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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.”

Let Children Learn — In Alabama and Beyond

Guestbloggers: Azadeh Shahshahani, National Security/Immigrants’ Rights Project Director with the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia,  and Daniel Altschuler, a political scientist and free-lance journalist.

True or false: No child in this country can be denied a public education. The answer is true, thanks to the Supreme Court’s 1982 Plyler v. Doe decision, which held that schools could not exclude children based on their immigration status. This is settled law, but not for Alabama legislators, who passed an anti-immigrant law (HB 56) with a provision requiring elementary and secondary schools to determine students’ and parents’ citizenship status.

With a federal district court refusing to enjoin this provision, families with an undocumented family member are already keeping their children, including U.S. citizens, out of school. And, though an appellate court last month temporarily blocked the K-12 reporting requirement, the right to primary education access for all in our country remains in jeopardy.

This summer, civil and immigrant rights groups, religious institutions and the Department of Justice challenged HB 56 in federal court. Alabama’s law contains many troubling provisions contained in anti-immigrant laws in other states, such as Arizona and Georgia, which were blocked by federal courts. But it goes much further, including the requirement in Section 28 that K-12 school officials determine their students’ and parents’ immigration status. Although the district court blocked certain sections of the law, it allowed this piece to stand.

As with Georgia’s HB 87, proponents of HB 56 claim they are removing the drain on state resources. But, in truth, officials like Governor Robert Bentley are scapegoating immigrants for political gain at a time of economic insecurity. They have confessed their desire to expel undocumented immigrants from the state.  HB 56 sponsor Micky Hammon asserted, “This [bill] attacks every aspect of an illegal immigrant’s life… [T]his bill is designed to make it difficult for them to live here so they will deport themselves.”

The law is so extreme that Wade Henderson, President and CEO of the Leadership Council on Civil and Human Rights,  concluded that Alabama’s “draconian initiative is so oppressive that Bull Connor himself would be impressed.” Birmingham’s former sheriff, you may recall, once used attack dogs and fire-hoses on African-American children.

Even those skeptical of immigration’s well-documented economic benefits should be appalled by Alabama officials’ willingness to target children. In addition to violating the 14th Amendment’s Equal Protection clause, Section 28 is morally repugnant. It uses state power to keep immigrant children, who bear no responsibility for their status, out of school. Moreover, while so many Alabama public schools are failing, the law unconscionably redirects scarce education resources towards immigration policing.

Finally, as the Court held in Plyler, “It is difficult to understand precisely what the State hopes to achieve by promoting the creation and perpetuation of a subclass of illiterates within our boundaries, surely adding to the problems and costs of unemployment, welfare, and crime.”

Sadly, HB 56 may reflect a larger national trend. In May, the Department of Justice issued a memo reaffirming the illegality of asking students about their immigration status. This followed illegal reporting requirements and efforts in other states to pass education provisions similar to HB 56. Recent reports by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) for instance, found that roughly 20 percent of New York and New Jersey public school districts requested information from students that would indicate their immigration status. Similar practices abound in Arizona, where fully half of school districts surveyed by the ACLU sought such information.

The Department of Justice was right to issue its memo, and to seek data from Alabama school districts in the wake of HB 56′s passage to investigate potential violations of civil rights statutes which protect educational opportunities for schoolchildren. It must be even more vigilant about illegal school reporting policies across the country, which may rise as restrictionist officials seek to copy HB 56.

It is encouraging that the appellate court temporarily blocked the education provision of HB 56. But beating Section 28 in court, while essential, will not by itself ensure that all American children can go to school without fear.  Legislators and education officials around the country must take heed: our classrooms are no place for the refrain, “Papers, please.”

Crossposted from the Huffington Post.

A version of this article first appeared in the Fulton County Daily Report. Reprinted with permission from the October 28, 2011 issue of the Daily Report © 2011 ALM Media Properties, LLC. Further duplication without permission is prohibited. All rights reserved.

Photo courtesy of 12uspost.com

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

Another Holiday in Exile

Guest blogger: Nicole Salgado

Querétaro, Mexico, October 18, 2011. You know the year-end holidays are approaching when the stores starting filling with decorations. From here on in it’ll be an endless blur of pumpkins, tinsel, and Santas from Halloween to New Years. Except I’ll also find candy skulls and praying Virgin Marys. And I won’t be sharing a table spread with turkey with my family. This is because I’ll be spending my fifth holiday season in Querétaro, Mexico, where in addition to the popular U.S. holidays, they also celebrate Día de los Muertos and Our Lady of Guadalupe Day.

When I met my husband in the San Francisco Bay Area in 2001, my life changed forever. At the time, he was an undocumented immigrant from Mexico, and because of him I learned how much the rules had changed since the days when my own ancestors came to America from Mexico and Germany. Because he’d left and come back more than once and stayed to work for longer than a year, my husband had what is considered the permanent bar, leaving us limited options to make things right with his immigration record. Although we wanted to stay in the Bay Area because we had good jobs and a fulfilling life, we lived in fear that our lives would be turned upside down by an unexpected deportation. Our only option for his adjustment of status was to leave the U.S. and apply for a waiver in 10 years, from Mexico.

I finally made the difficult decision to leave the U.S. with my husband and move to his home state of Querétaro, Mexico in 2006. We have no guarantee we will ever be able to return to the U.S. together. We used all our savings to build a house here, and good-paying jobs in our fields are hard to come by. Underemployment for the last 5 years has left us struggling economically. Despite all this, we did not want to put our dreams of getting on with our lives or starting a family on hold indefinitely. We had a daughter last year and she is a blessing.

We are currently halfway through our waiting period. Visits with family and friends from the States are rare. I’d like to spend the holidays with family, but I cannot afford to travel very often. Even if I could, my husband, her father, cannot join us. Luckily, my parents will visit this Christmas. But my husband hasn’t seen my nearly 90-year old grandmother since we were married in 2004, or my brother since we left the U.S. Although my daughter and I have become dual citizens, it’s uncertain whether her father will ever become a welcome member of American society, I am not sure how I will explain that to her someday. My family and I have suffered in the wake of this situation. As a result of legal technicalities, I struggle with stress-related disorders and the task of redefining myself professionally and culturally.

After several years of relative isolation from the online and social activist community, I have decided to make our story public, and am co-authoring the book Amor and Exile with journalist Nathaniel Hoffman (amorandexile.com). Despite coming face to face with plenty of anti-immigrant sentiment, I have also been heartened by all the support growing from people who recognize the need for true fairness, justice, and equality. Many other brave people, who’ve had to make choices like me, decided that love and integrity are more important than their own personal comfort level. I hope people and governments worldwide will come together and make the changes necessary so that families can reunite to celebrate the holidays in peace and joy.