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More stories from the ground in Alabama- Some Families Flee, Others Stay Behind and Live in Fear

Continuing the story of the Gonzales family in Birmingham, Alabama and how they have been impacted by HB 56. Previous posts include ‘Life after Alabama’s anti-immigrant law for an American family names Gonzales’ and ‘Singled out in Alabama schools.’

Guestblogger: Vesna Jaksic. Crossposted from the ACLU.

Since parts of Alabama’s anti-immigrant law, H.B. 56, took effect, many families have been fleeing the state in fear. Cineo Gonzales, an Alabama resident and a father of two, talks here about those who left in a hurry, including families with children who are American citizens.

“Their children are U.S. citizens and they are running away in their own country,” said Gonzales, a taxi driver who has been receiving calls from many panicked families.

 Others stayed behind, but their lives have been anything but normal. During a visit to Alabama last week, many families told me that they now live in constant fear and are scared to go to work, school or the grocery store. From small cities like Albertville to the capital of Montgomery and in between, many Hispanic residents said they are now afraid of getting stopped by the police because the law encourages racial profiling.

“When the law passed, I didn’t work for a week,” a landscape worker from Mexico told me. “I had fear because people said police will see your face and stop you, see you’re Latino.”

The worker, who lives in Montgomery and has been in Alabama for seven years, told me he tries to only drive to work now, and is even scared to do that.

“We work to live,” he said. “If we can’t work, we can’t eat and we can’t live.”

The law affects not only the undocumented, but many legal residents and citizens as well. One high school senior told me his three siblings — all U.S. citizens — are afraid they will be separated from their mother, who is an undocumented immigrant.

“My mom just bought a home in May and she really doesn’t want to move,” said the Birmingham area resident, who is 18. “She spent her whole savings trying to build this home for us.”

He was born in Mexico but has lived in the United States since he was a baby, most of it in Alabama. He is bilingual, gets good grades and has a part-time job after school.

“They brought me here since I was one month old,” he told me. “If I go back, I don’t know what I would do.”

Let Children Learn — In Alabama and Beyond

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Crossposted from the Huffington Post.

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

Photo courtesy of 12uspost.com

Alabama’s HB 56: A Perspective from California

Guestblogger: Xiomara Corpeño, National Campaign Director for CHIRLA. Cross-posted from the Rights Working Group blog.

While we celebrate the victory of California Dream, we must also take action against the worst anti-immigrant law in the history of our country, Alabama’s HB56.

California youth have helped advance immigrant justice once again with the historic passage of the California Dream Act, AB130 and AB131, which opens up access to state financial aid for undocumented students. With a January 2013 implementation date for the larger of the two bills, these laws will allow undocumented college students  to receive state-funded financial aid.

In recent years, California has seen its share of ballot measures that seek to repeal laws passed by the legislature. It is a sad circumvention of democracy, as ballot measures often win based on infusions of corporate dollars and distorted facts rather than the true and informed will of the people. Immigrant leaders do not want to take any chances of diverting resources for proactive, pro-immigrant measures to deal with an anti-immigrant ballot attack. If you are interested in the efforts to protect the California Dream Act, please contact Joseph Villela.

While we celebrate the victory of California Dream, we must also take action against the worst anti-immigrant law in the history of our country, signed into law in June 2011 and became law in September in Alabama. HB56 is an even greater violation of civil and human rights than the 2005 Sensenbrenner Bill, HR4437, and its purpose is to create a state of fear for all immigrants and people who “look like immigrants.” A lawsuit has been launched by a coalition of civil rights organizations, churches, and. most recently. by the federal government. While some provisions of the law have been enjoined for now, the litigation process has been mostly ineffective, with conservative judges leaving most of the provisions of HB56 in place. Among some of the provisions that are in effect:

• Law enforcement officers are authorized to check the immigration status of people they stop, detain, or arrest who they reasonably suspect are in the country unlawfully;
• The law requires people to prove their immigration status when they enter into a “business transaction” with the state of Alabama and makes it a felony for an unauthorized immigrant to enter into a “business transaction” with the state of Alabama. Business transactions include applying for a license plate, applying for or renewing a driver’s license, and applying for a business license;
• The law invalidates all contracts between an unauthorized immigrant and another person, except for one night’s lodging, food purchases, and medical services. Contracts include child support, rental, loan, and other agreements;
• The law requires law enforcement to transport those arrested for driving without a license
to the nearest magistrate and to check their immigration status.

Abuses against the civil rights of immigrants are not new in Alabama. In some counties, judges refuse to marry couples unless they can “show papers,” including a social security card, but there is no doubt that this is a worse attack on immigrant rights, even more regressive than SB1070 in Arizona. On a national level, defeating this law must become a priority. North Carolina and other states are considering copying this legislation since it has passed judicial tests. The impact on immigrant families is devastating. Thousands of children are missing from school, and those that are left are scared they will not see their parents when they come home from school each day. Women are afraid to go to prenatal visits, and even legal permanent residents are afraid of being racially profiled. Yet, there is hope across the state as black and white allies stand up against HB56. Students at Oakwood College, a traditionally Christian black college, did not know about the bill until the youth they serve in an after-school program just stopped showing up. They organized a What About the Children demonstration in Montgomery, two hours away from campus, in order to lend their support to the community. White women whose husbands are immigrants are protesting the law. The Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice has enlisted national and other immigrant rights groups to help respond to this humanitarian crisis. Grassroots organizers from across the country, including RWG member CHIRLA, have gone to Alabama to support local efforts, provide Know Your Rights trainings, and help identify new leadership throughout the state.

Alabama and California are on opposite poles of the immigrant right struggle. The many victories in California serve as a light of hope for communities in Alabama as well as Arizona, Georgia, and North Carolina. We must defend these victories here in California while taking swift and decisive action to support the movement for justice in Alabama and across the country.

Photo courtesy of rightsworkinggroup.org (“What About the Children” protests in Montgomery, Alabama)

 

Hysterical and spot on! Colbert says “I told you so” and highlights the value of migrant workers

Hysterical and spot on. Colbert tells Alabama “I Told You So,” and rips immigration law HB56 to shreds, highlighting the value of migrant workers-

According to government statistics, three-quarters of all crop workers working in American agriculture were born outside the United States, and at least 50% of the crop workers have not been authorized to work legally in the United States.

Since the passage of anti-immigrant law HB 56 in Alabama, many documented and undocumented farm workers left their jobs and even fled the state, leaving the agricultural economy in bad shape. With tomatoes rotting on the vines, Colbert referenced the “Take Back Our Jobs” campaign that he had led last year along with the United Farm Workers of America. The campaign challenged opponents to follow through on their stand that undocumented immigrants “take our jobs” and mobilized unemployed American citizens to willingly walk in the poorly conditioned shoes of these immigrant farmers’ for even a day. On last night’s show Colbert gloated and showed-off a banner saying “I Told You So” when Alabama farm owners were finding that “Americans” didn’t want to take on the jobs that migrant workers did due to the extremely difficult conditions and low wages.

As Colbert put it, very sardonically “Yes, Hispanic farm workers have fled Alabama, stealing yet another thing Americans would like to do.”

Watch, laugh, and stand up for human rights in Alabama-

Alabama’s Watergate

If you needed additional proof that Alabama is in the midst of a humanitarian crisis, look no further. With a population of only 693, the ironically named township of Allgood, Alabama managed to send shockwaves through the international community this weekend, using a provision of HB 56 to deny clean water and proper sanitation to residents lacking state identification.

Allgood’s “papers for water” policy is a draconian interpretation of Section 30 of the controversial law, which deems it illegal for an individual lacking proof of citizenship to enter into any “business transaction” with the “state or a political subdivision of the state.” With many families already confined to their homes for fear of deportation, the loss of clean water and sanitation could be catastrophic.

And the impact of such a measure is not limited to undocumented households alone. The amended terms of access are also likely to impact poor, elderly and minority citizens, who are less likely to have photo identification and proof of citizenship. This level of disenfranchisement is a haunting reminder of Alabama’s troubled history during the civil rights era – one the state is coming dangerously close to repeating.

HB 56 is already considered to be the most draconian piece of anti-immigrant legislation in the country, but the most recent development in Allgood is a graphic reminder that immigrant rights are human rights, and denying fairness to some puts all of our freedoms at risk.

Stand in solidarity with the people of Alabama and spread the word – take action to restore fairness now.

Photo courtesy of thinkprogress.org

No HB 56: Human Rights for AL(L)

Why are some Alabama parents pulling their children out of school? Why are some Alabama workers afraid to show up to their jobs? Why are some Alabama families fleeing the state altogether?

Because last week Alabama began to enforce one of the harshest immigration laws in U.S. history. HB 56 requires local and state law enforcement to check the status of any person of whom they have “reasonable suspicion” of being undocumented, ostensibly encouraging racial profiling. The law also requires schools to check the immigration status of all new students.

Please share this image far and wide: via Twitter, make it your Facebook profile photo, and more!

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.

Alabama’s HB56 shows racism still part of state culture

Guest blogger: Keith Rushing, Communications Manager, Rights Working Group. Crossposted from The Huffington Post.

Last week, a federal court’s decision allowed parts of a law to go into effect that essentially requires police to racially profile people while criminalizing undocumented migrants for being without immigration documents. The law and the decision upholding it shows that Alabama — in passing the harshest anti-immigration law in the nation — is still mired in its racist, segregationist past.

The message Alabama sent to brown people by passing this law — especially those thought to be migrants — is a simple one: Get out of Alabama. We don’t want your kind here.

In the 1950s and early 1960s, Alabama was a place of intense racial hatred. Montgomery, Ala., central to the Civil Rights Movement, is the city where, in 1955, Rosa Parks was arrested after sitting in the whites-only section of a city bus, leading to a massive and ultimately successful boycott of the city’s public bus system. A year later, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned segregation on public buses nationwide finding that the Alabama law allowing seating according to skin color was unconstitutional.

Despite that success, much of Alabama’s white residents were determined to defend their segregated way of life through brutal violence.

In 1961, some 200 white men in Anniston, Ala attacked the Freedom Riders, a racially integrated group of activists on a bus trip through the South. The bus was firebombed and the activists were beaten with pipes and bats.

Alabama is also the state where four little black girls were killed in 1963 in the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church.

After years of people putting their lives on the line and going to jail and the help of federal civil rights legislation, Alabama ended legalized oppression of African Americans that barred them from voting, from attending better resourced all-white schools and from many jobs that had been reserved for whites.

But a cursory look at the state’s history shows how Alabama was dragged kicking and screaming into accepting desegregation. It took enormous courage, self-sacrifice and the power of the federal government to force change. But by passing Alabama’s harshest anti-immigration law, the state has shown that while Jim Crow laws may not exist anymore, the spirit of Jim Crow, which is defined by white supremacy, is alive and well.

Alabama’s H.B. 56 requires police to investigate the immigration status of those pulled over for routine traffic stops, if they have a “reasonable suspicion” that a person is undocumented. It’s obvious that police will make these judgments of who to investigate based on appearance, including skin color.

The law will also allow undocumented migrants to be held without bond; make it a felony for an undocumented migrant to do business with the state; make it a misdemeanor for an undocumented resident to be without immigration documents; and require elementary and secondary schools to check the immigration status of incoming students.

The enforcement of the nation’s immigration law has primarily been a responsibility of the federal government. But by making it a state law to be without immigration papers, undocumented immigrants are subject to a whole range of new state laws and penalties.

By treating someone different based on skin color or appearance, this law, which violates the constitution in my view, institutionalizes inequality. It’s clear that white Americans will be given a pass and people who are thought to be immigrants will be forced to prove they have the documentation to reside in the United States legally. Since the majority of migrants come form Latin America, people who are brown-skinned, Latino, or thought to be Latino, will likely bear the brunt of this law.

By making it a felony for an undocumented migrant to do business with the state, which could mean applying for a driver’s license or applying for a license to operate a business, Alabama will isolate and ghettoize people who came to the United States to pursue the American Dream and are simply trying to survive.

And by requiring that schools check the immigration status of students, many migrant parents will avoid sending their children to school out of fear that sending them to school will lead to arrest and deportation. The only reason that Alabama lawmakers would want undocumented migrants to keep their kids out of school is because they don’t care about the children’s welfare. In all honesty they could only back such laws if they simply want a group of people gone.

This hateful law has already had a horrible effect. Hundreds of children have already reportedly been absent from schools in some Alabama cities.

The anti-immigrant climate was already causing migrant workers to leave the state, the Christian Science Monitor reported last week.

Racism in the United States often increases during tough economic times and is reflected in scapegoating. That’s what seems to have happened in Alabama. Passing H.B. 56 allowed lawmakers to claim that they’re keeping undocumented migrants from taking jobs that should go to those born in the United States. However the Alabama Farmers Federation indicates that they have not been able to find legal residents to fill the agricultural jobs that must be filled.

The Obama administration is right to have filed an appeal of the federal court decision. And civil rights groups, including the ACLU and Southern Poverty Law Center have asked the federal court to block last week’s decision form taking effect, pending their appeal.

Rights Working Group Executive Director Margaret Huang had it right last week when she said: “People of conscience across Alabama and the United States should send the message that the human rights of all people should be respected regardless of their race, nationality, ethnicity, religion or immigration status.”

We must all speak out against this law.

Photo courtesy of uprisingradio.org

Alabama’s “counterproductive cruelty-” HB56 – threatens the right to education and triggers exodus from the state

It’s been looming for months like a dark, ominous cloud over Alabama. After almost five months since it was first enacted and then pondered over by U.S. District Judge Sharon Blackburn, Alabama’s shocking HB 56 law went into effect on September 28, officially making the state the most regressive and cruel in its attitude towards immigrants. If the supporters of the law aimed to create the nation’s most hostile environment for immigrants, they have succeeded. The news of the passage of HB 56 triggered widespread panic across immigrant communities in Alabama, prompting numerous families to pull their children out of the local schools and many others to move out of the state altogether.

Among its several stipulations, HB 56 requires police to investigate the immigration status of those pulled over for routine traffic stops. This measure ostensibly lends itself to racial profiling since it mandates that police make judgments on who to stop for “reasonable suspicion” based on their appearance. Moreover, the law will also make it a felony for an undocumented migrant to do business with the state and make it a misdemeanor for an undocumented resident to be without immigration documents if stopped and checked. In addition to permitting police to ask for documents from anyone they suspect of being undocumented, the law also invalidates contracts with undocumented immigrants, which could keep them from finding housing.

Perhaps the biggest blow from the law is to the right to public education for all children. Under HB 56, elementary and secondary schools are now required to check the immigration status of incoming students. This unconstitutional crackdown in the education sector goes against a 1982 Supreme Court ruling that all children living in the United States have the right to a public education, regardless of their immigration status. In the case, Plyler vs. Doe in Texas, the justices had struck down a state statute that denied funding for education to undocumented students and charged such students $1000 annual fee to compensate for the lost state funding. The judgement was formed on the rationale  that an uneducated immigrant community was not beneficial for the country.

That reasoning, it seems, was lost on the Alabama state government that just passed HB 56. The law’s damage to the state economy is already evident. The Associated Press reported in the days following the ruling, only handfuls of farm workers showed up for work. According to an article in the The New York Times on the sudden exodus of immigrants from the state-

Critics of the law, particularly farmers, contractors and home builders, say the measure has already been devastating, leaving rotting crops in fields and critical shortages of labor. They say that even fully documented Hispanic workers are leaving, an assessment that seems to be borne out in interviews here. The legal status of family members is often mixed — children are often American-born citizens — but the decision whether to stay rests on the weakest link.

Within just a week of the law going into effect, schools across the state of Alabama have witnessed a dramatic drop in attendance by Hispanic students, with many of them even withdrawing completely. In Montgomery County alone, over 200 Hispanic students stayed home the morning after HB 56 went into effect. Other counties and school districts also reported numerous students either absent or withdrawn over the week, prompting the superintendent in Huntsville to go on a Spanish-language TV channel in an attempt to calm the widespread worry. While authorities claim that they only want schools to report numbers and not names, communities are not convinced, fearing a likely situation where children will be targeted for their status.

This Associated Press video outlines some of the devastating elements that make HB 56 harsher than some of the anti-immigrant laws previously enacted in Arizona and Georgia-


The reactions from within the community have been those of shock, fear and hurt. Victor Palafox, a resident of Birmingham who was brought to the U.S from Mexico when he was six, commented, “Younger students are watching their lives taken from their hands.” The devastating effect this law will have on the education of immigrant children is already very visible. Legal residents such as Cuban-born Annabelle Frank expressed her fear of sending her six-year-old son to school: “I’m actually considering home-schooling. Because I don’t want him involved in all this that’s going on. I know, because he is Hispanic, in some way he’s going to be singled out, you know? I’m really afraid of that.”

HB 56 unapologetically sanctions racial profiling and in doing so, has countless repercussions on various aspects of life in Alabama. While the negative impact on education and the state economy is already becoming clear, the law will instill a climate of fear and mistrust between communities and local police and law enforcement. A New York Times editorial questions the “counterproductive cruelty” of HB 56, asking “Do Alabamans want children too frightened to go to school? Or pregnant women too frightened to seek care? Whom could that possibly benefit?”

The passage of this law could result in the isolation and ghettoization an entire section of the population. HB 56 doesn’t present any sort of solution to the issue of undocumented immigration. It only throws the entire state into jeopardy in the long run, with the immigrant communities and children bearing the absolute worst of the damage.

Laws such as Alabama’s HB 56 and Arizona’s SB 1070 are unconstitutional and against the grain of basic American values of dignity, and respect for everyone. Education is a human right. Living without fear of racial profiling is a human right. When we deny human rights to some, we put all of our rights at risk. If you think Alabama’s HB 56 is unjust, please sign this petition to the Department of Justice asking them to block the law from going into effect. To rally for Alabama’s future, click here.

Photo courtesy of colorlines.com

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!

Reform versus enforcement – Game on!

Since they began their epic journey at the beginning of the year from Miami to DC to fight for a path for citizenship for undocumented youth, the Trail of Dreams students have continuously inspired us with their unwavering courage and determination. After they delivered their demands for the DREAM Act to President Obama, they walked from Scottsdale to Phoenix last week for the National Day of Action to protest Arizona’s new draconian, anti-immigrant law that authorizes local police with immigration powers. On the way back home, they made a pit-stop in Maricopa County where they met with Sheriff Joe Arpaio, infamous for his “reign of terror” against immigrants in Arizona. In their letter requesting a meeting with the Sheriff, the Dreamers wrote-

We would like to discuss the enforcement measures in your county…We also come to show support for the proud immigrants of the Phoenix area, many of whom live in constant fear of harassment by members of your Sheriff’s Department. We want to share our stories so that you understand what it’s like for the millions of immigrants in this country who are unable to fully participate in society due to our broken immigration system.

Three of the the five students are undocumented and Sheriff Arpaio has made no bones about arresting undocumented people in the past, but the students were determined to confront him with their personal stories and ask him to become their ally in the fight for immigration reform. Sheriff Arpaio recently told reporters during a press conference that “Instead of taking them [the undocumented] to ICE, take ‘em to me. I have plenty of room in the tents.” While a complete change of heart for Arpaio might be a little far-fetched, his 45-minute meeting with the Dreamers was reasonably friendly, down to a hug between Sheriff Joe and Gaby Pacheco, one of the students. When asked why she would want to hug a man who has criminalized and persecuted so many immigrants, Gaby said-

I hugged him because I wanted him to feel the pain that our community has been feeling. But also to tell him that as a human being I don’t fear him. I told him with tears coming down that in his heart he has good, and that he has the ability to come back, you know. He was astray and doing these horrible things to our community, but he has the power in his heart to come back and fight with us against these unjust laws.

Probably aware that being too hostile to the students would lead to a massive media frenzy, the Maricopa C0unty Sheriff told the students (with the press present at the meeting) that while he is compassionate towards the plight of undocumented immigrants, he had to continue to do justice to his job of enforcing the immigration laws as they appear in the law books. The student activists told the Sheriff that they had been brought to the United States as children, had contributed to society and the country, and would not know what to do if deported back to the countries in which they were born. After sharing his own stories about living in Venezuela and Colombia during his time with Drug Enforcement, Sheriff Arpaio told the students that their demand for immigration reform would have to begin at a federal level. He left them with the  words, “You keep fighting the fight, make sure you get to D.C. and talk to the politicians.”

Taking Sheriff Arpaio’s cue, activists in New York City have been fasting to push Congress for immigration reform. On Tuesday, ten undocumented students began a hunger strike on the sidewalk outside Sen. Charles Schumer’s midtown Manhattan office to urge him to pass the DREAM Act. When asked how long they intended to continue, the group’s spokesperson, Gabriel Martinez who recently graduated from John Jay College of Criminal Justice, said they would stick it out on their blankets outside Schumer’s office “as long as we can hold.” In addition to the students, 40 activists, including New York politicians and clergy, met at Battery Park to initiate a 3-day fast for comprehensive immigration reform yesterday. Most of these fasters intend to spend the remainder of the strike at the Judson Memorial Church in Greenwich Village. In New York itself, in the past three weeks, 109 activists have been arrested for blocking traffic in front of the government immigration agencies in downtown Manhattan.

These are the latest in a long series of protests, rallies, marches and boycotts that have been taking place across the country. Spurred on by Arizona’s controversial, anti-immigrant law, immigration advocates and activists have been expressing their frustration over the inaction of the Obama administration and Congress over the issue of immigration reform. Meanwhile, Gov. Brewer, who is responsible for signing off on Arizona’s new law, SB1070, was scheduled to meet with President Obama today. Gov. Brewer requested the meeting to speak to the President about her frustration with the lack of federal action in securing the border. Recently, the same Governor told CNN that she was unconcerned about the possibility of the Department of Justice putting up a legal challenge to the new law. “We’ll meet you in court. I have a pretty good record of winning in court,” she said.

Let’s hope the White house stands its ground. Stay tuned!

Photo courtesy of twitter.com/izofice