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Finding immigration reform in Obama’s State of the Union address

Picture 1Yesterday, President Obama addressed the issue of immigration reform in his State of the Union speech.

“We should continue the work of fixing our broken immigration system to secure our borders, enforce our laws and ensure that everyone who plays by the rules can contribute to our economy and enrich our nation.”

Many in the immigration movement expected a more hard hitting message from the President who has appointed Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to lead a bipartisan task force to address the issue – a message that focused on a path to citizenship, fair and just enforcement, family reunification, and workers rights. This mention seemed to indicate a movement by the administration to not lead but rather support immigration reform led by Congress. But not only should the President show strong leadership on the issue because immigration reform is a campaign promise, but also because it is the right and smart thing to do from many standpoints, including an economic one. Our immigration system is broken. Thousands are detained everyday in miserable conditions leading to senseless deaths. Families are separated all over the country. Immigration enforcement is stricken with racial profiling and due process violations.

Rep. Luis Guiterrez, who introduced the progressive CIRASAP immigration reform bill in the House this past December, has responded,

He (the President) did not go far enough for the four million American citizen children whose parents face deportation; the millions of Americans waiting to be reunited with loved ones overseas; hardworking Americans whose security is undermined in the workplace; or the $1.5 trillion lacking from our Gross Domestic Product, all in the absence of real reform.

Though he clearly supports the notion that our laws must reflect the contributions immigrants have made to literally build this country, it is clear to me that Congress cannot wait for the President to lay out our timeline for comprehensive reform.

And there are many who expect more.

12 million undocumented immigrants deserved more than those 38 words. “Continue the work of fixing our broken immigration system.” Does that imply that Congress or the White House have been already busy fixing our broken immigration system? Yes, Department of Homeland Security has been tweaking the system, re-examining Bush-era diktats, looking at the conditions of detention centers. But that’s not fixing a broken system, it’s not even duct taping it. That is just sweeping at the edges with a fly whisk.

There is a broad coalition that supports immigration reform including labor unions, immigration advocates, and faith leaders. Right now, Senator Schumer is crafting a bill with Senator Graham to be introduced in the Senate after which it will move to the House. And even though more and more studies are revealing the economic benefits of reform, it’s going to be a tough fight ahead.

Protest on the eve of State of the Union address to ask for immigration reform

4307309968_b3dcd2336aAt a protest outside the national headquarters of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) yesterday, hundreds participated in a protest to call attention to the suffering of immigrant families across the country.  Protesters including representatives of major immigrant organizations and faith leaders, underscored the growing disenchantment with the administration’s inaction on immigration reform.

The protest was held to call for an immediate suspension of deportations of immigrants with U.S. citizen family members and action on passage of comprehensive immigration reform.  Held on the eve of the President’s State of the Union address, it highlights the growing frustration of immigrants and their families regarding the administration’s failure to deliver on basic commitments made during the 2008 presidential race.

EunSook Lee, executive director of the National Korean American Service & Education Consortium, stated,

Last year on January 21st, we stood in front of DHS with faith leaders and 800 allies to urge a moratorium on the raids and press for immigration reform. We stand here again with our partners a year later to again make the case that in the absence of federal action to fix the broken immigration system, this nation will continue to see the devastation of thousands of families and neighborhoods.

Tuesday’s action was held to draw attention to a number of local actions receiving nationwide support – including The Trail of DREAMs, the 17-day Fast for Our Families in South Florida, and a march of tens of thousands in Phoenix, Arizona to protest local enforcement of immigration law.

Gustavo Torres, Executive Director of CASA de Maryland, expressed his sentiments.

We are here to mark one year of inaction and remind the administration that immigrants and people who love them are suffering every day that it refuses to take action.

Note: Restore Fairness mistakenly reported there were arrests at the protest. We apologize for the mistake. There were no arrests at the protest.

We need you to vote now @ “Ideas for Change in America” to restore fairness to immigration

Picture 2We need your vote! Vote to Restore Fairness to our broken immigration system on Change.org’s Ideas for Change in America and take us one step closer to to ensure that 2010 is the year for immigration reform.

Ideas for Change in America is a competition that empowers citizens to build momentum for solutions to pressing problems facing us today. The 10 ideas with the maximum number of votes will go to Washington.

Immigration reform has been proven to benefit the livelihood and stability of all of us, leading to a vibrant and viable future. So vote now! Here’s our idea.

Unite to pass immigration reform this year that “Restores Fairness” to our broken immigration system

Today, a broken immigration system denies basic human rights and due process to people who live here.  In the aftermath of 9-11, immigrants have borne the brunt of harsh policies with the U.S. government allowing raids and arrests without warrants, holding thousands in inhumane detention conditions, and deporting people without a fair trial.

But there is hope. This year, people across America are coming together to ask for just and humane immigration reform, one of President Obama’s election promises. Right now, Senator Schumer is crafting a bill with Senator Graham to be introduced in the Senate after which it will move to the House. But there are divisive, nativist, voices out there that are trying to stop this.

Raise your voice for a just and humane immigration reform that:

1.  Creates a fair path to citizenship for the millions of hardworking individuals and families who live here.
2. Creates fair enforcement practices that include -

- creating legally enforceable detention standards and implementing secure alternatives to detention so that we stop locking up harmless individuals, children and people with severe medical conditions
- stopping indiscriminate raids and the continued use of local law enforcement to enforce federal immigration law
- restoring the ability of immigration judges to consider individual circumstances before they detain and deport people

Immigration reform must also address border security, workers rights, family reunification and future flows of workers.

Photo courtesy of Change.org

Does National Geographic’s “Border Wars” series sensationalize border enforcement?

Picture 1The issue of long-term and comprehensive immigration reform has gained tremendous momentum over the last month. Be it progressive bloggers, faith-based groups, immigration rights activists, the White House or Congress, the buzz is that those in power must deliver a sustainable and humane solution to the immigration problem. But the disconnect between the mainstream media and the issues of immigration continues to remain challenging.

National Geographic Channel‘s new reality series, “Border Wars”, is a perfect example of how the popular media tends to misconstrue the issue of immigration through a sensationalist approach to the problem. Launched on January 10th 2010, and co-produced by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP), “Border Wars” follows agents from CBP as they go after drug trafficking, human smuggling, and undocumented migrants trying to cross the border.

The description of the show from the National Geographic website says -

The U.S.-Mexico border stretches for 2,000 miles, over mountains, through deserts and dividing cities. Each year over one million undocumented people cross this border….U.S. dollars are the answer for many poor people struggling in Mexico, Central America, and beyond….From the skilled tracker on foot to the agent able to see in the dark with special night-vision equipment, the U.S. Border Patrol faces the challenge of controlling the desert every day. In “Border Wars”, National Geographic goes inside the world of the U.S. Border Patrol with unprecedented access to the surprising world of the southern border.

On the day that it was launched, the premiere episode received the highest ratings in the history of the channel. This is not surprising considering the conspicuous usage of words such as “war” and “terrorist” in the promos, the sensationalistic imagery, and the battle hardy agents.  A look at the title, the way that the promos for the show have been framed, and the description of the series all work to invoke fear and reinforce stereotypes associated with immigrants. More importantly, while the show frames the agents and the migrants through the simplistic binary of “good” and “bad,” it fails to provide any contextual information about the fact that despite the huge amounts of money that have been pumped into border enforcement, the success of border policies remains questionable. It also fails to address the fact that while drug trafficking remains a huge problem, a majority of those who attempt to cross the border do so in search for a job, and are far from posing a threat to anyone.

In a scathing critique of the show, Huffington Post writer John Carlos Frey, who denounces the ratings-hungry tactics of Border Wars, writes -

What the show fails to mention is that “raising the stakes” has deliberately and inhumanely forced migration over deadly terrain resulting in the death of thousands of migrants on U.S. soil. Conveniently, “Border Wars” also fails to mention that current border policy and security infrastructure is not working…The multi-billion dollar project was supposed to be completed in 2008 and now is scheduled for completion in 2016 if at all…Billions of dollars, tens of thousands of border guards and horribly, thousands of dead migrants later, the National Geographic Channel’s ratings darling, “Border Wars”, forgets to mention the border policy they are glorifying in their program is deliberately forcing people to cross deadly terrain and may not be “halting illegal immigration.”

The Equal Justice Society has taken a stand against the show, claiming that it works foster false impressions that are extremely dangerous in their potential to engender racism against immigrants and detract from the reality of the situation. In their critique of the show they say -

The promotions for this new show, as well as the show itself, have managed to recklessly imply that the U.S. and Mexico are at war, that the U.S.-Mexico border is a terrorism hot spot, that undocumented immigrants are the terrorists attempting to infiltrate this country, and that U.S. border agents are our soldiers ensuring national security and justice. These implications are false and dangerous. What “Border Wars” will not show you are fleeing immigrants being shot, immigrant children being separated from their families, and immigrants being forced to return to lives that include poverty, violence, and despair. That is the reality of the U.S.- Mexico border.

Worse still, the website allows viewers to participate in a simulated version of the show in which they can “play” at being a Border Patrol agent. For years, The National Geographic Channel has remained committed to intelligent and sensitive programming of shows that celebrate the beauty of our planet and the diversity of its cultures. When a channel such as this one gives up its integrity in favor of ratings and in the process, compromises the access to knowledge around an extremely sensitive topic, it is difficult not to be despondent about the future of television.

If you would like to contact National Geographic about “Border Wars” to express your disappointment and outrage, you can do so by clicking here.

Photo courtesy of www.channel.nationalgeographic.com

Progressive bloggers and advocates set the stage for immigration reform in 2010

Next Up, Comprehensive Immigration Reform “Not the usual suspects-” This is how Nico Pitney, National Editor for the Huffington Post and moderator on a panel discussion about the prospect of immigration reform, introduced his fellow panelists. Organized by the Center for American Progress, Netroots Nation, and America’s Voice, the panel featured some of the leading voices for comprehensive and just immigration reform, including Markos Zúñiga, founder and editor of Daily Kos, Andrea Nill, immigration blogger for Think Progress, and María Elena Durazo from the AFL-CIO.

Using the context of Rep. Luis Gutierrez‘s progressive CIR ASAP immigration reform bill introduced in mid December, the recent election of Sen. Scott Brown in Massachusetts (and the obvious question of how this will affect the progressive agenda including immigration reform), President Obama’s campaign promise to address immigration reform with his election, a lively discussion ensued on what makes the present time ripe for the passage of immigration reform legislation. Unlike the harsh and divisive debates of failed reform in 2007, the overall outlook amongst the panelists was positive, as they approached the topic from the point of view of electoral vote politics, the economy, and the labor movement.

Using Rep. Gutierrez’s bill as a solid base, Andrea Nill began by clarifying the fundamentals of Comprehensive Immigration Reform which would include,

An earned path to legalization for undocumented immigrants, including registering with the government, a background check, paying taxes, and ensuring their integration into society.

Creating flexible channels for the future legal flow of immigration which could adjust itself to the ebb and flow of the economy.

Smart enforcement policies including moving resources away from spending money trying to detain and deport immigrants and “chasing busboys and nannies through the desert” into addressing problems such as drug and human trafficking at the border.

Markos Zuniga made the distinction between the political climate around immigration in 2007 and now by talking about today’s polls that show 66% of voters (an equal percentage of Democrats and Republicans) support reform making it a truly bipartisan issue. With Latino groups reaching a plurality in 2050 and Asian and other minority communities growing rapidly, the co-relation between electoral votes and reform is clear. For many Republicans, falling back onto nativist rhetoric and hate-mongering like in 2007, could mean a significant loss in votes from Latino and other immigrant communities.”President Bush won 40% of the immigrant vote in 2004, John McCain only got 28% in 2008, so the long term health of republican party is in jeopardy if they can’t appeal to immigration groups.”

Andrea Nill added that while there are three groups largely responsible for the nativist rhetoric – FAIR, NumbersUSA and the Center for Immigration Studies, there is also division between the anti-immigration movement, including within the Republican party between moderates willing to engage with immigration reform, and hardliners such as  Rep. Joe Wilson and Rep. Brian Bilbray and other members of the House Immigration Reform Caucas.

Speaking on behalf of  the labor movement, Maria Durazo said there is high expectations from the administration and Congress to deliver on its promise of reform.”These are people who harvests our crops, build our buildings and work in our restaurant…they do services for us but then when we need to respond to their need to bring them out of the shadows we call them names – law breakers, illegals…we want to make sure any immigration legislation has protections for workers, both native born and undocumented immigrants who will come out of the shadows – because we will all lose if we don’t work together.”

In terms of Sen. Scott Brown’s recent victory, the panelists felt that it has little effect since immigration reform has and always will be a bipartisan issue. But on a larger scale, the election felt emblematic of the waning of Democrat popularity due to their lack of engagement with many issues, including immigration, and while voters are looking for the ‘hope’ and ‘change’ that they were promised, immigration reform is an opportunity for both Democrats and Republicans to work together towards a viable solution.

But there is also an economic argument for reform. According to a recent Center for American progress report, immigration reform will be crucial for the economy, with mass deportation causing a loss of $2.6 trillion as opposed to a growth of approximately $1.5 trillion over a ten-year period if reform passes. And since the economy, like healthcare,  is a foremost priority of the Obama administration, this is an opportunity to address both issues simultaneously.

The panelists were unanimous on the fact that the present situation is highly favorable towards immigration reform and highlighted the expanse, width and strength of the present coalitions, which today include faith-based groups, LGBT groups, ethnic groups, immigrant rights advocates and immigrant communities in general.

Looking ahead, while Rep. Gutierrez‘s progressive immigration bill which has 90 co-sponsors would serve as the progressive conscience, everyone is waiting for the bill that Sen. Charles Schumer is working on with Sen. Lindsey Graham is introducing for debate in the Senate. It will then move to the House where it will be written by Rep. Zoe Lofgren.

The penultimate point of the discussion centered around ensuring that the mainstream media begin to report on the issue and mobilize around reform. Maria Elena pointed out the importance of providing people with honest information about the implications of enforcement actions such as raids and detention to families and the economy. Markos Zuniga pointed out that Latino and Asian communities are virtually invisible to the mainstream media, thus removing one side of the immigration story. Stressing the importance of building a pro-immigration story into the media narrative, the speakers highlighted the essential role of online journalism, blogging and networking in building knowledge and momentum for the movement.

Immigration detention reforms urgently needed in light of “all hell breaking loose” at Varick facility in New York

Picture 1Immigration detention is once again revealing fatal flaws, reaffirming the need to not only superficially reform the system as has been promised by the Obama administration, but completely overhaul it by reducing reliance on a penal system of punishment. As a New York Times opinion piece stated,

Americans have long known that the government has been running secretive immigration prisons into which detainees have frequently disappeared…..what we did not know, until a recent article in The Times by Nina Bernstein, was how strenuously the government has tried to cover up those failings.

Yesterday, reports came in of an ongoing hunger strike at Varick Federal Detention Facility in downtown New York, counteracted by immigration agents in riot gear who used pepper sprays and beat detainees.

A Jamaican detainee in one dorm said “all hell broke loose” after about 100 inmates refused to go to the mess hall on Tuesday morning and gave guards a flier declaring they were on a hunger strike to protest detention policies and practices. The detainee, who asked that his name not be published for fear of retaliation, said a SWAT team used pepper spray and “beat up” some detainees, took many to segregation cells as punishment and transferred about 17 to immigration jails in other states.

A detention center that sees 11,000 undocumented immigrants, asylum seekers, and legal permanent residents with convictions pass through every year, Varick has been in the news recently as Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced they will be shutting it down and transferring detainees to a county jail in Hudson County, Jersey. An ICE press release stated,

As part of its major overhaul of the detention system, ICE will suspend operations at the Varick Facility….a commitment to prioritizing health, safety, and uniformity among facilites.

No doubt Varick has had its share of problems. A petition sent by a 100 men from Varick talking of constant transfers to remote locations and lack of access to lawyers spurred an investigation by the New York City Bar Association which eventually led them to start a volunteer lawyers program for the facility. But many advocates and detainees alike feel that ICE has decided to shift responsibilities to other facilities rather than fix conditions at Varick, especially given the focus on misconduct in the facility in recent times. Many are worried that closing Varick would negatively impact detainees’ due process rights, including lack of access to both attorneys and families in Hudson because of the long distance from New York City and issues around visitation hours. Still others feel that the move comes to avoid all of those protests that have been happening outside of Varick lately. Activists have been protesting the deportation of Jean Montrevil, housed in Varick, that has led to traffic stops and multiple arrests outside the center. The New York Times reports,

Nancy Morawetz, a professor at the New York University School of Law and director of its Immigrant Rights Clinic, said, “There is probably no detainee at Varick Street who, despite the problems at Varick, wouldn’t prefer to be at Varick. This is really just moving away the problems where they’re not going to be seen.”

Senator Charles Schumer has written a letter urging that Varick stay open.

“They didn’t have a concept of New York — most people New York don’t have cars, whether they be lawyers or immigrant families, ” he said, noting that the agency had not consulted with him or any immigrant groups.

ICE has countered that at Hudson, detainees will have access to outdoor recreation space. But the jail is just a step up from Varick and is required to to treat immigration detainees the same as its criminal inmates, even though they have committed no crime.

The general mess around Varick is showing not only the challenges around reforming the detention system, but also the crucial need for legally enforceable standards for immigration detention, so that agencies can be held accountable, and the need for humane alternatives to immigration detention that ensures moving away from a reliance on a penal, punishment oriented system, neither of which are being addressed by the reforms. Take action now.

Update: The transfer of detainees from Varick to Hudson County has happened as planned but its consequences, as many advocates and detainees have predicted, have made conditions worse for detainees. From the New York Times.

Detainees have sent appeals for help to the American Bar Association and have threatened a hunger strike. They cite exorbitant telephone costs as their central grievance, but also complain of poor health care, confiscation of legal documents and mistreatment by guards at the jail, the Hudson County Correctional Center in Kearny….Officials of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the federal agency that pays jails to house detainees, have said improvements are in the works. But for detainees shifted from the New York jail, the Varick Federal Detention Facility, the possibilities for communication with the outside world have shrunk.

Photo courtesy of ICE.

Take action on this historic opportunity to “Restore Fairness” to the Patriot Act

Picture 1On December 31, 2009, three provisions of the Patriot Act expired, creating a perfect opportunity for Congress to examine the Act and its infringement on the rights of U.S. citizens. However the House and Senate rejected an alternative proposal called the JUSTICE Act that would bring in more checks and balances and add long overdue civil liberties protections and instead renewed the expiring provisions for 60 days. Time is running out and so on February 3, 2010, a broad coalition of allies are going to D.C. and they would like you to join them in flooding the halls of Congress in protest of the Act.

Amid the climate of fear and uncertainty that followed the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, President George Bush signed into law the Patriot Act, expanding the government’s authority to secretly search private records and monitor communications, often without any evidence of wrongdoing. Many believe that the legislation threatened privacy, intellectual freedom, and sanctioned racial profiling. And more than seven years after its implementation, many more believe there is little evidence to demonstrate that the Patriot Act has made America more secure from terrorists.

The provisions that are set to expire relate to roving wiretaps that allow authorities to monitor an individual instead of a particular phone number, a business record provision that allows investigators to seize “any tangible things” deemed relevant to a terrorism investigation, and the “lone wolf” provision that allows authorities to monitor terrorism suspects not connected to any specific foreign terrorist group or foreign government. But there is hope that this moment can be used as an opportunity to amend other parts of the Act. According to the ACLU this must include,

National Security Letters (NSLs): NSLs are secret demand letters issued without judicial review to compel internet service providers, libraries, banks, and credit reporting companies to turn over sensitive information about their customers and patrons.

Material Support Statute: This provision criminalizes providing “material support” to terrorists, regardless of whether they actually or intentionally further terrorist goals or organizations. Intended as a mechanism to starve terrorist organizations of resources, it has actually undermined legitimate humanitarian efforts such as asylum claims and charitable contributions.

Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Amendments Act of 2008: Originally passed to allow the government to collect foreign intelligence information, Congress changed the law to permit the government to conduct warrantless and suspicion-less dragnet collection of U.S. residents’ international telephone calls and e-mails in the fight against terrorism.

Even with it cloaked in secrecy, government reports reflect a rapidly increasing level of surveillance and Department of Justice Inspector General reports have revealed misuse of NSL and other aspects of the Act. Moreover, several federal courts have found parts of the Patriot Act unconstitutional.

Add your voice to the demand that Congress uphold the Constitution and protect the rights of its citizens.

Photo courtesy of www.reformthepatriotact.org

Program to stop border crossings diverts resources from more dangerous crimes

Here’s more proof that current methods of immigration enforcement are unjust and inefficient. A Bush-era immigration enforcement effort along the U.S.-Mexico border called Operation Streamline is making us less safe in more ways than one – according to a new report released by The Berkeley Law Warren Institute.

Introduced in 2005 as a disincentive to border crossings, the “zero-tolerance” program requires the federal criminal prosecution and imprisonment of all unlawful border crossers. Instead, the program has led to unprecedented caseloads in eight of the eleven federal district courts along the border, leading to assembly-line justice and a serious lack of due process.

Picture 1

The report states,

Many Operation Streamline defendants complete the entire criminal proceeding – meeting with counsel, making an initial appearance, pleading guilty, and being sentenced after waiving a pre-sentence report – in a single day.

And while the numerous prosecutions are straining resources to the breaking point with overburdened judges, federal prosecutors and public defenders, it diverts scarce resources from fighting the roots of border violence: drug smuggling and human trafficking. As petty immigration prosecutions have increased in the border district courts, U.S. attorneys are forced to to cut back on prosecuting more serious crimes along the border.

In a New York Times article, Judge George Kazen of Laredo, Texas, has said,

The U.S. attorney isn’t bringing me those cases. They’re just catching foot soldiers coming across the border. . . . But they will tell you that they don’t have the resources to drive it and develop a conspiracy case.

As a result of Operation Streamline, between 2002 and 2008, Federal Magistrate judges operating along the border saw their immigration misdemeanor caseloads quadruple.

Picture 2

And despite their best efforts, it is extremely difficult for border jurisdictions to implement Operation Streamline without depriving migrants of due process and effective assistance of counsel. Chief Judge of the District of New Mexico, Martha Vázquez, has said,

The increase in our criminal caseload, especially in Las Cruces, has caused us to conduct hearings in a way that we’ve never had to conduct them before, and in a way that other jurisdictions don’t have to. . . . We have . . . up to 90 defendants in a courtroom.

Picture 3

Many defendants may have defenses that are not identified because of the speed and en masse nature of the proceedings.  These can include claims to immigration relief, such as eligibility for asylum or relief under the Convention Against Torture. Even U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents have been identified amongst defendants. This ultimately has consequences nationwide.

As Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Carolyn King has said,

we “can’t have a rule of law for the southwest border that is different from the rule of law that obtains elsewhere in the country.

The report recommends replacing Operation Streamline with a comprehensive and effective approach to border enforcement. This includes reverting to the longstanding practice of leaving unlawful border crossings to the civil immigration system, thereby stopping the draining the resources of the district courts, the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the Federal Public Defender, and the U.S. Marshals Service.

Photos courtesy of www.law.berkeley.edu/ewi.htm.

Take action to protect Haitians in the U.S. who have no place to safely return

-1On January 12th, 2010, the already impoverished Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince, was hit by an earthquake that measured 7.0 on the Richter scale. Frighteningly, that is all that is quantifiable about the disaster at the moment, with thousands trapped under rubble and the scale of destruction to lives and infrastructure yet unknown.

So how much more devastation does the nation of Haiti need to go through before the U.S. administration is convinced that the country is not equipped to cope with the thousands of Haitians who are currently facing deportation back to Haiti?

Between August and September of 2008 Haiti was hit with four tropical cyclones (Fay, Gustav, Hanna and Ike) which killed 800 people, displaced many thousands, and destroyed the economy of the country. Directly following those disasters the Bush administration faced pressure to grant Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to Haitians living in the U.S., a temporary amnesty, given in 18-month increments to immigrants stranded in the U.S.

The Secretary of Homeland Security may designate a foreign country for TPS due to conditions in the country that temporarily prevent the country’s nationals from returning safely, or in certain circumstances, where the country is unable to handle the return of its nationals adequately…Ongoing armed conflict (such as civil war); An environmental disaster (such as earthquake or hurricane); Other extraordinary and temporary conditions.

But not only did the Bush administration fail to include Haiti within the nations whose citizens are granted TPS (namely Sudan, Somalia, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua), but soon after the Obama administration called for the deportation of 30,000 Haitians that President Bush had ordered. Unable to copy with the influx of so many deportees, the Haitian government ceased issuing travel documents for them, resulting in hundreds of deportees being held in detention centers even after they were flown back to Haiti.

At the time in March 2009, many  expressed outrage at the administration’s treatment of Haitian immigrants and demanded TPS for Haitians in the U.S. based on the horrific “conditions on the ground” in Haiti,

Gonaives, Haiti’s third largest city, is uninhabitable; most of the nation’s livestock, food crops, farm tools and seeds destroyed; irrigation systems demolished; collapsed buildings throughout the country; 800,000 people left homeless and more than 800 dead. USAID estimates that 2.3 million Haitians now face “food insecurity,” reeling from prices 40 percent higher than in January.

One year and another natural disaster later, the pressure to grant TPS to undocumented Haitians in the U.S. has reached its peak. On Wednesday, three Republican Member of Congress, Reps. Lincoln Diaz-Balart and Mario Diaz-Balart, and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen wrote a joint letter to President Obama calling for immediate granting of TPS to Haitian nationals. Democrat Alcee Hastings added his name to the appeal, stating it was “not only immoral, but irresponsible” to not allow Haitians to remain in the U.S. Additionally, New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand addressed a letter to the President saying,

Now is certainly not the time to deport Haitians into an overly burdened country…Haiti clearly meets the criteria for TPS designation and extending it would be one way to help address this catastrophe, as well as alleviate additional burdens on American assistance workers.

Yesterday, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano temporarily halted deportations to Haiti, and today Secretary of State Hillary Clinton indicated they may be moving towards TPS for Haitians. As it stands, those Haitians already in detention, such as Haitian activist Jean Montrevil, will continue to remain detained.

In their appeal to Obama, a number of immigrant advocacy organizations such as National Immigration Forum expressed their relief at the U.S. government’s support for Haiti but asked for more long term revisions of the immigration policy,

We find some consolation that the Administration is acting quickly to mobilize relief efforts to Haiti. We support the latest Immigration and Customs Enforcement announcement that it is halting all deportations of Haitian immigrants for the time being, in light of the devastation caused by yesterday’s earthquake…These are the right immediate initial responses. But as part of its long term relief effort, the Administration must grant Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to Haitian immigrants who are now in the U.S.

Granting Haitian nationals TPS would release those in detention centers, unite them with their families, allow them to live and work legally in the U.S., and contribute to the economy in the U.S. and recovery of Haiti. It would also help undocumented Haitians across the U.S. Overall it would impact 125,000 Haitians.

When President Obama said, “You will have a friend and partner in the people of the United States today, and going forward,” we certainly hope that support extends itself to aiding those Haitians who are here.

We urge you to sign a petition, sign a letter to Obama and join a facebook group in support of TPS. And if you are looking for a reliable way to contribute to the earthquake, donate here.

Obama, pay attention to immigration reform as day 14 of immigration fast leads 3 fasters to ER

At a packed church in New York city on a cold wintry afternoon, hundreds of supporters shouted Si Se Puede! Yes we can! as New York’s immigrant communities, labor unions, faith leaders, business owners, elected officials and allies came together in solidarity with hundreds of groups across the country, renewing the call for 2010 to be THE YEAR to achieve just and humane immigration reform.

The rally comes together as actions across the country, from fasts to walks to civil disobedience acts, create mounting pressure for human rights and justice in the immigration system.

Fast for Our Families (Homestead, FL)

Since New Year’s Day, half a dozen immigrant rights activists, community leaders and affected family members have initiated an indefinite fast, vowing to take only liquids, until President Obama and the Administration agree to suspend the deportation of immigrants with American families until Congress acts to fix the broken immigration system. Today, on day 14, three fasters have been rushed to the emergency room after experiencing serious health concerns. Here’s an excerpt from their blog,

The doctor is here. Three fasters are going to the hospital. Francisco may have had a heart attack – the after symptoms point that way. He needs tests. He quietly asked me if he could come back to the fast after they do the tests. “I won’t let them give me food and I can come back, right?” It broke my heart.

Jonathan says he feels fine but the doctor insists that he go to the hospital as well. He has shortness of breath and an issue with his electrolytes that could point to something more serious. He’s determined to come back.

The doctor is recommending that Jenny and Ana go to the hospital as well. Jenny’s pulse and blood pressure are very low. Ana’s sugar is dangerously low. They pressure the doctor. “It’s my baby. It’s my life. You have to understand,” Jenny is declaring. I have tears in my eyes. The fast could cost her life and leaving her children could cost her life. How does one even begin to fathom that choice? How does it even come to that?

Send a letter to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano demanding a stop to separation of families.

Campaign to free Jean Montrevil from immigration custody and stop his deportation (New York, NY)

Jean Montrevil, an activist, leader and family man is currently in immigration custody, awaiting deportation to Haiti, for a crime he committed 20 years ago for which he paid his time. Today’s rally outside Varick Detention Center showed a growing amount of support and anger at Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s unjust actions.

Send an email to Department of Homeland Security urging for his immediate release.

Trail of Dreams (Miami to Washington, D.C.)

On January 1, 2010, a group of brave and passionate students from Florida’s Students Working for Equal Rights (SWER) embarked on a 4-month long journey from Miami’s Freedom Tower to the United States Capitol in Washington D.C., where they will join with thousands in a mass rally demanding urgently needed changes to immigration laws and policies on May 1st, 2010.

Find out how you can help and support the Trail of Dreams.

National Day of Action Against Sheriff Arpaio – Saturday, January 16th (Phoenix, AZ)

Join NDLON, Puente, and other immigrants’ rights groups in denouncing egregious abuses perpetrated against immigrants and people of color by Sheriff Joe Arpaio and demanding an end to 287(g), Secure Communities, and other forms of local police collaboration with immigration authorities that severely undermine public safety and the community’s trust to report crimes to police. Just today, an advertisement appears in today’s edition of The Arizona Republic newspaper where sixty black leaders have come together to condemn Sheriff Arpaio.

Here’s more info on how you can support the movement against Arpaio.

In the midst of the demand for reform, we wish to remember those in Haiti and offer our support and prayers for them.

UPDATE: “On this day, January 17, we have decided to end our fast. After watching the suffering of our Haitian brothers and sisters, and seeing the determination of the Department of Homeland Security to ignore the voices of immigrant families fighting to stay together, we must continue our struggle in a different way, but the Fast for Our Families will not end.”

UPDATE: As of January 25th, 2009, Jean Montrevil was released from detention. The fight continues to end the threat of deportation, but he is back home with his family and community members in New York City.