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On February 13, 2008, Rachel E. Rosenbloom, a human-rights fellow and supervising attorney at Boston College’s Center for Human Rights and International Justice, journeyed to Washington, D.C., at the invitation of the House Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on immigration, citizenship, refugees, border security, and international law. There, she lent her researcher’s perspective at a hearing on emerging problems with immigration and customs enforcement, and cited instances of system failure. Later in the year, on September 18, Lisa Feldman Barrett, a professor of psychology and a 2007 recipient of the National Institutes of Health Pioneer Award, testified before the House subcommittee on research and science education. At issue was an increase in funding for basic research, of which Barrett is a practitioner. Excerpts drawn and adapted from their statements follow.
My testimony today concerns the erroneous removal from the United States of U.S. citizens.
Over the past decade, the U.S. deportation system has increasingly come to rely on fast-track removal processes that bypass our immigration courts entirely, entrusting high-stakes decisions to low-level officers and creating conditions that are ripe for error and coercion.
One such process is expedited removal, introduced in 1996 in the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act. Expedited removal allows Customs and Border Patrol officers to summarily remove foreign nationals who are deemed inadmissible—for lack of a valid entry document, for instance. Individuals subject to expedited removal have no right to counsel and no right to a hearing before an immigration judge. Initially used only at ports of entry, it is now increasingly being used in the interior, as well. An expedited-removal case is supposed to be referred to an immigration judge if a person makes a claim to U.S. citizenship or other legal status. Yet the Center for Human Rights and International Justice at Boston College is aware of cases in which citizens have been detained for weeks and removed without ever being referred to immigration court.
Another fast-track process is administrative removal, introduced in 1994. This applies to noncitizens who are not permanent residents and have been convicted of certain types of crimes. Such cases are adjudicated by an immigration officer. As with expedited removal, a claim to citizenship is supposed to trigger review by an immigration judge, but the center is aware of cases in which citizens have been removed under this process with no such review—citizens such as Deolinda Smith-Willmore, a 71-year-old, partially blind, lifelong resident of New York State.
The third fast-track process involves immigration officers—and increasingly law enforcement officers—obtaining the “consent” of U.S. citizens for their removal. Individuals such as Pedro Guzman of California, a 29-year-old citizen with serious cognitive disabilities, sign away their rights inherent in citizenship without ever consulting an attorney, and without the determination by a judge that their act is knowing, voluntary, and intelligent, or that deportation is justified.
When considering how these fast-track removal processes might affect citizens, consider that 7 percent of U.S. citizens—and 12 percent of citizens earning less than $25,000 per year—lack ready access to proof of their citizenship, such as a U.S. passport, naturalization papers, or a birth certificate. For a citizen who is on the margins of society—due to disability, drug addiction, or poverty—getting picked up in an Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raid, or getting turned over to ICE after a minor brush with the law, may mean entry into a system that can be Kafkaesque.
Three factors magnify the problems associated with this system: The first is lack of access to counsel. Ninety percent of people in immigration detention have no legal representation.
The second is mandatory detention. Detainees are often transferred across the country, far from friends or family who might be able to assist them in gathering the facts necessary for their case. The third factor is the lack of accommodations for individuals with disabilities. Our current deportation system lacks even the most basic safeguards for someone who has difficulty communicating or processing information, is delusional, or is otherwise unable to effectively state a citizenship claim or other defense. Such accommodations are required under the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The center is aware of at least eight cases in recent years in which U.S. citizens have been removed.
Found in translation
I run an interdisciplinary lab where we study the basic nature of emotion from the standpoints of both the psychologist (who measures behavior) and the neuroscientist (who measures the brain). Today, I’ll wear my psychologist’s hat and tell you the story of a single scientific discovery that is improving lives. It illustrates the value of basic research.
When I was in graduate school, I noticed something curious in my psychotherapy patients. Some people used emotion words to refer to very precise and distinct experiences—they felt the heat of anger, the despair of sadness, the dread of fear. Others used the words “anger,” “sadness,” and “fear” interchangeably, as if they did not experience these states as different from one another. They felt, for lack of a better word, “bad.” Outside the therapy room, I saw the same thing in friends and family and students.
This observation was the basis for a decade-long research project (supported by both the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health) in which my lab tracked the emotional experience of more than 700 people during the course of their everyday lives, using a then-novel scientific procedure called computerized experience sampling.
We made a discovery: Differences in emotional expertise translate to important outcomes. Emotion connoisseurs are more flexible. They are more centered, and less buffeted by the slings and arrows of life. Those with less emotional expertise, by contrast, live life as a turbulent roller coaster.
These basic research findings are now being translated into emotional-literacy training programs for children, teachers, and school administrators. By the end of next year, 250 schools in the New York State system alone will participate, and already the results are promising. Children who can identify, understand, label, and regulate their emotions effectively are at lower risk for drug and alcohol abuse. They have better social skills and stronger leadership skills. Perhaps most surprising, hundreds of studies show that emotionally intelligent children have higher grades in math, science, and reading.
The emotionally intelligent children of today become the productive adults of tomorrow. The noted economist and Nobel laureate James Heckman argues that social and emotional expertise is necessary to improve the quality of the American workforce. Emotional literacy may even help to prevent early retirement, which costs the government in Social Security and health care benefits. Anecdotal evidence shows that, regardless of their plans, people often decide to retire on the spur of the moment—say, after a particularly bad day in the office. So instead of retiring at age 67 (when they should), or age 65 (when they plan to), they retire on average at age 63. By teaching emotional literacy to adults, we could prevent that bad day from causing them to retire early.
Science is a food chain, with basic research feeding translational research, which feeds applied research, which can be used by service providers. Basic research in the social and behavioral sciences, however, is being starved in the United States. It takes time for science to feed solutions. Scientific discovery is like slowly peeling an onion; as the researcher explores one question, other, more nuanced questions are revealed beneath (and sometimes, a lot of tears are shed along the way). You cannot run scientific discovery like a business, where you set a tangible goal and a strict timeline.
The neuroscientist who discovered that canary brains grow new cells after birth wasn’t trying to solve the puzzle of human mental illness. The physicists who discovered quantum mechanics were not trying to build a better computer. And my own research on emotion wasn’t originally targeted at helping children and retirees. But in the end, this is where it has led. n