Inside the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Washington. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Gerardo Gonzalez Jr. was born near Los Angeles and, as such, is a US citizen. The 23-year-old was arrested on a drug charge in December—and his world was turned upside down. Gonzalez is legally eligible for release on bail, but when his girlfriend attempted to post bail in January, they both learned that Gonzalez was placed on an immigration hold. Despite meeting the burden of providing evidence that he was born in the United States and holds citizenship, authorities have unconstitutionally held Gonzalez in jail for six months—only because an officer involved in Gonzalez’s arrest erroneously noted that he was born in Mexico.
Gonzalez is not the only citizen that has found himself place in an immigration hold, termed a “detainer,” by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE). The agency started a controversial program known as Secure Communities nearly five years ago, with the apparent aim of identifying deportable immigrants—and does so by sharing information among local, state and federal enforcement agencies.
The result has been disastrous. Some 1 million have been placed on detainers since the start of the program in 2008. Like Gonzalez, nearly 1,000 of them are US citizens. Nearly 30,000 are legal permanent residents with full rights to remain in the country—and more than 20,000 of those have no criminal conviction. While Secure Communities has terrorized undocumented immigrants in particular, those who are documented, as well as those who are citizens, are also feeling the brunt of a social control experiment that has grown completely—and unconstitutionally—out of control.
Gonzalez, who still remains in jail, has now filed suit against ICE. The class-action case, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Day Labor Organizing Network and a California law firm, draws attention to the fact that ICE is systemically violating the Fourth Amendment under Secure Communities, placing citizens on detainers without probable cause. Although ICE—which is not commenting on the case at the moment—claims to have implemented new standards in December, attorneys claim the same unconstitutional standards remain in place. The fact that Gonzalez remains behind bars, unable to post bail, illustrates their point.
Despite hope for real immigration reform at the start of the year, the Senate’s bill is proving to be little more than a border security bill (but don’t say we didn’t warn you). As Congress continues its debate, some 11 million undocumented people remain vulnerable to zealous authorities that seek to detain and deport them. Xenophobia has been rendered into an ICE policy that has resulted in the ongoing detention of US citizens who are often profiled only because their brown skin means they look the part of an undocumented immigrant.
As long as we keep operating under the logic that 11 million essential workers, students and contributors to our society are fundamentally different than those who possess a US birth certificate, we’ll keep living with policies that will result in blatant profiling and violate the Constitution so many of those citizens hold so dear.
Is immigration reform a good reason to scrap the debt ceiling bill?