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What does the State of the Union hold for immigration reform?

Delivered to Congress last night, President Obama’s second State of the Union address was one that looked squarely into the future, and was charged with optimism, hope and the spirit of cooperation-

We are part of the American family. We believe that in a country where every race and faith and point of view can be found, we are still bound together as one people; that we  share common hopes and a common creed; that the dreams of a little girl in Tucson are not so different than those of our own children, and that they all deserve the chance to be fulfilled. That, too, is what sets us apart as a nation…Now, by itself, this simple recognition won’t usher in a new era of cooperation. What comes of this moment is up to us. What comes of this moment will be determined not by whether we can sit together tonight, but whether we can work together tomorrow.

These words, spoken early in the speech, did more than honor Christina Green and the other victims of the tragic shooting that took place in Tucson, Arizona on January 8th. Along with noting the empty chair in the room and saying a prayer for Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, the President said, in his opening remarks, that the tragedy in Tucson served as a reminder that we were all greater than our parties and political affiliations, and that in order to face the great challenges that lie ahead, it is important to “move forward together.” This emphasis on cooperation between the two parties was symbolized by the fact that, for the first time, Democrat and Republican members of Congress sat together at the State of the Union address, representing a show of unity for Gabrielle Giffords.

In a speech that focused on science, technology, clean energy and education, President Obama chose to avoid specifics in favor of a rhetorical approach that employed storytelling to illustrate points. In addition to invoking the repeal of the contentious “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy in the military, he surprised immigration and human rights advocates by spending some time on the issue of immigration reform. In the spirit of allowing everyone to shape their own destiny and contribute to the future of the country, the President expressed support for immigration reform and the enactment of the DREAM Act that would give an estimated 2 million undocumented youth who have lived in the country since they were children, and gone through the educational system, to be put on a path to citizenship. He said-

Today, there are hundreds of thousands of students excelling in our schools who are not American citizens. Some are the children of undocumented workers, who had nothing to do with the actions of their parents. They grew up as Americans and pledge allegiance to our flag, and yet live every day with the threat of deportation. Others come here from abroad to study in our colleges and universities. But as soon as they obtain advanced degrees, we send them back home to compete against us. It makes no sense…Now, I strongly believe that we should take on, once and for all, the issue of illegal immigration. I am prepared to work with Republicans and Democrats to protect our borders, enforce our laws and address the millions of undocumented workers who are now living in the shadows. I know that debate will be difficult and take time. But tonight, let’s agree to make that effort. And let’s stop expelling talented, responsible young people who can staff our research labs, start new businesses, and further enrich this nation.

The issue of immigration has always been a contentious subject; one on which lawmakers have remained extremely divided. What cannot be disputed, however, is that the current immigration system is broken and desperately needs fixing. Currently, there are approximately 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States, people who work hard to seek a better life for themselves and their children. Mostly living in the shadows, a lot of people are forced to work for minimum wage, facing inhumane conditions while being denied basic care. Following 9-11, the government’s harsh policies regarding immigrants have resulted in a denial of human rights and due process, with the government allowing raids and arrests without warrants, holding thousands in inhumane detention centers, and deporting people with a fair trial.

While it is tempting to be optimistic that Congress will heed the President’s advice, put aside their differences, and work on fixing the broken immigration system through fair and humane immigration reform, this is not the first time that President Obama has called upon lawmakers to address some of these problems. In the four times that the President has addressed Congress during his term, he has brought up the issue of immigration reform on three occasions. Further, there has never been any doubt about his support for the DREAM Act.

Due to the President’s support, and the work of Senator Harry Reid and other supporters, the DREAM Act even made it to a vote in the Senate in December of last year, only to be struck down. It is also difficult to ignore the fact that Immigrations and Customs Enforcement deported a record number of people in 2010, and put into place a high number of agreements between federal immigration and local law enforcement agencies. These agreements, like the 287g and Secure Communities program, sanction immigration enforcement at the local level without clear objectives or meaningful oversight, resulting in eroding public trust in the local police, and in racial and ethnic profiling, as well as the unlawful detention of U.S. citizens and permanent residents.

So yesterday, when the President spoke about what an uphill battle immigration reform is for Congress, immigrant rights advocates like Frank Sharry from America’s Voice could not help but wish for a more aggressive approach in which he got on the “offensive” and “challenged the Republicans on comprehensive immigration reform.”

As many states seek to introduce harsh ant-immigrant legislation that threatens the security and freedom of thousands around the country, we will wait to see whether the Congress heeds his advice, and works together towards a solution to the immigration system, it is poignant to invoke President Obama’s words-

We are the first nation to be founded for the sake of an idea – the idea that each of us deserves the chance to shape our own destiny…We do big things. From the earliest days of our founding, America has been the story of ordinary people who dare to dream. That’s how we win the future.

We need to live in a nation that ensures equal rights, justice and due process to all, irrespective of their national origin, ethnicity, race, or citizenship. We are daring to dream.

Photo courtesy of latina.com

Comments on Breakthrough’s I AM THIS LAND give great insight and hope for the future

From our b-listed blog-

Thank you for all your amazing submissions to the I AM THIS LAND contest. The contest is now officially closed for entries but stay tuned as winners will be announced on Feb 1!

While the videos themselves were overwhelming and impressive, we were also amazed at all the viewers who posted engaging and insightful comments.

From looking at the production value of entries to discussions on diversity and the editorial content of the submissions, I AM THIS LAND’s comments section is informative, inspiring and encouraging. They are as important as the videos submitted! As one mentioned:

“If we believe the aphorism that “two heads are better than one,” then a multitude of traditions, values, and ideas can only be a tremendous resource as we face the challenges and opportunities of this century.”

Viewers suggested looking beyond the physical appearance of a person, beyond their clothes, the color of their skin and their accents. Many discussed how perceptions are formed, the way we quickly form an idea based on preconceived notions.

“If each one of us were to trade places with another race, culture for a period of time, this world would be more understanding to each other.”

Many left personal anecdotes and stories, and had a platform to express their own emotions. The attempt by some of the filmmakers to break away from the stereotypical portrayal of certain communities and issues of sexuality was applauded by others.

At first I had tears in my eyes – “Gay, straight, crooked” – but then it was hard not to laugh “Eyes like Bobby” etc. I’m stunned – such a simple, loving, hysterical coming out should be had by any and all who want one. This message will help to make it so. I’m sure of it. Bravo!

We are proud to have hosted I AM THIS LAND hope these conversations can continue. Check out all entries and feel free to continue write to us with comments and feedback.

I AM THIS LAND submissions show diversity, talent and sensitivity

From our b-listed blog-

As we approach the last day to submit on videos (midnight EST, today, Jan 21st!) for I AM THIS LAND, our contest on diversity, we are overwhelmed with the creativity and thought behind the submissions.

From a young girl challenging our tendency to categorize people, to an Indian-American man trying to come out to his parents, to a young Muslim girl defining what it is to be American, I AM THIS LAND has managed to highlight important issues in the debate on diversity in the United States.

This past November, Breakthrough launched the I AM THIS LAND contest.  We asked people to make a video on diversity using the phrase “I AM THIS LAND,” and enter to win a grand prize of $2,500 and more (including a day’s internship at SPIN magazine).

The resulting characters in these videos are rich: a young man literally hungry for diversity, a student trying on many different identities to prove the different kind of people there are in this land, a girl with multicultural backgrounds.

Through parodies, documentary, animation and feature film style videos; videos featuring original songs; videos with poetic narration and graphics, filmmakers across the country have responded to our call!  Through a truly ingenious use of their time, budget and skills, I AM THIS LAND’s filmmakers have explored the role national and religious identities, sexual orientation, language and more have in uplifting diversity.  We are also proud of the hundreds of viewers that have contributed to the project tenfold by leaving comments with their thoughts on the issues and how diversity only makes America stronger.

Watch the videos, vote and comment at http://iamthisland.org/watch-and-vote. We are thrilled to see the amount of interest these videos have generated online, and hope they continue to foster debate and discussion.

We are also very happy that stars like Michael Urie (Ugly Betty), Sharon Jones (Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings), Lisa Brescia (Mamma Mia)  and writers such as Ishmael Beah and Maria Hinojosa and more have lent their support to us for I AM THIS LAND.

Stay tuned for more contest details at I AM THIS LAND.org! There’s still time to enter!

Harsh SB1070 copycat laws on the horizon in 2011

Following the tragic shooting in Arizona, there has been a call for greater civility and tolerance in the political and public spheres with the hope that a more reasonable path would be favored by all. However, news of  numerous states introducing legislation similar to Arizona’s harsh, anti-immigrant law, SB1070, doesn’t bode well for the new year.

On Tuesday, the Mississippi Senate passed SB 2179, a copy cat SB 1070 legislation that allows local law enforcement officers in Mississippi to demand proof of citizenship from drivers whom they have pulled over for traffic violations. The bill will now make it’s way to the House for consideration.

From the Clarion Ledger-

“The bill would authorize local law enforcement officers to check a person’s immigration status if “reasonable suspicion” exists that the person may be in the country illegally during any “lawful stop, detention or arrest.”

The bill’s chief backer is Sen. Joey Fillingane, a Republican in a chamber that is predominantly Democrat. Reports by the Clarion-Ledger indicate that Fillingane considers SB 2179 an improvement on SB 1070 because, according to him, SB 2179 only allows officers to inquire about a person’s citizenship status as part of a secondary search, once they have already been stopped for a different, ‘primary’ offense, such as a traffic violation. The issue remains, however, that a significant percentage of racial profiling takes place when people are stopped for minor traffic violations, during stops that are at the officer’s discretion, often without accountability on the part of the officer. Further, in addition to the ways in which this law can lead to racial profiling, it is important to note that the legislation will also cost the state additional costs of housing, transportation, and hiring experts.

Following in the footsteps of Mississippi, states like Florida, Iowa, Oregon, Nevada, Georgia, Tennessee and Kentucky are all contemplating Arizona-style immigration laws, with conservative legislatures and governors responding to the lack of federal action on immigration by taking immigration enforcement into their own hands. There are also concerns in Oklahoma, Nebraska and New Mexico, all of which are slated to usher in anti-immigration legislation.

In Virginia a group of House Republicans recently announced plans to put forward at least sixteen bills aimed at undocumented immigrants including bills that would ensure that children without documentation could not attend public schools and colleges. Del. L. Scott Lingamfelter, who is taking the lead on these bills said that state action was called for in such areas where the federal government had “completely failed.” The bills that they unveiled on Tuesday included legislation that would require authorities to check the immigration status of anyone “taken into custody,” and to ensure that the check would apply even to those who were arrested and released on bail or bond before being taken to jail. Virginia already denies driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants and all taxpayer-paid services except those expressly required by law such as education and emergency medical care. The  laws proposed by this group seek to challenge even those by denying public education to children who are undocumented.

When questioned by the Washington Post, David B. Albo said that while this package of anti-immigrant bills was motivated by Arizona’s SB1070 law introduced in 2010, they were of the opinion that the laws they propose were moderate in comparison to SB1070 and hence had a chance at passing where SB1070 did not.

A consideration for lawmakers on laws similar to SB1070 are the costs involved. For example, the Senate Bill 6, Kentucky’s Arizona copy cat law, is estimated to cost the state $40 million a year in expenses.

According to the Lexington Herald Leader:

“…..A 2008 study estimated that, if Kentucky successfully removed all of its undocumented immigrants, it would lose $1.7 billion in economic activity, $756.8 million in gross state product, and approximately 12,059 jobs. Meanwhile, Arizona’s Hotel and Lodging Association reported a combined loss of $15 million in lodging revenue due to meeting cancellations just four months after its immigration bill’s passage due to an economic boycott that was waged against the state”.

Skeptics of Arizona style immigration laws are also looking at the issue purely from the point of view of business and how such laws are detrimental for the economic prosperity of the state in question. Lawmakers opposing the bills argue that states proposing such legislation are being “fiscally irresponsible.“For example, in just four months after passing SB 1070, Arizona lost an estimated $141 million in visitor spending.

While debates around the politics, efficacy, economics and constitutionality of laws such as SB 1070 continue to rage, it is easy to forget that eventually it is individuals and their families that are most adversely affected by these laws. As more states think of taking immigration enforcement into their own hands, it is important to keep in mind that when we deny due process to some and compromise their civil liberties, we compromise the human rights of all.

Photo courtesy of the Associated Press/Al Behrman

This MLK Day, Arizona moves forward

In the aftermath of the shootings in Tucson, debates are raging over hate-filled rhetoric in the political sphere. According to Daniel Hernandez, the brave volunteer in Gabriel Zimmerman’s office who helped his boss amidst all the chaos-

“I think a lot of people are realizing that the political discourse has, for years, become completely destructive and more about tearing the other people apart instead of trying to work together to build up the nation and the state.”

Political analysts suggest that, while there are no obvious motives for the attack, the current theme in politics recently might easily give more people like Jared Lee Loughner the inspiration to resort to violence. Others are arguing for stricter gun control, an issue that has picked up momentum since the recent shootings.

As we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day on the 17th of this month, we need to take a minute to sit back and introspect on why we have become a nation whose politics are filled with spewing hatred and fear. Taking a cue from Martin Luther King’s own life, struggles and politics, it is time to look forward and strive for a public discourse that is open and civil. President Obama, in his memorial address at Tucson, has also called for an end to the constant barrage of accusations and hatred against each other by all political actors-

…at a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who think differently than we do – it’s important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds.

Instead of starting a blame game, which inevitably leads to more word wars, why not celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day this year with a renewed fervor for civility? In an effort to counter the hatred on the political arena in the country, people have called for organized movements to bring back civility in political and public discourse. The Anti Defamation League has launched ‘Restore Civility,’ a call for a more respectful political debate. Another project to follow is the “History of Hate, Future of Progress” Story Collection Project, started by Alto Arizona, asking people to uncover stories of intolerance, hate speech and violent rhetoric in their own community.

In addition to remembering those we have lost, there is lots to do this Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Celebrate the spirit and courage of the man who continued in his struggles without resorting to political hatred, rancor or anger, despite facing stiff opposition along the way.

Besides the annual MLK Day parades in almost every major city in the country, here is a list of events you can attend to show your support for a more “civilized” public sphere!

Arizona
Those living in the metro Phoenix area can celebrate Martin Luther King and the diversity that is this country by attending the Celebration Festival at the Mesa Arts Center. Come for live entertainment, food booths, medical screenings, a job fair and vendors.

New York
Lets teach our children tolerance, respect and an understanding of diversity and equality. Raising Citizens is a weekend-long Martin Luther King, Jr. Festival at the Children’s Museum. Kids experience discussions of Dr. King’s life and teachings, craft projects, and performances by the world-famous Harlem Gospel Choir.

Washington DC
Student sit-ins, roundtable discussions, drama, and music- at The National Museum of American History’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday Family Festival you can be part of an inspirational tribute to the life and work of Dr King.

Los Angeles
Cheer on young volunteers as the City Year Corps Volunteers head to Thomas Edison Middle School to give the school a makeover on Jan. 17. From 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., volunteers will paint rooms, a mural, and landscape, and beautify the campus.

Boston
Boston is celebrating Martin Luther King by hosting a free tribute concert at Faneuil Hall Boston. Join the Boston Mayor’s Office of Arts, Tourism & Special Events, the Museum of African American History and the Boston Youth Symphony Orchestras (BYSO) in remembering a great man, and listen to poet and activist Nikki Giovanni who will deliver the keynote speech.

Chicago
Northwestern’s Chicago Campus will be hosting Eboo Patel, founder and president of the Interfaith Youth Core, for a talk on spiritual symbols and frames of reference for unity in light of what Dr King thought about pluralism.

As Jon Stewart aptly put it:

Wouldn’t it be a shame if we didn’t take this opportunity, and the loss of these incredible people, and the pain that their loved ones are going through right now, wouldn’t it be a shame if we didn’t take that moment to make sure that the world that we are creating now, that will ultimately be shattered again by a moment of lunacy, wouldn’t it be a shame if that world wasn’t better than the one we’d previously lost?

Lets hope for a better tomorrow.

Photo courtesy of iill.net

How is 2011 faring so far? Ethnic studies and the 14th amendment

At this moment it is very hard to focus on anything but the tragic incident that marked the beginning of this year when a man in Tucson, Arizona opened fire on a public meeting killing 6 people and gravely injuring 14 others last Saturday. While this tragedy cannot be undone, there are a number of issues around which we can hope for some positive developments in 2011.

In Arizona, the first week of 2011 saw all classes in the Tucson Unified School District’s Mexican-American ethnic studies program being declared illegal by the State of Arizona, in accordance with a state law came into effect on January 1st. Tom Horne, Arizona’s newly elected Attorney General, declared the program illegal on account of it allegedly teaching Latino students that are being mistreated, and encouraging the students to become activists for their race. In the capacity of State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Horne had written the law challenging the ethnic studies program last year. The bill, HB 2291, was passed by the State Legislature in April and signed into law by Gov. Jan Brewer in May of 2010. Defending his latest action deeming that the Tucson district’s Mexican-American program was not in compliance with state standards, (while allowing similar programs for black, Asian and Native America students to continue) Horne said that “They teach kids that they are oppressed, that the United States is dominated by a white, racist, imperialist power structure that wants to oppress them.” Under the law, Tucson would stand to lose 10 percent of its state education funds if the classes are not discontinued, amounts to nearly $15 million.

According to Augustine F. Romero, director of student equity in Tucson schools, the debate over the ethnic studies program demonstrates the strong anti-Latino sentiment in the state, and highlights the pressing need for such programs to continue to exist, giving the students a chance to be proud of their heritage. Mr. Romero posed the question in an interview with the New York Times-

Who are the true Americans here — those embracing our inalienable rights or those trying to diminish them?

In an even deeper affront to inalienable American values, on January 5th, a coalition of legislators from over 14 states announced a plan to join together in a state compact and deny citizenship rights to the children of undocumented immigrants. The compact, clearly motivated by anti-immigrant feeling, is designed to challenge the 14th amendment to the U.S. constitution which states that those born in the United States will be considered U.S. citizens, irrespective of race, class or creed. This was closely matched by Rep. Steve King’s introduction of legislation H.R. 140 before the new session of Congress, aimed to take away the citizenship of children born in the U.S. to parents who were undocumented.

The state compact is being led by Senator Russell Pearce of Arizona, the state Senator best known for introducing the controversial and harsh anti-immigrant law, SB1070 in 2010. The legislators that introduced the plan unveiled a plan that seeks to take birthright citizenship, which is a Federal issue, into state hands by establishing state citizenship laws that deny citizenship rights to those born to parents who are undocumented, and then developing a compact between the various states by which the laws are upheld in all those states. The group claims that their model state legislation aims to halt the “misapplication of the 14th amendment,” which they say is sapping taxpayers funds and attracting further immigration to the U.S. Ultimately, the goal of the coordinated state-level strategy is to force the Supreme Court to take up the issue.

The plan is a joint effort of anti-immigration legislators like Russell Pearce and Kansas Secretary of State-elect Kris Kobach, and State Legislators for Legal Immigration, an anti-immigration group of lawmakers which had representatives from Alabama, Arizona, Delaware, Idaho, Indiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Texas and Utah. Senator Pearce told the Washington Times-

I’m not stopping until the problem is solved, and clearly the problem is not solved. The cost is destroying this country, and it can no longer be ignored…The 14th Amendment was never intended to be applied to illegal aliens. They [the sponsors] specifically said it didn’t apply to foreigners or aliens. That amendment belongs to the African-Americans of this country. It’s their amendment.

Critics are suggesting that in fact, the proposal is completely unconstitutional and deliberately misunderstands the 14th amendment. By suggesting a two-tiered system of citizenship by which those who are born to parents who are undocumented receive different birth certificates than those who are born in the U.S. to parents who are legal residents, the compact goes against the fundamental values of the constitution. Elizabeth Wydra, writing for Politico, sums it up clearly-

The 14th Amendment, which was drafted and ratified against a backdrop of prejudice against newly freed slaves and various immigrant communities, was added to the Constitution to place the question of who should be a citizen beyond the politics and prejudices of the day. The big idea behind the 14th Amendment is that all people are born equal, and, if born in the United States, are born equal citizens — regardless of color, creed or social status. It is no exaggeration to say that the 14th Amendment is the constitutional embodiment of the Declaration of Independence and lays the foundation for the American Dream. Because of the 14th Amendment, all American citizens are equal and equally American. Whether one’s parents were rich or poor, saint or sinner, an American child will be judged by his or her own deeds.

As long as the Federal government avoids enacting a comprehensive reform of the existing immigration system and dealing with an issue that is in their jurisdiction, restrictionists will continue to introduce laws that threaten the fabric of the United States. At the start of this year, as we hope that Rep. Giffords recovers her health, we must recall the values of equality, dignity and respect that are intrinsic to the strength of this country and remember that when we deny human rights to some, we jeopardize the rights of all.

Photo courtesy of colorlines.com

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State must enact anti-profiling laws

Guest blogger: Azadeh Shahshahani from the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia

When I testified before the Special Joint Committee on Immigration Reform, a committee of 14 Republicans convened to draft legislative proposals for the upcoming legislative session, I reminded them about the continued obligation of Georgia under international human rights law to protect and preserve the human dignity of all people regardless of immigration status.

As documented by the ACLU of Georgia, racial profiling and other human rights violations against immigrants or those perceived to be noncitizens continue in Georgia. In Gwinnett County, many Latinos have been stopped without reasonable suspicion or probable cause by the police in their cars or on the street.

Juan Vasquez, a legal permanent resident who lives in Sugar Hill, reports having been stopped and harassed by police on multiple occasions for no apparent reason. On one occasion, rather than tell Vasquez why he was pulled over, the officers screamed at him for asking questions before releasing him without any citation. Vasquez now avoids certain areas of Sugar Hill where he has come to expect harassment by the police.

Prompt action by the state is necessary to combat racial and ethnic profiling in Gwinnett and Georgia. The Legislature should pass anti-racial profiling legislation to give law enforcement agencies, policymakers and the public the tools necessary to identify and address the problem of racial profiling in the state. Data collection about traffic stops is an important supervisory tool. You can’t manage what you don’t measure. Annual training for law enforcement regarding racial profiling will also help ensure that stops and arrests are undertaken in a fair manner.

The Georgia Legislature should also carefully consider all the proposed bills in the upcoming session to ensure that they are consistent with the Constitution and our international human rights obligations, as reaffirmed by both Republican and Democratic administrations. In February 2008, the Bush administration told the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination that “United States is in profound agreement with the committee that every state must be vigilant in protecting the rights that noncitizens in its territory enjoy, regardless of their immigration status, as a matter of applicable domestic and international law.”

Last month, the U.N. Human Rights Council (HRC) issued a set of recommendations for the U.S. to bring its policies and practices in line with international standards. The recommendations are the result of the first-ever participation by the U.S. in the Universal Periodic Review process, which involves a thorough assessment of a nation’s human rights record. State and local laws, such as Arizona’s SB 1070, that aim to regulate immigration and lead to racial profiling were examined and decried by the Human Rights Council.

One of the recommendations issued by HRC was for the United States to end racial and ethnic profiling by law enforcement, especially with respect to immigration. Harold Koh, the U.S. State Department legal adviser, stated in response to this recommendation that “we will leave no stone unturned in our effort to eliminate racial profiling in law enforcement.”

Georgia legislators should be wary of any measure similar to Arizona’s racial profiling law that would encourage law enforcement to stop people on the street based on how they look, rather than based on individualized suspicion or evidence of criminal activity.

Laws that promise to turn the state into “show me your papers” territory would violate the Constitution and human rights commitments and tarnish Georgia’s reputation as a state welcoming to new immigrants.

Photo courtesy of epier.com

Bloodshed in Arizona turns spotlight on political landscape of anger and hate

As Democratic Representative Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona battles for her life after an assassination attempt, the nation is trying to grapple with the violent tragedy that took the lives of 6 and wounded 14 people on Saturday morning, casting a dark shadow on the start of this year. On the morning of January 8th, while U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was meeting with constituents at a ‘Congress on Your Corner’ event at a local shopping center in Tuscon, a gunman opened fire on the gathering. Within seconds, Congresswoman Giffords was shot in the head at point blank range, along with 19 others including Christina Green, a 9-year old girl, Phyllis Schneck, a grandmother from New Jersey and 76-year old Dorwan Stoddard, who lived a mile from the grocery store.

A suspect was apprehended at the scene after two men pinned him to the ground and waited for the police to arrive. The suspect, 22-year old Jared Lee Loughner, has been charged with five federal counts on Sunday, including the attempted assassination of a Member of Congress, and the killing and attempted killings of four other government employees including John M. Roll, the chief federal judge in Arizona, who was killed, Gabriel Zimmerman, a Congressional aide, who was also killed, and Pamela Simon and Ron Barber, Congressional aides who were wounded. Mr. Loughner could face the death penalty if convicted.

Investigators found evidence at Jared Loughner’s residence in Southern Arizona to show that he had planned the attack on Gabrielle Giffords, including an envelope on which the words “I planned ahead,” “My assassination” and “Giffords” were written. In addition to a website linked to his name which contains anti-government writings, Mr. Loughner’s motives for committing the crime remain unclear. In spite of indications that Mr. Loughner is mentally ill, the tragic incident has quickly focused attention on the degree to which a political climate increasingly characterized by hate, fear and vitriolic rhetoric might be complicit in leading to a tragedy of this nature.

In a New York Times editorial written after the Arizona shootings, Paul Krugman refers to an internal report brought out by the Department of Homeland Security in April 2009 that warned of the violence that could accompany the growth of extremist rhetoric that was apparent in the political landscape. The last few years have also seen a growth in the numbers of threats against government officials. In 2010, following the health-care overhaul, Capitol Security officials had said that threats of violence against Congress officials, including death threats, harassment and vandalism, had tripled from the previous year. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, a strong and vocal supporter of heath-care reform had her district office door smashed with a bullet following the health-care vote. Judge John Roll, who was killed on Saturday, had received thousands of threatening messages and phone calls after he had allowed undocumented immigrants to proceed with a case in which a rancher had assaulted 16 Mexicans who had crossed through his land.

While it would be misguided to directly attribute the Loughner’s violent actions to the surge of inflammatory language characterizing politics and media, it is important to understand that there are real consequences to framing political discourse through violent rhetoric. The extent to which hateful and angry rhetoric has made its way into mainstream politics was evident in 2010, during the debate around Arizona’s harsh anti-immigrant law, SB1070, and during the 2010 mid-term elections, where campaign ads openly promoted hate and divisive sentiments. In March 2010, former Alaska governor Sarah Palin announced a target list of Congressional candidates to be defeated in the 2010 midterm election. Launched through her personal profile on Facebook, Palin’s “Don’t get Demoralized. Get Organized. Take Back the 20” campaign was symbolized by a map of the country which had crosshairs over the districts represented by candidates that she wanted defeated. Ms. Giffords, who was among the candidates marked on this map, had expressed her concern about it at the time-

We’re on Sarah Palin’s targeted list. But the thing is the way that she has it depicted has the cross hairs of a gun sight over our district. When people do that, they’ve got to realize there’s consequences to that.

At a press conference about the shootings on Saturday, Pima County Sheriff Clarence W. Dupnik spoke about the “vitriol” that characterized political discourse. Saying that it was time for the country to do a little “soul-searching” he said-

The anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous. And unfortunately, Arizona, I think, has become sort of the capital. We have become the mecca for prejudice and bigotry.

There is never an explanation for senseless acts of violence such as this that take the lives of innocent people. While Saturday’s shooting can be seen as an isolated action of a mentally ill individual, it can also be seen as emblematic of a political landscape that is angry, divisive, intolerant and eliminationist. Can this tragic incident become the pivotal turning point towards a more humane and peaceful political discourse?

Photo courtesy of examiner.com