Immigrant advocates and attorneys say they have become fearful that public sentiments will lead only to tougher times for immigrants, weeks after sniper suspects John Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo, an undocumented Jamaican immigrant, spread terror on Washington, D.C. and neighboring states. Irwine Clare, head of the Caribbean Immigrant Services and who is also Jamaican, says while he doubts there will be stricter policy changes, he believes that those administering the law will definitely be stricter.
“You’ll now see the circling of the wagon and a lot of knee-jerk reaction to public sentiments,” Clare said. “Homage will be found under the guise of homeland security. Even the wider community may take on a vigilante-type approach to immigrants.”
He added that just like in the post 9-11 era, when Muslims and those who fit the Middle-Eastern profile were stereotyped, immigrants now might face additional discrimination. “It’s not just the undocumented, but all immigrants who would suffer,” Clare said.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, one immigration lawyer said, he is worried that anti-immigrant forces will try to use the immigration issues in the sniper case to try to persuade Americans to curtail immigration. “I hope they are unsuccessful, but you never know,” he said. “I am sure the INS will be under pressure to deport more illegal aliens.”
Advocates are especially concerned that anti-immigrant activists like Craig Nelsen of the Project USA fame, will stir this discrimination. Nelsen, many may recall, was the man behind the placement of anti-immigrant billboards in Queens and Brooklyn, about a year ago. He’s since moved to Iowa and is continuing his anti-immigrant campaign there.
On October 27th, Nelsen zoned in on the sniper suspect’s undocumented status as another reason why the door should be shut on immigrants. He stated that, “Every American should be furious with the revelation that Lee Malvo is an illegal alien. It is the latest in a long list of examples of the INS releasing illegal aliens into our midst with lethal results. The Bush administration is prepared to watch innocent Americans continue to die rather than take the vigorous steps necessary to enforce existing immigration laws.”
But pro-immigrant advocates say that Nelsen fails to state that at least five of the sniper victims were immigrants, including bus driver Conrad Johnson, who was himself a Jamaican immigrant, 72-year-old Pascal Charlot, a Haitian immigrant, Premkumar Walekar, an Indian migrant, Sarah Ramoshad, who had migrated from El Salvador and recently, as ballistics confirmed, Korean immigrant and Baton Rouge, Louisiana resident Hong Im Ballenger.
But attorney and Cornell University Professor Stephen Yale-Loehr is more optimistic. “I think that the American public realizes that just like U.S. citizens, there are immigrants who are upstanding and cannot be judged by the apparent actions of one person,” Loehr said.
He is also adamant that an amnesty for the eight million or so undocumented would be more beneficial now to the United States than ever. “I think the idea of earned legalization is one whose time has come, especially since we can improve our security by bringing the millions of undocumented out of the shadows,” Yale-Loehr said. “It will also be good for the economy since many of these immigrants do contribute.”
Immigration and Naturalization Service head James Ziglar has promised his agency would not seek immigration information provided by witnesses to local authorities.
“I want to personally urge the immigrant community to come forward if they have information that will assist in this investigation,” Ziglar said in a statement. He noted that the INS provides special residency visas for people who help solve crimes.
But advocates say it is left to be seen what steps the INS will take in light of not only Malvo and Muhammad’s alleged actions, but the stirring up of anti-immigrant sentiment across the country.
For now, many remain immediately concerned with the November 11th INS statement that states that “all individuals who arrive illegally by sea will be placed in expedited removal proceedings and during their legal process will remain in detention at the discretion of the Immigration and Naturalization Service and Department of Justice.”
The agency adds that even if an individual establishes a credible fear of persecution, the attorney general and the INS commissioner retain the authority to detain them without bond while hearings and appeals take place.
The decision, say agency officials is merely “the activation of pre-existing authority,” conditions that advocates say may be seen more in the weeks and months to come.