Tuesday, March 25, 2008

PRA: One Raid at a Time: How Immigrant Crackdowns Build the National Security State

Political Research Associates



One Raid at a Time:

How Immigrant Crackdowns Build the National Security State


By Roberto Lovato

Roberto Lovato is a New York-based writer with New America Media and a member of The Public Eye editorial board.


“He [King George] has erected a multitude of new offices and set hither swarms of officers to harass out people and eat out their subsistence.”    The Declaration of Independence, 1776

I. Building Up the Domestic Security Apparatus

Most explanations of the relentless pursuit of undocumented immigrants since 9/11 view it as a response to the continuing pressures of angry, mostly white, citizens. The “anti-immigrant climate” created by civic groups like the Minutemen, politicos like (name the Republican candidate of your choice) and media personalities like CNN’s Lou Dobbs, we are told, has led directly to the massive – and growing – government bureaucracy for policing immigrants.

The Washington Post, for example, told us in 2006 that “The Minutemen rose to prominence last year when they began organizing armed citizen patrols along the U.S.-Mexico border, a move credited with helping to ignite the debate that has dominated Washington in recent months.”

Along the way to allegedly responding to “grassroots” calls about “real immigration reform” and “doing something about illegals,” the Bush Administration dismantled  the former Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) and created the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency, whose more than 15,000 employees and $5.6 billion budget make it the largest investigative component of the Department of Homeland Security and the second largest investigative agency in the federal government after the FBI.2 In the process of restructuring, national security concerns regarding threats from external terrorist enemies got mixed in with domestic concerns about immigrant “invaders” denounced by a growing galaxy of anti-immigrant interests.

Implicit in daily media reports about “immigration reform” is the idea that bottom-up pressure led to the decision to dismantle the former INS and then place the immigration bureaucracy under the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Citizen activism contributed significantly to the most massive, most important government restructuring since the end of World War II. Nor do press accounts mention Boeing and other aerospace and surveillance companies, which, for example, will benefit as government contractors to the federal Secure Border Initiative (SBI) that is scheduled to receive more than $2 billion in funding for fencing, electronic surveillance and other equipment required for the new physical and virtual fence being built at the border.3

Nowhere in the more popular explanations of this historic and massive government restructuring of immigration and other government functions do the raisons d’etat – the reasons of the state, the logic of government – enter the picture. When talking about immigration reform, what little, if any, agency ascribed to the Bush Administration usually includes such mantra-like phrases like “protecting the homeland,” “securing the border,” and others.  And even in the immigrant rights community few, for example, are asking why the Bush Administration decided to move the citizenship processing and immigration enforcement functions of government from the more domestic, policing-oriented Department of Justice (DOJ) to the more militarized, anti-terrorist bureaucracy of the Department of Homeland Security.

Little, if any, consideration is given to the possibility that immigrants and immigration policy serve other interests that have nothing to do with chasing down maids, poultry workers, and landscapers.

Failure to consider the reasons of state behind the buildup leading to the birth of the ICE, the most militarized branch of the federal government after the Pentagon, leaves the analysis of, and political action around, immigration reform partial at best. While important, focusing on the electoral workings of the white voter excludes a fundamental part of the immigration bureaucracy equation: how immigrants provide the rationale for the expansion of government policing bureaucracy in times of political crisis, economic distress, and major geopolitical shifts. Shortly after the attacks and the creation of DHS, the Bush Administration used immigrants and fear of outsiders to tighten border restrictions, pass repressive laws and increase budgets to put more drones, weapons and troops inside the country.

Government actions since 9/11 point clearly to how the U.S. government has set up a new Pentagon-like bureaucracy to fight a new kind of protracted domestic war against a new kind of domestic enemy – undocumented immigrants. While willing to believe that there were ulterior motives behind the Iraq war and the pursuit of al Qaeda, few consider that there are non-immigration-related motives behind ICE’s al Qaeda-ization of immigrants and immigration policy: multi-billion dollar contracts to military-industrial companies like Boeing, General Electric and Halliburton for “virtual” border walls, migrant detention centers, drones, ground-based sensors, and other surveillance technology for use in the Arizona desert that were originally designed for war zones like the deserts of Iraq; the de-facto militarization of immigration policy through the deployment of 6,000 additional National Guard troops to the U.S.-Mexico border4; hundreds of raids in neighborhoods and workplaces across the country; the passage of hundreds of punitive, anti-migrant state and federal laws like the Military Commissions Act5, which denies the habeas corpus rights of even legal residents who are suspected of providing "material support" to terrorist groups.

In the same way that private companies like the Pinkerton Detective Agency provided highly profitable policing, surveillance, and other government services targeting immigrants and citizens in the 20th century, companies like Halliburton, Blackwater, the Corrections Corporation of America, Boeing, and others are reaping profits by helping build the government’s immigrant policing bureaucracy today.

Contrary to the electoral logic prevailing in “pro-immigrant” and mainstream media explanations of the current buildup of the (anti)immigrant government bureaucracy, ICE’s war on immigrants is not solely, nor even primarily about shoring up support for the Republicans and other prowar political and economic interests as most analysts and activists would have us believe. A look at precedents for this kind of government anti-immigrant action yields the conclusion that using immigrants to build up government policing and military capabilities is, in fact, a standard practice of the art of statecraft. The historical record provides ample evidence of how national security experts, politicians, elected officials, bureaucrats and other managers of the state have used immigrants and anti-immigrant sentiments and policies as a way of normalizing and advancing militarization within the borders of the United States (the “homeland”).

At a time when the mortgage and banking crises make obvious that the American Dream is dying for most, a time in which even its illusion is hardly tenable as revealed in polls that found that less than 18 percent of the U.S. population believes it is living the “American Dream,”6 the state needs many reasons to reassert control over an increasingly unruly populace by putting more ICE agents and other gun-wielding government agents among the citizenry.

Focusing on non-citizens makes it easier for citizens to swallow the increased domestic militarism inherent in increasing numbers of uniformed men and women with guns in their midst. Constant reports of raids on the homes of the undocumented immigrants normalize the idea of government intrusion into the homes of legal residents. Political scientists, investigative journalists, and activists have long reminded us of how elites are constantly concerned with creating the structures that may be needed to control a potentially unruly population, especially one protesting for its rights like the millions of immigrants who marched in 2006.

History and present experience remind us that, in times of heightened (and often exaggerated) fears about national security, immigration and immigrants are no longer just wedge issues in electoral politics; they magically morph into “dangerous” others who fill the need for new, domestic enemies required by an economy, a political system, a citizenry, a country created, nurtured and dependent on civilizational warfare and expansionism. Historians write about the geopolitical contours of the U.S. empire that began with the stealing of Mexican land. But little to no attention is paid to how, today, the domestic contours of empire – and the infrastructure that supports it – are also being reinforced by targeting Mexicans and other immigrants actually living inside this now very troubled land.

The ICE’s media and policy framing of the issue of immigration as a kind of “war” complete with “most wanted” lists7 of terrorists, drug traffickers, and immigrants like Elvira Arellano8, the undocumented immigrant leader deported after seeking and gaining sanctuary in a Chicago church, follows clearly the directives outlined in a couple of critical documents developed just after 9/11.

II A Key Moment After 9/11

In order to understand how and why ICE now constitutes an important part of the ascendant national security bureaucracy, we must first look at the intimate relationship between National Security policy and "Homeland Security" policy. One of the defining aspects of immigration policy and the current attacks on immigrants is the fact that they are being shaped by elite priorities of the post-9/11 climate.

Shortly after 9/11, the Bush Administration had, in July 2002, introduced its "National Strategy for Homeland Security," a document that outlines how to "mobilize and organize our Nation to secure the U.S. homeland from terrorist attacks."9 Two months later, the Bush Administration released the more geopolitically focused "National Security Strategy of the United States of America," whose purpose is to "help make the world not just safer but better."10 9/11 provided the impetus to create a bureaucratic and policy environment dominated by security imperatives laid out in two of the most definitive documents of our time, documents which outline strategies that, we are told, "together take precedence over all other national strategies, programs, and plans,"11 including immigration policy. Immigration policy nonetheless receives considerable attention, especially in the Homeland Security Strategy. The role of the private sector is also made explicit on the DHS website, which says, “The Department of Homeland Security is responsible for assessing the nation's vulnerabilities” and that “the private sector is central to this task.”12

By placing other government functions under the purview of the national security imperatives laid out in the two documents, the Bush Administration enabled and deepened the militarization of government bureaucracies like the ICE. At the same time, immigrants provided the Bush Administration a way to facilitate the transference of public wealth to military industrial interests like those of Halliburton, Boeing and others through government contracts in a kind of Homeland Security Keynesianism.

For example the two documents called for DHS to “Establish a national laboratory for homeland security” that solicits “independent and private analysis for science.”13 This materialized through the budget of ICE, which has resources for research and development of technologies for surveilling, capturing, detaining, and generally combating what politicos and Minutemen alike paint as the Malthusian monster of immigration. Again, immigrants help the state justify massive expenditures like those for the creation and maintenance of ICE, which, in turn, have led to a major reconfiguration and expansion of the state itself.

Perennial complaints of the former INS's infamous inefficiency in both its border enforcement and citizenship processing functions, and the 9/11 catastrophe, combined to create the perfect political storm that swept in another historic bureaucratic shift. Hidden behind what some call the “anti-immigrant hysteria” characterizing periods like ours are the political crises, economic earthquakes and geopolitical crises that drive history.

III The Lessons of History

History provides several precedents that illustrate how immigrants have consistently provided elite political and corporate interests the rationale for major government restructuring that often has little to do with migration and much to do with other things, things like: bureaucratic patronage (think big government contracts for military industrial firms); deploying and displaying power; controlling the populace and rallying different sectors of society round the idea of the nation (nationalism).

Long before the Patriot Act, DHS and ICE, policies linking immigrants to the security of the country have formed an important part of U.S. statecraft.  The period before and after the passage of the Alien and Sedition Acts of 179814, which gave then-president John Adams the authority to remove any immigrant he deemed a threat to national security, is one example. During this time, the Bush-like enumeration of “Seditious Acts” was linked to the elite need to control the populace, and militarize the society in times of profound instability. Another example is the period of the Red Scare of 1919, when millions of mostly-immigrant-led strikers provided the political impetus leading to the creation of the domestic policing bureaucracy known as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).15

History has shown that, in times of extraordinary instability, governments go to extraordinary lengths and spend extraordinary amounts of money to create and reinforce the ramparts of their policing apparatus and of nationhood itself. Current efforts by the U.S. government to instrumentalize immigrants as a means of buttressing itself in times of domestic and geopolitical crisis follows a logic tried and true since the establishment of the country amidst the global and internal turbulence around the turn of the 18th century.

IV Immigrants and the Establishment of the National Security State

Like many of the newly established countries suffering some of the political and economic shocks of economic and political modernization in the late eighteenth century, the fledgling United States and its leaders needed to simultaneously consolidate the nation state established constitutionally in 1787 while also maneuvering for a position on a global map dominated by the warring powers of France and England. Central to accomplishing this were immigrants who provided both a means of rallying and aligning segments of the populace while also legitimating massive expenditures towards the construction of the militarized bureaucracies meant to defend against domestic threats to “national” security which linked external enemies real and perceived.

At the turn of the 18th century, the United States was much weaker than and still very vulnerable to the power of Britain and France, which were engaged in a war that defined political positions inside and outside the new country. Like many of their elite and more imperially inclined Federalist peers, Alexander Hamilton and President John Adams were fearful of the French revolution. Developments in the revolutionary republic pushed people and states around the Atlantic world to take positions for and against the revolution at that time. In addition, some Federalists like Hamilton also wanted to push out the French and conquer Florida, Louisiana, and South America.16

Immigrants and immigration policy of the post-revolutionary period became ensnared in the battle for power between Federalists, who advocated a more urban and mercantile route to nationhood, and the anti-Federalist Republicans led by Thomas Jefferson, whose romantic proto-capitalist path to consolidation of the nation was paved by agrarian expansion. The battles between the Federalists and anti-Federalists played themselves out in relation to France and the ideals of the French revolution, as elites tried to cope with the instability wrought by capitalist expansion on the rural majority.

The political, economic and geopolitical crises inherent in the modernization process had a profound impact on how elites and the state viewed the large immigrant population in the United States. In response to the devastating effects of economic transformation, thousands of French, German, Irish and other immigrants led uprisings like the Whiskey Rebellion and Shay’s Rebellion, which were viewed as threats by elites, especially the Federalists.

In the face of both popular unrest and Republican competition for political power, and in their efforts to consolidate the state and the globally oriented mercantile and pre-industrial capitalist economy, Hamilton and then-President Adams did what has, since their time, become a standard operating procedure in the art of U.S. statecraft: build the state and insert its control apparatus in the larger populace by scapegoating immigrants as threats to national security.

In the words of historian John Morton Smith, "The internal security program adopted by the Federalists during the Administration of John Adams was designed not only to deal with potential dangers from foreign invasion growing out of the "Half War" with France, but also to repress domestic political opposition."17 In this context, immigrants became the domestic expression of the threat represented by the French Jacobins, the proto-communist and al Qaeda-like subversive threat of the early nineteenth century. Commenting on this threat, Samuel Sitgreaves, a Federalist Congressman from Pennsylvania, made the connection between internal immigrant threats and external big power threats when he said in May 1798 “….the business of defence would be very imperfectly done, if Congress confined their operations of defence to land and naval forces, and neglected to destroy the cankerworm which is corroding the heart of the country…there are a great number of aliens in this country from that nation [France] with whom we have at present alarming differences….there are emissaries amongst us, who have not only fomented our differences with that country, but who have also endeavored to create divisions amongst our own citizens."18

Also considered a threat were the free and unfree blacks who elites feared might form a "domestic army of ten thousand blacks." Other fears of subversion by domestic interests linked to external enemies were stoked by rampant rumors of a French-influenced “Illuminati” conspiracy, an “internal invasion” to create a godless, global "new world order" allegedly led by emigrants from France and St. Domingue. The modern use of the word “terror” first enters the language when Sir Edmund Burke gazed across the English Channel and applied it to the actions of the Jacobin state in France. Burke’s conservative American cousins then adopted the term and applied it to French-influenced immigrants and others considered subversive.19

Such a climate aided Federalists in their efforts to centralize and consolidate both power and nationhood. Hamilton and then-President John Adams undertook several legal and other institutional initiatives designed to enhance their and the state’s power while also putting their Republican critics and other opposition in check. Laws facilitating press censorship were coupled with calls to unify the nation in preparation for war with France. After Hamilton and the Federalists raised taxes to pay for their expansionist expenditures to consolidate their version of the new country, a group of people who refused to pay taxes unleashed Fries' Rebellion. In response, Adams, Hamilton and the Federalists seized on the unrest to unleash heretofore unrealized state powers and nation-reinforcing state bureaucracy.20 At the core of the moves was the infamous Alien and Sedition Acts proposed by Adams and passed in 1798. The law targeted the immigrant threat by making it easier to put them in jail for subverting the government.

At the same time that they passed the Alien and Sedition Acts, Adams, Hamilton and the Federalists also implemented the first major reorganization of government bureaucracy. Central to this reorganization was the establishment of the Department of the Navy, a revived U.S. Marine Corps and a "New Army" in the 1798. In the same session in which it passed the Alien and Sedition acts, the Federalist-dominated fifth congress passed in its first session a bill authorizing $454,000 on defense, which, at that time represented a large expenditure. During its second session it authorized $3,887,971.81, an amount equal to "more than the entire 1rst congress had appropriated for all government expenditures". During its third session it authorized $6 million for a total of over $10 million.21

The end result of the anti-immigrant expenditures? Federalists created what some call the first national security state.

V Immigrants, the Red Scare, and the Birth of the FBI Bureaucracy

A similar situation in which a crisis sparking immigrant activism led to a major build-up of the government policing apparatus took place during the Red Scare of 1919. The U.S. government faced several economic and political pressures including the end of World War I, the demobilization of the Army, returning troops, joblessness, depression, unemployment and growing inflation.

The precarious situation gave rise to increased elite fear of Jewish, Italian and other immigrant workers in the era of the Bolshevik revolution and an increasingly powerful –and militant – labor movement. Socialists, Wobblies, and other activists like Emma Goldman, who were against the war and demonstrated high levels of labor militancy, staged historic labor actions in 1919. That year saw 3,600 labor strikes involving four million workers, many of whom were led by and were immigrants. Government and big business had to watch as a full one-fifth of the manufacturing workforce staged actions.22 Massive organizing by Jamaican immigrant Marcus Garvey’s United Negro Improvement Association and race riots in northern cities further stoked elite fears and gave birth to the institutional response to what became known as the Red Scare.

Like other national governments of the period, the United States had begun intensifying the centralization of functions formerly carried out by the private sector, including keeping labor and other dissidents in check. In the words of Regin Schmidt, author of The FBI and the Origins of  Anti-Communism in the United States, “In response to social problems caused by industrialization, urbanization and immigration and the potential political threats to the existing order posed by the Socialist Party, the IWW and, in 1919, the Communist parties, industrial and political leaders began to look to the federal government, with its growing and powerful bureaucratic organizations to monitor and control political opposition.”23

Major expansion of the state via the building of new bureaucracies (Bureau of Corporations, Department of Labor, Federal Trade Commission, etc.) and bureaucratic infighting for government resources and legal jurisdiction between the Bureau of Investigation, the precursor of the FBI, the Department of Labor and other agencies turned the largely immigrant-led unrest into an unprecedented opportunity for A. Mitchell Palmer and his lieutenant, J. Edgar Hoover. Both men saw in the domestic crisis an opportunity to build and expand personal fortunes and what would eventually become the Federal Bureau of Investigation. FBI historian John A. Noakes concluded that “The domestic unrest during this period presented the Bureau of Investigation the opportunity to expand its domain and increase its power.”24

Illustrating the budgetary effects of the Bureau’s power grab, he continues, “Following the armistice, but before the Bureau’s decision to join the Red Scare hysteria, the Bureau had requested an appropriation of $1,500,000. When the Department of Justice declared the nation in imminent danger of a radical uprising, however, Congress immediately increased the appropriation by $500,000; by the end of the fiscal year the Bureau had a budget of $2,750,000.”25

Thousands of immigrants were surveilled, rounded up, and deported during the Red Scare. Just five years after the Scare, Hoover went on to found the FBI and became the most powerful non-elected official in U.S. history. In what sounds like a precursor to the current ICE raids, local police and federal agents collaborated around immigration. FBI historian Kenneth D. Ackerman states, “Backed by local police and volunteer vigilantes, federal agents hit in dozens of cities and arrested more than 10,000 suspected communists and fellow travelers. They burst into homes, classrooms and meeting halls, seizing everyone in sight, breaking doors and heads with abandon. The agents ignored legal niceties such as search warrants or arrest warrants. They questioned suspects in secret, imposed prohibitive bail and kept them locked up for months in foul, overcrowded, makeshift prisons.” Close to none of these immigrant prisoners had anything to do with radical violence. And, according to Ackerman, “Palmer's grand crackdown was one big exercise in guilt by association, based primarily on bogus fears of immigrants being connected to vilified radical groups such as the recently formed American Communist Party.” Drawing parallels between the Red Scare and the current “War on Terror,” Ackerman concludes, “Almost 90 years later, today's war on terror exists in an echo chamber of the 1919 Red scare.”26

VI Conclusion

As shown in the examples from U.S. history, immigrants provide the state with ample excuse to expand, especially in times of geopolitical and domestic crisis. During the post-revolutionary period, the pursuit of alleged immigrant subversives led to the massive funding of the Department of the Navy and to the expansion of state power through laws like the Alien and Seditions Acts. Similarly, the crisis following then end of World War I led to the creation of the FBI and to unprecedented government repression and expansion embodied by the Palmer Raids. “In eliminating the Wobblies, government officials passed legislation, evolved techniques, and learned lessons that shaped later course of conduct.”27 Viewed from a historical perspective, it is no surprise that the government should respond to the geopolitical and domestic crisis in the United States with expanded government power and bureaucracy.  Rather than view the placement of ICE under DHS as solely about controlling immigrant labor or about political (and electoral) opportunism disguised as government policy (both are, in fact, part of the equation), it is important to connect the creation of ICE and its placement under DHS to the perpetual drive of government to expand its powers, especially its repressive apparatus and other mechanisms of social control.

From this perspective, the current framing of the issue of immigration as a “national security” concern – one requiring the bureaucratic shift towards “Homeland Security” – fits well within historical practices that extend government power to control not just immigrants, but those born here, most of whom don’t see immigration policy affecting them.

One of the things that makes the current politico-bureaucratic moment different, however, is the fluidity and increasing precariousness of the state itself. Like other nation states, the United States suffers from strains wrought by the free hand of global corporations that have abandoned large segments of its workforce. Such a situation necessitates the institutionalization of the war on immigrants in order to get as many armed government agents into a society that may be teetering on even more serious collapse as seen in the recession and economic crisis devastating core components of the American Dream such as education, healthcare and home ownership. Unlike the previous periods, the creation of massive bureaucracies superseded the need to surveil, arrest and deport migrants. Today, there appears to be a move to make permanent the capacity of the state to pursue, jail and deport migrants in order to sustain what some call a kind of migration-military-industrial complex.28

Several indicators make clear that we are well on our way to making the war on immigrants a permanent feature of a government in crisis. In addition to being the largest, most-militarized component of DHS, ICE, spends more than one fifth of the multibillion dollar DHS budget and is also its largest investigative arm. As mentioned previously, multibillion dollar contracts for border security from DHS have become an important new market to aerospace companies like General Electric, Lockheed and Boeing, which secured a $2.5 billion contract for the Secure Borders Initiative, a DHS program to build surveillance and other technological capabilities.29  That some saw in 9/11 an opportunity to expand and grow government technological capabilities - and private sector patronage – through such contracts, can bee seen in the fact that DHS was created with what the national security documents say is a priority to “Establish a national laboratory for homeland security” that would “solicit independent and private analysis for science and technology research.”30

Like its predecessor, the “military-industrial complex”, the migrant-military industrial complex  tries to integrate federal and state economic interests through a kind of Homeland Security Keynesianism in which increasing numbers of companies are bidding for, and dependent on, big contracts like the Boeing contract or the $385 million DHS contract for the construction of immigrant prisons.31 Also like its military-industrial cousin, the migrant military industrial complex has its own web of relationships between corporations, government contracts and elected officials. Nowhere is this connection clearer than in the case of James Sensenbrenner, the anti-immigrant godfather who sponsored HR 4437 which criminalized immigrants and those who would help them.32 According to his 2005 financial disclosure statement, Sensenbrenner held $86,500 in Halliburton stocks, $563,536 in General Electric and Boeing is among the top contributors to the Congressman’s PAC (Sensenbrenner also owns stocks in companies like Olive Garden restaurants, which hire undocumented workers.)33

In conclusion, the current war on immigrants is grounded in the history of statecraft and big government bureaucracy. While critical, the almost exclusive focus of the immigrant rights movement on the laws and employment of workers fails to take into consideration the need for a war on immigrants to build and maintain massive policing bureaucracies like ICE and DHS. In their search for solutions to the continuing crisis of immigration policy, activists might consider focusing at least some energy on the reasons of the federal state rather than solely on state legislatures, white voters, elections and the immigrants.


  1. Alec MacGillis, “Minutemen Assail Amnesty Idea,” Washington Post, May 13, 2006
  2. “SPECIAL REPORT: Homeland Security Appropriations for FY 2005 (House & Senate) and California Implications,” The California Institute for Federal Policy Research, September 16, 2004
  3. “DHS Announces $12.14 Billion for Border Security & Immigration Enforcement Efforts,” Department for Homeland Security, January 31, 2008
  4. “Militarizing the Border: Bush Calls for 6,000 National Guard Troops to Deploy to U.S. – Mexican Border,” Democracy Now, May 16, 2006
  5. Wikipedia profile of Military Commissions Act of 2006
  6. “The American Dream Survey 2006,” Lake Partners Research, August 28, 2006
  7. “ICE Most Wanted Fugitives,” U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Accessed March 19, 2008
  8. N.C. Aizenman and Spencer S. Hsu, “Activist's Arrest Highlights Key Immigrant Issue,” Washington Post, August 21, 2007
  9. “National Strategy for Homeland Security,” Office of Homeland Security, July, 2002
  10. “The National Security Strategy of the United States of America,” The White House, September, 2002
  11. “National Strategy for Homeland Security”
  12. “Information Sharing and Analysis” The Department of Homeland Security, Accessed March 19, 2008
  13. “National Strategy for Homeland Security”
  14. Wikipedia profile of Alien and Sedition Acts
  15. Regin Schmidt, Red Scare: FBI and the Origins of Anticommunism in the United States, (Copenhagen, Denmark: Museum Tusculanum Press, 2000).
  16. Walter R. Borneman, 1812: The War That Forged a Nation, (New York, NY: Harper Collins, 2004), 13.
  17. John Morton Smith, “President John Adams, Thomas Cooper, and Sedition: A Case Study in Suppression”, The Mississippi Valley Historical Review 42.3 (December, 1955): 438-465
  18. Samuel Sitgreaves, Speech Can be found in Abridgement of the Debates of Congress From 1789 to 1856, (New York, NY: D. Appleton and Company), 253-260
  19. Edmund Burke,Thoughts On The Prospect Of A Regicide Peace: In A Series Of Letters, (Whitefish, MT: Kessinger Publishing, LLC, October 2, 2007,)
  20. Stephen Hartnett, Jennifer Rose Mercieca, “Has Your Courage Rusted? National Security and the Contested Rhetorical Norms of Republicanism in Post-Revolutionary America, 1798-1801,” Rhetoric & Public Affairs 9.1, (Spring 2006), 79-112.
  21. Paul Douglas Newman, Fries’ Rebellion: The Enduring Struggle For The American Revolution, (Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004).
  22. Todd J. Pfannestiel, Rethinking the Red Scare: The Lusk Committee and New York's Crusade against Radicalism, 1919–1923, (New York: Routledge, 2003).
  23. Schmidt, Red Scare: FBI and the Origins of Anticommunism in the United States.
  24. John A. Noakes, “Enforcing Domestic Tranquility: State Building and the Origin of the FBI”, Qualitative Sociology, 18.2, (June, 1995), 271-86.
  25. Noakes, “Enforcing Domestic Tranquility: State Building and the Origin of the FBI”
  26. Kenneth D. Ackerman,Young J. Edgar: Hoover, the Red Scare, and the Assault on Civil Liberties, (New York, NY: Carroll & Graf Publishers, 2007).
  27. William Preston Jr. Aliens and Dissenters: Federal Suppression of Radicals, 1903-1933, (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1994).
  28. Deepa Fernandes, Targeted, National Security and the Business of Immigration, (New York, NY: Seven Stories Press, 2007). 
  29. Martie Cenkci, “At Technology’s Front Line,” Airforce Outreach Program Office Outreach Prospective, 5.4, (Fall-Winter 2006), 10-11
  30. “National Strategy for Homeland Security”
  31. Alexandra Walker, “Sensenbrenner: Immigration Profiteer,” The Real Costs of Prison Weblog, October 5, 2006
  32. Text of H.R. 4437 at The Library of Congress
  33. Roberto Lovato, “Sensenbrenner Under Fire – Does Congressman Profit From Undocumented Labor?,” New America Media, October 6, 2006


Arnoldo Garcia

National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights

Red Nacional Pro Derechos Inmigrantes y Refugiados

310 8th Street Suite 303

Oakland, CA 94607

Tel (510) 465-1984 ext. 305

Fax (510) 465-1885





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Friday, March 21, 2008

Immigrant Rights News - Friday, Mar. 21, 2008

Immigrant Rights News – Friday, Mar. 21, 2008



Visit www.nnirr.blogspot.com for IRN and other National Network posts.


1. The Hays Daily News: “Posthumous citizenship for US troops killed in Iraq brings conflicted feelings for families”



2. New York Times: “An Agent, a Green Card, and a Demand for Sex”



3. San Diego Union-Tribune: “Company wants to build a mega-prison in county”



4. Los Angeles Times: Study highlights language barriers faced in healthcare. Limited English skills of many in L.A. County can impede access to healthcare. Activists say delays, misdiagnoses and unnecessary procedures can result when patients are not provided interpreters.”




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The Hays Daily News


Posthumous citizenship for US troops killed in Iraq brings conflicted feelings for families



Eds: For release anytime. This story is part of a package observing a grim milestone in Iraq war casualties, the 4000th US military death. The package, written to reflect that the toll is slightly below 4,000, will be updated when that number is confirmed.



AP Special Correspondent


A young, ambitious immigrant from Guatemala who dreamed of becoming an architect. A Nigerian medic. A soldier from China who boasted he would one day become an American general. An Indian native whose headstone displays the first Khanda, emblem of the Sikh faith, to appear in Arlington National Cemetery.

These were among more than 100 foreign-born members of the U.S. military who earned American citizenship by dying in Iraq.

Jose Gutierrez was one of the first to fall, killed by friendly fire in the dust of Umm Qasr in the opening hours of the invasion.

In death, the young Marine was showered with honors his family could only have dreamed of in life. His sister was flown in from Guatemala for his memorial service, where a Roman Catholic cardinal presided and top military officials saluted his flag-draped coffin.

And yet, his foster mother agonized as she accompanied his body back for burial in Guatemala City: Why did Jose have to die for America in order to truly belong?

Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles, who oversaw Gutierrez's service, put it differently.

"There is something terribly wrong with our immigration policies if it takes death on the battlefield in order to earn citizenship," Mahony wrote to President Bush in April 2003. He urged the president to grant immediate citizenship to all immigrants who sign up for military service in wartime.

"They should not have to wait until they are brought home in a casket," Mahony said.

But as the war continues, more and more immigrants are becoming citizens in death -- and more and more families are grappling with deeply conflicting feelings about exactly what the honor means.

Gutierrez's citizenship certificate -- dated to his death on March 21, 2003, -- was presented during a memorial service in Lomita, Calif., to Nora Mosquera, who took in the orphaned teen after he had trekked through Central America, hopping freight trains through Mexico before illegally sneaking into the U.S.

"On the one hand I felt that citizenship was too late for him," Mosquera said. "But I also felt grateful and very proud of him. I knew it would open doors for us as a family."

"What use is a piece of paper?" cried Fredelinda Pena after another emotional naturalization ceremony, this one in New York City where her brother's framed citizenship certificate was handed to his distraught mother. Next to her, the infant daughter he had never met dozed in his fiancée's arms.

Cpl. Juan Alcantara, 22, a native of the Dominican Republic was killed Aug. 6, 2007 by an explosive in Baqouba. He was buried by a cardinal and eulogized by a congressman but to his sister, those tributes seemed as hollow as citizenship.

"He can't take the oath from a coffin," she sobbed.

There are tens of thousands of foreign-born members in the U.S. armed forces. Many have been naturalized, but more than 20,000 are not U.S. citizens.

"Green card soldiers," they are often called, and early in the war, Bush signed an executive order making them eligible to apply for citizenship as soon as they enlist. Previously, legal residents in the military had to wait three years.

Since Bush's order, nearly 37,000 soldiers have been naturalized. And 109 who lost their lives have been granted posthumous citizenship.

They are buried with purple hearts and other decorations, and their names are engraved on tombstones in Arlington as well as in Mexico and India and Guatemala.

Among them:

- Marine Cpl. Armando Ariel Gonzalez, 25, who fled Cuba on a raft with his father and brother in 1995 and dreamed of becoming an American firefighter. He was crushed by a refueling tank in southern Iraq on April 14, 2003.

- Army Spc. Justin Onwordi, a 28-year-old Nigerian medic whose heart seemed as big as his smiling 6-foot-4 frame and who left behind a wife and baby boy. He died when his vehicle was blown up in Baghdad on Aug. 2, 2004.

- Army Pfc. Ming Sun, 20, of China who loved the U.S. military so much he planned to make a career out of it, boasting that he would rise to the rank of general. He was killed in a firefight in Ramadi on Jan. 9, 2007.

- Army Spc. Uday Singh, 21, of India, killed when his patrol was attacked in Habbaniyah on Dec.1, 2003. Singh was the first Sikh to die in battle as a U.S. soldier, and it is his headstone at Arlington that displays the Khanda.

- Marine Lance Cpl. Patrick O'Day from Scotland, buried in the California rain as bagpipes played and his 19-year-old pregnant wife told mourners how honored her 20-year-old husband had felt to fight for the country he loved.

"He left us in the most honorable way a man could," Shauna O'Day said at the March 2003 Santa Rosa service. "I'm proud to say my husband is a Marine. I'm proud to say my husband fought for our country. I'm proud to say he is a hero, my hero."

Not all surviving family members feel so sure. Some parents blame themselves for bringing their child to the U.S. in the first place. Others face confusion and resentment when they try to bury their child back home.

At Lance Cpl. Juan Lopez's July 4, 2004, funeral in the central Mexican town of San Luis de la Paz, Mexican soldiers demanded that the U.S. Marine honor guard surrender their arms, even though the rifles were ceremonial. Earlier, the Mexican Defense Department had denied the Marines' request to conduct the traditional 21-gun salute, saying foreign troops were not permitted to bear arms on Mexican soil.

And so mourners, many deeply opposed to the war, witnessed an extraordinary 45-minute standoff that disrupted the funeral even as Lopez's weeping widow was handed his posthumous citizenship by a U.S. embassy official.

The same swirl of conflicting emotions and messages often overshadows the military funerals of posthumous citizens in the U.S.

Smuggled across the Mexican border in his mother's arms when he was 2 months old, Jose Garibay was just 21 when he died in Nasiriyah. The Costa Mesa police department made him an honorary police officer, something he had hoped one day to become. America made him a citizen.

But his mother, Simona Garibay, couldn't conceal her bewilderment and pain. It seemed, she said in interviews after the funeral, that more value was being placed on her son's death than on his life.

Immigrant advocates have similar mixed feelings about military service. Non-citizens cannot become officers or serve in high-security jobs, they note, and yet the benefits of citizenship are regularly pitched by recruiters, and some recruitment programs specifically target colleges and high schools with predominantly Latino students.

"Immigrants are lured into service and then used as political pawns or cannon fodder," said Dan Kesselbrenner, executive director of the National Immigration Project, a program of the National Lawyers Guild. "It is sad thing to see people so desperate to get status in this country that they are prepared to die for it."

Others question whether non-citizens should even be permitted to serve. Mark Krikorian of the conservative Center for Immigration Studies, argues that defending America should be the job of Americans, not non-citizens whose loyalty might be suspect. In granting special benefits, including fast-track citizenship, Krikorian says, there is a danger that soldiering will eventually become yet another job that Americans won't do.

And yet, immigrants have always fought -- and died -- in America's wars.

During the Cvil War, the Union army recruited Irish and German immigrants off the boat. Alfred Rascon, an illegal immigrant from Mexico, received the Medal of Honor for acts of bravery during the Vietnam war. In the 1990s, Gen. John Shalikashvili, born in Poland after his family fled the occupied Republic of Georgia, became chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

After the Iraq invasion, the U.S. Embassy in Mexico fielded hundreds of requests from Mexicans offering to fight in exchange for citizenship. They mistakenly believed that Bush's order also applied to nonresidents.

The right to become an American is not automatic for those who die in combat. Families must formally apply for citizenship within two years of the soldier's death, and not all choose to do so.

"He's Italian, better to leave it like that," Saveria Romeo says of her 23-year-old son, Army Staff Sgt. Vincenzo Romeo who was born in Calabria, died in Iraq and is buried in New Jersey. A miniature Italian flag marks his grave, next to an American one.

"What good would it do?" she says. "It won't bring back my son."

But it would allow her to apply for citizenship for herself, a benefit only recently offered to surviving parents and spouses. Until 2003 posthumous citizenship was granted only through an act of Congress and was purely symbolic. There were no benefits for next of kin.

Romeo says she has no desire to apply. She couldn't bear to benefit in any way from her son's death, she says. And besides, she feels Italian, not American.

Fernando Suarez del Solar just feels angry -- angry at what he considers the futility of a war that claimed his only son, angry at the military recruiters he says courted young Jesus relentlessly even when the family still lived in Tijuana.

His son was just 13, Suarez del Solar said, when he was first dazzled by Marine recruiters in a California mall. For the next two years Jesus begged the family to emigrate and eventually they did, settling in Escondido, Calif., where the teen signed up for the Marines before he left high school.

Lance Cpl. Jesus Suarez Del Solar was 20 when he was killed by a bomb in the first week of the war. He left behind a wife and baby and parents so bitter about his death that they eventually divorced.

Today, his 52-year-old father has become an outspoken peace activist who travels the country organizing anti-war marches, giving speeches and working with counter-recruitment groups to dissuade young Latinos from joining the U.S. military.

"There is nothing in my life now but saving these young people," he says. "It is just something I feel have to do."

But first he had to journey to Iraq. He had to see for himself the dusty stretch of wasteland where his son became an American. In tears, he planted a small wooden cross. And he prayed for his son -- and for all the other immigrants who became citizens in death.



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New York Times


March 21, 2008


An Agent, a Green Card, and a Demand for Sex




No problems so far, the immigration agent told the American citizen and his 22-year-old Colombian wife at her green card interview in December. After he stapled one of their wedding photos to her application for legal permanent residency, he had just one more question: What was her cellphone number?

The calls from the agent started three days later. He hinted, she said, at his power to derail her life and deport her relatives, alluding to a brush she had with the law before her marriage. He summoned her to a private meeting. And at noon on Dec. 21, in a parked car on Queens Boulevard, he named his price — not realizing that she was recording everything on the cellphone in her purse.

“I want sex,” he said on the recording. “One or two times. That’s all. You get your green card. You won’t have to see me anymore.”

She reluctantly agreed to a future meeting. But when she tried to leave his car, he demanded oral sex “now,” to “know that you’re serious.” And despite her protests, she said, he got his way.

The 16-minute recording, which the woman first took to The New York Times and then to the Queens district attorney, suggests the vast power of low-level immigration law enforcers, and a growing desperation on the part of immigrants seeking legal status. The aftermath, which included the arrest of an immigration agent last week, underscores the difficulty and danger of making a complaint, even in the rare case when abuse of power may have been caught on tape.

No one knows how widespread sexual blackmail is, but the case echoes other instances of sexual coercion that have surfaced in recent years, including agents criminally charged in Atlanta, Miami and Santa Ana, Calif. And it raises broader questions about the system’s vulnerability to corruption at a time when millions of noncitizens live in a kind of legal no-man’s land, increasingly fearful of seeking the law’s protection.

The agent arrested last week, Isaac R. Baichu, 46, himself an immigrant from Guyana, handled some 8,000 green card applications during his three years as an adjudicator in the Garden City, N.Y., office of United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, part of the federal Department of Homeland Security. He pleaded not guilty to felony and misdemeanor charges of coercing the young woman to perform oral sex, and of promising to help her secure immigration papers in exchange for further sexual favors. If convicted, he will face up to seven years in prison.

His agency has suspended him with pay, and the inspector general of Homeland Security is reviewing his other cases, a spokesman said Wednesday. Prosecutors, who say they recorded a meeting between Mr. Baichu and the woman on March 11 at which he made similar demands for sex, urge any other victims to come forward.

Money, not sex, is the more common currency of corruption in immigration, but according to Congressional testimony in 2006 by Michael Maxwell, former director of the agency’s internal investigations, more than 3,000 backlogged complaints of employee misconduct had gone uninvestigated for lack of staff, including 528 involving criminal allegations.

The agency says it has tripled its investigative staff since then, and counts only 165 serious complaints pending. But it stopped posting an e-mail address and phone number for such complaints last year, said Jan Lane, chief of security and integrity, because it lacks the staff to cull the thousands of mostly irrelevant messages that resulted. Immigrants, she advised, should report wrongdoing to any law enforcement agency they trust.

The young woman in Queens, whose name is being withheld because the authorities consider her the victim of a sex crime, did not even tell her husband what had happened. Two weeks after the meeting in the car, finding no way to make a confidential complaint to the immigration agency and afraid to go to the police, she and two older female relatives took the recording to The Times.

Reasons to Worry

A slim, shy woman who looks like a teenager, she said she had spent recent months baby-sitting for relatives in Queens, crying over the deaths of her two brothers back in Cali, Colombia, and longing for the right stamp in her passport — one that would let her return to the United States if she visited her family.

She came to the United States on a tourist visa in 2004 and overstayed. When she married an American citizen a year ago, the law allowed her to apply to “adjust” her illegal status. But unless her green card application was approved, she could not visit her parents or her brothers’ graves and then legally re-enter the United States. And if her application was denied, she would face deportation.

She had another reason to be fearful, and not only for herself. About 15 months ago, she said, an acquaintance hired her and two female relatives in New York to carry $12,000 in cash to the bank. The three women, all living in the country illegally, were arrested on the street by customs officers apparently acting on a tip in a money-laundering investigation. After determining that the women had no useful information, the officers released them.

But the closed investigation file had showed up in the computer when she applied for a green card, Mr. Baichu told her in December; until he obtained the file and dealt with it, her application would not be approved. If she defied him, she feared, he could summon immigration enforcement agents to take her relatives to detention.

So instead of calling the police, she turned on the video recorder in her cellphone, put the phone in her purse and walked to meet the agent. Two family members said they watched anxiously from their parked car as she disappeared behind the tinted windows of his red Lexus.

“We were worried that the guy would take off, take her away and do something to her,” the woman’s widowed sister-in-law said in Spanish.

As the recorder captured the agent’s words and a lilting Guyanese accent, he laid out his terms in an easy, almost paternal style. He would not ask too much, he said: sex “once or twice,” visits to his home in the Bronx, perhaps a link to other Colombians who needed his help with their immigration problems.

In shaky English, the woman expressed reluctance, and questioned how she could be sure he would keep his word.

“If I do it, it’s like very hard for me, because I have my husband, and I really fall in love with him,” she said.

The agent insisted that she had to trust him. “I wouldn’t ask you to do something for me if I can’t do something for you, right?” he said, and reasoned, “Nobody going to help you for nothing,” noting that she had no money.

He described himself as the single father of a 10-year-old daughter, telling her, “I need love, too,” and predicting, “You will get to like me because I’m a nice guy.”

Repeatedly, she responded “O.K.,” without conviction. At one point he thanked her for showing up, saying, “I know you feel very scared.”

Finally, she tried to leave. “Let me go because I tell my husband I come home,” she said.

His reply, the recording shows, was a blunt demand for oral sex.

“Right now? No!” she protested. “No, no, right now I can’t.”

He insisted, cajoled, even empathized. “I came from a different country, too,” he said. “I got my green card just like you.”

Then, she said, he grabbed her. During the speechless minute that follows on the recording, she said she yielded to his demand out of fear that he would use his authority against her.

How Much Corruption?

The charges against Mr. Baichu, who became a United States citizen in 1991 and earns roughly $50,000 a year, appear to be part of a larger pattern, according to government records and interviews.

Mr. Maxwell, the immigration agency’s former chief investigator, told Congress in 2006 that internal corruption was “rampant,” and that employees faced constant temptations to commit crime.

“It is only a small step from granting a discretionary waiver of an eligibility rule to asking for a favor or taking a bribe in exchange for granting that waiver,” he contended. “Once an employee learns he can get away with low-level corruption and still advance up the ranks, he or she becomes more brazen.”

Mr. Maxwell’s own deputy, Lloyd W. Miner, 49, of Hyattsville, Md., turned out to be an example. He was sentenced March 7 to a year in prison for inducing a 21-year-old Mongolian woman to stay in the country illegally, and harboring her in his house.

Other cases include that of a 60-year-old immigration adjudicator in Santa Ana, Calif., who was charged with demanding sexual favors from a 29-year-old Vietnamese woman in exchange for approving her citizenship application. The agent, Eddie Romualdo Miranda, was acquitted of a felony sexual battery charge last August, but pleaded guilty to misdemeanor battery and was sentenced to probation.

In Atlanta, another adjudicator, Kelvin R. Owens, was convicted in 2005 of sexually assaulting a 45-year-old woman during her citizenship interview in the federal building, and sentenced to weekends in jail for six months. And a Miami agent of Immigration and Customs Enforcement responsible for transporting a Haitian woman to detention is awaiting trial on charges that he took her to his home and raped her.

“Despite our best efforts there are always people ready to use their position for personal gain or personal pleasure,” said Chris Bentley, a spokesman for Citizenship and Immigration Services. “Our responsibility is to ferret them out.”

When the Queens woman came to The Times with her recording on Jan. 3, she was afraid of retaliation from the agent, and uncertain about making a criminal complaint, though she had an appointment the next day at the Queens district attorney’s office.

She followed through, however, and Carmencita Gutierrez, an assistant district attorney, began monitoring phone calls between the agent and the young woman, a spokesman said. When Mr. Baichu arranged to meet the woman on March 11 at the Flagship Restaurant on Queens Boulevard, investigators were ready.

In the conversation recorded there, according to the criminal complaint, Mr. Baichu told her he expected her to do “just like the last time,” and offered to take her to a garage or the bathroom of a friend’s real estate business so she would be “more comfortable doing it” there.

Mr. Baichu was arrested as he emerged from the diner and headed to his car, wearing much gold and diamond jewelry, prosecutors said. Later released on $15,000 bail, Mr. Baichu referred calls for comment to his lawyer, Sally Attia, who said he did not have authority to grant or deny green card petitions without his supervisor’s approval.

The young woman’s ordeal is not over. Her husband overheard her speaking about it to a cousin about a month ago, and she had to tell him the whole story, she said.

“He was so mad at me, he left my house,” she said, near tears. “I don’t know if he’s going to come back.”

The green card has not come through. “I’m still hoping,” she said.

Angelica Medaglia contributed reporting.


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San Diego Union-Tribune


Company wants to build a mega-prison in county



By Leslie Berestein Leslie Berestein: (619) 542-4579


March 20, 2008

The private prison company that operates a detention center for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement in Otay Mesa is proposing to build a nearly 3,000-bed mega-prison nearby.

According to county records, Nashville, Tenn.-based Corrections Corporation of America has applied for a permit to build a “secure detention facility” in two phases on a parcel of about 40 acres northwest of Alta and Lonestar roads. A portion of the latter road has yet to be constructed.

The proposed prison would have 2,880 beds and would employ 375 people, according to an application the company filed.

It would hold more than four times the number of people that the immigration agency now holds in San Diego. The agency, known as ICE, contracts with Corrections Corporation of America to house up to 700 detainees – individuals awaiting deportation or a decision in immigration cases – at the company's private San Diego Correctional Facility, which sits on land leased from the county.

A spokesman for the company said the proposed prison would not be built as part of its existing contract with ICE or as a speculative venture, but as a way of ensuring it retains the immigration agency's detention business if the company loses its existing facility. The lease on the land that the San Diego Correctional Facility sits on is set to expire by the end of 2015.

“We have an existing relationship with ICE and other federal customers, and we want to be able to maintain that relationship,” company spokesman Steven Owen said. “We want to take steps in a preventive kind of way, to be able to provide capacity and retain that relationship.”

According to the county, the company owns the parcel that the new facility would sit on, eliminating lease concerns.

Local officials from Immigration and Customs Enforcement said they were aware of the project, but that they were not sure if ICE would be using the new prison.

The demand for immigration detention beds definitely exists in San Diego, not only due to stepped-up immigration enforcement nationwide, but also because the agency does not have as many beds as it once did at the San Diego Correctional Facility.

According to Corrections Corporation of America's 2006 year-end financial report, 200 of the detention center's beds were lost to the county in June of that year when a portion of the lease expired. The report states that the number of people being held was not reduced as a result of the expiration because “we had the ability to consolidate inmates.”

Less than a year later, in January 2007, the American Civil Liberties Union sued ICE and the company, alleging overcrowding at the facility. The ACLU said two-person cells were crammed with three civil detainees, the third sleeping on the floor in a plastic cot.

Since then, the Otay Mesa facility has held a maximum of 700 detainees a day, where it once held as many as 1,000, said Lauren Mack, an ICE spokeswoman in San Diego.

“As long as apprehensions continue to increase, we're going to continue to need not only bed space, but to identify ways to streamline the entire detention process,” Mack said.

Owen said it has still not been determined if the prison will be built. According to county records, the company filed its initial application for a specific plan amendment and major use permit in July 2006, a month after the first part of the county lease expired. Records show the company has since been working to complete various studies required before the project can go to the county's planning commission.

If built, the new facility would be enormous, with administrative space as well as prison housing and services. The nearby state prison, the R.J. Donovan Correctional Facility, was designed to hold 2,280, according to the state corrections department Web site, though it now houses 4,770.

Rob Hixson, a commercial real estate broker who is chairman of the city of San Diego's Otay Mesa Planning Committee, said he had not heard any complaints among those aware of the proposed prison on nearby unincorporated land.

“A lot of people say 'not in my backyard,' but this is a pretty big backyard,” Hixson said. “It is a long way from any of our housing.” With upward of 30,000 immigrants now in ICE custody – up from about 18,500 three years ago – Immigration and Customs Enforcement has increasingly turned to private contractors to house detainees.

The relationship has not come without criticism. In addition to the overcrowding lawsuit, the ACLU sued both Corrections Corporation of America and ICE again last summer, alleging severely inadequate medical care at the Otay Mesa facility.

A former detainee at the Otay Mesa facility filed a separate lawsuit in Los Angeles last year against the federal government, claiming that he was denied treatment for what turned out to be penile cancer. He died last month. Last week, a federal judge in Los Angeles ruled that his family can go forward with a lawsuit seeking damages from the federal government.

Leslie Berestein: (619) 542-4579; leslie.berestein@uniontrib.com


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Los Angeles Times


Study highlights language barriers faced in healthcare

Limited English skills of many in L.A. County can impede access to healthcare. Activists say delays, misdiagnoses and unnecessary procedures can result when patients are not provided interpreters.



By Teresa Watanabe

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

March 21, 2008


Edna Gutierrez said she was biopsied for cancer on the wrong breast.

Martha Castro recalled helplessly watching her daughter's uncontrollable seizures, unable to understand the doctor's English.

And Lian Zhen Li, suffering from excruciating abdominal pain that turned out to be ovarian cancer, said Los Angeles County hospital staff told her to come back with someone who could interpret for her.

The three Southern California immigrants reflect the widespread problem -- and the potentially devastating consequences -- of language barriers in healthcare. The problem's massive scope was illuminated Thursday, when the Asian Pacific American Legal Center in Los Angeles released a new study documenting the language barriers faced by nearly one in three Los Angeles County residents, or 2.5 million people.

The data, based on the 2000 census, show that most of residents in five of the county's eight service planning areas -- which are used to plan and deliver health and social services -- speak a language other than English at home. The top languages spoken are Spanish, Chinese, Tagalog, Korean, Armenian, Vietnamese, Persian, Japanese and Russian.

The largest number of limited-English speakers are in the San Gabriel Valley, totaling 482,310, including roughly 200,000 Mexicans and 100,000 Chinese. In the metro Los Angeles area, which includes downtown and other core areas of the city, the primary language spoken by 70% of residents is not English and 43% reported speaking limited English, the county's highest rate.

Despite the broad need -- and federal legal requirements for language assistance -- immigrant advocates said Thursday that scores of patients still fall through the cracks. The result is delayed care, misdiagnoses and unnecessary procedures leading in some cases to death, advocates said.

"We want to shine a spotlight on how large a problem this is," said Karin Wang, the Asian Pacific center's vice president of programs. "We don't want language to be the reason people don't get quality healthcare."

Miya Iwataki, director of diversity programs for the county Department of Health Services, said the language needs in the county's four public hospitals were "overwhelming." In 2006, 49% of the system's 3.9 million patient visits involved people with limited English skills who primarily spoke one of 98 languages. Spanish speakers accounted for 1.9 million visits, followed by 17,000 visits by Korean speakers.

But Iwataki said county language services have improved in the last year. This year, nine full-time healthcare interpreters will be hired for the first time for the hospitals.

In addition, the county expanded its video medical interpretation system to all four hospitals this year. The system, which was introduced at Rancho Los Amigos Rehabilitation Center in Downey last year, uses video-conferencing technology to connect doctors and patients with an interpreter network that offers assistance in Armenian, Russian, Korean, Spanish, Mandarin and Cantonese.

County hospitals also use a phone-in interpreter system. But that system is flawed, according to Wingshan Lo of the Asian Pacific center. Lo said she tested the system last year and was hooked up to a language assistance center whose staffer did not understand the Cantonese she was speaking.

In addition, immigrant advocates said many hospital staff are not aware that healthcare providers who receive federal funding are legally required to offer language assistance, regardless of the patients' immigration status. PALS for Health, a Los Angeles nonprofit organization that provides language assistance, gets several complaints every month about healthcare providers who tell patients they need to find their own interpreters, according to Marchela Iahdjian of the organization.

Iwataki agreed that more needs to be done but said impending budget cuts could make that difficult.

"We are struggling to do our best with very limited resources, but we're not giving up," she said.

The case of Li, the Chinese native with ovarian cancer, illustrates the plight faced by many immigrants. Li, 62, is a naturalized U.S. citizen but said she has long lived in an isolated ethnic enclave in Alhambra. Too busy to take English classes, she was an around-the-clock personal assistant to a Chinese senior citizen for several years, then worked 15-hour days at a Chinese restaurant. She watches Chinese TV and shops at Chinese stores.

Li said she never needed English -- until her abdomen suddenly began swelling painfully in June 2005 and her Chinese doctor referred her to County-USC Medical Center. There, she couldn't communicate with the doctors. "I was petrified by my inability to communicate," Li said. "I thought I was going to die. I wondered: Who is going to help me?"

Li said she wandered into the hospital waiting room and randomly asked an Asian-looking patient if she could speak Chinese. Luckily for her, the patient could -- and referred Li to the PALS for Health group, which sent a trained healthcare interpreter with her to future appointments. Although initially told that she had only a month to live, she said her cancer has stopped spreading after surgery and chemotherapy.

Immigrant advocates urged the county to provide more English-language classes and interpretation services.

"There's no excuse not to provide these services," said Doreena P. Wong, staff attorney with the National Health Law Program. "People's lives are at stake."




<><><> the end / el fin / tamat <><><>


Arnoldo Garcia

National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights

Red Nacional Pro Derechos Inmigrantes y Refugiados

310 8th Street Suite 303

Oakland, CA 94607

Tel (510) 465-1984 ext. 305

Fax (510) 465-1885





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