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1. Border incursions, violence rising
2. FL legislators take on smugglers
3. AZ sheriffs want students' status
4. Swine flu a potential threat
5. Advocate helps detainees
Incursions of border by cops, troops rising
By Torrey Meeks
The Washington Times, April 28, 2009
El Paso, TX -- Unauthorized border crossings by Mexican authorities such as soldiers and police spiked more than threefold in 2008, according to an annual report the U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agency sought to keep secret.
Now that the report is public, the result of a lawsuit by a public-interest group, the agency is attempting to downplay its significance.
"BorderStat Violence, FY 2008 Year in Review" says that 147 foreign government incursions occurred in 2008, a 359 percent increase from the previous year. Only 216 incursions were tallied in the previous nine years.
"There are a lot of places out there where the border isn't clearly marked," said Lloyd Easterling, spokesman for CPB. He said even accidental aircraft crossings from Canada were considered incursions.
Mexican authorities may come a few feet into the United States and be spotted by CBP surveillance systems, Mr. Easterling said. "You may see people moving back and forth across the border. You know, they're 50 or 100 feet inside, and they go right back out."
Mr. Easterling said he had no proof of any Mexican military crossings.
"Our agents out there are seeing people dressed up and acting in a military-like fashion," he said. "Whether they're in any kind of official uniform or something they bought that may look like fatigues ... I don't know," he said.
Investments in technology and manpower have enabled CBP to get more accurate numbers, Mr. Easterling said, contributing to the jump cited in the report.
Chris Farrell, director of research for Washington-based Judicial Watch, interprets the data differently, claiming it reflects a serious deterioration in border security just over the bridge from El Paso, Texas.
"On the Mexican side of the border, all hell is breaking loose. That's why [Ciudad] Juarez is under military occupation right now," Mr. Farrell said.
"To discount this report trivializes a very grave warning," said Mr. Farrell, whose organization won the report's release by filing a lawsuit to force CBP to honor a Freedom of Information Act request for a copy.
The Mexican military has moved into Juarez in an attempt to stop thousands of killings and kidnappings by rival crime syndicates that are battling for control of lucrative smuggling routes into the United States.
Mr. Farrell said he doubts the increase in border incursions cited in the report can be attributed entirely to better surveillance technology.
Mexican drug cartels, he said, pay corrupt officials to create diversions along the border to open other areas for smugglers.
"Hypothetically, improved technology might lead to better reporting," Mr. Farrell said. "There's probably a percentage of truth in that, but it's highly speculative."
The CBP report also showed a jump in violence against U.S. border personnel, a trend that Mr. Easterling said is troubling.
Violence against CBP officers and agents is up 167 percent at ports of entry and 23 percent outside them, the report said.
"When we have people out there assaulting our agents, it is unacceptable," he said.
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Florida takes aim at human smugglers
By Josh Hafenbrack
The South Florida Sun Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale), April 27, 2009
For a state that is a hub of human-smuggling operations, up to now Florida has had no state statute outlawing such activities.
That is set to change, with the Senate poised to approve a law making human smuggling a first-degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail for each person smuggled.
The new state law is hoped to act as a deterrent preventing tragedies at shore and sea where numerous Haitians, Bahamians and Cubans -- including pregnant women and children -- bound for the United States drown each year.
“Smugglers are devoid of human compassion. It’s not unusual for them to make their human cargo jump out of boats and swim to shore.,” said Rep. William Snyder, R-Stuart, who sponsored HB 123. “We have so much coastline and we’re a destination point for smugglers, so this bill makes perfect sense.”
The bill passed unanimously in the House Friday.
Up to now, state law had prohibited only human trafficking -- defined as recruitment and/or transportation of migrants into the country through coercion or fraud for exploitation -- but not human smuggling, which is considered a consensual transaction.
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Sheriffs: Are you in school legally?
By Howard Fischer
The Capitol Media Services, April 28, 2009
Phoenix -- Some border county sheriffs want Arizona schools to start asking students whether they're in this country legally.
Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik originated the idea and said millions of dollars in Arizona taxes go to teach English to children who have no legal right to be here. He also said there's a link involving illegal immigration, social problems and gangs.
Only thing is, a 1982 U.S. Supreme Court decision appears to make it illegal for school officials to ask. In a 5-4 decision, the justices overturned a Texas law that authorized school districts to refuse to enroll anyone who couldn't prove legal residence.
But Dupnik said it may be time for Arizona to have a test case to put the issue back before the high court — to see if the current justices agree.
Dupnik has the backing of Yuma County Sheriff Ralph Ogden and Joe Arpaio, his Maricopa County counterpart. And Gov. Jan Brewer said she sees no reason why youngsters shouldn't be asked to prove they are U.S. citizens or legal residents.
"When I grew up, when I went to school, when I moved from Nevada to California, I had to bring my birth certificate to prove I was a citizen," she said.
But Attorney General Terry Goddard said he doesn't think schools have the expertise to determine legal status. And state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne said he believes the federal government should just do a better job of protecting the border.
"But as long as kids are here, they should be in school," he said. "You don't want them on the street corner."
Dupnik, however, has an answer for that: Have schools report their findings to Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
"They would identify the people that are here illegally by the thousands and send them back, kids and parents," he said.
The issue has financial implications: The Pew Hispanic Center estimates that 60,000 to 65,000 of the 1.2 million youngsters in Arizona schools are not in this country legally.
The Department of Education figures basic state aid for students is about $6,000 a year, not counting what the state pays for school construction. That puts the price tag near $390 million — minus, of course, any taxes from illegal residents that go toward education funding.
But that doesn't count the extra $360 per student Arizona now gives to schools to help English-language learners. Assuming two-thirds of these students fit that category, that adds $15 million to the tab.
In 1982, however, the Supreme Court voided a 1975 Texas law that denied state aid to districts for children not "legally admitted" into the United States. That law also allowed districts to deny admission to those students.
Attorneys for Texas argued that the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which entitles every person to equal protection of law, doesn't apply to those not in the country legally.
"We reject this argument," Justice William Brennan wrote for the majority. "Whatever his status under the immigration laws, an alien is surely a 'person' in any ordinary sense of the term." And Brennan said education is the only way people can advance themselves.
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Mexican Immigration Officials Required to Wear Anti-Flu Face Masks at U.S.-Mexico Border Crossings
By Edwin Mora
The CNS News, April 28, 2009
Mexican immigration officials on the U.S.-Mexican border say they have been required to wear face masks whether swine influenza poses a threat or not.
Meanwhile, on the U.S. side of the border, it is up to the discretion of Customs and Border Protection officials whether to wear masks to protect themselves against the flu.
“It’s a general requirement to wear face masks all over the country whether there is or there isn’t (swine flu),” a spokesman from the Mexican National Institute of Migration, told CNSNews.com in Spanish. The organization controls and supervises the Mexico-U.S. border and emigration.
“The reason why immigration officials are wearing face masks is because of a general requirement for all offices to wear them,” he added, “whether there is or there isn’t danger of contamination.”
Mexico’s health secretary recommends that if there is any danger of coming close with someone infected with swine flu to, “use rigid face masks, but if you don’t have the means to obtain one to use regular face masks or a piece of cloth to cover the nose and mouth.”
In the U.S., the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the nation’s disease sentinel, recommends “cover(ing) your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tissue in the trash after you use it.”
The federal government has not requested that U.S. immigration officials wear protective gear against the swine flu.
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Holocaust Survivor’s Past Drove Her To Help Detainees
By Rebecca Dube
The Jewish Daily Forward, April 27, 2009
Almost no one noticed or cared when Ahmad Tanveer, a 43-year-old Pakistani New Yorker, died of an apparent heart attack while being held in jail, awaiting deportation.
Tanveer’s name did not appear on any list of immigration detainees who had died in custody. He never came up in testimony that the Department of Homeland Security gave to Congress.
His death in 2005, in Freehold, N.J.’s Monmouth County Jail, may have gone unremembered and unremarked forever if not for the efforts of a Holocaust survivor who was determined to fight for the rights of immigration detainees.
Jean Blum, a 73-year-old retired teacher living in Paterson, N.J., corresponded with and took desperate collect phone calls from illegal immigrants who were being detained at her local jail to await deportation. Blum responded to their pleas by nagging local officials to improve the prisoners’ living conditions. When she heard of Tanveer’s death, she collected accounts from witnesses and sent her evidence to the government.
She never heard back. Sometimes she wondered whether she was making a difference. Eventually, she burned out and took a break from advocacy to focus on her own health. But this month, the paper trail Blum created helped lead lawyers of the American Civil Liberties Union, as well as a New York Times reporter, to uncover the death of Tanveer and to demand answers from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a division of DHS.
Half a million noncitizens were held in jails and prisons last year while the government tried to deport them, The New York Times’ Nina Bernstein reported, and the system’s secrecy and lack of accountability allowed Tanveer’s death — and maybe the deaths of others — to fall through the cracks.
Blum’s motivation for getting involved was simple: When she looked at immigrant detainees, she saw herself. As a child, she fled Poland with her family in 1939 to escape the Nazis. The family bounced around Europe before escaping to the United States in 1946.
“We were in that situation, my family and I,” Blum said. “It was absolutely appalling [that] this was happening in my country, to people who came for the same reason I came here — people who were hardworking and absolutely innocent of any crime.”
Asked how she got involved with the detainees, Blum starts at the very beginning of her story: She was born in Poland in 1935, the daughter of a prominent Jewish engineer. When Polish government leaders went into exile in Romania, they took along her family — but then left them behind when the government in exile moved to England. For Blum’s family, things went from bad to worse when a pickpocket stole all of Blum’s father’s money.
Her parents were secular Jews, but the Romanian Jewish community took in the family, Blum said. Many times, her father told her the story of their flight from Poland, and he never forgot the kindness the Romanian Jews showed them.
“My father always said that people helped him survive,” Blum said. “So, it’s kind of like, what comes around, goes around.”
Her father spent days on line at foreign embassies, but no country would admit Jews. Finally, he joined the French army in exchange for that country accepting his wife and daughter. When France surrendered, Blum’s father was taken prisoner while Blum and her mother went into hiding. Once again, they survived thanks to strangers, this time the French Underground.
Her father’s captors followed the Geneva Conventions, and he was treated well as a prisoner of war. Years later, in America, Blum was struck by the fact that the Germans treated her Jewish father better than how she thought her own country was treating illegal immigrant detainees.
“I always said America is such a wonderful place,” Blum said. But while working with the detainees, she was shocked by their dirty, violent living conditions, lack of proper food and substandard medical care in jail. “This is my country, and I am ashamed,” she said.
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