our beliefs, loving our country and defending the Constitution," he said. [LAT 10/31/07]

As for the other members of the LA 8, Hamide's Kenyan-born wife, Julie Mungai, has permanent resident status, as do Naim Sharif and Amjad Obeid. Obeid's brother Ayman remains in the US on a work permit; his application for permanent residency is apparently still pending. Basher Amer returned to the West Bank. Aiad Barakat is a US citizen, sworn in on Dec. 20 of last year, six months after a federal judge ordered the government to allow him to naturalize [see INB 7/8/06, 2/4/07].


ICE spokesperson Paula Grenier said on Nov. 2 that nine people were detained that morning in Hartford, Connecticut. The raids apparently began around 7am in the Parkville section of Hartford, where ICE agents went to homes and businesses on Park, South Whitney and Carpenter streets. Grenier said an ICE fugitive operation team arrested one person on an outstanding deportation order. The others were apparently swept up in the raid, suspected of being in the country without permission. Grenier declined to say how many warrants agents were trying to serve. "It was a routine operation by a fugitive operation team," she said.

Jason McGahan, a member of Stop the Raids, a Trinity College-based group, said the latest raid in Hartford "drives home that we have to mobilize in response to these attacks if we are going to protect the immigrant community. Otherwise they are sure to continue." Raids by ICE fugitive operation teams in New Haven in June led to public demonstrations, as well as aggressive legal challenges by a team of law professors and students from the Jerome N. Frank Legal Services Organization at the Yale Law School. [Hartford Courant 11/3/07]

On Oct. 31, at a Connecticut state Freedom of Information (FOI) Commission hearing in Hartford, Commissioner Vincent Russo took testimony on whether state police should be ordered to make public all the records they have in their possession on a June 6 ICE raid in New Haven in which 29 people were arrested on immigration violations. Lawyers representing two advocacy groups are seeking the state police records to determine whether ICE acted unconstitutionally by entering homes without consent or civil warrants or by racially profiling those arrested.

At the hearing, several partially redacted emails were released to the lawyers, including an Apr. 30 email from an ICE employee to state police detective Carmine Verno about an ICE operation planned for May 2 in New Haven. "I know you guys usually work nights, but if you're interested we'd love to have you! We have 18 addresses--so it should be a fun time!! Let me know if you guys can play!!" said the ICE official. "Sounds great!" Verno wrote back, saying he would run it by his bosses. The date was later pushed back to June 6; in the end, four state police officers participated. None of the emails referred to any suspected criminal activity by those targeted.

"It sounds like a bunch of cowboys decided to get a posse together, and the feds wanted to give the state police the opportunity to take part in the roundup," said Justin Cox, a student intern at Jerome N. Frank Legal Services. The law clinic is representing 21 of the 29 people arrested in the June 6 raid. [New Haven Register 10/31/07, 11/1/07]


On Oct. 14, federal and local agents carried out a massive raid on Roosevelt Avenue, the main commercial strip of the heavily immigrant neighborhood of Jackson Heights in northern Queens, New York City. While the operation was supposedly targeting individuals accused of involvement in a fraudulent document ring, Spanish-language news reports cited witnesses saying that dozens of immigrants--possibly as many as 100--who had nothing to do with the fake IDs were also swept up in the raid. Witness Rodrigo Arce told the Spanish-language television news channel Telemundo that agents used plastic netting to trap people who were standing there talking or passing by. "They were asking people to show documents," he said. (Telemundo 47 10/16/07) Rosario Ruiz, an employee of a Colombian bakery, said she witnessed "more than 100 arrests." Ruiz confirmed that people who just happened to be walking on the crowded avenue that Sunday afternoon were among those arrested. According to Ruiz, "Of those arrested, and there were a lot, 80% were Mexicans who were passing by here." [El Diario La Prensa 10/16/07]

Queens District Attorney Richard Brown announced at a press conference on Oct. 16 that the raid was part of an operation targeting suspects involved in the production and sale of fraudulent identity documents. Brown said an inter-agency taskforce was formed in October 2005 after the DA's Counter-Terrorism Unit received information from the Queens Gang Squad of the New York Police Department (NYPD) that fake government documents were being manufactured and sold on Roosevelt Avenue. Brown said the investigation led to the indictment of 41 people on various charges including enterprise corruption, forgery, conspiracy and criminal possession of forgery devices. Of the 41 people indicted, 20 were in custody, said Brown; the remainder were being sought. According to Brown, more than 40 suspects were arrested over the weekend, including the alleged ringleader; he did not say whether the other 20-plus arrestees--those not named in the indictment--were charged with anything. [WABC Eyewitness News (Queens) 10/16/07; Queens Tribune 10/20/07; Queens County District Attorney Press Release 10/16/07]

"Today's indictments are the result of a two-year investigation that included months of court-authorized eavesdropping and video surveillance and thousands of intercepted telephone calls," Brown said in a press release. "During the investigation hundreds of arrests were made of those purchasing fraudulent documents and numerous search warrants were executed resulting in the closure of a number of fraudulent identification mills and the seizure of thousands of completed, semi-completed and blank forged government identification documents." [QCDA Press Release 10/16/07]

Brown said most of the suspects are undocumented residents from Mexico. NYPD Deputy Inspector Robert Boyce claimed that at least 12 of the 41 suspects indicted are members of the M-18, Surenos 13 or Vatos Locos gangs. [Queens Tribune 10/20/07] The investigation involved city and state police, the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles, the Social Security Administration and the state branch of the Secret Service. [Times Ledger (Queens) 10/18/07] Brown also "expressed his appreciation to the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Joint Terrorism Task Force and the US Department of Homeland Security's Office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement for their assistance during the investigation," according to the press release.

Seventeen of the defendants named in the indictment were arraigned on Oct. 15 before Queens Supreme Court Justice Richard Buchter on charges of enterprise corruption, forgery, criminal possession of a forged instrument, criminal possession of forgery devices and conspiracy. Two other defendants were arrested in Los Angeles, and a third was arrested in New Jersey. [QCDA Press Release 10/16/07]


On Oct. 31, ICE special agents arrested 23 immigrant workers at the Rock Run Business Park in Joliet, Illinois, just southwest of Chicago, as part of what ICE referred to as "an ongoing criminal worksite enforcement investigation." The 16 men and seven women were employed by ANNA II Inc., a staffing company which provides laborers to various warehouses in the Chicago area. They had been transported to the worksite in Joliet from the heavily Mexican neighborhood of Pilsen on Chicago's south side in three vans. The driver of a fourth van was taken into custody in Des Plaines, northwest of Chicago. ICE agents executed a criminal search warrant the same morning at ANNA II's main offices in Bensenville, Illinois. ICE initiated the investigation into ANNA II in April 2006.

One of those arrested was from the Dominican Republic; the others were from Mexico. All are currently being processed at ICE's Broadview facility and will face deportation proceedings for violating US immigration laws.

During fiscal year 2007, which ended Sept. 30, ICE arrested 863 individuals on criminal charges in worksite investigations, and administratively apprehended another 4,077 unauthorized workers on immigration violations. These arrests have increased significantly when compared to the 160 criminal arrests and 685 administrative arrests ICE made in fiscal year 2004. [ICE News Release 10/31/07]


On Oct. 30, ICE agents entered the worksite of the new National Infantry Museum and Soldier Center at Patriot Park, next to the army base at Fort Benning in Columbus, Georgia, and checked the IDs of all workers. ICE spokesperson Richard Rocha said 27 Mexicans and three Guatemalans were arrested on immigration violations. All 30 were transported to the ICE detention center in Stewart County, said Rocha, and will be processed for deportation.

Cyndy Cerbin, a spokesperson for the National Infantry Foundation, a private group building the museum, referred all questions to contractor Batson-Cook Co. Eddie Sanders, on-site project manager for Batson-Cook, said his company is cooperating with ICE, and that the arrested workers were employed by a number of subcontractors on the site. "Batson-Cook follows all the federal and state laws on hiring of personnel," Sanders said. "We expect our subcontractors to follow those laws, as well."

The $85 million museum dedicated to infantry history will replace the current museum, which is in the middle of Fort Benning and is run by the army. Last Jan. 17, ICE arrested 24 unauthorized contract workers at the Fort Benning base as they arrived there to work on a barracks project [see INB 2/10/07]. [Atlanta Journal-Constitution 11/1/07]

The latest raid comes just a few weeks before thousands of protesters descend on Fort Benning Nov. 16-18 to demand the closure of the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), a combat training school for Latin American soldiers. The institution was formerly known as the School of the Americas; the annual November protests are organized by School of the Americas Watch, a grassroots organization based in Washington.


On Oct. 27, New York governor Eliot Spitzer joined Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff in announcing that New York state will alter a plan Spitzer announced on Sept. 21 which would have allowed immigrants to get driver's licenses without having to provide a social security number or proof of legal residency [see INB 9/30/07]. Instead, New York will create a three-tiered license system: an enhanced license for residents of northern and western areas of the state which can be used instead of a passport to cross the border into Canada; a license which meets the new federal standards of the Real ID Act and will only be available to citizens or legal permanent residents; and a license available to anyone who does not want to pay the extra fee for a federally approved license or who cannot provide the necessary documents--including out-of-status immigrants. This third type of license will be marked with the phrase "not for US government purposes" and will not be valid for boarding airplanes. To get this category of license, applicants will have to present a valid passport from any country and proof that they reside in New York state. [Newsday 10/28/07; Washington Post 10/28/07 from AP]

"I don't endorse giving licenses to people who are not here legally," said Chertoff, "but federal law does allow states to make that choice." [WP 10/28/07 from AP] Spitzer said long, collegial conversations with Chertoff over several weeks led to the policy change. Spitzer said he has known Chertoff for more than 10 years, since he went to Harvard Law School with Chertoff's wife. [Newsday 10/29/07 from AP]

New York is the fourth state to agree to the secure licenses as established by the Real ID Act, after Arizona, Vermont and Washington-- all border states. New and tighter rules are soon to go into effect for border crossings. [WP 10/28/07 from AP] Real ID is expected to be phased in by 2013. After that, federal agencies that now allow standard state-issued licenses for identification will require the Real ID or other federally accepted identification, like a passport, for boarding a plane. [New York Times 10/28/07]

Immigrant advocates blasted the compromise deal. Spitzer's move "is a lose-lose political decision that betrays his most ardent supporters and emboldens the anti-immigrant opposition," said Chung-Wa Hong of the New York Immigration Coalition. "Public safety for all is not possible when we carve out a million people to be outside of the public safety rules or stigmatize them as second-class residents marked by a Scarlet Letter." (Newsday 10/28/07) "He's now embracing and letting his good name be used to promote something that has been widely known in the immigrant community as one of the most anti-immigrant pieces of legislation to come out of Congress," Hong added, referring to the Real ID Act. [NYT 10/28/07]


On Oct. 23, more than 20 agents from ICE and the FBI raided the Quality Inn & Suites and the Hampton Inn in Brattleboro, Vermont, arresting 13 out-of-status workers. Ten of the workers were being detained pending removal hearings; three were released with orders to appear for immigration hearings at a later date. Federal agents were assisted in the raids by Brattleboro police and Windham County Sheriff deputies; Brattleboro police arrested a Brazilian national at one of the hotels for possession of amphetamines.

In addition to arresting the workers, federal agents arrested Canadian citizen Gurdeep Nagra, president of the Nanak Hotel Group, which owns the two hotels. Nagra was taken to US District Court in Burlington where he pleaded not guilty to charges of employing and harboring unauthorized immigrants and lying to authorities. According to an ICE news release, many workers at the hotels were "employed by a shell company created by Nagra to avoid detection by immigration officials." ICE says Nagra was arrested on immigration charges in 1992 when he was using the name Gurdeep Singh. He then apparently changed his name legally and applied for admission to the US under the new name. [Brattleboro Reformer 10/24/07; ICE News Release 10/23/07]


In El Paso, Texas, about 30 activists marked Day of the Dead on Nov. 1 by hanging 450 white wooden crosses on the border fence along the American Canal, where at least 15 people drowned this year trying to enter the US. Some crosses held the names of dead migrants, while others were blank to represent those who have not been identified. The event was organized by the Border Network for Human Rights, an El Paso-based grassroots group that keeps track of migrant deaths. According to the Border Network, 371 migrants died this year on the US-Mexico border, including 25 in El Paso and New Mexico. Border Patrol officials in El Paso recorded 27 deaths in this sector.

Later in the evening on Nov. 1, community members gathered at the Chamizal National Memorial for a candlelight vigil in the memory of migrants who died. "This is the day that we mourn our dead and demand a change in the policies that caused those deaths," said Fernando Garcia, executive director of the Border Network. Garcia pointed out that migrant deaths increased after 1993, when new border policies forced migrants away from urban areas into more remote and riskier crossing areas. The crosses were scheduled to stay up until Nov. 3. [El Paso Times 11/1/07]

The Human Rights Coalition, an Arizona immigrant rights group, documented 237 deaths along the Arizona-Mexico border between Oct. 1, 2006 and Sept. 30, 2007. The figures exceed the previous fiscal year, when 205 bodies were recovered. The totals represent the number of deaths reported by coroners in Pima, Yuma and Cochise counties over the federal fiscal year. At least 51 of the migrants who died in Arizona were women. The Human Rights Coalition compiled the data with the help of Arizona authorities, multiple foreign consulates and the Binational Migration Institute. The Border Patrol reported 186 migrant deaths in Arizona through August of this year. [ 10/22/07]


Immigrant rights groups and the ACLU say authorities have created a climate of intimidation at evacuation centers set up to help people displaced by wildfires in southern California. As wildfires forced the evacuation of hundreds of thousands of people, more than 100 Border Patrol agents were deployed to help evacuate homes, operate checkpoints, guard against looters and assist at evacuation shelters. At an assistance center set up at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego, a Border Patrol communications vehicle provided key logistics support and uniformed Border Patrol agents were visibly present. "Having people at evacuation sites in Border Patrol uniforms is asinine," said Enrique Morones, president of the Border Angels, an immigrant rights group. The ACLU and other rights groups say immigrants were subjected to racial profiling at Qualcomm and were abused by some volunteers who questioned their legal status. They have also said the city did not go out to migrant camps to tell people to evacuate. [Los Angeles Times 10/28/07]

On Oct. 24, San Diego police arrested an evacuated Mexican family as they tried to leave Qualcomm Stadium. The police handed seven family members--four adults with three children ages two, eight and 13--over to Border Patrol agents, who deported them that same evening. Footage of their arrest was replayed numerous times on local television stations.

According to the San Diego office of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), which interviewed the family in Tijuana following their deportation, a volunteer at the evacuation center had called police, claiming that the family was taking more than their share of material aid. At least five police officers responded, aggressively questioned the family, and demanded to know their immigration status. Despite the San Diego Police Department's official policy of not collaborating with the federal immigration agency, officers called the Border Patrol after determining that the family was undocumented. All of the family's belongings--including things they had brought with them, such as the children's backpacks containing personal items--were taken back into Qualcomm Stadium and have not been returned to the family.

The seven members of the family were taken to a Border Patrol facility, where they were processed. From the time of their arrest around 8:30am until their deportation after 7pm, they were not provided with food. The Border Patrol failed to inform the family of their right to consular consultation and phone calls. Two Border Patrol agents insulted the family, calling them thieves and other derogatory names. Consular officials interviewed the family only after they had already signed for voluntary departure. The San Diego AFSC office is coordinating with the local ACLU office in investigating possible civil rights violations. [Update from Pedro Rios, AFSC, 10/26/07]

On Oct. 25 four migrants, two men and two women, were found apparently burned to death in the wildfires in a ravine off state Route 94 in southern San Diego County. Their bodies remain unidentified; authorities suspect they may have crossed into the US shortly before being trapped by the flames. Another 11 suspected undocumented immigrants are among 18 people who have suffered burns from the wildfires and are hospitalized at UCSD Medical Center's burn unit. [San Diego Union Tribune 10/31/07]


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