BY MAURICE WILLIAMS
The U.S. rulers have escalated their assault on the rights of immigrant workers since President William Clinton signed the so-called Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act in 1996. Almost 300,000 immigrants have been deported in the last two years - a record high that is more than twice the number who were expelled in the previous two years.
Meanwhile, a February 24 ruling by the Supreme Court asserted that undocumented immigrants are not protected under the First Amendment - freedom of speech, press, and assembly. In the ruling, Justice Antonin Scalia wrote, "an alien unlawfully in this country has no constitutional right to assert selective enforcement [because of political views] as a defense against his deportation."
The Supreme Court ruling reinforces a section of the 1996 Immigration law that gives Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) officials, not judges, the authority to deport immigrants. The decision can be made in a matter of hours and without a lawyer representing the worker. The law expanded the definition of "deportable crimes" and directs the INS to expel immigrants convicted of crimes, even if they are legal residents of the United States.
The INS is now the largest federal police agency, with a $1 billion war chest and more than 15,000 officers carrying weapons and authorized to make arrests. This is more cops than the Customs Service, the Drug Enforcement Administration, the Bureau of Prisons or the FBI. "We apprehend and take into custody more people than any other agency in the world," boasted INS spokesman Russell Bergeron.
The 1996 immigration law also mandates the U.S. Border Patrol to bolster its forces by more than 1,000 cops a year, including in 1999. The agency more than doubled in size from 1993 to 1998, rising to nearly 8,000 cops.
The Border Patrol has been outfitted with new hi-tech equipment to aid the assault on immigrants crossing the U.S.- Mexican border. The gear includes more than 8,600 seismic sensors buried near border crossing points to detect movement, 185 infrared heat-detecting scopes set up along the border, and low-light television cameras.
The Democratic administration's policies embolden ultrarightists, such as Patrick Buchanan. "I believe we need an immigration `time out,' " declared Buchanan in his 2000 presidential campaign website. He would "strengthen the Border Patrol, lengthen the `Buchanan Fencé on the southern frontier, repatriate illegals, and repair the great American melting pot." In his first run for the U.S. presidency in 1992, Buchanan called for building a 200-mile-long fence along the U.S.-Mexican border.
Since the 1996 law was enacted, most arrests by immigration cops were at the southwestern border of the United States. Now many people who have worked in the country for years have been deported - sometimes in less than 12 hours - after being arrested at routine traffic stops, factory raids, airports, and immigration offices while seeking services.
Some immigration raids and firings have been aimed at disrupting union organizing drives and intimidating workers fighting to improve job conditions. Just last month, the INS ordered 13 fruit-packing warehouses in the Yakima, Washington, area to fire all undocumented workers by February 19, in the midst of a fight by apple-packing workers to organize into the Teamsters union.
More deaths at border crossings
According to the Washington Post, the U.S. government's border "strategy" is aimed at forcing undocumented workers crossing the U.S.-Mexican border to travel through rougher terrain, where they risk extended exposure to severe weather conditions
The Mexican embassy in Washington reported 368 immigrants died crossing the border last year. A recent report by the University of Houston's Center for Immigration Research estimated more than 1,600 people may have died between 1993 and 1997. The study stated that almost 600 of the deaths were drownings in the Rio Grande River. These deaths are not counted by the U.S. Border Patrol, which ignores those people whose remains are not found or whose bodies were recovered in Mexico.
Among the estimated 5 million immigrants without legal papers living in the United States, many take jobs in fields and factories. More than 40 percent of farm workers in the United States are without documentation and the number is growing, according to a report last December from the University of California.
According to a 1998 report of the U.S. Bureau of the Census, in 1997 the foreign-born population in the United States totaled 25.8 million people or 9.7 percent of the population. Immigrants comprised 9.3 percent of the U.S. labor force in 1995. This layer of the working class also faces widespread discrimination and the worst conditions in housing as well as jobs.
A government-sponsored survey found that Blacks and Latino immigrants live in neighborhoods with the highest rates of tuberculosis and in buildings with the most safety violations. For example, the number of tuberculosis cases per 10,000 residents was 34.99 for Dominicans, 34.37 for U.S.-born Blacks; and 31.66 for Puerto Ricans. The rate for U.S.-born whites was 18.31.
Immigrants rebel in crowded jails
Thousands of immigrant workers who have not been accused of any crime or have completed prison terms for misdemeanors, like turnstile jumping at subway stations, have been locked up pending deportation. Some 5,000 immigrant children are detained in juvenile jails each year.
Conditions in already overcrowded jails and detention centers have become even more unbearable. Some 93 percent of the beds the INS uses in detention centers nationwide are occupied. In New York and New Jersey, all beds are taken, according to INS official Bergeron.
Miguel Valloy-Nuñez, a Dominican immigrant, died in a New York City immigration jail January 4 of pneumonia and viral infection. He was never permitted to see a doctor despite complaints of chest pain and persistent cough. The next day 33 inmates at the facility refused their breakfast and lunch in protest.
Several actions protesting overcrowded and abysmal prison conditions exploded at INS prisons in New York and New Jersey last year. Ninety-four immigrants went on a hunger strike at the detention center in Elizabeth, New Jersey, last October. Five days later, a group of inmates at the Wackenhut facility in New York went on a hunger strike that lasted nearly two weeks.
In 1995 inmates at the INS jail in Elizabeth rebelled against beatings and being shackled like animals. Protests leading to the exposure of such treatment has forced government investigations of INS detention facilities, including an investigation of torture by electric shock in a Florida jail.
More than 2,000 people rallied March 7 in New York after drug charges were dropped against Rev. Frank Almonte. A Dominican who has lived in the United States for 23 years with legal papers, Almonte was arrested after customs officials found 300 steroid tablets he had legally purchased in the Dominican Republic to improve the appetite of his 12-year-old son.
One thousand outraged protesters gathered for Almonte's arraignment at the Queens County courthouse, and the demonstration doubled in size at his second court hearing. While the authorities were forced to drop the drug charges under mounting protests, Almonte could still face deportation. Under the 1996 immigration law, the INS can deport someone who admits to acts which "constitute the essential elements" of a crime.
"We must become more active in political struggles that are just, so that what happened to me does not happen to anyone else," declared Almonte, who said he had never participated in demonstrations.
Meanwhile, in another attack on Constitutional rights, Nasser Ahmed has been held in solitary confinement for more than two and half years without being charged with a crime. He served time simply based on government claims that he belongs to an Islamic "terrorist" organization in Egypt. Citing "national security" concerns, the U.S. government has presented no evidence, making Ahmed's case one of two dozen cases involving "secret evidence," in which government officials have begun to deport immigrants. On December 4 last year, a new charge was laid on Ahmed: making false statements related to his application for temporary residence status.
"They've been raising national security concerns for almost three years now," Ahmed told the New York Times from the Federal Correctional Center in Otisville, New York. "It shows they really have nothing."
"They are throwing around words like `terrorist,' but they indict him on a document fraud from 10 years ago," declared Ahmed's attorney David Cole, a law professor at Georgetown University.
Ahmed was a legal assistant for Egyptian cleric Sheik Omar Abdel Rahman, who is serving a life sentence after being railroaded into prison in 1995 on a charge of "conspiracy" to blow up the United Nations, the World Trade Center, and other structures in New York City.
Another calculated measure against democratic rights sandwiched in the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility law is a provision that requires the INS to develop an automated system to keep tabs on millions of immigrants entering and leaving the United States.
Ostensibly created to identify immigrants who stay in the country past their visa expiration date, the provision would permit the government agency to maintain computerized records on anyone traveling to and from the country.
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