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Colbert says – Always wanted a farm worker job? Now’s your chance

Unfortunately many in America consider the major issues facing our country – high unemployment and undocumented people – as interrelated, so they support inhumane immigration laws to reclaim the low-paying jobs undocumented immigrants have stolen. But, these individuals fail to realize that agriculture, a major low-paying job that gives us the food we all eat, is so dependent on an immigrant workforce that the anti-immigrant platform for economic reform is actually unrealistic and harmful to our livelihood. Farm workers are teaming up with comedian Stephen Colbert to challenge unemployed Americans in a tongue-in-cheek call for immigration reform: Come on, take our jobs.

Labor and political leaders concerned about an adequate labor supply for the crucial agricultural sector, hosted a news conference on Thursday, June 24, to launch the national “Take Our Jobs” campaign aimed at hiring U.S. citizens and legal residents to fill jobs that often go to undocumented farm workers.

This rather bold campaign, sponsored by the United Farm Workers of America (UFW) and immigrant rights advocates, challenges opponents to follow through with their platform and to mobilize unemployed American citizens to willingly walk in the poorly conditioned shoes of these immigrant farmers’ for even a day.

“Our county, our economy, rely heavily on the work of immigrant and unauthorized workers,” said Michael Rubio, supervisor in Kern County, one of the biggest agriculture producing counties in the nation. “I would encourage all our national leaders to come visit Kern County and to spend one day, or even half a day, in the shoes of these farm workers.”

Campaigners believe that they will not take up the opportunity. To highlight how unlikely the prospect of Americans lining up to pick strawberries or grapes, Comedy Central’s “Colbert Report” plans to feature the “Take Our Jobs” campaign on July 8.

“The reality is farm workers who are here today aren’t taking any American jobs away. They work in often unbearable situations,” UFW President Arturo Rodriguez said. “I don’t think there will be many takers, but the offer is being made. Let’s see what happens.”

The effort spotlights the immigrant labor issue and underscores the need for reforms without which the domestic agricultural industry could be crippled, leading to more jobs moving off shore. According to government statistics, three-quarters of all crop workers working in American agriculture were born outside the United States, and at least 50% of the crop workers have not been authorized to work legally in the United States.

“The campaign is being played for jokes, but the need to secure the right to work for immigrants who are here is serious business,” Rubio said.

In a letter to U.S. lawmakers, UFW offers farm workers who are “ready to train citizens and legal residents who wish to replace immigrants in the fields,” and encourages Members of Congress to refer their constituents to vacant farm worker positions. UFW has locations across the country where Members of Congress can direct their constituents willing to do work on large-scale farms. Employers will be on hand at each site to answer questions, meet prospective employees and assist in the application process. All who are interested or unemployed and are legal residents or U.S. citizens are encouraged to apply. Any takers?

Photo courtesy of www.fanpop.com.

Ailing 61 year old permanent resident appeals to United Nations

UPDATE- Good news! Just as the National Immigrant Justice Center petitioned to the United Nations to intervene in Carlyle Leslie Owen Dale’s case, a federal appeals court overruled Mr. Dale’s deportation order. Following this, he was released from ICE  custody on Wednesday, June 30th, and for the first time in 5 years, he was be at peace with his family. In a settlement with his lawyers from the justice center, federal officials freed him and let him board a greyhound bus to Orlando, Florida, where he was reunited with his family. On Friday, as he woke up listening to the voices of his grandchildren he told the New York Times in a phone interview, “I want to tell you how good it feels to be back in my America — the America that I love and that loves me.” Claudia Valenzuela, the lawyer that represented Mr. Dale in his detention case, said that his case was highly indicative of the arbitrariness of the current immigration detention system.

Carlyle Leslie Owen Dale is a 61 year old legal permanent resident who has lived in New York for thirty years, working his way through college as a gas station attendant and a taxi driver, marrying and having children, and finally, opening a business of his own, The Safe Housing Project, which operated halfway houses for recovering alcoholics and drug addicts. For the past five years though, Mr. Dale has been in immigration detention, and is likely to die of grave medical neglect if nothing is done to redress his awful situation.

Owen Dale is facing deportation for a conviction of attempted assault that he received in 2000 for a shooting that took place in 1998 at a halfway house that he ran in Uniondale, New York. Mr. Dale served three and a half years in prison and paid $9000 in restitution to the resident that he shot during an argument in which he was being threatened with a knife. He pleaded guilty to the conviction, but even though his actions were in self-defense, he has been in detention, facing deportation since 2005. As per laws passed in 1996, immigrants are not able to challenge their detention or deportation. Moreover, immigration judges do not have the ability to consider the circumstances of each individual’s case. In terms of deportation, if an immigrant, including a legal immigrant, commits a crime, an immigration judge can be required to automatically deport him and cannot consider the circumstances of the case.

From 2005 to 2010, while Mr. Dale’s court appeals repeatedly came to naught, his health rapidly deteriorated as he suffered from diabetes, chronic asthma, liver disease, severe arthritis and high blood pressure. Mr. Dale has been hospitalized five times in the last 20 months for problems ranging from pancreatitis, chronic congestive heart failure, flesh-eating bacterial infection, obstructive pulmonary disease and a hernia. Doctors stated that he recently suffered “near respiratory arrest” and his complaints about detention staff that are ill-treating him have fallen on deaf ears. According to a complaint he filed, an infirmary assistant told him to stop “faking it,” removed a nebulizer mask from his face and ordered him to do push-ups. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) spokesperson Brian Hale said that senior officials had reviewed the treatment that Mr. Dale was receiving and were satisfied that he had “unfettered access to medical treatment.”

The Chicago-based National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC), which has been advocating for his release and argues that his detention was unjustified, learned last week that the United States Court of Appeals overruled his deportation order, saying that the Board of Immigration Appeals had made a mistake in deciding that his 2000 conviction for attempted assault made him an “aggravated felon.” Following this, the court has sent the case back to the board, asking them to review it. As it stands, it remains unclear whether Mr. Dale will be released to his family, which comprises of two sons, a daughter and grandchildren, all of whom are American citizens. Even if it were to eventually happen, given his medical condition, it might be too late.

Mr. Dale’s case has prompted the National Immigrant Justice Center to submit a petition to the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, based in Geneva, calling for them to intervene in this case and call for his release before it is too late. This petition is an unusual move for advocates, with the UN Working Group usually receiving petitions from countries like China and Myanmar rather than the United States. The urgency of the petition represents the extreme frustration that many immigrant rights advocates are currently feeling with no sight of promised reform on the horizon. Members of the NIJC hope that bringing international attention to Mr. Dale’s case will “increase pressure on ICE to improve oversight of detention facilities, and save the lives of our client and others.” The petition makes a broad case against the inhumane conditions in immigration detention saying that “medical neglect and human rights abuses remain rife in a system that continues to detain some 400,000 people a year”.

This case has shown why it is so urgent to reform the immigration system, to fix inhumane conditions in detention and ensure alternatives to detention. It is imperative that judges are given more discretion to decide who should remain in detention and face deportation.

Photo courtesy of nytimes.com

Bloomberg leads U.S. corporations and cities to lobby for immigration reform

It seems fitting that New York City, the crux of the U.S.’s rich immigrant history is leading a new direction in the movement for immigration reform.

In what promises to be an important step towards re-framing the immigration debate in this country, New York City Mayor Bloomberg has formed a coalition of top executives and city mayors to put pressure on Congress and steer the nation towards immigration reform. On Thursday the 24th, Mayor Bloomberg announced the Partnership for a New American Economy, a coalition that includes the chief executives of major corporations such as News Corp., Hewlett-Packard, Disney, Boeing, Morgan Stanley, Marriott International and the NY Mets, and the mayors of Los Angeles, Philadelphia, San Antonio and Phoenix.

The coalition argues that immigration reform is the key solution to repairing and rejuvenating the economy. By conducting polls, funding public educational campaigns, convening forums and publishing studies that demonstrate the ways in which a healthy economy thrives on immigrant workers, the coalition aims to “break the legislative stalemate that has taken over Congress.” Rupert Murdoch, a central member of the partnership and chairman of the News Corporation, who is also a naturalized immigrant from Australia, summed up the argument for the New York Times-

This country can and must enact new immigration policies that fulfill our employment needs, provide a careful pathway to legal status for undocumented residents, and end illegal immigration….American ingenuity is a product of the openness and diversity of this society.

The CEO’s who have signed on to the partnership released statements about how their companies rely on immigrants. They mentioned the constant challenge they face in acquiring visas for professional workers whom they want to hire. Walt Disney chairman and CEO, Robert Iger said that the country’s immigrant population was “our great strength as a nation, and …critical for continued economic growth.” His statement went on to say, “To remain competitive in the 21st century, we need effective immigration reform that invites people to contribute to our shared success by building their own American dream.”

While stressing the importance of securing the national borders and preventing further entry of undocumented immigrants, the coalition urges Congress to create a path to legalization for the 12 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the U.S. According to Mayor Bloomberg, in addition to the fact that deporting the existing undocumented immigrants was an impossible task, doing so would ruin the economy as these immigrants are a crucial part of the workforce.

On Thursday morning, Mayor Bloomberg and Rupert Murdoch appeared on Fox News to talk about the ways in which immigration reform would benefit the economy. Bloomberg made his case for a reformed immigration policy which creates a system that allots green cards to those that have been education in the country rather than preventing them from staying on. Bluntly referring to the current system as “national suicide,” the NYC Mayor warned against the pitfalls of the present system in which prohibitive laws, bureaucracy and stiff enforcement prevent hundreds of potential entrepreneurs from staying on and leading to the creation of more jobs. He reiterated that the people who seek to the immigrate to the U.S. were hard working, dynamic, innovative people who want the opportunity to strive for better lives for themselves and their families, and that those are the people that build America in the first place. He said-

I can’t think of any ways to destroy this country quite as direct and impactful as our immigration policy. We educate the best and the brightest, and then we don’t give them a green card.

The business leaders in the coalition that have taken it upon themselves to lead the country towards immigration reform employ more than 650,000 people and make more than $220 billion in annual sales, combined. However it is yet to be announced as to whether the partnership will be a non-profit organization, a political action committee, or a non-standard non-profit. Either way, this bipartisan group’s decision to take on an issue that is of national importance and has been stuck in politics for so long, is deeply encouraging. Let’s get behind them and add to the pressure on President Obama and Congress to pass immigration reform now!

At 0:40 in the Fox News interview Mayor Bloomberg says, “We need to create jobs in this country….and immigrants can come here and create jobs. There’s this belief that immigrants take jobs away and that’s not true.”

Photo courtesy of news.yahoo.com

Let’s get real about harsh anti-immigrant laws and their implications

The small town of Fremont, Nebraska is the latest in a series of U.S. towns that have decided to take immigration law into their own hands. On Monday, the 21st of June, 57% of the town’s 25,000 residents voted in favor of a law that would ban landlords from renting to people that were undocumented, and ban employers from hiring people without the correct immigration documents. The measure will require city officials and employers to verify people’s immigration status before taking them on as employees or tenants.

The arguments in support of this measure are similar to those heard in Arizona from those that support SB1070, the Arizona law that makes it a misdemeanor to be undocumented in Arizona and sanctions local law enforcement to stop people who appear reasonably suspicious of being undocumented. In Fremont, those in favor of the anti-immigrant ordinance attribute it to the Federal government’s inaction on the issue of immigration. A resident of Fremont, Trevor McClurg thinks that it is a fair measure. He said, “I don’t think it’s right to be able to rent to them or hire them. They shouldn’t be here in the first place.”

Speaking to the Associated Press, 56 year old Alfredo Velez, who runs a general store in Fremont and is an American citizen, has a very different opinion. Surprised by the law, he was only certain about one thing. “We’re not welcome here,” he said, expressing concern about the future of the town’s Hispanic population and his store, Guerrero, which sells products from Central America and Mexico. The town, about 35 miles northwest of Omaha, has seen its Latino population grow in leaps and bounds in the last decade due to the availability of jobs at the nearby Fremont beef and Hormel factories. Velez, who is the father of four and has lived in the town for 12 years, considers it home and has no plans of leaving, but was incredibly hurt by the high percentage of residents that voted to get the anti-immigrant ordinance passed. An owner of a building downtown, he is certain that if passed, this law will scare people away from the town, chasing away many potential renters.

The probable implications of a law like this are huge, and can run much deeper than deterring immigrants from settling in the town. In addition to inciting racial discrimination and racist sentiments, laws like this often result in length legal battles, the costs of which have to be filled by town taxes. In Fremont, the American Civil Liberties Union has already planned to file a lawsuit opposing the new measure. Explaining the motivation behind such bills, Amy Miller, ACLU Nebraska’s legal director said-

I’m afraid this is part of a larger, nationwide trend, most obviously typified by what has happened in Arizona,”There is no rational reason for Fremont to be worried about protecting our border. But it is a community, like many in rural Nebraska, where the only population growth has been in new immigrants, many of them people of color.

ACLU Nebraska has two main problems with the bill. She feels that in addition to immigration policy being a federal function, the measure violates the14th amendment of the constitution, which guarantees due process to everyone in the U.S., not just American citizens. Other cities with similar ordinances such as Hazelton, PA and Riverside, NJ, have faced lawsuits that have kept the laws tied up in the courts, preventing them from being implemented and resulting in extremely high legal costs for the cities. City officials in Fremont are estimating up to $1 million dollars as the cost of the ordinance, including legal fees, employee overtime and computer software, not taking into account the deduction in city taxes that will take place as a result of the law driving away people who fear being targeted by it.

And it isn’t just small towns that are passing laws such as this. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 5 other states (South Carolina, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Michigan) are looking at copycat legislation, and as per a Washington think tank, NDN, 17 other states had expressed interest in similar laws. Lawmakers in cities such as Fremont should learn a lesson or two from Arizona when executing harsh anti-immigrant measures such as this.

Even before Arizona’s SB1070 has been implemented,it has been responsible for sizable numbers of people, especially Latinos, leaving their homes in Arizona and moving to other states. Although there is no official data tracking the numbers of people leaving, piecemeal information from businesses, schools and health centers indicates that since Gov. Brewer signed SB1070 on April 23rd, the populations of Hispanic neighborhoods is dwindling. Latino families that are frightened about the repercussions of the law for their children and community, are pulling their children from schools, leaving their jobs and uprooting their lives to move elsewhere, in moves that are highly risky given the current economy. According to Alan Langston, president of the Arizona Rental Property Owners & Landlords Association in Phoenix, landlords and realty companies will be hard hit by the new law. In Phoenix’s Belleview street, home to a large Latino population, now more than half of the properties have “for rent” signs hanging outside them.

Additionally, dozens of healthcare clinics in Arizona are concerned because people are too afraid of being questioned about their immigrations status to show up to their appointments. Tara McCollum Plese, a spokeswoman for the Arizona Association of Community Health Centers, which oversees 132 facilities said that people are either moving away or too afraid to turn up, and the health care workers are worried about the implications of people resisting treatment. “We’re actually worried about communicable diseases,” said Tara, speaking to the Washington Post. Educators are worried that with so many children being pulled out of schools, they may be forced to cut programs and lay off teachers, since lower enrollment means funding cuts for schools. According to the Washington Post-

Parents pulled 39 children out of Balsz Elementary, which has a 75 percent Hispanic student body, since April 23…In the small, five-school district, parents have pulled out 111 children, said district Superintendent Jeffrey Smith, who cites the new law as the leading factor. Smith said each student represents roughly $5,000 in annual funding to the district, so a drop of 111 students would represent roughly a $555,000 funding cut.

Small businesses like grocery stores and car washes are already feeling the impact of the law as well, having lost up to 30% of their business in the last two months. Most recently, Phoenix’s police chief released an estimate saying that once implemented, the enforcement of SB1070 would cost the city of Phoenix up to $10 million per year, as a result of the clause that makes it a criminal, rather than civil offense to be in the state without the correct documents.

State legislatures taking immigration law into their own hands can have a potentially devastating impact on the economies and communities of their states. It is imperative that the Federal government acts to pass immigration reform before more states follow suit. Take action now and write to Congress and President Obama to pass comprehensive immigration reform that upholds due process.

Photo courtesy of dsnews.com

Unlikely source affirms Justice Department lawsuit against Arizona immigration law

Just over a month away from July 29th, the day that Arizona’s controversial immigration law, SB1070, is slated to go into effect, the situation seems poised for a clash between the Federal government and Arizona state over the law. In a rare moment in which the Federal government forcefully interferes with the affairs of a state, the Department of Justice has decided to file a lawsuit against SB1070, the Arizona law that makes it a misdemeanor for a person to be undocumented in Arizona. While the U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder had denounced the law in early May and announced that the Department of Justice was considering opposing the law, an official declaration of the Federal lawsuit was yet to come.

Until last week that is. The announcement that the Federal government was going to sue Arizona over SB1070 came from an unexpected, albeit official source. It became public last week that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had casually let the confirmation slip during a TV interview she gave while in Quito, Ecuador earlier this month. When asked by the interviewer about how the Obama administration was dealing with the controversial law that opponents feel will condone racial profiling by mandating that police officers question people on their immigration status based on their appearance, Secretary Clinton said-

President Obama has spoken out against the law because he thinks that the Federal Government should be determining immigration policy. And the Justice Department, under his direction, will be bringing a lawsuit against the act. But the more important commitment that President Obama has made is to try to introduce and pass comprehensive immigration reform. That is what we need, everyone knows it, and the President is committed to it…

Following Clinton’s interview, speculation on the matter in the media is rife. Justice Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said that the department “continues to review the law” but declined to comment any further. The department of Justice has been reviewing the law for some weeks now, presumably building its case against the law from the angle of civil rights violations and from that of the its infringement on immigration law enforcement, which is a Federal issue. Federal officials have hinted at the high probability of a lawsuit over SB1070 numerous times in the past few weeks. An official who is involved in reviewing the law and wished to remain anonymous said that “there is no reason to think” that Secretary Clinton’s comment was wrong. According to the New York Times-

…senior administration officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said a decision had indeed been made and only the details of the legal filing were still being worked out. These officials said several government agencies were being consulted over the best approach to block the statute, which, barring any successful legal challenges, takes effect July 29.

As expected, Arizona’s Gov. Brewer, who signed off on this controversial law, is “outraged” by the news of the Federal Government’s lawsuit. Her office has been quick to file motions to dismiss the lawsuits against SB1070 that have been brought by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) , Mexican-American Legal Defense Fund, and the Asian Pacific American Legal Center. When news of a possible Justice Department lawsuit was first heard, Gov. Brewer had faced the challenge head-on saying, “We’ll meet you in court.”

This time around Gov. Brewer was vocal in her displeasure that the news reached viewers in Ecuador before it was told to the people of Arizona. She released a statement saying that “this is no way to treat the people of Arizona.”The Los Angeles Times quotes her saying-

To learn of this lawsuit through an Ecuadorean interview with the secretary of state is just outrageous. If our own government intends to sue our state to prevent illegal immigration enforcement, the least it can do is inform us before it informs the citizens of another nation.

While it is difficult to take Gov. Brewer’s appeal for the “people of Arizona” seriously under the circumstances, Clinton’s interview does come as a surprise, as it preempts an official announcement of the lawsuit by the Justice Department. State Department spokesperson Philip J. Crowley said that her comments were meant to address deep concerns about the new law in Latin American countries. He stressed the international implications of the law saying that “It is important to recognize that this has resonated significantly beyond our borders.”

Speculation is that the Federal Government will file its case in the court in Phoenix in the week leading up to July 29. Joanne Lin, ACLU Legislative Counsel, reiterated the important of the Federal Government taking action against SB1070. She said-

The time for the Obama administration to take action against this egregious law is now. We urge the administration to move swiftly to stop this un-American law from going into effect. …The administration should also take other concrete steps, in addition to filing a lawsuit, against the Arizona law. Administration agencies, including the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security, should suspend all cooperation with government officials and agencies in the state of Arizona on immigration enforcement matters as long as this law, which relies on racial stereotyping and profiling and interferes with federal immigration priorities and policies, remains on the books. Immediate action is essential to deter other states and localities from taking similar steps.

Watch Secretary Hillary Clinton’s interview with Ecuadorian channel, NTN 24-

Photo courtesy of google.com/images

Watch two moms fight to stay together

In countries around the world, the month of June is celebrated as LGBT Pride month, and is a time for people to come together in affirmation of the LGBT community and the movement for gay rights. June was chosen as Pride month to commemorate the Stonewall riots of 1969 which led to birth of the gay rights movement. Pride month provides us with an opportunity to recognize the successes of the movement for equal rights and to celebrate the diversity of the community, but is also a time to look at the numerous battles that are still to be won before we can all live freely and equally, irrespective of our gender and sexual orientation.

This LGBT Pride month we want to celebrate families- families like the one that Shirley and Jay, moms of twin boys, are fighting to keep together. A picture perfect family, Shirley Tan and Jay Mercado live in Pacifica, California with their thirteen year old twin boys, Jashley and Joriene, and Jay’s mother, Renee. Shirley and Jay fell in love 23 years ago when Shirley was visiting from the Philippines, and have been together ever since. Always wanting to have children, Shirley gave birth to the twins in 1997, and the couple entered into a domestic partnership under California law. Within their suburban community they are considered a “model family” in which Shirley is a typical stay-at-home soccer mom who volunteers at the boys’ school and looks after her mother-in-law while Jay works at an insurance firm. On Sundays, Jay and Shirley sing as a part of their church choir.

As per family unification provisions in immigration law, American citizens are able to petition for residency for their spouses. Unlike countries like France, Germany and Canada, this does not apply to same-sex partners in the United States, so although Jay Mercado is an American citizen, she is unable to sponsor Shirley. Having come to the United States to escape a traumatic and violent familial situation in the Philippines, Shirley had applied for political asylum in 1995. Her lawyer had advised the couple that they should be patient while the application was being processed. News of the denial of Shirley’s application came in the form of a rude shock that disrupted the whole family.

At 6:30 am on a winter morning last year, Jay was getting dressed to go to work and Shirley was getting ready to take the boys to school, when the doorbell rang. On opening it they were faced with two agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) who showed them a 2002 letter ordering Shirley’s deportation (which she had never seen before). Minutes later she was handcuffed and taken away as Jay and her mother watched, frightened and helpless. Shirley was held in detention at the Sansome facility in San Francisco before being tagged with an electronic bracelet and returned to her family, awaiting deportation to the Philippines. Shirley describes her time in detention as one of the most traumatic ordeals of her life-

My agonizing, humiliating and tragic experience started when I got in their SUV. My partner ran to the car and saw me being handcuffed and she broke down to tears… I thought it was the lowest point of my life…I was taken like a criminal… My heart was beating so hard, my whole body was shaking and I felt so nauseated with what was happening to me.

Reporting to ICE three times a week and struggling to deal with the possibility of being separated from her wife and children, Shirley sought the support of LGBT advocates and the media to raise awareness about the case and seek justice that would prevent her family from being torn apart. As a result of this, in April 2009, California Sen. Diane Feinstien introduced a rare bill that granted Shirley a temporary reprieve from deportation, allowing her to stay in the U.S. till January 2011.

While the Tan-Mercado family are extremely grateful for the respite that Sen. Feinstein’s bill has provided them, they are worried about what will happen to them post-Janunary 2011. In a testimony that Shirley delivered to the United States Senate Committee, Shirley expressed her concerns for the future of her family-

All the while my family was first and foremost the center of everything on my mind.  How would Jay work and take care of the kids if I was not there?  Who would continue to take care of Jay’s ailing mother, the mother I had come to love, if I was not there?  Who would be there for my family if I was not there?  In an instant, my family, my American family, was being ripped away from me.  And when I did return home, I had an ankle monitoring bracelet. I went to great lengths to hide it from my children. I have a partner who is a U.S. citizen, and two beautiful children who are also U.S. citizens, but not one of them can petition for me to remain in the United States with them. Because my partner is not a man, she cannot do anything to help me. Nor can my children, who keep asking why this happened to us and what will ultimately happen to our family.

The only way for Shirley to stay in the United States with her family is if gay and lesbian couples to be able to sponsor their partners. It is important that we recognize families like the Tan-Mercado’s so that families can stay together, in Pride month and beyond.

The good news is that the provision that allows for same-sex partner sponsorship has now been folded into the proposal for comprehensive immigration reform which was first introduced by Rep Gutierrez in December 2009.

Take action now to fix our immigration system and keep families together.

Join Angelina Jolie in her plea for World Refugee Day

From our b-listed blog-

Please remember the millions of people around the world forced from their homes, whose only hope of return is to not be forgotten,” says Angelina Jolie, a Goodwill Ambassador with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.  She has released a 30-second World Refugee Day video.  For this day, June 20th, she speaks on thousands who “flee from conflict and persecution [and] might be prevented from returning home for years — or forever.”

We must think of stories like those of John – the volatile North Kivu province stole the lives of this fifteen-year-old Congolese refugee’s family last year.  He says he now only dreams of a mattress and the chance to learn English. With the help of the UNHCR, he has applied for an asylum in Kenya and he now lives just that much closer to a dream come true. John is one of around 50,000 registered refugees and asylum-seekers in Nairobi, Kenya, including 951 unaccompanied minors, who have escaped from the conflict in North Kivu.

There are more than 40 million uprooted people around the world. The theme, this year is “home.” John says he has no desire to return to North Kivu, where the violence has driven more than 1 million from their homes. UNHCR says, “Help us help them to find a place to call home.” It is time for us to think about what it means to be one of those millions of individual human beings.  UNHCR helps John and others find new homes and new futures through resettlement, voluntary repatriation and local integration. According to the UNHCR, most refugees prefer to return to their home countries despite continuing or escalating conflict, which makes the search for homes and the return to normal living increasingly difficult.

In honor of World Refugee Day the International Detention Coalition (IDC) is urging governments to stop the detention of refugees and asylum seekers and to work together with UN and civil society to ensure their protection. They say-

There has been a disturbing and growing trend in the past year of industrialized countries funding, pressuring and providing incentives to neighboring countries to detain asylum seekers…There is evidence that detention is not an effective deterrent of asylum seekers. Punitive detention policies fail to consider the conditions that force people to flee their homes. They further traumatize refugees fleeing persecution, torture and conflict. Deterrence policies shift the burden to neighboring countries. It encourages harsh and harmful border policies that do not resolve the issue of irregular migration and people fleeing for protection. These issues must be tackled through international, regional and national cooperation, within a framework of refugee protection.

From June 18-20, the UNHCR is planning World Refugee Day events around the world to highlight the plight of refugees under its care and to advocate for the help they need. Get involved in soccer games, film festivals, photo exhibitions, food bazaars, fashion shows, concerts and sports competitions, workshops, speeches, poetry recitals and more.  In addition, you can participate in the following upcoming major events: A Historic Refugee Discussion,” with former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and NPR Senior News Analyst Daniel Schorr; and “World Refugee Day performance by Marta Gomez”, which is free and open to the public. You can also organize an event in your area.  In honor of World Refugee Day, the Empire State Building in NYC will light up in UNHCR blue.

Photo courtesy of oxfam.org.uk

Promising Harvard sophomore, Eric Balderas, faces deportation

UPDATE: Good news makes for good updates! U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement have said that they will not pursue the deportation of Eric Balderas. ICE spokesman Brian Hale said that Balderas has been granted deferred action, which the agency can use at its discretion to halt deportation, after reviewing the merits of a case. So Eric will be able to continue his studies at Harvard and we wish him all the best in his dream of curing cancer! In the meanwhile though, they are many others like him who might not be as lucky. Support the Dream ACT so they can all have a chance at their dreams.

Until two weeks ago 19 year old Eric Balderas was a sophomore on a full scholarship to Harvard University with a major in molecular biology and the ambition of becoming a cancer researcher. In an instant, he went from representing the promise of the country’s future to being threatened with deportation to Mexico, a country that he has no recollection of.

Eric, who is undocumented, was on his way back to Boston to start a summer research internship after visiting his family in San Antonio, Texas. When he tried to board his flight at San Antonio airport, he found himself being questioned about his immigration status by TSA officials who then alerted Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Eric was immediately handcuffed, fingerprinted and placed in immigration detention for five hours before being given an immigration hearing date and then released. Eric, who usually used his Mexican passport to board domestic flights within the U.S. had recently misplaced it, prompting him to use a Mexican consulate card and his Harvard ID on this present occasion. On a phone interview with the Associated Press he said-

I’d made it through before so I thought this time wouldn’t be any different. But once ICE picked me up I really didn’t know what to think and I was starting to break down…All I could think about was my family…

Eric told the press that he even contemplated suicide as he sat handcuffed. Shook up by his time in detention, Eric is fearful about being forced to drop out of college and return to Mexico. Eric moved to the U.S. at the age of 4, when his mother fled Mexico to escape domestic violence. As far back as he can recall, he has worked hard towards his dream of going to college and working for cancer research. Growing up, his mother worked 12-hour days packing biscuits while he babysat his younger brother and sister and juggled his homework. Speaking about his aspirations he said-

I honestly never thought I’d make it into college because of my status but I just really enjoyed school too much and I gave it a shot. I did strive for this.

Eric’s experience is a tragic example of a broken immigration system that needs fixing so that young people that have been in the country for most of their lives and are working hard to contribute to the country’s future are given a chance. Since he was detained, Eric has engendered wide support from civil rights activists, advocates and an active online community. Over the past ten days, Eric’s story has been covered by major press publications such as NPR, The Wall Street Journal, The Huffington Post, The Associated Press and ABC News, and he has become another poster child for the DREAM Act (Development Relief in Education for Alien Minors Act), an important piece of legislation which would provide a path to citizenship for the thousands of young people like Eric Balderas and Jessica Colotl who were brought to the U.S. as children and know no other country as home.

Universities such as Harvard, Brown and Tufts have been pushing for the passage of the legislation, which has been stalled in Congress since 2001. A year ago, Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust met with Senator Scott Brown to urge him to support the measure. Christine Heenan, Harvard’s vice president of public affairs and communications, spoke of the institution’s complete support for Eric and others like him. She said-

Eric Balderas has already demonstrated the discipline and work ethic required for rigorous university work, and has, like so many of our undergraduates, expressed an interest in making a difference in the world.

Advocates and “Dream Activists” across the country have been pushing their state senators to move the DREAM Act legislation forward. If passed, the DREAM Act would permit those who came here as children (under the age of 16), and have lived here for more than 5 years, to gain legal status after completing the necessary steps such as two years of college or military service.

Eric, who previously participated in DREAM Act actions such as the “Coming out of the Shadows” day in March has taken the opportunity to become vocal about the plight of students like him. In an interview with the Harvard Crimson, he reassured his fellow Dreamers that just as he has received massive support from people around the country, there is strength in solidarity and hope for a just solution. He said-

Just hang in there. Let others know of your problem and try and gain support for the DREAM Act, because that’s ultimately what’s going to save us all.

Let’s hope that Eric is allowed to fulfill his dreams, and that others do not have to endure what he is going through.

Watch Eric’s interview with the Harvard Crimson to see how he feels about the process-

Photo courtesy of americasvoiceonline.com

Landmark Supreme Court ruling gives due process to immigrants facing deportation

Martin Escobar was a lawful permanent resident who had lived in the United States for 30 years. He lived in Chicago, working for a tree care company and supporting his wife, four children and grandchildren, putting them through school and college. In the 1990′s, he plead guilty to two drug possession convictions, but never served any time in jail for these minor misdemeanors. 8 years later, an immigration judge ordered him deported on the basis on these convictions. Their family has been divided since then as Escobar and his wife left for Mexico, leaving their children behind in the U.S.

Due to immigration laws laid down in 1996, Escobar’s very minor drug offenses amounted to an “aggravated felony,” forcing the judge to deport him without being able to consider the individual circumstances of the case. Under harsh immigration laws passed in 1996, a whole range of convictions constitute “aggravated felonies” which trigger automatic deportation, but as in Escobar’s case, many of these convictions are neither aggravated nor felonies. Worse, the laws eliminated important legal rights that previously enabled an immigration judge to look at individual circumstances of each case, including the type of convictions, their history and family ties and how long ago the conviction occurred, thereby denying due process and fairness to hundreds and thousands of people deported for life for convictions ranging from shoplifting to possession of small amounts of marijuana.

In a landmark decision this Monday, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that immigrants who are here legally in the United States cannot be automatically deported for minor drug offenses, and therefore can have an immigration judge look at their circumstances before being sentenced to permanent exile. The ruling comes in response to Jose Angel Carachuri-Rosendo’s case, a permanent resident of the United States who had lived here since he was 5. In 2004, Jose faced mandatory deportation for carrying a single Xanax tablet without prescription. Although it was a minor offense, being his second one, it counted as an “aggravated felony” and caused him to face deportation.

Writing about his case, Justice Stevens wrote-

(a) 10-day sentence for the unauthorized possession of a trivial amount of a prescription drug is at odds with the ordinary meaning of aggravated felony…Carachuri-Rosendo, and others in his position, may now seek cancellation of removal and thereby avoid the harsh consequence of mandatory removal. (But) any relief he may obtain depends upon the discretion of the attorney general.

Speaking about the ruling, Chuck Roth, director of litigation for Heartland Alliance’s National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) said-

The Supreme Court’s decision is a commonsense interpretation of the law that protects fundamental fairness for immigrants. All drug offenses subject a person to potential deportation, but this decision gives our clients a chance to fight their cases, to prove that they are rehabilitated and that their presence here is a net benefit to the country and to their families.

This ruling will impact the lives of many legal residents like Escobar, who have been labeled as “aggravated felons” and separated from their lives and families for minor offenses. It is a positive step toward fixing our country’s unfair immigration laws, and reinforces the importance of a fair day in court. Tearing families apart by deporting people who are not threats to our communities is deeply unfair and this ruling remedies this to some extent.

Speaking from Morelos, Mexico, about 100 miles south of Mexico City, Martin Escobar told Deportation Nation that “It would make me happy if I could return to Chicago. All my family is in the United States. They were born there, and now the only person who is here is myself.”

The Carachuri-Rosendo case is the most recent in a number of challenges to the harsh 1996 amendments and given that the rate of deportations is at its highest ever, it goes some way in restoring some degree of due process and fairness to the system.

Photo courtesy of immigrationimpact.com

As if SB1070 isn’t bad enough, here comes the “anchor-baby” bill

In an interesting new take on Arizona’s anti-immigrant law, Arizona attorneys Maria V. Jones and Kara Hartzler give us a glimpse into just how flawed and impractical the law is. Once it gets implemented on July 29th, the lawyers claim that it has the potential to completely overwhelm the state’s court system. Jones, chairwoman of the bar association’s Immigration Law Section, referred to the law’s ambiguous and “legally onerous” clauses and said that “SB 1070′s implementation will create the legal-system equivalent of stepping into a minefield.”

The lawyers said that once enforcement of SB1070 begins, the number of civil and criminal cases in the courts could triple overnight, and while they were quick in passing the law, the government has done very little to prepare for it by way of additional funds and staff for a state court system that “already has a backlog of cases.” The Arizona attorneys were especially critical of the provision in the law that allows local residents to sue the authorities for not enforcing it properly. If they are cautious about detaining people, they could open themselves up to lawsuits claiming they failed to execute it. On the other hand, if they enforce it too aggressively, as the law enables them to do, then police could end up detaining a number of U.S. citizens, which could lead to “wrongful-arrest lawsuits,” Hartzler says. Either way, it places local law enforcement in a no-win situation that could be costly, complicated and quite counter-productive.

By placing U.S. citizens who look “reasonably suspicious” of being undocumented in danger of being detained, the implications of SB1070 would be reminiscent of the terrible consequences of the “Chandler Round-Up” of 1997, when police officers spread out across Phoenix looking for undocumented immigrants. In a terrifying 5-day crackdown that involved questioning children while they were walking home from school, dozens and dozens of legal residents and U.S. citizens were detained for speaking Spanish or looking Mexican.

This time around, we still have no guarantee that SB1070 will not lead to racial profiling. In an extremely disturbing defense of the law by Iowa Congressman Steve King, he stood by the aspects of the law that could lead police to stop people based on their appearance saying that racial profiling is an “important component” of law enforcement. Reminding us of Senator Bilbray’s comments about how trained officers could identify undocumented people based on their clothes and shoes, Rep. King said-

Some claim that the Arizona law will bring about racial discrimination profiling. First let me say, Mr. Speaker, that profiling has always been an important component of legitimate law enforcement. If you can’t profile someone, you can’t use those common sense indicators that are before your very eyes. Now, I think it’s wrong to use racial profiling for the reasons of discriminating against people, but it’s not wrong to use race or other indicators for the sake of identifying that are violating the law…It’s just a common sense thing. Law enforcement needs to use common sense indicators…what kind of shoes people wear, what kind of accident they have, um, the, the type of grooming they might have, there’re, there’re all kinds of indicators there and sometimes it’s just a sixth sense and they can’t put their finger on it.

A law that calls for police officers to detain people based on their shoes, their “grooming, what type of “accidents” they have and the officer’s “sixth sense.” Can it get worse than this? Well it just did. Arizona Republican state representative John Kavanagh announced his plans for introducing a bill that will disallow children born to undocumented parents in the United States from automatically gaining citizenship. Referred to as the “anchor baby” bill, Kavanagh’s bill has already come under direct criticism for contradicting the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The 1868 amendment that allowed for citizenship for freed slaves, accords citizenship to “all persons born or naturalized in the United States.” Not surprisingly, Russell Pearce, who is the main author of Arizona Senate Bill 1070, is a key sponsor on the new legislation, which Arizona Republicans intend to introduce in this fall. According to Pearce and Kavanagh, this law only serves to preserve the 14th amendment by ensuring that it does not continue to be “hijacked” by immigrants.

It is becoming more and more apparent that these new pieces of anti-immigrant legislation are functioning as conduits for hate and racism in ways that are extremely disturbing. In the face of these developments, we must remember the core tenets of the Declaration of Independence, equality, freedom and dignity, that enable us to strive for values of fairness and due process for all, regardless of our national origin, race, religion, or citizenship.

Photo courtesy of aolnews.com

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