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#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.

Approaching the 10th anniversary of 9/11, Alabama set to pass the “nation’s cruelest immigration law”

It’s been in the works for over three months, but the debate surrounding Alabama’s threatening new anti-immigration law just got louder and more serious. Just when we thought Arizona’s SB 1070 law was the worst hit to the nation’s crumbling immigration policy, Alabama has managed to deliver perhaps an even bigger shock. Enacted back in June by the Alabama House and Senate, H.B. 56 had also been signed by Governor Robert Bentley. Now, with the stamp of approval from the entire Alabama state government, the law was set to take effect on September 1. However, a federal judge has stepped in to temporarily block it. U.S. District Judge Sharon Blackburn has blocked the implementation of the law until September 29 while she deliberates on the constitutional consequences of such a law.

The law’s extremely harsh stipulations state the following:

  • It would be a state crime to be an undocumented immigrant in Alabama.
  • Law enforcement would be given the powers to detain those they have “reasonable suspicion” of being in the country illegally.
  • Businesses would be subject to non-criminal sanctions for knowingly hiring undocumented immigrants.
  • It would also be a crime to harbor or transport undocumented immigrants, including giving them rides to workplaces.
  • All contracts made with undocumented immigrants will be made null and void.
  • Renting property to undocumented immigrants will be forbidden.

The law’s details are inhumane to say the least, essentially restricting those with undocumented status from living freely at all. Judge Blackburn’s block was the result of various groups and organizations suing the state of Alabama over the passage of this law. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), together with other advocacy groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Immigrants’ Rights Project, filed a suit against the Alabama state government on July 8. The law is facing opposition on several other fronts as well. The Department of Justice, with the support of the Obama administration, has also filed a lawsuit against the state claiming states cannot interfere to this extent in federal policy. A New York Times editorial scathingly labeled HB 56 as the “nation’s cruelest immigration law.” The editorial discusses the reaction to the law from the religious community in Alabama.

In a surprising first for reactions to stringent anti-immigration laws, four church leaders from across Alabama have joined forces to sue the state (see full lawsuit here) for passing a law that criminalizes the church’s duty to be show compassion to everyone. The church leaders – an Episcopal bishop, a Methodist bishop and a Roman Catholic archbishop and bishop – call the law inhumane and that it would terrorize undocumented immigrants and make criminalize those who show kindness to them. Archbishop Thomas Rodi of Mobile added that “the law attacks our core understanding of what it means to be a church.”

The news of this law getting close to enforcement has also triggered a flurry of debate among the public, especially in online forums as comments on the various news articles reporting the story. One such comment on the editorial published in The New York Times, is by a reader named ‘MT’:

…we are ALL immigrants or have descended from them. by these xenophobic definitions, unless you are a native american descended from those who had their land stolen from columbus, then maybe you are not a “real American.” immigrants, legal or illegal, don’t take people’s jobs away. plus, i doubt that “real americans” would want to work the wages in the conditions that undocumented workers face daily. i doubt that “real americans” are prepared to pay more for the food that undocumented workers pick for them. has anyone ever stopped to think that one reason so many “unskilled” americans find themselves without the jobs is a symptom of our failing educational system and a product of our anti-intellectual culture?

Another reader, going by the name of “toomuchcoffeeguy” commented further on an article in the Montgomery Advertiser:

This idea that these people are somehow taking jobs relies on a false premise, which is that there is a finite number of jobs in Alabama, but the labor market doesn’t actually work that way. Cheap labor can only strengthen an economy, by making job creation more accessible to small businesses, thus expanding both jobs and our GDP. A good example would be Texas & California, who have the highest illegal immigrant populations and also have the highest GDP’s….

As we approach the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, it is even clearer that the ill-fated day tested our nation’s ability to respond to the situation in a meaningful way. Unfortunately, the immigration reform that was on the horizon before 9/11 was quickly dismissed for harsh, punitive measures to clamp down on undocumented immigration. The physical damage of the 9/11 attacks may have been repaired, but the massive effect the day had on security policy, law enforcement and our national attitudes towards tolerance and freedom has left our country at a tricky crossroads. America’s biggest issues are now no longer international. We face serious situations at home, where short-sighted and rushed “solutions” to the issue of undocumented immigration is in fact sawing away at our future, an attitude that further hurts the economy, standard of living and most of all, socio-cultural fabric of this country.

We urge the federal government and Judge Blackburn to recognize the tremendously damaging consequences of Alabama’s HB 56 and stop the law completely. Such laws make the need for comprehensive immigration reform even more dire than ever before. Immigrants form the backbone of this country and criminalizing them as a blanket policy will hurt the country in ways that perhaps these officials and politicians fail to foresee. Join Restore Fairness today to lend your voice to the call for comprehensive immigration reform.

Photo courtesy of hispanicallyspeakingnews.com

New report tells us how S-Comm makes the American Dream a “criminal proposition”

President Obama holds the unflattering distinction of having overseen the most deportations under any American president in history. Since the deeply flawed Secure Communities program (S-Comm) was launched by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in 2008, around 100,000 people have been deported through its unjust policies and enforcement. Furthermore, in fiscal year 2010, almost 400,000 people were deported under various stipulations (including S-Comm), making it one of the worst years for deportation in our country’s history.  The program’s design and implementation flaws have encouraged racial profiling by law enforcement officials and also victimized those convicted of lesser crimes such as traffic violations, etc. Contrary to its name, Secure Communities is a program that makes people feel less safe, hurting the trust that is a cornerstone of an effective law enforcement system in a diverse country such as this.

In a post-9/11 scenario where state paranoia has amplified and hurriedly turned into ineffective and damaging law enforcement policies, the moves made by ICE are not only alienating an aspiring new generation of immigrants, but also gravely affecting the bedrock of this country. Instead of reacting productively to the widespread criticism, ICE has hardened their stance even more. In a shocking development last week, ICE eliminated the Memoranda of Agreement (MOA) that it had signed with some states, thereby enforcing S-Comm without any state or federal agreement at all. It has also vowed to keep extending S-Comm nationally by 2013, regardless of whether individual states disapprove.

On August 16, the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON), in partnership with Detention Watch Network (DWN) and several other human rights organizations, released a comprehensive report titled ‘RESTORING COMMUNITY: A National Community Advisory Report on ICE’s Failed “Secure Communities” Program.’ (PDF). The report maps out details of how S-Comm has failed as an immigration policy, doing much more irreversible damage than actually fixing the problem at hand. It includes testimony from law enforcement officials, scholars and academics, and organizers and advocates. Criticizing the ineffective program, the report summarizes S-Comm, stating that:

It multiplies laws and enforcement policies that, in effect, make the pursuit of the American Dream a criminal proposition for current generations of immigrants. That such a program should be the showcase policy of an Administration that presents itself asa champion of immigration reform is a betrayal. Multiplying the force of misguided policy and unjust laws is not reform—it is a step backwards.

The report criticizes the entangling of local police in civil immigration law enforcement, and warns agains the “Arizonification” of the country. While highlighting the flaws of S-Comm, the report also stresses on the way forward, strongly pushing for a clear separation of ICE from local police forces. Based on the various testimonies, studies and developments, the report calls for the following:

1. The immediate end, not mending, of the S-Comm program.

2. The completion of the ongoing audit of S-Comm by the Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General. Additionally, the Department of Justice Office of Inspector General should begin an investigation into the FBI’s role in Secure Communities.

3. The criticism of S-Comm should be used to amend other ICE programs, and local law enforcement must be untangled from federal civil immigration processes, removing immigration powers from police.

4. States and local jurisdictions should be given the option to participate in or opt out of immigration enforcement programs, including the forwarding of fingerprints and other biometric information to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

The report also highlights the stories of several individuals from across the country who have been victims of S-Comm, facing deportation as a result of simply calling 911 for an emergency, being pulled over while driving or any other arbitrary reason. One of the anecdotes is told by Mercedes, an 18-year old young woman in Nashville, Tennessee. On a normal Sunday afternoon in May, Mercedes was pulled over “for driving less than 10 miles over the speed limit.” After questioning her immigration status, the police officer put her in handcuffs and began filling out the paperwork for the 287(g) program to begin the process of her deportation. When Mercedes asked te officer what would happen to her and if she would make it to her high school graduation the following weekend, the officer ”answered me with a smile on his face and told me that I was never going back to school and I would never see my family ever again, I started to cry.”

Mercedes spent 3 days in jail and is now facing deportation. She came to the U.S when she was 11 and qualifies to benefit from the DREAM Act. With aspirations to become a doctor, Mercedes sees herself as American – her life established in Nashville and plans for a future in this country. Reflecting on her experience, Mercedes said,

When this happened to me I realized how sad it is that families have been destroyed just for not having an ID or because of racial profiling. When I was in jail, I felt my dreams were destroyed,that my family was very far from me and I felt afraid that if we don’t stop this now, it will continue to happen.
The release of the ‘Restoring Community’ report coincided with a ‘National Day of Action’ called by various immigration reform activists to protest against the worsening immigration policies of the federal government. Protestors gathered outside President Obama’s campaign headquarters in Chicago on August 16 calling for an end to S-Comm. Several organizations worked together to call for the multi-city protests and delivered petitions to various Democratic party offices in Miami, Atlanta, Houston and Charlotte, demanding that the program be terminated. Gregory Chen, director of advocacy for the American Immigration Lawyers Association, spoke to the New York Times about how the practices of ICE have brought “a flood” of people booked under minor offenses to the immigration attorneys in the organization, calling it “the tip of the iceberg.” Chen added:
Fundamentally, D.H.S. is saying one thing but doing another…[It is] distorting its own mission of focusing on public safety and national security risks.

As the campaigning for the 2012 election ramps up and various candidates are assessing their policies, it is imperative that urgent and comprehensive action be taken by the government to address the violations to human rights and due process that are being enacted due to harsh anti-immigrant laws such as this. S-Comm is a deeply flawed program that has done more damage than good. It encourages racial profiling, separates families, and is enforcing a message that the thousands of immigrants that are working hard and aspiring to the American dream are no longer welcome.

Join the campaign to put an end to Secure Communities at Turn the Tide. You can also add your voice to the Restore Fairness campaign. Become an ally and take action now.

Photo courtesy of vivirlatino.com

Unlike the woman in the DSK story, most immigrant women are afraid to report sexual assault

Among the numerous unique and compelling stories of immigration that our nation has witnessed in its rich history comes another one; one that is disturbing and moving in equal part. On May 14, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund, Dominique Strauss-Kahn (DSK), was arrested as he was about to catch a flight from New York’s JFK Airport to Paris. A 32-year-old housekeeper had courageously come forward to report that she was sexually assaulted by DSK during his stay in the midtown Manhattan Sofitel hotel. As the media storm around DSK’s scandal and his political future intensified, the woman (her identity is being kept secret) who accused him remained well away from the media glare, protecting her identity and dignity amidst an increasingly messy situation. However, as a recent New York Times portrait of her life revealed, her story is extremely unique- in an environment that is increasingly hostile towards immigrants, it is rare that immigrant women who are victims of sexual and physical abuse (and there are many), are able to find the courage to report the crimes they face.

The woman was born in a tiny hamlet in the West African country of Guinea, a 13-hour drive from the nation’s capital Conakry. While she was in her early teens, she was married off to a distant cousin, gave birth to her daughter, and was widowed soon after. While in her early 20s, she immigrated to the United States, seeking a better life for herself and her daughter, and began working at a small African restaurant in the Bronx. In 2008, she got a job as a maid at the Sofitel New York, a high-end hotel in the heart of Manhattan. Her lawyers confirmed that by this time she had documentation and legal status. Then on May 14, her world was suddenly thrust into the public eye as she became the center of an international scandal involving high-level diplomacy.

Her brother, Mamoudou, commented on her character-

She is a village girl who didn’t go to school to learn English, Greek, Portuguese, what have you…All she learned was the Koran. Can you imagine how on earth she is suffering through this ordeal?…Before she left here, nobody even knew if she could speak up for herself. She never got into any arguments, with anybody.

While DSK has been charged with the crime, the trial is still underway and no verdict has yet been reached. However, the story of his alleged victim highlights the rapidly growing issue of sexual assault among immigrant women, and indirectly points to the fact that undocumented women remain the most vulnerable to abuse, as they are especially afraid to report the crime for fear of being pulled into the detention and deportation dragnet. The housekeeper in DSK’s case has legal status, not to mention incredible courage, that enabled her to report the crime to the local police. But her courage seeks to remind us that there are many women who face violence, both at home and in their work, who continue to be exploited and are unable to seek help because of immigration status and their fear of being criminalized themselves.

Last week, many women – mostly hotel housekeeping staff from around the city – gathered outside DSK’s court hearing to protest against his alleged crime, claiming that many of them have been victims in similar incidents but are often afraid to speak out. One of the protesters, Ada Vélez Escalera, a housekeeper at the Hilton who had moved from Puerto Rico when she was 16, said-

A lot of us don’t speak up. You’re embarrassed or have a family to support and you know if it will be you or the guest who’s believed. In this case she was brave enough to scream for help…I’m proud of being a room attendant and when guests come to our hotels they need to respect us and know we are there to make their rooms clean and comfortable, not for private service…I had to leave my education because I had a sick child. But the money I’ve earned as a room attendant helped me have a house, a decent life and put my son and daughter through college.

The issue raised by the housekeepers is a growing concern among the immigrant community. It is worsened further by damaging statements made by political officials that essentially discourage the reporting of sexual assault crimes by immigrant women. In Massachusetts, State Rep. Ryan Fattman (R-Sutton) has been part of a group of regional GOP representatives uniting against Governor Deval L. Patrick’s decision not to join the controversial Secure Communities program (S-Comm). When asked if he would be concerned if a woman with undocumented status is raped and then is afraid to report the crime for fear of deportation, Fattman replied, “My thought is that if someone is here illegally, they should be afraid to come forward…If you do it the right way, you don’t have to be concerned about these things.” His comment brought him sharp criticism, and when contacted for further clarification, Fattman attempted to contextualize it with an even more troublesome allegory-

If someone got into a car accident, it’s obviously a tragic event. But if they’re drunk and they crash, it’s a crime. If that person was drunk and survived the accident they would be afraid to come forward. I think if someone is here illegally they should be afraid to come forward because they should be afraid to be deported…But if you weren’t here, the crime wouldn’t happen.

Such brash disregard for basic human rights, such as the right to be safe from harm and the right to due process and justice, is alarming. Rep. Fattman’s statements signal a dangerous situation in the country if victims of violence and sexual assault are afraid to report the crime for fear of being deported instead. This roundabout way of blaming the victim is incredibly damaging to our society, encouraging violent crime and making our communities less secure.

The harsh anti-immigrant enforcement laws that are being enacted in states around the country only seek to add to the environment of hostility and fear that makes it harder for local law enforcement to effectively protect communities. Last week Alabama Governor Bentley signed into law HB 56, the harshest anti-immigrant bill to be passed by any state thus far. The bill, inspired by Arizona’s notorious SB 1070, imposes even stricter requirements on virtually all institutions in the state to conduct immigration checks. In a statement reacting to the bill, Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, said-

Today, Alabama effectively turned state workers, peace officers, and school teachers into de facto immigration agents.  Immigrants and people of color will be subjected to additional, unconstitutional scrutiny when they take their children to school or interact with local law enforcement officers.  Friends and family members of undocumented immigrants will face criminal charges simply for driving them to church or to the grocery store. By passing HB 56, Alabama’s legislators have deemed an entire class of people not worthy of the most fundamental rights, which were carefully prescribed to all people by our Founding Fathers.  This law effectively makes immigrants the latest group of people to suffer a legalization of discriminatory behavior against them, and threatens to turn back the clock on our hard-won civil rights.

Alabama’s HB 56 adds to the growing number of states that have set in motion some sort of harsh anti-immigrant laws (see PDF map from the National Immigration Law Center for the latest Arizona-inspired legislation). These sweeping anti-immigrant legislations are not only unconstitutional and in violation of basic human rights, but they will also negatively impact the economies of the states that implement them. Most of all, communities will lose faith in their local law enforcement, always living in the fear of being racially profiled and arrested for deportation under the pretense of a minor offense.

With less than 18 months until the next presidential election, Democrats and Republicans are busy shaping their immigration policies to woo voters. At this time it is important that they focus on preventing draconian state-level anti-immigration laws from being enacted and instead, working towards comprehensive immigration reform that is enacted on a federal level. Statements such as those by Rep. Fattman only undermine the principles of freedom, justice and due process upon which our country is built. Victims of violence, such as sexual assault and rape, must be supported and made to feel safe and secure and given the justice they deserve, instead of being intimidated into silence. Denying basic human rights to one group will inevitably affect all our freedoms.

Sign the petition asking for Mass. Rep. Fattman to apologize for his comments and for the State House to publicly denounce his stance.

Show your support for due process. Become an ally of the Restore Fairness campaign today.

Photo courtesy of nij.gov.

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NY and Massachusetts suspend SComm; Alabama passes harsh anti-immigrant bill

In a bold move, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on June 1 announced that the state will suspend its participation in the “Secure Communities” Program (SComm) until further review. His decisive announcement was a result of the culmination of hard work on the part of New York legislators, advocates and religious leaders to urge the state’s withdrawal from the program

The program, launched in Texas in 2008 with the goal of nationwide deployment of SComm being complete by 2013, has become increasingly controversial. Initially pitched as a voluntary program that would focus on apprehending those who were guilty of serious “crimes,” the program has faced a slew of criticism from local law enforcement, state officials and advocates for its lack of transparency and oversight, its detrimental impact on the safety of communities as a result of the breakdown of trust of local law enforcement, and its failure to fulfill its original goal of targeting those guilty of serious offenses. This costly program threatens to reduce trust between local law enforcement and communities, encourage racial profiling and separate families. For all the above reasons the Department of Homeland Security announced an investigation of the program at the end of last month.

Explaining his decision to pull New York out of SComm, Gov. Cuomo said-

“There are concerns about the implementation of the program as well as its impact on families, immigrant communities and law enforcement in New York…As a result, New York is suspending its participation in the program.”

The move has been welcomed by local officials, law enforcement and advocates, including some members of Congress. Expressing his support for Governor Cuomo’s decision, Congressman Jose E. Serrano said-

Governor Cuomo has taken a brave and necessary step in suspending New York State’s participation in the flawed ‘Secure Communities’ program, and he deserves great praise. He is firmly in line with our state’s pro-immigrant tradition and on behalf of the immigrants and their friends in our community, I would like to thank him. Having New York State pull back from this unfair and aggressive program should be a wake-up call to the Department of Homeland Security. It is time to end this program and I am glad my home state will no longer take part.

New York joins a small but significant group of states that have pulled out of the SComm program recently. Last month, Illinois was the first state to do so, and faced much resistance from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for the decision. A few days after New York’s exit from the program, Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick also announced that his state would not sign on to the Secure Communities initiative. Gov. Patrick, in a statement justifying his decision to pull Massachusetts out of SComm, said-

We run a serious risk of ethnic profiling and frankly fracturing incredibly important relationships in communities that are important for law enforcement…I don’t think that the Obama administration is satisfied that the implementation of this program has been very effective.

In the absence of federal movement on immigration reform, the states are taking matters into their own hands. In the case of Secure Communities, this has resulted in three states with significant immigrant populations withdrawing their support of a program that they think is ineffective and unjust, sending a clear message to the Obama administration and ICE to review the program and take action to ensure accountability and security, as well as justice and due process for all. Inspired by the actions of Illinois, New York and Massachusetts, there are growing calls in other states, such as California, to pull out of Secure Communities as well.

In spite of these positive steps, the need for federal action on immigration reform is evident in cases such as that of Alabama, where a sweeping anti-immigrant bill that, much like Arizona’s infamous SB1070, mandates local law enforcement to stop people based on the “reasonable suspicion” that they are undocumented, enabling the profiling of people based on their appearance. Alabama’s H.B. 56 was passed in the Alabama House and Senate last week and now awaits the signature of Governor Bentley. This bill goes beyond the Arizona law- it mandates that public schools check the status of all students; bars undocumented students from enrolling in public college; makes it a crime to knowingly rent housing to those who don’t have documents etc. If enacted, this bill may well lead to unconstitutional racial profiling and a breakdown of trust between police and the communities they protect. We can only hope that like in the case of Arizona’s SB1070, the values of our Constitution will be upheld, but we wish that such laws could be averted by concrete federal action to repair the broken immigration system.

It is at this time that advocates of fair immigration and the numerous families that have been unfairly affected by SComm and other ICE enforcement  initiatives look to the Obama administration to take swift action. There are steps that his administration can take, without necessary involvement from Congress, to push towards immigration reform:

  • The SComm program should be terminated since it has proven to be highly ineffective. Designed to focus on dangerous criminals, the program has instead been responsible for unjustly deporting a large number of people with no convictions.
  • End partnerships between local police and ICE, and return immigration law firmly to federal control. Local police are usually not trained in the sensitivity of immigration law, which often leads to people being arrested based on racial profiling or for minor offenses and eventually being deported.
  • While President Obama has already reiterated his stance against the harsh anti-immigrant laws being enacted in several states such as Arizona, Georgia and Indiana, his administration can be much more publicly critical of these laws. This would hopefully put pressure on the state legislatures to reconsider before taking such drastic steps.
  • The President can exercise his power to grant relief from deportation to the young people who can qualify for the DREAM Act, calling for “deferred action.”
  • Many undocumented immigrants already qualify for green cards but are hesitant to leave the country (and their immediate relatives who are American citizens) due to the risk of not being allowed back into the country. To ease this, the Obama administration can order the citizenship agency to allow these applicants to stay in the country, and with their families, while they are processed.
  • Finally, the President can also push for immediate reforms to improve the conditions of those in immigration detention, ensuring the safety and dignity of those being processed through the system.

In his May 10 speech on Immigration and Border Security in El Paso, Texas, President Obama showed an awareness for the “broken immigration system” in America-

Today, the immigration system not only tolerates those who break the rules, it punishes the folks who follow the rules.  While applicants wait for approval, for example, they’re often forbidden from visiting the United States.  Even husbands and wives may have to spend years apart.  Parents can’t see their children.  I don’t believe the United States of America should be in the business of separating families.  That’s not right.  That’s not who we are.

We only hope that such sentiments are translated – quickly and effectively – into major policy and legislative shifts that would in fact stop the racial profiling that is masked as immigration law enforcement in its current state. When we deny fairness to some, we put all of our rights at risk. Join us in our commitment to telling stories, inviting conversation, and inspiring action that will help our nation move even further in the right direction. To take action against Secure Communities, contact your state Governor to help your state withdraw from the program.

Photo courtesy of wnyc.org

Tax day, Passover week: labor, migration & justice, now…and in 2049

On this year’s Tax Day that has just passed, several organizations including the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), MoveOn, Daily Kos and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) joined forces for ‘Tax Day: Make Them Pay.’ The groups organized peaceful protests around the country outside the offices of big corporations and millionaires that have evaded paying taxes for last year, mostly due to government-mandated tax breaks. According to the site, “In 2009, after helping crash the American economy, Bank of America paid $0 in taxes. GE had a tax bill of $0 in 2010. Republicans want to give a $50 billion tax bailout to big oil companies…” These protests came at the heels of news that corporations such as General Electric paid no federal taxes in 2010, something that has infuriated the millions of workers around the country who work hard and are expected to dutifully pay their taxes on time.

The tax break issue is the latest in a series of developments that have recently charged the country’s politics around the issues of immigration and labor rights, with them coming together in the case of migrant workers. Last month, the country witnessed a major standoff in the Wisconsin state government between Governor Scott Walker (and his Republican-led state assembly) and thousands of labor groups and workers in the state as the Governor pledged to enact a bill to severely curtail collective bargaining. After three weeks of fierce debates, Gov. Walker managed to push the bill through. The Ohio state assembly soon followed suit, with other states such as Tennessee and Iowa heading in a similar direction. This steady erosion of worker rights presents an increasing risk not just to the economy of this country but also to its social fabric. It also echoes a past where worker rights were often ignored, especially in the case of immigrant workers.

Last month, several labor groups and organizations marked the centennial anniversary of an incident that highlights the lack of protection of workers – the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Fire of March 28, 1911, in which 146 mostly immigrant workers died. To mark the centenary of the tragedy, many labor rights groups amplified their push for pro-labor rights legislation to challenge the spate of anti-union labor bills that were passed recently. The 1911 tragedy brings to light the plight of immigrant workers and the exploitation that still continues today. At a rally commemorating the tragedy, one union member, Walfre Merida, described the similarities between the condition of migrant workers today and those that perished in the fire a hundred years ago. Merida stated-

I see that a hundred years since this terrible accident that killed so many people, things have really not changed at all…Safety conditions, none. Grab your tool and go to work, no more. And do not stop. When we worked in high places, on roofs, we never used harnesses, one became accustomed to the dangers and thanked God we weren’t afraid of heights. One would risk his life out of necessity.

As stories of worker rights violations continue to proliferate, we must take heed from our past mistakes in order to avoid a degradation of these conditions in the future. This week – just as Jews around the world gather at the Passover table to recount their liberation from migrant slave labor in Egypt – Breakthrough’s Facebook game, America 2049, immerses players into discussions around labor rights, especially with regards to the rights of immigrant workers. The game utilizes several events and artifacts from the past to highlight the continued struggles of migrant workers in the United States. In the game’s world in which everyone has an embedded chip to mark their identity, players are given the mission to investigate a counterfeiting ring that helps indentured workers – primarily immigrants, though also citizens who have succumbed to crushing credit debt – to escape their unjust contracts and inhumane living conditions, and begin new lives. The game references the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire as a lesson from the past about the respect and rightful treatment of workers. It also suggests a future that is even bleaker because we as a country have failed to recognize the importance of immigrant workers and worker rights to the success of the country as a whole.

Watch a testimonial by a character in the game, Ziyad Youssef, a Syrian man who was lured into a job with promises of good pay and easy hours, but found himself in slavery-like conditions, unable to look after his sick daughter or provide basic amenities to his family:

The United States is currently grappling with an issue that will inevitably affect our national economy and social conditions in the years to come. The denial of legitimacy and basic rights to immigrant workers will only hamper the nation’s growth on the world stage. In a special report on global migration published in 2008, The Economist argued for the widespread acceptance of migrant workers by the richer countries that so desperately need them. Speaking about the United States, the report stated-

Around a third of the Americans who won Nobel prizes in physics in the past seven years were born abroad. About 40% of science and engineering PhDs working in America are immigrants. Around a third of Silicon Valley companies were started by Indians and Chinese. The low-skilled are needed too, especially in farming, services and care for children and the elderly. It is no coincidence that countries that welcome immigrants—such as Sweden, Ireland, America and Britain—have better economic records than those that shun them…Americans object to the presence of around 12m illegal migrant workers in a country with high rates of legal migration. But given the American economy’s reliance on them, it is not just futile but also foolish to build taller fences to keep them out.

Players in America 2049 will discover valuable artifacts from our country’s past that highlight an ongoing struggle for worker rights and have the agency to join the discussion and save the country’s future from the dystopic scenario the game depicts. One of the artifacts in the game is a poem titled ‘A Song for Many Movements,’ written in 1982 by Audre Lord, a black feminist lesbian poet. The poem articulates the connection between suffering and speaking out against injustices, which is what the workers rights protests around the country have been doing and which we must keep advocating until real change is made-

Broken down gods survive
in the crevasses and mudpots
of every beleaguered city
where it is obvious
there are too many bodies
to cart to the ovens
or gallows
and our uses have become
more important than our silence
after the fall
too many empty cases
of blood to bury or burn
there will be no body left
to listen
and our labor
has become more important
than our silence.

Our labor has become
more important
than our silence.

Photo courtesy of seiu.org

Lady Gaga speaks out against SB1070 as Sheriff Arpaio sweeps up protestors

20 minutes from the Monster Ball (Lady Gaga’s concert held in Arizona July 31), the iconic pop star put down her hairbrush backstage and listened curiously to two unexpected political activists. They urged her to stop the show and to join Rage Against the Machine’s Sound Strike of Arizona. The pop-star said that she was not aware of the immigration law, and the men explained in an emotional conversation its human rights violations. She asked that they scribble SB1070 on her arm so she could remember. That moment led Gaga to blast on stage before a crowd of more than 20,000 fans and announce that she received calls from artists personally asking her to cancel the show, but she would not cancel, explaining,

“And I said, you really think that us [ expletive ] pop stars are going to collapse the economy of Arizona? We have to actively protest and the nature of the Monster Ball is to actively protest prejudice and injustice. I will yell and I will scream louder, I will hold you and we will hold each other and we will peaceably protest this state.”

As the movement against Arizona’s anti immigration law SB1070 goes stronger, and in light of Federal Judge Susan Bolton’s decision to place a temporary hold on the law, it seems like there is much to celebrate. But the real trigger to Arizona’s law stemmed from programs that continue to exist today that encourage tie ups between federal immigration and local law enforcement, programs like 287(g) and Secure Communities that enforce immigration laws which deny fairness to many. The most egregious of enforcers – Maricopa County’s Sheriff Joe Arpaio.

Even as Arizona Governor Jan Brewer’s lawyers went to court to overturn the judge’s ruling so they can fight back against what the Republican calls an “invasion” of illegal immigrants, many demonstrations continued across the country, including one outside the Sheriff’s building. Protestors beat on the metal door of the jail and chanted,

Sheriff Joe, we are here. We will not live in fear.

In partnership with federal immigration through a 287(g) agreement, Sheriff Arpaio is infamous for his “reign of terror” against immigrants in Arizona. On the day that Arizona’s law came into effect, Sheriff Arpaio launched a sweep, showing exactly why SB1070 is likely to lead to racial profiling and over zealous local enforcement. The Sheriff’s dragnet led to four arrests, but it wasn’t clear if any of them were undocumented immigrants.

Arpaio routinely carries out sweeps, some in Hispanic neighborhoods, to arrest illegal immigrants. The tactics have made him the undisputed poster boy for immigration enforcement through local police and an example of the dangers of racial profiling. The Justice Department even launched an investigation of his office nearly 17 months ago over allegations of discrimination and unconstitutional searches and seizures.

But the 287(g) program is not the only one to blame. Secure Communities is a rapidly expanding program which identifies undocumented immigrants using fingerprints at the time of arrests, even if they are not convicted of anything. Under the program, the fingerprints of everyone who is booked into jail for any crime are run against FBI criminal history records and Department of Homeland Security immigration records to determine who is in the country without status and whether they’ve been arrested previously.

Many people fear the program will lead to unfair enforcement. Like Sunita Patel, an attorney who filed a lawsuit in New York against the federal government on behalf of the National Day Laborer Organizing Network who says since everyone arrested would be screened, the program could easily deport more people than Arizona’s immigration law. Moreover, because immigrants are screened at the point of arrest even before a conviction, the program could create an incentive for profiling and create a pipeline to deport more people. Other immigrant groups have also begun to speak up, stating in a letter that the initiative will make crime victims reluctant to cooperate with police “due to fear of being drawn into the immigration regime.”

San Francisco has shown resistance to the program with, Eileen Hirst, the chief of staff for San Francisco’s Sheriff Michael Hennessey, saying that Hennessey thought Secure Communities cast too wide a net and worried that it would sweep up U.S. citizens and minor offenders, such as people who commit traffic infractions but miss their court hearings. Joining San Francisco, Washington, D.C.’s police also decided not to pursue the program because the City Council introduced a bill that would prohibit authorities from sharing arrest data with immigration authorities out of concern for immigrants’ civil rights.

After filing lawsuit, Patel flew in from New York to provide legal support for Thursday’s civil disobedience protest against SB 1070 outside Sherrif Arpaio’s building. In an unlikely switch, she became one of Arpaio’s arrestees that day.

The arrest of the Guild Legal Observers is just a continuation of Arpaio’s campaign of harassment, said Carol Sobel, co-chair of the Guild’s Mass Defense Committee.  Apparently, Arpaio thinks that if he arrests the Legal Observers, no one will be there to witness his unlawful actions. We have been arrested, shot with projectiles, hit with batons and pepper-sprayed at protests from Washington, D.C. to Miami to Los Angeles and we are still here to document misconduct.

Legal observers serve as impartial witnesses who help ensure that law enforcement officials do not infringe upon the rights of demonstrators and activists who engage in civil disobedience. Roxana Orell, another legal observer, was standing behind the crowd and videotaping the arrest of Sunita Patel. Arpaio’s deputies spotted Orell and arrested her, as well. Brett Beeler, a UCLA law student standing five feet from Orell and Patel when they were grabbed, said he saw numerous individuals standing closer to the police.  He believes that the deputies targeted Orell and Patel because they were wearing the green Legal Observer hats. The two NLG Legal Observers have been charged with obstruction of a highway and failure to obey a lawful order. Numerous other protesters have also been unjustly arrested.

The Obama administration can do more than just watch. It can reassert the importance of sensible national immigration policies by rethinking two troubling programs — Secure Communities and 287(g). Judge Bolton’s ruling reminded us all of the unacceptable price of the Arizona way. However, the expansion of 287g and Secure Communities will likely lead to more Arizonas. We must urge Obama to listen to the majority of people against harsh immigration enforcement.

Photo courtesy of PuenteAZ on www.flickr.com

How much “hate” lies behind SB1070?

Despite what supporters say about SB1070′s merits, it is impossible to ignore it’s blatant inclusion of measures that mandate local law enforcement to stop and question people whom they think are “reasonably suspicious” of being undocumented, thereby mandating racial profiling. When Arizona’s Governor Brewer was asked, “what does an undocumented person look like”, she couldn’t answer. When SB1070 co-sponsor Senator Huppenthal was asked, “what constitutes reasonable suspicion” he couldn’t answer. Some like Senator Bilbray believe that trained officers can identify undocumented people based on their clothes and shoes! For real proof, all we need to do is look towards federal immigration programs that give local police the power to enforce federal immigration law such as the 287(g) and Secure Communities to see the increase in racial profiling, with the majority of those caught guilty of either minor crimes or even U.S. citizens.

They say that the best way to understand something is to understand how it came to be. A deeper look at the people behind SB1070 throws a disturbing light on the how it came to be passed. For one, the man responsible for introducing the bill Senator Pearce has a long history with White Supremacist organizations, and is infamous for sending extreme white nationalist comments to his supporters in which he attacked the media for portraying -

A world in which every voice proclaims the equality of the races, the inerrant nature of the Jewish ‘Holocaust’ tale, the wickedness of attempting to halt the flood of non-White aliens pouring across our borders…

MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow takes us one step further. The bill was created by the Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI), the legal arm of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, one of the most active anti-immigration organizations in the country identified as a bonafide “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center after its founder John Tanton warned of a “Latin onslaught” and talked about Latinos’ “low educability”. A small taste of his views on immigration.

To govern is to populate….will the present majority peaceably hand over it’s political power to a group that is simply more fertile?…as whites see their power and control over their lives declining, will they simply go quietly into the night? Or will there be an explosion?…I come to the point of view that for European-American society and culture to persist, requires a European-American majority, and a clear one at that.

There’s also Kris Kobach, an attorney who works for IRLI and by association FAIR who is the main author of SB1070. While Kobach does not have overt ties with racist groups, his track record is also quite alarming. After serving as Attorney General John Ashcroft’s main immigration adviser, Kobach was responsible for drafting a number of laws that persecuted those who assisted undocumented immigrants. Following that he initiated a post 9/11 program, the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System, that called for the monitoring of men from Arab and Muslim countries, even those who were legal residents. This program was suspended on allegations of racial profiling. Since then Kobach has become somewhat of an expert on anti-immigrant policies and has become a close aid of Maricopa County’s Sheriff Arpaio, who has hired him to train police officers in procedures in arresting suspected undocumented immigrants.

Rachel Maddow sums it all up concisely.

But no one is taking this lying down.  The ACLU, MALDEF and NILC have officially filed a legal challenge to SB1070, even as several states have shown an interest in copycat bills. Large-scale protests have occurred in Arizona and across the country protesting the bill, along with grassroots educations programs that are educating the people of Arizona on how to understand and deal with the law, if it were to come into effect. City councils like San Francisco and Washington D.C. are in talks about boycotting the state of Arizona as a sign of protest against the unconstitutional law. Government officials and police officers have come out against the bill, like Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik, who has called the law “disgusting,”"unnecessary” and “stupid.” A police officer who has served for 52 years, Dupnik refuses to enforce the law which he says is “one of the worst pieces of legislation he has ever seen.” He goes on to make the point that since there is no effective way to enforce SB1070 that does not involve racial profiling, his department could be sued for racial profiling if they enforce the law, and sued if they don’t (SB1070 allows any one to sue local departments that they believe are not effectively enforcing the law). Calling it “racist” he says-

If I tell my people to go out and look for A, B, and C, they’re going to do it. They’ll find some flimsy excuse like a tail light that’s not working as a basis for a stop, which is a bunch of baloney.

More and more people need to understand the consequences of SB1070 as an affront to liberty, equality and justice to stall the work of hate groups an thwart the white nationalist agenda. Take action now!

Photo courtesy of msnbc.msn.com

Nationwide vigils tell immigration agencies that they are “completely out of control”

Between the discovery of Haitian earthquake survivors in immigration detention (later released), an agency memo showing support for larger amounts of immigrant deportations, and the agency’s own admission of mismanagement, an embarrassed Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) needs to be held accountable for its actions.

While civil rights groups have continued to be critical of ICE over the past year, the first protests against their recent misadventures has been spearheaded by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). Starting yesterday, the SEIU mobilized their members to participate in vigils outside ICE offices across the country to call on the agency to bring itself back to the enforcement goals it had set at the beginning of the Obama administration last year, goals that it seems to have lost sight of.

One of the country’s largest labor unions, the SEIU held prayer vigils outside USCIS offices in Oakland and Sacramento yesterday and outside ICE headquarters in Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Jose, Boston and Minneapolis today. Speaking on behalf of thousands of workers and human rights advocates across the country, Executive Vice-President of SEIU, Eliseo Medina said-

When DHS first announced its enforcement goals – including its increased focus on worksite I9 audits – SEIU was optimistic that the Obama Administration would clean up past wrongdoings…Instead, the agency has added flames to the fire by replacing worksite raids with electronic raids. Field officers are acting like cowboys, more interested in adding scalps to their belts than targeting criminals and abusive employers, which would actually help solve our immigration problems. As a result, communities lose, businesses lose, families lose, America loses.

President Obama has expressed his commitment to the need for immigration reform saying that tearing apart families, terrorizing communities through raids, and denying due process to those detained, were all indications of a broken immigration system that needed to be fixed. With the expansion of an unsuccessful 287(g) program and an increase in deportations in the past year, it is clear the the system is failing. SEIU activists are demanding-

Rather than wasting limited funds to chase hard-working, tax-paying cleaners, home-care providers and nannies, the activists will call on President Obama and Secretary Janet Napolitano to re-focus ICE enforcement on its original goals of targeting crooked employers and criminals.

The human repercussions of political decisions made behind closed doors cannot be under estimated. If the promises that the administration made are not upheld, retaliatory actions will continue to take place across the nation.

Watch the latest video from America’s Voice, telling us how the current state of immigration is “More Rouge Than Right”-

Photo courtesy of thenation.com

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End it. Not mend it. Message to the administration over failed immigration program.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the agency responsible for detention and deportations of immigrants, is on a roll. Haitian earthquake survivors and mentally ill detainees are amongst those locked up in inhumane detention centers. Memos leaked last week confirmed a desire for growing deportations of immigrants. And now, the government’s own agency, the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General delivers a scathing critique of ICE’s 287(g) program that gives local police the power to enforce immigration law.

60 police forces across the country have signed agreements with ICE that allow their local officers to detain suspected immigrants for deportation. Various reports have documented racial profiling concerns, but the government has failed to listen. Even Members of Congress and police foundations have spoken out against the program, which diverts scarce resources from the police and endangers community safety as people are afraid to report crimes.

The OIG points out serious flaws in ICE’s 287(g) program for its lack of training, oversight and transparency, and its failure to protect against racial profiling and civil rights abuses. In one example, a victim of a traffic accident who was also an immigrant was taken straight to the local jail until federal officers arrived to check his legal status. And although the program is supposed to focus on “Level 1″ offenders or those who have committed serious crimes, almost half of those reviewed had no involvement in such crimes, revealing a misdirection of resources.

The issue around a lack of supervision is grave. “In the absence of consistent supervision over immigration enforcement activities, there is no assurance that the program is achieving its goals.”This has led to severe violations, with Sheriff Arpaio type neighborhood sweeps to locate undocumented immigrants. Other horrific examples – Juana Villegas, 9 months pregnant, was detained on a minor traffic stop and remained shackled while giving birth, while Pedro Guzman, a mentally ill U.S. citizen was mistakenly deported to Mexico.

And finally, the 287(g) training of police officers is very inadequate. In one example, two officers who were enrolled in the program had been defendants in past racial profiling lawsuits, indicating a flawed selection process. The performance records of local officers are not examined properly while many officers are given only a cursory training in immigration law.

While ICE claims that the report was researched before it has made radical changes to the program, the changes that have been made are largely superficial and problems continue unchecked. Many groups consider this report a wake up call and have demanded the 287(g) program be “ended, not mended.” Take action to “Reign in the Cowboys at ICE.”

Photo courtesy of thenation.com

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