Rights groups look at proposed Michigan law
By Jessica Barrow
Friday, 07.02.2010, 02:28am
With the Immigration Law Enforcement Act, which will give local police officers the right to detain anyone suspected of being in the U.S. illegally, proposed in Michigan, many citizens are concerned that the proposed authority will lead to misuse and abuse of power by local law enforcement officers. In view of the concern, ADC hosted the town hall meeting on racial profiling on Wednesday June 30.
The town hall meeting was held by the organization Rights Working Group. Rights Working Group is a national coalition of civil rights, civil liberties, human rights and immigrant rights advocates. According to the organization’s website, their goal is to “ensure that everyone in the U.S. has certain inalienable rights including the right to a fair trial, freedom from arbitrary detention and protection from the discriminatory application of the law.”
The discriminatory application of law was the focus of the town hall meeting which is part of their national campaign “Racial Profiling: Face the Truth.” The campaign, which includes six town hall meetings across the United States, allows local citizens to raise awareness of racial profiling by sharing their stories with local government officials and civil rights leaders and coming up with ways to combat the practice.
Jumana Musa, director of Rights Working Group, hopes that the campaign will help pass the End Racial Profiling Act, ERPA. The Act was originally proposed in the year 2000, but was set back after the September 11 attacks in New York City.
She also hopes to rectify loopholes in the guidelines for use of race in law enforcement that were issued by the U.S. Department of Justice in 2003. The guidelines do not cover profiling based on religion or national origin.
The meeting was monitored by ACLU’s Rana Elmir. Panelists, who listened to and advised those who told their stories of racial profiling, included: Rashid Tlaib, State Representative of Michigan’s 12th House District; Barbra McQuade, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern Michigan District ; Nabih Ayad, Civil Rights Commissioner; Vincent Warren, Executive Director of the Center of Constitutional Rights; and Ricardo Meza, Regional Council for Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
“You can drive down southwest Detroit and sometimes it’s a ghost town because CBP trucks and vehicles are driving down that street and basically putting that whole community down on their knees,” said Ayad. “This community especially has so many issues that are so prevalent. Bills like the one passed in Arizona are just crippling.”
Prasanna Vengadam of Troy was stopped by a police officer, and when she told him that she hadn’t violated any traffic law, he told her to either take the ticket for the traffic violation or take one for not having her registration, which she was showing to him at that moment. She opted for the registration ticket and simply paid $25 in court.
Ron Scott, head of the Detroit Coalition of Police Brutality, has come across numerous cases of police officers, particularly the Gang Squad, using excessive force on Latino and African American youth who are doing nothing wrong.
Mary Turner of Southwest Detroit had a nephew who was beaten by police officers and left unconscious on the street and he had to walk home. He filed a complaint and by the time he found an attorney to handle a suit against the department, his statute of limitations had ended.
After having been checked by security and also subjected to a second “random” search, Lena Masri, Staff Attorney for CAIR-Michigan, along with her sister, was detained in an airport after being stopped by TSA agents when traveling home from a vacation in South America. She said she was familiar with the process of being searched more than once when traveling, since she is always selected for the random searches, but this was different. She and her sister were told they had to take off their head scarves and be patted down again. She explained she would not removed her head covering at the gate, but agreed to be searched in a private room by a woman.
“They had to take us all the way out, through the general area and into a crowded public bathroom. When I went in there was another woman putting her head covering back on, and she had been searched by a TSA agent,” Masri said. “People started to hear that we were being searched and they were coming in. All and all we were delayed 40 minutes.” Masri said she was relieved she didn’t miss her flight, as she has before due to security checks.
In addition to her own personal story, Masri related that CAIR has numerous cases documented about government officers going to the homes and questioning citizens, particularly Yemeni-Americans, about everything from where in Yemen are their famlies to what scholars they like. Also Somali women being stopped at the border and searched in a humiliating fashion and families being separated because someone leaves the county and is then put on a no-fly list so that they cannot return home.
“I have never seen this kind of aggressive campaign to get people out of the country,” Tlaib said. “People that actually have petitions in, victims of our broken immigration system and I mean victims….It’s very interesting to me, they go after the victims. There are employers out there that are banking off of the broken immigration system. If we fixed our system those (business) leaders would have to pay minimum wage and not have a black market where they can employ many of the people who live in my community.”
Dawud Walid, director of CAIR Michigan, gave the last testimony, referring specifically to the FBI placing informants in mosques, the case of Imam Luqman being shot during an FBI raid, and the public being unable to get information regarding his death.
“It’s better (for information) to be released now than to hold and hold and hold. The longer this release is put off, the longer suspicion will be in the community. The community deserves to know, the son deserves to know what happened to the father,” Walid said.”We all have an interest to know what transpired that evening.”
“Every single Freedom of Information Act request we have filed has been denied. Requests were denied having been grant to other entities,” Walid said. “This goes back to public trust. We are in America. Let information out to the people. This could have been solved months ago.”
A common thread among all those who gave testimonies were that many lost their trust in law enforcement officials.
“Ultimately it undermines the entire purpose of law enforcement which is to try and prevent crimes,” said Musa. “When people stop trusting the police to assist them, when people stop interacting with police, when victims of domestic violence and sexual assault won’t even call, when people who witness crimes will not talk to the police, won’t talk to the FBI, that’s when everybody becomes less safe and it doesn’t matter what’s your race, religion, class or community.’