Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Immigrants Become The Bush Administration’s Favorite Whipping Boys

[Cross-posted at Firedoglake.]

It’s kinda funny how the right-wing mouth-foamers have made a habit of using immigration as a way of distancing themselves from the most despised president in history — because Bush has, in their eyes, simply not done enough to target those eeeevil illegal immigrants. The reality, as we saw in Iowa last week, is that Bush and his team — including his newly and dubiously installed U.S. attorneys — these days are doing everything they can to scapegoat immigrants.

The people who track federal prosecutions have noted a sharp spike in convictions related to illegal immigration:
Federal convictions in February 2008 resulting from immigration matters jumped to the highest point in recent history, according to timely data from the Justice Department. The total of 6,583 such convictions is nearly double what it was in the previous month, up an unprecedented 96 percent.

The highly unusual spurt in the convictions of individuals charged with various immigration crimes appears to be the result of "Operation Streamline." Under this recently intensified administration policy, according to news reports and interviews with federal public defenders, the government has charged a rapidly growing number of undocumented aliens with various federal criminal charges in selected districts along the Mexican border. "Operation Streamline" began as a pilot project in December 2005 in Del Rio, Texas.
"Operation Streamline" is a product of the nativists who have been jumping up and down demanding we "enforce the laws on the books" — even if, as we’ve seen in the past week, doing so produces human travesties involving the treatment of immigrants. It’s essentially a "zero tolerance" policy applied to immigration:
The "normal" routine on the U.S.-Mexico border (if anything can be called normal there) is for visa-less border crossers to be fingerprinted, photographed, and immediately shipped back across the line by the Border Patrol.

But based on pilot projects in the Del Rio sector of South Texas and elsewhere, "Operation Streamline" just launched in Laredo – one of the busiest ports of entry in the world. Under this "zero tolerance" program, all crossers, without exception, are charged with the misdemeanor crime of illegal entry in federal district court. Most plead guilty, serve some time in a federal penitentiary, and then get deported. Repeat offenders get hit with felony charges and even more time.
The Bush folks insist that "Operation Streamline" has been a success — though its greatest success could be in further degrading the standards of due process for American citizens and illegal immigrants alike:
Since Operation Streamline went into effect just over a year ago, arrests in the Del Rio sector have dropped 37 percent.

"By sending the message to the folks that are crossing that you are going to be arrested, you’re not just going to get let loose," says agent Kathlyn Lawrence, "it kind of discouraged them from crossing with the frequency that they were crossing. That has freed us up to be able to look more for the possible terrorism elements."

But critics claim the undocumented immigrants are being coerced to plead guilty to a law they don’t understand.

"They are then convicted in these sham proceedings in which they are given one, maybe two minutes in front of the judge, and to call that due process is shameful," says Jennifer Chang, with the American Civil Liberties Union Immigrant’s Rights Project.
The civil-rights bulldozer "streamline" approach has been wielded to great effect in the Iowa immigration raids, as the New York Times reported Sunday:
In temporary courtrooms at a fairgrounds here, 270 illegal immigrants were sentenced this week to five months in prison for working at a meatpacking plant with false documents.

The prosecutions, which ended Friday, signal a sharp escalation in the Bush administration’s crackdown on illegal workers, with prosecutors bringing tough federal criminal charges against most of the immigrants arrested in a May 12 raid. Until now, unauthorized workers have generally been detained by immigration officials for civil violations and rapidly deported.

The convicted immigrants were among 389 workers detained at the Agriprocessors Inc. plant in nearby Postville in a raid that federal officials called the largest criminal enforcement operation ever carried out by immigration authorities at a workplace.

Matt M. Dummermuth, the United States attorney for northern Iowa, who oversaw the prosecutions, called the operation an “astonishing success.”
Well, yeah, if you call obliterating basic standards of due process and civil rights a success. And considering this administration’s record in that regard, I expect that’s exactly what they meant.
The unusually swift proceedings, in which 297 immigrants pleaded guilty and were sentenced in four days, were criticized by criminal defense lawyers, who warned of violations of due process. Twenty-seven immigrants received probation. The American Immigration Lawyers Association protested that the workers had been denied meetings with immigration lawyers and that their claims under immigration law had been swept aside in unusual and speedy plea agreements.

… The large number of criminal cases was remarkable because immigration violations generally fall under civil statutes. Until now, relatively few immigrants caught in raids have been charged with federal crimes like identity theft or document fraud.

“To my knowledge, the magnitude of these indictments is completely unprecedented,” said Juliet Stumpf, an immigration law professor at Lewis & Clark Law School in Portland, Ore., who was formerly a senior civil rights lawyer at the Justice Department.

“It’s the reliance on criminal process here as part of an immigration enforcement action that takes this out of the ordinary, a startling intensification of the criminalization of immigration law.”

Defense lawyers, who were appointed by the court, said most of the immigrants were ready to accept the plea deals because of the hard bargain driven by the prosecutors.

If the immigrants did not plead guilty, Mr. Dummermuth said he would try them on felony identity theft charges that carry a mandatory two-year minimum jail sentence. In many cases, court documents show, the immigrants were working under real Social Security numbers or immigration visas, known as green cards, that belonged to other people.

All but a handful of the workers here had no criminal record, court documents showed.
And it’s worth remembering that Dummermuth, as Lynda Waddington notes, was one of BushCo’s new team of U.S. attorneys hired after the 2004 election — though his hiring was not as suspect as others, since his predecessor appears not to have been forced out:
There are, however, direct links between Dummermuth and the Bush administration. In addition to small campaign contributions, Dummermuth was one of three field staff for the Bush-Cheney presidential campaign in Iowa during 2000. He directed campaign activities in the eastern portion of the state while Scott Shuman worked central and Grant Young worked western Iowa. The three answered directly to political director Craig Schoenfeld.

In addition, Dummermuth’s wife, Rebecca, previously served in the Bush administration’s Department of Labor as special assistant to the solicitor (then Eugene Scalia). She also worked in the White House, serving as associate director for legal affairs in the Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. In that capacity, she often served as a spokeswoman and advocate for faith-based initiatives. In a 2004 article in the Hawaii-Reporter, Rebecca was reported as explaining the constitutional guidelines of such funding and same-faith hiring practices. The topic was not new to Rebecca, who had previously served as a legal counsel at The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a public-interest law firm that protects the free expression of religion. Also, as lead articles editor of the Washington and Lee Law Review, she published a column entitled "If We Recant, Could We Qualify?" that examined the exclusion of religious providers from state social-service voucher programs.
Bush may not be popular with the anti-immigrant crowd, but it’s clear he was just a step or two behind them; these days, he should be their poster boy. And as Frank Sharry explores at AlterNet, the results have proven to be yet another Republican disaster in the making.

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