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Will immigration reform pass this year? Olympic medalist hopes so.

It took courage for 18-year old Olympian bronze medalist Simon Cho to relate the inspirational story of his life as an immigrant in America. Born in Seoul, Simon came to the U.S. with his family at the age of four as an undocumented immigrant. Aspiring to give their children the American Dream, Simon’s parents worked tirelessly, day and night, to ensure that their children got the opportunities they deserved. While Simon’s parents worked hard in their seafood shop 365 days of the year, Simon devoted most of his time to speed skating, a sport he was exceptionally good at. Realizing their son’s talent, Simon’s parents sold their shop and everything they had in order to afford his full-time training with the Olympic team in Salt Lake City. Now a U.S. citizen (due to more relaxed immigration regulations at the time), Simon tried for and made the U.S. Olympic speed skating team as one its youngest athletes, returning from this year’s Vancouver games with a bronze medal for the U.S.

Like Simon, thousands of immigrant youth have the potential to realize the American Dream and make their country pride. Unfortunately, many of them never get the chance to do so, and instead, live in fear despite having lived in America most of their lives. 21-year old Jessica Colotl, a student of Political Science and French at Kennesaw State University in Georgia, is a case in point. A bright, diligent young woman, Jessica worked nights in order to pay her tuition and hopes to continue her education and become a lawyer after graduating in the fall. Sounds like someone you know?

A few days ago, as Jessica pulled into her University parking lot, a campus police officer pulled her over saying she was “impeding the flow of traffic.” She was honest about not having a license and being undocumented, and was immediately detained in Cobb Country, in accordance with their 287(g) program that gives local police the power to enforce federal domain immigration law. An immigration judge denied her bond and ordered that she be deported in 30 days. Is she a danger to society? No. Is she draining the resources of the State? No. Is she a hard-working young student who pays taxes and contributes to the economy and the state. Yes. As you read this, Jessica is sitting behind bars in a detention center in Gadsden, Alabama, awaiting deportation to Mexico, a country she hasn’t lived in for over ten years, a country she barely remembers.

Our country’s immigration system is broken and in dire need of reform so that instead of facing the unjust circumstances that Jessica finds herself in, more people can work towards its collective good, the way Olympian Simon Cho is doing. Yesterday, Senate Democrats Harry Reid, Charles Schumer, Richard Durbin, Dianne Feinstein and Robert Menendez introduced a conceptual framework for immigration reform in the hopes of getting immigration reform passed in 2010.

The enforcement heavy proposal calls for enhanced border security and stronger enforcement, continuing with the current 287(g) programs, and leaving in a biometric Social Security card that will serve as an employment verification card. The new legislative framework also includes provisions for more green cards for highly-skilled immigrants and a detailed process for the legalization of undocumented immigrants that would require them to get extensive background checks, pay fines, be fluent in English and undergo a long waiting period before they achieve complete legalization. Additionally, the framework aims to include much-needed pieces like the DREAM Act, AgJOBS and provisions for same sex partner immigration.

Since its introduction yesterday, the proposal has garnered mixed reactions across the board. While advocacy groups are relieved at a concrete plan to register undocumented immigrants and begin the process of legalization, as well as the proposal’s focus on family-based immigration, its prioritization on enforcement and border security has created discomfort. Groups have condemned the bill for calling for increasing border security and enforcement without undertaking any positive provisions. AILA has critiqued Schumer’s new proposal for the increased detention recommendations that do little to rectify all that is wrong with the existing detention and deportation system. The American Civil Liberties Union is deeply dissatisfied with the inclusion of the Biometric ID card program “Believe,” which they predict will be extremely expensive and inefficient, while “usher(ing) government into the very center of our lives.”

As debate over the proposal continues, one thing everyone agrees on is that we need to fix our broken immigration system. Tomorrow, 80 cities around the country will bring in May Day with rallies, protests and marches demanding just and humane immigration that supports civil rights and family values. Find a march near you and be one step closer to fixing the broken immigration system.

UPDATE: Good news! On the occasion on Cinco de Mayo, Jessica Colotl was released from the Etowah County Detention Center and is now back at home with her mother. At the moment, it seems like ICE has granted her “deferred action,” which means that work remains in the courts before a real victory for Jessica’s freedom is won. But we know that all the phone calls, letters and support paid off, so we need to make sure that we keep the pressure on ICE to ensure that cases like hers receive the right kind of attention and justice and due process is restored to the system!

Photo courtesy of www.globalimmigrationcounsel.com

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How much “hate” lies behind SB1070?

Despite what supporters say about SB1070′s merits, it is impossible to ignore it’s blatant inclusion of measures that mandate local law enforcement to stop and question people whom they think are “reasonably suspicious” of being undocumented, thereby mandating racial profiling. When Arizona’s Governor Brewer was asked, “what does an undocumented person look like”, she couldn’t answer. When SB1070 co-sponsor Senator Huppenthal was asked, “what constitutes reasonable suspicion” he couldn’t answer. Some like Senator Bilbray believe that trained officers can identify undocumented people based on their clothes and shoes! For real proof, all we need to do is look towards federal immigration programs that give local police the power to enforce federal immigration law such as the 287(g) and Secure Communities to see the increase in racial profiling, with the majority of those caught guilty of either minor crimes or even U.S. citizens.

They say that the best way to understand something is to understand how it came to be. A deeper look at the people behind SB1070 throws a disturbing light on the how it came to be passed. For one, the man responsible for introducing the bill Senator Pearce has a long history with White Supremacist organizations, and is infamous for sending extreme white nationalist comments to his supporters in which he attacked the media for portraying -

A world in which every voice proclaims the equality of the races, the inerrant nature of the Jewish ‘Holocaust’ tale, the wickedness of attempting to halt the flood of non-White aliens pouring across our borders…

MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow takes us one step further. The bill was created by the Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI), the legal arm of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, one of the most active anti-immigration organizations in the country identified as a bonafide “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center after its founder John Tanton warned of a “Latin onslaught” and talked about Latinos’ “low educability”. A small taste of his views on immigration.

To govern is to populate….will the present majority peaceably hand over it’s political power to a group that is simply more fertile?…as whites see their power and control over their lives declining, will they simply go quietly into the night? Or will there be an explosion?…I come to the point of view that for European-American society and culture to persist, requires a European-American majority, and a clear one at that.

There’s also Kris Kobach, an attorney who works for IRLI and by association FAIR who is the main author of SB1070. While Kobach does not have overt ties with racist groups, his track record is also quite alarming. After serving as Attorney General John Ashcroft’s main immigration adviser, Kobach was responsible for drafting a number of laws that persecuted those who assisted undocumented immigrants. Following that he initiated a post 9/11 program, the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System, that called for the monitoring of men from Arab and Muslim countries, even those who were legal residents. This program was suspended on allegations of racial profiling. Since then Kobach has become somewhat of an expert on anti-immigrant policies and has become a close aid of Maricopa County’s Sheriff Arpaio, who has hired him to train police officers in procedures in arresting suspected undocumented immigrants.

Rachel Maddow sums it all up concisely.

But no one is taking this lying down.  The ACLU, MALDEF and NILC have officially filed a legal challenge to SB1070, even as several states have shown an interest in copycat bills. Large-scale protests have occurred in Arizona and across the country protesting the bill, along with grassroots educations programs that are educating the people of Arizona on how to understand and deal with the law, if it were to come into effect. City councils like San Francisco and Washington D.C. are in talks about boycotting the state of Arizona as a sign of protest against the unconstitutional law. Government officials and police officers have come out against the bill, like Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik, who has called the law “disgusting,”"unnecessary” and “stupid.” A police officer who has served for 52 years, Dupnik refuses to enforce the law which he says is “one of the worst pieces of legislation he has ever seen.” He goes on to make the point that since there is no effective way to enforce SB1070 that does not involve racial profiling, his department could be sued for racial profiling if they enforce the law, and sued if they don’t (SB1070 allows any one to sue local departments that they believe are not effectively enforcing the law). Calling it “racist” he says-

If I tell my people to go out and look for A, B, and C, they’re going to do it. They’ll find some flimsy excuse like a tail light that’s not working as a basis for a stop, which is a bunch of baloney.

More and more people need to understand the consequences of SB1070 as an affront to liberty, equality and justice to stall the work of hate groups an thwart the white nationalist agenda. Take action now!

Photo courtesy of msnbc.msn.com

Will uncovering the truth on immigration lead to more accountability?

Fired up by the passage of Arizona’s harsh new anti-immigrant bill SB1070, organizations across the country launched a week of actions aimed to “Uncover the Truth” about collaborations between federal immigration and local police. These collaborations, carried out through programs such as 287(g) and Secure Communities begun during the Bush administration, are precursors to Arizona’s new law that gives local law enforcement the right to check the immigration status of people. Originally intended for violent criminals, these programs have become notorious for racial profiling and misuse by local police, compounded by inadequate training and a lack of transparency.

“Uncover the Truth” kicked off yesterday with the The National Day Laborer Organizing Network, The Center for Constitutional Rights and the Immigration Justice Clinic announcing a Freedom of Information (FOI) lawsuit for records related to the little known Secure Communities program. According to Sunita Patel-

ICE’s so-called Secure Communities program is growing at an alarming rate – more than 150 jurisdictions so far – without public knowledge or discourse…SB1070 and the recent dangerous ICE raids in Arizona have already proven that ICE and local or state police collaboration will only further erode public trust in law enforcement, systematize racial profiling, create incentives for illegal arrests and prevent police from doing their job, failing to keep our communities safe.

While the government’s own report has pointed out glaring problems in the 287(g) program, the Secure Communities program has not received adequate attention, even as it expands at a worrying pace. For those jails enrolled in the program, Secure Communities runs fingerprints through immigration databases when individuals are arrested, even for minor charges or if charges are dismissed. If there is a “hit”, immigration is notified and the individual is funneled into immigration detention. These checks are performed on innocent arrestees even before conviction, raising serious doubts as to whether it fulfills its stated objective of going after violent criminals.

Besides eroding community trust with the police, the program has criminalized the immigration detention system with a majority of those caught identified for minor crimes or U.S. citizens. An FOI found Secure Communities has “misidentified more than 5,800 arrested U.S. citizens as undocumented workers” since 2008. Available evidence shows little accountability and transparency, yet a whopping $200 million has been allocated to Secure Communities, with an eye toward establishing it nationwide in every jail by late 2012.

Before it gets that far, “Uncover the Truth’s” national week of action is making Congress accountable through press conferences, community forums, vigils at detention centers and audio testimonials across Arizona, California, Texas, Georgia, New York, Maryland and many other cities, asking questions about the way these collaborations impair people’s trust in their police officers and instigate racial profiling.

But increasing enforcement seems to be on the horizon, both in the blueprint for an immigration reform bill put forth by Senator Charles Schumer and Lindsey Graham, as well as a contingency plan Democrat only immigration reform bill (in case no Republican agree to support the blueprint) that came out today that calls for increased border security and immigration effort before a path for legalization for the nation’s undocumented population. This plan too seems to be going down the path of increased enforcement, rather than addressing the serious problems caused by programs such as Secure Communities and 287(g).

UPDATE: An Immigration and Customs Enforcement memo that was leaked to the press exposes ICE’s attempts to use spin and deception in response to the Uncover the Truth campaign. The six-page internal memo contains ICE’s media strategy including the targeted placement of opinion-editorials in “major newspapers in the right cities where protests are planned”, national interviews and talking point about the success of Secure Communities.  Sarahi Uribe, NDLON organizer and national coordinator of the “Uncover the Truth” campaign spoke in response to the memo -

It is deeply disturbing that ICE responded to our simple request for truth and accountability with an aggressive strategy for spin and deception. At a time when its clear that the federal government’s irresponsibility gave rise to the crisis in Arizona, rights groups now feel under attack for demanding basic answers from our government.

Photo courtesy of citylimits.org

POLL: Will the expansion of Secure Communities lead to more SB1070's?

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Sponsor of SB1070 doesn’t understand it. The Daily Show does (and doesn’t like it).

Three simple images. Dora, Eric from Chips, and a serial killer. Now guess – who looks “reasonably suspicious” of not having papers and therefore should be stopped and questioned by the Arizona police as per it’s new law, SB1070?

That’s the question Daily Show host Jon Stewart asked on the show last night, referencing the images above. Calling out the “draconian new immigration law” for being an affront to democracy by requiring people to carry their documents on them, he likened it to a time in the pre-civil rights era when newly freed black slaves were required to carry IDs. Jokes apart, the staged sketch gave us a little taste of what life could be like if SB1070 was, in fact, enforced in Arizona. It was the same question posed to Governor Jan Brewer, when signing the bill into law, to which she replied, “I don’t know what an undocumented immigrant looks like?”

Confusion around the bill is rife. In an interview on MSNBC’s Hardball with Chris Matthews, co-sponsor of the bill Senator Huppenthal agreed that it would be racial profiling were officers to check the status of someone based on “reasonable suspicion”, thereby going against the statute of the bill that he signed into law. About 8 mins. into the clip, Chris Matthews asks Senator Huppenthal -

Under the law you passed and was signed by the governor this week, can a police officer who spots a car with five or six people in it, who he thinks because of instinct, experience, whatever, evidence, whatever you use— can he stop that car and say, I think these people are here illegally, I‘m going to stop and check them?  Can he under the law do that, without any crime involved?  Can he do that?

After hedging the question, Senator Huppenthal answered-

You know, the racial profiling was illegal before this bill. It‘s illegal after it.  The bill itself makes it illegal…No, he cannot.  That would be – that would just simply be racial profiling, and that would not be permitted under the law.

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Since its passage, civil rights groups, advocacy groups and President Obama have critiqued SB1070 for practically mandating racial profiling and violating fundamental notions of fairness. Clearly, when its co-sponsors cannot articulate its impact, then its effects will be even more adverse. These are already being felt on Arizona’s economy and tourism as calls for an economic boycott come to light, even as Governor Brewer continues to deny any wrongdoing. Meanwhile Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon has taken a strong opposition stand to what he considers an unconstitutional and unenforceable law, including approaching the Phoenix City Council to give their support to a lawsuit filed by the city of Phoenix to prevent the laws implementation because of its effects on civil rights and costs associated with its wrongdoings.

SB1070 is going to have ripple effects. For the state of Arizona, for its potential copycat effect across the nation, and for the ideals of equality and justice. Take action now and stop this dangerous law from being implemented.

SNL takes on SB1070. Urgency for reform more than ever.

When Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update (at 27 minutes) made fun of Arizona’s new law, it sounds closer to the truth than ever.

This week Arizona signed the toughest illegal immigration law in the country, which would allow the police to demand identification papers from anyone they suspect is in the country illegally. I know there are some people in Arizona worried that Obama is acting like Hitler, but can we all agree that there’s nothing more Nazi than saying, `Show me your papers? There’s never been a WWII movie that didn’t include the line, “Show me your papers”. It’s their catchphrase… So heads up Arizona, that’s fascism. I know, I know, it’s a dry fascism, but it’s still fascism.

Immigration has finally made headline news. Unfortunately it took Arizona to pass a law like SB1070 that effectively mandates racial profiling for the nation to take notice of the mess that the immigration system is in. While mainstream news outlets featured the harsh anti-immigrant bill and its implications on their weekend programming, outraged immigrant rights organizations have upped the ante on mobilizing for comprehensive immigration reform.

As Governor Jan Brewer signed SB1070 into law last Friday, thousands of protesters were gathered outside Arizona’s Capitol building in Phoenix, kneeling in prayer and silent protest against the bill. Even after a week of tireless vigils, rallies, petitions and letters urging Governor Brewer to veto the bill, protesters did not give up, mobilizing large-scale rallies in Arizona and around the country through the weekend. It started with Rep. Raul Grijalva calling for an economic boycott of Arizona as a consequence of SB1070, a move which led to the closure of his Tucson and Yuma offices after receiving threats of violence.

I am asking national organizations across this country, civic, religious, of color, unions, women’s organizations, not to have their conferences and conventions in this state, until we rectify this law.

In a massive rally outside the Arizona State Capitol over the weekend, leaders and civil rights activists addressed thousands of protesters about the necessary steps that must be taken to oppose SB1070 on the grounds that it is a direct affront to the civil rights of the people of Arizona. Rep. Raul Grijalva continued his calls for an economic boycott, calling on the Obama administration to oppose the new law by refusing to cooperate with local law enforcement in Arizona saying -

We’re going to overturn this unjust and racist law, and then we’re going to overturn the power structure that created this unjust, racist law.

Rep. Luis Gutierrez denounced the Obama administration’s inaction on immigration reform and the federal 287(g) program which he held responsible for setting a precedent for Sen. Russell Pearce’s SB1070 law.

Let me just say, every time the federal government said that you can carry out a 287(g) extension, you gave Arizona an excuse to do 1070…Now it is time to say no more excuses, no more enforcement-only actions. It is time to bring about comprehensive immigration reform once and for all.

In New York, Reverend Al Sharpton referred back to the civil rights movement, saying he would organize “freedom walkers” to challenge the Arizona bill.

We will go to Arizona when this bill goes into effect and walk the streets with people who refuse to give identification and force arrest.

President Obama seems to be feeling the pressure, speaking on the pledging his commitment to enlist bipartisan support for reform and seeing its lack as a key reason for the Arizona bill-

Our failure to act responsibly at the federal level will only open the door to irresponsibility by others.  And that includes, for example, the recent efforts in Arizona, which threatened to undermine basic notions of fairness that we cherish as Americans… if we continue to fail to act at a federal level, we will continue to see misguided efforts opening up around the country.

DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano followed suit denouncing the bill on the grounds that-

The Arizona immigration law will likely hinder federal law enforcement from carrying out its priorities of detaining and removing dangerous criminal aliens. With the strong support of state and local law enforcement, I vetoed several similar pieces of legislation as Governor of Arizona because they would have diverted critical law enforcement resources from the most serious threats to public safety and undermined the vital trust between local jurisdictions and the communities they serve.

We can only hope that horrific as it is, the anti-immigrant bill has raised the urgency for immigration reform. This pressure will culminate on May 1st when immigrant rights organizations convene rallies in many parts of the country to drive home the urgent need for just and humane immigration reform.

If you are outraged at SB1070 and its overt violation of human rights, write to Governor Brewer and tell her what you think.

Photo courtesy of Saturday Night Live.

Arizona’s SB1070 cannot answer what an undocumented immigrant looks like?

After days of protests, petitions and phone calls, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed SB1070 – Arizona’s anti-immigrant and racist bill – into law. The news has hit hard as fears around racial profiling and civil rights violations become paramount. SB1070 gives police officers the powers to stop, detain and arrest anyone they have “reasonable suspicion” to believe is undocumented. It also allows people to be charged with harboring and transporting undocumented immigrants (which means if you have an undocumented immigrant with you in the car or at home, you could very well be in trouble) as well as gives police the power to arrest day laborers and those who hire them.

In what many consider a move to save her political career, the Governor was adamant in stating that under no circumstances would the state of Arizona tolerate racial profiling or discrimination. The law prohibits race or ethnicity from being the only factor in assuming someone is undocumented, but allows for it to be one factor among others. The Governor is also issuing an Executive Order that will give police officers additional training in the law to prevent racial profiling. But when asked what does an undocumented person look like, the Governor replied, “I don’t know what an undocumented person looks like”. So the question remains – how will the police know what they look like and what exactly will amount to “reasonable suspicion”. Even more telling was the Governor’s statement that “we have to trust the police” and that “people across the country are watching Arizona” and so it is important to “prove the alarmists wrong”.

Who constitutes these alarmists? A range of folks including police associations, faith based groups, immigration right leaders, and leading civil rights groups. Of these, The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the Anti-Defamation League, the NAACP and Mexican American Legal Defense & Educational Fund have come together to denounce the bill, calling it out for making racial profiling the standard and undermining effective community policing by creating distrust between law enforcement and communities of color. Former police chief and founder of the Law Enforcement Engagement Initiative has called it “a catastrophe for community policing, with repercussions that will be felt by law enforcement officials across the country.” Even President Obama critiqued the bill for being “misguided” and “irresponsible” at a naturalization ceremony for the armed forces, stating-

The recent efforts in Arizona…threaten to undermine basic notions of fairness that we cherish as Americans, as well as the trust between police and their communities that is so crucial to keeping us safe. In fact, I’ve instructed members of my administration to closely monitor the situation and examine the civil rights and other implications of this legislation.

MALDEF has already indicated it will challenge the constitutionality of the law and is confident that it will be overturned as it invades the federal realm of immigration and violates equal protection and due process clauses. It is likely the law may never be instituted if that happens, but not until it costs the state of Arizona a pretty penny to defend. A groundswell of opposition at a grassroots level is growing exponentially, and throughout the weekend, events and rallies are expected to turnout out thousands of people across the state.

This act of political symbolism is dangerous to the ideals of America and is likely to have a copycat effect across the country. Even with its eventual defeat, its repercussions will remain for time to come.

Photo courtesy of flickr ri4a.

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John McCain betrays the immigration movement

How exactly does a leopard change his spots? Ask Senator John McCain. When asked about SB 1070, Arizona’s new anti-immigration bill and one of the harshest affronts to civil liberty and racial equality in recent memory, the previously pro-immigration Senator endorsed the legislation calling it a “good tool” and “an important step forward”. He went on to say the bill was a “commentary on the frustration of the state legislature” with the federal government and its inaction on the issue of immigration, and added that he understood the reasoning behind it. Back in 2004, the very same John McCain had spoken up in opposition to a ballot measure in Arizona which denied undocumented immigrants some public services, referring to it during a campaign for re-election to the Senate saying-

Things are terrible, and we’ve got to fix it…But we’re not going to fix it until we have comprehensive immigration reform…When there’s a demand, there’s going to be a supply. There are jobs that Americans will not do, so we have to make it possible for someone to come to this country to do a job that an American won’t do and then go back to the country from where they came.

From 2004 to 2007, Senator McCain worked closely with Senator Kennedy and immigration advocates to fight for comprehensive immigration reform, an issue that was as controversial back then as it is now. During that time, although he faced a lot of opposition for his stance on immigration reform from within the Republican party, he stood firm, denouncing a similar measure to SB 1070 approved by the House of Representatives as “anti-Hispanic.” In 2006, referring to his unpopularity within his party over the issue of immigration, Senator McCain noted

They tell me my poll rate has plummeted over this, but I’m a big boy, I can take it.

Today, his convictions seem to be completely at the mercy of his election opponent, former Congressman J.D. Hayworth, who is staunchly anti-immigration. Speaking on the O’Reilly Factor on Tuesday night, Senator McCain offered a weak defense of the bill that directs police officers to stop anyone whom they suspect is undocumented, mandating racial profiling. When asked about the racial profiling angle, Senator McCain said that while he would be “very sorry” if that happened, the bill itself was justified by the-

…the people whose homes and property are being violated…The drivers of cars with illegals in it that are intentionally causing accidents on the freeway…Look, our border is not secured. Our citizens are not safe.

Reneging on what has been one of his signature bipartisan issues in the past, Senator McCain’s position highlights one thing very clearly – while Sb 1070 will deeply impact the rights, dignity and safety of everyone in Arizona, decisions about it are based on political gamesmanship rather than on what is best for the residents of the State. In an article in the Huffington Post, veteran immigration advocate Frank Sharry expresses his deepest sadness that Senator McCain of all people, is supporting a bill that is “a civil rights retreat of historic proportions”.

Many groups are calling on the federal Government to intervene by overturning SB 1070 and asserting their authority to enforce immigration law. Condemning the bill for making racial profiling the norm, they point to its propensity to interfere with the ability of law enforcement to engage in its primary mission which is to protect and serve the community it works in.

In the wake of seemingly petty political charades, it is important to remember that views such as Senator McCain’s are being countered by law enforcement (Arizona Association of Chiefs of Police), faith-based groups and immigrant rights advocates that are working hard to condemn and protest the bill. Arizona Governor Jan Brewer has received 11,931 calls, emails and faxes asking her to veto the bill, compared to only 1,356 in favor of it. Nine students protesting the bill through chanting and banging drums outside the Capitol were arrested “on suspicion of disorderly conduct” as 83,000 signatures against the bill were delivered to Governor Brewer’s office.

Make your voice heard and write to Governor Brewer today.

Tension mounts as Arizona’s anti-immigrant bill awaits its fate

Tension builds about the fate of SB 1070, Arizona’s harsh anti-immigrant legislation, that awaits being signed into law or being vetoed by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer today.

Advocacy groups in Arizona have mobilized to put pressure on Governor Brewer to veto the dangerous and unconstitutional bill. Last night, a group of people held an overnight vigil outside the Governor’s office. Today, a press conference will be held outside the Governor’s office where 50,000 petitions protesting the bill will be delivered. More actions drawing attention to the inhumane nature of legislation will continue through the week including rallies, prayer vigils and press conferences. Faith-based groups around the country have joined civil rights groups in condemning the bill, like Cardinal Mahony, head of L.A.’s Catholic Archdiocese, who likened the bill to techniques used by Nazis that compelled people to turn each other in.

The Arizona legislature just passed the country’s most retrogressive, mean-spirited, and useless anti-immigrant law. The tragedy of the law is its totally flawed reasoning: that immigrants come to our country to rob, plunder, and consume public resources. That is not only false, the premise is nonsense.

Meanwhile, Governor Brewer succumbed to phone calls ringing off the hook and released a non-committal statement about SB 1070, stating that she would review the legislation over the next couple of days and make an informed decision about the constitutionality of the bill based on the advice of her staff and experts. Speaking at the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce’s Black and White Ball on Saturday, she said-

In regards to Senate Bill 1070, I will tell you that I never make comment, like most governor’s throughout our country, before a bill reaches my desk. But I hear you, and I will assure you that I will do what I believe is the right thing so that everyone is treated fairly.

Amongst those who support the bill is Senator Russell Pearce, author of SB 1070, who has defended it against accusations of racial profiling saying, “That’s the biggest myth in the world…Illegal is a crime. It’s not a race.” A New York Times article that explores how he came to be the author of one of the most racist and regressive pieces of legislation in recent years talks about his own history with immigration – In 2004, his son, a Sheriff’s Deputy in Maricopa County, was shot and wounded by an undocumented immigrant, and 20 years ago, Pearce himself, also a Sheriff’s Deputy, was also shot and wounded while arresting gang members.

While it might come as a surprise to most of us that all but one Republican in the Arizona Senate supported the bill (all the Democrats opposed it), it is clear that many opinions around the bill are being shaped by upcoming election mania. Most shocking is Senator John McCain’s about turn, for someone one who supported comprehensive immigration reform with Senator Ted Kennedy four years ago, he  has  given overt support to SB 1070, which he thinks will be a “good tool” and “a very important step forward. His office later said his comments did not represent an endorsement, but did not deny his support to the bill either.

When the fate of the country rests in the hands of politicians who can only see as far as the next election, we can only hope that the courageous voices that are constantly fighting for equality, justice and human rights, are not ignored. Take action and tell Governor Brewer that vetoing SB 1070 is the only option.

Photo courtesy of nytimes.com

Condemnation of Arizona’s anti-immigrant bill goes national

Tonight, Arizona’s future hangs in the balance as Arizona Governor Jan Brewer decides whether to sign SB 1070, one of the harshest anti-immigrant bills in recent memory, into law. The bill will be forwarded to the Governor’s desk this evening and could ostensibly be signed into law by midnight tonight.

Ironically titled the “Safe Neighborhoods Bill”, the bill makes it mandatory for state and local police to stop anyone based on a “reasonable suspicion” of being undocumented, effectively mandating racial profiling and creating panic across communities. Immigration law is within the domain of the federal government, not local police, but the bill is egregious even in its application of due process, allowing for the arrest of people without a warrant including day laborers and those who hire them. It also makes it mandatory for local towns and cities to share information with the Department of Homeland Security and any citizen can press charges against local administrations who they believe are not be enforcing the law.

If passed into law SB 1070 will have enormous repercussions on the United States. Already, a senator in Ohio is looking for a co-sponsor to introduce a similar bill, and similar movements are expected across many states. Condemnation of the bill has reached massive proportions and a cohesive movement of immigration groups, agriculture, labor, police foundations and civil rights groups is emerging.

It started with Congressman Luis Gutierrez  calling on President Obama denouncing the Obama administration’s silence on the bill. Condemning deportations that have reached 1000 a day, half of which are originating in Ohio, he said-

Giving police such a broad mandate to arrest and book people “suspected” of looking a certain way isn’t just an invitation to racial profiling, it’s like waving a green flag and saying “gentlemen start your engines”… If we allow police-state tactics in Arizona to continue, the level of basic community security will erode and civil unrest could escalate. The President must act now to diffuse the Arizona panic and take control of a deteriorating situation that could become a national crisis.

The media reacted almost immediately. In a heated exchange with Fox’s Bill O’Reilly, Alfredo Gutierrez, editor of the La Frontera Times, criticized the SB 1070 bill for taking immigration law enforcement away from the federal Government, referring to it as a “civil libertarian’s nightmare…You don’t have to throw out civil liberties because you have a major issue.”

Vigils, rallies and press conferences against the bill are reaching a fevered pitch. Advocacy groups across the country, such as Amnesty International, Reform Immigration For America, NDLON, and the National Immigration Forum are joining groups in Arizona including the Border Action Network, the Puente Movement and Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in denouncing the bill. A group of people are fasting until the bill is vetoed. PSA’s and two hotlines have been introduced to educate people about the bill and dispel some of the fear and panic created by its introduction in communities. The National Day Laborers Organizing Network (NDLON) is organizing a press conference outside the Department of Homeland Security HQ in D.C. to call on Assistant Secretary John Morton to denounce the bill, coming on the heels of demands by civil rights groups to end the 287(g) and other programs that mandate local and state police to enforce federal immigration law. The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) is taking legal action against the bill if signed into law, arguing that it violates due process and Supreme Court precedents, urging Governor Brewer to recognize that-

… This law is an open invitation to racial discrimination, community discord, and naked clash between state and federal government. The law’s constitutional flaws will inevitably attract costly legal challenges, to the detriment of all Arizona.

Take urgent action today and ensure that Gov. Brewer vetoes SB 1070.

Photo courtesy of www.altoarizona.com

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Arizona experiences “Largest immigrant smuggling raid in U.S. history”

While Arizona’s harsh anti-immigrant bill SB 1070 awaits its fate in the hands of Governor Brewer who will decide to sign it into law on Monday, the immigration enforcement spotlight turns once again to Arizona. Led by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE), with the full cooperation of Mexican police agencies, more than 800 agents and officers from federal, state and local law enforcement agencies carried out a massive search and arrest operation yesterday on border crossings located on either side of the border.

In what the New York Times has called the largest immigrant smuggling raid in U.S. history, the operation focused on privately run shuttle vans used to transport people across the border, resulting in the arrest of 47 people across four cities in Arizona. The raid formed the culmination of what ICE says has been a “comprehensive year-long investigation” entitled “Operation In Plain Sight.” John Morton, the director of ICE, who has come under a lot of fire in the last month, said that this was sweep was an example of a concerted effort to push immigration enforcement in the direction of going after the umbrella organizations, networks and businesses that lead smuggling efforts. The New York Times quoted John Morton -

What we are trying to do is rip this thing out by the roots…We are taking out the whole industry and giving such a shock to individuals that they won’t recover as they have in the past.

The suspects taken into custody from the cities of Phoenix, Tucson, Nogales and Rio Rico face a number of charges against them, including money laundering, smuggling and conspiracy. Given the current pressure to see immigration reform introduced into Congress, and the very recent upheaval caused by the passage of SB 1070 in Arizona’s State legislature that expands police powers to detain individuals for not having proper identification, this large-scale ICE operation has already come under a lot of criticism. From the New York Times-

Immigrant advocacy groups on Thursday denounced what they called a climate of fear and criticized the ICE operation for coming at the same time as the legislation. A handful of protesters outside the United States attorney’s office here chanted, “We are going to beat back John Morton’s attack.”

In a press release from the Arizona-based advocacy group Coalition de Derechos Humanos, they talk about the atmosphere of panic and fear that is palpable through Arizona’s immigrant community, given the threat of SB1070 coupled with yesterday’s raid. Talking about border enforcement and immigration reform, Derechos Humanos co-chair Isabel Garcia stressed the need for debates around immigration to focus on economic and political forces that motivate it, rather than framing it as a threat to national security. Decrying the impending legislation in Arizona, Garcia told Democracy Now that the state had been turned into a “laboratory of anti-immigrant measures”and that the answer lay in “real reform” rather than increased enforcement and an atmosphere of fear.

Immigrant advocates are concerned by the fact that instead of ending the Bush-era policy of “enforcement now, enforcement forever”, immigration enforcement is as harsh as ever. Moreover, the Obama administration has been critiqued for giving “mixed messages” on the issue of immigration reform and enforcement. Advocates such as Fernando Garcia, the executive director of the Border Network for Human Rights, are calling on President Obama to take a clear stand on the issue, and lead an approach to enforcement that is humane and efficient.

Photo courtesy of nytimes.com