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From Alabama: “We stand in solidarity with our sisters, and all immigrant women around the nation”

We are currently in Alabama with the We Belong Together delegation of activists and thought leaders who are working to protect and promote the rights of immigrant women. Read more about our trip here and a statement from the ground below:

WE BELONG TOGETHER WOMEN’S HUMAN RIGHTS20120321_mfw_wbt_al_509
DELEGATION STATEMENT

Together, we are a diverse group of women leaders representing national advocacy communities. We represent faith-based, legal, human rights, worker rights, civil rights, immigrant rights, children advocate and reproductive justice organizations. We have traveled from throughout the country to come together with our sisters here in Birmingham, Alabama – the battleground of the civil rights movement – to bear witness to the impact of the harshest anti-immigrant law in the US – HB56.

Last night we listened to the stories of Jocelyn, Trini, Tere, Elvia, Araceli, Jovita, Maricela:
• The story of a 14-year old girl left alone in Alabama, the only home she’s ever known, when her parents were forced to leave for Mexico – a courageous young woman who has become an outspoken youth leader in the movement for immigrant rights.
• The story of a survivor of domestic violence who worries that because of HB56, other women facing life-threatening abuse will be unable to liberate themselves as she bravely did.
• The story of a mother who lived through the upheaval and displacement of a tornado, who told us that her family was “barely renewing their lives” when HB56 plunged them into chaos again.
• The story of a mother who came for a life-saving heart surgery for her son only to learn, that under HB56, her son may be unable to access follow-up surgery and care he desperately needs.
• The story of a woman who has repeatedly been harassed and terrorized by police, whom she once trusted, but now whose racial profiling and corruption has been legitimized by HB56.
• The story of a mother with a disabled child who fears separation from her son each and every day as she faces the threat of deportation.
• And the story of a woman who told us of her love for Birmingham and for her only son, but who now fears being deported to a country where there is no work for her or future for her child.

The common bond among these women is the dream for a better life for themselves and their families and the right to live without fear. The sacrifices that these women have made for the well-being of their families, to earn a living to support those families, to obtain life-saving health care for their children, are the same sacrifices that generations of women have made in coming to this country to provide for the ones that they love. Moreover, the women who shared their stories with us made it clear that the ability to stay in Alabama is, in many cases, a matter of life and death. The reality is that for these women, the decision to leave or to stay here in their homes is an impossible weighing of unthinkable risks. We listened with empathy and compassion to the stories of fear, psychological abuse, and torment that are representative of the experiences of immigrant women and children in Alabama. Woven throughout these stories is the spirit of resiliency, courage, empowerment, and most importantly – love. As Trini told us, “If we were going to stay, we were going to act!”

That is our pledge: that we, too, will act to fight HB 56 and all other anti-immigrant, anti-family laws. We cannot have a democracy if any group is denied basic human rights and access to basic human needs. Today, we stand in solidarity with our sisters, and all immigrant women around the nation, by pledging to hold these stories in our hearts. We pledge to bring these stories back to our communities, to share them with our constituencies, and to use these stories to educate our nation’s decision-makers. In turn, we call upon everyone who values human rights and social justice to join our courageous sisters in Alabama who are fighting for the right to live with dignity, humanity, and justice. Stand with us and stand with our sisters to support the repeal of HB56, fight the spread of racist anti-immigrant policies, and uplift our shared humanity, and the dream for a brighter future.

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 →

This teen a “terrorist”? Really?

From Breakthrough president and CEO Mallika Dutt:

Like a lot of teenagers you may know, Mansimran who’s featured in our new video, is a basketball-loving, Starbucks-drinking, robotics-studying all-American guy. It shouldn’t surprise you that he’s funny, grounded and charming. It should surprise you that sometimes, when strangers see his turban and the color of his skin, they lean out their car windows and call him a “terrorist.” It should surprise you, but it probably doesn’t. Because of course, Mansimran is not alone.

Where do young people get the idea that that kind of bullying is okay? Well, these days, it’s hard to miss. In the decade since September 11, South Asian, Arab, Muslim, and Sikh communities have become targets of race- and religion-based bullying — to say nothing of discrimination, racial profiling and unlawful detention and deportation and other human rights violations. And everywhere from policy to pop culture, mixed messages about who counts as a “real” American have created a climate of ignorance at best and fear at worst. Just last month, home-improvement mega-chain Lowe’s pulled its advertising from TLC’s “All American Muslim” after the Florida Family Association accused the show of subverting “American liberties and traditional values.” Ask Mansimran about his values — as a Sikh and an American — and this is what he’ll tell you: “If I call myself an American then I should be accepting to every culture there is. I should be welcoming to everybody, no matter what.”

Mansimran instinctively understands what so many others seem to miss. Dignity, equality and justice are American values. Our laws, leadership and culture should reflect that. And so should we. By bringing human rights values in to our smallest interactions and daily lives, we can help stop bullying. Mansimran takes it in stride, but it shouldn’t happen in the first place. We should take a page from Mansimran’s playbook by standing up against racial profiling and racially-motivated bullying, reaching out across differences, and treating everyone around us with respect. We are all on the same team, after all.

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.