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Archive for the ‘Human rights’ Category

img_0032At the City Council meeting on February 7, Council member Mike Scott will introduce a resolution and ordinance designed to minimize the use of island policing resources to do the job of federal immigration authorities. Somewhat misleadingly known as “sanctuary city” laws (more accurately termed, “community policing laws,”) these kinds of policies have been adopted around the country, either formally or informally.

Contrary to some misunderstandings about what these laws are, they do not provide undocumented immigrants a place to hide from federal immigration authorities. Instead, they provide that local police will not use local resources to do the work of federal authorities in enforcing immigration laws, absent a court order or, in some jurisdictions, under very limited circumstances having to do with previous immigration violations and the commission of a serious violent felony. Absent those specified circumstances, police will not inquire about a person’s immigration status, or detain a person longer than they have legal authority to do. In the past and in some jurisdictions now, local law enforcement detains noncitizens longer than they would otherwise be allowed to do, in order to give Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) the time to investigate the person’s immigration status. Some courts have held that so-called “ICE detainers” are unconstitutional, and many jurisdictions, including the Kitsap County Sheriff’s Department, now decline to hold noncitizens under those detainers.

There are over 326 counties, 32 cities, and four states that limit local law enforcement’s involvement in federal immigration enforcement. Police departments tend to support these community policing laws. As Tom Manger, Chief of Police for Montgomery County and President of the Major Cities Chiefs Association, has said, “To do our job we must have the trust and respect of the communities we serve. We fail if the public fears their police and will not come forward when we need them. Whether we seek to stop child predators, drug dealers, rapists or robbers—we need the full cooperation of victims and witness. Cooperation is not forthcoming from persons who see their police as immigration agents. When immigrants come to view their local police and sheriffs with distrust because they fear deportation, it creates conditions that encourage criminals to prey upon victims and witnesses alike.”

On January 25, the president of the United States signed an Executive Order (EO), directing local jurisdictions to assist with federal immigration orders, regardless of local ordinance or policy. The EO provides that jurisdictions that don’t comply will lose federal funding. This EO has been the subject of widespread condemnation by immigrant and human rights advocacy groups, as well as mayors, governors, ordinary citizens. Seattle mayor Ed Murray called the day the EO was signed the “darkest day in immigration history” since the Japanese internment and said he’s prepared to lose “every penny” of Seattle’s federal funding, which was about $85 million in 2015. Governor Jay Inslee called the EO “mean-spirited, unnecessary and contrary to our values as Americans.” (more…)

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By Kelly Vomacka

*Editor’s note: The author is a lawyer who has provided volunteer assistance to the Kitsap Immigrant Assistance Center (KIAC) in Bremerton, among other nonprofits. Her story was provided to me by KIAC’s Immigration Legal Services. Her experiences occurred during President Obama’s time in office. He deported over 2.5 million people, more than any president in history, continuing the upward trend in deportations since the 1980’s.  Incoming president Donald Trump has made mass deportation one of his signature issues, promising to deport as many as 11 million people. This article details the process as it is today; if deportations increase, the system’s ability to respond will undoubtedly deteriorate, and the way human beings are treated–including many children— will become inestimably worse.

A couple of years ago, I volunteered at a weekend workshop for immigrant “Dreamers”—those people you’ve heard about in the news who were illegally brought to the US as infants and are now in their 20s. I enjoyed the workshop so much that by the time I left I wanted to practice immigration law. I loved hearing the Spanish, seeing the amazing young people, helping immigrants achieve the American Dream. Most of my legal experience was in criminal law, and seeing a young adult with no convictions and straight A’s did my heart good.

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Detainees inside the women’s wing of the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma. (Photo by Alex Stonehill)

So off to Immigration Land I went. A friend of a friend helped me get started, throwing me various bits of contract work and showing me the ropes. Suddenly, there I was, going to court, writing appeals, the works. And what I quickly discovered is that one does not dabble in immigration law. It’s fantastically complex, and trying to peer at the hairs they split could make you go blind. Plus, if you lose, your client doesn’t go to prison, they go to a country where they are pretty likely to die. As in: die. Be dead.

So I chickened out and came back to criminal law. But along the way I met enough immigration lawyers that I started doing some post-conviction relief work for their clients, and I volunteered for a couple of pro bono immigration cases.

Even this tiny bit of immigration “experience” sets me apart from the average criminal attorney, for whom immigration law is a mysterious black box and all they know is “talk to Washington Defender Association.” That’s all I know, too, but I’ve visited Immigration Land just enough to have a few postcards to share from my travels. I think of myself as a tourist who went to Europe and saw 9 countries in 10 days. Here’s what I’ve learned.

I love the Constitution

Seriously, love it. Have you ever wondered what criminal law would look like without it? Okay, I know, you see that every single day. So do I. But really, what if it wasn’t there? What if the accused had no right to counsel, no speedy trial, no jury, none of it? Okay, a few shreds of Due Process for decency’s sake, but that’s all.

There’s no Constitution in immigration law. Not much of one anyway. The Constitution does not apply to borders, and, thanks to our old friend the Legal Fiction, much of immigration law is considered to be “at” the border. Clients have no right to a lawyer, since immigration law is “merely” civil. I have sat in court and watched person after person, with no legal training, no English, and no interpreter, try to defend themselves against deportation. I’ve seen a judge prevent an interpreter from interpreting, even though the interpreter was sitting right there. I’ve seen continuances that go years into the future, once because the interpreter didn’t show up, a few times because the judge was out sick. I’ve seen people locked up without bond who have committed no crime at all.

I’ve seen people locked up on obviously unconstitutional searches and seizures. Yes, I wish the criminal courts would follow the Constitution more closely, but boy oh boy am I glad it’s around at all.

The detention center is a hole

The Northwest Detention Center is the worst jail I’ve ever seen, hands down. It sits out on the Tacoma Tideflats, over a Superfund site. It is surrounded by concertina wire. There is no bus service. The only parking is for staff and government lawyers. There are no coffee or sandwich shops nearby. It is privately run by a national prison corporation, and Congress has mandated a quota of inmates. You read that right: The detention center is required, by law, to fill a certain number of beds each night.

The front door greets you with numerous signs telling you what illnesses you may contract if you go inside. The architecture is Late Brutalist, constructed of whitewashed concrete blocks. Despair oozes from the walls. Everything about the place says “Danger. Keep out.”

But you enter anyway, because you need to get to the courtroom inside. You go through security screening, which is similar to jail screening. Then you are buzzed through a heavy locked door into a dismal waiting area that compares unfavorably to the airport. You make pleasant small talk with the guard to charm your way through the next locked door, into a narrow hallway lined with benches. On those benches are potential deportees, color-coded jail garb, at various levels of misery. Finally you are admitted through the third locked door into the courtroom. I should mention, if it’s not obvious, that the courtroom is open to the public.

I should also mention that plenty of people housed there have legal status in the US. Many of them are Legal Permanent Residents, and notice that first word there is “legal.” Not all, not most, but many.

There’s also a court in Seattle. I can’t call it a courthouse. It’s a suite in an office building downtown. No locked doors, but same screening, same dismal waiting area.

All of the courtrooms are beautiful, with churchy pews for the audience, a wooden railing with a proper gate, big gleaming counsel tables, comfortable chairs, and top notch electronics. The courtrooms are painted in a rich teal that exudes both power and calm. The “judges” wear robes (more on the air quotes in a minute), and the staff operates with hushed efficiency.

It’s not a real court

They hate it when you say this, but it’s true. Immigration courts are administrative bodies, not courts. The judges answer to the Attorney General, and ultimately to the president. They are employees of the executive branch of government, and if they stray from government policy, they are punished. They have no judicial independence whatsoever.

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RentalIt’s been six months since the Bainbridge City Council voted to develop the Suzuki property with an emphasis on affordable housing, and picked Olympic Property Group as the developer. With the housing crisis raging on throughout the Puget Sound region (see, e.g., here, here, and here, and the island’s Housing Needs Assessment, here), Bainbridge Island has made little progress toward easing its affordability problems.  And that lack of progress comes after more than a decade of inattention, as I wrote in March, when I noted that since 2003, the island has increased its income-qualified affordable housing stock by only 66 units.

But maybe there’s some good news after all. While progress on the Suzuki property has been bogged down in the particulars of an ecological study, the drafters of the Housing Element of the Comprehensive Plan update have done some promising work of their own.

The drafting committee has come up with concrete programs with a track record for helping to alleviate the housing cost burdens embedded in a community where the median single-family home price exceeds $750,000 and rental vacancies are near zero.

Among the ideas: amend the City’s development rules to encourage innovation such as tiny houses, micro units and cottage housing; expand opportunities for infill in Winslow and the Neighborhood Centers; and allow the creation of small lots and smaller footprint homes.

One idea in the draft Comp Plan has been especially popular in other communities: the Multi-Family Property Tax Exemption (MFTE) program. Established by state statute, this program allows local governments to exempt multi-family housing developments from property tax for 12 years if at least 20% of the units are rent-restricted for income-qualifying tenants. This program has been adopted by cities across Washington, both large—Seattle, Tacoma, Spokane, Bellevue—and small—Bellingham, Moses Lake, Yakima, Shoreline, Bremerton. (more…)

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It was after 11 last night when the City Council concluded its discussion about the next steps in the process to decide what to do about the Suzuki property. The Council agenda called only for “discussion” on next steps and not for a vote. But when each council member had given lengthy statements about his or her views on Suzuki, a visibly tired mayor Val Tollefson said he’d “counted noses” and believed a majority of four council members were in favor of developing the property for affordable housing. The four members supporting development are Roger Townsend, Wayne Roth, Mike Scott, and Val Tollefson.

They also supported doing the ecological study of the property urged by Council members Ron Peltier, Kol Medina and Sarah Blossom. Tollefson noted that much of the work for such a study has already been done and that the first task would be to work with City staff to learn what has been done, and to “fill the gaps” with a paid consultant. The four in the majority rejected the idea, floated by Peltier, that the City should use citizen volunteers for the study. (more…)

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I received this letter yesterday, in response to my post “Fair housing or fair weather ideals?” The writer teaches English, film studies and composition at Bainbridge High School.

Hi Althea,

I just read your article on affordable housing and the Suzuki property and wanted to thank you for raising such an important issue

If you are interested, there is another side / consequence to the lack of affordable housing on Bainbridge–a significantly diminished ability to attract and retain teachers and administrators for Bainbridge schools.

The school board recently repealed the requirement that administrators have to live on the island. While that’s both a compromise and a recognition of our housing problem, it’s certainly not a solution.

Other organizations such as the Housing Resources Board and the Marguerite Foundation make laudable efforts to address this issue. Unfortunately their income and experience rules often wind up excluding more experienced teachers.

This is an issue that’s both immediate and near and dear to my heart. Last year, my wife and I divorced. I was lucky to find a one-bedroom apartment I could afford on Bainbridge so that I could stay near my three children. When my kids come over, they sleep on air mattresses in the crowded living room. It’s not ideal, but we’ve made it work for the past year. However, a couple of months ago, I found out that my landlord intends to sell the apartment at the end of my lease. As you are probably aware, while the housing market is tight on the island, the rental market is even tighter. After going through the loss of my rental myself and seeing it happen to two close friends, I decided it was time to stop renting and start shopping for a house.

Despite having lived and taught in this community for 11 years, despite being at the top of my pay scale with zero debt and a credit score in the 800s, I, as a single teacher, literally cannot afford to buy a house in the community I call home. I’ve done everything I can short of working a second job–and there are many teachers who do just that in order to make ends meet. I’ve pursued and received my National Boards endorsement, I advise an after school club. For years, I served as department head. Despite these pursuits, I simply don’t make enough to afford even a modest house on the island. Consequently I am moving to Poulsbo in two weeks. (more…)

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home1We’ve heard a lot about the environmental value of the Suzuki property, and the potential ecological impact from development. In comparison, we’ve heard almost nothing about housing access, lack of diversity and other consequences of Bainbridge Island’s affordable housing problems. I don’t want to further polarize people, but I do think a balancing of the factors in the City’s decision would be helpful.

Fair housing is an ideal that emerged from our nation’s civil rights movement. In the 1960’s, a national advisory commission found that both open and covert racial discrimination prevented black families from obtaining better housing and moving to integrated communities. To overcome the legacy of segregation, unequal treatment, and lack of access to opportunity in housing, Congress adopted the Fair Housing Act (FHA).

The FHA outlaws obvious discriminatory practices like exclusionary zoning, discriminatory lending practices and racially restrictive covenants. Over the years, it has been expanded to cover several protected classes, prohibiting housing discrimination based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability or the presence of children. Like many states, Washington has its own fair housing laws, and specifies additional protected classes, such as age, sexual orientation, political ideology and source of income.

But discrimination is not always obvious, and last spring, in Texas Dept. of Housing and Community Affairs v. Inclusive Communities Project, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed that housing policies resulting in “disparate impact”—a disproportionately adverse effect on protected classesviolate the law even if there is no intent to discriminate. The Court cited zoning laws and other housing restrictions as examples of actions that may not arise from intentional discrimination, but may nevertheless violate the law because they have a disparate impact on protected classes.

Also last year, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) finalized a new rule that gives sharper teeth to the Fair Housing Act, impacting all communities, including our own. This rule requires all agencies receiving HUD money to provide regular reports on actions they have taken to “affirmatively further fair housing.” These reports must be be submitted to HUD for review. This is a more robust standard than the previous requirement to do an “analysis of impediments” to fair housing, which fell short of the goal of increasing housing fairness.

How do these developments affect us locally?

Bainbridge Island receives HUD money through Kitsap County, according to HUD Public Affairs officer Leland Jones. For example, Housing Kitsap–our county’s public housing agency—provides HUD money to islanders who have Section 8 vouchers. Additionally, federal money provided some of the financing for Ferncliff Village, an affordable housing development of our housing nonprofit, Housing Resources Bainbridge (HRB). Thus, the island’s efforts to affirmatively further fair housing must be documented and submitted to HUD under the new rule.

Even before the new rule, there was plenty of publicly available information about regional housing efforts.  For example, a 2014 report by the Puget Sound Regional Council said that although most forms of overt housing discrimination are in decline in the Puget Sound region, the impacts of historical unfairness are still evident. The report further noted, “Structural causes of segregation continue to have a pervasive effect across communities, whether or not self-segregation or discrimination are also at play. People are residentially sorted by economic status. High-priced neighborhoods as well as neighborhoods with limited rental housing fail to provide feasible housing choices for low- and-moderate income households.”

Bainbridge Island is deeply afflicted with these structural causes of segregation, and is one of the most racially segregated communities in the entire region. According to our latest Housing Needs Assessment, the population of Bainbridge Island in 2010 (the most recent year for which data is available) was 91% white. Since 1980, minorities have consistently made up less than 10% of the island’s population. Compare this to other Puget Sound suburbs: Shoreline: 69% white; Bellevue: 60% white. Even our Eastside doppelganger, Mercer Island, is substantially more diverse than Bainbridge at 78% white. (more…)

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IMG_2996 Next week the City Council will start talking about what they want to do with the Suzuki property. There are four proposals on the table, ranging from transferring the land for free to the Parks Department, to selling it for as much as $2.6 million for higher-density development that includes at least some affordable housing. The process has generated strong opinion, because our community (and our Comprehensive Plan) place so much value on the seemingly contradictory goals of environmental stewardship and affordable housing.  In a recent interview with Bainbridge Island Broadcasting, the City’s Interim Planning Director, Joe Tovar, hit the nail on the head when he said, “So you’ve got those two things that, in the abstract, are very high rank order public policy priorities for people here on the island.”

In the abstract. Yes, of course.

People come down on the side of either pro-housing or pro-preservation (sometimes trying to split the baby by saying, “I do believe in affordable housing, just not here,” though the specific location of Not Here remains elusive). We collect data and studies about ecological value, species counts, aquifer recharge and the significance of trees, wetlands and pond. The other side counters with data and studies about housing costs, the benefits to kids from lower-income homes when they live in more affluent communities, and the heavier traffic from people who work on Bainbridge Island but must commute from off-island. A third view talks about missing middles, and the need for a wholesome refuge for island kids.

Data, careful study and analysis are important as a foundation for our decision-making, but we can’t stop there. We would do well to remember that data and studies are abstractions, in the sense that Tovar observed. Abstractions do not pull us together, but further apart, into the solitary confines of our own mental chatter, beliefs and preoccupations. They often confirm what we already believe. The realities in our community become symbols–abstractions—for global problems. We hunker down to fight the good fight, and solutions get lost in the fight.

When one abstraction collides with another in a seemingly intractable way, a good plan might be to go out into the real world, into the good air, where we know our surroundings bodily, with our eyes, and ears, our skin, our hands and feet.

There, we sense the wholeness and mystery of this Earth. There is no part of the Earth that is not touched by humans. There is no part of the human that is not touched by the Earth. We are already in profoundly consequential relationship with our home, our Mother. We are a crowded planet. Beautiful places that are good places to live become more crowded by the year. We don’t know how to protect our good, beautiful places, where people want to live. We don’t know how to provide decent housing for all people. Like every species, we engage in the daily struggle for survival, and now we face the added challenge of adapting to a changing world not of our own making, and almost entirely outside of our individual control. We are facing the unknown. Old strategies and structures no longer point the way forward.

Neither do questions that pose a false dichotomy: Environment or people? Homes for people of modest means, or homes for non-human species? Development or land preservation? Act now or delay? It is neither possible nor reality-based to try to choose between the natural environment and the fundamental needs of human beings.

For me, a more helpful question might be this: how do we have a relationship of integrity with the Earth and all her creatures, including human creatures, in this place, at this time?

It is not an easy inquiry. It requires a willingness to leave the comfort of already-formed answers. It reminds us that “community” includes all life forms — animals, moss, birds, trees, human beings–and that, as a community, we are accountable to our land, our neighborhoods and to each other. It takes us out of abstraction, and into actual, concrete experience. (more…)

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