Thursday, September 1, 2011

Closing the doors to immigration

Enforcement of immigration controls in the United States has been left squarely on the state level while the federal government struggles in figuring out comprehensive immigration reform that could muster congressional approval. With a steadily weakening economy, states are now becoming tougher on illegal aliens.

Last year, Arizona passed a state law that would empower police officers to check a person’s immigration status even on the streets as well as require immigrants to carry their papers at all times. It was considered the nation’s toughest on illegal aliens at the time.
Racial-profiling-arizona-immigration-political-cartoon. Photo courtesy of Click link to view "Arizona Immigration Law
Sparks Controversy":
Then the state of Alabama followed suit. It enacted a law which is now deemed the cruelest and most unforgiving immigration law in the United States. The New York Times in its recent editorial described the Alabama law as an “attempt to terrorize undocumented immigrants in every aspect of their lives, and to make potential criminals of anyone who may work or live with them or show kindness.”

Interdenominational church leaders in Alabama have sued to block implementation of the new law on September 1, declaring it criminalizes acts of Christian compassion.

The Alabama law makes it a crime to be an undocumented immigrant in Alabama, by criminalizing working, renting a home and failing to comply with federal registration laws that are largely obsolete. Businesses that knowingly employ illegal immigrants will lose their licenses. Public school officials will be required to determine students’ immigration status and report back to the state. Anyone knowingly “concealing, harbouring or shielding” an illegal immigrant could be charged with a crime, say for renting someone an apartment or driving her to church or the doctor.
Don't be a snitch! 20th & Alabama. Photo courtesy of sonci. Click link to view "Alabama
Passes Toughest Immigration Law":
These examples of draconian measures to boot out illegal immigrants are not far off from being imitated here in Canada. Already, Canada Immigration has announced its intention to round up and deport suspected war criminals and illegal migrants in Canada. To prove they are serious, the Conservative government displayed the mug shots of these suspected war criminals in Canadian newspapers.

After capturing a few, the Canadian government reissued the photographs of the remaining illegal immigrants on the loose and has asked the public to be informants, thus widening the dragnet. This is encouraging vigilantism at best, asking every law-abiding Canadian to turn in the enemy within. But it also negatively portrays immigrants as cheaters and con artists. Soon, every immigrant, with or without valid papers, will be terrorized and compelled to show their documents on plain suspicion or unreasonable pretext that they could be illegally in Canada.

How far is Canada from adopting legislation like the ones Arizona and Alabama have passed? The possibility is not too remote that a similar crackdown of illegal immigrants might happen here. Calling the public in assisting the government to round up war criminals and illegal immigrants is one step toward creating hysteria and hatred of foreigners in our midst.

It is easier to convince people that new immigrants are a burden to social services during an economic slowdown and they are the ones who could unfortunately be targeted or profiled. The immigration crackdown in the United States is not peculiar to America alone but is similarly happening in Europe, particularly against the burgeoning Muslim population.

Anti-immigration hysteria is also pervasive in the justice system which usually is the last resort for refugees or asylum-seekers who believe they were being unreasonably refused. U.S. appeals courts are saddled with immigration caseloads, oftentimes appeals of decisions by immigration judges who callously and inconsistently deny asylum requests which are in tune with the Justice Department’s goal of deporting individuals.

In a recent case involving a Macedonian couple who fled to the United States from persecution by the Macedonian government, a Chicago immigration judge’s decision to order them back to Macedonia raised some hackles from bewildered judges on the U.S. Seventh Circuit panel.

The aforementioned couple were Macedonian Slavs caught in ethnic tensions after the breakup of Yugoslavia. The husband was drafted into the Macedonian army but did not report because of what he believed as suppression of Albanians’ demand for greater rights. Members of a pro-government paramilitary police unit showed up at midnight at the couple’s home, knocked out the couple’s parents with a chemical spray, beat the husband with a gun and sexually abused his pregnant wife. They called the couple “betrayers of Macedonia” and took the family’s money and jewellery.

At issue before the court was whether it would be safe for the couple to return, even conceding that Macedonia is now a less fractious environment.

Judge Richard Posner in his decision wrote: “The line between harassment and persecution is the line between the nasty and the barbaric, or alternatively between wishing you were living in another country and being so desperate that you flee without any assurance of being given refuge in any other country.”

Similarly in Canada, it is often that refugee claimants are turned down before the Immigration Refugee Board or the Federal Court because of negative credibility findings or what is called the internal flight alternative. Refused refugee claimants are being ordered to return to their country on flimsy evidence that their country’s situation has changed and their persecution or the threat to their lives no longer exists.
Canada Jails Refugees. Photo courtesy of No One Is Illegal-Vancouver.  Click link
to view "Canada Jails Refugees":
A refugee claimant from El Salvador has asked for protection from the notorious El Salvadorian criminal organization known as the “maras.” Prior to entering Canada in 2008, the claimant left El Salvador to the United States twice during the civil war in 1982 and amid rising violence by the maras in 2003. He did not seek asylum during both times he was in the United States. He was deported back to El Salvador after a month of working illegally. When U.S. authorities started cracking down on illegal immigrants after returning to the U.S. in 2003, he returned to El Salvador to do farming with the money he had saved working in the U.S. In 2008, he entered Canada fleeing El Salvador again after personal targeting by the maras who demanded money from him and physically assaulted him when he didn’t have the money to give them.

The Refugee Protection Division concluded that the applicant left El Salvador for the United States not to flee risk, but rather as an economic migrant, thus found his present claim for protection in Canada not credible. According to the panel, the claimant has a serious problem with telling the truth, especially that he feared violence from the maras.

What the panel failed to differentiate from the third attempt by the applicant to leave his country was the personal targeting by the maras which was nonexistent in his first two attempts, thus why he did not seek asylum in the United States. Instead of evaluating the present claim based on its own merits, the panel used the negative credibility finding with respect to his prior departures which clearly amounted to unreasonableness.

When the World Youth Day was held in Toronto in 2002, many young people who attended the religious gathering remained in the country and applied for refugee status claiming fear of persecution from their countries on various grounds allowed under the Convention refugee definition. Most of these claimants were refused on negative credibility findings and the availability of an internal flight alternative, meaning they could have simply transferred residence in safer places in their countries if indeed they would be persecuted or even threatened.

It is not therefore surprising to hear an official of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) appealing to Filipino delegates who attended the recent World Youth Day in Madrid, Spain, last August 21 to make sure they return home and not turn into undocumented or illegal immigrants. Most of these delegates are still in Europe and the CBCP was worried they would damage the trust the Spanish government had in the Philippine Catholic Church when they issued the visas to them to travel to Madrid.

About 1,500 Filipino delegates have not yet returned home and this has naturally worried the CBCP—that they might turn into TNT’s (“Tago ng Tago” – always hiding), similar to what happened to some delegates in the previous World Youth Day in 2002 in Canada and 2005 in Germany.

Immigration to the world’s most advanced metropolises has become more and more enticing because of hardship and poverty in the less developed countries. Even refugees, from war-ravaged countries or where there are pervasive persecution and human rights violations, would usually escape to these metropolises because their governments guarantee freedom and liberty.

If people can’t enter through the legal process, they would try whatever means in order to leave. How ironic that many of these immigrants—whether documented or without legal papers—would become unfortunate victims of harsh immigration controls which, in most instances, also violate the very basic and fundamental civil liberties they have longed for.

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