PART 1: By Lupita Aguila Arteaga, Washington, DC
Photo Credits: Rúben Castilla Herrera
As thousands of people traveled to vacation hot spots for the Fourth of July weekend, a group of five from Washington, DC, ventured on a twelve hour drive to Atlanta, GA, to support and participate in a massive July 2nd march against the state’s anti-immigrant law, House Bill 87.
An Arizona SB 1070 copycat, HB 87 seeks to further criminalize the undocumented immigrant community and tear apart families. Aaron, Mahgol (or Maestra, her DJ name), Mateo, Nancy, and I – students, artists, and activists, all children of immigrant parents – either hardly or didn’t even know each other before this trip. On this Independence Day weekend, however, we were all asking the same question: “Independence for Whom?”
For those of us born in the United States? Like Jeremiah M. Lignitz and Brian J. Walraven, for example, the two Cobb County police officers who in March 2010 arrested and beat Angel Francisco Castro Torres after querying his immigration status?
Lignitz and Walraven admitted they stopped Castro, who was riding his bicycle in Smyrna, GA, solely because of his race. They then proceeded to beat Castro, breaking his nose and eye socket. Trying to cover up the attack, the officers transported Castro to the Cobb County jail under the 287(g) agreement they maintain with the Department of Homeland Security. This agreement, which was enacted in Cobb County in 2007, gives police officers the authority to enforce federal immigration laws. A DHS report released by the inspector general identifies ongoing problems with the 287(g) program. Inadequate training and failure to establish checks and balances for local law enforcement officials who, like Lignitz and Walraven, act on racism rather than probable cause are listed among them.
Castro was detained for hours without medical treatment. The damage to Castro’s eye was so severe that reconstructive surgery was required. He was held in Cobb County jail for four months, charged only with obstructing an officer.
He was released after Lignitz and Walraven failed to show up for his hearing. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and its co-counselors filed a federal civil rights lawsuit against the officers. Castro won the suit in May 2011.
His case is just one example of the ease with which officers operating under 287(g) can target individuals based on appearance. Sponsored by Georgia’s Republican Governor Nathan Deal and Rep. Matt Ramsey, HB 87 would require all law enforcement officials in the state of Georgia to check the immigration status of suspects who cannot immediately provide identification.
How can a brown or black person feel free in the streets of Georgia, or in any of these other states that have passed similar anti-immigrant laws? More importantly, how does a law built on racism uphold the values of this country?
Thankfully, the “show me your papers” provision of HB 87, as well as one that would punish those who house, feed, and/or provide services to immigrants, was blocked by Federal Judge Thomas W. Thrash Jr. on June 27, just before taking effect on July 1.
Groups like the Georgia Latino Alliance on Human Rights (GLAHR), Somos Georgia, the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON), and the Georgia Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, among others, underlined these provisions as devastating to the immigrant community, agreeing that HB 87 as a whole should be scrapped. Some of the provisions that remain intact post-injunction require businesses and government agencies to use the federal E-Verify system—a program viewed by many as flawed due to its high rate of failure in detecting ineligible workers while simultaneously declaring the following categories of people erroneously ineligible: “those who have married, divorced or changed their names; legal immigrants and naturalized citizens with paperwork issues; or those unlucky enough to be victims of clerical errors.”
Despite the federal injunction, GLAHR and other groups called for a day of non-compliance on July 1 and a march for justice the following day.
The Washington Five, as I’ll refer to us, arrived in Atlanta early Friday morning: hungry, sleep-deprived, aching from the long car ride. After a much needed shower and hearty breakfast, we headed to the GLAHR headquarters where preparations for the march were well underway.
Part 2 will be posted tomorrow, Tuesday, 07.08.2011