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This Memorial Day join Kayne West and thousands of others to protest unjust Arizona law

Leave it to four students to stand as role models of determination against unjust laws such as Arizona’s anti-immigrant law, SB1070. Gaby, Felipe, Juan and Carlos walked 1500 miles from Miami to Washington D.C. over four months, to draw attention to the plight of the thousands of undocumented students around the country who, despite having lived here most of their lives, are unable to contribute and follow their dreams because of a broken immigration system. Walking through some of the most conservative states in the country, the Trail of Dreams students collected signatures from 50,000 people, demanding humane and just immigration reform. Despite their efforts, matters went from bad to worse as Arizona passed the controversial anti-immigrant law, SB1070. Rather than be discouraged, the Dreamers have set off once again walking from Scottsdale to Phoenix to join the National Day of Action against SB1070 on Saturday, May 29th.

In the five weeks since Gov. Brewer signed off on SB1070, legislators in 10 other states around the country are pushing for similar bills, even as immigrant rights advocates and human rights activists around the world have condemned the law that criminalizes undocumented immigrants and allows local police to question anyone who they think looks “reasonably suspicious” of being undocumented, effectively mandating racial profiling and creating fear and distrust within communities. While there has been great national and international pressure against the law and the human rights crisis that will occur if SB1070 is implemented, the vigils, rallies, boycotts, fasts and acts of civil disobedience have been met with inaction on the part of President Obama and his administration, who, besides initially denouncing the law, have done nothing to halt its progress.

Tomorrow, on May 29th, tens of thousands of people from Arizona and around the country will take part in over 60 actions of protest and civil disobedience to send a clear message to the federal government that unjust laws like SB1070 cannot exist in light of of fundamental human rights and the tenets of the Constitution. The National Day of Action against the draconian Arizona law will culminate in a huge protest march at the State Capitol in Phoenix, Arizona with thousands of students, teachers, workers, families, immigrant and indigenous people participating.

THE ASKS: The National Day of Action demands that President Obama wakes up on the right side of history this May 29th and takes  a decision to-

- Reassert the federal government’s exclusive control over immigration law by making clear that state and local police do not have the inherent authority to enforce immigration law. Arizona’s law is a result of the federal government’s failure to maintain control of immigration enforcement and its inaction regarding elimination of all forms of racial profiling.

- Immediately suspend and terminate all police-ICE partnerships, including 287(g) agreements and Secure Communities which have actively transferred federal immigration authority to the states, setting the stage for laws like SB 1070 to pass.

-Direct the Department of Homeland Security to refuse to take custody of anyone charged with violating provisions of SB 1070.

A culmination of all the diverse acts of resistance that have been taking place already, tomorrow’s Phoenix protests will also be echoed in all corners of the country in cities like Washington D.C., New York, Chicago, San Francisco and many places in between. Those who cannot make it to Phoenix can take part in a virtual march to demand intervention and express their outrage at the President’s inaction on SB1070 and comprehensive immigration reform.

Leading the way, a diverse group of artists and musicians have announced a boycott of all performances in Arizona until the new law is revoked. In a campaign called the Sound Strike, organized by Zack de la Rocha, the lead singer of Rage Against the Machine, artists like Massive Attack, Michael Moore, Kanye West, Sonic Youth, Joe Satriani, Tenacious D and Los Tigres De Norte have taken a stand against the law and called on their fans to sign a petition demanding an end to the draconian law. De La Rocha’s initiating words -

Fans of our music, our stories, our films and our words can be pulled over and harassed every day because they are brown or black, or for the way they speak, or for the music they listen to. Some of us grew up dealing with racial profiling, but this law (SB 1070) takes it to a whole new low.

So on this Memorial Day Weekend, get yourself to Phoenix at your “disobedient ” best, and join in this massive mobilization for human rights and reform. If you can’t be there, show your support wherever you are. Inspired to do something now? Send a letter to President Obama telling him just how high the stakes are, and demanding that the federal Government restore fairness NOW.

Photo courtesy of altoarizona.com

Doing the right thing can get you deported

When Abel Moreno made a call to 911 to report a police officer assaulting his girlfriend, he had no idea of the consequences of his actions. He now faces deportation for reporting a crime he witnessed.

It all began with a traffic stop in Charlotte, North Carolina. Officer Marcus Jackson stopped Abel Moreno and his girlfriend and allegedly fondled the young woman. Moreno, 29, responded by calling 911 to report it, at which point the police officer ordered him to end the phone call and arrested Abel and his girlfriend for “resisting arrest.” This charge was soon dropped after investigators found it to be false. However, because the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office which is in charge of the county jail where Abel Moreno was held is one of the 67 local law enforcement agencies in the country that participates in agreements with immigration to enforce immigration law, Abel now faces deportation by the end of the year. Following Abel’s charge of assault against Officer Jackson, five other women came forward saying that he had tried to assault them as well, leading to an investigation that resulted in Officer Jackson being fired from the police department and facing 11 counts of “sexual battery, extortion and interfering with emergency communication.”

Despite the police acknowledging that Abel should not have been arrested and that his call helped them uncover serious wrongdoings committed by of one of their officers, Abel faces deportation. A judge gave him six months deferment on his deportation only because he is a witness to a criminal investigation. By responding to Moreno’s courageous act by putting him in deportation proceedings, the system seems to be working against itself, setting an example that creates fear among the community, discouraging people from coming forward and doing the right thing.

Abel Moreno’s case is emblematic of the problem that lies at the core of the flawed 287(g) program. The program, managed by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE), allows for agreements with local law enforcement to enforce immigration law and detain suspected immigrants for deportation. Countless examples have showed that the program, while intended to focus on Level 1 offenders who are guilty of serious crimes, targets a large proportion of people stopped for minor offenses, or none at all, as in the case of Abel. This has resulted in a grave misdirection of resources as well as allowing for a situation where local police are unable to do justice to their primary job – that of ensuring the safety of the community – because the community does not trust their local law enforcement.

In spite of the Department of Homeland Security’s own critique of the 287(g) program, cities are continuing to sign on to it, and incidents such as Moreno’s continue to take place. Arizona’s new draconian anti-immigrant law which a number of state legislatures including North Carolina are planning to adopt is simply a step further in this mismanaged, flawed system of immigration enforcement that allows badly supervised and inefficient partnerships between federal immigration and local police that often result in blatant racial profiling. Unfortunately, in addition to expanding the 287(g) program, the Obama administration has also come up short in another aspect of immigration enforcement – raids.

Early on in his presidency, President Obama had expressed distaste for the Bush administration’s large-scale worksite raids which he critiqued for terrorizing communities and tearing families apart. While these militarized raids of the Bush era have ceased, enforcement continues to rise with no comprehensive immigration reform policy in sight. ICE’s actions over the past year indicate that even their “softer” enforcement policy that is meant to target employers rather than workers ends up hurting workers the hardest. In a recent case, federal immigration authorities went through the personnel records of workers at ABM, a large building service company, and pressurized the company into firing hundreds of its workers. Considering that these workers were unionized and being given adequate pay with benefits, it seems to go against ICE’s Worksite Enforcement Advisory that claims to go against “unscrupulous employers (who) are likely to pay illegal workers substandard wages or force them to endure intolerable working conditions.” An article about this case holds that-

Curing intolerable conditions by firing or deporting workers who endure them doesn’t help the workers or change the conditions, however. And despite Obama’s contention that sanctions enforcement will punish those employers who exploit immigrants, employers are rewarded for cooperating with ICE by being immunized from prosecution.

With President Obama’s decision to send troops to secure the border, concrete evidence about the rapid increase in deportations, more and more cases of people like Abel Moreno being persecuted for being contributing members of society, and electronic raids like the one above, there is no doubt about the fact that the current administration has pushed the throttle on immigration enforcement while doing little to ease the legislative stalemate on reform.

On a more positive note however, the three amendments brought to the Senate yesterday regarding increased enforcement, detention and border security were all shot down by Democrats who suggested that the additional resources pledged by President Obama were sufficient for the moment. It is heartening to know that the call to action to urge Senators against the amendment generated 25,000 phones and faxes, an effort that no doubt played a role in them being defeated through collective voices of dissent.

Photo courtesy of msnbc.com

POLL: Do you think Abel Moreno should be deported?

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Obama announces decision to send 1200 troops to the border

In the run-up to the November elections, the White House seems to be succumbing to political pressure to increase immigration enforcement, border security and deportations, rather than fix the broken immigration system.

So it was no surprise to hear the President’s decision to send 1200 National Guard troops to the Southwest border between the Unites States and Mexico. The White House also called for an additional $500 million to fund “increased agents, investigators, and prosecutors, as part of a multi-layered effort to target illicit networks trafficking in people, drugs, illegal weapons, and money.” The move is being compared to a “scaled down version” of President Bush’s decision to send 6,000 troops to the border from 2006 to 2008. Common to both cases, the idea is that rather than enforce immigration law, the additional troops take over support issues so that more U.S. Border Patrol agents are free to handle law enforcement. According to the Associated Press, the troops will work on-

…intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance support, analysis and training, and support efforts to block drug trafficking. They will temporarily supplement border patrol agents until Customs and Border Protection can recruit and train additional officers and agents to serve on the border.

Since the White House announcement hit the headlines yesterday, it has received criticism from both sides of the debate. Those in favor of harsher enforcement have deemed it “insufficient”. Republicans such as John McCain and Sen. Russell Pearce, author of the controversial Arizona bill SB1070, have critiqued it saying that 1200 troops without the authority to enforce the law will do little to secure the borders. Advocates of immigration reform have denounced the President’s decision as political pandering that simply pays lip service to the issue without attempting to solve it. Ali Noorani of the National Immigration Forum said the move is a waste of resources-

Deploying additional National Guard without a clear strategy to end arms or drug smuggling is a response to tired talking points. Without true immigration reform, the political theater will continue and billions will continue to be wasted on misguided border security measures.

Organizations and elected officials representing border communities from San Diego to Brownsville have drafted a letter to the Obama Administration and federal legislators strongly opposing the decision to send the National Guard to the U.S.-Mexico border. These communities feel that the decision is  motivated solely by political motives, rather than based on the needs of those at the border. The letter reads-

“While DC politicians like to paint the border as a war zone, the reality is that it is one of the safest areas of the country. Crime is down. Even immigration flows are down. The only emergency here is a political one,” said Pedro Rios, with the American Friends Service Committee in San Diego, one of the signatories of the letter. However, the militarization of the border is not without consequences for the communities who live there. Economies are choked by inefficient border crossings, civil rights are pushed aside, and quality of life is seriously diminished. It is time to rethink our border policy.  Increasing the quantity of armed agents and soldiers on our southern border does not enhance our national security, but in fact undermines it by mis-allocating resources. Humane border policies would focus quality law enforcement resources on real threats in the region, while protecting the rights and well-being of border residents.

On the one hand President Obama has repeatedly mentioned the need for bipartisan immigration reform that focuses on keeping families together through a humane, but workable solution, and his criticism of Arizona’s new anti-immigrant law was clear on that front. On the other hand, all actions that have been taken by the Obama administration around immigration have involved increased enforcement including the expansion of 287g and the Secure Communities programs, the highest investment on border security to date, and an all time record in detention and deportations.

Today, the Senate is about to vote on amendments to the Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act, which if passed, will increase immigration detention, enforcement and border security. Amongst these are amendments introduced by Sen. John McCain  and Sen. Jon Kyl which call for the deployment of an additional 6,000 troops and additional funding for Operation Streamline at the border. In the wake of the recent White House announcement, it is imperative that we urge the Senate not to increase detention and border enforcement, and instead, focus on restoring fairness and justice to the immigration system. Call your Senator today before it’s too late.

Photo courtesy of LA Times.

POLL: Do you agree with President Obama's decision to send more troops to the border?

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Federal government may not co-operate with Arizona immigration law

Immigration has and always should be a federal issue. So even if Arizona has decided to pass an anti-immigrant law that will inevitably lead to racial profiling, the federal government still has the power to do the right thing. And that’s what seems to be happening, as the head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) John Morton expressed skepticism about SB1070, stating that ICE would not “necessarily” process undocumented immigrants referred to them by Arizona. Like President Obama’s denunciation from a few weeks ago, Morton believes that “the Arizona law, or laws like it, are not the solution”, favoring a comprehensive federal approach rather than disparate state laws to address our broken immigration system.

But while John Morton’s criticism of Arizona’s draconian enforcement measure is encouraging, his desire for increased enforcement is not. ICE is planning to step up immigration enforcement in a number of states by expanding collaborations between federal and local law enforcement through programs like 287(g) and the Secure Communities. With a record high number of deportations carried out in 2009, and a 40% increase from that in 2010, a “sharp increase” in deportations of immigrants is predicted for the end of this year.

So what Morton is not addressing is that the very same programs that are being expanded have paved the way for bills such as SB1070, by sending a signal that collaborations between local police and federal immigration is encouraged, even though these lead to racial profiling and loss of trust from communities. Take the case of Eduardo Caraballo, a Puerto Rico born Chicago resident who was arrested in connection with a stolen car last week. He maintains his innocence with regard to the car, but while that was being investigated, his real nightmare began. After his mother posted bail on Friday, Eduardo, a U.S. citizen, was told that he was being turned over to Immigrations and Customs enforcement who were detaining him on the suspicion that he was undocumented. Eduardo says he repeatedly told the officers that he was born in Puerto Rico and an American citizen.

I’m pretty sure they know that Puerto Ricans are citizens, but just because of the way I look – I have Mexican features – they pretty much assumed that my papers were fake. They were making me feel like I can’t voice my opinion or I can’t even speak for myself to let them know that I am a citizen.

The officers interrogated him about Puerto Rico but since he had moved to mainland U.S.A. when he was 8 months old, he was unable to answer them. Even after his mother presented the officers with his birth certificate and state I.D., the officers maintained that he was facing deportation. It was only after his mother contacted Congressman Gutierrez in desperation, that Eduardo was released. Rep. Gutierrez, of Puerto Rican descent himself and a big advocate for immigration reform, said that the situation is going from bad to worse. He saw Eduardo’s case in Chicago  to be emblematic of everything that would go wrong if Arizona’s anti-immigrant law was to be implemented. 

In Arizona, they want everybody to be able to prove they’re legally in the country. They want everybody to prove that they’re an American citizen. Here we had an American citizen, that the federal government… could not determine, for more than three days, his status as an American citizen. It’s very, very, very dangerous ground to tread.

While Caraballo is considering legal action, Rep. Gutierrez is hoping that this outrageous incident will  demonstrate the risk involved in the local police enforcing immigration law, and open the eyes of Congress and the White house to the dangers of racial profiling.

The urgent need for a reversal of Arizona’s law and a broader immigration reform bill has led to a series of protests around the country. 37 people, including City Council and State Assembly members, were arrested yesterday in New York city, a second in a series of planned civil disobedience actions to put pressure on the Obama administration to put a stop to SB1070,  curb detentions and deportations that separate families and enact humane immigration reform. Organizers say that they will continue resisting until their demands are met.

And on May 29th, civil rights groups and immigrant activists are organizing a massive rally against Arizona’s SB1070 law. The boycott against Arizona has been put on hold for the weekend as thousands of protesters are expected to arrive from across the country to join in a march of defiance against the state. In addition to over 50,000 people, the rally will include speeches by the DREAM Act students, Rep. Gutierrez, representatives from the government of Mexico City and members of a number of indigenous communities. With marchers refusing to carry IDs, the goal is to terminate all ICE-local police initiatives and put an end to SB1070.

Video courtesy of nbc.com

POLL: Do you agree with John Morton's view of SB1070?

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Immigration detention reforms a distant promise as deportations rise dramatically

An astounding 387,790 immigrants have been deported in 2009, indicating an all time high. And for those who justify the record in the name of security, two-thirds of these deportations are of people who have committed non-violent offenses. So it’s not surprising when a little girl asks Michelle Obama why the President is deporting more immigrants than ever, even as the immigration system remains irreparably broken.

But all hope is not lost. Senator Al Franken’s is slated to introduce the HELP Separated Children’s Act which will give special protections to those apprehended by immigration who are parents of a minor in the U.S., aimed at stopping the continuing separation of families that has vast implications on childrens’ emotional and physical well-being. A similar bill was introduced last year but did not pass.

Increasing deportations are accompanied by a deteriorating detention system, even as the administration announced plans for its reform in October 2009. The proposed reforms were to address chronic problems in the system such as overcrowding, inhumane conditions, unchecked detainee transfers and a lack of alternatives to detention. But seven months and many detainees later, it is difficult to be optimistic about the state of immigrant detention.

Such as the recent ruling from the Supreme Court exempting government doctors from personal liability for inadequate medical care of detainees. So what about an immigrant like Francisco Castaneda who was made to wait ten months in detention before getting a biopsy, despite having advanced penile cancer. Just before the results came in Francisco was released from custody so the government would not have to take responsibility for his treatment. Francisco’s case is indicative of-

…exactly what is at stake when detention standards are not only inadequate but unenforceable, and when there is broad immunity enjoyed by the persons responsible for the treatment of immigrants in their charge. With minimal accountability for how they treat people in their own custody, DHS continually fails to provide dignified or tolerable treatment of immigrant detainees.

The lack of adequate medical care and accountability is compounded by the rapid increase of numbers of detainees, resulting in the overburdening of the immigration court system that already has a huge backlog of untried cases. An analysis by TRAC shows the number of immigration cases awaiting resolution by the courts has reached all time record high of 242, 776, with a wait time of 443 days.

Translated into real terms, a recent lawsuit filed by the ACLU in Southern California yielded a list from the administration of 350 immigrant detainees in the Los Angeles area who have been held for periods longer than six months while waiting for their cases to be heard. Many are neither flight risks, nor a danger to their community, but continue to be locked up because of harsh laws and a lack of alternatives to detention. This includes people like Damdin Borjgin, a Mongolian man seeking asylum in the United States who has been in custody since November 2007 and has never had a hearing to decide if his is eligible for release. Detention reforms were supposed to address alternatives to detention for people like Borjgin, but have so far not kicked into effect.

The infinite problems with the immigration detention and deportation system are part of a broken immigration system that continues to deny people basic human rights, due process and justice.

Photo courtesy of immigrationforum.org

“Barack Obama is taking everybody away” says little girl to the first lady

Sometimes it’s about keeping it real. As President Obama welcomed the Mexican President Felipe Calderón to the White House for the first series of official talks between the two countries, Michelle Obama and Mexico’s first lady Margarita Zavala met a little girl who put a human face to the diplomatic talks about immigration that were taking place in the White House.While the two Presidents were to discuss a number of issues including the economy, climate change and drug wars, given President Calderón’s vehement condemnation of Arizona’s new law, immigration was likely to take center stage. Meanwhile, the first ladies stopped off at a elementary school in Silver Spring which is two-thirds Hispanic students and has a large proportion of students below the poverty line to promote Michelle Obama’s campaign for healthy eating. But a little girl changed all that with a powerful question.

Student: “My mom … she says that Barack Obama is taking everybody away that doesn’t have papers.”

Mrs. Obama: “Yeah, well that’s something that we have to work on, right? To make sure that people can be here with the right kind of papers, right? That’s exactly right.”

Student: “But my mom doesn’t have any …”

Mrs. Obama: “Well, we have to work on that. We have to fix that, and everybody’s got to work together in Congress to make sure that happens.”

The abstract issue of immigration was brought into human focus by the little girl’s question, prompted by the fear that her mother would be taken away from her. In the midst of the pomp of diplomatic state visits and lawmaker’s efforts to appease their electorates, a little girl’s honest fears about her family summed up the massive problem that the country currently faces.

Addressing this volatile issue, President Obama concurred with President Calderón on the pressing need for immigration reform and joined him in denouncing Arizona’s harsh new immigration enforcement measure, SB1070. President Obama said-

We also discussed the new law in Arizona, which is a misdirected effort – a misdirected expression of frustration over our broken immigration system, and which has raised concerns in both our countries.. Because in the United States of America, no law-abiding person – be they an American citizen, a legal immigrant, or a visitor or tourist from Mexico – should ever be subject to suspicion simply because of what they look like.

While the President reaffirmed his commitment to work with Congress to pass bipartisan, comprehensive reform, the truth is that the Obama administration has already surpassed the Bush administration’s deportation levels. And enforcement continues to be a problem. Former New York City District Attorney Robert Morgenthau lashed out against programs that promote collaboration between federal officials and local law enforcement on immigration, including Arizona’s new law.

Morgenthau drew on his personal experience as district attorney in Manhattan to criticize the Criminal Alien program which enables federal immigration officials to be stationed in local jails and issue “detainers” to foreign born inmates, many of whom are unaware of what is happening to them. In addition to increasing the burden of cost on New York, programs such as these mostly trap people who have committed minor crimes (or sometimes none at all). But for the former D.A., the most dangerous consequence of such programs is that by blurring the distinction between federal officials and local law enforcement, they severely impair the relationship that local police have with the public. Speaking of New York he explains-

When immigrants perceive the local police force as merely an arm of the federal immigration authority, they become reluctant to report criminal activity for fear of being turned over to federal officials. Given that immigrants (legal and illegal) currently comprise 36% of the city’s population, this unwillingness to cooperate with local law enforcement presents an obstacle to stemming crime in the city as a whole. That’s why during the 35 years I was district attorney in Manhattan, I made it a policy never to turn over names of individuals involved with the criminal justice system to immigration authorities until after they were convicted of a serious crime.

It is not surprising then that police chiefs across Arizona have spoken out in opposition to Arizona’s anti-immigrant law. Following this, police chiefs from Nevada, California and Maryland have also opposed Arizona’s law on the grounds that it would lead to racial profiling and breed fear of the police within Hispanic communities. Maryland Police Chief Thomas Manger said that taking on federal enforcement responsibilities would result in local police losing much more than they would gain and would prevent them from doing their jobs. But lawmakers seem oblivious to this advice. Similar bills are in the works in 10 states including Nebraska and Rhode Island.

The NBA gets political as lawsuits against Arizona’s law pile up

Remember how Arizona’s Gov. Brewer signed off on a bill that allows police to stop someone based on “reasonable suspicion” of them being undocumented and when asked about the obvious racial profiling implications of the law, said that she “didn’t know” what an undocumented person looked like? Following the trend that Jon Stewart perfected, basketball legend Kobe Bryant’s wife, Vanessa Bryant made a bold statement against the law by wearing a “Do I look illegal?” T-shirt at the NBA’s Western Conference Finals in Los Angeles on Monday.

The buzz on the street is that Vanessa Bryant’s statement was a direct retort to L.A. Lakers coach Phil Jackson’s comments in support of Arizona’s new law, SB1070. Phil Jackson surprised a number of people when, during an interview with ESPN columnist J.A. Adande, he expressed support for the anti-immigrant law and practically chastised the management and players of the Phoenix Suns basketball team for taking an active stance against the law. In Jackson’s opinion, the law is doing nothing but “adapting” Federal immigration law to the state, by “giving it some teeth to be able to enforce it.” Given the coach’s strong Democrat leanings in the past, Adande was surprised at his take on the matter. In response to the way that the Phoenix Suns’ owner, general manager and key players like Steve Nash have spoken out against the measure, Coach Jackson said-

I don’t think teams should get involved in the political stuff. And I think this one’s still kind of coming out to balance as to how it’s going to be favorably looked upon by our public. If I heard it right the American people are really for stronger immigration laws, if I’m not mistaken. Where we stand as basketball teams, we should let that kind of play out and let the political end of that go where it’s going to go.

Given that the National Basketball Association has come out and called the law “disturbing,” it is no surprise that a lot of people were counting on the L.A. Lakers to take a stand against it. Considering the Los Angeles City Council passed a resolution to boycott business with Arizona, there were high expectations that as representatives of an area with the largest Hispanic population in the country, the Lakers would make a symbolic gesture in opposition to the law. However, apart from Vanessa Bryant’s fashion statement and a small protest staged outside the Staples center on the eve of the game, there was very little politics involved in the game on Monday. Timothy Rutten, in an impassioned op-ed for the Los Angeles Times, expressed his deep disappointment at Jackson’s position, and urged the players of the Lakers team to take a stand. Speaking about the “clarification” that coach Jackson later offered to the press, Rutten writes-

It won’t do. Jackson’s original statement was not a declaration of neutrality, nor was it an argument for holding sport above politics. It was an endorsement of the Arizona law and a criticism of another NBA team that opposes it…If the Lakers, who have given this community so much joy and excellence, close their eyes to Arizona’s affront to so many of its members, then at least one disappointed fan will be withholding his support, and inviting as many others as will listen to do the same.

But while coach Phil Jackson and his team steered clear of mixing politics with sports, the mayors of the two cities (Los Angeles and Phoenix) used the opportunity to expose the absurdity of Arizona’s law. Mayor Phil Gordon of Phoenix and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio R. Villaraigosa, both of whom have taken a strong stance against the law, turned the tradition of a friendly wager between sporting cities into a political statement about the harsh enforcement law. In a conscious move to use humor to draw attention to the law, Mayor Villaraigosa sent a letter to Mayor Gordon proposing that if the Lakers lost, Los Angeles would pay by accepting Sheriff Joe Arpaio of Maricopa County. Taking a stab at the many allegations of racial profiling against Sheriff Arpaio, Mayor Villaraigosa suggested that “Perhaps a stint in Los Angeles would teach him that you cannot deduce immigration status simply by looking at a person.” He joked about the implications of the law saying that if the Phoenix Suns star player, Canadian Steve Nash, was stopped as per the law, they would happily welcome him in L.A. Conversely, if the Suns lost, the Mayor joked that L.A. would sent across the Republican candidates for California governor Steve Poizner and Meg Whitman, since they are “currently battling for supremacy on the issue of illegal immigration. Perhaps some time in Arizona would show them both that being governor isn’t always all it’s cracked up to be.” Mayor Gordon accepted the wager.

The Lakers beat the Suns hollow on Monday, and while the wager remains in jest, a number of civil rights group went ahead and filed a class action lawsuit against the state of Arizona and SB1070 this week. As planned, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU); the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF); and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) challenged the new law on the grounds that it was unconstitutional, violating the 1st and 4th amendments; that it encroached on the Federal government’s jurisdiction over immigration policy; and that it would lead to racial profiling. The lawsuit, filed on behalf of labor groups, a Tucson church, social service organizations and individuals, seeks to halt the controversial law from going into effect, something that is slated to happen on July 29th.

By this point, opposition to SB1070 has come from diverse quarters, and taken the form of television spoofs, protests, fashion statements, wagers, and lawsuits, to name a few. We only hope that this is not in vain and this extreme measure is halted before it is too late.

Photo courtesy of hoopsnotes.com

Undocumented students risk deportation for their dreams

UPDATE: We are happy that Mohammad, Yahaira and Lizbeth, who had been detained for staging the sit-in at Sen. McCain’s office, were released from ICE custody late on Tuesday night. All four students entered not-guilty to trespassing charges and were assigned a court date of June 16th. Raul Alcaraz, who is a lawful permanent resident, was released on the condition that he would appear before the court on the designated date. The three undocumented students were released much later after being issued a field released supervision by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). They will face Federal trespassing charges and will have to fight deportation. In the meanwhile, they plan to remain in Arizona and fight for the passage of the DREAM Act before the end of June. Please show them, and all the others who are fighting for their dreams your support! Go to dreamactivist.org for more info.

Yesterday, on the 65th anniversary of the landmark civil rights case, Brown vs. Board of Education, five courageous students staged a sit-in at Senator John McCain’s office in Tuscon, Arizona, to demand his support for the passage of the DREAM Act, a legislation that will set up a path to citizenship for undocumented youth who were brought to the U.S. when they were very young. At 6pm last evening, four of those young immigration activists, three of whom are undocumented, were arrested on misdemeanor trespass charges when they refused to leave the office after closing. The three undocumented students, Yahira, Lizbeth and Mohammad, have been detained and are “expected to face deportation proceedings.” According to the New York Times, “It was the first time students have directly risked deportation in an effort to prompt Congress to take up a bill that would benefit illegal immigrant youths.”

Spurred on by Arizona’s new anti-immigrant legislation, SB1070, the students staged the peaceful sit-in as a challenge to local and federal law, hoping to garner the attention of grassroots organizations and media outlets and highlight the urgency for Congress action on the DREAM Act. Dressed in caps and gowns, the students began the sit-in at lunchtime on May 17th, with a group of supporters cheering for them outside McCain’s office. Four of them, Lizbeth Mateo of Los Angeles, California, Mohammed Abdollahi of Ann Arbor, Michigan, Yahaira Carillo of Kansas City, Missouri and Raul Alcaraz, from Arizona remained in the office till 6pm, when they were arrested. The fifth young activist, Tania Unzueta of Chicago, Illinois voluntarily stepped outside to be the spokesperson for the group before the others were arrested. When asked why she would risk such an act given her undocumented status, Tania told a journalist-

Precisely because we feel that undocumented people need to be at the forefront of our movement think we are tired of not speaking for ourselves and not being able to tell our story…This is my country. This is where I’ve grown up. This is where I’ve learned everything. How to write, how to love, how to be with my community. I feel like where you’re from isn’t always where you’re born it’s the country you learn to love and this is the country that I love.

The DREAM Activists chose Senator McCain’s office as he had initially supported the bipartisan legislation, and only recently, reflective of his new hard-line stance on immigration, had withdrawn his support from it. Although Senator McCain’s office offered the students a meeting to talk about the DREAM Act, they refused it, saying that this late into the debate, they would not take anything short of a statement of support from him. Speaking to the local news, Lizbeth Mateo said-

We’re not going to move, we’re not going to move until Senator McCain cosponsors the Dream Act, so whatever it takes, we’re going to stay here.

Her fellow activist Mohammad, originally from Iran, expressed confidence in garnering a response from John McCain-

We’re here, knowing that he will support the DREAM Act, knowing that he has supported it in the past, ask him to step up and cosponsor the DREAM Act and so we’re waiting at the office until he cosponsors the DREAM Act and writes us a written statement…

Even after a vigil outside the detention center that is holding the three students, there was no statement from Senator McCain’s office. 24 year old Mohammad, who co-founded Dreamactivist.org and led the sit-in, has lived in the United States since he was 3, and feels like fighting for the passage of the DREAM Act is definitely worth his life. For Mohammad, who is openly gay, the repercussions of being sent back to his country of origin, Iran, are frightening. Profiling Mohammad’s story for the Michigan Messenger, Todd Heywood writes-

His action, however, is far from just an act of civil disobedience. As a young gay man, he faces deportation to a country where he knows neither the language nor the culture — and worse, where homosexuality is punished with torture and executions. His supporters say he is literally putting his life on the line by “coming out” as an undocumented, gay youth.

These students risked everything to stage the sit-in yesterday, but the truth is that for them, and the thousands of undocumented students that they represent, the stakes are high regardless. Every year, 65,000 youth graduate from high schools after spending most of their childhoods in the U.S., but are unable to pursue their dreams for higher education and careers because of their undocumented status. According to the College Board, the passage of the DREAM Act would provide about 350,000 undocumented high school graduates with the “legal means to work and attend college,” allowing them to capitalize on their education and contribute to the economy of the country.

Until the DREAM Act is passed, legislation like that passed in Arizona, which allows local law enforcement to question people about their citizenship status based on “reasonable suspicion,” is highly dangerous for the thousands of undocumented youth who were brought to the country when they were children, and have fully assimilated into American culture. With young people taking the lead on demanding immigration reform, there is a silver lining to the dark cloud that Arizona’s SB1070 has brought with it. The good news is that it is the American youth, across racial, ethnic, geography and class lines, that are showing support and positivity on issues of diversity and immigration.

A New York Times article published today finds that there is a glaring generational gap when it comes to the immigration debate. While older Americans, including the baby boomer generation, take a conservative stance on immigration enforcement and reform, polls show that Americans below the age of 45 are much more agreeable to a “welcome all” approach. The article attributes this to the vastly different environments that these generations grew up in. It says-

Those born after the civil rights era lived in a country of high rates of legal and illegal immigration. In their neighborhoods and schools, the presence of immigrants was as hard to miss as a Starbucks today. In contrast, baby boomers and older Americans — even those who fought for integration — came of age in one of the most homogenous moments in the country’s history….In 1970, only 4.7 percent of the country was foreign born, and most of those immigrants were older Europeans, often unnoticed by the boomer generation born from 1946 to 1964. Boomers and their parents also spent their formative years away from the cities, where newer immigrants tended to gather — unlike today’s young people who have become more involved with immigrants, through college, or by moving to urban areas.

While this polarization complicates the movement on policy when it comes to issues like immigration, it is heartening to know that with the future belonging to these optimistic and open young Americans, the future is sure to be brighter than the present. In the meanwhile, we salute the courage of these brave young activists, and ask you to take a moment to think about two leaders of the DREAM Act movement, Tam Ngoc Tran and Cinthya Felix, who we lost in a tragic accident this past weekend.

Photo courtesy of nytimes. com

What did civil rights polls reveal 50 years ago?

The passage of Arizona’s draconian anti-immigrant law has thrown the issue of immigration and race into the limelight. With many in Arizona deeply concerned about the specter of racial profiling that SB1070 brings with it, the law has brought attention to the frustration many feel at the federal government’s inaction on immigration reform.

It’s this very frustration that a recent poll by the Service Employees International Union, National Council of La Raza, Latino Decisions and Grove Insight tap into, through a poll conducted across Latino and non-Latino voters in Arizona about SB1070 and it’s electoral implications.

The poll conducted across 500 non-Latino voters reveal that while 60% favor SB1070, 73% favor a smart, workable, comprehensive, federal solution to immigration reform. Poll results reveal a vast majority of voters frustrated with the failure to take comprehensive action on immigration, and in the absence of responsible action on the part of Congress and the White House, willing to lend support to an irresponsible law that unfairly targets minorities.

Amongst Latino voters, an overwhelming 82% oppose SB1070, spanning all generations, from first generation Latinos to fourth generation Latino-Americans who believe it will lead to racial profiling. After the passage of the law, immigration has become the most important issue for Latino voters, rising from 36% before the law passed to 59% after. Looking towards the November elections, the poll found that Latino voters are extremely dissatisfied with both parties-

The law, which is seen as a personal attack against all Latinos, has ignited Arizona Latino voters’ frustration…and galvanized them to move away from candidates – particularly Republicans – who play politics with the issue. Leadership on the issue is essential for Democrats if they want to nurture the support they gained from Latinos in 2008. And leadership is crucial for Republicans if they want to address and move the issue off the table so they can start repairing their relationship with this critical electorate.

Both this poll, and a number of other polls show that a majority of Americans, across ethnic and party lines, believe that it is important for government to address immigration before the elections in November 2010. A CBS/New York Times poll found that 57% of Americans believe that immigration law should be the domain of the federal government and 64%  are in support of legal status for undocumented people already in the country.  However, the same poll also showed 51% support of Arizona’s law and 9% who felt that it “doesn’t go far enough”.

An interesting blog post by Imagine 2050 compares the results of current immigration polls to surveys of public opinion on civil rights and racial desegregation issues conducted 50 years ago. Out to prove that the “tyranny of the majority” is a continuing narrative of American history, it says -

A half century ago, polls found strikingly similar results with regard to civil rights. In spite of gaining the approval of some 55% of Americans in the spring of 1954, five years later a majority believed that the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education “caused a lot more trouble than it was worth.” During the 1960s a Gallup Poll found most Americans gradually came to support “racial equality in public places” but a consistent plurality wanted to take a “go slow” approach to racial change. In the South, not surprisingly, Gallup found that 80% of those polled in 1964 disapproved of civil rights legislation.

While opinion polls are crucial to understanding how people in different areas are responding to the issue, it is important not to lose sight of the human aspect of this debate, and the fact that millions of people are dealing with the implications of a broken system on a daily basis. Inspired by a true story, and no doubt representative of the true stories of many people in the United States, an award-winning film Entre Nos is playing in theaters now. It tells the story of Mariana, a single mother who fights against all odds to fend for herself and her children after her husband leaves her, undocumented, poor and alone in an unfamiliar city, speaking a language she barely knows. Watch co-director and actress Paola Mendoza talk about the film as a tribute to her mother who gave up everything to ensure the American dream for her children.

Photo courtesy of Sridhar Ranganath

Oh Arizona! Jokes aside, how many racist laws can we deal with?

The British band Massive Attack played in New York City last night, and while their entire performance was framed by high-tech LCD projections against war, racism, corporate monopolies and violations of civil rights around the world, the specific moment at which the audience erupted in cheers was when the visuals denounced the harsh new law targeting immigrants in Arizona. In addition to inspiring creative forms of old-school activism, it looks like Arizona’s giant fiasco around the highly controversial and potentially racist anti-immigrant law, SB1070, has inspired some interesting (and appropriately ridiculous) humor. In the name of satire, the ACLU has launched a glorious new website called “The Deprofiler” which offers free “white people” masks that promise to protect against the threat of “reasonable suspicion” that Arizona’s new law places on people that are not white, and especially on the Latinos that account for 30% of Arizona’s population. Their pitch reads-

Being Brown was never easy. But now, due to SB1070, it can get you thrown in jail. Deprofiler.com allows you to print a mask of a friendly white person’s face to wear while you’re in Arizona. Now you can bask in the freedom and confidence of knowing you’ll never be harassed by the police. Get yours.

So if you’re worried, just select the mask of your choosing (they offer a selection of “whites”), print out a pdf, cut to holes in it for eyes, attach a piece of string, and you’re ready to go. Their sharing tools urge you to help keep a friend out of jail so “help a friend be white today!” Hysterical as it is, it’s more than just laughs; the final step asks users to take action and learn more about the issue by going to the Reform Immigration for America website.

A group of filmmakers who are concerned about the backward turn that lawmakers are taking when it comes to making informed decisions that respect the values of freedom and equality that this country stands for, created this PSA ridiculing Arizona’s SB1070. The video shows a police officer in Arizona chasing down a car in which the driver is obviously drinking. The officer asks him for his “papers” (including license, registration, social security card, birth certificate and work permit), but when the camera zooms out, we see that instead of questioning the drunk driver, he is questioning his sober Latino friend. Check it out for yourself-

Ridiculous as the scenario in the video is, it is not as far from the truth as it should be. Jokes apart, Arizona’s law, that makes it a crime to be undocumented and mandates that police officers stop and question someone based on how they look, seems to have unleashed a spate of state laws that aggressively threaten the equality, dignity and healthy co-existence of this country’s diverse population. Following the passage of SB1070, Gov. Jan Brewer has signed off on a bill that bans schools from teaching “ethnic studies,” classes that teach students of color about their heritage and history. The bill bans these classes based on the logic that they promote “resentment,” and encourage students to want to “overthrow” the U.S. government.

State schools chief, Tom Horne, who has been advocating for this bill (HB2281) for many years, believes that the Chicano and Mexican studies classes taught in the Tuscon school district (the first district where this bill will be implemented) teach Latino students that they are “oppressed by White people.” The Tuscon School district program offers its students, who are 56% Hispanic, courses on African-American, Mexican-American and Native-American studies that include the history and literature of specific ethnic group. According to Horne, these programs promote ethnic solidarity, “ethnic chauvinism” and racial resentment towards whites, rather than treating the students as “individuals.”

According to school district officials, the programs simply teach students the background to historical events, rather than promote resentment and hate towards other ethnic groups. This is what the Racism Review had to say about it-

An honest discussion of the history of whites’ racial oppression targeting Mexican Americans, Native Americans, African Americans, and other Americans of color in the southwest and elsewhere will be out of the question when and if this legislation goes into effect. Truth-telling about our white-racist history, and resistance to it by Americans of color, that gives people honest understandings (and/or group pride) will actually be illegal, as seen in this legislation of the folks in the Arizona legislature.

Sean Arce, director of Tuscon’s Mexican-American studies program, is disappointed that the state has decided to censor an academic program that has proved extremely successful. Judy Burns, who is on the Tuscon district’s governing board says she will refuse to comply with the law, and will not end the program that focuses on Chicano literature, history and sociology, and currently has a significant percentage of students enrolled in it. Once the law comes into effect (on December 31st, districts that do not comply with it could lose 10% of their State funding every month.

It is frightening that these legislators in Arizona believe that teaching young people about their history and cultural heritage is akin to promoting resentment between ethnic groups. Instead of encouraging a society built on freedom of thought, accessibility to knowledge and honest discussion, laws such as this one simply serve to deny the rich and diverse culture that is integral to the fabric of this country. To show your support for bringing back human rights in Arizona and protesting the spate of hateful laws, join AltoArizona for a Mass Mobilization on May 29th!

Photo courtesy of deprofiler.com

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