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Are American Apparel lay offs a replacement for raids?

I am deeply disappointed that the Obama administration has failed to bring about immigration reform. Whereas I know he has the intention to do so, getting the job done is another story.

Words from the farewell letter written by Dov Charney, American Apparel’s chief executive, to almost a quarter of his staff laid off because of a federal investigation that found irregularities in their documents. According to a New York Times article,

The firings at the company, American Apparel, have become a showcase for the Obama administration’s effort to reduce illegal immigration by forcing employers to dismiss unauthorized workers rather than through workplace raids. The firings, however, have divided opinion in California over the fallout of the new approach, especially at atime of record joblessness in the state and with a major, well-regarded employer as a target.

In fact just yesterday California lawmakers put forth a resolution which passed in the California Senate (it does not have the force of law) whose first sentence states, “The State of California….strives to enable all residents to work and live free from discrimination, exploitation, and repressive federal immigration enforcement.

Immigrations and Customs Enforcement has opened audits of 654 other companies, but what makes American Apparel stand out is its open and strong support of immigration reform (remember Legalize L.A.!). While it’s certainly been a relief to see a stop to the old workplace raids, replacing these with a different kind of enforcement that often has the same effects is not quite the solution one is looking for.

Watch Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren describing the old style raids.

It was an interpreter translating in the hearings for nearly 400 immigrant workers picked up in the Postville raid who revealed that many of the workers pleaded guilty to social security fraud (a dubious claim that the Supreme Court rejected) without understanding the criminal charges they were facing, or the rights that they had waived. Many went on to serve 5 months in jail and then get deported.

Two new documentaries examine the effects of the raids by tracing them back to their villages in Guatemala. Both Guatemala: A Tale of Two Villages that screened on PBS’s Frontline and In the Shadow of a Raid (courtesy FIRM) show how the biggest immigration raid in U.S. history made a Guatemalan village weep while pushing an Iowa farm town to the brink of collapse.

When religion and immigration say hello

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While at the Detention Watch Network conference to attack the detention crisis head-on (its more than 400,000 detainees a year – when will it stop growing?), I have met a number of faith-based organizations that are doing incredible work in their communities to advocate for fair and just immigration.

Faith seems to be in the air. As the first ever Senate immigration hearing on faith based perspectives is held, Think Progress reports that an anti-immigrant group is lambasting “religious elites” for their “compassion” saying, “the laity generally supports enforcement of immigration laws.”

Is that so? In a new report by CAP, an interactive map (we love it!) shows hundreds of faith communities engaged in grassroots-led activism on behalf of immigrants. Meanwhile between January and July, more than 25,000 people have gathered in churches across the country to highlight the stories of families who have been torn apart due to the broken immigration system, where House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has declared, “taking parents from their children … that’s un-American.”

Silently, the work continues. Like Nick and Mary Mele, an ordinary couple in the Bellingham area, who decided to take a pilgrimage in reaction to the first work raid committed after President Obama took office. Taking a route that meant 9-10 miles of daily walking, they walked for 15 days from church to church, ending with a prayer vigil at the very same detention center where the workers were detained.

Or Sister Joann and Sister Pat, Sisters of Mercy, (we saluted your work today), who day after day, bitter cold, wind, or rain, would maintain a vigil outside the Broadview Immigration Detention Center near Chicago, the last stop for immigrants before they are deported.

And volunteers are always needed to become The Visitors (Academy Award nominee Richard Jenkins) at the Sojourners program that mentors volunteers to visit and befriend asylum seekers in a windowless converted warehouse near Newark Airport in New Jersey.

May God bless us all (and not just a priveleged few).

Photo courtesy of

What does Lou Dobbs have to do with racial profiling?

The immigration community is revving up to counteract race and immigration based hate politics.

In my last post, I spoke about the pervasive problem of racial and religious profiling. The Rights Working Group has decided to do something about it with the launch of the Racial Profiling: Face the Truth campaign today! Profiling affects a broad range of communities, including Native American, African American, Latino, Arab, Muslim and South Asian communities. Not only is it a humiliating and degrading practice, but it belies the very values that America stands for. With over 45 organizations including us supporting the campaign, as well as Congressman Conyers and Senator Feingold from both houses committed to enacting legislation to ban racial profiling, we have hope for success.

Meanwhile, America’s Voice have launched the Drop the Hate, Drop Dobbs campaign asking CNN to drop Dobbs’ show which paints an ugly picture of race-baiting, fear, and intolerance. They are fighting back with an amazing TV ad and need contributions to make it air! So go on and do your bit.

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In Washington, the Detention Watch Network is gearing up for its annual conference (yes, we will be attending and presenting a workshop on strategic communications) to mobilize folks around detention issues. A little birdie also told us it will be the space to launch their latest campaign (more on that later!). Can’t help but quote from this editorial in the New York Times.

While Ms. Napolitano and her team promise to make detention a “truly civil” system, they show no interest in reforming the corrupt mechanisms that feed it.

What about illegal do you understand?

Fresh off the press is Colorlines superb video with Rinku Sen dissecting why our conversation around immigration is so often driven to extremes. Taking the term ‘illegal’ to task, Rinku shows us how we need to re-examine our stereotypes and the reasons we have grown immune to the hostilities directed at immigrants.

The truth is when we deny due process to some people, we put all of our rights at risk. This is exactly what has happened in our Restore Fairness video with racial profiling spreading its tentacles to affect even legal immigrants like Ana Galindo and Walter Chavez, victims of a warrantless raid, as well as their U.S. citizen son who still has nightmares about the ordeal.

All this ties up neatly into how racial profiling hits immigrant communities. The problem of racial profiling has been acute for African Americans, Latinos, and other minorities who have often complained of unwarranted scrutiny in their cars and on the streets. Come 9/11 and law enforcement has broadened its focus to Arabs, Muslims, and South Asians, including both citizens and immigrants in their purview.

And so today, under the guise of counter-terrorism, we have a culture of aggressive enforcement, increasing detentions and decreasing due process.  What is particularly disturbing is the co-opting of state and local police in the enforcement of immigration laws. Racial profiling has become a major concern, along with a  loss of trust in law enforcement by immigrant communities as they begin to fear immigration consequences, leading to unsafe communities for everyone.

As Rinku makes us uncomfortable when she asks, “That’s not a real American value is it???”

Summer’s over but immigration’s heating up….

It’s not surprising that President Obama’s speech was interrupted by the now infamous phrase ‘You Lie!’, snapping immigration back into the limelight and wreaking havoc in the already contentious issue of health care. As advocates both for and against the issue begin arguing, we have heard from President Obama that even though he does not support insuring the undocumented, “I also don’t simply believe we can ignore the fact that our immigration system is broken.” Meanwhile things are heating up with Rep. Gutierrez announcing that he would introduce immigration reform legislation as soon as this Fall.

Restore Fairness strongly supports reform that respects fairness and due process for everyone. The campaign has been gaining some great support but we need more of you to join hands with us and spread the word like our friends below.

We are being featured on The Extraordinaries, one of the hottest new community engagement tools using an iPhone app (other platforms soon).

Meanwhile The Immigrant Daily Blog and Bender’s Immigration bulletin have featured the campaign.

Join the movement. Its only going to get bigger and better.

Seize the day!


Happy citizenship day!

Today is the day when thousands of immigrants become naturalized citizens in various cities nationwide.

As conservative talk radio hosts gather in D.C. to demand immigration enforcement including Lou Dobbs, they are counteracted by hundreds of community members and leaders from across the country who have  come together to ask for real social change.

Our friends at Reform Immigration for America want to hear from you about what it means to be a citizen. Submit your story as a comment on this blog post. You can also use the #citz hashtag on twitter or text CITIZEN to 69866 (text CIUDADANO for Spanish).

We cannot underrate the value of citizenship. It is both a privilege and a responsibility.

As President Obama said in his inauguration speech:

“What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility – a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world…this is the price and the promise of citizenship.”

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Drops Dobbs and Stop Hate Politics

It was inevitable. Drop Dobbs. A coalition of 14 partner organizations including some of our Restore Fairness partners, National Council of La Raza, Reform Immigration FOR America, Southern Poverty Law Center and Netroots Nation have come together to demand that CNN drop Lou Dobbs.

Many feel that Dobbs has a long history of promoting hate and ethnic and racial division. Among some of Dobbs more outrageous claims are the idea that “the invasion of illegal aliens” who carry leprosy is threatening Americans’ ‘”health.”

Jason Linkins from The Huffington Post reports:

Dobbs calls himself an “advocacy journalist,” but he doesn’t even live up to that ambiguous standard. Good journalism enhances the discussion of serious topics, but Dobbs helps to undermine and debase that discussion, routinely infusing it with misinformation and fear. And when it comes to issues like immigration, he has more in common with birther Orly Taitz than with Anderson Cooper.

The website comes on the heels of Dobbs scheduled radio show as a leading voice for the annual rally sponsored by the anti-immigrant organization Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR).

Drop Dobbs is asking people to sign onto a petition calling on advertisers to drop their sponsorship of Lou Dobbs and to stop sponsoring hate.

Mentally disabled detainees denied due process

Photo courtesy: The New York Times

When a government decides to deprive someone of their liberty, that government is responsible for ensuring that all of that person’s health care needs are met, including mental health needs.

In a shocking expose, The New York Times has published an article focusing on the plight of immigrants with mental illness who face deportation. Xiu Ping Jiang is an immigrant from China seeking asylum in the U.S.

For a year and a half Ms. Jiang, a waitress with no criminal record and a history of attempted suicide, was locked away in an immigration jail in Florida. Often in solitary confinement, she sank ever deeper into mental illness, relatives say, not eating for days, or vomiting after meals for fear of being poisoned.

Mental illness in U.S. prisons and immigration detention is a growing problem. This problem is especially acute when torture survivors and asylum seekers who arrive in the U.S. already traumatized are then placed in detention ill-equipped to handle their mental health needs.

Given their vulnerability, its easy to see how immigrants with mental disabilities can be denied a fair hearing. One of the major reasons for this is also that immigrants are not entitled a right to a lawyer. Although emerging international standards favor a right to counsel, the U.S. does not agree, and as a result, many immigrants are unable to afford counsel and represent themselves.

Like Ms. Jiang who languished in detention for many months. Other cases have documented U.S. citizens with mental disabilities unlawfully deported.

All of this has prompted a group of 77 mental health experts, civil rights lawyers and immigration advocates to send a letter to Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. asking for protections. Many advocates have also pinned their hopes on an upcoming Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on september 15th on ‘Mental Illness in U.S. Prisons and Detention Facilities’.

Ms. Jiang was finally released from detention because the New York Times publicized her case. She is awaiting a final decision. Not everyone is so lucky.

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Obama Administration Proposes Reform of Detention Centers

Photo courtesy: The Least of ThesePost 9/11, the government has taken a much tougher stance towards immigration, resulting in thousands upon thousands of detainees being held in a network of government run detention centers, county jails and privately contracted facilities across the country. An overburdened detention system has led to fatal deaths in detention and repeated violations of detention standards.

That’s why it was with welcome relief that we heard John Morton, Assistant Secretary of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, announce planned reforms in the immigration detention system. The government plans to create a new office that will design a more centralized detention system over the next few years, thereby moving detainees away from private prisons and county jails. It also agreed to stop detaining families at the deeply problematic T. Don Hutto Family Residential Facility in Texas but will continue to detain families at another family detention center in Pennsylvania.

This is a good move forward but clearly it’s not enough.  Breakthrough believes that we must implement cost effective alternatives to detention instead of building newer centers and continuing to hold people indefinitely.  Building more detention centers only serves to reinforce a trend that leads to many due process and human rights violations.

Advocacy Groups Demand End to 287(g)

Juana Villegas’s story is a shocking example of what happens when local law enforcement is endowed with the authority to enforce immigration law.

One of the fastest growing programs under this scheme is the 287(g) program. With its growth, we are also seeing an increase in reports highlighting its failures, including an almost complete lack of oversight and as we have seen in Juana’s story, numerous instances of unlawful racial profiling and human rights violations.

On a more important note, the program hinders the ability of law enforcement to accomplish their primary goal – to protect the safety and security of the communities they police. Communities become less safe when crime victims are afraid to cooperate with police, especially victims of violent crimes, because they are afraid of deportation. And we all become at risk when people are afraid of police.

While the Department of Homeland Security has even acknowledged some of its failures, and made some changes, none of this has actually improved the program. This is why a coalition of 500 advocacy groups sent a letter to President Obama last week demanding an end to the 287(g) programs that violate human rights and lead to racial profiling.

Take action now. Send a letter to Secretary Napolitano and stand up for the rights of all people in the United States.