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Stories from the ground in Alabama – Standing Strong Against Discrimination

Guest blogger: Janet Murguia. President, National Council of La Raza. Crossposted from the Huffington Post. (Original blog was published on 12/22/11)

Last Saturday it was my privilege to speak to the thousands of participants at the “One Family, One Alabama: HB 56 Hurts All Alabamians” rally held on the steps of the state capitol in Montgomery, Alabama. The rallygoers were a rich mosaic of Alabamians from all walks of life representing every community in the state, as well as national immigrant and labor leaders. The rally was held to support the embattled Latino community in Alabama in the wake of the nation’s harshest anti-immigrant law, HB 56, and call for its repeal.

But just as importantly, what the speakers and attendees helped others to recognize that day was that HB 56 is not an immigration solution, but an all-out assault on the civil rights of every resident in the state of Alabama. That message was underscored by the presence of thousands of African Americans, including elected leaders, members of the clergy, and my good friend and colleague, NAACP President Ben Jealous.

I have been deeply moved by the support and commitment of the African-American community throughout our fight against HB 56. No community knows better than they do that HB 56 represents a serious leap backward to a dark time in Alabama’s past. Speaker after speaker made that point, not only with eloquence but also with knowledge born out of tragic experience.

Yet these speakers were also full of a hope that was born out of experience. State Senator Bill Beasley, a much respected legislator and a key leader in the opposition to HB 56, came up to me during the event and said that my remarks, “things can change, things will change,” resonated with him.

He told me not to give up hope by reminding me of Alabama’s own history. He noted that we were at that very moment standing on the same steps where the then immensely popular Governor George Wallace proclaimed in 1963, “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever,” which catapulted him to national folk hero status among those who opposed civil rights. Alabama at that time did much to shake, if not shatter, the hope of many in the civil rights movement that there would ever be progress.

But Senator Beasley has also witnessed that things can and do change. Just two blocks from where we were standing is the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, where 30 years after his infamous speech, former Governor Wallace went to ask the African-American community for forgiveness. And just recently, Mark Kennedy, Wallace’s son-in-law and the head of the Alabama Democratic Party, helped redeem his family’s legacy by unequivocally stating “justice now, justice tomorrow, justice forever,” in his swearing-in speech.

If George Wallace and his family could change their minds on the issue of civil rights and discrimination, so can the legislature and the current governor of Alabama on HB 56. There is no turning back from justice. With this in mind and with the unity that was on full display on Saturday, there is no doubt in my mind that we will prevail.

Photo courtesy of America’s Voice

 

From the One Love Movement- A New Civil Rights Movement Starts in Alabama

Crossposted from the One Love Movement blog.

One Love Movement stands strong in solidarity with the Alabama Youth Collective, the National Immigrant Youth Alliance, Cesar and Fernanda Marroquin of DreamActivist Pennsylvania, and the 11 other leaders who were arrested on November 15th during a sit-in in front and inside of the Alabama State House in Montgomery. We are humbled by this righteous act of civil disobedience, and the will and hearts of the 13 people who took a stand in the name of Civil and Human Rights. Through an act to empower and break the cycle of fear in communities oppressed by unjust laws here in Alabama, these individuals empowered and broke our fear, and the fear of many others around the United States yesterday.

As members of the Philly community, people may wonder, why Alabama? With that, we remember Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from Birmingham Jail after he was arrested for civil disobedience, “I am in Birmingham because injustice is here.”

Alabama’s HB 56, the harshest anti-immigrant state legislation to date, was signed into law in June 2011. The law was written to deny undocumented immigrant families access to housing, work, education, public services, and even threatens access to utilities, such as gas and water. For example, it would require elementary and middle school administrators to report undocumented students to ICE. And violating ethics of racial equality, it would give local police the power to question and investigate people upon “reasonable suspicion” of being undocumented. Pieces of the law have been blocked or appealed in federal court on constitutional grounds. However, the introduction of the law in its original form has led to the isolation, fear, and oppression of an entire community of people. In a City and a State that has been historically known as the Cradle of Civil Rights, we know that HB 56, at it’s core, represents severe violations of those fundamental ideals.

In the spirit of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the Sit-ins of the Alabama State University students at Montgomery State Capitol, the Freedom Riders, the Selma-to-Montgomery March, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous speech, “How Long? Not Long!”, given from the State House steps in Montgomery on March 9, 1965 – we witnessed yesterday an act of pure courage and heart. As our communities have been so divided through labeling and isolation, this nonviolent direct action in the birthplace of the Civil Rights Movement, has re-centered our struggle to the values of family, unity, and human dignity.

“It’s time for all immigrant rights groups to stand up together. We are all in the same struggle. With the history of the Civil Rights Movement in Alabama, what they did here yesterday was necessary for us to move forward. I felt honored to witness such a powerful statement,” said Sokhom Touch, Organizer with One Love Movement.

Our thoughts and love are with Cesar and Fernanda, and all the other leaders who could now face deportation for being undocumented, as a result of standing up for us, for justice, and for the future of this movement. We watched them all be taken away by the police, standing proud and walking tall. We thank them deeply. #unafraid

“I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and who willingly accepts the penalty of imprisonment in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the highest respect for law…One day the South will know that when these disinherited children of God sat down at lunch counters, they were in reality standing up for what is best in the American dream…”

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Letter from Birmingham Jail
April 16, 1963

Please donate to the Bail Fund for the Alabama 13 here.

 

For a Pioneering Jurist, Alabama Anti-Immigrant Law Is Spark for a New Civil Rights Struggle

Guestblogger: Vesna Jaksic. Crossposted from the ACLU

U. W. Clemon marched in demonstrations alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., worked on desegregation in Alabama and became the state’s first African-American federal judge. He has seen great advancement of civil rights, but is very concerned about their present state.

“We are at a point in American history where powerful forces are determined to turn back the clock on the tremendous progress we made in civil rights over the last 100 years,” Clemon told me when I visited him recently in Birmingham. “And they’ve come very far in doing so.”

Clemon said that HB 56, Alabama’s anti-immigrant law, exemplifies a new civil rights crisis.

“The Alabama immigration law was designed to be the most severe, the harshest immigration law in the country,” he said. “The design, purpose of it was to drive out people who don’t look like us. In this instance it turned out to be Hispanics. Many of them, unfortunately, are American citizens, just as American as you and I.”

A recent New York Times editorial that quotes Clemon calls HB 56 “the nation’s most oppressive immigration law,” and the accompanying slide show rightly calls the response to the law “a new civil rights movement.”

Parts of the law have been in effect for less than two months, but reports have indicated the legislation has encouraged racial profilingdeterred children from going to schooland turned Alabama into a ‘show-me-your papers’ state. The ACLU and a coalition of civil rights groups have been challenging the law in the courts.

While the legal battle is ongoing, the harm on the ground has continued. Over the last few days, a mother of two told me she sometimes wakes up in the middle of the night in fear of what could happen if she is separated from her children as a result of the law. An immigrant from Mexico told me he now only goes to the grocery once every couple of weeks because he is afraid he will be pulled over due to racial profiling. A high school senior who was brought here as a one-month-old baby said this country is the only home he has ever known, and is scared his family may be forced to leave.

Clemon, now in his late 60s, said the stories emerging now out of Alabama are disturbing. He now works at a law firm after serving nearly 30 years as a federal judge. He was appointed by President Jimmy Carter in 1980, which turned out to be Alabama’s most controversial federal judgeship.

He told me how frustrating it is to see his state pass a law that tramples on civil rights that he and others fought to secure.

“In terms of the basic mean-spirited attitude, it’s pretty much the same now as it was then — first it was against blacks and now it’s against Hispanics,” he said, adding people should speak up against it. “It’s very disturbing and that’s why I can’t go quietly into the night.”

Photo courtesy of the ACLU

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 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

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

Shackled no more: Justice for Juana

We’re pleased to announce that the Nashville, TN Sheriff’s office has been found guilty of violating the Constitutional rights of Juana Villegas, a pregnant immigrant woman who was inhumanely shackled during labor and denied proper treatment after a traffic stop, of which she was later cleared.

Back in 2008, through documentary and our interactive experience, Homeland Guantanamos, we put a face to Juana Villegas’s story. Because of an agreement between local police and federal immigration authorities, called 287g, she was picked up, detained and shackled during labor. She was not allowed to use a breast pump to nurse her newborn child. Villegas said, “The nurse brought me a breast pump… she asked permission for me to take it to jail… again the sheriff said, no.”

Our friends at Colorlines wrote about this historic verdict and about the nationwide effort against shackling incarcerated women while they’re in labor. From Colorlines-

In 2009, former New York Governor David Paterson signed a bill to outlaw the practice. Former California Governor Arnold Swarzenegger vetoed a similar measure. According to the Rebecca Project for Human Rights, so far only ten states have legislation regulating the use of restraints on pregnant women. Because of the criticism that has stemmed from her case, the sheriff’s office has changed its policy such that “pregnant women are shackled only during transport if there is a credible threat that they may try to escape.

Watch our first interview with Juana below-

While she has won the case, Juana Villegas faces the threat of deportation once again as the U.S. 6th District Court of Appeals has denied a request that would allow her to stay. Villegas’s case sheds light on the grave injustices in our broken immigration system.  As we continue to tell these stories, in the hope of similar successes, we ask that you play our new Facebook game, America 2049, which weaves human rights issues into each week of game play. Next week, the game explores the struggles of Latino immigrants.

This ruling against the Nashville Sheriff’s office is a historic step. We will continue to tell stories, invite conversation, and inspire action that will help America move even further in the right direction.

Tax day, Passover week: labor, migration & justice, now…and in 2049

On this year’s Tax Day that has just passed, several organizations including the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), MoveOn, Daily Kos and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) joined forces for ‘Tax Day: Make Them Pay.’ The groups organized peaceful protests around the country outside the offices of big corporations and millionaires that have evaded paying taxes for last year, mostly due to government-mandated tax breaks. According to the site, “In 2009, after helping crash the American economy, Bank of America paid $0 in taxes. GE had a tax bill of $0 in 2010. Republicans want to give a $50 billion tax bailout to big oil companies…” These protests came at the heels of news that corporations such as General Electric paid no federal taxes in 2010, something that has infuriated the millions of workers around the country who work hard and are expected to dutifully pay their taxes on time.

The tax break issue is the latest in a series of developments that have recently charged the country’s politics around the issues of immigration and labor rights, with them coming together in the case of migrant workers. Last month, the country witnessed a major standoff in the Wisconsin state government between Governor Scott Walker (and his Republican-led state assembly) and thousands of labor groups and workers in the state as the Governor pledged to enact a bill to severely curtail collective bargaining. After three weeks of fierce debates, Gov. Walker managed to push the bill through. The Ohio state assembly soon followed suit, with other states such as Tennessee and Iowa heading in a similar direction. This steady erosion of worker rights presents an increasing risk not just to the economy of this country but also to its social fabric. It also echoes a past where worker rights were often ignored, especially in the case of immigrant workers.

Last month, several labor groups and organizations marked the centennial anniversary of an incident that highlights the lack of protection of workers – the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Fire of March 28, 1911, in which 146 mostly immigrant workers died. To mark the centenary of the tragedy, many labor rights groups amplified their push for pro-labor rights legislation to challenge the spate of anti-union labor bills that were passed recently. The 1911 tragedy brings to light the plight of immigrant workers and the exploitation that still continues today. At a rally commemorating the tragedy, one union member, Walfre Merida, described the similarities between the condition of migrant workers today and those that perished in the fire a hundred years ago. Merida stated-

I see that a hundred years since this terrible accident that killed so many people, things have really not changed at all…Safety conditions, none. Grab your tool and go to work, no more. And do not stop. When we worked in high places, on roofs, we never used harnesses, one became accustomed to the dangers and thanked God we weren’t afraid of heights. One would risk his life out of necessity.

As stories of worker rights violations continue to proliferate, we must take heed from our past mistakes in order to avoid a degradation of these conditions in the future. This week – just as Jews around the world gather at the Passover table to recount their liberation from migrant slave labor in Egypt – Breakthrough’s Facebook game, America 2049, immerses players into discussions around labor rights, especially with regards to the rights of immigrant workers. The game utilizes several events and artifacts from the past to highlight the continued struggles of migrant workers in the United States. In the game’s world in which everyone has an embedded chip to mark their identity, players are given the mission to investigate a counterfeiting ring that helps indentured workers – primarily immigrants, though also citizens who have succumbed to crushing credit debt – to escape their unjust contracts and inhumane living conditions, and begin new lives. The game references the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire as a lesson from the past about the respect and rightful treatment of workers. It also suggests a future that is even bleaker because we as a country have failed to recognize the importance of immigrant workers and worker rights to the success of the country as a whole.

Watch a testimonial by a character in the game, Ziyad Youssef, a Syrian man who was lured into a job with promises of good pay and easy hours, but found himself in slavery-like conditions, unable to look after his sick daughter or provide basic amenities to his family:

The United States is currently grappling with an issue that will inevitably affect our national economy and social conditions in the years to come. The denial of legitimacy and basic rights to immigrant workers will only hamper the nation’s growth on the world stage. In a special report on global migration published in 2008, The Economist argued for the widespread acceptance of migrant workers by the richer countries that so desperately need them. Speaking about the United States, the report stated-

Around a third of the Americans who won Nobel prizes in physics in the past seven years were born abroad. About 40% of science and engineering PhDs working in America are immigrants. Around a third of Silicon Valley companies were started by Indians and Chinese. The low-skilled are needed too, especially in farming, services and care for children and the elderly. It is no coincidence that countries that welcome immigrants—such as Sweden, Ireland, America and Britain—have better economic records than those that shun them…Americans object to the presence of around 12m illegal migrant workers in a country with high rates of legal migration. But given the American economy’s reliance on them, it is not just futile but also foolish to build taller fences to keep them out.

Players in America 2049 will discover valuable artifacts from our country’s past that highlight an ongoing struggle for worker rights and have the agency to join the discussion and save the country’s future from the dystopic scenario the game depicts. One of the artifacts in the game is a poem titled ‘A Song for Many Movements,’ written in 1982 by Audre Lord, a black feminist lesbian poet. The poem articulates the connection between suffering and speaking out against injustices, which is what the workers rights protests around the country have been doing and which we must keep advocating until real change is made-

Broken down gods survive
in the crevasses and mudpots
of every beleaguered city
where it is obvious
there are too many bodies
to cart to the ovens
or gallows
and our uses have become
more important than our silence
after the fall
too many empty cases
of blood to bury or burn
there will be no body left
to listen
and our labor
has become more important
than our silence.

Our labor has become
more important
than our silence.

Photo courtesy of seiu.org

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo courtesy of endoftheamericandream.com

If we are One Nation, then why is racial profiling still such an issue?

When Huda Alasali tried to board the ferry to Governor’s Island with her children and a friend last Saturday, a New York Waterways employee told her that she could not get on the ferry unless she removed some of her religious attire. She was told that removing her hijab was in compliance with regulations and security reasons, yet these were not rules listed on the dock. New York Waterways later confirmed that they have no rules against ethnic and religious attire. Huda spoke to CBS about her ordeal-

“I said to him, if you have a metal detector, you can check our bags. You can check us. We don’t have nothing with us…He said, No you cannot go on the ferry with all that clothes. Take it off….Truly I felt like, you know what? He thinks that we are terrorists.”

When Huda and other passengers protested and the ferry’s captain got involved, the crew member relented and Huda, her friend and their children did eventually get to Governor’s Island. The damage had been done, however. Even though the authorities apologized and assured Huda that the employee in question has been suspended, she is planning on filing a lawsuit for discrimination. “I don’t want money…I’m looking for respect,” she told CBS news.

In light of increasing incidents of discrimination such as this one, and that of a New York taxi driver bring stabbed by a customer after saying that he was Muslim, a new 11 minute documentary challenging Americans to “Face the Truth” on race in America becomes more relevant than ever. The documentary accompanies a report by the Rights Working Group examines the devastating impact of religious intolerance and racial profiling.

The documentary and report were screened at a Congressional hearing in D.C. yesterday, attended by advocates, police chiefs, community organizers and legislators, and demonstrated how the humiliating practice of racial profiling does little to make us safer. They urge Congress to pass the End Racial Profiling Act (ERPA).

As the momentum for fair immigration and racial justice grows, this Saturday, October 2, exactly one month before Election Day, more than 100,000 people will gather in Washington, D.C. for One Nation Working Together. The march represents a rapidly growing movement across the United States with more than 170 human rights, civil rights, environmental, labor, peace, youth and faith-based organizations joining with the Latino community to stand up for what America believes in and to mobilize voters for this November.

The march comes on the heels of a comprehensive immigration reform bill introduced in the Senate by Senator Menendez (D-NJ). The bill, co-sponsored by Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-VT), is a strong workable bill to move the legislative process forward. For the senators who have introduced it, it is a concrete proposal that shows there is no stopping the demand for comprehesnsive immigration reform as a solution to our broken immigration system. Measures include strengthening border security, smart interior enforcement and requiring the estimated undocumented immigrants present in the U.S. to register with the government, pay their taxes, learn English, pay a fine, pass a background check and wait in line for permanent residence.

It’s time for action. As the elections move nearer, there will be political manoeuvrings no doubt, but it is important to stand by beliefs of whats important in America – fairness and justice. Take action now.