FAIR Legislative Update June 14, 2010
Mexican Government Outraged by Outcome of Illegal Alien Attack on Border Patrol Agents
A Border Patrol agent shot a Mexican teenager last week after he came under attack by rock-throwing aliens attempting to illegally cross the border into El Paso, Texas. (The New York Times, June 8, 2010). Mexican authorities were quick to condemn the incident, which is being investigated by the FBI, even blaming Arizona’s new immigration enforcement law, though it has not yet taken effect. Id. But American officials described the shooting as an act of self-defense. According to the FBI, several agents encountered a group of suspected illegal aliens entering the United States. After two suspects were arrested, the others fled just across the border and began throwing rocks at the agents. One agent shouted at the men to “stop and retreat,” but they continued to pummel him with rocks, said Andrea Simmons, a special agent with the FBI in El Paso. (Los Angeles Times, June 9, 2010). He then fired several shots, “striking one subject who later died.” Id.
Hernandez Huereca’s family claims he was not one of the rock-throwers, but simply watching from the sidelines. But it has been reported that he was a known human smuggler who was arrested in 2009 for the same crime he was allegedly engaged in at the time of the shooting, attempting to smuggle aliens into the United States. (Examiner, June 11, 2010). Moreover, the teen was also on the most wanted list of juvenile smugglers in the El Paso area. Id. A source told Fox News that “He is a known juvenile smuggler.” (Fox News, June 9, 2010).
Such encounters are not uncommon, as Border Patrol agents face hundreds of rock attacks during its patrols in this high-crime area. United States Customs and Border Protection spokesman Mark Qualia described the severity of these incidents, “There’s a misperception people have that we’re having pebbles thrown at us. They are stones the size of baseballs in some cases or half a brick. You can’t take this lightly.” (The New York Times, June 8, 2010). As agents were trying to investigate the scene just after the shooting, Mexican federal police pointed rifles at them and chased them out of the area as a crowd on the Mexican side of the border taunted the U.S. officials and threw rocks and firecrackers. (Associated Press, June 11, 2010).
Mexican Foreign Minister Patricia Espinsa said, “We firmly repudiate and reject the violent actions by U.S. authorities in the last few days that have led to the deaths of Mexican citizens." (Los Angeles Times, June 9, 2010). Mexican President Felipe Calderon sated, "The government of Mexico will use all means available to protect the rights of Mexican migrants. Mexico also rejects the use of disproportionate force by U.S. immigration authorities along the border." Id. Some Mexican politicians have even suggested that the agent be extradited to face Mexican justice. (Associated Press, June 11, 2010). However, Border Patrol agents are allowed to use lethal force against rock-throwers. Id.
This marks the second death of a Mexican national during an altercation with the U.S. Border Patrol in the last two weeks, and the Mexican government has accused agents of using excessive force. (Los Angeles Times, June 9, 2010). The other incident occurred after border agents shot a 42-year-old man with a Taser stun gun at the border crossing between San Diego and Tijuana. He was being deported when he became combative and resisted, wrestling two agents to the ground after they removed his handcuffs. The San Diego County medical examiner’s office ruled his death a homicide but also found “acute methamphetamine intoxication.” Id. The cause of death was determined to be a heart attack, with methamphetamine abuse and hypertension listed as contributing factors. (Associated Press, June 2, 2010). Hernandez was previously deported on May 25, but was arrested by Border Patrol after illegally reentering the United States. Id.
Mexican President Calderon postured, “We are worried by this surge of violence against Mexicans,” but made no mention of the 1,000 plus assaults against Border Patrol agents in each of the last two years in the area where the shooting occurred. (Associated Press, June 11, 2010; Los Angeles Times, June 9, 2010).
Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and a private prison contractor have agreed to make a number of changes at nine privately owned facilities used to detain deportable aliens. According to ICE officials, the changes – which include offering art classes, bingo and continental breakfast to “low-risk” detainees – are part of the Obama administration’s previously announced efforts “to make the immigrant detention system less penal and more humane.” (Houston Chronicle, June 8, 2010; Examiner.com, June 10, 2010; Kansas City Star, June 10, 2010; See also FAIR’s Legislative Update, October 13, 2009).
The forthcoming changes at the nine facilities were revealed in a May 27 ICE e-mail. They include:
- “Relaxing security” by allowing “[l]ow-risk detainees” to have “freedom of movement” in the facilities and by “reducing” pat-down searches;
- Eliminating “lock downs” and “lights out”;
- Allowing detainees “to have visitors stay as long as they like within a 12-hour window”;
- Increasing “attorney visitation space”;
- Adding “un-monitored phone lines” and giving detainees “email and free, Internet-based calling”;
- Providing unit managers who “will be available to take complaints directly from detainees”;
- Allowing detainees “to wear their own clothing or other non-penal attire”;
- Providing detainees “at least four hours of recreation daily…in a natural setting, allowing for robust aerobic exercise” ;
- Offering “movie nights, bingo, arts and crafts, dance and cooking classes, tutoring, and computer training”;
- “[S]oftening the look” of the facilities “with hanging plants” and “fresh paint and new bedding”; and
- Providing detainees with “more variety in their dining hall menus”, including “self-serve beverage and fresh vegetable bars.” (Houston Chronicle, June 8, 2010).
According to ICE official Beth Gibson, some of the changes to the detention system for illegal aliens will be in place within 30 days, while others may take up to six months to implement. Gibson sounded a positive note on the decision to relax existing detention standards: “When people come to our custody, we’re detaining them to effect their removal. It’s about deportation. It’s not about punishing people for a crime they committed.” (Id.).
ICE union leaders, however, have criticized the changes. Tre Rebstock, president of an ICE union in the Houston area, said that the changes would create “an all-inclusive resort” for detainees. Rebstock added that the changes would jeopardize the safety of ICE agents, facility guards, and the detainees themselves. Pointing specifically to the plans to relax restrictions on the movement of detainees, reduce pat-down searches, and eliminate lockdowns, Rebstock stated: “Our biggest concern is that someone is going to get hurt.” ICE official Gibson attempted to downplay concerns about relaxing security measures, noting that “[a]s a general matter, it will be the non-criminals who don’t present a danger to anyone else who are benefitting from the lowest level of custody.” However, Rebstock acknowledged that some detainees may be classified as low-risk because they have no serious criminal history, but could still be gang members who simply “haven’t been caught doing anything wrong yet.” (Id.).
Rebstock also lamented the fact that American taxpayers would be footing the bill for the changes: “My grandparents would have loved to have bingo night and a dance class at the retirement home they were in when they passed away, but that was something we would have had to pay for. And yet these guys are getting it on the taxpayers’ dime.” ICE official Gibson countered that a private contractor would fund the changes at no additional cost to the feds. (Id.).
ICE’s actions caught the attention of lawmakers on Capitol Hill, including Senator Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), who sent a letter to Assistant Secretary for ICE John Morton. Expressing “serious concerns” about the changes, Grassley stated: “Giving illegal aliens access to computer training and tutoring, as well as dance lessons, cooking classes and movie nights, will only encourage illegal aliens to ignore the law and take more risks to defraud our immigration system.” Grassley went on: “[T]axpayers would be very disappointed if the reports are true since they are financing detention and removal efforts. Expanding taxpayer dollars to give illegal aliens access to bingo, dance lessons, and the internet is a slap in the face to hardworking Americans who foot the bill. It’s even more frustrating given that so many Americans are unemployed and looking for work while illegal aliens are getting free tutoring and computer classes to advance their own lives.” (Grassley Letter to John Morton, June 11, 2010).
A sheriff in New Orleans, Louisiana has asked Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to investigate reports that illegal aliens have been hired to work on the British Petroleum (BP) oil spill cleanup effort. (Associated Press, June 9, 2010). St. Bernard Parish Sheriff Jack A. Stephens says “We’re not worried about people who want to earn an honest buck. But from the beginning we have been concerned about criminal elements coming into this area with the intention of establishing criminal enterprises.” (St. Bernard Sheriff's Office News Release, June 10, 2010). ICE spokesman Brian Hale said the agency has not conducted any worksite enforcement at the request of local officials and has not made any arrests, but later reports state that federal immigration agents visited Louisiana oil spill command centers to check workers’ immigration status. (ColorLines Magazine, June 9, 2010).
Sheriff Stephens is concerned that the situation will escalate as it did in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, when criminals posing as immigrant workers flooded into the area. Stephens wants to avoid such a scenario, stating, “We’re concerned illegal aliens with criminal records represent a danger to our parish.” (St. Bernard Sheriff's Office News Release, June 10, 2010). The Sheriff’s Office set up checkpoints throughout the areas affected by the oil spill and has been working with law enforcement agencies from throughout coastal Louisiana on a credentialing system for employees of BP subcontractors being sent in for clean-up efforts. Although BP is responsible for ensuring its subcontracting employees undergo background checks to look for criminal records, Stephens asked ICE weeks ago to provide assistance “because that agency has the resources to find out whether someone might have criminal records in other countries or gang affiliations.” Id.
On Tuesday, June 8, the Pennsylvania House of Representatives passed two bills that would require many employers in the state to use E-Verify – the online, electronically operated system that allows employers to confirm that their new hires have presented information establishing legal authorization to work in the United States. (MyFoxPhilly.com). Both bills were introduced by State Rep. John Galloway (D-Bucks County): House Bill (HB) 1502 would require all state contractors to use E-Verify, while HB1503 would require private employers in the “construction industry” to use the program.
Both bills passed the House by overwhelming 188 – 6 votes. Frank Sirianni, president of the Pennsylvania State Building and Construction Trades Council, expressed support for Rep. Galloway’s proposals. Galloway himself stated: “These bills target contractors who cheat – who use and abuse a cheap, illegal work force for profit. These bills stand up for decent, hardworking Pennsylvanians who play by the rules and are begging for our help.” (Patriot-News, June 9, 2010). However, the notorious anti-enforcement American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has expressed opposition to the proposals. (ACLU Press Release, June 8, 2010). The bills will now move to the Pennsylvania Senate, where they face a crowded legislative calendar. State Senate officials have indicated that the state budget, transportation funding, and pension reform are the chamber’s current priorities. (Patriot-News, June 9, 2010).
On Wednesday, June 9, the Georgia State Board of Regents approved two measures aimed at ensuring that illegal alien students do not receive in-state tuition rates when attending Georgia state colleges. The Regents’ actions came in response to a wave of controversy that was set off across the state when it was discovered that Jessica Colotl, a Kennesaw State University Student, was an illegal alien receiving the in-state tuition rate. Illegal aliens are allowed to attend public post-secondary institutions in Georgia, but they are required to pay out-of-state tuition rates. (Atlanta Journal Constitution, June 9, 2010).
The two measures approved by the Board of Regents will (1) prevent any state university president from granting in-state tuition waivers to illegal alien students and (2) require Georgia state colleges to review all of their students admitted for the fall semester “to determine whether any [illegal alien] students are receiving, or about to receive, a state, local, or federal benefit prohibited by federal or state law.” (University System of Georgia Press Release, June 9, 2010) The Board also established a new committee of regents and college presidents that will “explore how best to check residency and citizenship of all students who apply to the state’s 35 colleges and universities.” The committee will report its recommendations to the rest of the Board by October of this year. (WRCBTV, June 9, 2010).