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A Wish for the Holidays- Let’s Keep Families Together

Guestblogger: Chris Harley, National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum

Do you have a wish for this holiday season? I do. I wish that all families can stay together. That’s why I’m participating in A Wish for the Holidays, a campaign to gather 5,000 letters from kids asking our nation’s leaders to ensure that families stay together.

For me, holidays all boil down to spending time with my large extended family. Honestly, I don’t know how we all crowd into my Gramma’s 2-bedroom, one-story home, but most holidays, we manage to all squeeze in and enjoy a crazy day full of laughter, teasing, eating, and sharing. Like that one Christmas, when an innocent game of White Elephant gift exchanging turned into a chase around the house as my Aunt attempted to reclaim a new movie from her nephew.

In total, there are roughly 60 of us, including grandparents, aunts and uncles, kids, and great-grandkids. We come from all different backgrounds, religions, political views, and walks of life. We’re also a uniquely mixed-race family full of boisterous personalities. And every time we get together, despite all of our differences, I know that we embody the value of what it means to be a family.

This is why it breaks my heart to think of families and children who will spend this holiday season missing those who aren’t there with them. Recently, the We Belong Together effort led a delegation of women leaders to Atlanta, Georgia. Our goal was to listen to the experiences of women and children in Atlanta who have been impacted by Georgia’s new “papers please” law. This law makes it a state crime for an undocumented immigrant to live in the state and allows law enforcement to ask for documentation of anyone they “suspect” of being undocumented. The overarching fear from this, and similar state laws, is the risk of widespread racial profiling and abuse. So we went to Georgia to hear what was happening, and the stories we heard were heartbreaking.

Alicia spoke about her daughter, who suffers from a condition that causes her to have convulsions since she was one years old. Since Alicia doesn’t have a driver’s license, she only risks driving when she must rush her daughter to the hospital. Can you imagine what it means to be a mother whose only thought is to make sure her child is safe, and the most dangerous thing she can do is to risk driving to the hospital because if she were to be stopped by the police, she could be arrested and separated from her child?

Another woman, Claudia told us about the extreme abuse that her husband subjected her and her son to. Once he even chased them around their neighborhood with a knife until a neighbor called the police. Yet, because Claudia doesn’t have the right documents, she was deported and forced to leave her son with his abusive father until she could make her way back into this country and reclaim him. Can you imagine her terror and her son’s fear during that year of separation?

Unfortunately, we now know that those stories are no longer isolated incidents. The recently released “Shattered Families”, report documents just how devastating the impacts of enforcement-only immigration policies have on families. There are now at least 5,000 children in the American foster care system who are being prevented from being reunited with their detained or deported parents and this number is expected to exceed 15,000 in just five (5) years. Moreover, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention obstructs the ability for parents to participate in Child Protective Services’ family unification plans, and can result in detained parents actually losing their parental rights.

Are these the “family values” that we want this country to embody? What happened to caring about the children, who are our future?

We need to tell our country’s leaders that these policies, that tear families apart and leave children alone, isolated, and separated from their parents – who only wanted them to have a brighter future -  that these policies don’t work. That’s why We Belong Together, has launched the “A Wish for the Holidays,”  campaign where we are asking our kids, our future, to tell today’s leaders to keep families together! Our goal is to collect 5,000 letters that can be delivered on Human Rights Day, to elected leaders in DC and remind them that it’s the holidays, and families belong together.

Please help us collect letters from children and youth.  Go to WeBelongTogether.org/wish, pledge to write letters, and then get started using the tools available online.  Remember that letters need to be mailed in by November 30.

Thank you and happy holidays!

 

Singled Out in Alabama Schools

Guestblogger: Molly Kaplan. Crossposted from the ACLU

A New York Times editorial this weekend calls out Alabama’s attorney general, Luther Strange, for stonewalling the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) attempt to look into possible civil rights violations since Alabama’s anti-immigrant law went into effect. The DOJ, following up on reports that students were being bullied in the classroom and that parents were keeping their children out of school, asked 39 superintendents for information on student absences and withdrawals since the start of the academic year. To this, Strange said no, challenging the DOJ’s legal authority to investigate.

While the DOJ starts its investigation, the ACLU has been on the ground since September when the law went into effect, tracking the impact of the law on farms, families and schools. What we’re finding, particularly in schools, is evidence of racial profiling and discrimination.

In a video released today, Cineo Gonzales, a Birmingham taxi driver, recounts how — in front of the entire class — his daughter, along with one other Latino student, received a Spanish-language pamphlet explaining the law. When Gonzales asked why the teacher gave the document to his daughter, the principal told him that they only gave the document to children who looked like weren’t from there.

Gonzales’ daughter was born in Alabama. She follows Alabama college football, is an A student and dressed up as a good witch for Halloween. Gonzales’ daughter was racially profiled — an occurrence that has become too common in the wake of this law.

We will continue to report our observations and findings on the ground in Alabama. For further resources and information on the impacts of HB 56 in Alabama, check  www.aclu.org/crisisinAL.

Immigration and Detention: Women’s Human Rights Across Borders

Cross- posted from our Bell Bajao blog. Written by Eesha Pandit, Breakthrough’s Women’s Rights Manager

As she went into labor Juana Villegas was shackled to her hospital bed. Living in Tennessee, she gave birth while in custody. She had been pulled over while driving and taken to jail when the officer discovered that she did not have a valid drivers license as was undocumented. She went to prison, where she went into labor. Her ankles were cuffed together on the ride to the hospital and once there, Juana begged the sheriff to let her have at least one hand free while in labor. She was denied.

Watch Juana’s story:

In another instance, Maria, also undocumented, was more than 8 months pregnant and on the road with her husband and two US born children when they were pulled over by a police officer in Tuscon, Arizona.

Tuscon police spokesmen claimed in an interview with the Huffington Post, that the family had been stopped as part of a “random license plate check,” which indicated that insurance on the vehicle was suspended. When Maria’s husband did not have a valid driver’s license and admitted to being in the United States without documentation, the authorities called the Border Patrol.

Maria asserts that her water broke when she was roughly pushed into a Border Patrol car. She soon went into labor and was not allowed to be with her husband as she gave birth and he was deported within the week. Inside her delivery room with her were two armed Border Patrol agents.

Watch Maria’s story:

These women, living miles apart, share an experience of giving birth while in custody. It is an experience shared by more and more women in the United States and around the world. In the US specifically, incarcerated women, particularly those who are undocumented, face a vast set of barriers to accessing health care, as do their children and families. What do Maria’s and Juana’s experiences show us?

They show the additional points of vulnerability faced by women who are immigrants and refugees. They are at greater risk to experience violation of their human rights either at the hands of others in the community or at the hands of the state, because they often live outside the protections afforded by citizenship. Yet another border is created around them. This border keeps civil society protections just out of reach. Their very identity is criminalized leaving them no recourse for justice.

In another illuminating example, immigrant and refugee women, like all women, face the risk of domestic violence. But their status as immigrants or refugees often means that they face a tougher time escaping abuse.  They often feel trapped in abusive relationships because of immigration laws, language barriers, social isolation, and lack of financial resources. They worry about what will happen if they go to the police. Will they be sent away? Will their families be torn apart? Will they have any financial resources available to them? How will they survive?

These challenges facing immigrant women are particularly acute for women who are undocumented. How can an undocumented woman who is considered a criminal by simply being in the US appeal the government to uphold her human rights? As it turns out, this is exactly the tough spot that we put undocumented people in. And it is exactly the reason that human rights should be afforded to everyone regardless of their citizenship status, in the US and everywhere else in the world.

No one should have to deliver their child while cuffed to a hospital bed, or be forced to deliver their baby in the presence of armed guards. Yet this is what happened to Juana and Maria, and countless other women in the US and around the world. Their stories show us something very important: Borders shift. Citizenship policies change. But human rights must remain constant.

Take action! Encourage your representatives to support the International Violence Against Women Act, which calls for a comprehensive U.S. response to end violence against women and girls globally.
Photo courtesy of bellbajao.org