(Work has been very busy, I just relaunched our website, and we've had solid plans for the last 6 weeks. A weekend with no plans, and I have a whole bunch of stuff to write about. For God's sake, relatives of my friends are taunting me.)
Recently, the Travis County Sheriff invited the Immigration and Customs Enforcement division of the Department of Homeland Security to set up an office in the Travis County Jail. ICE has recently hired a bunch of new agents and is trying to deport as many folks as possible and one the easiest ways they see to do this is to grab everyone they suspect may be illegal at local jails.
The uproar, even among lawyers, has been very loud. There's a lot of folks who suggest that the effects on locals will be huge by deporting people who were otherwise detained for non-criminal offenses (maybe unpaid traffic or parking tickets??). Families will be ripped apart and forced to leave well-established lives behind (and at one meeting on the subject I attended, several people noted that this had already happened in the mere days that policy had been implemented.)
But reasonable people (and unreasonable ones, too) can disagree about whether this is such a bad thing. After all, I've had a few conversations where I've been made to feel that just because I don't think we should have a screen door at the border, I've got to turn my pinko-liberal card in. So the biggest and best objection I have to the scheme is one Jamie at Austin Criminal Defense Lawyer recently nailed down: that this scheme allows ICE to detain anyone who they think may be here illegally. This means that once the bond for a criminal charge has been set and the detainee is free to go, ICE can essentially hold that person until they prove their citizenship. I don't know about a lot of you, but I don't carry my birth certificate or my passport around with me. So it could theoretically be a couple days before they are released.
This scheme seems similar to the phenomenon known as "DWB", or Driving While Black. This policy encourages law enforcement to engage in discriminatory conduct. Faced with the dilemma of arresting someone or just giving them a citation and a notice to appear? Well, are you brown-skinned? Is your last name Martinez? Well, then you're going to spend a couple days locked up while we sort this thing out. You don't mind, do you?
All Austinites should mind and all Austinites should be pissed off. But I won't hold my breath.
UPDATE: Apparently, Phoenix PD is starting to use the same policy.
UPDATE 2/19/08: If you question whether or not citizens actually are getting caught up in this web, take a look at what ICE's Deputy Director fo Detention and Removal Operations testified to before Congress. Keep in mind, he is admitting that citizens have been deported. Not just detained, but deported!!! As in grabbed off the street and taken to Mexico! Does it have to happen to you or someone you know before you care?