A just-released letter to President Barack Obama endorsed by a diverse group of 521 civil rights, legal and cultural organizations -- including the ACLU, the ADL, MALDEF, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, and the Episcopal Church -- calls on the president to "immediately terminate the 287(g) program operated by the Department of Homeland Security."
Signed by Marielena Hincapie, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, the missive denounces the controversial program, which turns beat cops into immigration agents. It notes that "local law enforcement agencies that have been granted 287(g) powers are using the program to target communities of color, including disproportionate numbers of Latinos in particular places, for arrest." And it claims that "racial profiling and other civil rights abuses" by 287(g)-empowered authorities have "compromised public safety, while doing nothing to solve the immigration crisis."
The letter finds DHS director Janet Napolitano's recent announcement expanding the program to be "deeply alarming," and cites a March 2009 GAO report criticizing "program mismanagement and insufficient oversight." It offers as one example of the program's failure the Department of Justice's ongoing investigation into the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office for civil rights abuses.
Currently, Sheriff Joe Arpaio can boast of having over 160 287(g)-trained officers, the largest such force in the nation. And he uses them however he sees fit, employing them for the sort of immigration worksite raids no longer commonly used by DHS.
Obama's own concerns about racial profiling, expressed shortly after the incident involving the arrest of his friend, Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates, are used against him in the letter.
"We applaud your recent remarks acknowledging that, `there is a long history in this country of African-Americans and Latinos being stopped by law enforcement disproportionately,'" reads the correspondence, which has already been delivered to the White House. "However, DHS's continued use of the 287(g) program exacerbates exactly this type of racial profiling."
I commented on the same high-level hypocrisy in a blog post following the president's comments on the Gates case in July.
Asked why she and these other organizations were acting now, Hincapie explained that the letter was, in part, a response to last week's White House immigration summit, where both Napolitano and Obama reaffirmed the administration's commitment to the spread of the 287(g) program.
"It comes on the heels of a statement made by President Obama last week at this meeting held at the White House," explained Hincapie. "I was present at that meeting, and President Obama and Secretary Napolitano both reiterated that although they were well aware of the criticism of the 287(g) program, that the administration was still committed to its expansion."
Hincapie stated that Napolitano's previous announcement back on July 10 regarding 287(g)'s expansion "really hit a nerve" in the immigrant rights and civil rights communities. Napolitano's declaration came after congressional hearings into 287(g) in April, as well as the release of independent studies criticizing the program, and concerns by law enforcement over 287(g)'s impact.
"There was just so much more hope for change with the Obama administration," said Hincapie of the near universal disappointment on the left concerning the administration's 287(g) stance.
The coalition signing off on the letter mixes both familiar groups with those less familiar, everything from the National Council of La Raza, the National Day Labor Organizing Network, the National Black Police Association, People for the American Way, the Colombian American Cultural Society, the Ms. Foundation for Women, the Gray Panthers (no kidding), the Ruckus Society (a lefty direct-action organization), the Young Democratic Socialists, and the pro-immigrant Irish Apostolate USA.
(You can see a full list of the groups involved and the letter itself, here. I'm guessing far right talk-radio wing-nuts like Glenn Beck will have a field day with this roster of liberal orgs. I can already smell that one coming.)
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Local groups such as Salvador Reza's Puente, the Arizona Advocacy Network, CODEPINK Arizona, Respect/Respeto and others are also listed as supporting the letter. In fact, Reza tells me that tomorrow at 11 a.m., he and other demonstrators will be delivering a copy of the letter to the Phoenix ICE office at 2035 N Central Ave., one of several actions across the country Thursday dropping off the correspondence to ICE offices and police HQs.
Still, Reza wasn't looking for any sudden change of heart from the Obama administration on 287(g).
"The letter represents serious organizations," said Reza. "the Obama administration has to at least listen to it. But I'm not hopeful they're going to change anything immediately...Knowing Napolitano, I know she's not going to back down. She's just going to keep going on. A letter is not as strong as 521 demonstrations around the country."
Sadly, Obama and Napolitano will not relinquish their vicious, inhumane "interior enforcement" policy against immigrants until the pressure on them to ditch the program intensifies to an unbearable threshold. This letter, at least, is a start in that direction.