Texas Youth Commission
October 18, 2007, 5:43 pm
Filed under: News Stories

Abuse scandal rocks TYC


Inmates at the West Texas State School in Pyote move around the facility in single-file lines.

About the investigation:

Since Feb. 18, The Dallas Morning News has been writing about the sexual and physical abuse scandal inside the Texas Youth Commission. Our coverage began in Pyote at the West Texas State School, where documents obtained by the newspaper revealed how supervisors had abused young inmates and traded favors for sex. For years, no one did anything to stop it.

Reacting to the revelations, state officials moved quickly to overhaul TYC’s management, even as the scope of the scandal expanded to the entire agency and its prisons throughout Texas.

Below is a complete listing of the Morning News‘ coverage of events and its ongoing look at TYC:


10/07/07: Jail operator GEO’s troubles not limited to Coke County youth lockup
The private operator of a juvenile prison, closed last week because of fetid conditions and alleged mismanagement, has similar problems at other lockups throughout Texas.
Link: Interactive map of GEO Group-managed facilities
Download: E-mail statement from TDCJ spokeswoman Michelle Lyons regarding the agency’s contracts with GEO Group (.pdf)

10/06/07: TYC official blasts GEO Group over Coke County facility conditions
The Texas Youth Commission said Friday that a privately run prison in West Texas was a fire trap where inmates’ medical needs were ignored, schooling was “almost non-existent” and a pattern of “physical and psychological harm” was routinely tolerated.
Download: Audit report on Coke County Juvenile Justice Center (.pdf)
Download: Photos taken during audit of Coke County Juvenile Justice Center (.pdf)

10/03/07: TYC investigates how ‘deplorable conditions’ at closed prison escaped detection
The Texas Youth Commission is investigating why juvenile inmates endured squalor and deprivation at a privately run West Texas prison that was repeatedly praised by TYC’s own quality-assurance monitors.
Document: Read TYC ombudsman Will Harrell’s report describing serious problems at Coke County Juvenile Justice Center (.pdf)

09/16/07: TYC is finding new leaders – in state’s troubled prison system
The Texas Department of Criminal Justice, itself a troubled institution, has been tapped to supply new leadership to another prison system brought down by physical and sexual abuse of inmates, official cover-ups and mismanagement – the Texas Youth Commission.
Documents: Abuse and misconduct in TDCJ
Opinion: Youth prisons need expert leaders, not refugees

09/13/07: Advisory group criticizes TYC’s pepper spray policy
In a report obtained by The Dallas Morning News, TYC’s Blue Ribbon Task Force makes a number of recommendations for changing TYC, which was rocked this year by a series of scandals involving physical and sexual abuse.

08/30/07: Lawmakers grill TYC officials on reform
Lawmakers revisited the Texas Youth Commission scandal publicly for the first time since the end of the legislative session on Wednesday, questioning top officials on their progress in rehabilitating the embattled agency and addressing youth parole and use-of-force concerns that have resurfaced in recent months.

08/05/07: Feds knew about TYC abuse cases
Read Texas Ranger Brian Burzynski’s report detailing allegations of sexual abuse at the West Texas State School in Pyote. (.pdf)
Letters to state officials regarding the U.S. Department of Justice’s investigation into allegations of abuse at TYC facilities.
Letter from Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee encouraging U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to investigate the TYC (includes reply from Deputy Attorney General Richard A. Hertling)

07/29/07: Texas’ youth jail operators have troubled histories
Firm’s leaders linked to problems
GEO Group’s facilities were closed in Louisiana, Michigan
Nonprofit is no stranger to scrutiny
Interactive graphic: Texas private contracts around the nation
Interactive graphic: Mistreatments at TYC contract facilities


–> 05/13/07: Mistakes, mismanagement wrecked TYC
A chain of administrative failures, executive inattention and bureaucratic missteps brought the Texas Youth Commission to institutional collapse. State government records, legislative archives and interviews with current and former officials show a breakdown of authority at all levels.
TYC Executive director Dwight Harris and board Chairman Pete Alfaro downplay problems within TYC
Audio: Senators question TYC officials
Timeline: Repeated warnings of TYC abuse sent to governor’s office
Chart: Money issues: Annual state and federal funding for TYC (.pdf)
E-mails show TYC officials obsessing over image


TYC urged to shut down another lockup: The privately run facility in North Texas is dangerous, youth advocate says
October 18, 2007, 5:24 pm
Filed under: News Stories

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The assessment from TYC’s independent ombudsman Will Harrell follows the sudden closure earlier this month of a privately run West Texas lockup in Coke County where officials said young offenders lived in deplorable conditions, including cells smeared with feces.

“Of all the facilities I’ve visited, Victory Field seems the least adequate,” Harrell wrote in a report shared with lawmakers Wednesday but dated before he visited Coke County. The facility is located in the North Texas town of Vernon, near the Oklahoma border.

“The (physical) plant is structurally suffering, dangerous and unclean, staff morale is low, youth are idle and agitated, programming is meager … and there is a serious understaffing and training issue,” Harrell wrote of the lockup.

TYC is expected to close more units as its youth population declines.

“If it were my decision to make, that would be one of the first ones that I would recommend closing,” he said after his testimony.

Harrell was among TYC officials testifying before members of the House Corrections Committee, which pelted Acting Executive Director Dimitria Pope with detailed questions about the agency’s progress in improving safety.

Security improvements

For instance, lawmakers complained about an earlier decision that Pope has now reversed that had called for using pepper spray before physically restraining a disruptive youths.Also, TYC’s plans for installing more security cameras critical to the safety of youths and staff had been set for completion next summer. Pope said that’s now moved up to March.

TYC’s troubles erupted last spring when the public learned that two administrators at a West Texas lockup were accused of molesting scores of boys in their care. A rash of sexual and physical abuse allegations followed.

“My concern is that they’re not providing the level of safety to the youths that are there that we had intended to provide,” Rep. Scott Hochberg, D-Houston, said in an interview after hearing hours of testimony.

“Coke County highlights it, but in Coke County, there was a shift and definitive action once it was determined by Ms. Pope that this facility was unsafe,” Hochberg said. “The question is, what else is out there?”

Harrell brought up TYC’s Victory Field unit after lawmakers asked if there was any other TYC lockup that he felt was on par with the level of problems that led to the shuttering of the Coke County Juvenile Justice Center.

“I don’t totally agree with his assessment of Victory Field,” Pope testified, noting that children there were not forced to live in cells smeared in feces.

“I’m not saying it’s an ideal place,” she said.

Harrell said he doesn’t have the authority to order closure of Victory Field, but he hopes TYC will follow up on his preliminary findings.

For instance, there are “huge blind spots” in the security camera system with no coverage of recreation areas or behind buildings and an inability to freeze frames. Plus the monitor constantly switches, making it impossible to follow an incident unfolding, his report notes.

Talked to youths and staff

The report is based on interviews with youths and staff but not the superintendent. Harrell said he could not reach TYC’s hot line, set up so youths can report abuse allegations, from any phone at Victory Field. Plus, youths complained of staff retaliation when they file grievances.Harrell noted that youthful offenders in one volatile area can easily disable a lock on a door that leads to a blind spot containing dangerous chemicals and sharp objects. He was told by the offenders that they had used the area in the past for sexual acts, fights and tattooing.

“What concerns me also,” Harrell said in an interview, “is it is so remote that none of the kids that I met with have had a visit. Parents and community involvement with a kid while they’re in TYC is critical to their rehabilitation as well as oversight.”


October 15, 2007, 7:09 pm
Filed under: News Stories


Recommendations from both Washington and Texas legislators (and their staff) have arisen in light of this week’s lobbying effort for the DREAM Act. Among these strong suggestions is that EVERY DREAM student/supporter that we know write a “1-2 pages biography or summary of your own experience(s) and/or those of friends”. These letters should be handwritten and should be very simple:

1. Who I am: name (not necessarily full name, to protect your identity), how old you are, are you a student? supporter?.

2. Where I come/came from: a supporter from an organization? a parent of DREAM students from…? a student from what country?

3. This is my DREAM: if you’re a student, what are your aspirations? How do you plan to excel in life? If a supporter, why should the DREAM Act pass?

These letters are to be “brief and to the point,” as specified by the attaches; and they are “powerful tools” to “put an individual face on the ‘undocumented’ so that they can be seen as people, not just an impersonal mass.” Again, these are guidelines straight from political offices that know what works! And what works are “personal stories.” Please take the time to write a couple of these, but the more, the better. These letters are to be PERSONALLY handed and explained by our Houston representative(s) to high-ranking staff and/or Senators themselves while meeting with them to educate them about the DREAM Act.

PLEASE don’t take this opportunity for granted. In a last push to pass the DREAM Act this year, we must do EVERYTHING in our power to stand together as a supporting community and make a difference. Please reply to johnacontreras@gmail.com or call (832) 423-9522 to have your letters picked up or for instructions if you’d like to mail them to us. Thank you.

“The DREAM will NEVER die if we don’t let it…”


HPD Officer Who Shot Boy Failed Firearms Test
October 15, 2007, 5:05 pm
Filed under: News Stories


In 2005, officer Arthur J. Carbonneau was found guilty of criminally negligent homicide

and sentenced to 60 days in jail and five years’ probation. He was allowed to resign from the department.



The rookie Houston Police Department officer who shot and killed a 14-year-old special education student in one of the decade’s most controversial shootings earned his badge and gun despite flunking a crucial test of firearms handling as well as initial police field training, according to documents recently made public as part of a civil rights lawsuit.

Officer Arthur J. Carbonneau also failed 16 of 30 subjects in his mandatory Texas peace officers’ test, including “use-of-force law,” “use-of-force concepts” and “arrest, search and seizure,” records show.

In field training, records show, he repeatedly got lost trying to find locations he was called to and became so rattled that trainers had to take over his calls. When the 23-year-old rookie was assigned to remedial training because of the problems, he mishandled the subduing of an agitated person — a mistake his instructor said could have cost lives.

Yet, Carbonneau still became a full-fledged officer in December 2002. Eleven months later, he killed Eli Escobar II, 14.

Revelations about Carbonneau’s previous mistakes come in personnel documents made public only because of the civil suit. The Escobars’ lawyers argue that Carbonneau was not a rogue officer as HPD claims, but rather the product of inadequate firearms training, supervision and screening by the department.

Carbonneau was convicted of negligent homicide for the Nov. 21, 2003, shooting of Escobar, who was being held down by another officer at the time. Escobar, a middle school student, was unarmed and not involved in the playground petty crime that Carbonneau had gone to investigate.

Just before being shot, Escobar called out “Mama, come and get me! Mama!” according to police records.

Suit’s advancement rare

Escobar’s parents, Lydia and Eli Escobar of Houston, filed a civil suit seeking damages and calling for improvements in firearms training for all HPD officers.Despite objections from HPD, a federal judge has decided their case can move forward to the pretrial stage. It appears to be the first major lawsuit in years involving an officer-involved shooting in Houston that has been allowed to advance so far.

U.S. District Judge Lee H. Rosenthal ruled that the city of Houston had failed to prove it could not be held liable for the shooting because of systemic training failures. The record raises “issues as to whether HPD provided sufficient training for its cadets and officers … to minimize the risk of accidental firings that can injure or kill,” Rosenthal wrote in a 93-page opinion that summarized much of the evidence.

In its response to the lawsuit, the city of Houston has argued that its training was not only sufficient, but superior, and blamed the officer’s errors alone for Escobar’s death.

“There is no objective evidence” to indicate department training is “deficient,” concluded the city’s expert, Albert Rodriguez, who is commander of the Texas Department of Public Safety Training Academy in Austin, according to an affidavit filed as part of the lawsuit.

HPD defends hire

Rodriguez also defended the department’s hiring of Carbonneau, despite his training errors and having two car accidents in one day as a new officer. Carbonneau was able to advance through officer training because of HPD’s reliance on overall average performance scores rather than success or failure in a particular area, like use of force.”In my expert opinion, there is no evidence to indicate that former officer Carbonneau exhibited any deficiency in handling firearms and/or that he had a propensity for using poor judgment prior to Nov. 21, 2003, incident,” Rodriguez wrote.

An attorney for Carbonneau, Robert Armbruster of the Houston Police Officers’ Union, declined comment.

Houston Attorney J. Michael Solar, who represents the victim’s family, criticized the city for failing to apologize or make any real effort to learn how to prevent similar shootings.

“The Escobars are still waiting for Mayor (Bill) White, HPD Chief (Harold) Hurtt or any City Council member to publicly acknowledge their wrongdoing and apologize for killing their only child,” he said.

Through his spokesman, White referred comment to the city attorney’s office. But the assistant city attorney handling the case could not be reached for comment Friday.

Author David Klinger, an expert hired by the family and a former officer and criminal justice professor, analyzed HPD internal memos and found 26 “accidental” shootings by officers, mostly in close-quarter struggles with civilians, in the five years before Escobar died.

Klinger counted five similar accidental shootings in 2003 alone — including another controversial incident just three weeks before in which an HPD officer shot and killed a 15-year-old. Those events, Klinger concluded, were “the inevitable consequence of inadequate training in gun handling.”

Carbonneau shot and killed Escobar, who had been playing video games at a friend’s house, after the officer went to an apartment complex in the 4600 block of W. 34th to investigate a fight between two boys that had ended in bruises and a broken window.

Escobar wasn’t involved.

The oversized 14-year-old sometimes rebelled, but he was used to police officers; his grandfather and uncle were both officers, according to his parents’ depositions.

Still he became nervous, frightened and belligerent when the two HPD officers questioned him, police records and witness statements show. When he tried to go home, they pulled him to the ground and tried to hold him down.

‘Accidental’ shootings

Carbonneau admitted he then deliberately drew his gun and pointed it at Escobar, who was unarmed, but later claimed the gun went off accidentally. He was allowed to resign.

In 2005, he was found guilty of criminally negligent homicide and sentenced to 60 days in jail and five years’ probation.

The city vigorously defended HPD firearms training in the lawsuit, blaming the incident on Carbonneau’s “poor judgment” and failure to follow training.

Yet documents produced in the case show that senior HPD officers repeatedly called for improvements in firearms training, before and after the troubling shooting deaths of Escobar and another unarmed teenager just three weeks apart in “accidental” shootings in 2003.

The record includes a July 2003 memo from two senior HPD academy firearms trainers who complained to then-Chief C.O. Bradford: “We have no place to conduct hands-on officer safety/tactical training.” Instead, trainers are forced to use academy driveways and office spaces, “neither of which are suitable or appropriate.”

The city’s own expert, Rodriguez, testified it takes about 3,000 repetitions to develop “muscle memory” in weapons handling — training that helps keep officers from accidentally firing or putting their fingers on the trigger except when absolutely necessary. HPD cadets draw their weapons just 50 times on average at the academy, the judge’s opinion says.

‘Not nearly enough’

Houston Police Union President Hans Marticiuc said the department has made incremental progress in firearms training since 2003, adding new tactical training and weapons handling courses for all officers.”All these things are good,” he said. “The problem is it’s not nearly enough. In reality, there ought to be at least quarterly (firearms) training. The more you (practice), the more you don’t have to think about it. It becomes instinctual.”

From the evidence he reviewed, Klinger, a professor at the University of Missouri at St. Louis and author of a book on police shootings, concluded that HPD had known for years its firearms training was inadequate. He wrote that the department “acted with deliberate indifference to the inevitability of unjustified shootings” in circumstances such as those that resulted in Escobar’s death.

The city of Houston attempted to end the case and have Klinger’s evidence thrown out. But Judge Rosenthal’s opinion, issued in September, opened the door for the Escobars to proceed to trial and publicly challenge the adequacy of HPD training. Specifically, she allowed arguments to proceed on several alleged training problems, including:

•Failure to ensure officers do not point their weapons or put their index figure on the trigger except when prepared to shoot.
•Failure to provide adequate hours of firearms training.
•Allowing rookies who flunked tactical firearms training, like Carbonneau, to graduate the academy without additional remedial work.
According to the court documents, HPD academy students must complete several firearms tests, including the “stress-fire course.”

In the stress-firing test, recruits are required to run through the course, often in a parking lot, find cover, draw their weapons and fire a series of rounds at various targets. Lights flash and sirens blare to confuse and distract. In the June 2002 graduating class, 22 of 38 in his group, including Carbonneau, flunked the test.


U.S. Libraries and Anti-Immigrant Sentiment—How Librarians Are Coping with Discrimination To Better Serve Hispanic Communities
October 5, 2007, 10:53 pm
Filed under: Commentary

By Loida García-Febo — Criticas, 10/1/2007Last summer, controversy ensued in Lawrence, GA, when the Gwinnett County Public Library board decided to cut $3000 from the annual budget designated for Spanish-language adult fiction. According to one board member, the decision was based on the premise that the library didn’t need to cater to illegal aliens. Board chair Lloyd Breck told the Associated Press at that time that they couldn’t “supply pleasure reading material for all language groups,” even though the existing collection had proved to be quite popular with the growing Spanish-speaking population in Gwinnett. The decision was ultimately reversed, but only because the community was in an uproar.

Around the world, anti-immigrant sentiments are evident. In the United States, pending immigration reform has everyone on alert. Negative attitudes towards “New Americans” have invaded communities everywhere, and libraries are not excluded. Librarians across the country now find themselves defending their rights and those of new immigrant customers from community-based organizations, colleagues, other customers, and in some cases, even elected officials. One librarian interviewed under promise of anonymity told Críticas she suffered discrimination while looking for jobs. Another lost her job as a bilingual library specialist after the library board determined that it was in the best interest of the library not to provide services to Latinos at the same level as those offered to English-speaking or “American” customers.

Reaching out to immigrant communities is not easy. Many librarians continue to maximize outreach efforts even while trying to cope with anti-immigrant attitudes within their own libraries. But not every librarian knows how to best deal with those circumstances. Planning programs for new immigrants in their native language is important, but how do we ensure a high turnout? How do we increase circulation of Spanish-language materials when Hispanic customers are scared to set foot in the library? How do we encourage immigrants to visit the library and convince them they are welcome?

In view of Hispanic Heritage Month, Críticas talked to librarians across the United States that are witnessing discrimination in their workplace and/or communities to find out how they are coping, and how they continue to meet the needs of the Hispanic immigrants in their community.

Diversity in the library

When colleagues and library administrators express anti-immigrant attitudes, librarians committed to the idea of serving all in the community, and not just English speakers, find themselves isolated. Though the inclusion of world languages collections—and Spanish-language works specifically—ultimately depends on the administration and the library board, librarians can seek support from community organizations. But this could prove to be another challenge, especially when in a homogeneous environment.

Beyond the collection, the lack of Hispanic and/or Spanish-speaking staff is evident in libraries across the country. If customers do not see themselves reflected in the staff, they are likely to feel unwelcome or unable to communicate their specific needs.

“The greatest frustration is that it’s difficult to speak to the many Latinos in the community because of the language barrier,” says Kathryn Ames, director of the Athens Library System, GA, where the school system indicates that 50 percent of their students are Hispanic. Ames says that discussions with others across her state led her to recognize a growing awareness of the need to respond to the Hispanic population’s quest for information. Ames acknowledges that “politically, there may be some huge anti-immigrant pockets in [Georgia],” but that businesspeople and those in the community understand it’s necessary to help improve educational efforts for new immigrants.

The Pinewoods Library and Community Center, where 98 percent of users are Hispanic, according to Ames, already has Spanish-language computer software and keyboards, English-language classes, GED courses, and a full collection of Spanish-language materials. It also offers survival Spanish classes taught by university volunteers and has hired bilingual staff in an effort to better communicate with Spanish speakers and address their needs.

The lack of diversity is also noticeable when age is a factor. Across the country, libraries are undergoing a generational shift—in many small towns where immigrant communities are rapidly developing, librarians are older, still share the idea that everyone is like them, and don’t always embrace diversity. “Younger librarians are more open and responsive to change,” says Yolanda Cuesta, president of Cuesta MultiCultural Consulting and an expert on multicultural outreach who specializes in helping libraries and other non-profit organizations that serve ethnically diverse communities. This younger generation, however, is often in entry-level positions and has no power to create large-scale changes in these public institutions. “I’m keeping my fingers crossed,” Cuesta admits, “and hoping this new generation will stay firm to the principles” that define librarianship.

While some librarians agree that providing information and access to information to all members of the community is at the core of librarianship, it is the interpretation of that definition that varies, with some community leaders arguing that neither the service nor the information has to be provided in a language other than English.

Surviving the prejudice

“Current anti-immigrant sentiment is simply the most recent test to a traditional library ideal,” says Elma Nieto-Rodríguez, president of La estrella de Tejas, REFORMA‘s San Antonio Chapter. San Antonio has long dealt with an influx of new members to its community, but other U.S. libraries are experiencing difficulty in keeping up with a fast shifting population and limited resources. “Anticipating and fulfilling [the needs of new immigrants] includes providing access to information in a language [they] understand,” she says, adding that foreign language materials should be part of most collections and that the exclusion of these “goes against the nature of the profession.”

Pinewoods’ Ames agrees, saying that a crunched budget can often and easily be used as an excuse to provide limited or no service at all, something she considers a failure. “Providing access to information is the absolute role of a public library.”

Up to now, the focus in libraries has been on convincing administrators about the need for services and funding. “The need to justify services has always been there,” says Cuesta, “[but] the discussion has mostly been an internal one.” In the workshops she leads, she has noticed an increase in the participants’ concerns on how to best address their community’s questions about serving Spanish speakers, the need for Spanish-language collections, or even signage in Spanish. According to Cuesta, some librarians are fearful that anti-immigrant attitudes will result in the elimination of programs and already limited funding. She says librarians understand that they could have to justify services to the [Spanish-speaking] community at large, and that in order to do so effectively, their “arguments and rationale need to be different.”

Libraries’ policies on who to serve vary and often depend on the leadership. “Our policy says that we will provide service to all members of the community,” says Ames about the Athens Library System, noting that it was purposely made that broad because “we wanted to be sure we could fit any contingencies into the policy.”

Learning to educate

At a recent workshop at her consulting firm, Cuesta spoke to one foundation board member who did not understand why libraries were encouraged to celebrate El día de los niños/El día de los libros in a big way. “Why not a ‘Day of the Child’ celebration?” she asked. Cuesta cleverly pointed out it was a basic pillar in marketing. “[Libraries] develop products and services for their community” that they must then “sell” and market in the language community members will understand.

Exercising big doses of patience and persistence to explain cultures, customs, and respect to colleagues and other members of the community who oppose services to immigrants is key. Librarians can help to ease relationships between groups by working in conjunction with immigrant advocacy groups, such as the Immigrant Coalition in Queens, NY, to present programs that inform the community of the many ways immigrants contribute to their society. Opening the library to the community is a basic way of strengthening links between the different community groups.

“[Some] librarians expect everyone to come to them,” says Robin Osborne, outreach services consultant at the Westchester Library System, Tarrytown, NY. She adds that in order to identify the community’s needs to effect change in the library, librarians “need to get out there and meet with agencies serving immigrants, PTAs, schools, and listen” to what these groups perceive are the needs of new immigrants. Osborne puts it simply: “We are educators,” and as such, she says, librarians need to understand not only how immigrants are perceived, but also to how they perceive their new communities. “There are a lot of things we’re not taught in library school,” says Osborne about the exclusion of services to non-English speakers. “We need to go back and think about the human element in information services.”

Providing materials and resources to help newcomers understand their rights and responsibilities is one more way to overcome discrimination and equip immigrants to defend themselves. Community-based organizations produce brochures and flyers about immigrants’ rights and how to adapt to life in the United States. Librarians in Kentucky attend meetings outside the library to actively work with the Immigrant Network Coalition and the Lexington Hispanic Association. This can make the difference between libraries providing traditional programs and services.

As information professionals, we have a social role within the evolving communities we serve. Elfreda Chatman’s concept of the “Small World” is a magnificent tool that will help us understand the world of immigrants. We must try and enter the small world of immigrants in our library service area. By applying these concepts, suggestions, and recommendations shared, librarians can successfully convey the message that as a social entity, the library indeed cares for the community and its purpose is to provide resources to each community member in the various aspects of life. Finding out what the community really needs and ensuring an immigrant-friendly environment is not an extra burden for librarians, it is what we need to do in order to do our work well.

Texas: Immigrants Pull Children From School
October 5, 2007, 8:02 pm
Filed under: Blogroll

Published: October 5, 2007

The superintendent of the Irving school district said that some immigrant parents had pulled their children from school over fears that they or their families would be deported. The superintendent, Jack Singley, said that about 90 children had been withdrawn from 33,000-student public school district in the last week. The Mexican Consulate has advised people to avoid driving through Irving, a Dallas suburb, in response to the Irving Police Department’s participation with federal immigration authorities in a program to identify illegal immigrants who have been arrested and to deport them. The Irving police have turned over more than 1,600 people to immigration officials since the program began last year.

Stop the Raids
October 4, 2007, 4:05 pm
Filed under: Blogroll

New York Times

October 4, 2007


Armed squads bursting into homes in the dead of night with shotguns and automatic weapons, terrorizing families and taking away anyone who lacks identity papers, even if they have raided the wrong house. It may sound like Baghdad, but it is the suburbs of New York City, the latest among hundreds of communities around the country where federal agents have been invading homes and workplaces in search of immigrants to deport.

Federal officials say the raids are a focused campaign to catch gang members and other fugitives. That would be good if Immigration and Customs Enforcement were carefully extracting the dangerous criminal sliver from a population of 12 million illegal immigrants. But as immigration raids have vastly increased, they have become something murky and ugly.

ICE is catching modest numbers of undesirables, but also a much larger by-catch of peaceable immigrants. Its agents have set off waves of fear and outrage, not only among illegal immigrants, but among citizens whose privacy and security they have violated, through unchecked aggression, carelessness and incompetence.

Last week, dozens of federal agents fanned out across Nassau County, Long Island, to execute warrants on accused gang members. County Executive Thomas Suozzi and Police Commissioner Lawrence Mulvey were so dismayed that they have refused to cooperate on further raids until ICE gets its act together.

They described a seriously botched “cowboy” operation by dozens of ICE agents — some in cowboy hats — who had not trained together, used inappropriate weapons and mistakenly drew them on Nassau officers. They said that ICE misled them — that what was supposed to be a targeted gang crackdown was actually something much more sloppy and indiscriminate. They said the agency ignored repeated invitations to check its list of targets against Nassau’s up-to-date gang records and ended up raiding many wrong homes.

The raids were stunningly ineffective. Nassau says they caught only 6 of 96 fugitives. ICE, using a looser definition of “gang member,” said it got 13 in Nassau and 15 in neighboring Suffolk. There, Peggy De La Rosa-Delgado, an American citizen, said her Huntington Station home was raided by mistake last Thursday at 5:30 a.m. It was the second predawn raid looking for the same man at the same wrong address. Her husband and three teenage sons, legal residents, were terrified, she said.

ICE officials callously shrug off such mistakes as collateral damage, but advocates for immigrants have filed a class-action lawsuit asserting that recent raids in the New York City area were unreasonable searches conducted by agents who did not show warrants and misidentified themselves as police officers. Mr. Suozzi has written to the Homeland Security secretary, Michael Chertoff, asking him to investigate the Nassau debacle.

Mr. Suozzi deserves praise for having the courage to oppose mindless immigration enforcement while affirming a commitment to sane policing and public safety. President Bush has repeatedly insisted that the undocumented immigrants cannot, and will not, be rounded up. He and Mr. Chertoff must stop these reckless raids.