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Why the “war on women” is bigger than you think.

Imagine this scenario: you feel safer staying with your abusive husband than you do calling the cops to report him.

For many immigrant women in Alabama and elsewhere, that scenario is reality. The escalating “war on women” has —- rightly —- sparked broad outrage and urgent action to protect human rights in the United States.

Now let’s make sure we continue to fight, side by side, for the fundamental human rights of all U.S. women —- including immigrant women, documented or otherwise.

A team from Breakthrough, led by president and CEO Mallika Dutt, is headed to Birmingham, Alabama today with the We Belong Together delegation of activists and thought leaders who are working to protect and promote the rights of immigrant women.

Alabama’s HB56, enacted last June, is regarded as the nation’s strictest anti-immigrant law. It permits —- in fact, encourages —- racial profiling by police of anyone even suspected of being undocumented, with results that devastate families, the local economy, the state and, potentially, the soul of our nation. Breakthrough will be there with our video cameras and social media streams to expose the human rights violations targeting women and families on our own soil —- and to amplify the collective call for dignity, equality, and justice for all.

Please follow Mallika Dutt on Twitter (@mallikadutt) for on-the-ground updates, starting late this afternoon. And please join Breakthrough in Alabama on Facebook,Twitter and Foursquare to stand up for the human rights of all women.

The Breakthrough Team

Freedom University: Undocumented College Students in Georgia Forced to Attend Underground School

Crossposted from Democracy Now-

As Georgia votes in its Super Tuesday primary, the state Senate has voted to ban undocumented immigrant students from all public universities. Undocumented students from Georgia are already barred from the state’s five most competitive schools and must pay out-of-state tuition at other state schools. “Telling us that we cannot obtain higher education, that we cannot go to college or community college, even if we work hard and do our best in school, it is crushing dreams, it is crushing goals,” says Keish Kim, an undocumented student from South Korea who now attends Freedom University, an ad hoc underground school in Athens, Georgia, where university professors volunteer to teach undocumented students kept out of public classrooms. We also speak with Azadeh Shahshahani, director of the National Security/Immigrants’ Rights Project at the ACLU of Georgia.

 

Karma’s immigration story: “Life in New York was no crystal staircase”

From our awesome intern, Karma D., from Flushing International High School. See her on our Tumblr and on our I AM THIS LAND story-telling project.

I am a girl from the faraway lost land of Tibet. I ran with my parents, older brother and my small baby brother resting in my mom’s warm womb in search of freedom and a better life. I am a girl who struggled to find her own identity especially after knowing my birth country is now a place that cannot be reached or seen. In search of independence and better opportunity, I came to America with very limited English but with great hope. I also carried the blessings of my grandparents from Tibet and the memories of my loved ones from Nepal and India throughout the journey.

My feet landed in this foreign land of liberty in 2006. It took me years to realize that life in New York was no crystal staircase, that there weren’t trees and leaves made of money, nor was there the easy independence that my fellow Tibetans and I had been searching for. I struggled every morning to wake up because I wasn’t use to the timing, then I would try to get on the yellow bus on time. I made sure my brother and I sat on the front seats, so the other students might not make fun of us. We looked different from them.

For an immigrant like me, whose mom was jobless for three years due to her lack of English, and whose dad worked in a Sushi store for eight years, constantly fearful of not being able to support my two brothers and me, the United States was more struggle than freedom. My life turned 180 degrees. At the age of thirteen, I realized I had to step up and contribute to my family financially, and I’ve been working ever since.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Mitt Romney’s line on “self-deportation” got a laugh from the audience at a Florida debate last week, but as thousands in Alabama, Arizona and elsewhere know — there’s nothing funny about it. Self-deportation is Romney’s euphemism of choice for an enforcement strategy that attempts to make daily life intolerable for undocumented immigrants living in the U.S., turning the routine aspects of each day — attending school, driving a car, paying utility bills — into sites of monitoring, fear and profound suffering. And that’s the story NPR’s This American Life set out to tell last weekend with their feature on the attrition through enforcement strategy’s poster policy: Alabama’s HB 56. Reporter Jack Hitt speaks with families, community members, small business owners and local politicians as they struggle with the far-reaching consequences of the new law. Some of what you hear — such as Republican State Senator Gerald Dial’s remorse over signing the bill — might surprise you. The media blitz and non-stop punditry about immigration can often obscure the basic facts about laws like Alabama’s HB 56: they hurt people. Real people. Every day. That’s why it’s critical that we continue to tell the stories that we do — because self-deportation can’t be a punch line when there are real lives at stake. via twitter →

Meet Mansimran

Meet Mansimran. He’s an 18 year old all-American guy who likes Starbucks, hoops, and robotics. He’s a student, an older brother, and an active member of his Sikh religious community. Sometimes, when strangers see his turban, and the color of his skin, they lean out their car window and call him a “terrorist.”

He’s not alone: especially since September 11, Sikh Americans and other communities have become targets of discrimination, racial profiling and bullying, and hate crimes. Counterterrorism measures have inflamed fear, fostered an atmosphere of distrust and even violated human rights. Ten years later, members of many immigrant communities continue to be viewed as suspects by law enforcement, to encounter hatred and violence, and be subjected to bias at the workplace and bullying in schools. One survey found that, even 6 years after the events of 2001, 75% of Sikh male schoolchildren in New York had been teased or harassed on the basis of their religious identity.

How does Mansimran respond? “My response is, ‘Come over here, sit down, I’ll tell you about Sikhism, I’ll tell you who I am,” he explains. He says in the video, “If I see somebody being mean to somebody else, I would protect that person. I would go up to the bully and be like, ‘Why are you doing this? What are you doing?’ I’m obliged by my religion..and my family — you know, don’t do the wrong thing, and stand up for the right thing.”

In 2011, Mansimran represented his community at the United Sikhs summit in Washington D.C, where he spoke to members of Congress about supporting Sikh human rights and dignity and respect across cultures.

Mansimran totally takes it in stride — but it shouldn’t be that way in the first place. We are all on the same team, after all — and we should take a page from Mansimran’s playbook by standing up against racial profiling and bullying, reaching out across differences, upholding human rights, and treating everyone around us with the American — and human-rights — values of dignity, equality, and respect.

You can stand with him — and against racist bullying — by getting to know him and sharing his video profile.

How to ACT:

SHARE this video with 10 friends on Facebook and Twitter to speak out for diversity and stand up against bullying. Post on Facebook, Twitter, and your other favorite social networking spaces.

LEARN about racial profiling and racial justice by visiting our ‘about’ section and following the hashtag #rfair.

DOWNLOAD and share the song “turBAN” by G.N.E. (It’s in the video, it’s awesome, and it’s free!).

Why? Because by sharing the video you are speaking out for racial justice and standing up to bullying.

Because we’re all on the same team.

(And because you won’t be able to get the song out of your head.)

A small step for immigration reform is a big step for family unity

Today the Obama administration announced a small but significant change to immigration law that will affect thousands of people and prevent the heartbreaking separation of families that takes place on a daily basis.

Currently, undocumented spouses and children of U.S. citizens have to leave the country before they can apply for visas that they are entitled to– in many cases, they are forced to stay away from their families for up to a decade due to a bar against returning to the U.S. for a minimum of 3 years. The new rule will allow undocumented spouses and children of U.S. citizens who are eligible for applying for adjusting their status to apply for a family unity waiver that will ensure that they can be reunited with their family in the U.S. soon after going to their home country to apply for their visa.

From the New York Times-

Now, Citizenship and Immigration Services proposes to allow the immigrants to obtain a provisional waiver in the United States, before they leave for their countries to pick up their visas. Having the waiver in hand will allow them to depart knowing that they will almost certainly be able to return, officials said. The agency is also seeking to sharply streamline the process to cut down the wait times for visas to a few weeks at most.

“The goal is to substantially reduce the time that the U.S. citizen is separated from the spouse or child when that separation would yield an extreme hardship,” said Alejandro Mayorkas, the director of the immigration agency.

While this is a small tweak to the immigration system and is not expected to go into effect for several months, once it does it will stop the devastating separation of thousands of children from their parents, something that has been taking place for too many years.

You can read more about the waivers at Reform Immigration for America’s blog.

Here’s what CBS and the Huffington Post had to say about the announcement.

Everyone’s talking about this development. Are you?!

Photo courtesy of cbsnews.com

 

Stories from the ground in Alabama – Standing Strong Against Discrimination

Guest blogger: Janet Murguia. President, National Council of La Raza. Crossposted from the Huffington Post. (Original blog was published on 12/22/11)

Last Saturday it was my privilege to speak to the thousands of participants at the “One Family, One Alabama: HB 56 Hurts All Alabamians” rally held on the steps of the state capitol in Montgomery, Alabama. The rallygoers were a rich mosaic of Alabamians from all walks of life representing every community in the state, as well as national immigrant and labor leaders. The rally was held to support the embattled Latino community in Alabama in the wake of the nation’s harshest anti-immigrant law, HB 56, and call for its repeal.

But just as importantly, what the speakers and attendees helped others to recognize that day was that HB 56 is not an immigration solution, but an all-out assault on the civil rights of every resident in the state of Alabama. That message was underscored by the presence of thousands of African Americans, including elected leaders, members of the clergy, and my good friend and colleague, NAACP President Ben Jealous.

I have been deeply moved by the support and commitment of the African-American community throughout our fight against HB 56. No community knows better than they do that HB 56 represents a serious leap backward to a dark time in Alabama’s past. Speaker after speaker made that point, not only with eloquence but also with knowledge born out of tragic experience.

Yet these speakers were also full of a hope that was born out of experience. State Senator Bill Beasley, a much respected legislator and a key leader in the opposition to HB 56, came up to me during the event and said that my remarks, “things can change, things will change,” resonated with him.

He told me not to give up hope by reminding me of Alabama’s own history. He noted that we were at that very moment standing on the same steps where the then immensely popular Governor George Wallace proclaimed in 1963, “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever,” which catapulted him to national folk hero status among those who opposed civil rights. Alabama at that time did much to shake, if not shatter, the hope of many in the civil rights movement that there would ever be progress.

But Senator Beasley has also witnessed that things can and do change. Just two blocks from where we were standing is the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, where 30 years after his infamous speech, former Governor Wallace went to ask the African-American community for forgiveness. And just recently, Mark Kennedy, Wallace’s son-in-law and the head of the Alabama Democratic Party, helped redeem his family’s legacy by unequivocally stating “justice now, justice tomorrow, justice forever,” in his swearing-in speech.

If George Wallace and his family could change their minds on the issue of civil rights and discrimination, so can the legislature and the current governor of Alabama on HB 56. There is no turning back from justice. With this in mind and with the unity that was on full display on Saturday, there is no doubt in my mind that we will prevail.

Photo courtesy of America’s Voice

 

DESERTED: The Human Rights Crisis On Our Soil

When I traveled to Arizona with Ishita to create Checkpoint Nation, I wrote:

It was the first time I had experienced the overwhelming size of the desert sky. The sunset was magnificent, and the endless stretch of cacti and desert rocks were lit up with the last pink moments of twilight. But the sunset’s beauty was overpowered by what I had seen in the rest of Arizona: men and women in shackles (feet chained to waist, waist chained to wrists), a morgue filled twice-over with John & Jane Does, a wall that divides families and ancient lands. From this view, the sunset had a whole different meaning: it marked the beginning of one more cold, waterless night for so many migrants forced to hide in the militarized desert.
Our video camera could hardly capture all that we saw, but we knew that this footage had to be shared with the world.

There is a human rights crisis on our soil that no one is talking about. Migrant men, women, and children are driven by extreme poverty to cross the U.S.-Mexico border — and dying for it. One one side of our border wall: flood lights, empty desert, and countless human remains. On the other: discarded water jugs, and empty desert. The border wall now stretches across Arizona in the easiest places to cross, so that migrants are purposefully funneled into the most treacherous conditions. The remains of over 6,000 human bodies have been found in the desert since militarized immigration policies started in the mid 1990s. And for every body discovered, there are many more not found — and innumerable families who will never know what happened. No matter your opinion on immigration reform, this is a crisis that all of us, as humans, are responsible for addressing — and ending. Join with Breakthrough: WATCH. SHARE. ACT.

For information on how to end this crisis on our border, visit Coalición de Derechos Humanos and No More Deaths.

VIDEO CREDITS: Directed, filmed and edited by Dana Variano with Ishita Srivastava; music by Denver Dalley; post-production audio by Hobo Audio. Produced by Breakthrough.

From the One Love Movement- A New Civil Rights Movement Starts in Alabama

Crossposted from the One Love Movement blog.

One Love Movement stands strong in solidarity with the Alabama Youth Collective, the National Immigrant Youth Alliance, Cesar and Fernanda Marroquin of DreamActivist Pennsylvania, and the 11 other leaders who were arrested on November 15th during a sit-in in front and inside of the Alabama State House in Montgomery. We are humbled by this righteous act of civil disobedience, and the will and hearts of the 13 people who took a stand in the name of Civil and Human Rights. Through an act to empower and break the cycle of fear in communities oppressed by unjust laws here in Alabama, these individuals empowered and broke our fear, and the fear of many others around the United States yesterday.

As members of the Philly community, people may wonder, why Alabama? With that, we remember Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from Birmingham Jail after he was arrested for civil disobedience, “I am in Birmingham because injustice is here.”

Alabama’s HB 56, the harshest anti-immigrant state legislation to date, was signed into law in June 2011. The law was written to deny undocumented immigrant families access to housing, work, education, public services, and even threatens access to utilities, such as gas and water. For example, it would require elementary and middle school administrators to report undocumented students to ICE. And violating ethics of racial equality, it would give local police the power to question and investigate people upon “reasonable suspicion” of being undocumented. Pieces of the law have been blocked or appealed in federal court on constitutional grounds. However, the introduction of the law in its original form has led to the isolation, fear, and oppression of an entire community of people. In a City and a State that has been historically known as the Cradle of Civil Rights, we know that HB 56, at it’s core, represents severe violations of those fundamental ideals.

In the spirit of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the Sit-ins of the Alabama State University students at Montgomery State Capitol, the Freedom Riders, the Selma-to-Montgomery March, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous speech, “How Long? Not Long!”, given from the State House steps in Montgomery on March 9, 1965 – we witnessed yesterday an act of pure courage and heart. As our communities have been so divided through labeling and isolation, this nonviolent direct action in the birthplace of the Civil Rights Movement, has re-centered our struggle to the values of family, unity, and human dignity.

“It’s time for all immigrant rights groups to stand up together. We are all in the same struggle. With the history of the Civil Rights Movement in Alabama, what they did here yesterday was necessary for us to move forward. I felt honored to witness such a powerful statement,” said Sokhom Touch, Organizer with One Love Movement.

Our thoughts and love are with Cesar and Fernanda, and all the other leaders who could now face deportation for being undocumented, as a result of standing up for us, for justice, and for the future of this movement. We watched them all be taken away by the police, standing proud and walking tall. We thank them deeply. #unafraid

“I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law…One day the South will know that when these disinherited children of God sat down at lunch counters, they were in reality standing up for what is best in the American dream…”

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Letter from Birmingham Jail
April 16, 1963

Please donate to the Bail Fund for the Alabama 13 here.

 

More stories from the ground in Alabama- Some Families Flee, Others Stay Behind and Live in Fear

Continuing the story of the Gonzales family in Birmingham, Alabama and how they have been impacted by HB 56. Previous posts include ‘Life after Alabama’s anti-immigrant law for an American family names Gonzales’ and ‘Singled out in Alabama schools.’

Guestblogger: Vesna Jaksic. Crossposted from the ACLU.

Since parts of Alabama’s anti-immigrant law, H.B. 56, took effect, many families have been fleeing the state in fear. Cineo Gonzales, an Alabama resident and a father of two, talks here about those who left in a hurry, including families with children who are American citizens.

“Their children are U.S. citizens and they are running away in their own country,” said Gonzales, a taxi driver who has been receiving calls from many panicked families.

 Others stayed behind, but their lives have been anything but normal. During a visit to Alabama last week, many families told me that they now live in constant fear and are scared to go to work, school or the grocery store. From small cities like Albertville to the capital of Montgomery and in between, many Hispanic residents said they are now afraid of getting stopped by the police because the law encourages racial profiling.

“When the law passed, I didn’t work for a week,” a landscape worker from Mexico told me. “I had fear because people said police will see your face and stop you, see you’re Latino.”

The worker, who lives in Montgomery and has been in Alabama for seven years, told me he tries to only drive to work now, and is even scared to do that.

“We work to live,” he said. “If we can’t work, we can’t eat and we can’t live.”

The law affects not only the undocumented, but many legal residents and citizens as well. One high school senior told me his three siblings — all U.S. citizens — are afraid they will be separated from their mother, who is an undocumented immigrant.

“My mom just bought a home in May and she really doesn’t want to move,” said the Birmingham area resident, who is 18. “She spent her whole savings trying to build this home for us.”

He was born in Mexico but has lived in the United States since he was a baby, most of it in Alabama. He is bilingual, gets good grades and has a part-time job after school.

“They brought me here since I was one month old,” he told me. “If I go back, I don’t know what I would do.”