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Deporting the Worst of the Worst?

headerThe criminal components of the undocumented community in America have become the official targets of illegal immigration enforcement efforts.  How successfully has Immigration and Customs Enforcement concentrated its efforts on criminal demographics throughout the nation and in Indiana? What are the stumbling blocks? And where do we go from here? 

 Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the White House have been busy overhauling the policies and procedures set in place to determine which of the approximately 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the country get deported each year.

The policy, known as “prosecutorial discretion,” aims to shift ICE’s limited manpower and resources to “high-priority” undocumented immigrants like felons, violent criminals, repeat criminal offenders and national security threats. The goal? To boot as many delinquents from the country as possible with the limited funding at the agency’s disposal.

It’s an enforcement reform, in other words, designed to target the criminal elements within undocumented communities while enabling largely law-abiding individuals recede from ICE’s enforcement radar and remain in the countr. And it’s been a huge success.

At least, that’s the official line.

While ICE, DHS and the Obama administration tout the prosecutorial discretion program’s success in cracking down on criminal elements and ramping up their deportations from the country, some observers rail against ICE for missteps committed during the overhaul process and for taking much longer than expected to make the transition from policy blueprint on paper to real enforcement protocol on the ground and in the immigration courts.

Most damaging, however, is ICE’s refusal to release detailed end-of-year removal data that may—or may not—substantiate the claimed success of the policy.

Prosecutorial Discretion?

Key to the prosecutorial discretion program has been establishing scaled “priority levels” associated with the severity of undocumented immigrants’ criminal offenses.

Such a system allows ICE to prioritize the deportations of individuals convicted of serious crimes, such as drug trafficking or manslaughter, over those arrested for low-level offenses like driving without a license or disorderly conduct.

ICE has outlined three distinct enforcement priority areas covering everyone from undocumented criminal offenders with the most serious criminal records to low-level offenders, immigration fugitives (undocumented individuals already ordered by immigration judges to leave the country), recent border crossers and noncriminal immigrants.

At the apex of ICE’s enforcement focus, ICE leadership has reiterated, are those undocumented individuals who comprise threats to security or are guilty of committing serious crimes like felonies.

“Aliens who pose a danger to national security or a risk to public safety are ICE’s highest enforcement priority,” ICE Director John Morton wrote in an agency-wide memo announcing the prosecutorial discretion policy reform in March 2011.

That is not to say that one must be a gang member or be suspected of espionage to be booted out of the country. Undocumented immigrants arrested for lesser crimes, such as driving under the influence, also register as part of the agency’s radar as Priority 1 removal targets. What separates these lesser offenders from more serious delinquents, however, are distinct “offense levels” built within the prosecutorial discretion policy’s Priority 1 bracket.


Put simply, prosecutorial discretion allows ICE personnel to filter out criminal offenders (Priority 1) from recent illegal entrants (Priority 2) and immigration fugitives (Priority 3) and then take a distinct enforcement action based on a criminal’s offense level.

“Smarter” Enforcement?

Never before has so much thought been put into determining what type of specific legal action to take against a given undocumented immigrant.

Prosecutorial discretion represents significant departure from ICE’s previous official modus operandi, which consisted of little more than a strategy of blanket deportation for many detained undocumented immigrants, regardless of the seriousness of the offense they may have committed.

And for many immigrant rights activists and immigration lawyers—not to mention the scores of undocumented immigrants currently living in the country—the policy reform has come as breath of fresh air.

It’s part of the Obama administration’s greater effort to distinguish its stance on deportation—and relations with the Latino community in general—from that of the Bush administration, which oversaw a dramatic rise in the removal of noncriminal undocumented immigrants guilty for nothing more than being in the country without a visa.

“It’s smart enforcement,” says Laura Lichter, an immigration attorney based in Denver.

“One of the things they [ICE] looked at was…what’s appropriate to have in court? Because essentially they have to throw the same amount of resources at trying to deport somebody who’s lived here for 20 years and doesn’t have a criminal history…as they would as, you know, getting rid of somebody who’s a gangbanger or murderer.

“It doesn’t make any sense to spend your effort prosecuting the sort of moral equivalent of a bank robber and a jay walker to the same extent.”

Jason Flora, an immigration lawyer who represents undocumented immigrants arrested throughout Indiana at the Chicago Immigration Court, welcomes the “smarter” enforcement design of the prosecutorial discretion policy.

“I’d characterize…[this] as using more common sense,” Flora says. “In other words, someone that has been apprehended for driving a car without a license is not going to be the same priority as someone who has been here for five years dealing coke.

“It’s pretty clear to see that it’s way more useful to our society and a way more efficient use of our time and money and resources to concentrate on people who are really the bad apples,” he says.

How criminal is “criminal?”

End-of-year removal data published by ICE and the Department of Homeland Security provide for a quick litmus test of prosecutorial discretion’s success in cracking down on criminal elements within the undocumented community.  And a look at the data reveals a staggering upward shift in criminal deportations since President Obama’s 2009 inauguration.


For instance, from 2008 to 2012, the number of “criminal” undocumented immigrants who have been deported has skyrocketed from 97,000 to 225,000—an increase of 132 percent in five years.

Meanwhile, the removals of aliens described as “noncriminal” have decreased from 262,000 to 184,000—a 30 percent drop. This made 2012 the first year in more than a decade in which “criminal” removals outnumbered “noncriminal” removals.

However, there is a problem here, and it’s one of semantics: What does ICE mean when it says “criminal?”

“A criminal alien is any alien with a criminal conviction,” says Jason Flora, the immigration attorney in Indianapolis.

In Indiana that includes everything from Class C misdemeanors, such as public intoxication and driving without a license, to aggravated felonies like murder, rape and sexual abuse of a minor.

“So if you’ve been convicted of a traffic misdemeanor, driving without a license, driving while suspended, or just walking down the street drunk…all those people would be counted as criminal aliens,” says Flora.

“That’s different from those people who I think of as criminals like drug dealers and rapists and murderers. I think something’s askew. I don’t think they belong in the same category,” he says.

Indeed, critics of ICE’s enforcement policies say the agency’s interpretation of the title “criminal alien” is so broad that many low-level offenders are still being arrested, prosecuted and deported, despite the agency’s policy of priority-first prosecutorial discretion.

“While ICE states it is targeting serious criminals who pose a threat to public safety and security, what it actually counts in its statistics of deported convicted criminals is quite different,” states a report by analysts with the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse (TRAC), a research group at Syracuse University that analyzes staffing, spending and enforcement activities of the federal government.

ICE itself has released few descriptive bits of information regarding the criminal backgrounds of individuals deported recently. Of the 225,390 individuals classified as “criminal” that were removed from the country in 2012, more than 83,300 were convicted of either homicides, sex offenses, DUIs or drug crimes.

But the agency provides no information on the offenses of the other 142,000 deportees, leaving it unclear whether they reflect the new high-priority enforcement objectives or are first time offenders guilty of low-level offenses, such as driving without a license or other misdemeanors.


ICE has rebuffed efforts seeking more data that may bring clarity to the issue.

The Syracuse University research group, for instance, has a long-pending Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request dating to 2010 that seeks case-by-case data for all recorded convictions for deported aliens and priority and threat levels associated with each individual. But ICE has yet to release the information, TRAC analysts say.

“ICE is resisting releasing more detailed records sought by TRAC that might help the public understand what about these offenses justified the classification of the noncitizen as a Level 1 convicted criminal,” the group says.

Low-priority individuals still targeted

 What little information observers have managed to secure from ICE suggests that agency officers and prosecutors still readily target low-priority individuals.

Analysts with TRAC, for instance, have obtained data documenting the “threat level” and the “most serious” criminal conviction for every undocumented immigrant being held in ICE custody on one particular day in 2011.

Of the 32,300 undocumented immigrants in ICE detention throughout the country on Oct. 3, 2011, nearly 10,000 are designated “Priority 1, Threat level 1” individuals—in other words, the worst of the worst. However, the “most serious” criminal convictions associated with these 10,000 individuals vary significantly, from low-level Class C misdemeanors to aggravated felonies.

In fact, the convictions run a gamut of 282 different criminal offenses covering everything from homicide, gang activity, heroin smuggling and rape of the disabled to traffic offenses, disorderly conduct, trespassing, shoplifting and pickpocketing.

Such a wide scope of criminal offenses listed by ICE personnel as first-priority individuals fit for deportation suggests that at least some agents have not adhered to prosecutorial discretion’s guidelines.

Susan Long, professor at Syracuse University and co-director of TRAC, says this is not surprising.

“In any large agency, there will be at least a few individuals that aren’t following top level directives for a variety of reasons,” she says. “The more important question is how dominant is this practice? The relative lack of detailed data and ICE’s uncooperativeness in complying with FOIA makes it impossible to answer this question.”



‘One Day in April’


With Little 500 just days away, Bloomington and the IU campus are gearing up for this annual rite of spring.

So is a film crew, which has been tracking four teams all spring for a documentary that the filmmakers claim will cover Little 500 in a way that has never been seen before.

“Even people at the race will not understand the story the way that we’re going to present it,” said Peter Stevenson, BA’12 (political science).

He, Tom Miller, BAJ’12, and senior Ryan Black are working on a feature-length film, One Day in April, a documentary that explores the famed bike race. They plan to release the film next spring just before Little 500.

Armed with a fleet of high definition cameras, dozens of microphones and an army of production assistants, they are working on giving viewers an intimate look into both the magic of race day and the path the riders will have taken to get there.

“I would say that if our movie is boiled down to one point, it’s the journey,” Stevenson said.

Miller and Stevenson said they have approached the Little 500 from the individual riders’ vantage points to tell their stories.

“I think it would be really easy to go out there and get a bunch of wreck video, some cool shots of people riding on the roads, and close-up shots of people wearing badass sunglasses,” Stevenson said. “But that’s not really a story. That’s a Sports Center commercial.”

Instead, the filmmakers said their cinematic approach will give the audience a bottom-up, insider’s perspective into the Little 500 experience.

“The story we want it tell is a story people can relate to,” Stevenson said. “And what we have found is a really common Midwestern story, the idea of working as hard as you can and to become an athletic champion.”

In order to parse out this narrative for the documentary, the filmmakers have been following the journeys of four teams with storied histories at the race: the Cutters and Delta Tau Delta in the men’s division, and Delta Gamma and Teter in the women’s division. Miller and Stevenson said they want to craft a story that speaks to the whole experience, one that represents all 33 teams that will take to the track at Bill Armstrong Stadium this weekend.

“We are hoping that by telling the stories of the teams that we’re focusing on, we can do justice to the story that all of them live in a way,” Miller says.

The toughest obstacle still ahead for the film team is, of course, race day. On that day, Miller and Stevenson will find themselves conducting a virtual symphony of more than two dozen production assistants and 18 standard- and high-speed cameras trained on everyone from riders whizzing around the quarter-mile cinder track to the teams’ coaches operating in the pit.

All those cameras will help them reveal dimensions of the race that no one has really seen before, the filmmakers say.

“What we feel like we need to capture in order to get race day right is the little moments that change the course of the race,” Stevenson said.

“That means you’ve gotta have the moment when the coach is like, ‘All right Lisa, you’re in,’” Miller said. “You’ve got to have…all of these tiny sort of ’micro moments’ that add up to the story of the race.”

Tackling a project of this size has been a learning experience for Miller and Stevenson, one that forces them to think not only about how to tell the creative story they envision, but also the business end of filmmaking.

“I think for both of us, this is by far the most logistically complex project we’ve ever done,” Stevenson said.

Though a political science major, he was active in student media at IU, serving as photo and managing editor at the Indiana Daily Student. He and Miller often collaborated at the IDS or in other media projects.

Miller and Stevenson said they have found that coordinating with everyone from camera gear suppliers, their two-dozen assistants, the members of the highlighted race teams, and IU officials and legal staff is an art in itself. To help manage the workload, they have delegated tasks. While Stevenson concentrates mainly on writing and other storytelling aspects of the project, Miller is in charge of nearly everything going into telling the visual side of the story.

“Tom knows a lot about running a live production with multiple cameras going,” Stevenson said. “He is in his element when we have 25 people to assign different jobs.”

“There’s nothing I love more than just barking at people to go do things,” Miller said, laughing.

But the two say their progress would not be possible without the help of their colleagues, especially Black and IU alumna Kirsten Powell. Black, a telecommunications senior, is the other co-creator of the film project. He collaborated with Miller on their 2012 short film All We’ve Built, which debuted at the Cannes International Film Festival last summer.

“Ryan is very much like my right-hand person. At this point, it is like having my brain in another person’s body,” Miller said. “I can just tell him to go do something, and I know he’ll execute it how I would do it.”

Powell, a telecommunications alumna, was brought onto the project as a consultant and producer earlier this month. A former Little Five rider for Delta Gamma, she has the insider’s knowledge. Neither Stevenson nor Miller have participated in the race.

“She’s our Charles Barkley,” Miller said. “She doesn’t have the technical background in terms of the filmmaking part. But what she does have is an incredibly deep understanding of the race and the psychology of the riders.”

Current journalism students also are integral to the team. Chet Strange, Mark Felix, Steph Langan and Anna Teter are among those capturing images and footage that will contribute to the wealth of material the crew hopes to accumulate.

Miller and Stevenson said creating the documentary came at a good time in their careers. Miller had finished months of work for the Barack Obama campaign and the presidential inauguration, and Stevenson had been working as a freelance political reporter for The New York Times.

“Tom was sleeping on my basement floor at one point in December, taping some meetings in D.C.,” Stevenson said. “I think I turned to Tom and said, ‘Look, I always thought it would be really badass to do a Little Five documentary. Isn’t it a shame that we never did.’ And his answer was, ‘Well, why don’t we?’”

As freelancers, neither had trouble dropping everything and coming back to Bloomington to begin organizing the project. To raise money, they crowdsourced through, an online funding platform, to solicit support, and they used Facebook to alert friends and followers to the campaign. To raise the stakes, they offered perks based on giving levels, such as screen credits for top donors.

“I’ve been living out of my suitcase since February,” Stevenson said. “It’s tough, but it’s a lot of fun. And it’s a good excuse for me to live in Bloomington for another spring.”

After editing throughout next autumn and winter, the film team plans to show preview screenings of One Day in April in Bloomington in the run-up to next year’s Little 500. Soon after, they said they hope to hit the festival circuit and hope to get the documentary shown at South by Southwest festival in Austin and possibly the Sundance Film Festival.

Neither put much hope in financial success stemming from the film.

“We’re not in this for money. We’re not in this for fame. We want people to see the story that we’re trying to tell,” Stevenson said. “As a creative person, that is the best kind of reward you can get: People being interested in your work.”


Filmmaker Danfung Dennis Explains Technique, Storytelling Strategy of ‘Hell and Back Again’


A decade of war scenes on TV news does not depict the toll on soldiers as they are under fire or when they return home, says filmmaker Danfung Dennis. His award-winning documentary, Hell and Back Again, aims to do just that, examining the life of one marine’s re-entry to family life after three tours of duty and a serious injury.

Dennis spoke to students and faculty Tuesday afternoon at the IU Cinema as the cinema’s Jorgensen Guest Filmmaker Lecturer. Later that evening, the cinema showed the documentary as the final screening in the Photojournalists at War series, which was sponsored by the IU Cinema and the School of Journalism.

Dennis began covering Iraq and Afghanistan in 2006, and his work has been featured in Time, The New York Times, Le Figaro and other publications as well in Frontline’s “Obama’s War” program.

Those years of experience provided the footing for the project that became Hell and Back Again, which follows Marine Sgt. Nathan Harris of Echo Company in the 2nd Battalion 8th Marines in Helmand Province in 2009. The film juxtaposes the soldier’s experiences in combat on the warfront with the difficulties he suffers while attempting to adjust back to civilian life in North Carolina following a debilitating injury.

“I was embedded with Echo Company 2/8, and we were dropped deep behind enemy lines,” Dennis told the audience under the soft light in the dim cinema. “And within a few hours, we were surrounded and attacked on all sides. The fighting was extremely heavy.”

Armed with a Canon 5D Mark II outfitted with shotgun microphones and mounted onto a customized Glidecam connected to his bullet proof vest, Dennis was embedded in Helmand Province with Harris and his comrades. He began capturing what would be nearly 100 hours of steady cinematic tracking shots of soldiers under fire.

Dennis said his goal was to capture Operation Enduring Freedom and the burgeoning militant insurgency in Afghanistan, using Echo Company’s experiences.

“By the end of the first day, one marine had been killed, a dozen had collapsed from heat exhaustion, and nearly all of us had run out of water,” Dennis said. “And that’s when I first met Sgt. Nathan Harris.”

Harris handed Dennis his own water bottle that day. On his third combat tour, Harris had a passion for being nothing else but a “grunt” fighting on the front lines in the 8th Marines infantry, Dennis said.

“He was an exceptional leader — and really fearless. So I followed him as he pushed into this platoon,” Dennis told the audience. “And it became a story about one man going to war and coming home from it.”

Shortly before embarking on one of the final missions of his tour, Harris was wounded by enemy fire. His injuries added to the difficulties of transitioning back to civilian life for him and his wife, Ashley.

That’s the story Dennis wanted to tell, and he had unrestricted access to the personal lives of Harris and his wife after the soldier’s return to North Carolina. The couple became accustomed to Dennis and his camera, always in the background of their lives, as they dealt with the physical and psychological challenges, and the strain on their marriage.

In the film, Dennis wove footage of Harris and his platoon on the warfront, unloading heavy machine gun clips into enemy positions and ducking away from IED blasts, with scenes of the soldier and of his wife relaxing at home, shopping at Walmart and going to medical appointments.

“The goal was to bridge the reality of the conflict with American consciousness back home,” Dennis explained. For many citizens, their country’s wars are far removed from their day-to-day lives, and the film, Dennis said, could show the sacrifices and hardships of soldiers and their families at war and at home.

Hell and Back Again premiered at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival, where it earned the World Cinema Jury Award and the World Cinema Cinematography Award. The film was nominated earlier this year for a 2012 Academy Award for best feature documentary.

Dennis also talked about his next project, a technological innovation that futher melds photography with computers and gives viewers a panoramic, three dimensional and immersive experience. His company, Condition One, is working on this technique.

Before the lecture, associate professor Jim Kelly introduced Dennis and moderated a short panel discussion that included professors Claude Cookman and Steve Raymer. Lecturer Dennis Elliott also helped organize Dennis’ appearance.

The other two films that were part of the series, War Photographer about photographer James Nachtwey, and James Longley’s Iraq in Fragments, were shown earlier this spring.


Monroe County Head Start to Cut Student Slots, Employees

Monroe County’s Head Start program is making cuts to its staff and to the number of spaces available to children starting immediately.

The South Central Community Action Program must cut 5.1 percent of its Head Start budget, which amounts to more than $150,000 in cuts, because of funding constraints stemming from the federal sequestration.

The SCCAP Board of Directors and Head Start Parent Council voted Monday night to cut 12 Head Start slots for children ages three to five and 25 home-based slots for children up to age three.  Fifteen employees will also be let go.

Other cuts include the closure of the Head Start classroom at Lakeview Elementary and the suspension of Head Start transportation services at the end of this school year. Attendance for 2013 summer classes will also be slashed by 67 percent, keeping over 70 children at home during the summer months.

SCCAP Executive Director Todd Lare says parents will be forced to seek alternative sources of child care, and for more time each year.

“We’re also ending the school year early by a month,” he says. “So parents that were intending to have child care taken care of for another month are not going to have that.”

Tiffany Bengtson is one of the luckier parents. Her daughter Emma will be old enough to go to kindergarten. But she knows several parents whose children will be affected. For them, the future is less certain.

“As far as knowing what they’re going to do,” Bengtson says. “I don’t know. And its…I don’t even know if they know at this point since the cuts just came. But hopefully they’ll be able to find something. I hope.”

While the Head Start budget rollbacks in Marion County have been decided, they still have to be approved by the Head Start Regional Office in Chicago before going into effect.

Link to TV Version of Story:

Terre Haute Hospital Unveils New Mother-Baby Unit

Union Hospital, a not-for-profit healthcare center that services Terre Haute and the greater Wabash Valley, christened its brand new mother-baby unit today.

At a cost of $3 million, renovations transformed the third floor of the hospital’s west building over four months, creating the space and resources to provide neonatal care for 30 mother-baby couplets immediately after birth—double the hospital’s prior capacity.

Jennifer Harrah, nursing care manager of the newborn intensive care and pediatrics, says the founding of the unit comes in the wake of increasing rates of births in the area.

“Our hospital over the last four years has consistently had an increase in our birth rate,” she says. “We were on a 15-bed post-partum unit. And with the opening of our new labor and delivery and newborn intensive care last July, we saw an even more increase in our birth rate. And 15 beds just were not enough for our patients.”

The revamped unit combines nursing care for mothers and babies that was, prior to its opening, separated between post-partum care for mothers and nursery care for their newborns. Mother-baby couplets now stay and sleep together in the same room and spend more time with one another than is often possible in traditional approaches to neonatal care.

Desiree Hensel, assistant professor of nursing at Indiana University-Bloomington, says this unified strategy yields several benefits.

“We know that when mothers and babies stay together, it promotes better breast feeding,” she says. “That’s simply the best reason.”

Centers like Union Hospital’s mother-baby unit are becoming increasingly popular in the United States, Hensel says, simply because of their success in advocating for breastfeeding, which the World Health Organization regards as an essential step to ensuring healthy infant development.

But bonding time through cohabitation also provides a significant boon for both those mothers who choose to breastfeed and those who do not. The chance to take up more responsibility for the care of their newborns in the hospital after delivery also provides gives mothers a practice run of the care they’ll be giving after returning home.

“The more the mom provides the care for the baby instead of the nurse, the more that we are really improving their self efficacy,” Hensel says. “We acknowledge that the parent is the primary care giver, not the nurse. They’re going to be the ones who care for the baby when they leave the hospital. So the best we can do is promote that self efficacy in moms and reassure them that they’re doing a good job and help guide them when they need it.”

Hospital officials will soon begin applying for accreditation from World Health Organization, designating its mother-baby unit as an official Baby Friendly health center. The Baby Friendly campaign advocates for mother-newborn cohabitation after birth with the purpose of strengthening bonding between mother and child, facilitating breastfeeding and providing firsthand education for new mothers on strategies for proper infant care.

The renovations of the mother-baby unit was Union Hospital’s second construction project for maternal child services in recent years. It opened its new labor and delivery and newborn intensive care center last July.

Here is the Link to the Published Article:

Secretary of State Pushes for Vote Center in Columbus

Secretary of State Connie Lawson met with a couple dozen county-level officials from around the state in Columbus on Monday to discuss the ins and outs of a vote centers, which have been proposed in Bartholomew County and elsewhere.

Lawson is pushing a polling system based on vote centers she says would consolidate and centralize voting locations at sites capable of accommodating up to 10,000 voters apiece on Election Day. Current precincts, under state law, limit the number of voters in each one to between 1,200 and 1,400 people.

Voters are not assigned to particular polling locations in vote center counties – they can vote anywhere, Lawson’s proposal would also do away with paper ballots, in favor of computers that tally votes and transmit them by high-speed internet.

“This is a way to reduce locations, reduce the number of poll workers needed, reduce the expenses as it relates to poll workers like meals, to reduce the number of voting equipment, the amount of storage space that they need,” she says. “Lots of different efficiencies that the counties might find. And lets face it—counties are looking for every dollar that they can right now.”

Morgan County Clerk Stephanie Elliott, says vote centers would be convenient for busy voters on election days.

“I anticipate that they will be as excited as we are. I mean I kind of just think if there was a way where we could get one maybe by one of the Walmart’s or where there’s lots of shopping,” she says. “You know someone that’s out and about, rather than have to take off work or you know change their schedule for the day to vote. They could just vote where they’re at.”

A number of counties have rejected vote centers thus far because of political squabbling, worries about the security of electronic voting or a desire to implement them only after the 2012 presidential election was complete.

Link to Published Article: