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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

 

Spread the word and stop the hate in Alabama: Helplines and stories from the ground

Despite the Federal court of appeals blocking some provisions of Alabama’s HB 56 anti-immigrant law, including the one that stated that all schools had to check the immigration status of incoming students, stories of children, workers and families being impacted by the repercussions of the law continue to flood the internet. The law, which supporters and proponents say is “going according to plan,” has succeeded in creating a climate of fear and persecution similar to one that existed during the Jim Crow era in the South.

Scott Douglas, III, Executive Director of Greater Birmingham Ministries said that Alabama’s new anti-immigration law worked to “put families on the run and divide them” and was “one of Alabama’s worst times since Jim Crow.”

 When Politico spoke to Alabama Republican Mo Brooks about what they referred to as the “unintended consequences” of the law, such as the fact that on October 7th, 2300 children were missing from Alabama schools, he responded saying-

Those are the intended consequences of Alabama’s legislation with respect to illegal aliens. We don’t have the money in America to keep paying for the education of everybody else’s children from around the world. We simply don’t have the financial resources to do that. Second, with respect to illegal aliens who are now leaving jobs in Alabama, that’s exactly what we want.

Here are some stories of the direct impact (‘intended consequences’) of HB 56 in Alabama that have come up during the last two weeks while the law has been in effect.

From America’s Voice-

- The Birmingham News reported that one school called all their Hispanic students into the cafeteria and asked them to publicly announce their own, and their parents’ immigration status

- “One young father from Ensenada, Baja California, Mexico told me, through tears, that his 12-year-old son, who is undocumented, has always been an honor student who recently won a school trip to go to the Space Museum in Huntsville. He didn’t go, because he was afraid the police would detain him. ‘We don’t have much time to think it over … maybe we can get our affairs in order here in two or three weeks and see what our options are, maybe moving to another state, or straight to Mexico,’ the father said. (Reported by Maribel Hastings)

- “Some families don’t dare to leave the house, even to get basic items like food. The church deacon said that he knew people who had gone days without leaving to buy groceries; he had offered to bring them food himself.” (Reported by Pili Tobar)

From a Facebook page called ‘Personal stories of HB 56 in Alabama-’

- “A white friend was pulled over by a police officer in Ozark yesterday. Confused by what documentation he needed, the officer radioed back to ask dispatch. Dispatch answered, “Does the person speak Spanish? If not, just get their driver’s license.”

- “A 4 year old child being served by Children’s Rehab Services in Montgomery missed three appointments in the last couple of weeks. The child has several health issues for which she needs consistent care. The interpreter working on her case went to look for the family at the apartment complex where they live; a neighbor told her that the family had left, along with most of the other Hispanic families there.”

From a Facebook page called Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice-

- “It’s really sad I couldn’t buy any fruits and vegetables last night when I went grocery shopping because everything was rotten.”

From the ACLU of Alabama’s Facebook page-

- “Third generation farmer Brian Cash watched 85% of his workforce disappear in one day as workers fled the state in fear of harassment and discrimination since Alabama’s HB56 immigration law went into effect.”

Here are some hotline numbers for people in Alabama to report civil and human rights violations as a result of HB 56, and reach out for help and assistance:

- An important number for all people in the Hispanic community in Alabama affected by the new anti-immigrant law, HB56: 1-800-982-1620

- From the Southern Poverty Law Center: “We’re gathering stories as well. Please pass along our hotline number: 1-800-982-1620. So far we’ve received more than 2,200 calls from people who have been affected by HB56.”

For updates on local protests, please check the Facebook pages mentioned above as well as ones called ‘Veto HB56 Alabama Immigration Law- Estoy Contra la Ley HB56‘ and ‘Alabama Against the HB 56.’

HB 56 has triggered widespread fear among Alabama’s immigrant communities and set off nothing short of a humanitarian crisis. We need to stand in solidarity with the people of Alabama because when we deny human rights to some we put everyone’s rights at risk.

We will continue to update you as the news happens. We also need your voice in this conversation. Please follow us on Twitter and Facebook and share your news, views and stories about HB 56 with us.

Share this image widely!

Photo courtesy of guardian.co.uk

Alabama HB 56 update: The good, the bad and the ugly

The good news-

On Friday, a federal appeals court temporarily blocked enforcement of certain parts of Alabama’s HB 56, one of the harshest anti-immigrant bills in U.S. history. This decision came as a result of a request from the U.S. Justice department, along with immigrant rights groups such as the National Immigrant Law Center, ACLU of Alabama and the Southern Poverty Law Center, that the law be put on hold until questions pertaining to its constitutionality can be addressed, something that may take several months.

Some of the provisions that were blocked, as summed up by CNN:

- Section 28, requiring state officials to check the immigration status of students in public schools

- Section 10,”willful failure to complete or carry an alien registration card” a misdemeanor for immigrants

And now some more bad news-

While the parts of the law that were blocked were ones that have already caused widespread panic and damage to families and children across the state of Alabama, many other provisions that are equally contested and just as harmful to communities around the state are being enforced. From CNN:

- Section 12, that requires that police during “lawful” stops or arrests “attempt to determine the immigration status of a person who they suspect is an unauthorized alien of this country.” That provision is similar to other laws aiming to crack down on illegal immigration passed by other state legislatures over the past year (such as Arizona’s SB 1070).

- One that bars state courts from enforcing contracts involving undocumented immigrants, if the hiring party had a “direct or constructive” knowledge that the person was in the country unlawfully.

- Section 30, that makes it a felony for illegal immigrants to enter into a “business transaction” in Alabama, including applying for a driver’s license or a business license.

The danger and severity of the 3 provisions mentioned above cannot be stressed enough. Speaking during a call about the humanitarian crisis in Alabama, Reverend Angie Wright of Greater Birmingham Ministries explained that “The parts that are still in effect and are of most concern are the racial profiling aspects of the law, which is causing tremendous fear and terror in the immigrant communities.” From an America’s Voice blog which mentioned Rev. Wright’s opinions-

She noted that in Alabama, it is now a Class C felony for any undocumented immigrant to do business or have any kind of contract with state government, meaning that undocumented immigrants can now face up to 10 years in prison or $15,000 in fines for applying for a car tag or water service.

If anti-immigrant laws such as HB 56 continue to be enforced, the fear and hysteria that are spreading through Alabama’s immigrant communities will be in other parts of the country in no time. We need to ensure that we stand in solidarity with the people of Alabama and ensure that their voices are heard and their rights are upheld. When we deny human rights to some people, we put all everyone’s rights at risk.

Photo courtesy of blog.al.com

 

 

 

Arizona, Wisconsin…Searching for freedom in a sea of hate

Two months into the new year, it looks like the hateful and divisive rhetoric that marked 2010 is continuing to make it’s presence felt. Fueled by frustration over the economic situation, and by the changing racial and ethnic face of the country, ‘hate’ groups espousing extremist views on race, politics and culture are growing at an alarming rate. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center’s annual investigative report released on February 23rd, the number of hate groups in the country has topped 1000, more than have existed at any point in over 20 years.

A lot of the vitriol is directed at President Obama, who is often seen as a symbol of all that is “wrong” with the country. Any residue anger seems to be directed at minority groups, with a focus on the immigrant population that comprises a significant percentage of the country’s workforce. From previously existing mainly on the fringes of media and politics, this hate and resentment aimed at minorities has now decisively made its way into the mainstream, most visible in the political sphere in the form of countless bills that are being introduced around the country. In addition to the events currently taking place in Wisconsin, it is difficult to ignore the vast array of anti-immigrant legislation and enforcement measures that are on the cards at both the Federal and state levels.

The passage of SB1070 by Arizona’s Gov. Jan Brewer in April of last year set off a wave of harsh anti-immigrant laws that raise concerns of racial profiling and civil rights violations in various states around the country and pose a serious threat to basic American values. State legislative sessions across the country from California to Kentucky, Texas to Rhode Island have witnessed the introduction of immigration enforcement bills that have severe implications for racial profiling. On February 24th, Ohio introduced its own version of  Arizona’s SB1070 in a bill which permits local police officers to enforce federal immigration laws. A bill introduced in the Arkansas state legislature that would deny state benefits to undocumented immigrants except in emergencies was halted yesterday when a House committee voted against the bill by a small majority. On Tuesday , the Indiana Senate voted for a law to allow local police to question people stopped for infractions on their immigration status, in a bill that was similar to 2010′s SB1070.

While many states introduce harsh anti-immgrant laws, Arizona continues to stay two steps ahead of the others when it comes to advancing legislation that curtails basic rights and freedoms. The latest round of legislation that was cleared by the Appropriations Committee in the Arizona Senate on Wednesday illustrates this point best. In addition to SBs 1308 and 1309, the bills that undermine the 14th amendment’s birthright citizenship provision, was a package of immigration bills, led by Senator Russell Pearce (the author of SB1070), that curtail the rights of immigrants in the state of Arizona. These bills mandate that undocumented immigrants would be barred from receiving many public benefits, attending community collage, and be barred from driving motor vehicles and obtaining any state licenses including those required for marriage. The bills mandate that schoolchildren (k-12) would have to show proof of citizenship and run the risk of being reported to local police if there were undocumented, and that hospitals would be required to ask for proof of citizenship from patients demanding non-emergency care. Senator Russell Pearce defended his compendium of anti-immigrant legislation that he said was aimed at stopping the “invasion.” All the above laws were passed by the committee, and are now moving to the Senate floor for approval.

Alessandra Soler Meetze, executive director of the A.C.L.U. of Arizona decried the new measures as working towards a “papers please” society. Speaking to the New York Times, she said-

This bill is miles beyond S.B. 1070 in terms of its potential to roll back the rights and fundamental freedoms of both citizens and noncitizens alike…

And while the bold announcement by the Obama administration and the Department of Justice that they would no longer defend the constitutionality of the the federal Defense of Marriage Act (that bans the recognition of same-sex marriage) comes as good news, the issue of immigration is looking bleak on the Federal level as well. Since the beginning of the 112th session of Congress, the Immigration Subcommittee of the House Judiciary committee has been pushing its strategy for mass deportation, referred to as ‘Attrition Through Enforcement.’ A few weeks ago, America’s Voice released a report exposing the background and strategy behind the Immigration Subcommittee’s current policy on immigration enforcement.

The report, collated by the America’s Voice Education Fund, “uncovers the origin of “attrition through enforcement”; its radical goal to achieve the mass removal of millions of immigrants; and the impact this proposal would have on both our economy and politics.” The report details how this approach, promoted by nativist groups and anti-immigrant hard-liners such as the Center for Immigration Studies, FAIR (Federation for American Immigration Reform) and Numbers USA, is packaged as a program aiming  to create jobs for Americans, but is designed to ramp up enforcement on state and federal levels with a view to forcing the 11 million undocumented immigrants out of the country, despite the monumental cost to taxpayers and the agriculture industry. On a press call mid February, Mark Potok, Director of the Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center; Fernand Amandi, Managing Partner of research organization, Bendixen & Amandi International; and Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice, discussed the strategy of mass deportation and the risks that it poses for the political future of the GOP, for the future of race relations in the U.S., and for the economy.

This long list of events, laws and movements taking place around the nation are working to thwart positive change and drastically affect the values of freedom, equality and justice that are intrinsic to the spirit of this country. At such a time it is important that we look to people that are standing up for what is right, and learn from their example. Over the last week, tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets in Wisconsin to demand that the government renew their commitment to the ‘American dream’ by valuing hard work instead of denying basic public services to those who are the most vulnerable. In a move to stand in solidarity with the people of Wisconsin and spread the “spirit of Madison” to the rest of the country, on Saturday, February 26, at noon local time, groups around the country are organizing rallies in front of every statehouse in all major cities.

Stand together to Save the American Dream. We are all Wisconsin, we are all Americans.

Photo courtesy of endoftheamericandream.com

This Thanksgiving, dream a little dream for youth around the country

Young people like Noemi Degante and Fredd Reyes deserve the opportunity to contribute to the country they have called home for most of their lives. Instead, they will spend this Thanksgiving under arrest and in detention for demanding a chance to complete college and strive for successful careers and fulfilling lives.

After a long night of studying for an exam at Guilford Technical Community College, Fredd Reyes was rudely awakened by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials at 5am on a morning in September. He was handcuffed and taken from his home in North Carolina to the Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Georgia, a place that has been the subject of recent critiques and protests for it’s inhumane immigration detention practices.

Fredd, who was brought to the U.S. from Guatemala when his parents were fleeing persecution and death threats, has spent the 22 years that he has lived in this country working hard to be a model student and create the life that his parents envisioned for him. The reasons for Fredd’s detention are the same as those holding back the 2.1 million undocumented young people around the United States who were brought here as children by their parents. For all these young people, the DREAM Act (The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act) is the only hope for the chance to make the most out of the k-12 education that they have received and follow their aspirations. If passed, the DREAM Act would make undocumented people like Fredd eligible for a green card and a path to citizenship, as long as they came to the U.S. before the age of 16 (and are below the age of 35 when the law is passed), have been in the country for more than 6 years, and once they have completed at least two years of a college degree or military service. The DREAM Act, which will be coming up for a vote in the Senate before the end of the lame duck session, has received bipartisan support a number of times in the past, but has always stopped short of being passed.

Following Senate majority leader Harry Reid’s announcement that he would reintroduce the DREAM Act in Congress after Thanksgiving, DREAM Activists around the country have upped the anti to urge Congress to work together to make sure that it is passed this time around. Two weeks ago a dozen students at the University of Texas in San Antonio began a hunger strike to urge Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, who has supported the DREAM Act in the past but refused to vote for it in September, to agree to vote for the bill when it is reintroduced in Congress. This week, another 30 students from University of Texas campuses in Austin, Dallas, Arlington, Brownsville and Edinburg, as well as the University of North Texas in Denton, joined the hunger strike to drive the message home. The strike is being led by DREAM Act NOW, a group that is part of the national coalition called United we DREAM, which brings together DREAM Activists in all the states. Lucy Martinez, who is a second year at UT San Antonio and one of the leaders of strike said that the strike is their last resort since they “have tried everything else. We have done lobbying, legislative visits, marches, sit-ins. We are tired of it.” Martinez likened the hunger strike to “what we go through in our everyday lives — starving without a future.”

Also trying to convince a Republican who has gone from supporting the DREAM Act to taking a stand against it, Noemi Degante in Arizona was arrested and charged with ‘unlawful conduct and demonstrating in a building in the Capitol complex’ after staging a sit-in outside Sen. Jon McCain’s office on November 17th. She, and five other “dreamers” had waited all day to see him, only to be denied a conversation with him he was finally spotted. When they told him that they wanted a chance to serve the country the same way that he did, he replied, “Good, go serve.” Noemi returned to waiting after that, and was arrested when she refused to leave after the office closed.

Frank Sharry, who is the Executive Director of the advocacy organization, America’s Voice, hosted a press conference on the DREAM Act on November 18th at which he stated that the majority of the lobbying efforts are currently being directed at the Republican Senators who have voted for previous versions of the DREAM Act in the past and have since reversed their positions. As the Senate vote on the DREAM Act approaches, it is imperative that Congress men and women are made aware that beyond the political realm, this bill would have a tremendous impact on the on the well-being of countless families, and on the future of this country, it’s youth and it’s economy. The national DREAM Act campaign, United we DREAM, has designated November 29th and 30th as National Dream Days of Action. So as you sit down to give thanks and enjoy your family this Thanksgiving, make sure you think of all the families that have been separated and all the young people that need the chance to dream. Pick up the phone and call your Senators to demand the DREAM Act. Happy Thanksgiving!

Watch these young dreamers and be inspired!

Photo courtesy of blog.nj.com

New challenges and new hopes- immigrant voters hold their own in the elections

As election fever passes and the nation takes stock, one thing becomes clear – even as Republicans have taken control of the House and Democrats remain strong in the Senate, no one can afford to ignore the immigrant voter.

This election wasn’t about immigration – much of it was dominated by the issue of jobs and the economy. But the issue of immigration, even if it wasn’t front and center, did play a crucial role in winning Senate seats. In California, Meg Whitman’s strong anti-immigrant stance yielded no results, while in Colorado, Senator Michael Bennet received support from Latino voters, and in Nevada, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s positive stance on immigration brought in Latino voters who formed 16% of the entire electorate. In an analysis on the Washington Independent-

“Harry Reid beat out Sharron Angle (R), who ran a campaign that relied heavily on anti-illegal immigration rhetoric, and immigration hawk Tom Tancredo lost the race for Colorado governor… Angle claimed Reid supported a number of policies to help illegal immigrants and seemed to be attempting to capitalize on ethnic fears in ads that showed angry-looking Latino men set to dramatic, if untrue, statements. Tancredo also campaigned largely on immigration policy… Republican Meg Whitman lost to Democrat Jerry Brown. Whitman tried to reach out to Latino voters after her primary, but was hindered by allegations of mistreatment and illegal employment by an undocumented maid who worked for her for almost a decade.”

In a poll conducted by Latino Decisions with the support of National Council of La Raza, SEIU, and America’s Voice, among Latino voters in 8 states, they found that when asked whether the issue of immigration was an important factor in their decision to vote and in their choice of candidate, 60% of Latinos said it was either “the most important” issue or “one of the most important” issues, staying ahead of other important issues like education, taxes, and housing. In Nevada and Arizona, two of the states with the most polarizing immigration debates going on at the moment, sentiments were even stronger. 69% of Latino voters in both Arizona and Nevada said the immigration issue was one of the most important factors in their decision to vote, and who to vote for.  In Arizona, 40% said immigration was the single most important issue in their voting decisions, and 38% in Nevada said the same. Moreover, a high percentage of Latino voters said that their decisions to vote and who to vote for were also motivated by divisive immigration debates, and especially by anti-immigrant and anti-Latino sentiment expressed in the electoral campaigns of candidates like Sharron Angle and Tom Tancredo.

The election results, particularly the Republican take over of the House, will have deep consequences for the future of immigration policy. With Lamar Smith, R-Texas slated to become chairman of the House Judiciary Committee overseeing all immigration issues, and Steve King, R-Iowa heading the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security, and International Law, pressure for “increased border security and enforcement actions targeted at undocumented immigrants in the workplace” will increase. Mr. Smith’s track history around the issue of immigration over the past few years does not yield a pretty picture, with him supporting Arizona-Style Immigration Enforcement, measures to ending birthright citizenship and a push for mandatory E-Verify regulations. And judging by last weeks request by seven Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee asking Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to “detail exactly how much funding” would be needed to “ensure that enforcement of the law occurs consistently for every illegal alien encountered and apprehended”, a strong pushback from Republicans in both the House and Senate would not be surprising.

But instead of running away from ugly bills, we need to confront them. Because looking at 2012, it is clear that no one, Republicans or Democrats, will be able to win an election without the strength of the immigrant voter, and particularly the Latino voter supporting them. Be it in California, Texas, New York, New Jersey, Nevada, this election has shown that in races with the Latino and immigrant vote, one can create victory and show strength.

It’s time to listen and stay fixed on the goal with a clear, progressive call for change that respects due process and fairness for all.

Photo courtesy of www.fronteras.org

Will Latino enthusiasm color the mid-term vote?

In these weeks leading up to the mid-term elections, the competition for voter support is intense and the tension is most palpable in the sphere of the media where candidates are vying for support from specific voter groups. Looking specifically at the constituency of Latino voters, research conducted by America’s Voice and the Latino Decisions team has found that in spite of, or possibly even as a direct consequence of the rabid anti-immigrant campaigning on the part of right wing members of the Republican party, there has been an steady increase in numbers of Latinos who will vote Democrat in the mid-term elections.

From the standpoint of the immigration issue, it is interesting to note that while researchers were seeing a strong sense of disillusionment with the Democrat party amongst Latinos and other immigrants over the last few months, currently, this trend seems to be changing. Latinos, who voted predominantly Democrat in the 2008 Presidential election, had begun to wane in their support for the Democratic party as a result of the party’s failure to deliver on promises of immigration reform made during the 2008 electoral campaign.

As announced by America’s Voice and Latino Decisions on a call yesterday though, recent tracking polls reveal that there has been a significant increase in the number of registered Latino voters, and that a majority of them are voting Democrat. One of the key criteria by which Latino Decisions measure their data is “degree of enthusiasm.” Yesterday’s tracking poll showed a much greater deal of enthusiasm for next week’s election amongst Democrat leaning Latino voters than amongst the (smaller) Republican leaning Latino population. Most importantly, this is a huge change from a month ago- this week, 61% of Latino voters said they were “very enthusiastic” about voting on November 2nd, as compared to only 40% on September 6th. The research shows-

For the fourth straight week, we find an increase in the percentage of Latino registered voters who report being very enthusiastic about voting in November 2010.  Four weeks ago just 40.3% of Latinos said they were very enthusiastic, and today that figures reaches 58.3%.  Self-reported turnout certainty remained constant at 75.1% from one week ago, up 10 point from four weeks ago.  As election day draws near, and early voting is in full swing, Latinos are reportedly showing more and more interest and enthusiasm.

According to Matt Barreto of Latino Decisions, this increase in enthusiasm is largely due to the anti-immigrant and blatantly anti-Latino campaigns that a lot of Republican candidates have run. In the past weeks, Senator Harry Reid’s opponent in Nevada, Republican candidate Sharron Angle, has released a series of ads that, along with demonizing Harry Reid for his support of immigration reform, are extremely anti-immigrant, anti-Latino and even blatantly racist. Calling Reid “The Best Friend An Illegal Alien Ever Had,” one of the ads juxtaposes images of aggressive looking Latino fence skulking alongside a fence with images of an innocent white family. Her second ad shows a group of “gang-like” Latino men threatening white college students. Continuing to pit the “dangerous” brown people against the “innocent” white people like her and her family, the most recent ad might be the one to tip the Senatorial race in Nevada against Sharron Angle, given that Latinos are said to play a prominent role in the tight race between Reid and Angle.

Watch the offensive ad below-

Foolhardy anti-immigrant campaigns are not the only reason that Latinos seem more keen to vote next week. In addition to a mammoth effort on the part of civic and community groups and labor unions such as the Services Employees Workers Union working on the ground to encourage people to vote, President Obama himself seems to be focusing his energy on winning back the support of the immigrant community and driving them to the polls.

In an interview for Univision yesterday, President Obama defended his unsuccessful attempt at securing immigration reform. Making an analogy to the civil rights movement, he urged that change takes time, and reassured the community that he would push for immigration reform as soon as he could. In his interview, he sought to convince listeners that it was Republicans who were responsible for blocking the passage of immigration reform, making a pointed reference to Sen. John McCain as one of the 11 Republicans who support immigration reform a few years ago only to back away from the issue over the past year. Today, the President is holding a conference call along with actress Eva Longoria, to highlight the actions he has taken that benefit the Latino community and drive home the point that a refusal to vote in the mid-term elections could mean a death knell for immigration reform.

Whatever your reasons, it’s really important to get your voice out there, so make sure you vote!

Jury Rules Immigrant’s Murder a Hate Crime, Even as Vicious Ads Continue to Stoke Racial Tensions

Guest Blogger: Jackie Mahendra from America’s Voice.

While the mainstream media has been largely absent, Latina Lista has been busy covering the dramatic trial of the two men charged with the hate crime killing of immigrant Luis Ramirez in Shenandoah, Pa. It turns out the 2008 murder was, indeed, a hate crime.

A federal grand jury has convicted the two Pennsylvania men, in a verdict that many argue was long overdue.

On July 14, 2008, Ramirez was beaten to death by a group of teenagers who yelled racial epithets throughout the killing.  A retired Philadelphia police officer said she heard one of the defendants yell to Mr. Ramirez’s friends, “Tell your [expletive] Mexican friends to get the [expletive] out of Shenandoah or you’ll be [expletive] laying next to him.”  Defendants were reported to have yelled, “Go back to Mexico” as they beat him to death.

Despite the evidence, an all-white jury found two of the defendants “not guilty” of third-degree murder and ethnic intimidation last year, to cheers in the courtroom and the astonishment of the Latino community.  The Federal government took up the case and finally justice was served.

Yet, two years after Ramirez’ gruesome murder, we continue to see egregious examples of race-baiting and immigrant bashing for political gain. This campaign season, a number of candidates are running race-baiting campaign ads that demonize immigrants. They use extreme, anti-immigrant rhetoric instead of offering real solutions to our immigration crisis.  Republican Senate candidates David Vitter (R-LA) and Sharron Angle of Nevada are both running anti-immigrant ads that paint Latinos as dangerous criminals, freeloaders, and the enemies of “real” Americans.

The FBI reports that hate crimes against Latinos rose 32% between 2003 and 2008 (the last year for which data is available), and groups such as the Southern Poverty Law Center have documented a correlation between anti-immigrant rhetoric and anti-Latino violence.

According to Lynn Tramonte, Deputy Director of America’s Voice:

Hateful campaign ads and rhetoric that demonize immigrants have no place in America today.  It’s as if some politicians think there is no cost for immigrant-bashing.  Well they are wrong.  This type of rhetoric creates a climate where violent crimes are committed against human beings simply because of the color of their skin.  Yesterday’s verdict in the Luis Ramirez murder is just, but it’s not nearly enough.  Politicians and pundits must stop using immigrants as scapegoats and instead use their microphones to spread a message of tolerance, humanity, and the need for common sense immigration reform.

In light of this tragic case, we believe it’s time for politicians and pundits to end the hateful rhetoric and immigrant bashing that has created a hostile climate for Latinos and encouraged hate crimes like the murder of Mr. Ramirez. Luis Ramirez lost his life because of the unaccountable, incendiary, and out-of-control immigration debate in this country.

Politicians who stoke racial fears and hatred need to realize that their rhetoric has severe — but not unforeseen– consequences.

The ruling on Luis Ramirez’ murder should serve as a wake-up call to those who refuse to end the politics of division and fear.

Photo courtesy of americasvoiceonline.org

Can the All Star Game and SB1070 co-exist in Arizona?

A week ago we had given a shout out to all the baseball players who were taking a stand against Arizona’s new anti-immigration legislation, SB1070. Baseball plays a large role in the culture in Arizona, and given that 27% of baseball players are Latino, it is no surprise that players like National League star Adrian Gonzalez see the new law as a violation of human rights, and by extension, an assault on baseball culture.

Given that the next All-Star game is scheduled to be held in Phoenix, Arizona in 2011, there has been a lot of buzz about the sport making a statement by boycotting Arizona and moving the game to another state as long as the racist law continues to be in effect. As more and more stars have said that they will boycott the All-Star game if it takes place in Arizona, there has has been increasing pressure on the commissioner of Major League Baseball (MLB), Bob Selig, to move the game to another state. Senator Robert Menendez, the only Hispanic-American in the Senate, has been urging players to boycott the 2011 All-Star game to protest the law. He wrote a letter to the executive director of the MLB Players Association, Micheal Weiner thanking him for issuing a statement against the law and urging him to take a stand against SB1070. His letter reads-

The Arizona law is offensive to Hispanics and all Americans because it codifies racial profiling into law by requiring police to question anyone who appears to be in the country illegally. As you and I both know, Major League Baseball (M.L.B.) is truly a multicultural, international sport…Imagine if your players and their families were subjected to interrogation by law enforcement, simply because they look a certain way..That would truly be an embarrassment and an injustice, not only to M.L.B., but to the values and ideals we hold as Americans.

On a call held yesterday, Latino advocacy and immigrant rights groups came together with labor groups and progressive bloggers to officially call on MLB Commissioner Bob Selig to move the upcoming All-Star game from Arizona. Additionally, they urged teams to re-locate their spring training sessions to a different place in the country. A letter was sent to Bob Selig asking for his support in the sport’s boycott of the unjust law. It said-

In this moment of crisis, these players – and baseball’s millions of Latino and immigrant fans – deserve a loud and clear message that the league finds this law unacceptable.

In order to take this forward, Presente.org and Fenton Communications have started a campaign called “Move the Game,” which has a list of players from the MLB who have spoken out against the law, as well as a petition urging the MLB Association to take action by moving the game from Arizona and sending a clear message to Arizona lawmakers. Frank Sharry of America’s Voice, Clarissa Martinez of the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) and John Amato, founder of the blog, Crooks and Liars, made statements about the need for Bob Selig to break his silence and speak out on behalf of the community of players by boycotting the law. Doug Gordon, the founder of Move the Game said that the campaign had already received 100,000 signatures. Speaking about the economic impact this could potentially have for the state, he said-

We believe it is time for Major League Baseball to step up to the plate, follow the precedent set by the NFL in the early 1990’s, and move the game. Bud Selig may think he can ignore the fans and his players but we are betting he can’t ignore the All Star Game’s corporate sponsors. They will be our next target.

So if you’re a baseball fan and you believe in the values of diversity, integrity and respect that symbolize American culture, sign the petition to tell Bob Selig to boycott Arizona by moving the All Star game to a state that is more cognizant of those values.

Will immigration reform pass this year? Olympic medalist hopes so.

It took courage for 18-year old Olympian bronze medalist Simon Cho to relate the inspirational story of his life as an immigrant in America. Born in Seoul, Simon came to the U.S. with his family at the age of four as an undocumented immigrant. Aspiring to give their children the American Dream, Simon’s parents worked tirelessly, day and night, to ensure that their children got the opportunities they deserved. While Simon’s parents worked hard in their seafood shop 365 days of the year, Simon devoted most of his time to speed skating, a sport he was exceptionally good at. Realizing their son’s talent, Simon’s parents sold their shop and everything they had in order to afford his full-time training with the Olympic team in Salt Lake City. Now a U.S. citizen (due to more relaxed immigration regulations at the time), Simon tried for and made the U.S. Olympic speed skating team as one its youngest athletes, returning from this year’s Vancouver games with a bronze medal for the U.S.

Like Simon, thousands of immigrant youth have the potential to realize the American Dream and make their country pride. Unfortunately, many of them never get the chance to do so, and instead, live in fear despite having lived in America most of their lives. 21-year old Jessica Colotl, a student of Political Science and French at Kennesaw State University in Georgia, is a case in point. A bright, diligent young woman, Jessica worked nights in order to pay her tuition and hopes to continue her education and become a lawyer after graduating in the fall. Sounds like someone you know?

A few days ago, as Jessica pulled into her University parking lot, a campus police officer pulled her over saying she was “impeding the flow of traffic.” She was honest about not having a license and being undocumented, and was immediately detained in Cobb Country, in accordance with their 287(g) program that gives local police the power to enforce federal domain immigration law. An immigration judge denied her bond and ordered that she be deported in 30 days. Is she a danger to society? No. Is she draining the resources of the State? No. Is she a hard-working young student who pays taxes and contributes to the economy and the state. Yes. As you read this, Jessica is sitting behind bars in a detention center in Gadsden, Alabama, awaiting deportation to Mexico, a country she hasn’t lived in for over ten years, a country she barely remembers.

Our country’s immigration system is broken and in dire need of reform so that instead of facing the unjust circumstances that Jessica finds herself in, more people can work towards its collective good, the way Olympian Simon Cho is doing. Yesterday, Senate Democrats Harry Reid, Charles Schumer, Richard Durbin, Dianne Feinstein and Robert Menendez introduced a conceptual framework for immigration reform in the hopes of getting immigration reform passed in 2010.

The enforcement heavy proposal calls for enhanced border security and stronger enforcement, continuing with the current 287(g) programs, and leaving in a biometric Social Security card that will serve as an employment verification card. The new legislative framework also includes provisions for more green cards for highly-skilled immigrants and a detailed process for the legalization of undocumented immigrants that would require them to get extensive background checks, pay fines, be fluent in English and undergo a long waiting period before they achieve complete legalization. Additionally, the framework aims to include much-needed pieces like the DREAM Act, AgJOBS and provisions for same sex partner immigration.

Since its introduction yesterday, the proposal has garnered mixed reactions across the board. While advocacy groups are relieved at a concrete plan to register undocumented immigrants and begin the process of legalization, as well as the proposal’s focus on family-based immigration, its prioritization on enforcement and border security has created discomfort. Groups have condemned the bill for calling for increasing border security and enforcement without undertaking any positive provisions. AILA has critiqued Schumer’s new proposal for the increased detention recommendations that do little to rectify all that is wrong with the existing detention and deportation system. The American Civil Liberties Union is deeply dissatisfied with the inclusion of the Biometric ID card program “Believe,” which they predict will be extremely expensive and inefficient, while “usher(ing) government into the very center of our lives.”

As debate over the proposal continues, one thing everyone agrees on is that we need to fix our broken immigration system. Tomorrow, 80 cities around the country will bring in May Day with rallies, protests and marches demanding just and humane immigration that supports civil rights and family values. Find a march near you and be one step closer to fixing the broken immigration system.

UPDATE: Good news! On the occasion on Cinco de Mayo, Jessica Colotl was released from the Etowah County Detention Center and is now back at home with her mother. At the moment, it seems like ICE has granted her “deferred action,” which means that work remains in the courts before a real victory for Jessica’s freedom is won. But we know that all the phone calls, letters and support paid off, so we need to make sure that we keep the pressure on ICE to ensure that cases like hers receive the right kind of attention and justice and due process is restored to the system!

Photo courtesy of www.globalimmigrationcounsel.com

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