Secretary Napolitano: DHS Will Not Help Implement Alabama Law

Affiliate: ACLU of Alabama
October 31, 2011 6:31 pm

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Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice Reacts: “Actions Speak Louder than Words.”

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Montgomery, AL – Janet Napolitano, secretary of the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS), told a Congressional committee this week that her agency is not helping Alabama officials enforce our state’s new discriminatory anti-immigrant law. The Secretary said that she is concerned about reports of racial profiling, and that her agency is cooperating with the US Department of Justice to investigate these and other abuses.

The Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice appreciates Secretary Napolitano’s remarks. However, given the documented cooperation between local authorities and DHS since the implementation of the law, and the experience of Alabama families with immigration authorities, the Secretary’s declaration is being met with justified skepticism. Contributing to that skepticism is the Department’s failure to implement its announced new policy directing its agencies to exercise prosecutorial discretion in deportation cases.

In Decatur, Alabama, four immigrants were arrested during traffic stops and subsequently turned over to immigration authorities, who placed them into deportation proceedings. These individuals remain in proceedings despite the Secretary’s statement.

In addition, over 3,000 calls have been made to an emergency hotline set up by national and local legal organizations since the implementation of the Alabama law. The hotline has uncovered an extensive record of civil rights abuses, as well as cases of individuals being put into deportation proceedings by federal officials—again, despite the Secretary’s statement.

Olivia Turner, Executive Director of the ACLU of Alabama and Steering Committee member of ACIJ said, “We know of at least one woman who was arrested under one of HB 56’s ‘papers please’ provisions who is currently in deportation proceedings and fighting to return to her Alabama home. We call upon ICE to release her, and stop putting those ensnared by this unconstitutional law – which the administration is challenging – through the deportation pipeline.”

Victor Palafox, Steering Committee member of the Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice and leader with Alabama Dreamers for the Future (an organization of undocumented and allied youth) said, “I am glad that Secretary Napolitano finally acknowledged that the civil rights of our families are being violated on a massive scale. Many of our friends have disappeared from school and their families have fled the state, afraid of being ripped apart by immigration authorities. I hope that Secretary Napolitano is telling our families that we have nothing to fear–but we will have to see it to believe it. Actions speak louder than words.”

Napolitano’s latest statement follows another pronouncement by DHS, made in August of this year, that many immigrants who were deemed no threat to public safety–including young people eligible for the DREAM Act–should not be deported. However, those words have not resulted in relief to immigrant communities.

Said Mary Bauer, Legal Director from the Southern Poverty Law Center, “The new guidance about prosecutorial discretion from DHS has not been implemented. Immigration lawyers in the Southeast and across the nation are waiting for direction from DHS on these memos, but thus far it has remained business as usual in the immigration offices and courts that cover Alabama.”

Zayne Smith, Coordinator of the Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice, said, “It is time for the Department of Homeland Security to take bold and public action to assure our families that they will not be ripped apart as a result of HB 56. Statements from Secretary Napolitano in Washington are welcome, but relief in Alabama is what we need. The Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice asks that DHS publicly direct immigration authorities in the field to stop cooperating with local law enforcement in Alabama, who are being forced to implement a law which even Secretary Napolitano herself acknowledges is discriminatory. We also request that DHS headquarters review every deportation case coming out of Alabama to ensure that the Secretary’s words are enforced.”

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