The Shameless Exploitation of A Tragedy In San Francisco

 

Crossposted from Medium

Photo Credit: NDLON

Photo Credit: NDLON

The tragic death of Kate Steinle in San Francisco, allegedly at the hands of an undocumented immigrant, has conservatives gleefully trying to vilify all immigrants as criminals, and liberal politicians scrambling for cover by trying to roll back hard-fought local sanctuary city protections that keep immigrant families together.

The mainstream media is leaving virtually no stone unturned in trying to turn Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, the alleged shooter, into the new Willie Horton even while all facts suggest that the fatal shooting was unintentional, and that sanctuary city policies have little to do with why Juan Lopez was still living in the United States even after being deported five times.

ICE could have deported Juan Carlos while he was in federal custody without any sort of removal proceedings; instead the agency turned him over to San Francisco to senselessly prosecute a 20 year old drug offense.

No one seems to be talking about the fact that the zealous desire to prosecute individuals for decades old low-level drug offenses seems to have played a large part in how the alleged shooter was transferred from federal ICE custody to officials in San Francisco.

News reports indicate that Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez had been deported previously five times. That made it easy to reinstate a previous order of removal and deport him from the United States after he had served his last sentence, and as everyone knows, ICE deports mothers, fathers and children quite easily even when they have a right to stay in the United States. However, instead of removing him to Mexico after 46 months in federal custody, the Bureau of Prisons reportedly turned him over to San Francisco to prosecute him for a 1995 low-level drug offense.

At a time when most jurisdictions are increasingly moving away from prosecuting low-level drug offenses, and even the federal government has indicated a desire to bury the war on drugs, it is mind-boggling that Juan was handed over to San Francisco for a 1995 outstanding charge for marijuana. It comes as no surprise that a local court dismissed the outstanding charge against Sanchez, and he was released from custody.

The shooting seems to lack premeditation.

Juan Lopez does not have a record of violent behavior. At worst, his extensive list of felonies for low-level drug offenses means he seemed to have a problem with drug addiction and abuse. Juan Lopez professes to have found a gun, registered to a federal agent, and accidentally shooting at the victim in this case, probably while he was under the influence. There is absolutely no record of violent crimes, let alone gun-related crimes, in his record. So there is no reason to doubt what he has confessed thus far — that the fatal shooting was an accident.

Why are politicians so bent on using this tragedy as a way to punish all San Franciscans by blowing it out of proportion? It’s easier to vilify and lay blame for a tragedy than find compassion and closure to move forward. If the best case against sanctuary cities and no detainer policies is that people can accidentally find guns on public park benches and fire them just as easily, perhaps those decrying such policies should focus their efforts elsewhere.

Which leads me to my next point: Why is it so easy to find and shoot a gun?

While records are still hazy, we know for a fact that the gun used in the shooting did not belong to Juan Lopez. It is registered to a federal agent with the Bureau of Land Management. How did Juan Lopez manage to get his hands on the gun belonging to a federal agent, and pull the trigger?

If was an accident like he claims, anyone, legally here or not, could have committed it, and it is wholly irrelevant that San Francisco has a sanctuary city policy. Instead of asking why Juan Lopez is still in the country, perhaps we should be asking why it is so easy to own, and fire a gun?

Handing Juan Carlos to ICE without a warrant would have exposed San Francisco to civil liabilities

A federal government request to detain an individual is not a judicial warrant, and carries no mandatory legal authority. Federal judges have actually found such ICE detainers to be unconstitutional. San Francisco Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi has stated that he would have given Juan Carlos back to ICE if it had issued a warrant to detain him. The jurisdiction would be liable if it honored a faxed request or phone call to detain Sanchez for longer than necessary, rather than judicial warrant to hold him, so San Francisco was legally obligated to release him.

Given that Juan Carlos had no record of violent crime convictions, his subsequent release and implication in a fatal shooting was hardly foreseeable.

This policy of abiding by the spirit and letter of the law, has little to do with the fact that San Francisco is a sanctuary city where immigrant families can live safely. Many jurisdictions, conservative or liberal, are increasingly afraid to abide by ICE detainers, because it would subject them to lawsuits.

Quite often, when wrongly accused and likened to criminals in the mainstream media, our knee-jerk reaction is to show study after study that says immigrants commit less crimes than our U.S. born counterparts.

Now let me be clear that the numbers do seem to suggest that the number of immigrants and crime rates are inversely related. But this analysis throws incarcerated black men under the bus, rather than question the myriad of ways in which black and brown people are turned into criminals. The share of non-citizens who make up defendants in the federal criminal system has grown disproportionately in the past decade.

Many of the convictions levied against Juan Lopez were for low level drug offenses and illegal re-entry. Criminal convictions for re-entrying the country without authorization to be with our family members, or making a false claim to citizenship in order to provide a home for our children or loitering on public street corners in order to find a job, is turning immigrants into criminals faster than we can proclaim that not all immigrants are not criminals. Moreover, citizenship status is now the most salient factor in determining sentencing outcomes in criminal court. We may not be behind bars at the rates that black men are incarcerated, but we do get punished more harshly than our U.S.-born counterparts by virtue of our immigration status.

Perhaps advocacy efforts and resources should go towards reversing these troubling trends, and questioning how immigration enforcement continues to mine a questionable criminal justice system for people to deport, rather than making anti-black proclamations decrying immigrant criminality, and blowing a tragedy out of proportion in order to score cheap political points.

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ICE Releases Woefully Inadequate Transgender Guidance

Crossposted from Medium – Advancing Justice | AAJC

Photo Credit: NDLON

Photo Credit: NDLON

Responding to grassroots pressure from advocates, and mounting criticismfrom congressional leaders such as Mike Honda (D-Calif.), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) unveiled an 18-page memorandum for the care of transgender immigrants in detention this week.

While these guidelines are a step in the right direction and long overdue, it’s still not enough and here’s why:

1. Detention of vulnerable immigrants is inherently inhumane: The new guidance does nothing to move us away from the prolonged detention of transgender individuals, the vast majority of whom are asylum seekers who have already faced persecution in their home countries, only to be subjected to further pain and suffering at the hands of ICE. Detaining asylum seekers is inhumane, re-traumatizes some of the most vulnerable immigrants and it is contrary to our laws when detention is used as a form of deterrence to dissuade people from coming to the United States. Advocates have repeatedly called on Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials to release such detainees once they have proven that their fear of persecution is credible. Officials should act to end the practice of detaining such individuals, as there is no mending it.

2. The new guidance provides inadequate care and housing options: The guidance continues to allow practices that have been denounced as inhumane, such as administrative segregation, ‘protective custody’ and isolated pods for transgender detainees. ICE detains 75 transgender immigrants on average, which is less than one percent of the detainee population, but over 20 percent of sexual assault cases in immigrant detention involve a transgender survivor. Alternative housing practices havefailed to protect transgender immigrants in detention from sexual assault and physical abuse in the past, and should not be used when releasing such detainees on bond or parole is a much more humane and cheaper alternative.

3. No guidelines for the treatment of vulnerable immigrants such as lesbian, gay and bisexual asylum seekers: Many individuals seeking asylum in the United States are detained upon arriving at a port of entry. Many of them, including lesbians, gays and bisexuals, have suffered severe persecution in their home countries. A recent Center for American Progress report shows that ICE routinely detains LGBT immigrants who it knows are at great risk and should not be behind bars. A disproportionate number of undocumented LGBT individuals are Asian American. The new guidelines do nothing to recognize that these individuals, who may have suffered sexual assault and torture in their home countries, remain vulnerable in immigrant detention and should be released.

4. No guidelines for dealing with sexual assault and abuse in detention:Transgender immigrants in ICE custody face extremely harsh conditions such as alarming rates of sexual assault, physical abuse and harassment. While housing them according to their gender identity may reduce some of the violence transgender detainees face, the guidelines provide no mechanism for reporting ongoing violence. Forty percent of sexual assault cases in detention are unreported, and the guidelines contain no mention of how transgender immigrants can report assault, or any measures to protect transgender immigrants from such assault.

5. No enforcement mechanism — The ICE ERO working group that crafted this guidance worked hard to meet with transgender detainees and try to ascertain best practices for the detention of transgender individuals in custody. However, without a grievance mechanism, the guidance may be tough to enforce at all facilities.

We strongly urge the ICE ERO working group to consider alternatives to detention for LGBT and other vulnerable immigrants in detention.

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White House Official Shamed Off the Stage at Annual Conference of Immigration Lawyers

Crossposted at LatinoRebels

White House advisor, Cecilia Muñoz, was met with silence, jabs and jeers, and booed off the stage at the annual American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) conference yesterday.

Several immigration attorneys and advocates who have been at the frontlines of the fight to end the detention of refugee mothers and children stood up in the front of the room with signs declaring ‘Shame’ in response to how the Obama Administration has been treating these refugees.

AILA_Lal

Muñoz took the stage at the annual conference with classic political speech. She praised the audience for their work, touted past achievements of the Administration such as the executive action announcements of November 2014, and deflected criticism onto Republicans. By the end of her speech though, she appeared flustered and frustrated by the constant berating comments from immigration attorneys.

“You’re jailing children!” exclaimed attorney Sheila Starkey, while holding up a photo of a boy with the word “Shame” on it.

Several other attorneys started chanting “End Family Detention” and Muñoz responded by stating that “Not One More” was a catchy slogan, but not an enforcement strategy, and implored advocates to work with the Administration to craft an enforcement strategy.

That seems to have backfired, as Marisa Franco, one of the organizers with the grassroots campaign, later stated in response:

Instead of targeting efforts for justice like Not1More, Muñoz should’ve taken this opportunity to announce an end to immigrant detention. The White House’s job to make immigration policy more humane is far from complete and we will continue to push this administration.

AILAA

It is a bit strange and out of touch for the White House to take cheap political shots at the very campaign that has helped to shape immigration enforcement policy. The comment also indicates that the Administration is not serious about making tangible changes to the enforcement machinery that advocates have been demanding for a while: reducing deportations, ending incarceration of families, restoring due process for asylum seekers, and eliminating the detention of vulnerable populations.

Muñoz should have used the platform provided to her at the annual conference to announce further reforms to the enforcement machinery as listed above. By not doing so, and trying to deflect criticism onto the GOP and grassroots organizers, her speech failed to be anything more than self-serving.

Law360 published a story about yesterday’s event and included a statement from a White House official:

Asked about the protest, a White House official told Law360 in a statement that the Obama administration “regularly seeks out opportunities to engage with attorneys and other stakeholders, including immigrants themselves, about the Department of Homeland Security’s immigration enforcement policies.”

“We continue to engage extensively in assessing the impact of the response to last year’s unprecedented influx of Central American children and families at the Southwest border, and these conversations are always helpful,” the official said. “Engagement with stakeholders plays an important role in informing the administration’s decision-making on these important and complex issues.”

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Pretextual Airport Stops

 

Recently, while traveling from Washington D.C. to sunny Florida, Transportation and Security Administration (TSA) sent me to secondary inspection at the airport. Apparently, my bag had an object that they could not identify.

They asked me to identify the object on the screen and I was baffled. It was deep in my 50 gallon backpack, and I could not remember what I had stuffed at the bottom.

The TSA officer asked me whether I was carrying sea salts. I didn’t know at the time what that meant, so I blurted out that I had been to the beach lately.

She looked at me like I had grown two heads, and asked me whether it could be bath salts. Again, I was confused and told her I had no idea what she meant. And even if I was carrying sea salts or bath salts, what was the problem with carrying salt?

The TSA officer started to unpack my bag, examining each item meticulously. Finally, she got to the bottom of bag and found the offending object:

 

Bananagrams

Bananagrams!

My partner is a bananagrams lover, and I was carrying a brand new bananagrams pack that I had recently bought for her. The TSA officer did not appear amused, and asked me to break the seal. I told her it was a gift for my wife, which was probably not a good idea to blurt out either, but she insisted that I open the bag. So I opened it, and revealed a bunch of new tiles.

At this point, over 20 minutes had elapsed, and we were about to miss our flight. Taking pity on me, she finally packed my bag and let me scamper off to find my flight.

My partner, who is a white woman, had the job of carrying the bananagrams on the way back from Florida. She somehow got through the checkpoint without any trouble.

Pro tip: Give all your oddly shaped items to your white friends to carry at airport checkpoints. Alternatively, stop looking like a queer South Asian boi.

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Filed under Desi, Racism

Validations

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I think this is a powerful quote from poet and artist Nayyrihah Waheed completely validates my immigrant experience. We often speak about the contributions of immigrants to the U.S. but not enough is said about how we actually get treated once we have sacrificed everything to be here. It almost makes the sacrifices not worth it. I personally don’t think it is a fair exchange, but others who have fled persecution in their home countries, and found sanctuary here, feel differently.

What does this evoke for you?

P.S. If you haven’t already, I highly recommend reading salt, milk and honey and anything else that Nayyrihah Waheed has put out in the world for us to heal.

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Filed under Quote of the Week

Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice

I recently joined the board of directors at the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice. My growing concern for the lack of philanthropic efforts to address the needs of queer people of color was the prime impetus behind this decision.

I can proudly say that I am drawn to Astraea because as a public foundation, Astraea helps to fund the grassroots work of organizations such as Black Lives Matter and many queer POC groups, who are at the forefront of movement-building and social change in the United States. I am also thrilled at the opportunity to be part of a foundation that is defining lesbian feminism in the most inclusive terms, and advancing global LGBT human rights without advancing colonialism.

I am truly glad to have added it as an organization that goes in my yearly giving portfolio, and hope that many more of my friends and followers can do the same. As a public foundation with a 4/4 Charity Navigator rating, you’ll get the maximum bang for your buck.

Check out our work and let me know if you’ve any questions about the organization!

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Lessons from Traveling Abroad

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You just received a green card, or advance parole, and want to travel internationally?

First of all, congratulations are in order!

If this is your first time traveling abroad in a while, here are some things you should do or bring before your trip.

SAFETY PRECAUTIONS

1. Obtain a money belt that straps to your body to store your cash, passport and valuables.

2. Carry travel insurance if your regular health insurance doesn’t cover you while abroad. Travel insurance is also useful if your baggage is lost or delayed, and provides reimbursement on prepaid reservations if your trip is canceled, interrupted or delayed.

3. Make a copy of your passport, and leave it in the safety of your attorney or a friend.

4. Register with your country’s embassy. If there is a problem in the country while you are traveling abroad, this would make it easier for the embassy to contact you, and get you out of harm’s way.

5. Do not forget to renew your prescriptions, and take some over the counter medications with you. For example, I do not travel abroad without my allergy medication, regular pain killers, and antibiotics.

FINANCIAL

6. Call your bank provider and place travel alerts on your credit and debit cards. You do not want the bank to think there is fraud on your account while you are traveling abroad, and then lock your account as a precautionary measure.

7. Carry several types of currency: local cash, traveller’s cheques, some U.S. dollars to convert if you spot a deal, credit cards that have no foreign transaction fees abroad, debit cards to withdraw money from an ATM without fees or have the fees reimbursed such as Charles Schwab. Also, you can get cash advance from your Discover Card while traveling.

8. Check the country’s entrance/exit fees. Some countries require travelers to pay in order to enter or leave the country. These fees are not included in the price of your airline ticket, and can range from $25 to $200.

9. Buy some local currency before you head out: You can also ask your local U.S. bank for some foreign currency, but note that they do not usually give you the best conversion rates. Research the best conversion rate for the country you are visiting, and convert your currency there.

COMMUNICATION

10. Get a phone or data plan that works internationally. You do not want to be stuck with those hefty AT&T or Verizon bills. If you want to be incommunicado, look into shutting off your data roaming, and use Viber abroad in case you do need to reach your family or your attorney.

11. Do not forget a power strip and plug adapter. You will need these while traveling, and in many countries, your electronics would need an international friendly adapter to work.

16. Use an app such as Tripit to organize your travel. I travel frequently and Tripit is my to-go app for storing my flight information, and itinerary. It also helps your friends and family figure out where you are on any given day (if you invite them to view your travel plans).

TRAVEL DOCUMENTS

12. If you plan to travel a lot, you may want to invest in Global Entry to avoid long lines at airports and have TSA precheck privilege. Better yet, some credit cards provide a reimbursement for this fee, so you may want to look into this.

13. Visiting a foreign country may be as easy as going to Canada and flashing your green card. But some countries, such as Australia, may require you to obtain a visa, even though you have a green card or advance parole. Check the visa requirements of the countries you plan to visit ahead of time, so you can get all your ducks in a row.

14. Layovers: Layovers offer a great way to see several countries on one trip, but need to be planned accordingly. If you have long layovers in countries other than your final destination, you should find out whether you can get a transit pass or require a visa to explore those countries.

The materials available at this web site are for informational purposes only and not for the purpose of providing legal advice. You should contact your attorney to obtain advice with respect to any particular issue or problem. Use of and access to this Web site or any of the e-mail links contained within the site do not create an attorney-client relationship between Prerna Lal, and the user.

 

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