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November 2009
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Day 1 Reform Conference Breakout Sessions

Panel:  Mandatory Madness:  The Zero Tolerance Drug War on Immigrants.  Moderator Judy Greene (Justice Strategies)  Panelists:  Marcela Diaz (Somos Un Pueblo Unido), Michelle Fei (Immigrant Defense Project), Joan Friedland (National Immigration Law Center), Nicole Porter (The Sentencing Project), Grant Smith (DPA) and Elsa Lopez (Somos Un Pueblo Unido).

This panel was great although very depressing as the drug war can be.  Essentially because ICE has been granting immigration enforcement authority to local police departments via a “287 G” resolution, small town cops are taking it upon themselves to thin out the immigrant population of their jurisdictions.  Often using small offenses, including low-level drug offenses as grounds for detention and eventual deportation.  This leads to immigrants being afraid to contact authorities and the law enforcement community becomes then enemy once again.  On the brighter side though these 287 G agreements are not everywhere and are being run out of town in some places.

Grant Smith spoke about how fear inspires and unites immigration and drug policy.  Citing how non-citizens are held to higher standards than citizens, he noted how the FBI allows up to 14 “experiences” with cannabis for those applying for a job and immigrants cannot report having any when trying to gain access or stay in this America.  Another thing he mentioned that I found interesting is the drug courts usually force a guilty plea when participants enter and this qualifies for deportation for many immigrants.  Michelle Fei talked about how drug charges affect all immigrants, and how Rikers Island in NYC had unidentified ICE members looking to deport immigrants.  Joan Friedland revealed some info on “287 G” which is a means for the transfer of authority from ICE to local law enforcement officials to enforce immigration policy.  This leads to many deportations for low level drug offenses, often without a hearing or any type of legal representation for immigrants.  Nicole Porter who runs a blog on Texas Prison Business gave great details about how privatized prisons are looking for more “business” and immigrants are the likely target.  She also provided some insight into a private prison in Texas, Hudow, where entire families were being held, newborns included, waiting for deportation.  The policy of babies being in that facility does not exist anymore but it is still horrific.  Marcela and her colleague spoke of local efforts in New Mexico and how they have been effective at mobilizing community outrage over these malicious deportations and targeting of legal immigrants and their families.

The second panel I attended was the MDMA as a prescription.  And let me suffice it to say that MAPS is targeting treating veterans with PTSD with MDMA assisted psychotherapy in tangent with the FDA approval process.

And the final session I attended was a roundtable on Innovative Approaches to Sentencing Reform. The roundtable was moderated by Jasmine Tyler (DPA) and consisted of Margaret Dooley-Sammuli (DPA), Corinne Carey (NYCLU), David Rogers (Partnership for Safety and Justice), Rob Rooks (NAACP), K.L. Shannon (The Defender Association) and Nkechi Taifa (Open Society Institute).

The different approaches basically outlined how each of the participants were able to work with or neutralize opposition to their efforts.  This ranged from uniting victims of crime with the offenders (not really applicable to the drug war), to dividing law enforcement lobbies by separating District Attorneys from corrections unions and using ballot initiative to change policy.  Although the ballot initiatives were mentioned as being difficult to allocate funding, even if programs are working and saving money, as is the case with Prop. 36 in California.  There was also a discussion of trying to unite victims of sexual and domestic abuse with drug policy reform.

Lunch was at Sushi Hana and was excellent, the salmon sashimi and spicy tuna handroll were delightful and miso soup is always a treat.

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