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Obama Accused of Continuing Bush's Racial Profiling of Immigrants

While Obama's racial diplomacy with Skip Gates is making the headlines, rights groups say that he has expanded Bush's racist immigration policies.

Can a president who is, by any measure, far more forthright and lyrical than his predecessors about the pernicious effects of racism simultaneously promote and expand the racist policies of past administrations?

This is the question vexing many in immigrants rights, Latino, civil rights and other circles following what feels to them like the contradictory messages about racial profiling coming from the Obama administration in recent weeks.

On the one hand, many observers applauded Obama's July 15 speech to the NAACP convention and last week's statements about the circumstances surrounding the arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr.

Some found reassurance in statements like the one Obama made about the Gates incident last week: "…what we know separate and apart from this incident is that there is a long history in this country of African Americans and Latinos being stopped by law enforcement disproportionately. And that's just a fact."

But when they heard the crushing sound of new reports documenting the effects of the Obama administration's treatment of immigrants, the president's Martin Luther King-like cadences on racial profiling rang hollow.

A recently released report by Syracuse University concluded that "immigration enforcement under the Obama administration is returning to the unusually high levels that were reached under President Bush." Critics say that thousands of immigrants -- and hundreds of U.S. citizens -- continue to be prosecuted, jailed and deported by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, in no small part because of racial profiling.

That was the case of Brian Lyttle. In one of the hundreds of cases involving U.S. citizens, Lyttle, 31, a North Carolinian who has no Mexican ancestry, speaks no Spanish and suffers from mental illness, was deported by ICE to Mexico in April.

Another damning report released last week by the Cardozo School of Law at Yeshiva University analyzed the immigration raids of homes and workplaces conducted by ICE.

According to the report, the raids, which have continued under the Obama administration, have resulted in the kinds of constitutional violations and routine racial profiling exemplified most clearly by the fact that "approximately 90 percent of the collateral arrest records reviewed, where ICE officers did not note any basis for seizing and questioning the individual, were of Latino men and women -- although Latinos represented only 66 percent of target arrests."

Both citizens and non-citizens have been arrested for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, or what ICE calls "collateral arrests" -- arrests of people who are with or near someone who was ICE's original "target."

Virtually all advocates agree that the legal and policy foundations for such practices were laid by both the Clinton and Bush administrations. The result has been the creation of what legal scholar Juliet Stumpf calls the "crimmigration" system.

Stumpf and others continue to decry an immigration system that, they believe, leads to the disproportionate profiling and incarceration (Latinos are now the largest group in federal prisons) of mostly poor immigrants in much the same way that harsh drug laws have led to the disproportionate profiling of blacks, Latinos and other poor people that help make the United States home to the world's most massive prison system.

Coming from the Obama administration, one that created great expectations of change, the continuation and expansion of programs that   systematically violate rights are beginning to wear thin the goodwill of immigrant defenders like Maria Muentes of the New York-based Families for Freedom.

"The nice speeches on race clash with the fact immigration enforcement is actually up under Obama; the levels of those incarcerated for immigration-related offenses look like they did during the Bush administration," said Muentes, whose organization advocates on behalf of detained immigrants. "Obama's speeches on racial profiling seem to leave out a lot of people. They exclude many immigrants, people for whom every aspect of their life is subject to racial profiling; people who are stopped while riding trains, people persecuted at work, people stopped while driving and all those families whose homes are terrorized by raids."

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