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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)

 

Move on Arizona (or be left out)!

It is clear that Arizona’s extreme stance on immigration enforcement has caused a stir across the country- one that can be felt within the political arena, the media, and immigrant rights and human rights groups, in addition to catapulting the immigration debate into the limelight. Arizona’s SB1070, which makes it a crime to be undocumented in Arizona and mandates that local police stop and question people who seem “reasonably suspicious” of being undocumented, is scheduled to be enforced by July 29th unless the numerous legal challenges to the law, including the most recent Department of Justice lawsuit against it, succeed in stopping it in its tracks.

While polls show that a number of people support the state’s intervention in immigration enforcement, as we get closer to d-day for the implementation of SB1070, the boycotts against Arizona continue to pile up. Irrespective of the different ways in which the law is being debated, what is for certain is that the state of Arizona is doing a stellar job of isolating itself in a number of ways, both nationally and internationally.

While Mexico’s President Felipe Calderon has already denounced Arizona’s decision to implement SB1070 on a number of occasions, a recent sign of the adverse impact such a law will have on foreign relations between the U.S. and Mexico and other Latin American countries comes in the form of the U.S.-Mexico Border Governors Conference that takes place every year. This annual conference provides an important arena for the governors of 6 Mexican states and 4 U.S. states to come together and discuss issues that are common to all of them, as well as function as a space to represent the unity of the two nations of border issues. For the first time in the 28 years that this conference has been running, it looks like SB1070 might have put a spoke in its wheel. This year’s conference was scheduled to take place in September and through a rotational system, was to be hosted in Arizona by Gov. Jan Brewer, who has championed the new anti-immigrant state measure. Following the announcement of Gov. Brewer as the chairwoman for the 2010 conference, all six Mexican governors wrote to her expressing their umbrage with the law and their plans to boycott this year’s conference to demonstrate their protest against SB1070. The governors wrote that they would not set foot in the state of Arizona because they considered the law, which Gov. Brewer continues to support, to be “based on ethnic and cultural prejudice contrary to fundamental rights.”

Gov. Brewer expressed her disappointment at the boycott saying-

The people of Arizona and the people of America support what Arizona has done…For them to basically not attend here because of that, I think is unfair.

Based on the governors’ boycott of the conference, Gov. Brewer canceled it this Wednesday. The governor’s of the other border states, some of whom do not support the new law, have questioned Gov. Brewer’s authority to cancel the conference and are looking to move it to a different state. And it looks like this might not be the only thing to be leaving Arizona because of it’s harsh new law.

Some time ago we had written about the ways in which baseball players were taking a stand against SB1070. Given that 27% of baseball players are Latino, there has been growing talk about the 2011 All-Star game, which is currently scheduled to be held in Phoenix, Arizona, being moved to another state as long as the unconstitutional and potentially racist law was in effect. As we come up to the 2010 All-Star game, which is taking place in California next week, civil rights and immigrant rights organizations are putting pressure on Bud Selig, the Major League Baseball Commissioner, to move the 2011 game to a state where the players and the fans do not have to worry that they will be singled out by the police for the color of their skin. A few weeks ago, New York Rep. Jose Serrano sent a letter to Bud Selig urging him to move the All-Star game from Arizona and to take an official stand against the law that many players feel is an affront to civil liberties and to the spirit of baseball, but got no response. Opponents of SB1070 and civil rights groups that are mobilizing support to ‘move the game’ held a protest outside the headquarters of MLB earlier today.

As more and more examples come in of the ways in which this draconian law is adversely impacting all aspects of society and culture, states like Utah, Oklahoma and South Carolina are working on following Arizona’s lead and introducing similar bills in their states. As more states think of taking immigration enforcement into their own hands, it is important to keep in mind that when we deny due process to some and compromise their civil liberties, we compromise the human rights of all.

Photo courtesy of nytimes.com

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Watch two moms fight to stay together

In countries around the world, the month of June is celebrated as LGBT Pride month, and is a time for people to come together in affirmation of the LGBT community and the movement for gay rights. June was chosen as Pride month to commemorate the Stonewall riots of 1969 which led to birth of the gay rights movement. Pride month provides us with an opportunity to recognize the successes of the movement for equal rights and to celebrate the diversity of the community, but is also a time to look at the numerous battles that are still to be won before we can all live freely and equally, irrespective of our gender and sexual orientation.

This LGBT Pride month we want to celebrate families- families like the one that Shirley and Jay, moms of twin boys, are fighting to keep together. A picture perfect family, Shirley Tan and Jay Mercado live in Pacifica, California with their thirteen year old twin boys, Jashley and Joriene, and Jay’s mother, Renee. Shirley and Jay fell in love 23 years ago when Shirley was visiting from the Philippines, and have been together ever since. Always wanting to have children, Shirley gave birth to the twins in 1997, and the couple entered into a domestic partnership under California law. Within their suburban community they are considered a “model family” in which Shirley is a typical stay-at-home soccer mom who volunteers at the boys’ school and looks after her mother-in-law while Jay works at an insurance firm. On Sundays, Jay and Shirley sing as a part of their church choir.

As per family unification provisions in immigration law, American citizens are able to petition for residency for their spouses. Unlike countries like France, Germany and Canada, this does not apply to same-sex partners in the United States, so although Jay Mercado is an American citizen, she is unable to sponsor Shirley. Having come to the United States to escape a traumatic and violent familial situation in the Philippines, Shirley had applied for political asylum in 1995. Her lawyer had advised the couple that they should be patient while the application was being processed. News of the denial of Shirley’s application came in the form of a rude shock that disrupted the whole family.

At 6:30 am on a winter morning last year, Jay was getting dressed to go to work and Shirley was getting ready to take the boys to school, when the doorbell rang. On opening it they were faced with two agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) who showed them a 2002 letter ordering Shirley’s deportation (which she had never seen before). Minutes later she was handcuffed and taken away as Jay and her mother watched, frightened and helpless. Shirley was held in detention at the Sansome facility in San Francisco before being tagged with an electronic bracelet and returned to her family, awaiting deportation to the Philippines. Shirley describes her time in detention as one of the most traumatic ordeals of her life-

My agonizing, humiliating and tragic experience started when I got in their SUV. My partner ran to the car and saw me being handcuffed and she broke down to tears… I thought it was the lowest point of my life…I was taken like a criminal… My heart was beating so hard, my whole body was shaking and I felt so nauseated with what was happening to me.

Reporting to ICE three times a week and struggling to deal with the possibility of being separated from her wife and children, Shirley sought the support of LGBT advocates and the media to raise awareness about the case and seek justice that would prevent her family from being torn apart. As a result of this, in April 2009, California Sen. Diane Feinstien introduced a rare bill that granted Shirley a temporary reprieve from deportation, allowing her to stay in the U.S. till January 2011.

While the Tan-Mercado family are extremely grateful for the respite that Sen. Feinstein’s bill has provided them, they are worried about what will happen to them post-Janunary 2011. In a testimony that Shirley delivered to the United States Senate Committee, Shirley expressed her concerns for the future of her family-

All the while my family was first and foremost the center of everything on my mind.  How would Jay work and take care of the kids if I was not there?  Who would continue to take care of Jay’s ailing mother, the mother I had come to love, if I was not there?  Who would be there for my family if I was not there?  In an instant, my family, my American family, was being ripped away from me.  And when I did return home, I had an ankle monitoring bracelet. I went to great lengths to hide it from my children. I have a partner who is a U.S. citizen, and two beautiful children who are also U.S. citizens, but not one of them can petition for me to remain in the United States with them. Because my partner is not a man, she cannot do anything to help me. Nor can my children, who keep asking why this happened to us and what will ultimately happen to our family.

The only way for Shirley to stay in the United States with her family is if gay and lesbian couples to be able to sponsor their partners. It is important that we recognize families like the Tan-Mercado’s so that families can stay together, in Pride month and beyond.

The good news is that the provision that allows for same-sex partner sponsorship has now been folded into the proposal for comprehensive immigration reform which was first introduced by Rep Gutierrez in December 2009.

Take action now to fix our immigration system and keep families together.

Are American Apparel lay offs a replacement for raids?

I am deeply disappointed that the Obama administration has failed to bring about immigration reform. Whereas I know he has the intention to do so, getting the job done is another story.

Words from the farewell letter written by Dov Charney, American Apparel’s chief executive, to almost a quarter of his staff laid off because of a federal investigation that found irregularities in their documents. According to a New York Times article,

The firings at the company, American Apparel, have become a showcase for the Obama administration’s effort to reduce illegal immigration by forcing employers to dismiss unauthorized workers rather than through workplace raids. The firings, however, have divided opinion in California over the fallout of the new approach, especially at atime of record joblessness in the state and with a major, well-regarded employer as a target.

In fact just yesterday California lawmakers put forth a resolution which passed in the California Senate (it does not have the force of law) whose first sentence states, “The State of California….strives to enable all residents to work and live free from discrimination, exploitation, and repressive federal immigration enforcement.

Immigrations and Customs Enforcement has opened audits of 654 other companies, but what makes American Apparel stand out is its open and strong support of immigration reform (remember Legalize L.A.!). While it’s certainly been a relief to see a stop to the old workplace raids, replacing these with a different kind of enforcement that often has the same effects is not quite the solution one is looking for.

Watch Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren describing the old style raids.

It was an interpreter translating in the hearings for nearly 400 immigrant workers picked up in the Postville raid who revealed that many of the workers pleaded guilty to social security fraud (a dubious claim that the Supreme Court rejected) without understanding the criminal charges they were facing, or the rights that they had waived. Many went on to serve 5 months in jail and then get deported.

Two new documentaries examine the effects of the raids by tracing them back to their villages in Guatemala. Both Guatemala: A Tale of Two Villages that screened on PBS’s Frontline and In the Shadow of a Raid (courtesy FIRM) show how the biggest immigration raid in U.S. history made a Guatemalan village weep while pushing an Iowa farm town to the brink of collapse.