In June 2011 while traveling on Lawrenceville Highway in Gwinnett County, Georgia, Bonnie Horton and her husband were stopped at a roadblock and surrounded by uniformed officers and police vehicles. Bonnie remembers seeing at least five cars pulled over on the side of the road and young children and babies in at least two of those cars.
All cars proceeding on that road were stopped at the roadblock. Most cars stopped for about a minute. As Bonnie and her husband approached the roadblock, they had their windows rolled down. She witnessed a man being taken out of one of the cars by officers, possibly being arrested. Alongside the same car stood a woman with a baby. Another car next to theirs had drivers and passengers inside who appeared to be Latino. She heard an officer asking them to provide proof of citizenship. However, Bonnie and her husband, who are Caucasian, were only asked to show proof of insurance and residence in Gwinnett County. They showed their driver’s licenses as evidence of residency, and were allowed to proceed without incident.
In 2011, Georgia passed HB 87, which empowers local police to investigate the immigration status of individuals where they have probable cause that an offense, including a driving infraction, has been committed. Since the law’s passage, suspicions about discriminatory treatment of Latinos and immigrants because of their physical appearance has become commonplace in the state. A recent report by several immigrants’ rights advocacy organizations — including the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia, the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights, the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, and the NYU Law School Immigrant Rights Clinic — confirms such suspicions.
Based on a review of data obtained from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) through a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit, the report demonstrates that discriminatory actions are ongoing. From 2007 to 2013, ICE’s practice of requesting the extended incarceration of an individual because of suspicion about their immigration status — known as ICE detainers — rose from 75 in 2007 to 12,952 in 2013 (through June 2013) — an increase of 17,169 percent. Moreover, 96 percent of those targeted in 2013 are of “dark or medium complexion,” up from 66.7 percent in 2007.
In many ways, the data affirm the continuing injustice suffered by immigrant communities in Georgia. Local and state law enforcement have relied on three main sets of initiatives to apprehend, detain and remove immigrants: an ICE partnership agreement between Georgia law enforcement agencies and the federal government known as the 287(g) program, the federal Secure Communities program and HB 87. The implementation of each of these initiatives has been accompanied by a disproportionate focus on people of color, stoking concerns of racial profiling.
Racial profiling under HB 87
The harmful effects of HB 87 have been felt across the state of Georgia. Immigrants and people of color feel that they have been subjected to racial profiling and other abusive policing practices. As witnessed during forums organized by the ACLU of Georgia and the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights around the state, fear and mistrust of the police is commonplace. Community members reported avoiding certain areas of the state because of police surveillance and harassment. Others say they are reluctant to call or avoid calling the police to report crime because of their immigration status — fearing they will be detained or investigated. This is troubling, but not surprising. Many law enforcement analysts and police chiefs have cautioned against putting local police in the position of implementing federal immigration laws, saying the practice will alienate communities of color and endanger the public.
The newly released report confirms that increasing cooperation between ICE and local law enforcement has in fact disproportionately affected people of color. In 2007, ICE identified 66.7 percent of individuals on whom it placed an immigration hold at state and local jails as having dark or medium complexion. In 2013 that number rose to 96.4 percent. In comparison, from 2007 to 2013, ICE placed an immigration hold on only 1.6 percent of those with fair or light complexion.
From 2007 to June 2013, ICE arrests in Georgia rose from 1,533 in 2007 to 16,143 in 2013 (through June 2013) — an increase of 953 percent. The figure includes all individuals apprehended by ICE officials in Georgia and those who were arrested by local police and transferred to ICE. It is important to note that the surge in arrests is not a result of an increase in the undocumented population but instead is a reflection of a dramatic expansion in enforcement.
In light of recent directives by ICE, which require immigration enforcement field offices to meet certain deportation quotas, the implementation of HB 87 has been even more harmful to Georgians. It led to an increase in checkpoints that target drivers as well as other occupants in a car.
ICE denies the deportation quota requirement, but documents obtained by the ACLU of North Carolina pursuant to a public records request prove the contrary. They highlight local officers’ aggressive targeting of undocumented community members to meet the agency's deportation quota — estimated at more than 400,000 people a year.
The documents show checkpoints are a key part of ICE’s strategy to boost deportations, which according to community members are concentrated in Latino neighborhoods. The checkpoints have turned daily commutes to work or even trips to grocery stores into lengthy ordeals complete with harassment for anyone with brown skin complexion. ICE insists it does not organize the checkpoints, but its officers “would be set up [at checkpoints] waiting to interview all individuals that [they] deem necessary.”
The dramatic increase in ICE arrests is a result of a growing collaboration between local law enforcement and ICE. State and local police, corrections officers, probation officials and other officials communicate with ICE about all Georgia residents with whom they come into contact, including witnesses and victims of crime.
Many Georgian families have been torn apart as a result of these practices. While the numbers of children and spouses who lost family members to deportation is underreported, ICE records indicate that an estimated 48,135 American-born children had a parent arrested by ICE in Georgia and at least 17,497 individuals had a spouse arrested by ICE from 2007 to 2013.
As the rest of the nation focuses on creating more welcoming communities for immigrants, it is unfortunate that the state of Georgia — acting in collusion with ICE — is busy creating roadblocks for the many residents living and working in our state. State lawmakers should immediately repeal the racial profiling law, HB 87, in its entirety. Local communities in Georgia should also join the more than 165 jurisdictions around the country, including cities such as Chicago, Newark, Philadelphia and the state of California, that have prohibited the unconstitutional prolonging of people’s detention on the basis of detainers.
HB 87 Negatively Impacts Georgia Economy and Reputation
One year has passed since the signing into law of Georgia's racial profiling law, House Bill 87. Although parts of HB 87 were temporarily enjoined as a result of the lawsuit brought by the ACLU and other organizations, the law's harmful effects are already being felt across Georgia.
Immigrants and people of color feel increasingly targeted by racial profiling and abusive policing practices, as they conveyed to the ACLU Foundation of Georgia through a series of forums around the state in the summer and fall of 2011.
Like the Arizona "show me your papers" legislation that inspired it, HB 87 effectively compels all people in the state of Georgia, citizens and non-citizens alike, to carry identification documents on them at all times — anyone who is believed by a police officer to have committed even a minor infraction is at risk of being asked to provide proof of their citizenship or immigration status. These are tactics associated with a police state, not a free country.
The law also promotes racial profiling by giving police officers discretion in both determining what information is "sufficient" to prove a person's identity and in choosing whom to subject to an investigation of immigration status among those whose identity cannot be verified. This will inevitably lead to the profiling of anyone who looks or sounds "foreign."
Through inviting the racial profiling of Latinos and other people of color, the law violates the Fourteenth Amendment's guarantees of equal protection and due process.
As a result of the passage of this racial profiling legislation, Georgia has suffered reputational harm. At least two organizations, the US Human Rights Network and the American Educational Research Association have moved their conventions elsewhere.
Georgia's largest industry is also suffering. Farmers who relied on the immigrant workforce are in trouble whether or not they ever hired undocumented workers. The Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association estimates that as a result of HB 87, Georgia's economy may lose $391 million and 3,260 jobs. One such job in the agricultural community may support as many as three "upstream" jobs. Other estimates have put the economic loss for Georgia farmers at between $300 million and $1 billion. Thousands of acres of onions, cotton, melons, and other crops have not been harvested due to an acute labor shortage that is a direct result of HB 87. Additionally, a switch from crops harvested by hand to crops harvested by machine will cost a farm up to $1.2 million due to the difference in the value of such crops. Every person in Georgia who farms, transports or sells farm produce, runs a business that depends on the patronage of farmers or buys groceries will feel the impact of this law. As an editorial in the Valdosta Daily Times noted:
Maybe this should have been prepared for, with farmers' input. Maybe the state should have discussed the ramifications with those directly affected. Maybe the immigration issue is not as easy as 'send them home,' but is a far more complex one in that maybe Georgia needs them, relies on them, and cannot successfully support the state's No. 1 economic engine without them.
The hard-earned tax money of Georgia's residents has also been spent on efforts to defend this wasteful and harmful anti-immigrant legislation. According to records obtained by the ACLU Foundation of Georgia, between June 2011 and December 2011 the amount of time spent by nine employees with the office of the state Attorney General in connection with the HB 87 litigation was over 868 hours.
In light of the disastrous impact of this racial profiling legislation on Georgia's reputation and economy, the Georgia legislature must repeal HB 87.
U.S.-Mexico border wreaks havoc on lives of an indigenous desert tribe
Jesús Manuel Casares Figueroa needs a catheter or he will die. His bloated chest pressed against his blue jacket as he sat in a wheelchair in front of his uncle’s modest concrete-block home, one of a handful in this traditional village of the O’odham in the Sonoran desert. His mother touched a gold-colored earring that dangled from Jesús Manuel’s left ear. Her son was born with spina bifida, she explained, and a chronic kidney infection has complicated his condition.
In February, the doctor said Jesús Manuel urgently needed the operation. His family didn’t have the money then, and they don’t have it now. So in a few hours mother and son will go door to door asking for donations in the neighboring O’odham village, about 60 miles south of Nogales.
For thousands of years, the Tohono O’odham (meaning “Desert People”) inhabited what is today southern Arizona and the northern state of Sonora in Mexico. But the O’odham were there long before either Mexico or the U.S. existed as nations. “We’ve always been here,” said Amy Juan, 28, a young activist on the reservation. “Nobody can argue that we weren’t here first.”
After the Mexican-American War, the international boundary between the U.S. and Mexico was drawn at the Gila River, just north of the O’odham ancestral lands. But the Gadsden Purchase in 1854 redrew the border right through O’odham territory. The O’odham were never consulted.
“They just drew a line, and when they drew that line O’odham in Arizona became citizens or were considered part of the U.S., O’odham in Mexico of course were not,” said Carlos G. Veléz-Ibáñez, director of the School of Transborder Studies at Arizona State University. “Unlike some of our Canadian borders, you don’t have the opportunity of dual citizenship or being able to determine which country you’re a citizen of.”
In the aftermath of 9/11, O’odham living on the U.S. reservation were forced to deal with the unintended consequences of a militarized border: Border Patrol agents harass and treat them as undocumented migrants on their sovereign land. Their desert landscape and wildlife get clobbered by migrants, traffickers and federal law enforcement. They return home to find cars stolen, houses ransacked by desperate migrants — migrants who far too often don’t survive the desert elements. It’s also not uncommon for tribal members to be lured by fast cash into working as coyotes or mules for the Mexican cartels, ending up in jail themselves.
But less attention is paid to the grave impact the same border has on O’odham in Mexico, who’ve become second-class citizens within their own tribe.
A nation divided
The Tohono O’odham Nation (pronounced TOHN-oh AUTH-um) is a sovereign government and federally recognized Indian nation that claims 25,000 members. Their reservation — established in 1917 — is the second largest in the U.S. and spans 2.8 million acres, about the size of Connecticut. The southern boundary includes 75 miles of the U.S.-Mexico international border.
Estimates vary on how many Tohono O’odham live in Mexico, and the tribal government refused to comment on the topic. The Tohono O’odham Community College website states that about 1,800 enrolled Tohono O’odham reside in Mexico. According to the 2000 national census and subsequent report by Mexico’s National Commission for the Development of Indigenous Peoples, 363 O’odham were living in Sonora, Mexico. However, that tally included only families in which someone in the household spoke the O’odham language, ñiok, which has been almost entirely replaced by Spanish.
When the Tohono O’odham reservation was created, said Veléz-Ibáñez, it was a distinctive land base that O’odham had control over even though it was held in trust by the U.S. government.
“In Mexico that didn’t happen at all. In Mexico they were at the mercy of the Mexican government,” he said. O’odham in Mexico had no special rights or recognition, and throughout the 20th century Mexican ranchers encroached on their land. (It wasn’t until after the Zapatista movement sprang out of the forests in Chiapas in 1996 that Mexico’s federal government officially recognized parcels of indigenous lands.)
Veléz-Ibáñez said the special relationship between the U.S. and native people beginning early on provided O’odham in the U.S. opportunities for education, economic development, housing subsidies, work and training programs — and health care — not available to O’odham in Mexico.
“The Indian health service is not a Cadillac program,” he explained, “but it’s still much better than what O’odham in Mexico had.”
When the border fence was erected — to this day just concrete vehicle barriers connected by chicken wire — it didn’t stop O’odham from crossing between the countries.
“The border meant not a thing to me,” said Henry Jose, a Navy veteran whose story was included in “It Is Not Our Fault,” a collection of testimonies from O’odham on both sides of the border used to make a case to Congress for citizenship for all O’odham. (The book was published in 2001, shortly before 9/11 changed the immigration debate drastically.) “The border is between the white people and the Mexicans but not us O’odham. These are Indian lands, O’odham lands.”
“We used to go back and forth freely,” confirmed Jose Garcia, lieutenant governor of the Sonoran O’odham who serves as a liaison between their traditional leaders and the Tohono O’odham Nation. These days Garcia, 72, splits his time between Arizona, where he owns La Indita restaurant in downtown Tucson, and Magdalena de Kino in Sonora, Mexico, where he advocates for the Mexican O’odham. Garcia’s grandparents were born on the U.S. side and migrated to Mexico. “So I look at Sonora and I look at the Nation as one for me,” Garcia said.
However, especially after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Customs and Border Protection — and the Department of Homeland Security it operates under — saw it much differently.
The Southwest Border Strategy, which was implemented beginning in the early 1990s, was a “prevention through deterrence” approach to illegal immigration. The goal was to crack down on the flow of migrants (and drugs) at popular urban crossing areas like Tijuana–San Diego and Juarez–El Paso, and thereby funnel the illicit traffic to the remote, rugged desert, where temperatures reach 110 degrees in summer. Border Patrol believed the maneuver would give it a tactical advantage, and at the same time “make it so difficult and so costly to enter this country illegally that fewer individuals try.”
However, they underestimated the resolve — and desperation — of migrants in search of economic opportunities. Despite the number of border agents in the Tucson sector skyrocketing from 280 to 1,770 between 1993 and 2004, Tohono O’odham tribal officials estimated that up to 1,500 undocumented migrants per day were crossing through the reservation.
For the O’odham, crossing the border anywhere but official points became illegal. Garcia says the fortified border further isolated the Sonoran O’odham.
“In Mexico the government has this mindset that the O’odham people that are living along the border are more Americans than Mexican citizens,'' he said. "And O’odham on this side have that same mind concept — that they’re in Mexico, so let Mexico take care of them. So we’re caught between a rock and a hard place.”
All members of the Tohono O’odham tribe, whether U.S. or Mexican citizens, are entitled to access the reservation clinic overseen by the U.S. government. In practice, border policies prevent this.
According to the Tohono O’odham Nation’s Resolution 98-063, passed in 1998, “enforcement of U.S. immigration laws has made it extremely difficult for all Tohono O’odham to continue their sovereign right to pass and re-pass the United States-Mexico border as we have done for centuries as our members are routinely stopped by the U.S. Border Patrol, while others have been actually ‘returned’ to Mexico even though enrolled.”
Many O’odham in Mexico do not have the proper documentation now required to cross legally, whether birth certificates (lacking due to home births) or tribal IDs (because they lack the paperwork or witnesses required for enrollment).
Plus, with the Sonoran desert being used as a backyard for criminal organizations, O’odham families in the U.S. have largely halted visits to their Mexican O’odham kin.
The fear is not unfounded.
“In my village [Wo’osan] you can’t even go out to the wooded area because you would never know who’s there,” said Garcia. Other areas of O’odham villages have been abandoned, he added, and turned into campsites by criminal organizations.
The problem of representation
But for Garcia, the issue facing O’odham in Mexico is not just access to resources but representation. “There isn’t any representation in the [tribal] council that comes from Sonora,” he said.
Even among those O’odham in Mexico who are officially enrolled in the Nation, very few are registered to one of the 12 districts on the reservation. Most Sonoran O’odham IDs state N.D., no district, Garcia said. This means that even though the tribe includes its Mexican members in the annual count that determines federal funds, those funds get divvied up between the districts and don’t reach the O’odham in Mexico.
If the tribe would allow it, he said, representation would give O’odham in Mexico a say in the tribal government.
“They would have a voice in representing the housing needs, the road needs, the education, the health issue — all those things would be voiced here on the Nation if we had representation.”
Garcia believes it’s vital to the economic improvement of O’odham in Mexico as well as their ability to keep their culture and identity intact.
“If the O’odham in Mexico don’t get organized, if they don’t get a unity going, they’re always going to be in the same boat,” he said.
David Ortega agrees. The self-described warrior with long salt-and-pepper hair was born in the U.S. but moved to Mexico where he lives with his wife, Patty. “We have lost that oneness,” he said. “We as native people have always supported each other. We’ve always lived together as one throughout history and culture.”
“I feel we have to unify first, bring ourselves back from the dominant culture’s way, relearn what we are as O’odham people.”
To that end, he’s spent the last year traveling from village to village in Sonora, Mexico, teaching O’odham language classes so that O’odham in Mexico don’t completely lose touch with their traditions and "him dag,'' or way of life.
But it’s a race against time.
Just a few generations go, almost every O’odham, whether in the U.S. or Mexico, spoke O’odham.
In 2012, researchers from the Center of Research and Higher Studies in Social Anthropology (CIESAS) classified 143 indigenous languages in Mexico that are facing extinction. The O’odham language (still called Pápago in Mexico) falls into the most vulnerable, or “critically endangered,” group, with only 116 speakers. Jacob Franco Hernández, a Ph.D. student at the University of Sonora, says even this count is not accurate. Since 2008 he’s worked with the Sonoran O’odham, and in his 2010 master’s thesis determined there are only 24 fluent speakers in Mexico.
While O’odham on both sides of the border have adopted the dominant language (whether English or Spanish), those on the U.S. side have maintained a much stronger grip on their indigenous language, history and traditions.
“There are O’odham descendants [in Mexico] that say, ‘We know we’re O’odham, but we don’t have anyone to show us what it is to be O’odham,’” said Garcia, the former lieutenant governor. “And most of our elders in Mexico that did know something about ‘him dag’ are gone. They say there’s a lot of elders still there, but what I see is a lot of elders who don’t have any interest in teaching. And we’re trying to revive and restore some of the traditional things that have been forgotten in Mexico.” Outside Jesús Manuel’s uncle’s home, eight family members gathered under a tree adorned with rusting horseshoes and other metal tools and trinkets. After a hearty breakfast of tortillas, beans, and fresh chicharrones cooked over an outdoor fire, a handful of O’odham youth from the reservation said goodbye to Jesús Manuel’s family.
Alex Soto, of the hip-hop duo Shining Soul shared a rap from his new album critiquing U.S. immigration policy.
Amy Juan wanted to leave the family with a traditional song. In the O’odham culture, songs are also prayers. She chose a song in ñiok that’s been passed down through the generations and was taught to her by a now-deceased elder. (To see a photo of Juan and to listen to her sing, see below.) It’s about a young man’s journey to the ocean. On the shore he dances the i:dahiwan, the cleansing dance, asking for blessings for everyone.
“I wanted to leave the family with something that would connect them to their O’odham roots,” Juan said. “I left it not only with the family but with the land, to remind it and them of our presence and to remind them that it is still O’odham land and our ancestors still remain there.”
Gather yourselves together, yea, gather together, O nation not desired;
And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: