President Obama has tried to split the difference between comprehensive immigration-reform advocates and law-and-order types. But for immigrants in detention, not much has changed since the Bush era.
Maria del Carmen Garcia-Martinez recently emerged from an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) holding cell in Maricopa County, Arizona, with her arm broken and her hand covered in blue ink. She had been booked for forgery at a Phoenix jail, where six officers twisted her arm after she resisted putting her fingerprint on what she thought was a form that would deport her to Mexico.
Garcia-Martinez spoke only Spanish, the form was in English, and she believed that after 19 years in the United States, she had a good case for staying in the country, despite her lack of documentation. Her forgery charge stemmed from a California driver's license she showed to an officer who asked for identification while telling her not to post yard-sale signs on city property. But the license wasn't a forgery; it was just expired. The charges were dropped.
Garcia-Martinez's treatment while in custody was unusually harsh, but her experience of being harassed and detained on a flimsy pretext has been common under ICE's 287(g) program. In 2006, the Bush administration began to encourage local law enforcement to help federal immigration authorities apprehend "criminal aliens." The Obama administration has responded to criticism of the program by touting Secure Communities, a new initiative that supporters say will be more focused in its pursuit of undocumented immigrants with felony records. However, there is growing concern among immigrants' rights activists that this new program has begun to veer off course as well.