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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

Obama announces decision to send 1200 troops to the border

In the run-up to the November elections, the White House seems to be succumbing to political pressure to increase immigration enforcement, border security and deportations, rather than fix the broken immigration system.

So it was no surprise to hear the President’s decision to send 1200 National Guard troops to the Southwest border between the Unites States and Mexico. The White House also called for an additional $500 million to fund “increased agents, investigators, and prosecutors, as part of a multi-layered effort to target illicit networks trafficking in people, drugs, illegal weapons, and money.” The move is being compared to a “scaled down version” of President Bush’s decision to send 6,000 troops to the border from 2006 to 2008. Common to both cases, the idea is that rather than enforce immigration law, the additional troops take over support issues so that more U.S. Border Patrol agents are free to handle law enforcement. According to the Associated Press, the troops will work on-

…intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance support, analysis and training, and support efforts to block drug trafficking. They will temporarily supplement border patrol agents until Customs and Border Protection can recruit and train additional officers and agents to serve on the border.

Since the White House announcement hit the headlines yesterday, it has received criticism from both sides of the debate. Those in favor of harsher enforcement have deemed it “insufficient”. Republicans such as John McCain and Sen. Russell Pearce, author of the controversial Arizona bill SB1070, have critiqued it saying that 1200 troops without the authority to enforce the law will do little to secure the borders. Advocates of immigration reform have denounced the President’s decision as political pandering that simply pays lip service to the issue without attempting to solve it. Ali Noorani of the National Immigration Forum said the move is a waste of resources-

Deploying additional National Guard without a clear strategy to end arms or drug smuggling is a response to tired talking points. Without true immigration reform, the political theater will continue and billions will continue to be wasted on misguided border security measures.

Organizations and elected officials representing border communities from San Diego to Brownsville have drafted a letter to the Obama Administration and federal legislators strongly opposing the decision to send the National Guard to the U.S.-Mexico border. These communities feel that the decision is  motivated solely by political motives, rather than based on the needs of those at the border. The letter reads-

“While DC politicians like to paint the border as a war zone, the reality is that it is one of the safest areas of the country. Crime is down. Even immigration flows are down. The only emergency here is a political one,” said Pedro Rios, with the American Friends Service Committee in San Diego, one of the signatories of the letter. However, the militarization of the border is not without consequences for the communities who live there. Economies are choked by inefficient border crossings, civil rights are pushed aside, and quality of life is seriously diminished. It is time to rethink our border policy.  Increasing the quantity of armed agents and soldiers on our southern border does not enhance our national security, but in fact undermines it by mis-allocating resources. Humane border policies would focus quality law enforcement resources on real threats in the region, while protecting the rights and well-being of border residents.

On the one hand President Obama has repeatedly mentioned the need for bipartisan immigration reform that focuses on keeping families together through a humane, but workable solution, and his criticism of Arizona’s new anti-immigrant law was clear on that front. On the other hand, all actions that have been taken by the Obama administration around immigration have involved increased enforcement including the expansion of 287g and the Secure Communities programs, the highest investment on border security to date, and an all time record in detention and deportations.

Today, the Senate is about to vote on amendments to the Emergency Supplemental Appropriations Act, which if passed, will increase immigration detention, enforcement and border security. Amongst these are amendments introduced by Sen. John McCain  and Sen. Jon Kyl which call for the deployment of an additional 6,000 troops and additional funding for Operation Streamline at the border. In the wake of the recent White House announcement, it is imperative that we urge the Senate not to increase detention and border enforcement, and instead, focus on restoring fairness and justice to the immigration system. Call your Senator today before it’s too late.

Photo courtesy of LA Times.

POLL: Do you agree with President Obama's decision to send more troops to the border?

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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

POLL: Do you support the provisions of the new immigration proposal?

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Down to the Wire: Vote for us in the next 3 hours for fairness in immigration

Picture 2We’re down to the wire and need your vote now! In the next three hours, you can vote to Restore Fairness to our broken immigration system on Change.org’s Ideas for Change in America and take us one step closer to an opportunity to have our voice heard in Washington.

Immigration reform has been proven to benefit the livelihood and stability of all of us, leading to a vibrant and viable future. So vote now! Here’s our idea.

Unite to pass immigration reform this year that “Restores Fairness” to our broken immigration system

Today, a broken immigration system denies basic human rights and due process to people who live here. In the aftermath of 9-11, immigrants have borne the brunt of harsh policies with the U.S. government allowing raids and arrests without warrants, holding thousands in inhumane detention conditions, and deporting people without a fair trial.

But there is hope. This year, people across America are coming together to ask for just and humane immigration reform, one of President Obama’s election promises. Right now, Senator Schumer is crafting a bill with Senator Graham to be introduced in the Senate after which it will move to the House. But there are divisive, nativist, voices out there that are trying to stop this.

Raise your voice for a just and humane immigration reform that:

1. Creates a fair path to citizenship for the millions of hardworking individuals and families who live here.
2. Creates fair enforcement practices that include -

- creating legally enforceable detention standards and implementing secure alternatives to detention so that we stop locking up harmless individuals, children and people with severe medical conditions
- stopping indiscriminate raids and the continued use of local law enforcement to enforce federal immigration law
- restoring the ability of immigration judges to consider individual circumstances before they detain and deport people

Immigration reform must also address border security, workers rights, family reunification and future flows of workers.

Photo courtesy of Change.org

We need you to vote now @ “Ideas for Change in America” to restore fairness to immigration

Picture 2We need your vote! Vote to Restore Fairness to our broken immigration system on Change.org’s Ideas for Change in America and take us one step closer to to ensure that 2010 is the year for immigration reform.

Ideas for Change in America is a competition that empowers citizens to build momentum for solutions to pressing problems facing us today. The 10 ideas with the maximum number of votes will go to Washington.

Immigration reform has been proven to benefit the livelihood and stability of all of us, leading to a vibrant and viable future. So vote now! Here’s our idea.

Unite to pass immigration reform this year that “Restores Fairness” to our broken immigration system

Today, a broken immigration system denies basic human rights and due process to people who live here.  In the aftermath of 9-11, immigrants have borne the brunt of harsh policies with the U.S. government allowing raids and arrests without warrants, holding thousands in inhumane detention conditions, and deporting people without a fair trial.

But there is hope. This year, people across America are coming together to ask for just and humane immigration reform, one of President Obama’s election promises. Right now, Senator Schumer is crafting a bill with Senator Graham to be introduced in the Senate after which it will move to the House. But there are divisive, nativist, voices out there that are trying to stop this.

Raise your voice for a just and humane immigration reform that:

1.  Creates a fair path to citizenship for the millions of hardworking individuals and families who live here.
2. Creates fair enforcement practices that include -

- creating legally enforceable detention standards and implementing secure alternatives to detention so that we stop locking up harmless individuals, children and people with severe medical conditions
- stopping indiscriminate raids and the continued use of local law enforcement to enforce federal immigration law
- restoring the ability of immigration judges to consider individual circumstances before they detain and deport people

Immigration reform must also address border security, workers rights, family reunification and future flows of workers.

Photo courtesy of Change.org