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Delayed justice for Guatemalan mother Encarnacion Bail Romero

Guest blogger: Michelle Brané, Director, Detention and Asylum Program, Women’s Refugee Commission

In 2007, Encarnación Bail Romero, a young woman from Guatemala, was arrested and detained during an immigration raid at the Missouri poultry processing plant where she worked. The fact that Encarnación was a mother with a baby at home did not matter. She was detained without the opportunity to make care arrangements for her son, Carlos—a U.S. citizen—who was just six months old. While in detention, Encarnación was not allowed to participate in her custody case and consequently, her parental rights were terminated. Carlos was adopted by a couple soon after.

This week, the Missouri Supreme Court decided to send Encarnación Bail Romero’s case back to the lower court for yet another hearing. When I heard this, I couldn’t help but welcome the news with mixed feelings. The fact that the court acknowledged that proper procedures were not followed is a relief; however, the court’s failure to reunite a mother and son and delay justice is a travesty. Encarnación’s son has been with his adoptive parents for over two years now, and has come to know them as his only parents. The more time that is spent in this limbo with a mother separated from her child the more harm is done.

I first met Encarnación in 2009, several years after she was arrested during an immigration raid at the poultry processing plant where she worked. Carlos—a U.S. citizen—was just six months old at the time of the raid. When I spoke with Encarnación I was struck most by not only her heartache, but also the incredible strength she has carried in her fight to reunite with her son. As a mother of two young children myself, hearing stories like Encarnación’s makes my heart stop. What would it feel like to not know if my children were safe, to have them think that I did not want them because I was locked in detention and unable to care for them?

Encarnación told me that while she was in detention, Carlos had a series of caretakers. He was first at her brother’s home and then with her sister before being cared for by a local couple who offered to babysit. She was approached and asked to allow her son to be adopted but she refused, asking instead that her son be placed in foster care until she could care for him herself.

Encarnación was then swept up in a series of events that ultimately led to the unjust termination of her parental rights. She was given information about her custody case in English—a language she does not understand. Her lawyer was hired by her son’s future adoptive parents, demonstrating a clear conflict of interest. And, despite Encarnación’s clear desire to be reunited with her son, a court found her to have abandoned him. Her parental rights were terminated, and Carlos was adopted. Encarnación’s case is complicated, involving the failures of multiple systems, but had Encarnación’s right to due process been upheld, none of this would have happened. She would have been able to present her case in court, and Carlos would still be with her.

Perhaps the greatest tragedy in this story is that many other families are suffering this same fate—a fate that could be avoided. Both Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and family courts have the legal obligation to ensure detainees are able to participate in all aspects of their custody and immigration cases. ICE has the authority to release parents from detention so that they can continue to care for their children while undergoing immigration proceedings. And should the outcome of their immigration case order them deported, mothers and fathers have the right—and must be given the opportunity—to either take their children with them or leave them behind in a safe situation.

Releasing parents from detention does not mean weakening immigration enforcement or letting undocumented migrants go free. Parents in immigration custody have an incentive to appear for their hearings and comply with court orders, simply because they do not want to lose their families. And for those who need some sort of supervision, ICE has access to cost-effective alternatives to traditional immigration detention that can be used to ensure parents appear at custody proceedings. It is critical that these alternatives be used in order to protect children from becoming unnecessary collateral damage.

Five million children in the United States have at least one undocumented parent and three million of these children are U.S. citizens. ICE’s failure to utilize these options has the potential to create a generation of lost children who are needlessly denied a relationship with their detained or deported parents. These children are far more likely to live in poverty, struggle in school and face unemployment and homelessness.

The court in Encarnación’s case has recognized the damage done by failing to uphold the 14th amendment, the constitutional right that ensures all persons—including undocumented immigrants—are entitled to due process and equal protection under the law. Encarnación’s case has shown that where due process rights are denied, families suffer. As a nation that prides itself on valuing the sanctity of family unity, we must uphold our commitment to the bond between parent and child, regardless of immigration status.

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

Are you an authentic American?

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“Police officers giving drivers $204 tickets for not speaking English? It sounds like a rejected Monty Python sketch. Except the grim reality is that it has happened at least 39 times in Dallas since January 2007….All but one of the drivers were Hispanic.”

Reporting on the issue, a New York Times editorial asks the question – is racism alive and kicking in America? If this were a one off incident, it could be an aberration. But 39 times makes it a growing pattern of injustice.

So how does one question who or who is not an American? Does it have to do with language, race, ethnicity, how long one has been in the United States – or is it about the more legal aspect of possessing citizenship.

Recently, an incredible achievement by Meb Keflezighi’s, winner of Men’s NYC Marathon, kicked off a number of doubts about whether this is truly an “American” achievement, or one imported in from outside.

“Meb Keflezighi, who won yesterday in New York, is technically American by virtue of him becoming a citizen in 1998, but the fact that he’s not American-born takes away from the magnitude of the achievement the headline implies.”

Comments from a CNBC Sports Business Reporter who half apologized in a post the next morning.

“Frankly I didn’t account for the fact that virtually all of Keflezighi’s running experience came as a U.S. citizen. I never said he didn’t deserve to be called American.”

Keflezighi came to the United States when he was 12 from war torn Eritrea. Is that enough time for him to be an American? Ironically the last American to win the marathon was also born in another country – Cuba. Alberto Salazar’s comments from a New York Times article are insightful.

What if Meb’s parents had moved to this country a year before he was born? At what point is someone truly American? Only if your family traces itself back to 1800, will it count?

The same article talks about the racial stereotypes that seem to be emerging to the surface.

“The debate reveals what some academics say are common assumptions and stereotypes about race and sports and athletic achievement in the United States. “Race is still extremely important when you think about athletics,” said David Wiggins, a professor at George Mason University who studies African-Americans and sports. “There is this notion about innate physiological gifts that certain races presumably possess. Quite frankly, I think it feeds into deep-seated stereotypes.

So are we heading for a “clash of cultures” figuring out where the identity of America lies. This Huffington Post article has a few answers.

What’s been missing from our national discourse on “is it race or isn’t it?” is the distinction psychologists and neuroscientists have made for over two decades between conscious and unconscious (often called “explicit vs. implicit”) prejudice

Asking what the difference may have been if over the last 25 years, a half million Englishmen a year had entered the U.S., it wonders if

“what turns up the volume on Americans’ feelings about immigration is that immigrants are not white, English-speakers from London but brown-skinned Mexicans who may not speak our language well and don’t share our Anglo-American culture.”

Demographers now place it around 2040 when whites may be in the minority in the U.S. And so it seems, the best way to deal with this reality may be -

“There’s nothing shameful about admitting that you’re among the majority of Americans – of every color – who has sometimes judged another person on the color his skin instead of the content of his character – and then realized it wasn’t fair. The best antidote to unconscious bias is self-reflection. And the best way to foster that self-reflection is through telling the truth in a way that doesn’t make people defensive or point fingers – except at those who wear their prejudice proudly and deserve our scorn.”

Photo courtesy of the New York Times.

Seize the day!

FLIC-rally-4-200x300

Happy citizenship day!

Today is the day when thousands of immigrants become naturalized citizens in various cities nationwide.

As conservative talk radio hosts gather in D.C. to demand immigration enforcement including Lou Dobbs, they are counteracted by hundreds of community members and leaders from across the country who have  come together to ask for real social change.

Our friends at Reform Immigration for America want to hear from you about what it means to be a citizen. Submit your story as a comment on this blog post. You can also use the #citz hashtag on twitter or text CITIZEN to 69866 (text CIUDADANO for Spanish).

We cannot underrate the value of citizenship. It is both a privilege and a responsibility.

As President Obama said in his inauguration speech:

“What is required of us now is a new era of responsibility – a recognition, on the part of every American, that we have duties to ourselves, our nation, and the world…this is the price and the promise of citizenship.”

Photo courtesy of www.swer.org