Two anti-immigrant bills are on tomorrow's legislative committee agenda: One by Sen. Stacey Campfield and Rep. Mike Sparks is an English-only driver's license measure. It would eliminate translations of driving exams, sending a decidedly unwelcome message to the international community and hindering the operations of major state employers such as Volkswagen.
Another by Sen. Bill Ketron and Rep. Rick Womick requires the Tennessee Office of Refugees to reimburse the state for the cost of a refugee child's public education.
"Whether a child is from Arkansas or Somalia, educating children is an investment in our state, not a burden," says the refugee rights coalition's Eben Cathey in a message to supporters. "In a mean-spirited effort to pit vulnerable communities against each other, the sponsors of this bill included a provision to give the money they take from refugees to persons with disabilities. "
According to a report released today by the ACLU of Tennessee titled Consequences & Costs: Lessons Learned from Davidson County, Tennessee’s Jail Model 287(g) Program [PDF], the Davidson County Sheriff's Office's implementation of the federal 287(g) program encouraged racial profiling and spread fear among Nashville's immigrant Latino community, in addition to wasting resources on detaining primarily minor traffic offenders — a common refrain from activists and other critics of the controversial program since its inception.
Although Sheriff Daron Hall effectively ended the widely unpopular immigrant detention and deportation program in October under the pretense that it was a victim of its own success, the ACLU-TN report finds that its harmful legacy continues to reverberate in Nashville and beyond.
"This program has been sold as an effective mechanism to deport dangerous criminals and make Nashville safer," the report's author, Lindsay Kee, said in a prepared statement. "Yet, our data indicates that of the nearly 10,000 individuals deported under 287(g), most had been arrested for minor violations. When you look at arrests of foreign-born people during 287(g)’s implementation, the percentage of arrests for the most dangerous crimes actually decreased.”
In the wake of the report, ACLU-TN urged the sheriffs of Rutherford and Knox Counties to rescind their pending applications to the program, and joined with its parent organization and 161 other organizations in writing a letter [PDF] to the Department of Homeland Security to terminate the program nationwide.
Some key findings from the report:
Reeling from President Barack Obama's re-election last week, those Republicans not still stuck in Stage 1 have been rapidly evolving on the issue of immigration and how to treat the millions of undocumented immigrants living in the country.
Today, TNReport reports that Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey appears to be among them. In fact, the proud new owner of a supermajority in the state Senate says (after the jump) the party needs to "reassess" the difficult, if not non-existent, path to citizenship that lies ahead of new immigrants.
In this week's dead-tree edition of the Scene, I tag along on a door-knocking trip with the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition and catch up with Mercedes Gonzalez, the undocumented Overton High graduate who became the local face of the DREAM Act fight when she was arrested last year.
"I'm here," Gonzalez, now 20, tells the Scene after recalling the ordeal. "And it's thanks to the immigrant voice that I'm here. And I want to give help and thanks back to the community. Supporting voting and making their voices heard."
According to the Migration Policy Institute, Tennessee's foreign-born population increased by 81.8 percent from 2000 to 2010, making it the third fastest growing immigrant population in the country. The 2010 American Community Survey found that 96,905, or around 33.5 percent, of Tennessee's foreign-born residents are U.S. citizens. Teatro points out that many within the immigrant community, however, are legal permanent residents who are eligible for citizenship.
Teatro tells the Scene that TIRRC hopes to have facilitated the naturalization of approximately 150 people by the end of the year through their periodic Citizenship Assistance Workshops, the fourth of which will be held Nov. 10. They also devoted much of the fall to a voter registration campaign. But with this year's election fast approaching, they have undertaken to make contact with those foreign-born citizens who are registered to vote, and implore them to exercise that right.
Toward that end they have sent two mail pieces and robocalls to more than 7,000 registered immigrant voters. But Teatro says they know face-to-face contact is most effective, particularly with newly registered or low-propensity voters. So they've pored over the rolls to identify registered immigrant voters who might be less likely to vote — those for whom this would be their first election, or those who are not consistent voters. To reach them, they've enlisted undocumented youth volunteers like Gonzalez to bring the message to their doors.
The volunteers risk a life-changing traffic stop just by driving to such events. But they say it's worth the effort if it gets immigrant voters to participate in a way they can't yet.
Those efforts weren't just directed at residents answering their doors, either. In an earlier conversation, when asked if I had voted yet, I shared that, given my job, I'd be abstaining from voting. And on the car ride back to the TIRRC offices, and as I went to leave, Gonzalez even turned the hard sell on me.
Last we told you of the plight of Lesther Chavarria, the 21-year-old who was facing deportation at the hands of Immigration and Customs Enforcement despite promises from the Obama Administration that he, just like millions of other young, foreign-born Americans who entered the country illegally as children, would be granted a path to citizenship as a young adult.
Pith has received word from the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coaltion that the proceedings against Chavarria have ended.
"On Wednesday, June 20, the Nashville DHS office told Lesther Chavarria that he would be deported even though he meets the requirements for the new policy, blatantly disregarding President Obama’s announcement," says Amelia Post, spokeswoman for TIRRC. "After public outcry from around the country, Lesther’s deportation was stopped for now. While we are very happy that Lesther will be able to stay with his family, we remain deeply concerned about how many other people are in Lesther’s situation."
ICE officials could not comment directly on the matter.
Click through the jump to read a statement prepared by Chavarria for Pith.
Despite President Obama's promises to halt the deportation of young illegal immigrants who've lived in the country so long as to be virtually indistinguishable from "Real 'Mericans" (aka DREAMers) and to provide them with a path to lawful citizenship, it seems that in one case in Tennessee, Immigration and Customs Enforcement has engaged in a game of chicken with the administration on the issue, putting one man's life in the balance.
A petition on the website DreamActivist.org details the story of Lesther Chavarria, a 21-year-old Nicaragua-born man who's called Tennessee his home for a decade, and who plans to join the Air Force or enroll in medical school. Although his age and circumstances firmly cover him under the June 15 memo issued by ICE's parent, the Department of Homeland Security, to cease fucking with people like Mr. Chavvaria, the petition states otherwise:
We, the undersigned, write to request that you take immediate action to stop the deportation of DREAM Act student Lesther Chavarria.
On September 2010, Lesther was pulled over by a police officer for driving with a broken tail light. Two months later, a police officer went to his house and arrested him for missing a court date. Thirty minutes into booking, Lesther found out ICE had placed a hold on him and he now faces deportation on June 27, 2012.
Less than 24 hours after his temper tantrum aimed at the Dean Administration, Davidson County Sheriff Daron Hall (recently named one of the worst local politicians in the nation regarding matters of immigration) found his office in the crosshairs of a protest aimed at DCSO's pet 287(g) immigrant detention program.
Late this morning, a group of nearly 100 Hispanic-Americans, immigrants and their children gathered in the narthex of the Downtown Presbyterian Church to protest the family-rending, rights-shredding effects of DSCO's 287(g) program, in advance of a march that culminated on the steps of the Tennessee Supreme Court, where oral arguments are currently underway to determine the fate of Metro government's interpretation of the highly contentious detention program. The rally and march were organized by the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition and the Migrant Women's Committee.
Twenty-year-old Amelio Moreno, a Nashville resident who was detained under 287(g) last year due to suspected racial profiling, criticized the program's effect on his family as his mother stood next to him at the lectern, clutching his shoulder.
"My heart tore to pieces when I heard my little sisters crying" when he called home from jail, Moreno said. "This program is failing, and it's just destroying our families."
T.S. Eliot's poem "The Hollow Men" famously concludes, "This is the way the world ends/Not with a bang, but a whimper." Judging by media reports across the country, it appears that the federal government's agreement with local law enforcement that lets some immigration enforcement take place at a local level may also be concluding with a whimper.
Back on Feb. 8, the online Maryland community news site Gazette.com quoted Frederick County Sheriff Charles Jenkins on whether the controversial 287(g) program was being "softened" at the federal level:
“This is nothing more than national politics at work, a lot of smoke and mirrors,” Jenkins said. “[President Barack] Obama is pandering to the Latino community. I don’t think there will be wholesale change, and I don’t think [287(g)] will go away.”
But on Monday, Feb. 13, word spread in the immigration community that 287(g) was fading away. According to these reports, no new task force agreements will be made, the least effective agreements will end, and the rest of the agreements will be phased out and replaced by the new "Secure Communities" program.
The House Judiciary Subcommittee today will be considering a bill that makes driving an undocumented immigrant passenger a felony. How someone driving a car, cab, church van, limo, or horse-drawn carriage is supposed to tell if their passengers are here legally, I'm not really sure. Will all drivers have access to ICE-led training sessions that allow us to identify proper documentation when we see it?
In a press release, Stephen Fotopulos, executive director of the Tennessee Immigrant & Refugee Rights Coalition, says, "The last thing we want is to put Tennessee on a black list of states that treat all immigrants and international visitors with suspicion. If our legislators continue down this road, they’ll be steering our state into an economic ditch."
Did he say "international visitors?" Oh, yeah. Turns out that at the same time the state legislature is considering turning us all into immigration officers, state and local tourism officials are all excited about new efforts to lure foreign visitors to Nashville. From The Tennessean:
International tourists like the Clearys helped the hall set an attendance record of 507,510 last year, but they remain a rare sight in Nashville and Tennessee overall.
Now, local, state, regional and national tourism officials — with an assist from President Barack Obama — are embarking on efforts to lure more foreign tourists, especially from fast-growing countries such as Brazil, China and India.
But HB2191 says you can't transport anyone you "know or reasonably should know is an illegal alien."
"All illegals and descendants of illegals are here ILLEGALLY and must be DEPORTED at once."
—Patriots for Self-Deportation, in the About Us section of their recently launched website SelfDeport.org.
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