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Transportation Security Administration clearance a cloudy process

Guest blogger Azadeh Shahshahani published in Atlanta Journal Constitution.

I first met Adnan Tikvesa back in December when I spoke at a symposium on human rights and Islam at the Al-Farooq mosque in Atlanta.

The focus of my talk was the fundamental rights and liberties enshrined in the U.S. Constitution, including every person’s right to due process of law.

I was on my way out when I saw a young man, looking apprehensive, approach me and ask that I take a look at the document in his hand. It was a letter he had received from the Transportation Security Administration.

Adnan is a 25-year-old resident of Atlanta and an American citizen since 2003. He first arrived in America in 1994 as a 9-year-old refugee fleeing the ethnic cleansing of Muslims in Mostar, a city in the former Yugoslavia.

Adnan has worked for Delta since October 2004. He was granted clearance in November 2004 for access to the secured areas of Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. His security clearance was renewed in 2006 and again in 2008.

Adnan is part of a family that is proud to work for various employers in the Atlanta airport: his father works for Delta and his mother works for Delta Global Services; they both hold the security clearance. His sister works for the airport customer service.

Adnan has never been convicted of, or even charged with, any crime. He is well-respected by his co-workers and supervisors for the quality of his work.

So why was it that on Nov. 12, 2009, TSA suddenly decided to suspend Adnan’s security clearance without telling him why? To this day, no one knows.

“I asked, but why, what have I done? But they just handed me the letter and said I can appeal if I so choose. I said but what can I appeal when I don’t know what I have done?”

He received no responses to this plea. His badge was also confiscated.

Adnan felt humiliated by this treatment, especially in front of his co-workers. He was also confused about what exactly was happening and why.

Adnan wrote to TSA a few days later to say that he was unaware of any reason for the suspension of his security clearance and to request any information as to why this decision was made.

In January, TSA issued a grossly inadequate response to Adnan’s letter.

None of the documents produced provided any notice of the reasons underlying TSA’s decision to revoke his security clearance. The 10 pages of documents that were provided were also heavily redacted.

As a result, TSA once again failed to provide notice or a meaningful opportunity for Adnan to correct any misinformation or to contest the basis for TSA’s decision to revoke his security clearance.

TSA’s action had a profound impact on Adnan’s ability to earn his livelihood, as Delta placed him on immediate suspension without pay from his job as a baggage service worker.

None of this was easy on Adnan, who was used to living a busy life. It was not easy to have his parents and sister go to work every day and be faced with questions about when Adnan was coming back to work. Even more taxing for the family was facing the questions that were not asked: What was it exactly that Adnan had done?

For Adnan, the fight to gain his security clearance back became more than a battle to re-earn his job. It became a pursuit to redeem his name. In his words:

“I’d just like to let everyone know that I’m innocent.”

In March, the ACLU appealed TSA’s decision to suspend Adnan’s security clearance and called on the agency to tell Adnan the reasons for the decision and give him a real opportunity to respond.

In May, TSA notified Adnan that it had reversed its decision. But TSA still did not provide any explanation why it had decided to revoke Adnan’s security clearance in the first place.

TSA’s reversal is indeed good news for Adnan. But the fundamental problems with TSA’s process of suspending security clearances have not gone away.

Since the letter from TSA gives no reason for the agency’s initial decision to revoke Adnan’s security clearance or for the reversal of this decision, Adnan remains confounded as to why TSA suspended the security clearance.

There is also no indication of any meaningful safeguards in place to keep TSA from doing this again to Adnan or other workers.

After eight months in limbo, Adnan returned to work last week. His co-workers greeted him enthusiastically and even threw him a welcome back party.

But the injustice faced by Adnan has not been erased. For a Muslim-American Delta worker and a refugee from systematic injustices abroad, due process of law, a fundamental tenet of the American justice system, was denied.

So long as TSA refuses to restore due process to this system, chances are that he will not be the last.

Azadeh Shahshahani is National Security/Immigrants’ Rights Project Director at the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia.

Photo courtesy of www.tsa.gov

Federal Judge rules racism out of Arizona’s controversial immigration law

Yesterday, a federal judge issued a temporary injunction on some of the toughest portions of Arizona’s anti-immigration law SB1070 including the power for police to detain anyone “suspected” of being in the country illegally.

Federal Judge Susan Bolton’s ruling came hours before the law was to take effect in response to a lawsuit filed by the Obama administration and to nationwide protests.

Her amendments block the portion of the law that requires an officer to make an attempt to determine the immigration status of a person stopped, detained or arrested if there’s reasonable suspicion he is in the country illegally. They block the portion that creates a crime of failure to apply for or carry “alien-registration papers,” as well as the portion that makes it a crime for illegal immigrants to solicit, apply for or perform work. (This does not include the section on day laborers.) This ruling also obstructs the portion of the law that allows for a person’s arrest without warrant whenever there is a probable cause to believe he has committed a public offense that makes him removable from the U.S.

Bolton’s decision marks a victory for many in the movement who feel that the law would lead to racial profiling and fear mongering.

Many praise her amendments which significantly weaken “reasonable suspicion” as the basis for presuming someone is in the country unlawfully, and for stopping, detaining, or arresting him or her. Like Bolton, many opponents point to America’s fundamental principle that avers that everyone is presumed innocent until proven guilty, and argue that the original SB 1070 had turned the presumption of innocence on its head.

Bolton’s decision to eradicate “reasonable suspicion” removes the original bill’s form of discrimination, which invited racial profiling from officers who are likely to rely on the way people look in forming any “suspicion” that they are not in this country legally. Many argue that such vague and undefined enforcement policies called for U.S. citizens and non-citizens alike to carry papers on them at all times. These tactics are the hallmarks of a “police state,” more often associated with totalitarian regimes. Opponents to SB1070 claim that the injustices of racial profiling were evident in the police departments’ massive sweeps of Latino neighborhoods and the targeting of Latinos for minor, misdemeanor offenses, often with no follow-up prosecution under those minor offenses. They expressed that the original bill did not present legitimate grounds for forming such suspicion, so they refused to refer to it as a workable standard in Arizona. Bolton has responded to these arguments with her amendments, leaving many satisfied.

She, a Clinton appointee, articulated in her decision:

Requiring Arizona law enforcement officials and agencies to determine the immigration status of every person who is arrested burdens lawfully-present aliens because their liberty will be restricted while their status is checked.

Many top law enforcement officials, including the Arizona Association of Chiefs of Police, had also acknowledged that the original SB 1070 would significantly harm the public trust which law enforcement officials need in order to protect the people of Arizona and would alienate police officers from the communities they serve. Last week, we reported on Arizonan officer Paul Dobson’s recorded confession of his own similar concerns for the law. Officials argued that the original law would force police officers to devote scarce resources to investigating false threats rather than solving serious crimes. They further asserted that the original law had compromised the criminal justice system because crime victims were more vulnerable, and therefore, unwilling to report crimes, and because witnesses were afraid to cooperate out of fear that they would be targeted. Local cops said that the original bill had placed officers and victims alike in a difficult position.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security Deputy Press Secretary Matt Chandler issued the following statement yesterday in response to Bolton’s decision. He said:

The court’s decision to enjoin most of SB1070 correctly affirms the federal government’s responsibilities in enforcing our nation’s immigration laws. Over the past eighteen months, this Administration has dedicated unprecedented resources to secure the border, and we will continue to work to take decisive action to disrupt criminal organizations and the networks they exploit. DHS will enforce federal immigration laws in Arizona and around the country in smart, effective ways that focus our resources on criminal aliens who pose a public safety threat and employers who knowingly hire illegal labor, as well as continue to secure our border.

ICE works every day with local law enforcement across the country to assist them in making their communities safer and we will continue do so in Arizona. At the same time, we will continue to increase resources in Arizona by complementing the National Guard deployment set to begin on Aug. 1 with the deployment of hundreds of additional Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents, Border Patrol agents and other law enforcement personnel that will aid in our continuing efforts to conduct outbound inspections, patrol challenging terrain, and interdict illicit smugglers. We are focused on smart effective immigration and border enforcement while we work with Congress toward the type of bipartisan comprehensive reform that will provide true security and establish accountability and responsibility in our immigration system at the national level.

Even as debates about the law in Arizona continue, the death toll for those immigrants crossing the desert soars. According to an article in The New York Times, the bodies of 57 border crossers have been brought in during July so far, putting it on track to be the worst month for such deaths in the last five years. A record of 150 people suspected of being illegal immigrants have been found dead since the first of this year.

Human rights groups confirm that it is the government’s sustained crackdown on human smuggling that has led to more deaths. Tougher enforcement measures have pushed smugglers and illegal immigrants to take their chances on isolated trails through the deserts and mountains of southern Arizona, where they must sometimes walk for three or four days before reaching a road. Omar Candelaria, the special operations supervisor for the Border Patrol’s Tucson Sector, said the surge in discoveries of bodies this year might also owe something to increased patrols.

The more that you militarize the border, the more you push the migrant flows into more isolated and desolate areas, and people hurt or injured are just left behind, said Kat Rodriguez, a spokeswoman for the Coalición de Derechos Humanos in Tucson.

Breakthrough is encouraged by the temporary hold on Arizona’s law but believes much more needs to be done to restore fairness to the immigration system. The opposition is already planning efforts to overturn Bolton’s injunction.

The time is now. We DO NOT want Arizonas do not sprout all over the country.  Write to President Obama and your Members of Congress to take action on immigration now.

Photo courtesy of www.thehindu.com

CNN and ABC stories show impact of unfair immigration laws

As the countdown to Arizona’s SB1070 law draws nearer (July 29th), and Congress continues to skirt the issue of immigration reform, a number of excellent stories have emerged from the news on our broken immigration system. A shocking story on CNN reveals how every day, Americans are wrongfully deported because of a broken system, and many worry the problem could get worse. They interview one such U.S. citizen who was wrongfully deported to Jamaica in 1999 and finally able to return ten long years later. And even though he knew was a citizen, he was given a deadly choice – stay in detention indefinitely and fight your case, or leave and gain your freedom. Laws like SB1070 will only suck more U.S. citizens into the deportation pipeline, just like in this case, denying adequate due process to many.

On ABC, a 10 part special series “Out of the Shadows” illustrates the constant struggle of 10 undocumented immigrants and their impact on America. In the first of the series, Mohammad Abdollahi, an undocumented Iranian immigrant comes bravely forward, arrested after staging a sit-in in Arizona to persuade Senator John McCain to support the DREAM Act. Mohammad is gay, and faces deportation to Iran, a country where homosexuality is a capital crime. If he doesn’t gain asylum, he could face real danger in the country he barely knows as home. Stay tuned for more stories.

So what is Congress doing about the broken immigration system. We got to hear a few of their thoughts at Netroots Nations, a large gathering of progressive bloggers, non profits and filmmakers mobilizing the online space for good. An impressive line up of speakers included House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Most everyone spoke of the difficulty of passing immigration reform in an election year, but with more stories like these coming to the fore, maybe Congress will realize the ramifications of our broken immigration system on the ideals we hold dear, due process, fairness, and justice. Because when we deny due process to some, we put all of our freedoms at risk.

Immigration reform was a strong theme at Netroots Nation and Restore Fairness was on some excellent panels. Presenting with some other incredible films, Restore Fairness screened at the Immigration Screening Series alongside Speaking in Tongues, a film on language and its importance at breaking down barriers between ourselves and our neighbors, and Not In Our Town, focusing on the murder of a 37-year-old Latino immigrant Patchogue, New York. A lively discussion on race, immigration and pluralism followed. Restore Fairness was also on a distinguished panel with other immigration advocates – “Crimmigration Under Obama: Pushing back against the “enforcement-only” immigration regime”. Immigration enforcement under the Obama administration has continued almost unchanged from the Bush administration even as Department of Homeland Security officials have promised to reform the immigration detention system. A growing collaboration between local police and immigration enforcement is being encouraged, its worst manifestation seen in Arizona’s SB1070. And despite moving away from massive workplace raids, the agency has continued home and business raids under the radar. All in all – overall levels of deportation have actually increased under President Obama. Meanwhile, legislative reform is stalled in Congress. Watch it here.

As July 29th approaches, the state of Arizona is ill prepared for the consequences of SB1070 which will likely include many due process violations, racial profiling and an even more broken immigration system.

Arizonan police officer speaks up against SB 1070 “Nazis”

(From our b-listed blog.) As human rights groups focus our attention on those affected by Arizona’s harsh immigration law (SB 1070), we begin to sympathize with the racially oppressed and the numerous accounts of deportation. Cuentame, a Latino political advocacy non-profit, attempts to shift our focus by filming a direct enforcer of the law – Arizonan police officer Paul Dobson. Dobson’s testimony in the video feels like a confession for all officers, as we learn that SB 1070 has been unjustly silencing them, too.

Dobson, a Squaw Peak Precinct patrolman with 20 years on the force, said in the three-minute clip posted to Cuentame’s Facebook page:

This law will make me feel like a Nazi out there.  I have a great deal of contempt for it; I’m very emotional about it.

Dobson is actually the only Arizonan to have answered Cuentame’s request for a video of anyone affected by the law.

Alex Caballero, co-creator of the video for Cuentame’s “Do I look Illegal?” campaign, said:

It was amazingly striking.  I didn’t think he would use that strong of language because of the cautiousness (around the issue).

Dobson faces the consequences, as expected. He is being investigated for sharing his thoughts publicly without the permission of a supervisor and faces a written reprimand or a minor form of discipline, police told the Arizona Republic.

Despite the consequences, Dobson uses this video as an opportunity to confess that he does not tolerate SB 1070. After all, the state of Arizona leaves officers like Dobson to do the dirt work – that is, arrest those believed to be illegal immigrants based on “reasonable suspicion.” Dobson paints for the viewers of his emotional video a disturbing portrait of his life post July 29, when SB 1070 went into effect.

He said:

As a law enforcement officer, I am required to serve and protect.  So, under SB 1070, I know that people will not call officers in a case of a real emergency. It’s horrifying. It violates our calling to serve and protect.

In addition to investigating Dobson, Phoenix’s police union, which supports the new law, wants the city’s police chief, Jack Harris, investigated for his federal testimony in opposition to SB 1070.

Sgt. Trent Crump, a Phoenix police spokesman, said:

The allegation here is not comparable.  To think that an organizational leader doesn’t have the right to represent the organization is absurd.

Two months ago, police chiefs around the U.S. expressed their concerns over the law to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, saying the law will strain relationships between officers and citizens and drain resources trying to enforce the law.

There are seven lawsuits pending against Arizona over SB 1070, including one filed by the Department of Justice.

Despite these legal challenges, SB 1070 continues to survive as it silences both police officers, whose freedom of speech is limited, and immigrants, whose right to equal protection under the law is imperiled. In June, Arizona began training its police officers to enforce the new law. A video which officers are required to watch emphasizes that SB 1070 does not condone racial profiling.

Dobson ignores any backlashes from the police units. Cuentame’s Ofelia Yanez notes this officer’s bold exposure of the truth.

She writes on a blog:

I asked him multiple times if he would like me to change his name, blur his face, or alter his voice in concern of his safety back home. Every time he thanked me for my offer and re-assured me that he didn’t need me to protect him. He admitted to being afraid of a backlash, but not surprisingly he then said one simple sentence that gave me chills: ‘Bring it on.’

Please watch this powerful video and join Paul Dobson in this fight for human rights and dignity.

Photo courtesy of www.nydailnews.com

DREAM NOW LETTERS: YAHAIRA CARRILLO

Guest Blogger: Kyle de Beausset re-posted from Citizen Orange.

The “DREAM Now Series: Letters to Barack Obama” is a social media campaign that launched Monday, July 19, to underscore the urgent need to pass the DREAM Act. The Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, S. 729, would help tens of thousands of young people, American in all but paperwork, to earn legal status, provided they graduate from U.S. high schools, have good moral character, and complete either two years of college or military service.  With broader comprehensive immigration reform stuck in partisan gridlock, the time is now for the White House and Congress to step up and pass the DREAM Act!

President Barack H. Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue Northwest
Washington, DC  20500

Dear Mr. President,

My name is Yahaira Carrillo and I’m undocumented.  As I write this, over 20 undocumented youth are risking arrest and deportation to demand that Congress take action for the DREAM Act.  Just over two months ago, I, along with two others, became one of the first undocumented immigrants in U.S. history to do the same.  Like Mohammad Abdollahi, who wrote you a letter on Monday, I, too, am queer.  I risk being deported to a machista country, Mexico, where killings related to homophobia are rising.

I was born in 1985 to a barely-turned 16 year-old who had been kicked out of her house while she was pregnant for being a disgrace to the family. I lived with my mother in an abandoned house in Guerrero, Mexico. She struggled to find work, but was either harassed or asked for sexual favors. She said no. She was 17 in 1986 when the 8.1 magnitude earthquake hit Mexico. She decided to take me to the U.S., but we didn’t stay that long. At my grandmother’s request, we returned to Mexico. The hits kept coming: my mother ended an abusive relationship with a military man and feared for her life.

Then, my father called- after abandoning my mother while she was pregnant and being MIA for most of my early years, decided he wanted us to join him in California. My options have always been limited. I was 8 years old when I came to the U.S. When I was 14, my 18-year-old boyfriend wanted to marry me. I said no. When I graduated from the top of my high school class, I thought I couldn’t go anywhere. My parents were migrant farm workers- college wasn’t likely. But years later, I found a private college in Kansas that would accept me. I worked myself to the bone, and obtained an Associate’s Degree. Today, I am working towards my Bachelor’s degree. According to my calculations, it will take me eight years.

I’ve had people tell me that it’s not a big deal, that I should keep on waiting for the DREAM Act to pass. My life has been on pause, rewind or replay for years. Waiting is not an option.  That is why undocumented youth like myself are risking everything, right now, to pass the DREAM Act, this year.  If we’re putting our lives on the line for this, Mr. President, the least you can do is call members of Congress and ask them to do the same.

It started with 3 undocumented youth sitting in John McCain’s office, and it has escalated to 20.  How many more will it take before Congress passes the DREAM Act?

Sincerely,
Yahaira Carrillo

The “DREAM Now” letter series is inspired by a similar campaign started by the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network for the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.  Every Monday and Wednesday DREAM-eligible youth will publish letters to the President, and each Friday there will be a DREAM wrap-up.  If you’re interested in getting involved or posting these stories on your site, please email Kyle de Beausset at kyle at citizenorange dotcom.

Approximately 65,000 undocumented youth graduate from U.S. high schools every year, who could benefit from passage of the DREAM Act.  Many undocumented youth are brought to the United States before they can even remember much else, and some don’t even realize their undocumented status until they have to get a driver’s license, want to join the military, or apply to college.  DREAM Act youth are American in every sense of the word — except on paper.  It’s been nearly a decade since the DREAM Act was first introduced.  If Congress does not act now, another generation of promising young graduates will be relegated to the shadows and blocked from giving back fully to our great nation.

This is what you can do right now to pass the DREAM Act:

  1. Sign the DREAM Act Petition
  2. Join the DREAM Act Facebook Cause
  3. Send a fax in support of the DREAM Act
  4. Call your Senator and ask them to pass the DREAM Act Now!
  5. Email kyle at citizenorange dot com to get involved more

Visit thedreamiscoming.com for updates on Yahaira and the 20 undocumented youth who were recently arrested in support of the DREAM Act.

Photo courtesy of mex-amer.state.ne.us

Domestic violence survivors first to be affected by Arizona law

The starting day for Arizona’s controversial new anti-immigrant law SB1070 is fast approaching. July 29th is around the corner and the country waits with bated breath as the Obama administration argues for an injunction to stop the law from being implemented. A Reuters article discusses the four scenarios that could occur. The injunction could be successful, or unsuccessful, in which case both parties have a choice to appeal the decision in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. Another outcome could be a partial injunction which would only stop some sections of the law from going into effect. And finally, the state legislature could try to alter the law so that its constitutionality cannot be challenged.

But a pattern of states taking up the issue of immigration has emerged strongly. According to the L.A. Times, that’s nothing new.

Many states have their own regulations governing illegal immigrants. And five states have introduced bills similar to Arizona’s SB 1070, which is the target of a federal lawsuit.

Even though Arizona’s law has generated the most amount of controversy, there are many state laws that fall into the federal subject of immigration.

Colorado restricts illegal immigrants from receiving in-state tuition. Nebraska requires verification of immigration status to obtain public benefits. In Tennessee, knowingly presenting a false ID card to get a job is a misdemeanor…Not all of the laws are anti-immigrant…Ten states have passed laws to allow undocumented college students to pay in-state tuition, and several have expanded access to state-funded health benefits and improved enforcement of wage and hour laws.

All this points to the increasing need for federal comprehensive immigration reform plan that will prevent more Arizona’s from taking place and help fix the broken immigration system.

The impact of SB1070 can be devastating as it destroys the trust between communities and the police that help keep those communities safe. It’s already happening as a New American Media article reports about women affected by domestic violence and silenced by SB1070. Like Lourdes (name changed), a survivor of domestic abuse whose husband reminded her that Arizona’s new law made undocumented women like her liable to deportation. She finally called the police after reaching a shelter eight months pregnant.

Hidalgo, executive director of Chicanos por la Causa (CPLC), a nonprofit that runs the shelter, says that in the past, police officers have been very helpful in protecting victims. But he believes they are now finding themselves between a rock and a hard place. This is because SB 1070 allows Arizonans to file suit against any police department they believe is not enforcing the new law correctly. A department found to be out of compliance could be fined up to $5,000 per day.

Moreover, even the shelter could get in trouble if proved to be helping undocumented immigrants, though there are some exceptions for social workers and first respondents. The law will continue to bring up grey areas where people are unclear what action should be taken, leaving a space for violations, racial profiling, and much of the dangers that many opponents of the law have outlined.

As more and more stories like Lourdes come out into the open, SB1070 is teaching us a lesson that immigration reform cannot wait. Take action now.

Photo courtesy newamericamedia.org

Conservative evangelicals are pro-life and pro-immigration reform

Take the statement: “Pro-life Christian conservative groups stand headstrong against Obama’s recent pro-abortion policy in Pennsylvania.” Most know this to be true.   But what about these: “All members of these groups criticize Obama for his acts toward socialism and immigration reform,” or  ”All are currently printing out pictures of Obama with the Hitler mustache.” These two are surprisingly false.  The truth is that some pro-life Christian conservatives are evangelicals who support Obama’s initiative for immigration reform.

While immigration reform continues to polarize communities and divide our country, it also has fostered a constructive conversation and relationship between conservative evangelicals and Obama.

According to a blog post in the Washington Post, evangelical Christians are supporting immigration reform because their membership largely composes of Hispanics and other sections of the ethnic and immigrant constituency.

Latinos make up a growing segment of their congregations – for some, it is the fastest growing. Religious leaders are aware of this, Rev. Samuel Rodriguez said.  He adds,

They want to show that they care about the issues that are important to their members.

Therefore, evangelicals refuse to repeat the mistakes of the past, when a wall emerged between the African American church and the evangelical community because many evangelicals opposed the Civil Rights movement. Today, they refuse to see that wall emerge between evangelicals and the large immigrant constituency which supports them.

Dr. Richard Land, President of the Southern Baptist Convention Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, sees comprehensive immigration reform as a biblical mandate—and worries that conservatives will burn bridges with the country’s fast-growing Hispanic bloc if they take a hard anti-immigrant line.  Describing political similarities between Hispanics and white Southern Baptists, Land recently told CNN,

Hispanics are hard-wired to be like us on sanctity of life, marriage and issues of faith.  I’m concerned about being perceived as being unwelcoming to them.

Evangelicals recognize immigration reform as a biblical imperative of reconciling the rule of law with compassion for the stranger. In this case, they support interpreting the rule of law with compassion for immigrants.

The fact that these pro-lifers support a Democratic President shows that in some cases they refuse to follow party politics and, instead, take political action based on what they think is morally and ethically correct.

In response to an article on the Opinion Streams blog, Rob J posts,

GOP leadership…exploits the name of God and bastardizes our ideals to foment hatred, division and racism and to engender animosity toward Christians by associating us with a platform that is anathema to God’s love.

So far, Organizing for America records 454 evangelicals who support Obama.

The morally-based mindset of these evangelicals should signal to those in America that it is necessary to place aside party politics and platforms while deciding which laws should govern our nation. If we are striving to establish bipartisan immigration reform, we must lessen Congressional polarization. We can only approach bipartisanship if we think for ourselves, and support an immigration policy that works to accept all communities.

Photo courtesy of www.patheos.com

End Racial Profiling Act is introduced as NAACP calls on the Tea Party to reject racism

When the NAACP called on the Tea Party to reject the racism that exists within its ranks, Tea Party activists were outraged and denied that racism is a part of their movement — despite a clear pattern of bigotry and hate. Instead, Mark Williams, the public face of the Tea Party Express, attacked the NAACP as being a “racist” organization, saying “they make more money off of race than any slave trader, ever.”

In Mark Williams’ blog post, written in the form of a “mock letter” to President Abraham Lincoln, he says:

We Colored People have taken a vote and decided that we don’t cotton to that whole emancipation thing. Freedom means having to work for real, think for ourselves, and take consequences along with the rewards. That is just far too much to ask of us Colored People and we demand that it stop!

Had enough? He goes on to say:

Perhaps the most racist point of all in the tea parties is their demand that government ‘stop raising our taxes.’ That is outrageous! How will we Colored People ever get a wide screen TV in every room if non-coloreds get to keep what they earn? Totally racist! The tea party expects coloreds to be productive members of society?

Color of Change is challenging Tea Party leaders to reject Williams’ statements and remove him from his position at the Tea Party Express. Because if Tea Party leaders want to have any credibility on race, they need to start by taking a stand against Mark Williams. Even though some perceive the Tea Party as a fringe movement, the reality is that they are attempting to build political power, and if that is the case, it’s important that they do not embrace the kind of racism that Mark Williams represents. If they choose to do so, then it’s important to make clear to all Americans that they are a home for racism and bigotry.

A few months ago, Tim Wise, a prominent anti-racist activist, wrote a widely circulated article called, “Imagine if the Tea Party Was Black “ which challenged America to take a close look at the hypocrisy of the Right Wing. Rapper Jasiri X molded the piece into a Hip Hop music video of the same name. Its opening lines:

The main principle political voice coming from the Right, right now, is the Tea Party. Even though you have a Tea Party that is very angry, racist-messaged, and armed, often times, they’re portrayed as just being patriotic and just wanting to do what’s best for their country.  And I ask myself the question: what if the Tea Party was black?

The good news is that legislation has been introduced in Congress to combat such forms of bigotry and hate. Yesterday, Congressman John Conyers and Jerrold Nadler introduced the End Racial Profiling Act of 2010 (ERPA) – a critical legislation that will eliminate law enforcement practices of singling out people for heightened scrutiny, based on their race, ethnicity, religion, or national origin. As a product of years of extensive consultation with both the law enforcement and civil rights communities, this legislation represents the most comprehensive federal commitment to healing the rift caused by racial profiling and restoring public confidence in the criminal justice system at-large. As Congressman Conyers said,

The recent passage of Arizona’s new immigration law has crystallized the terms of the profiling debate and demonstrates that the combination of racial discrimination and law enforcement represents a volatile mix across all strata of the minority community.

This was supported by Congressman Nadler.

Racial profiling…simply is not an effective way to identify and apprehend criminals. What’s more, focusing on people exhibiting these immutable characteristics easily distracts and diverts the attention of law enforcement in ways that can prove disastrous to public safety.

Sign a petition to stop racial profiling. In the era of Williams and his Tea Party movement, we must ensure that such racism does not affect the making of our nation’s laws and break down the trust between communities and law enforcement.

Photo courtesy of www.teapartypatriots.org.

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Sites of Conscience revive history and value of immigration

Arizona’s new immigration law has triggered intense debates on racial profiling and discrimination, reflecting a long-rooted anxiety about immigration issues in the United States.
But these debates aren’t restricted to the U.S. alone, with immigration-related controversies dividing countries including France, Belgium and Spain. Taking steps to ban the wearing of burqas in public, these countries have fueled divisive debates on religious freedom, discrimination and xenophobia. It’s a moment to look back and learn from the lessons from history. The Immigration Sites of Conscience, a network of 14 immigration history museums across the United States and Europe, are seeking to do exactly that, by remembering past struggles for justice and applying these to to understand today’s debates.

This is a crucial moment in time, and to prevent a backslide from democratic progress, the Sites of Conscience are offering unique opportunities for constructive dialogue by developing new public dialogues on community immigration issues at each of the sites through exhibitions, workshops, and public talks.

In Navigating Difference, a new interactive installation and program, the Sites of Conscience are taking this conversation transnational. At New York’s Ellis Island Immigration Museum, Italy’s Mu.MA/Galata Museo del Mare and Belgium’s Le Bois du Cazier, each museum will trace different paths that migrants have journeyed through time, simultaneously inviting visitors to answer a common question “Does immigration benefit my community?”. Through the installation, visitors will learn history, share their opinions, and see responses from both within their communities and from the sites in other countries. Beginning with this simple question, the new program will engage visitors in conversations that can be the first step in ‘navigating differences’ on immigration in Europe and the United States.

Join this incredible journey by become a part of this growing world-wide network and support historic sites inspiring social consciousness and action.

Photo courtesy of ellisisland.org

M.I.A. and other music artists draw new borders on immigration

As our nation’s immigration issues triggered by Arizona’s new law that will lead to unconstitutional racial profiling reaches a shrill new level of debate, artists mull over the fact that messy politics is prolonging the injustices that innocent people must face. While some major artists have decided to draw borders in a ban on Arizona, others are trying to draw people into Arizona for concerts against the new law. However, one thing hundreds of musicians share – the belief that putting up walls of hatred towards immigrants is wrong.

Placed in Time magazine’s 2009 list of “World’s Most Influential people” for having “global influence across many genres,” M.I.A has now boldly responded to Arizona’s immigration issue by making her Hard Music Festival free for all Mexicans. The major alternative dance pop star said in an interview with Rockerrazzi last week,

Hard Fest – free for Mexican people; everyone who’s crossed the Arizona borders are welcome at my show and I’ll make you a freakin’ passport.

This decision was a spontaneous result of the pop star’s disbelief that SB 1070 (Arizona’s new anti-immigration law) is still a matter of debate.

I just can’t believe it’s still happening, and it’s happening now. I can’t even get past that point; it’s sort of like moving backwards in time.

Watch her interview.

Meanwhile, major artists Public Enemy and DJ Spooky have condemned SB 1070 while reworking their music. Feeling strongly about the ways in which SB 1070 promotes racism, they decided to rework the classic Public Enemy protest song, By the Time I Get to Arizona, originally written to protest the Arizona state government’s 1993 decision not to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday. This time around, the lyrics reflect their discontent at “those who don’t learn from the past” with DJ Spooky seeing it as a “21st century look in the rear view mirror.” Check out the updated version.

Chuck D of Public Enemy and his wife Theresa have also promoted a boycott and condemned SB 1070. Known for his socially and politically conscious style of rapping and for trying to bridge the racial gap between “black and brown”, Chuck D asked for

a call to action urging fellow musicians, artists, athletes, performers, academics and production companies to refuse to work in Arizona until officials not only overturn this bill, but recognize the human rights of immigrants.

Rage Against the Machine’s Sound Strike is Raging Against Arizona by refusing to perform at any venues within the state until they revoke the laws. 200 other bands like Massive Attack, Michael Moore, Kanye West, Sonic Youth, Joe Satriani, Tenacious D and Los Tigres De Norte have joined this boycott and called on their fans to sign a petition demanding an end to the draconian law. “You can’t look at SB 1070 in isolation,” Rage Against the Machine’s Zach de la Rocha said in a video on the Sound Strike website. “It’s part of an entire state’s campaign to humiliate and criminalize an entire population.”

In response, another group, Artists for Action has invited artists to Arizona to perform, educate, and inspire audiences. The group includes Calexico’s Joey Burns and John Convertino and the Sand Rubies’ David Slutes. As Krist Novoselic, a writer for  Seattle Weekly explains,

The Sound Strike boycott is coming from a good place – it’s a reaction to barriers within humanity. But it’s based on borders themselves, in this case those around the state of Arizona… The state border is literally a line in the sand. Who drew those lines, and why are we drawing more with things like boycotts?

To that end, Artists for Action is planning a major concert in Phoenix later this summer. As Burns says,

Whenever there’s an artistic or cultural boycott, it’s important to back that up by showing your presence and doing something. The intent is to go to fans inside of Arizona and inspire them to vote. If people haven’t registered to vote, now is the time to do it.

Major sounds are amplifying the fight against SB 1070.  Let’s hope legislators are listening.

Photo courtesy of bbc.co.uk