Latino Groups Gearing Up for Fight Over Immigration

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By Laura D. Francis

The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund will be litigating and lobbying Congress to protect immigrants’ and Latinos’ rights in the wake of increased immigration enforcement.

“We do expect to spend a lot of time in court,” MALDEF President and General Counsel Thomas A. Saenz told Bloomberg BNA March 16.

The U.S. Supreme Court likely will come into play in some instances, but a lot of the action will be at the federal district court and appeals court levels, Saenz said.

Some challenges to immigration enforcement actions will be nationwide—and potentially Supreme Court worthy—but many will involve challenges to specific enforcement actions to obtain relief for those who were directly affected, he said. Numerous “damages cases that go against the government” could send a “strong message of deterrence,” Saenz said.

Challenging ‘Ill-Conceived Policies.’

The National Council of La Raza, another Latino rights organization, also is fighting what it considers “ill-conceived policies” in the area of immigration, NCLR President and Chief Executive Officer Janet Murguía said March 15.

The Latino rights organization is working with its affiliates across the country to provide legal services and advise immigrants of their rights, she told Bloomberg BNA. The NCLR also is working with civil rights and community groups to disseminate information to individuals who could be affected by President Donald Trump’s enforcement-centered immigration approach.

“NCLR will continue to work with partners at the local and national level to ensure that our community is informed (providing Know Your Rights trainings, connected to their local consulates, providing info on Spanish language media),” Murguía said in an email to Bloomberg BNA.

The organization also will be pushing back against the president’s budget proposal, which seeks an additional $3 billion for the DHS to implement Trump’s orders on border security and immigration enforcement, Murguía said.

Early in his presidency, Trump issued an executive order realigning immigration enforcement priorities. The Department of Homeland Security followed up with a memorandum that canceled many of former President Barack Obama’s immigration enforcement policies.

It’s widely expected that immigration raids, including work-site raids, will be a feature of the Trump administration.

The memo “essentially created real fear, chaos in our community,” Murguía said March 13 at MALDEF’s Latino State of the Union.

Racial Profiling?

These new policies disproportionately affect the Latino community in practice, Murguía said.

Trump’s campaign rhetoric about Mexican immigrants as criminals is combined with racial profiling by state and local law enforcement agencies engaged in immigration enforcement, she said at the event. “Somehow there seems to be a bull’s-eye” on Latinos, Murguía said.

The executive order and DHS memo revive 287(g) agreements, named after a provision in the Immigration and Nationality Act. The agreements allow state and local law enforcement officers to engage in immigration enforcement.

But Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the DHS agency that oversees the agreements, says it does not tolerate racial bias by its partners.

“Racial profiling is not tolerated and any allegation of racial profiling is treated with the utmost scrutiny and fully investigated,” Sarah Rodriguez, deputy press secretary for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said in a statement provided to Bloomberg BNA March 14.

“If any proof of racial profiling is uncovered, the specific officer or department will have their 287(g) authority and/or its agreement rescinded,” she said.

“The 287g program is an invaluable tool that allows ICE to have a presence in local jails across the country,” Rodriguez said. And the program includes mandatory training on “multicultural communication and the avoidance of racial profiling,” she said.

Other Activism

Future activism also needs an examination of how immigrants and Latinos became a target of the administration, Saenz said at the March 13 event.

A lack of Latino representation in civil rights agencies—including in the Obama administration—has contributed to the ability to “slander” them, he said.

Neither the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights nor the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has a Latino commissioner despite Latinos being the largest minority group in the country, Saenz said. The Civil Rights Commission's staff director, however, is Latino.

That lack of representation “made it possible for a candidate to believe he could launch a campaign with a slander on Latinos and use that slander to get to the White House,” he said.

Now, Latinos are going to have to be the “first responders” fighting for their rights in an era of nativism, Saenz said.

More Education Needed

“There’s a lot of education that needs to be done around the history of the Latino community in the United States,” Saenz told Bloomberg BNA March 16. Stereotypes about undocumented immigrants “overstate the proportion of them that are Latino” and downplay the numbers who are white, Asian and African, he said.

“It’s hard to combat those stereotypes,” but they’ve “existed for a long time” and shaped policy in prior administrations, he said.

“Accepting facts that are not the facts” has a “particular impact in the area of immigration,” Saenz said. And that’s “perpetuated” by political leaders who don’t state the facts about immigration law, he said.

For example, many politicians say undocumented immigrants should “get in line like all other immigrants,” Saenz said. But “there is not a single line to immigrate to our country,” and what line you’re in is dictated by your country of origin, he said.

Mexicans wait a much longer period of time for family-based visas than immigrants from other countries, he said. In any other area of public policy, this kind of national origin discrimination wouldn’t be tolerated, but Congress has wider latitude on immigration, Saenz said.

Would you wait 14 years to reunite with your family if there were another option? he asked. If the public knew the real situation, “they might have greater understanding of why some folks choose not to wait” and “instead choose to immigrate unlawfully,” Saenz said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Laura D. Francis in Washington at lfrancis@bna.com

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Peggy Aulino at maulino@bna.com; Terence Hyland at thyland@bna.com; Christopher Opfer at copfer@bna.com

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