Responses to discriminatory immigration and biased policing

The recent Supreme Court ruling on SB1070 and ongoing campaigns to raise awareness around biased policing codified at national, state, and local levels have led to some similar communication tech projects. I’ve been talking to people involved in various campaigns about their work and the tech projects they’ve developed. In this post, I’m summarizing some of these conversations.

SCOTUS upholds SB1070’s “Papers please” provision
In late June, the Supreme Court announced its decision on 4 provisions of Arizona’s state bill 1070 establishing new state policies around immigration enforcement. SCOTUS was deciding on whether these provisions overstepped the rights of a state as the federal government is meant to be the institution with the right to create and enforce immigration laws nationwide.

This is an excellent graphic by Colorlines, summarizing what was at stake and the context of this case reaching the Supreme Court.

Of the 4 provisions, SCOTUS maintained 1:
2B – requires Arizona law enforcement officers to question someone if they believe they are undocumented.

and struck these 3:
3 – makes it a state crime when an immigrant fails to carry their “papers”
5c – makes it a state crime for undocumented immigrants to work
6 – allows police officers to make a warrantless arrest if they believe a person has committed a deportable crime.

The impact
The question for the Supreme Court may have been whether SB1070 violates the constitution based on state and federal powers, but public critique is around the social impacts of the policies defined by SB1070 and how they codify different treatment individuals based on a subjective notion of what an undocumented immigrant looks like.

The Brazilian Women’s Group (, a Boston-based organization of Brazilian immigrant women and a codesign partner with the Center for Civic Media in using, stated this about SB1070: “The Brazilian Women’s Group is deeply concerned with the Supreme Court Decision to maintain the “papers please” provision of Arizona’s 1070 anti-immigrant law which allows Arizona police to check the immigration status of anyone suspected of being here illegally. This decision fosters racial profiling and opens a dangerous precedent at a time when more than ever we need to protect citizens’ civil rights.”

Viva Ramirez of Voto Latino (, a national organization that fosters civic engagement among the US Latino population wrote in the Huffington Post: “The authors of SB1070 hoped to make the life of a migrant so unpleasant that it would cause a mass self-deportation movement.”

Beyond AZ
Arizona is not the only state attempting to pass immigration enforcement laws at the state level. As the Colorlines graphics indicates, five other states have attempted to pass copycat legislation – Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina, and Utah. And from a broader perspective, there are policies on the federal, state, and local levels that lead to racially targeted harassment by law enforcement all of which lead to the same kinds of social and personal impacts raised by the Brazilian Women’s Group and Voto Latino in the statements about SB1070. Policies that lead enforcement to become predatory instead of protective, also lead to less safe communities where people are less willing and sometimes unable to approach law enforcement for protection.

Secure Communities (SComm)
Through the Secure Communities (SComm) program, any fingerprints taken by local enforcement are shared ultimately with the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the department responsible for enforcing immigration law, which then runs immigration checks. As with SB1070, this is contested as a blurring of lines between national and state enforcement of immigration laws. Some local and county police forces are refusing to participate in SComm and communities continue to organize against it. This March 2012 article in Colorlines covers these responses with Cook County, IL and Santa Clara County, CA leading this resistance:

The Brazilian Women’s Group describes the mechanics and social impacts of SComm: Secure Communities (SComm) is an information sharing program between the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Normally, when a local law enforcement agency arrests someone, they will fingerprint them and send those fingerprints to the FBI to see if there are any outstanding warrants in other states for the person arrested. With SComm, the FBI will forward those fingerprints to a DHS office in Virginia to determine the person’s immigration status and whether or not they are deportable. If DHS determines that the person is an immigrant and possibly deportable, they will forward the information to the local Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office which will determine whether or not to issue a detainer against the arrested individual. A detainer is a request to the arresting law enforcement agency to maintain custody of the arrested person an additional 48 hours (not including weekends and holidays) after they might normally release that person. This gives ICE time to take custody of that person before the local law enforcement agency releases them.

Racial and religious profiling and discriminatory policing by local law enforcement
In local contexts, rights groups are organizing against racial and religious profiling. In San Francisco, the Coalition for a Safer San Francisco has been addressing policing and surveillance based on race and religion and the SFPD’s disproportionate and illegal targeting of South Asian, Arab, and Muslim Americans ( The Coalition was able to show that local enforcement was violating local law in assisting federal investigations overseen by the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force. In May 2012, SF signed into law an ordinance regulating SFPD engagement with the FBI’s JTTF.

In New York, advocates are also organizing against similar biased policing and illegal surveillance of South Asian, Arab, and Muslim Americans. Human rights groups like the NYU Center for Human Rights (NCHR) and Human Rights Watch (HRW) have exposed anti-Muslim policing and surveillance in New York and have been working to research and organize against these policies.

Stop and Frisk
Racially biased policing appears at the local level without any blurring of boundaries between state and federal oversight. Stop and Frisk is the NYPD policy that allows NYPD to stop, question, and frisk any person they consider to be suspicious. According to an NYCLU report, in the first quarter of 2012, 87% of all people stopped by the NYPD were black or Latino; 89% of all who were stopped were “totally innocent.” On Father’s Day, June 17, 2012, 299 organizations supported a silent march to end Stop and Frisk in New York and thousands of people participated (

Civic media campaigns and tools
Many of these campaigns have been using tech and media to build their base, provide services and information, emergency response, and to assist their advocacy. Below, I’m listing projects that I’ve been discussing with people lately and key questions that have come up.

ACLU SB1070 Know Your Rights videos: In Spanish and English, these videos detail your rights under SB1070. The ACLU also provides traditional Know Your Rights print-media and in-person education.
Conozca Sus Derechos: SB1070 Y El Tribunal Supremo:

Stop and Frisk Op-Doc in NYtimes: A short documentary featured in the New York Times with a young man in New York who was stopped and frisked more than 60 times before the age of 18, talking about the ways that this has affected his life.

NYCLU Stop and Frisk Watch App:
Using this app, people can record incidents and submit them to the ACLU along with more data about the incident. The App also includes Know Your Rights information about Stop and Frisk and also about recording enforcement officers. It’s available in Spanish and English for iPhones and Android.

FlyRights App:
People can use this app to report incidents of profiling by TSA workers and in airport screening processes. It was developed by the Sikh Coalition Sikh Coalition, a nationwide Sikh civil rights organization. You can send reports to the Sikh Coalition and/or TSA and DHS. This app also includes Know Your Rights information regarding airport screening rights.

Some key questions

  • How do people learn about their rights and changing laws? How can communication tech help? How can people report incidents, assert their rights, receive services, and support advocacy?
  • How can communication tech be used to provide rapid response support?
    • How can these same tools provide know your rights information so that people using the tools can defend their rights at the time of the incident?
    • What is the legality of recording and reporting incidents; how can a tool support a user in recording and reporting safely?
    • How can these tools help connect individuals to services after the incident?
    • Who receives and responds to incident reports? Who follows up?
  • How can communication tech be used to support advocacy work as well as service provision?
    • How can media and tech be used to build a base?
    • How can tech be used to source stories and narrative to help shape public understanding and discourse?
  • Who is building the tech and who is maintaining it? Do advocacy groups and social movement orgs have their own tech capacity?
  • Who is using these tools and are people finding them useful?
  • What are security best practices in these campaigns? What personal information do people share and how to the administrators of the tool protect and share this information?
  • What are the impacts of tech projects in these campaigns and personal, social, and political change? How are people evaluating these relationships?