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Restore Fair Immigration and Racial Justice

Over the past five years, Restore Fairness has built an incredible resource of award winning immigration videos, blog posts and take actions to restore fair immigration and racial justice. The campaign began as the aftermath of 9-11 set in with a steady decline in the human rights of all immigrants to the United States. Cruel anti-immigrant laws were denying basic due process to thousands of people, with particular impact on immigrant women and their families. Many policies also discriminated against people on the basis of national origin, race, religion, or citizenship. Immigrants bore the brunt of these with the U.S. government allowing sweeping enforcement practices, holding thousands in inhumane detention conditions, and deporting people without a fair trial, while people of color faced racial profiling and violations as suspects, defendants, and prisoners. Many families were separated from their children by indefinite or deportation, and others – especially in states such as Arizona and Alabama, where police checked the immigration status of anyone inviting “reasonable suspicion” of being undocumented — lived in fear of these threats, devastating their lives and communities.

Today, both President Obama and Congress have shown signs to pursue immigration reform. This a clear opportunity to turn the tide, stopping the harsh enforcement that has led to the highest levels of detention and deportation in years, with particular impact on immigrant women.

Learn about the issues, watch our award winning videos, host screenings, get informed, and add your voice. Make sure your voice counts. Because denying human rights and due process to some puts all of our freedoms at risk. This is a historic moment so be a part of it.

#ImHere for Immigrant Women. Are You?

For millions of immigrants, here — the U.S. — is home. But for many immigrant women, home is not safe. The last few years have brought a steady decline in the human rights of all immigrants to the United States. Our broken immigration system and cruel anti-immigrant laws have had particular impact on immigrant women and the families they’re raising. Many immigrant women are sole breadwinners — yet they earn 13 percent less than their male counterparts and 14 percent less than female U.S. citizens.

Many families have already been separated by deportation or indefinite detention, often without due process. Other parents and children — especially in states where police demand the papers of anyone inviting “reasonable suspicion” of being undocumented — live in fear of these threats, rarely leaving home at all. These laws also force women to choose between the threat of an abusive husband and the threat of deportation if they call the police. They send pregnant mothers to give birth in shackles with federal agents by their side. They trap women and LGBTQ people in immigrant detention centers under the constant threat of physical and sexual abuse. They drive parents to give power of attorney over their children to friends, neighbors and employers because the threat of deportation and indefinite detention is just too real. In fact, in the first six months of 2011, the U.S. deported more than 46,000 parents of U.S.-citizen children.

Does this feel wrong to you?

Do you believe in human rights for all?

Do you believe you can make a difference?

If so, let us know you’re here for, in support of, and in solidarity with, immigrant women.

Here are 3 quick things you can do:

1. UPLOAD A PHOTO of yourself on the #ImHere wall and join the growing number of women, men and young people in the U.S. and beyond who believe in human rights for all women. Check out the wall here: http://ow.ly/bKlar. First, print or write out a sign saying #ImHere. Second, take your picture holding up the sign. Third, upload the photo here: http://imherebreakthrough.tumblr.com/submit. (NOTE: You don’t need to have an account to upload.)

2. Post this on your Facebook page: Here’s a great way to show solidarity with immigrant women. Upload your photo onto your own, or your organization’s Facebook page and tag @Breakthrough.

 3. Tweet this out: #ImHere to support the rights of immigrant women. Are you? http://ow.ly/bKlar #waronwomen @breakthrough

Other ways to submit:

EMAIL: Send your photo to us at imhere@breakthrough.tv. Include your first NAME, CITY of residence, and TWITTER handle (if you have one) so we can follow you.

INSTAGRAM: Tag your photo #ImHere and share to Twitter and Facebook.

FACEBOOK: Post your photo to your timeline and tag our Breakthrough page. We’ll do the rest!

Thanks so much. Together we can build an America where all women, and their families, are safe in their homes and limitless in their dreams.

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.

 

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

While immigrant youth in Alabama flee, those in California celebrate the DREAM Act

Amidst horrific stories of the impact that Alabama law HB 56 is having on immigrant families, children, and workers, causing schoolchildren to stay home and resulting in a mass exodus of people from the state, pro-immigrant action on the part of California Governor Jerry Brown comes as a welcome piece of good news.

In a historic move, California Gov. Brown signed the second part of the California DREAM Act into law on Saturday, the 9th of October. As per this piece of legislation undocumented immigrants in California will be eligible to receive state financial aid and merit-based scholarships to attend California universities and community colleges. The legislation, AB 31, builds on a previous bill that was signed into law in July, which makes financial aid from private sources available to the undocumented students. The two laws are collectively known as the California Dream Act.

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Speaking of his decision to extend higher education to all students in California, Gov. Brown told the Los Angeles Times-

Going to college is a dream that promises intellectual excitement and creative thinking. The Dream Act benefits us all by giving top students a chance to improve their lives and the lives of all of us.’

Amidst criticism of Gov Brown’s decision, a group of students in California expressed their reactions to the passage of the law at a press conference in California on Monday. They chanted “undocumented and unafraid” and told their stories. Catherine Eusebio, an undocumented student from the Philippines and UC Berkeley senior who is involved with Asian Students Promoting Immigrant Rights through Education, said-

 I was in disbelief when the act passed. When I first set foot on this campus, it was love at first sight. But every night I would have to worry about paying for the next day.

After the federal version of the DREAM Act failed in the Senate last year, it is up to the states to follow in California’s footsteps and take a stand. While we celebrate the passage of the California DEAM Act and Latino Heritage Month, we acknowledge the value of opportunity in this country and remind ourselves of the American values of dignity, equality and respect for all.

As Americans, it is our responsibility to educate all children, regardless of immigration status. Anti-immigrant state laws such as HB 56 in Alabama are un-American as they create fear amongst communities, result in racial profiling, prevent children from going to school and workers from going to their jobs. HB 56 has triggered widespread fear among Alabama’s immigrant communities and set off nothing short of a humanitarian crisis. We need to stand in solidarity with the people of Alabama because when we deny human rights to some we put everyone’s rights at risk.

Photo courtesy of campusprogress.org

 

Communities speaking out against injustice targeted by ICE

On Saturday, September 17, early in the morning, a man in Shelbyville, Tennessee, woke up to find Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents in his bedroom. They had entered his home through an unlocked door and and took him into custody. The residents of Shelbyville are facing an unexpected, alleged, government backlash after a hearing held on September 12 by several nonprofits, where Latino residents testified against federal, state and local law enforcement authorities, accusing them of racial profiling and illegal detention. Representative from the U.S Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) were present at the hearings.

ICE also raided the homes and businesses of at least two people that had organized the hearing, sparking immigrant rights advocates to call for a federal investigation into the misconduct of the local authorities and ICE agents. While ICE denies that the raids were conducted in response to the hearings, Shelbyville residents and community advocates refuse to believe that there is no connection between their speaking out against the authorities and these ICE raids just five days later.

The community has reacted strongly to these developments, claiming that ICE’s goal is to intimidate the residents, especially the undocumented immigrants that live there. Bill Geissler, longtime Shelbyville resident and business owner, commented:

The real problem with these sorts of violations is that everyone needs to follow the law.  If ICE is going after immigrants who they suspect have broken laws, why aren’t they following guidelines that are intended to protect the civil liberties of Shelbyville residents?

Furthermore, the Rights Working Group and the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition have joined forces in sending a formal letter to the Office for Civil Rights and Liberties (OCRL) as well as the DOJ in Washington DC to protest these actions by ICE, and encourage national leaders to do something. In their letter to the OCRL (see PDF here), the advocacy groups state:

..These actions have spread fear throughout the Latino community, which feels targeted and increasingly under siege by law enforcement – whether it be ICE, state or local police. The result has been a severe chilling of speech in the community and increased fear of government agents. The Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties was in attendance at this forum for the purpose of listening to community concerns about civil rights abuses by state and local police and ICE. Days later, this same community was targeted by an immigration enforcement action leading to the chilling of free speech and further civil rights abuses.

The town of Shelbyville has been in the spotlight for some time especially because of director Kim A. Snyder’s compelling documentary, Welcome to Shelbyville. The film looked at the community at a crossroads, as the longtime African-American and White populations adapted to the rapidly growing Latino and Somali immigrant communities moving in. While exploring immigrant integration, the film unravels the interplay between race, religion and identity. As the film’s website states, “Ultimately, the story is an intimate portrayal of a community’s struggle to understand what it means to be American.”

This question of being American and the integration of immigrants is also the theme of Breakthrough’s latest video, Checkpoint Nation? Building Community Across Borders that sheds a light on post-9/11 racial profiling that has been mandated by laws such as Arizona’s SB1070. In particular, it tells the story of Maria, nine months pregnant, who was stopped along with her family by police for no discernable reason. What followed was a nightmarish situation as Maria went into labor and found herself giving birth to her son with immigration agents – and not her husband – by her side.

The video has been highlighted in a Huffington Post feature titled Undocumented Women Forced To Give Birth While Shackled And In Police Custody which looks at the stories of women who have been in similar situations to Maria and the ongoing climate of fear and inhumane conditions that is being perpetuated by law enforcement authorities. Mallika Dutt, president and founder of Breakthrough, said about the issue:

We talk about cops in other parts of the world, and we say ‘Oh, they don’t respect human rights,’ but where are we now? If something as important and sacred as someone giving birth can no longer be treated as human, where are we?

While law enforcement authorities must change their policies to end the unjust treatment of immigrants in communities across the country, some communities are taking their own steps to work towards unity and end discriminatory violence. In 2008, a series of attacks against Latino residents of Patchogue, New York and the murder of Marcelo Lucero, an Ecuadorian immigrant, shattered the community of the small town.

For two years after the murder, the town’s Mayor Paul Pontieri, the victim’s brother, Joselo Lucero, and Patchogue residents worked to heal the community and move forward as a unified and diverse group. This story is told in a poignant documentary, Not In Our Town: Light in the Darkness, that follows the healing process of the community to work towards a a community that respects its own diversity and doesn’t give way to divisive politics. The film premiered on PBS on September 21 and is also available for local screenings.

Comprehensive immigration reform is of utmost importance in our nation now so unjust and discriminatory actions like those committed by ICE and other authorities in Shelbyville and other communities are stopped. We must, as a nation, find a solution that works with immigrants in a dignified and humane way to mend a system that has been broken for a long time.

Join Restore Fairness today and lend your voice to the struggle for dignity, equality and justice.

Photo courtesy of standing-firm.com

National award honors three Arizona winners for immigrant rights

From our B-listed blog:

This came across our desk – check out this event today!

On Wednesday, September 28th, the Freedom From Fear Award will hold a reception from 5:30 to 6:30 pm at the Sheraton Downtown Phoenix to celebrate Arizona’s three winners of the award, which honors “15 ordinary people who have committed extraordinary acts of courage on behalf of immigrants and refugees—individuals who have taken a risk, set an example, and inspired others to action or awareness.” Arizona has more winners than any other state and was also represented on the Selection Committee by State Senator Kyrsten Sinema. Arizona’s winners are:

Erika Andiola, Leader of the Arizona DREAM Coalition (Mesa)
Jack Harris, Former Police Chief of Phoenix
Gene Lefebrve and Sarah Roberts of No More Deaths (Tucson)

The awards, produced by Public Interest Projects, were originally announced on June 18th at the Netroots Nation conference in Minneapolis. This is the first regional event to recognize winners. More information about the award and all the winners is available at www.FreedomFromFearAward.com.

Creative activism: when arts meet immigration reform

As the nation continues to grapple with the effects of a broken immigration system, artists across the country are doing their part to highlight the issue. Art can be a powerful medium to address many socio-political issues and artists often react to the circumstances around them. Art has also been a supportive space for people facing violations to tell their stories. And it’s also a great medium to raise awareness and make an impact. We were excited to look at a few examples of how artists have been contributing to the immigration reform movement, inspiring action and change.

One such artistic movement came in the form of The Sound Strike, a coalition of artists that are using their music and reach to work towards repealing Arizona’s controversial SB1070 law. The artists, which include M.I.A, Maroon 5, Rodrigo y Gabriela, Rage Against The Machine, Kanye West and many more, have pledged to work together to raise awareness and oppose the unjust treatment of immigrants in Arizona. Besides their aim of repealing SB 1070, The Sound Strike also works towards “galvanizing a new generation of ideas that reject the old ways of thinking while affirming that we are all equal.” (A similar movement of writers, called WordStrike, calls on writers to boycott the state of Arizona on the same grounds.) The Sound Strike has been assisting with fundraising for immigration reform organizations, raised awareness around the issue through their performances, and conducted press interviews to build opposition and engage fans in dialogue about moving towards a more just and equal society that treats immigrants fairly. Speaking about the movement as a “cultural interruption,” Gabriela (of Rodrigo y Gabriela) stated:

“As a band we consist of all immigrants and we know each other’s stories really well…we can’t really be down with any fear-creating laws…we have many songs about brutality of immigration process…these issues are not new, they have always been there.”

Check out a piece by Sound Strike titled ‘Evil Arpaio’, from the Sound Strike Radio:

Another artist using his work to fight the injustice of SB 1070 and the ongoing mistreatment of immigrants is Intikana, a Hip Hop/Spoken Word artist, activist and educator from the Bronx, New York. Intikana’s work with the immigration issue was most powerfully manifested in his music video titled “Arizona,” which he made in collaboration with fellow rapper Navegante. Made in response to SB 1070, Intikana and Navegante collaborated to make a video that combines a 5-minute short documentary about the life of Benito and Carmela, Mexican farm laborers in Immokalee, Florida and their deplorable working conditions. Working long hours without breaks and in inhumane conditions, the couple pick tomatoes in the fields to support their family. In their work, Intikana and Navegante point out the hypocrisy in the treatment of immigrants today considering the fact that the country was built by immigrants.

Watch the full video - Benito and Carmela’s story followed by the song by Intikana and Navegante:

Keeping with a similar theme of farm laborers, Shine Global, a film production company that focuses on ending the abuse and exploitation of children around the world, recently released and critically acclaimed documentary feature title ‘The Harvest.’ Directed by U. Roberto Romano and backed by executive producer, philanthropist and “Desperate Housewives” star Eva Longoria, the film tells “the story of the children who feed America.” These are the children of immigrants. According to the synopsis on the film’s website:

Every year more than 400,000 migrant child farmworkers in the US journey from their homes traveling from the scorching sun of the Texas onion fields to the winter snows of the Michigan apple orchards, from the heat of the Florida tomato fields to the damp cherry trees in Oregon. These children are American citizens.  All are working to help their families survive while sacrificing the birthright of childhood: play; stability; school.

Watch the trailer for “The Harvest” here and visit the website to learn more about the film and the issues.

Besides spoken word, music and film, other forms of art are equally powerful in immigration activism. Favianna Rodriguez is a well known printmaker and digital artist from Oakland, California. Rodriquez has come to be known for her high-contrast and vivid artwork that depict “literal and imaginative migration, global community, and interdependence.” Her work deals with war, immigration, globalization and social movements in an impressive portfolio of stylized posters for events and much more personal artwork. One of her most striking pieces is titled “El Reencuentro” (pictured above) from 2001. Describing the inspiration for the piece, Rodriguez says:

This piece is a very personal piece for me because it narrates the story of my mother’s experience as an immigrant. In 1970, only months after she had arrived from Peru, my mother became pregnant by an abusive alcoholic. Because she was homeless, the Department of Social Services took away her child at birth to turn him over to an adoption agency. With the language and cultural barrier, my mother could do very little. 31 years later, my brother came searching for his birth family and writes a letter to my mother requesting to meet her. They are reunited in 2003.

Like with Rodriguez’s work, the many tribulations faced by immigrants in the recent past over ever-toughening immigration laws have triggered a slew of artistic movements. Artists have been inspired to use their talents to call for change. Movements such as Alto Arizona provide a forum for artists to showcase their work in relation to fighting unjust immigration laws. Similarly, various artists have also reacted to the campaign to get the DREAM Act passed, combining art and activism to make potent images.

We end with a short rap by Humble the Poet, a Sikh rap and spoken word artist from Toronto, Canada. His music addresses a wide range of social issues, from immigration to religion to sexual abuse. He, just like all the other artists and work we have profiled here, as well as the many others that continue to blend art with activism, lends a strong voice to the movement for comprehensive immigration reform. We need a major overhaul of the system now more than ever, and these artists are able to reach out and raise awareness for this crucial issue confronting our nation today.

Watch the video for the rap titled ‘Life of an Immigrant’ by Humble the Poet or listen to the full track, with music (and expletives):

Photo courtesy of favianna.com

On the 235th birthday of the U.S., how do we “Define American?”

Over the last couple of weeks, developments in the immigration reform movement and the LGBTQI rights movement have opened up discussions of how one movement can learn from the other. New Yorkers celebrated the hard-won passage of the legalization of gay marriage, making the state the largest and most politically influential in the US so far to take the step forward. After the landmark passage of the law, other states (such as New Jersey and Rhode Island) are in the motion of enacting their own versions of the law.

The New York victory for the LGBTQI movement, coinciding with Pride Day and LGBT Pride Month, has sparked a discussion among the immigration reform movement over what can be learned from the successes of the other group. While the socio-political conditions of both movements are different, analysts have identified one major factor that contributed to the recent strides taken by the LGBTQI movement – making the issue personal for the legislators- that could be useful for other movements for human rights.

There are, of course, other, more obvious overlaps between the two groups as well. The recent case of Henry Velandia serves as a key example. Velandia, a Venezuelan salsa dancer, came to the US in 2002 and was legally married to his partner Josh Vandiver, a US citizen, last year in Connecticut. Velandia was then denied legal residency under the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which states that an American citizen can petition for legal residency for a spouse only if the spouse is of the opposite sex. Velandia faced deportation and only after repeated petitioning and opposition to DOMA, did the the immigration authorities cancel his deportation. Velandia and Vandiver’s lawyer, who won them the case, commented on the decision-

This action shows that the government has not only the power but the inclination to do the right thing when it comes to protecting certain vulnerable populations from deportation.

These links between the immigration and gay rights movements was also highlighted at the recent Freedom from Fear Awards that were announced on June 18 at the Netroots Nation conference in Minneapolis. One of the awards was given to Gaby Pacheco, Felipe Matos, Juan Rodriguez and Carlos Roa, the students who walked 1,500 miles from Miami to Washington, DC to move the government into passing the DREAM Act. The four students, two of whom (Matos and Rodriguez) are openly gay, went on the four month journey and garnered tremendous support – and some threats – along the way. Their campaign, called the Trail of DREAMs, caught the attention of President Obama and was also instrumental in the House of Representatives passing the DREAM Act in December 2010 before it was rejected by the Senate.

Freedom from Fear recognized several other, incredibly deserving, individuals for their dogged determination and fearlessness in working towards immigration reform, through grassroots campaigning, fighting discrimination, ending labor exploitation and much more. They also released a video showcasing all the winners from this year. One such worthy award recipient is Erika Andiola (from Phoenix, AZ). An honors student at Arizona State University, Andiola fell victim to Arizona’s draconian immigration laws when her scholarships were withdrawn because of her undocumented status. She has also been unable to find a job because of the same discrimination. Andiola joined Promise Arizona, a grassroots civic engagement group that works to train a new generation of leaders and also registers Latinos to vote. She is also campaigning for the DREAM Act, regularly approaching senior government officials to get her voice heard. Despite losing her scholarships, Andiola completed her degree and hopes to work as a school counselor one day.

The Freedom from Fear Awards give further impetus to the immigration movement, that has of late benefited from increased support and high-profile press coverage. On June 22, The New York Times published a completely unexpected confession from their Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Jose Antonio Vargas titled ‘My Life as an Undocumented Immigrant.’ The article, in which Vargas reveals his background, his unwavering American identity, and criticizes the immigration policy of the country, received widespread attention and gave the immigration reform movement its latest high-profile advocate. Vargas founded the organization, Define American, whose goal is to instigate a conversation around the many facets, including the moral questions, of the immigration debate. Vargas aims to publicize his story in the hope of encouraging the undocumented immigrants in the country to be more vocal and push legislators to pass comprehensive reform.

On June 28, the Senate held its very first hearing on the DREAM Act. In attendance were numerous DREAMers, including those who are now well known – such as Vargas – and those working tirelessly in their communities fighting to be accepted as Americans. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), who authored the original DREAM Act, said in his opening statement-

When I look around this room, I see the future doctors, nurses, scientists, and soldiers who will make this country stronger. I ask my colleagues to consider the plight of these young people, who find themselves in a legal twilight zone through no fault of their own. They are willing to serve our country, if we would only give them a chance.

Opponents of the DREAM Act always say they sympathize with DREAM Act students. They criticize the details of the bill, but they offer no alternative. Do they want these young people to be deported to countries that they barely remember? Or to continue living in the shadows?

The following day, President Obama renewed his promise to work towards comprehensive immigration reform, commenting specifically on the flaws of E-Verify, the mandatory background checking system that is being considered. Watch his remarks here:

Soon after, hundreds of DREAMers and their allies staged a symbolic graduation ceremony on Capitol Hill for the “Deportation Class of 2011.” With the slogan ‘Education, not Deportation,’ the DREAMers called on President Obama to fulfill his promise of getting the DREAM Act passed. Several DREAMers took to the podium to voice their calls for reform. They were also joined by Vargas, who spoke of the urgency to educate ordinary Americans about the cause and to publicize it more widely (an opinion that echoes the reasons for the success of the LGBTQI movement). With a statement that essentially summarizes the undeniable importance of immigration reform to the foundations of this country, Vargas ended with-

Americans don’t hate us…They just don’t know us. We need to show them that immigration is not about us, the 11 million undocumented immigrants. It’s about us, the 300 million Americans.

Photo courtesy of change.org

Momentum is building for immigration reform

Could the conversation about immigration finally be changing?

Following the Obama administration’s determination in February that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutionally discriminates against same-sex couples, Attorney General Eric Holder last week requested that the immigration appeals court consider granting legal residency to an Irishman in a civil union with an American man. A Newark judge also suspended the deportation of Henry Velandia of Venezuela– who is married to  American, Josh Vandiver– in order to allow time for the court and the Department of Justice to determine under what circumstances a gay partner might be eligible for residency. These recent steps are a welcome indication that the Obama administration is working toward a fair and just policy towards bi-national same-sex couples.

In 2009, Restore Fairness used the power of documentary to tell the story of one such family, who was facing separation because their domestic partnership wasn’t recognized under DOMA. The video gives a voice to Shirley Tan, who came from the Philippines decades ago and built a life with her partner Jay, giving birth to twin boys and becoming a full-time mother. When we spoke to her, Shirley faced the biggest challenge of her life as she fought to stay on in the United States, crippled by laws that do not allow gay and lesbian couples to sponsor their partners.

Watch the Restore Fairness video of Two Moms Fighting to Stay Together:

In another positive step for immigration, the state of Illinois last week became the first state to entirely opt out of the so-called “Secure Communities,” which requires local police to send fingerprints of all arrestees to federal immigration databases, with immigrants who are found “deportable” being directly pushed into the deeply flawed detention and deportation system. This costly program threatens to reduce trust between local law enforcement and communities, encourage racial profiling and separate families. However, despite Illinois Gov. Quinn’s decisive announcement, and increased resistance from states and police departments across the country, the Department of Homeland Security has said that they will not allow Illinois to withdraw. In another indication that partnerships between ICE and local law enforcement are on the increase, Georgia Governor Nathan Deal signed into law on May 13, an immigration bill that would give local police the authority to question suspects about their immigration status. This law, which is being compared to Arizona’s SB1070, could lead to decreased trust between local police and communities, and increase the occurrence of racial profiling. The law has been met with much criticism already. Jerry Gonzalez, executive director of the Georgia Association of Latino Elected Officials, reacted-

Today is a dark day for Georgia. Our concern stems from the very serious economic repercussions that will be felt against our state on numerous fronts and the very serious civil and human rights abuses that will also likely follow…

This trend of states being given greater control of immigration policies, which is actually a federal issue, signals a threat to the otherwise positive momentum in the immigration movement. Joining the opposition to the “Secure Communities” program 38 lawmakers earlier this week sent a letter to New York Governor Cuomo urging him to terminate Secure Communities in New York State. Religious leaders from many faiths, joined by advocates and community members, yesterday held a vigil outside Governor Cuomo’s Manhattan office, to request him to stop unjust deportations. Speakers at the vigil applauded Illinois for withdrawing from Secure Communities and urged New York to protect New York’s immigrant communities by doing the same. You too can take action against Secure Communities, contact your state Governor to help your state withdraw from the program.

In another update, Senator Durbin (D-IL) and Senator Reid (D-NV) yesterday introduced the DREAM Act in the 112th session of Congress. If passed, it could positively impact the lives of 2.1 million young people in the United States. Despite the regained impetus of the DREAM Act this year, the movement lost the support of its third and final Republican politicians. Senator Dick Lugar (R-IN) abandoned his previous support for the DREAM Act and joins Representative Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Senator John McCain (R-AZ) who have already denounced their support. Senator Lugar blamed President Obama’s increased politicization of the issue for his withdrawal, even though it seems he has made the decision because of a rising Tea Party challenger in the Primary. However, many feel optimistic about the renewed chances of the bill this year. The DREAM Act’s failure in Congress last December was a huge disappointment, but the movement, supported by President Obama, is only getting stronger. And with your support, we can take this step forward in ensuring that young people who have worked tirelessly to build their lives in America- and contribute to the society- enjoy the rights they deserve.

The passage of the DREAM Act would benefit people like Emilio, a young man who was brought to the U.S. by his parents at the age of six. Speaking about his American identity, the only one he has ever really known, Emilio said-

“I went through elementary, middle, and high school in North Carolina, and it is the only place that I call home.  I graduated from high school in 2010 as one of the top ten students in my class, as an honor student, an AP scholar with hundreds of hours of community service, and I was awarded a full-ride scholarship to my first choice university.  However, unless the broken immigration system is fixed, when I graduate from college in four years I won’t be able to use my college degree.  My dream is to give back to my community.”

Immediately prior to the re-submission of the DREAM Act in Congress came a speech by President Obama to border communities in El Paso, Texas earlier this week. Obama reiterated his commitment to fair and just comprehensive immigration reform. He expressed his support for the DREAM Act, for keeping families together, and for visa reform. While this is not the first time we have heard these commitments, there is no denying the positive momentum that is building toward preventing the injustices caused by a broken immigration system. When we deny fairness to some, we put all of our rights at risk. Join Restore Fairness in our commitment to telling stories, inviting conversation, and inspiring action that will help America move even further in the right direction.

We strongly believe in the power of using culture to change culture. We’re using our new Facebook game, America 2049, to weave human rights issues– especially racial justice and immigration– into each week of game play. As we continue to tell these stories in the hope of changing the conversation, we ask that you play America 2049, and join the dialogue and action that will move us forward.