“I want you to leave. I want you to go back to your desert sandpit where women are treated like rats and dogs. I want you to take your religion, your friends, and your family back to your Islamic extremists, and STAY THERE!” These words are from an essay penned by Pilot John Maniscalco and dedicated to his “Arab-Muslim neighbors.” They are also among the words included in an email forward sent from the most senior Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officer in Montana to one of the state’s top immigration lawyers, Pakistani-American Shahid Haque-Hausrath. “Good Read” was the email’s subject line.
It is still unknown whether the ICE official, Bruce Norum, purposefully forwarded the electronic letter to Haque-Hausrath or simply added his name to the email’s sender list by accident. What is known, however, is that Norum got to keep his job as a high-ranking immigration enforcer even after Haque-Hausrath filed a formal complaint with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). This raises frightening questions about DHS’ ability to secure remedies or resolve cases brought before the Department’s Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties (CRCL), an issue that BORDC first raised in the summer of 2009. It also raises concerns about the level of bias with which our nation lets immigration officials operate.
Is blatant discrimination against a specific ethnic and religious group something to be excused in a high-level officer? Particularly a high level officer of an organization responsible for making lasting judgments about whether or not individuals remain in the United States? In an interview with reporter Dan Boyce, Haque-Hausrath addresses this troubling institutional willingness to tolerate bias.
Mr. Norum’s message is so prejudicial that it calls into question his ability to perform his duties without bias and it raises a serious question as to whether Mr. Norum is engaging in intimidation, or otherwise abusing his authority. . .
As the supervisory detention and deportation officer for the state of Montana, Mr. Norum has broad discretion to arrest people who he believes are subject to his jurisdiction. He can detain them. He has the right to either release them on bond or keep them in detention. He also has the right to deport people under some circumstances without even allowing that individual to see an immigration judge. There are certain instances when an ICE officer in his capacity has the right to issue a deportation order and immediately deport certain immigrants who are not entitled to see an immigration judge. So, sometimes, his decision may be literally the last decision someone sees before they are deported out of the country.
Learning that such weighty responsibilities were in the hands of someone possessing an open racial bias can seem alarming. Realizing that those responsibilities are now being returned, in full, to this individual can seem terrifying. Even worse, no reports of clear disciplinary action towards Norum have been released. Although Noram’s supervisor, Steven Branch of the Salt Lake City regional office, appeared to take Haque-Hausrath’s seriously, saying that Noram had been “suspended” from his supervisory position for half a year, he now seems content to forget about the issue and return Norum to his previous post and previous powers. When asked about Norum’s treatment, ICE officials (when they could be reached at all) gave only generic answers.
Every ICE employee is held to the highest standard of professional and ethical conduct. Accusations of misconduct. . . will be investigated thoroughly and, when substantiated, immediate appropriate action will be taken.
Not only are such declarations vague, they also seem to have been proven untrue in the case of Bruce Norum. One can only hope that further information is released so that the public can come to more concrete conclusions about the CRCL’s ability to adequately protect civil liberties. As the situation stands, it is only possible to assume that the DHS is lacking in such a capacity. Haque-Hausrath hopes to correct this.
ICE agents have the lives of immigrants, of human beings, in their hands and the decisions they make can separate families and destroy lives. We need to make sure in the very least they are performing their duties without bias. And along with that our efforts for fair immigration policies should continue. Our fight for human rights goes on.
If you would like to get involved in this ongoing battle for justice, the Montana Human Rights Network (MHRN) has launched an online petition demanding that ICE release information about the investigation and hold Norum accountable for his actions. Ultimately, the people of Montana deserve to know that their officials aren’t unduly “worried” by their appearance, no matter the color of their skin.