As Election Day approaches in the Maryland, a candidate for Montgomery County Executive and one for Governor of Maryland join us for the Politics Hour.
Record numbers of deportations and a flurry of new state laws targeting undocumented immigrants have created ripple effects in communities across the country. American citizens have been detained and even deported. Children of deportees are ending up in foster care. In states with the most restrictive laws, crops are going unharvested for lack of workers. We look at some of the unintended consequences of immigration enforcement.
- Michelle Brane Director, Detention and Asylum Program, Women's Refugee Commission
- Joanne Lin ACLU Legislative Counsel
- Bryan Tolar [TOE-ler] President, Georgia Agribusiness Council
- Angelo Amador Vice President, Labor and Workforce Policy, National Restaurant Association.
ACLU Video: Farmer in Alabama
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. Stepped-up immigration enforcement and a flurry of strict new state laws have led to record numbers of illegal immigrants detained and deported. It's causing a number of ripple effects, both human and economic. Last year, Georgia passed some of the nation's toughest immigration rules. And without enough workers, Vidalia onions, blueberries and peaches rotted in the fields, costing the state some $400 million.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIThe patchwork of state-by-state immigration laws poses a challenge to other industries, like chain restaurants, and the human costs have been high. Children of undocumented immigrants are ending up in the foster care system as one or both parents are taken into custody or deported. The wide net cast by immigration officials has even snared American citizens. Thousands have been detained, and some have even been deported.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIJoining you to discuss the unintended consequences of immigration enforcement is Angelo Amador. He is the vice president of labor and workforce policy with the National Restaurant Association. Angelo Amador, thank you so much for joining us.
MR. ANGELO AMADORMy pleasure. Thank you.
NNAMDIJoining us by phone from Atlanta, Ga., is Bryan Tolar. He is the president of the Georgia Agribusiness Council. Bryan Tolar, thank you for joining us today.
MR. BRYAN TOLARYeah, glad to be with you. Thank you.
NNAMDIIf you'd like to join the conversation, you can call us at 800-433-8850. You can also send email to firstname.lastname@example.org, a tweet, @kojoshow, or simply go to our website, kojoshow.org. If you've got a question or a comment, you can render it there. Two big areas of our economy that are affected by immigration policy are agriculture and the restaurant industry. Let's start with you, Angelo. Restaurants often rely heavily on immigrant workers. How has stepped-up immigration enforcement affected restaurants?
AMADORWell, first of all, I want to say that, you know, the National Restaurant Association does support enforcement of the law, and we have even called for a federal mandate of E-Verify. The problem that we're having is the different attempts by the state, you know, to create a myriad of laws that sometimes are in conflict with federal laws.
AMADORSo we're losing not only -- you know, we're losing workforce -- legal workforce as well because, you know, once they view the state as a hostile state to diverse populations -- and we've been very reliant on that -- we've been losing workers, in addition to the problem that we're having with our supply chain.
NNAMDIWell, from restaurants to agriculture, Bryan Tolar, how important is agriculture to the state of Georgia's economy?
TOLARWell, agriculture is our largest economic engine in the state. It represents about $69 billion of our state economy and over 300,000 jobs. So it's critical to our economy as a state but also, probably most especially, to our rural economies.
NNAMDILast year, Georgia implemented some of the country's strictest immigration laws. And, even before they went into effect in the middle of last year, it had an effect on farmers in the state. Tell us about that.
TOLARWell, the legislation that was passed last year did a lot of things, but, most importantly, we didn't have workers that paid attention to what was actually in the bill. Only thing that they seemed to recognize is that there was going to be increased enforcement of labor markets. And so what they did is they just left the state, and that created an immediate shortage for -- of workers. And the impact was dramatic, and it was felt statewide.
NNAMDISome of Georgia's most important crops rely on farm labor because, well, they're handpicked. How much did labor shortages cost the state?
TOLARWell, the University of Georgia did a study this summer just looking only our fruit and vegetable crops, which are the highest value crops that are produced. And from what we saw from that economic study, Georgia lost about $400 million in economic impact. And that's, obviously, a substantial amount of revenue that our state could have utilized. And by stepping up opportunities to utilize federal guest worker programs, we're hoping that we can fill that void.
NNAMDIAnd that, obviously, was the result of worker shortages. Angelo, did the restaurant business see similar worker shortages as a whole across the country?
AMADORWe did. We did. Not necessarily across the country. You know, we saw it in states where they implemented some of these laws. At the same time, you know, the impact just flows down. You have companies that are deciding not to have conferences in states where you have -- where some of these laws have passed. So you combine the loss of workers with the loss of revenue, and it creates a very big negative impact on our industry.
NNAMDIBryan, the unemployment rate is almost 10 percent in the state of Georgia, but, even so, it's difficult to fill farm jobs. Why is that?
TOLARWell, there was the issue that was raised, I think, at the beginning of the call -- it was mentioned by E-Verify -- and that was one of the challenges our folks faces, what role would E-Verify play in trying to hire farm workers. Well, the problem is we can't find people that we can even put through E-Verify. We can't find people willing to do those jobs. And even with that high unemployment rate, unless we have a workforce, then we're not going to be able to harvest those high-value crops and move them into market.
TOLARAnd so that's why we have to rely upon another system, and the system that we're focused on is a federal system because that's the only place where visas can be issued to bring workers from outside the country.
NNAMDICritics say you need to pay more per hour. What is the hourly pay for picking?
TOLARWell, it depends on what crop you're harvesting and how fast you work. But, on average, of the studies that were conducted this year, showed that you can make anywhere from $11 to $15, even $16 an hour harvesting those crops. So the pay is quite well, especially in these rural areas, but you just have to have the ability to work in the conditions of being out in the sun for extended periods of time in order to make those wages. But the jobs are out there. People can take them.
NNAMDIIt's not easy work, obviously. What percentage of domestic workers that is American citizens stick out or stick on the job?
TOLARWe had some of our fruit and vegetable farmers last year that were reaching out and bringing in hundreds of people, maybe 200, in a matter of a couple of days. And if you went back a week later, they will tell you that they might have one or two of those 200 that actually were able to stay and continue that work. It's more work that what people are accustomed to doing. It's a different type of work they're accustomed of doing. And they just quickly look for another avenue, and they don't stick around. It's unfortunate.
NNAMDIIf you have questions or comments, you can call us at 800-433-8850. As an employer or employee, have you seen any effects of increased immigration enforcement? 800-433-8850 or you can simply go to our website, kojoshow.org. Bryan, one solution that Georgia piloted last summer was to have offenders who were on probation pick crops. Did that help to solve the farm labor shortage?
TOLARWell, our governor quickly reached out, working with our Department of Agriculture and our labor commissioner to put a program together to see if that's a viable alternative. And they ran that program with just a handful of farms, and they found that there were some workers on the probation system that were able and willing to do that type of work. But it is not going to solve the problem by any stretch of the imagination. We have to continue to seek solutions.
NNAMDIIt's my understanding that about two-thirds of the workers who were on probation were gone by about the second day.
TOLARProbationers aren't a whole lot different from what they want to do work-wise than the general public. They just weren't willing to stick it out in that environment. And, yeah, they didn't hang around very long. You're correct.
NNAMDIHere is Mary in Bristol, Va., who seems to want to underscore that point. Mary, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MARYYes. I was just thinking -- I mean, I know all these issues about illegal aliens, but it's been stated many times before -- this is not an original thought on my part -- that they're the only ones who will take this really hard grunt work that Americans, whether they're unemployed or not, many of them are unwilling to take. And I think the system has to be facilitating the visas for workers that to get more of these people in here legally and that these -- as much as it's said against the Latino workers, they are hard workers, and they will take whatever they can get to support their families.
NNAMDIMary, do you...
MARYAnd I can say that that's true of the same -- the American workforce.
NNAMDIMary, I'll put this question to you and ask other of our listeners to call in on it. Do you think America needs to expand its guest worker program even with the high unemployment we have?
MARYAbsolutely. Because I think what your guest is saying as in, case in point, that the American worker, even though they're unemployed, they're not willing to take on these jobs whether it's labor intensive or the working condition is out in elements are difficult. And, you know, they're being their own worst enemies against legalizing things for these aliens who are willing to do this hard work.
NNAMDIOK. Thank you very much for your call, Mary. Do you think America needs to expand its guest worker program -- 800-433-8850 -- even with the high levels of unemployment? You can go to our website, kojoshow.org, send us a tweet or email to email@example.com. Angelo, federal immigration crackdowns on restaurants have been in the news. Probably the most high-profile was last February when Chipotle fired hundreds of workers. What happened, and what's been the effect of chain restaurants since then?
AMADORWell, again, you know, that's the point that we have with enforcement. I mean, you are forced to fire all these workers that you have already verified and you thought that were legal, but there's no replacement for them. I mean, people talk about paying higher wages, but the problem with it is, you know, you have to look at the market. What are the customers willing to pay? And I would say something with regards to the guest worker programs. We do have a guest worker program for temporary seasonal jobs, but there's no way of bringing some of these workers legally.
AMADORIf you need a dishwasher in Kansas right now, and nobody wants that job, you're not going to be able to get that worker through a guest worker visa that the (unintelligible).
NNAMDIIndeed. From what I understand, it's the patchwork of laws at the state level and the lack of a single federal policy that makes it challenging for restaurants.
AMADORYeah. From the enforcement perspective, at the same time, you know, the states are coming out with some many different views on how to enforce the law and the regulations that sometimes -- and we have a move for the restaurant industry to move towards change, to have more centralized human resources departments. And it's impossible to try to comply with all of them.
NNAMDIWhat would the restaurant industry like to see?
AMADORWell, from the enforcement perspective, we need a federal solution. We need the federal government to step in and tell employers, this is what we want you to do, and preempt all of these state laws. At the same time, there needs to be also address the need for workers. We do have some Americans that want to take these jobs, but we don't have enough. And, again, you know, if -- when that happens, we need to be able to get the workers from somewhere.
NNAMDIAngelo Amador is the vice president of labor and workforce policy with the National Restaurant Association. He joins us in studio. Joining us by phone from Atlanta, Ga., is Bryan Tolar, president of the Georgia Agribusiness Council. Bryan, I have two callers who would like to raise an issue about pay, and, well, one of them just dropped off. So I'll start with Rick in Alexandria, Va. Rick, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
RICKHi, Kojo. Thanks so much for taking my call. I just want to make a comment that every time I hear you can't find Americans to do this job, such as the dishwasher in Kansas, there's one whole thing that needs to be said at the end: for that pay. That if you raise the pay, you would have a line of people. No one would be a lawyer if they paid what they pay farm workers. It's all a matter of, as your guest said, market forces. And as -- just as they can't raise their prices and still have a business, you can't find workers if you don't raise what you're paying them.
NNAMDIAllow me to have Bryan Tolar respond to that. Bryan, I don't expect you can pay lawyers' wages, but can't you pay better?
TOLARWell, we're very fortunate that we have a very diverse selection of crops we can produce in our state and in our country. And these are crops that people have come to rely on because we want to have as much produce grown in here, in the U.S., as opposed to importing all of it. And so we compete in a world market. And when you can look -- when you look at them from market forces of what you're willing to pay, whether it's your groceries or your restaurants, to receive those products, then you got to look at all that overhead.
TOLARAnd we've considered all these options that I mentioned earlier, that if workers will come in, they work quickly and they work well, then they can make wages upwards of $15 an hour. And I don't know how many jobs out there are paying $15 an hour. Certainly, attorneys aren't working for that cheap. But, by and large, people with just some basic set of skills making $15 an hour, that's pretty good money. And we still can't find the workers to do it.
NNAMDIWell, we got a tweet from someone, Bryan, who says, "Have the guests done the farm worker labor? What was their experience?" Bryan?
TOLARWe've had people that have come to Georgia and had gone down to meet with these farmers so they can experience the jobs for themselves. And if they make it half a day, then they've done better than most. Time and time again, people will come out to the farm expecting a certain type of work, and it ends up being something very different because of the environment that you work in. It is 90 degrees. It is very humid. It is -- you're always bending and stooping quite a bit, so it is labor-intensive work.
TOLARAnd the number of people willing to do it just aren't out there, not that we've been able to find -- not people that are from that local area. We want to bring in workers from across the world to come in and do these jobs because these basic-level jobs create jobs all throughout the marketplace. But you can't have jobs shipping produce and moving it to the consumers if you don't have it harvested first and foremost.
NNAMDIThe satirist Stephen Colbert even testified before Congress on this issue.
MR. STEPHEN COLBERTThis brief experience gave me some small understanding of why so few Americans are clamoring to begin an exciting career as seasonal migrant field worker. So what's the answer? I'm a free market guy. Normally, I would leave this to the invisible hand of the market, but the invisible hand of the market has already moved over 84,000 acres of production and over 22,000 farm jobs to Mexico and shut down over a million acres of U.S. farmland due to lack of available labor because, apparently, even the invisible hand doesn't want to pick beans.
MR. STEPHEN COLBERTNow, I'm not a fan of the government doing anything. But I've got to ask, why isn't the government doing anything?
NNAMDIStephen Colbert testifying before Congress on his one-day experience working as a farm worker. 800-433-8850 is the number to call. Here is Eddie in Washington, D.C. Eddie, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
EDDIEYes. I got through. And thank you for taking my call. This conversation is very interesting. And I think it's very timely, especially in a time when Americans are complaining about not having enough jobs. I'm curious to know what other -- your panelists that are giving some good ideas, what other ideas would they have for the federal government saying that they need to step in? You know, I'm thinking everything across from young students at university who needs some jobs in the summer and making it appealing for them as far as their careers.
EDDIEWhat other ideas would your panelists have that haven't been mentioned thus far? And I'll take my answer off the air.
NNAMDIUsed to end the unintended consequences, Angelo Amador?
AMADORWell, you know, we, the restaurant industry, hires a lot of students, particularly in the summer and during breaks. We also look to hire a lot of returning military. But, you know, again, the restaurant runs on a team. You know, you need your front office. You need your backroom. You need cooks. You need dishwashers. You need everything to be able to run a business. And the problem is, if you raise the wages so high that the prices are so high that people don't come into your restaurants, and in this economy, the restaurant will go bankrupt.
AMADORThe restaurant will close, and everybody will lose jobs. And the economy just keeps getting worse. So what we're talking about here is something to help the U.S. economy, by creating jobs for everybody. But, you know, you need the support of everybody in the restaurant industry.
NNAMDIBryan Tolar, you are at the state capitol in Georgia today on official business. What kind of changes is your group recommending?
TOLARWell, our group is -- while we're here at our state capitol, we are focused and had been working at the federal level, trying to get reform to the federal guest worker program H-2A. That program has a couple of bills, one in -- several bills in the House and at least one in the Senate that seek to make changes to that program. Very few farmers use that program because it's so cumbersome and expensive.
TOLARThere's minor adjustments that can be made that will make those programs more palatable, make them available for our farmers. And we can continue to produce those products here in the U.S. instead of having to seek those products overseas, as one of your earlier callers had just mentioned. He was exactly right.
NNAMDIEddie, thank you for your call. Angelo, does the federal guest worker program address worker needs for restaurants?
AMADORWe have the H-2B program that we've been defending for many years. It's a great program, but that is, again, a seasonal, temporary worker program. So for seasonal needs, the H-2B program works. It should be expanded and protected. But we are working with the federal government as well because only they can create a guest worker program for the future for jobs that are not just seasonal but year-round.
NNAMDISaying federal government, of course, masks the fact that this is an election year. Do you expect any reform of either immigration policy or the guest worker program this year, starting with you, Angelo?
AMADORWell, you know, the discussion has started, and it needs to continue. I mean, we need to get our hands around this issue because we hope the economy will pick up again. And it wasn't that long ago when we had 4 percent unemployment. And when that happens again -- and we hope it's soon -- we better have a plan to be able to bring workers legally into this country.
NNAMDIBryan Tolar, what are you expecting politically in this election year?
TOLARWell, it is a challenging year, given the politics, but I will tell you we have a bill that's in the House that has bipartisan support. And if we had leadership that would step in from the White House to direct on this, we could get some answers this year. It just takes political will, and I hope that we'll see that surface this year.
NNAMDIBryan Tolar is the president of the Georgia Agribusiness Council. Bryan Tolar, thank you so much for joining us.
TOLARThank you for having me.
NNAMDIAngelo Amador is the vice president of Labor and Workforce Policy with the National Restaurant Association. Angelo, thank you for joining us.
AMADORThank you for the invitation.
NNAMDIWe're going to take a short break. When we come back, we will deal with some of the other and unintended consequences of stepped-up immigration enforcement. You can still call us, 800-433-8850. Your calls and questions, if you have already called, are still relevant. Stay on the line. If the lines are busy, go to our website, kojoshow.org. Join the conversation there. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation about the ripple effects and the unintended consequences of immigration enforcement. Joining us in studio now is Joanne Lin, legislative counsel with the American Civil Liberties Union. Joanne Lin, thank you for joining us.
MS. JOANNE LINDelighted to be here, Kojo.
NNAMDIAnd Michelle Brane is the director of the Detention and Asylum Program at the Women's Refugee Commission. Michelle Brane, thank you for joining us.
MS. MICHELLE BRANEThank you.
NNAMDIMichelle, we were talking about some of the economic effects of stepped-up immigration enforcement, but there are also effects on communities and on families. First, any thoughts about what we were just discussing, which you just heard in terms of families leaving states like Georgia?
BRANEWell, we saw a very large reaction of families leaving Georgia, Alabama and Arizona after these laws were passed because of people being afraid of separation. Most families in which there's an undocumented person in this country have also U.S. citizens in the family, what we call mixed-status families. So it's not a clear-cut situation where you have an entire family that has no documentation that would be leaving.
NNAMDIJoanne, you find the record levels of deportations and other stepped-up enforcement to be surprising in terms of the timing. Why?
LINWell, it's interesting that under the Obama administration, during the first three years of this term, over 1.1 million people have been deported. Those are the highest deportation numbers in six decades. And in this era of unprecedented deportations, the Federal Department of Homeland Security has taken a sloppy sledgehammer approach to immigration enforcement, sometimes sweeping in U.S. citizens, including children and people with mental disabilities, into its deportation system.
LINThese illegal detentions and deportations are taking place in a system devoid of due process. People are not guaranteed an immigration attorney. The Homeland Security Department operates with virtually no public transparency, and they have immense government powers to detain and deport people.
NNAMDIWhy do you think it's been happening during the first three years of the Obama administration?
LINI have no answer for that. That ultimately can only be answered by the White House and President Obama himself. It is interesting that these record level deportations are taking place at a time that illegal immigration rates at the southwest border have declined, that the undocumented population has decreased substantially at a time when violent crime rates across the country are at their lowest levels in nearly 40 years. But the federal immigration enforcement system has ramped up to unprecedented levels and does not seem to be tethered to objective trends.
NNAMDIMichelle, Mitt Romney talked last week about self-deportation. In fact, that has been happening. What are some of the issues that it raises?
BRANEWell, again, we have huge numbers of mixed-status families here and children who end up getting caught up in the mix. So we've seen, for example, not just for self-deportation but in terms of parents who are detained and deported, in just six months of recordkeeping of self-identified parents, the U.S. government has deported over 46,000 parents of U.S. citizen children.
BRANEAnd what that means is you end up with these children staying in communities or being pulled out of communities into foster care, which not only has a toll on our communities in terms of a human toll, but also a financial toll if you think about the expense of maintaining all these children in a foster care system.
NNAMDI800-433-8850, do you think we should take into account family situations when considering detention and deportation or not? 800-433-8850. You can send us a tweet, @kojoshow, or simply go to our website, kojoshow.org, and join the conversation there. Your organization, Michelle, is concerned about what happens to families when someone is detained or deported. What are some of the ripple effects when one member of a family ends up in custody?
BRANEWell, I'll give you one example of a case, a gentleman we encountered in immigration detention. He had been detained after being married to a U.S. citizen. He had four U.S. citizen children. He owned a house. He was taken into custody. And, as a result of losing the income of -- from his employment, his family lost the house. The house was foreclosed on. For -- his wife became extremely depressed and attempted suicide and ended up being committed to a mental institution.
BRANEAnd their four U.S. citizen children were placed into foster care. All of this resulting from one person who was unable to adjust because of some bad lawyering, basically.
NNAMDIJoanne, another unintended consequence you mentioned of stepped-up enforcement is that thousands of American citizens have been swept up in the immigration and customs enforcement net. Tell us about that.
LINThis is something that, I think, should interest all of your listeners, especially those who are U.S. citizens, because I can imagine that all of us who are U.S. citizens would never guess that federal immigration authorities could possibly touch us. But the reality is, is that estimates as high as some 20,000 U.S. citizens may have been detained or deported by the Federal Department of Homeland Security since 2003. Let me tell you about just one of them.
LINRenesten (sp?) Castillo, a U.S. citizen Army veteran, who found himself locked up in an immigration jail for seven months, even though he repeatedly pled that he was a U.S. citizen, the Department of Homeland Security eventually paid a $400,000 settlement and issued him a written apology for the "paperwork error." The U.S. attorney in that case wrote, regrettably, despite the fact that you are a veteran and U.S. citizen, and, despite the fact that you apparently explained that you are a U.S. citizen, you were detained on the grounds that you were in the country illegally.
NNAMDIWhat goes wrong? What goes wrong when an American citizen is detained by immigration officials? How can it happen? Saying that it was a problem with "paperwork," frankly, doesn't really explain it to me.
LINWell, again, I don't have the answers to that, and only the Federal Department of Homeland Security can answer that. The ACLU definitely knows that there are at least three contributing factors to this growing problem of unlawful detentions and deportations of U.S. citizens. One, the Department of Homeland Security's databases are fraught with errors, including errors involving files of U.S. citizens. That is why we hear about more and more U.S. citizens who are being locked up in immigration jails and unable to get out because the Department of Homeland Security insists that they are deportable.
LINA second contributing factor is that the Homeland Security Department's modus operandi is detain first, investigate later. Instead of undertaking responsible investigations in each case, Homeland Security's approach is to issue a detainer for everyone brought to their attention, even if this involves U.S. citizens. And, finally, there's a very controversial Homeland Security program called Secure Communities that has contributed to this problem.
NNAMDIWhich we have discussed extensively on this broadcast.
LINYes. And so this is a priority of this federal Homeland Security Department and this administration, even though it has been rejected by states and localities across the country, including Arlington County and the District of Columbia. So these are just three of the contributing factors to this growing problem of unlawful detentions and deportations of U.S. citizens.
NNAMDII was about to say, let me take it up a notch because there have even been cases of deportation of American citizens. How does that happen?
LINAgain, Kojo, you're absolutely right. Probably, the most famous case is the one that just surfaced last month involving a young teen named Jakadrien Turner.
LINA runaway teen from Dallas. Somehow, she was picked up by law enforcement in Texas, and, somehow, the federal Department of Homeland Security managed to deport her to Colombia in South America, even though she is African-American, speaks no Spanish, has never lived in Colombia and has no family in Colombia. Unbeknownst to her family, she lived in Colombia for many months until her grandma tracked her down. Her case begs the question, exactly the one you post, Kojo.
LINHow in the world did a Texas runaway child, who speaks no Spanish, end up being deported to a foreign land? And for those of us with children, especially those of us with difficult, perhaps, rebellious teens, some of us may fear that our kids may run away someday. But who would ever imagine that their child could be deported by the U.S. government to a foreign country?
NNAMDIAnd there are apparently others swept up in the net. Some permanent residents, students and even tourists have had run-ins with ICE, Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
LINThat's exactly right, Kojo. I think that what this points to is an immigration system that is focused on numbers, that is focused on widespread sweep and is not targeted. In addition to the U.S. citizens I've mentioned before, U.S. citizens with mental disabilities have also been illegally deported. Mark Little, born in North Carolina, is just one of these cases. He was deported to Mexico and later to Honduras and Guatemala where he was forced to live on the streets and in shelters and prisons.
LINEven though he had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, developmental disabilities and had been previously hospitalized in a psychiatric institution, the Department of Homeland Security made no attempt to assess his mental competency or to appoint him immigration counsel.
NNAMDIAnd was he was a U.S. citizen?
LINHe is a U.S. citizen. Again, Homeland Security had no business touching him.
NNAMDIOK. Michelle, clear this up for us. One of the issues, whether it's an American citizen or an undocumented immigrant, is the process that starts when someone is detained. What happens at that point?
BRANEWell, I mean, it depends on the circumstances. As Joanne mentioned, one of the big issues that is causing problems now is the involvement of local law enforcement in the enforcement of our immigration laws. So there's a lack of coordination, a lack of communication and a lack of protections involved in those cases. As you know, you know, when somebody's brought up on a criminal charge, you have the right to a lawyer.
BRANEOne of the biggest problems with immigration detention and immigration enforcement is that, while you have the right to a lawyer that you pay, there's no right to a lawyer at government expense, which means, in practice, that over 80 percent of people in immigration detention have no attorney representing them.
BRANEAnd this, actually, has compound effects because, you know, getting back to the family issue, as I mentioned, there were over 46,000 parents of U.S. citizen children detained or deported in just a six-moth period. If you look at how many of those cases end up in family court, which, again, not only do parents not have representation, they can't even -- they don't even -- access to the court.
NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back, we will be continuing this conversation on the unintended consequences and the ripple effects of immigration enforcement. Do you think we should take into account family situations when considering detention and deportation? You just heard some of those situations described. You can call us at 800-433-8850, or send us an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWe're talking with Michelle Brane, director of the Detention and Asylum Program at the Women's Refugee Commission, and Joanne Lin, legislative counsel with the American Civil Liberties Union, about the ripple effects of increased immigration enforcement and the unintended consequences of same. Inviting your calls at 800-433-8850. What do you think about the increased enforcement and the effects that is -- that it is having? 800-433-8850. Joanne, what kind of access are people given to legal representation if they're detained?
LINWell, the short answer is none. And if they're lucky, if they happen to be in a place where there's good pro bono counsel and legal services, they might get access to an immigration counsel. But under our current immigration law system, there is no right to an immigration attorney in terms of a guaranteed immigration attorney. So what that means is that the vast majority of people who are detained -- some 84 percent of immigration detainees do not have an immigration attorney, and they have to navigate these complex immigration court proceedings on their own.
LINThat's why the ACLU has long advocated the need to appoint competent immigration counsel for every person facing deportation. And this is particularly essential for U.S. citizens, children and people with mental disabilities who are particularly vulnerable.
NNAMDIMichelle, what if family members don't know what's happened?
BRANEWell, that is not uncommon. I mean, it used to be a huge problem that people would just get picked up and virtually disappear. And families would have to make numerous phone calls, desperately looking for their family members. And if you can imagine, if a parent is picked up, often, a child is left at school, and, you know, school administrators are desperately looking for how to locate these parents. There is, now, a locator system within Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
BRANEThis is actually something new that the Obama administration has put into place, and it's supposed to help families locate a loved one who may have been detained by -- you can look it up online. But you need to be able to get on the Internet to look it up through a computer. There's no phone system. And they have to be (word?).
NNAMDIWell, federal occasions -- federal immigration officials have been talking about "maybe working on a system, including a hotline for family members," Joanne. Has that yet come into existence?
LINWell, that hotline that you're referring to is very recent. It was announced right before the New Year. And, truthfully, it's a long, overdue minimum first step taken in response to the increasing number of cases -- documented cases of U.S. citizens who are getting ensnared into the immigration detention and deportation system.
LINI think the question really is, is that if you are someone like Antonio Montejano, a real-life U.S. citizen who found himself locked up in Southern California by local police -- and he was locked up as a U.S. citizen because DHS, Homeland Security, said he was deportable -- how in the world is Mr. Montejano going to know to call this 1-800 hotline that is operated by Immigration Customs Enforcement?
LINOn his own, he's not going to know. He is going to have to require a competent immigration attorney to navigate that system for him. So we are glad about this minimum first step, but it is just the first step to -- that must be taken to curb this terrible use of immigration detainers.
NNAMDIHere is Magalei (sp?) in Burke, Va. Magalei, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MAGALEIThank you. My question is about the approach toward mixed-status families. I'm a U.S. citizen. If I were to commit welfare fraud, I could be imprisoned, and my imprisonment would separate me from my family, including any children or dependents in my care. Should the law not be enforced because it would break up my family and my ability to care for my family? I'll hang up to take my questions -- answer. Thank you.
NNAMDIStarting with you, Joanne Lin.
LINLet me be very clear. We are not advocating for non-enforcement of immigration laws. But at the same time, as this show is focused on -- we're focused on the ripple effects of immigration enforcement. Now, this -- Homeland Security Department has said that their priority in enforcing the immigration laws is to target people who have committed and have been convicted of violent felonies.
LINSo the question becomes, when you have limited government resources, where are you going to target those law enforcement resources? I think mixed-status family is one factor to consider, but it's certainly not the only one.
NNAMDIIndeed. We have talked a few weeks ago about this, the new federal policy aiming to narrow the immigration enforcement net and focus on high-priority cases, such as those who have committed a crime. Michelle, is that a welcome move?
BRANEYeah. I mean, the other thing to keep in mind with the caller's question is that, when you're talking about immigration detention, there is absolutely no access to the outside world, and there's no coordination, which is in the child welfare system. So as opposed to the situation she laid out, in an immigration detention system, that parent might want to take their child with them if they're deported. That's the consequence of -- if they're found to be deportable.
BRANEAnd under our current lack of kind of coordination, they are very often unable to do so. And, in fact, there are many cases where not only are they unable to be reunified with their children, but their children end up being adopted. So the question really is, is that the consequence of, you know, immigration violation? Should that result in actually having your children removed permanently from your care?
NNAMDISo, Joanne, someone is detained. Family members find it difficult to get in touch with that person. Where are detainees sent? Do they go to regular prisons?
LINImmigration detainees are people who are held under federal Department of Homeland Security authority. They are not held under federal criminal authority. And what that means is that the federal government believes that they may have committed an immigration violation, which is civil in nature, administrative in nature. It is not tied to any criminal act. That being said, the vast majority of people and immigration detainees are imprisoned in jails, locked-up facilities that look like jails and prisons, and are treated as prisoners.
LINSo their treatment is not connected and does not match the basis for the reason of their detention.
NNAMDIIs it connected to the location where they were first detained where, presumably, members of their family would be close by?
LINAgain, that depends. The vast majority of immigration detention beds are not here in Washington, D.C. or along the Northeastern Seaboard. They're located in Texas, other states, including Arizona and some in the Southeast. So one thing that this administration has done is they have made some attempts to try to keep immigration detainees within the general area, the general geographic area that the person is apprehended.
LINBut, practically speaking, there are untold numbers of immigration detainees who live hundreds, sometimes thousands, of miles away from their family members, their communities, their churches and if they have an attorney. And that can have very devastating impacts on everyone involved.
NNAMDIHere is Bill in Alexandria, Va. Bill, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
BILLYes. How are you doing, Kojo? Thank you for taking the call.
BILLI just -- I would just -- concerned that your guest is sort of suggesting that taxpayers should pay for the immigration lawyers for these illegals. You know, they are here illegally, and I don't think we should be responsible for paying for their lawyers. And as far as the status of their family, they should have thought about that when they allowed either their visa to expire or did whatever they did.
NNAMDIWell, my question to you, Bill, would be how -- if they need a lawyer to ascertain whether or not they are in the country illegally, would you be willing to pay for that, or would you be opposed to that also?
BILLWell, that's kind of what the government has got a responsibility to do, is determine whether or not they're here illegally. And if the government determines they're here illegally, then we shouldn't be responsible for defending them.
NNAMDIWell, we heard a few situations where American citizens were actually deported because they didn't have access to an attorney to argue their cases. What would you do in a situation like that?
BILLWell, first of all, if they're American citizens, they have something to prove they're citizens. So I'm not quite sure why any of them would be deported. I could understand...
NNAMDIWell, we don't have a national ID card. We don't have any kind of national ID card, so people would not have on their persons anything to prove their citizenship.
BILLBut they have a birth certificate or something that should be able to be found fairly easily by somebody in authority, I would think.
LINCould I address that? This is...
LIN...Joanne Lin from the ACLU. And I think the caller's presumptions are right on, but the reality doesn't match that. For instance, in two recent cases brought to our attention since November, one of them a U.S. citizen born in Los Angeles, Antonio Montejano, was detained under immigration authorities for several days, forced to sleep on the floor of the L.A. county jail without a mattress or a blanket.
LINHe had a U.S. passport, a California birth certificate, and his family members presented those documents to the local police, brought them to the attention of the Homeland Security Department. It was not until the American Civil Liberties Union intervened on his part that he was released. Similarly, Romy Campos, a 19-year-old young woman, again, found herself in a similar situation. Her parent -- her family and parents brought the birth certificate and were repeatedly ignored.
LINAnd so I think what the -- the caller's presumption is right on. But the way that Homeland Security operates is that it's not even checking thoroughly all of its own government databases, much less the State Department databases 'cause the State Department issues U.S. passports. And it's certainly not checking the vital statistics databases operated by various states because these states are the ones that issue birth certificates.
LINSo that's why we have this growing problem that has been documented by NPR, The New York Times, L.A. Times and other national newspapers of U.S. citizens getting caught up in the immigration dragnet.
NNAMDIBill, thank you very much for your call. We talked about what happens to children when a parent is detained. They can end up in the child welfare system. Michelle, for children who do end up in that system, what are the complications?
BRANEWell, first of all, it's often very hard to locate the parent. So even a child welfare agency that wants to try to locate a parent and arrange for some reunification may not be able to do so. The systems of child welfare and immigration enforcement are not in any way coordinated, and it's additionally complicated 'cause you have a federal system and then 50 or more different local systems.
BRANESo, very often, they either just don't know what happened to their parent and end up never being reunified, or, even if a parent does locate them and some connection is made, the reunification process is extremely difficult.
NNAMDII was about to say, what steps might a parent have to take to get their child back once that child ends up at the child welfare system?
BRANEWell, they're going to have to then go through an entire process of reunification, which varies from county to county, but it would entail things like visitation. In some cases, people get caught up and then have to take parenting classes or prove their right to have their child back, which, if you're detained or if you're in your home country of Guatemala or Mexico or even, you know, India or Iran, can be extremely difficult.
NNAMDIHere is Dan in Brookland in D.C. Dan, your turn.
DANYeah. I was calling in. This last Christmas, I was down in Texas with my family and was alarmed to hear my brother, who -- he was born in Cuba. He came to this country when he was 2, has spent his entire life here, was in the National Guard. He was actually crossing the border, coming back to the United States, and was pinned for three hours at the border. He had a driver -- you know, he had his driver's license. He did not have his passport.
DANWhat sort of glitched him up was, you know, when they asked, where were you born? And he said, I was born in Cuba. And, you know, they proceeded to hold him for three hours. What saved him was the fact that it turns out he's an immigration attorney in Dallas, Texas. And he was able to answer all these arcane questions that they have, and they finally had a supervisor who came over. And, you know, he was actually able to remember the name of the judge who basically -- when he turned 18, he had to -- you know, to reconfirm his desire to remain a citizen. He remembered the name of that judge.
DANHe's in his 50s now. But he remembered that judge's name, and that was enough for them to sort of, like, say, OK, this guy's for real, and we're going to let him go. But, you know, part of it is I was alarmed to find out that INS has all these, like, super legal powers in this, like -- I think that one of your guests will probably correct me -- but, like, a 25-mile, you know, zone -- border. And they can basically detain people. He -- you know, it just turned out he could sort of provide his own counsel, but it was extremely alarming to me that they can do that.
NNAMDIDan, I'm not sure I heard you correctly. You said your brother is an immigration attorney?
NNAMDIAnd it still took him three hours to convince the border officials that he's an American citizen?
DANYou know, he knew...
NNAMDIPity the fool who's not an attorney.
DANRight, yeah. He actually -- even was -- but, you know, it's -- part of it was that he knew exactly what the forms -- you know, it's his business, so he knew what forms he applied for, what, you know -- he knew stuff I didn't know 'cause, you know, I was born here, so I didn't have to go through that. But he knew -- you know, he remembered the name of the judge that was sort of the presiding judge that -- anyway, it was just...
NNAMDIOK. Thank you very much for your call, Dan. What would the -- what does the ACLU, Joanne Lin, feel needs to be done in order to be able to have people who are in the country illegally treated appropriately? Whether that means deportation or not, it doesn't really make a difference. But what do you feel the process needs to be in place?
LINWell, the ACLU stands for the promotion of civil liberties and civil rights for all people in the United States, but particularly for U.S. citizens. And, you know, to that end, we think, at a minimum, these three things need to be done by the Homeland Security Department. First, Homeland Security must suspend this controversial Secure Communities immigration enforcement program.
LINIt is unwanted by many state and local leaders across the country, and it is catching in its dragnet U.S. citizens, people arrested for minor crimes, domestic abuse survivors and others. Secondly, all people detained under federal immigration authorities must be appointed competent immigration counsel to ensure that people like U.S. citizens are not subject to what this caller just described.
NNAMDIWe're running out of time quickly. And third?
LINAnd, three, Homeland Security must thoroughly investigate and verify all claims of U.S. citizenship before they detain or deport somebody. That means checking their databases, the State Department databases, state vital record statistics databases. That's at a minimum. That's to protect all of us, including U.S. citizens.
NNAMDIJoanne Lin is legislative counsel with the American Civil Liberties Union. Thank you for joining us. Michelle Brane is the director of the Detention and Asylum Program at the Women's Refugee Commission. Michelle Brane, thank you for joining us.
NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
Most Recent Shows
The "Bug Guy" is back, and answering all your questions about summer insects.
DCist was resurrected this week, acquired by WAMU after being abruptly shut down seven months ago. We explore the state of local media here in our region, and how the re-launched site fits into that landscape.
What do voters want to know? Kojo continues the conversation on D.C.'s contentious proposal with WAMU's Ally Schweitzer and an undecided business owner.