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Alabama HB 56 update: The good, the bad and the ugly

The good news-

On Friday, a federal appeals court temporarily blocked enforcement of certain parts of Alabama’s HB 56, one of the harshest anti-immigrant bills in U.S. history. This decision came as a result of a request from the U.S. Justice department, along with immigrant rights groups such as the National Immigrant Law Center, ACLU of Alabama and the Southern Poverty Law Center, that the law be put on hold until questions pertaining to its constitutionality can be addressed, something that may take several months.

Some of the provisions that were blocked, as summed up by CNN:

- Section 28, requiring state officials to check the immigration status of students in public schools

- Section 10,”willful failure to complete or carry an alien registration card” a misdemeanor for immigrants

And now some more bad news-

While the parts of the law that were blocked were ones that have already caused widespread panic and damage to families and children across the state of Alabama, many other provisions that are equally contested and just as harmful to communities around the state are being enforced. From CNN:

- Section 12, that requires that police during “lawful” stops or arrests “attempt to determine the immigration status of a person who they suspect is an unauthorized alien of this country.” That provision is similar to other laws aiming to crack down on illegal immigration passed by other state legislatures over the past year (such as Arizona’s SB 1070).

- One that bars state courts from enforcing contracts involving undocumented immigrants, if the hiring party had a “direct or constructive” knowledge that the person was in the country unlawfully.

- Section 30, that makes it a felony for illegal immigrants to enter into a “business transaction” in Alabama, including applying for a driver’s license or a business license.

The danger and severity of the 3 provisions mentioned above cannot be stressed enough. Speaking during a call about the humanitarian crisis in Alabama, Reverend Angie Wright of Greater Birmingham Ministries explained that “The parts that are still in effect and are of most concern are the racial profiling aspects of the law, which is causing tremendous fear and terror in the immigrant communities.” From an America’s Voice blog which mentioned Rev. Wright’s opinions-

She noted that in Alabama, it is now a Class C felony for any undocumented immigrant to do business or have any kind of contract with state government, meaning that undocumented immigrants can now face up to 10 years in prison or $15,000 in fines for applying for a car tag or water service.

If anti-immigrant laws such as HB 56 continue to be enforced, the fear and hysteria that are spreading through Alabama’s immigrant communities will be in other parts of the country in no time. We need to ensure that we stand in solidarity with the people of Alabama and ensure that their voices are heard and their rights are upheld. When we deny human rights to some people, we put all everyone’s rights at risk.

Photo courtesy of blog.al.com

 

 

 

The 4 million women you can thank for your last meal

They’re the backbone of our food supply. Their hands sliced the chicken breast we had for lunch. Their sweat brought the fresh tomato to our plates. Their backs bent to pick the lettuce in our salads. They are America’s undocumented workers.

Every day, on farms and factories across America, millions of women work to produce billions of dollars worth of fruit and vegetables that fill our stores and kitchens and nourish our children. At least 6 out of every 10 farm workers in this country are undocumented, and almost all of them live on the fringes of society, earning below minimum wage and facing humiliation, exploitation and sexual assault from their employers on a regular basis.

According to a new report, ‘Injustice on Our Plates,’ published by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the 4.1 million undocumented women living and working in the U.S. are among the lowest paid and most vulnerable members of our society. These women form the backbone of the agricultural system in this country, looking after their families, often working weeks without getting paid, working in unsafe and unsanitary conditions, with little or no recourse to any protection against the indignities they suffer at the workplace. They live in constant fear of being discovered and sent back to their home countries, with the looming threat of being separated from their children, many of whom are American born. It is grossly unfair that while contributing as much as $1.5 billion a year to the Medicare system and $7 billion a year to the Social Security system, undocumented immigrants will never be able to collect benefits upon retirement.

The report was compiled by SPLC researchers who conducted extensive interviews with 150 women from Mexico, Guatemala and other Latin-American countries who are or have been undocumented, and are working in the food industry, picking tomatoes, apples, green beans, lettuce, etc. in places like Arkansas, California, Florida, Iowa, New York and North Carolina. From a CNN article about the report-

Regardless of what sector of the food industry these women worked in, they all reported feeling like they were seen by their employers as disposable workers with no lasting value, to be squeezed of every last drop of sweat and labor before being cast aside.

Interviewed for the report, a woman called Maria reported being paid as little as 45 cents for each 32-pound bucket that she filled with tomatoes, and said that one employer did not allow his workers to go to the bathroom during their work-shifts. Olivia, a 46-year old meatpacker who came to the U.S. from Mexico to run away from her abusive husband and build a better life for herself, told the SPLC the horrific story of how she was raped by one of her supervisors after working a 12-hour shift. When she tried to report the incident to the senior management, her complaints were met with the retort, “What is so bad about that? He left you in one piece, didn’t he?” Despite extreme medical injuries and severe emotional trauma from the attack, Olivia was too scared to report the rape to the police out of fear that her immigrant status would be found out and she would be deported. Like countless women in similar circumstances, she was bound by the desperate need to work in order to look after her daughter and her parents who depended on her, and she had no option but to continue working for the man that beat her unconscious and raped her. The new report tells us that Olivia’s story is not the anomaly, but the norm-

Undocumented immigrant women are, in most cases, virtually powerless to protect themselves against such attacks…Some feel too much shame to report harassment or sexual violence, leaving them extremely vulnerable to exploitation by male co-workers or supervisors…Their abusers use their lack of legal status against them, knowing they are not likely to report sexual harassment or even violent attacks. Because of the many obstacles arrayed against them — fear, poverty, shame, lack of access to legal resources, language barriers, immigration status and cultural pressures — few immigrant women ever come forward to speak out against the wrongs committed against them. Too often, they are forced to compromise their dignity — to endure sexual harassment and exploitation — to obtain a better life and a measure of economic security for themselves and their families.

These women are economic refugees, running away from lives beneath the poverty line, hunger and desperation in their home countries, with the hope of working hard to provide their children with basic amenities like education, health and stability. The fact that such injustice and degradation is suffered by tens of thousands of hard-working women in this country on a regular basis is horrific and shameful on a number of levels. These women, responsible for putting food on our tables, are part of a systemic malady that is only getting worse. This is indicative of the sad irony of a world where high-level trade and capital move across borders with uncanny speed and ease, lining the pockets of nations and people in power, while the hands that build these “globalized” empires are forced to remain circumscribed within their lot, regardless of how unfair a lot it might be.

Deporting all 10.8 million undocumented immigrants would cost the economy over $2.6 trillion over the next ten years, not to mention the huge human rights violations that would occur as a result. Moreover, legalizing undocumented workers would raise the U.S. gross domestic product by $1.5 trillion over a decade. The report stresses the importance of immigration reform that would address these injustices in a way that is comprehensive, while respecting fundamental American values of dignity and justice.

Photo courtesy of the Southern Poverty Law Center

Are you voting tomorrow?

Tomorrow is voting day, so make sure you get out there and vote. Here are some things that might motivate you to make your vote count and have your voice heard in the 2010 elections-

Our friends at Colorlines have been running a blog section on their website called ’2010 Elections’ that keeps you up to date with all news, events, and information pertaining to the mid-term elections. Their latest entry features Senator Harry Reid’s interview with Univision in which he promised Univision reporter Jorge Ramos that he would bring the DREAM Act up for a vote again, regardless of whether he won or lost tomorrow’s election. Reid’s opponent is a Tea Party supporter Sharron Angle, who’s election campaign centered around a series of racist, anti-immigrant ads. Another article on ’2010 Elections’ illustrates the hypocrisy of Republican strategist Robert de Posada, the man who created the ad that advised the Latino community not to vote in this election. Colorlines tells us that after creating this ad that told Latinos not to vote, it turns out that he himself voted by absentee ballot in Virginia earlier this month. The ad says-

Democratic leaders must pay for their broken promises and betrayals…If we go on supporting them this November, they will keep playing games with our future and keep taking our vote for granted…If they didn’t keep their promise on immigration reform then, they can’t count on our vote…Don’t vote this November. This is the only way to send them a clear message. You can no longer take us for granted. Don’t vote.

It is exactly this sort of voter suppression that we need to fight by voting tomorrow. Our friends at Presente.org told us about this and other voter suppression tactics that have been seen impacting the Latino community and their allies around the country. In Texas, a voter registration group called Houston Votes has been the victim of a systematic suppression campaign, including baseless allegations of fraud by the local registrar, and a string of threatening emails strewn with racist insults. The result: registrations have dropped from 1,000 per day to under 200. In Arizona, Senator Russel Pearce — the same man who authored SB 1070 — is accusing organizations like Mi Familia Vota of “voter fraud” in a thinly veiled effort to hamper their registration activities and scare Latino voters from the polls.

A number of radicals are resorting to fear-mongering and scare tactics to ensure that certain communities are denied a voice in this election. In addition to voting tomorrow, get involved with an important project called Video the Vote, a national network of everyday people on who watch out for problems on Election Day. The project helps people report things they see when voting and also document incidents that occur in their area. Started in 2006, Video the Vote volunteers have helped raise national awareness of voting problems by recording over 1,000 videos that have been broadcast on networks like CBS, CNN, and ABC and viewed over 1 million times online.

It’s essential that voter suppression problems get reported right away and that their full story is told by the media on Election Day. Video the Vote urgently needs more volunteers, so if you want to help protect the right to vote, join today and tell your friends about the program as well.

And one last thing. Did you know that thousands of people didn’t cast in 2008 because they didn’t know where to vote? Luckily, for the first time in American history, every voter can now look up their polling place. All you have to do is enter your address to find out which polling station is yours. And make sure to share this handy tool with your friends through Facebook and Twitter.

Happy voting!

Photo courtesy of colorlines.com

CNN and ABC stories show impact of unfair immigration laws

As the countdown to Arizona’s SB1070 law draws nearer (July 29th), and Congress continues to skirt the issue of immigration reform, a number of excellent stories have emerged from the news on our broken immigration system. A shocking story on CNN reveals how every day, Americans are wrongfully deported because of a broken system, and many worry the problem could get worse. They interview one such U.S. citizen who was wrongfully deported to Jamaica in 1999 and finally able to return ten long years later. And even though he knew was a citizen, he was given a deadly choice – stay in detention indefinitely and fight your case, or leave and gain your freedom. Laws like SB1070 will only suck more U.S. citizens into the deportation pipeline, just like in this case, denying adequate due process to many.

On ABC, a 10 part special series “Out of the Shadows” illustrates the constant struggle of 10 undocumented immigrants and their impact on America. In the first of the series, Mohammad Abdollahi, an undocumented Iranian immigrant comes bravely forward, arrested after staging a sit-in in Arizona to persuade Senator John McCain to support the DREAM Act. Mohammad is gay, and faces deportation to Iran, a country where homosexuality is a capital crime. If he doesn’t gain asylum, he could face real danger in the country he barely knows as home. Stay tuned for more stories.

So what is Congress doing about the broken immigration system. We got to hear a few of their thoughts at Netroots Nations, a large gathering of progressive bloggers, non profits and filmmakers mobilizing the online space for good. An impressive line up of speakers included House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Most everyone spoke of the difficulty of passing immigration reform in an election year, but with more stories like these coming to the fore, maybe Congress will realize the ramifications of our broken immigration system on the ideals we hold dear, due process, fairness, and justice. Because when we deny due process to some, we put all of our freedoms at risk.

Immigration reform was a strong theme at Netroots Nation and Restore Fairness was on some excellent panels. Presenting with some other incredible films, Restore Fairness screened at the Immigration Screening Series alongside Speaking in Tongues, a film on language and its importance at breaking down barriers between ourselves and our neighbors, and Not In Our Town, focusing on the murder of a 37-year-old Latino immigrant Patchogue, New York. A lively discussion on race, immigration and pluralism followed. Restore Fairness was also on a distinguished panel with other immigration advocates – “Crimmigration Under Obama: Pushing back against the “enforcement-only” immigration regime”. Immigration enforcement under the Obama administration has continued almost unchanged from the Bush administration even as Department of Homeland Security officials have promised to reform the immigration detention system. A growing collaboration between local police and immigration enforcement is being encouraged, its worst manifestation seen in Arizona’s SB1070. And despite moving away from massive workplace raids, the agency has continued home and business raids under the radar. All in all – overall levels of deportation have actually increased under President Obama. Meanwhile, legislative reform is stalled in Congress. Watch it here.

As July 29th approaches, the state of Arizona is ill prepared for the consequences of SB1070 which will likely include many due process violations, racial profiling and an even more broken immigration system.

Conservative evangelicals are pro-life and pro-immigration reform

Take the statement: “Pro-life Christian conservative groups stand headstrong against Obama’s recent pro-abortion policy in Pennsylvania.” Most know this to be true.   But what about these: “All members of these groups criticize Obama for his acts toward socialism and immigration reform,” or  ”All are currently printing out pictures of Obama with the Hitler mustache.” These two are surprisingly false.  The truth is that some pro-life Christian conservatives are evangelicals who support Obama’s initiative for immigration reform.

While immigration reform continues to polarize communities and divide our country, it also has fostered a constructive conversation and relationship between conservative evangelicals and Obama.

According to a blog post in the Washington Post, evangelical Christians are supporting immigration reform because their membership largely composes of Hispanics and other sections of the ethnic and immigrant constituency.

Latinos make up a growing segment of their congregations – for some, it is the fastest growing. Religious leaders are aware of this, Rev. Samuel Rodriguez said.  He adds,

They want to show that they care about the issues that are important to their members.

Therefore, evangelicals refuse to repeat the mistakes of the past, when a wall emerged between the African American church and the evangelical community because many evangelicals opposed the Civil Rights movement. Today, they refuse to see that wall emerge between evangelicals and the large immigrant constituency which supports them.

Dr. Richard Land, President of the Southern Baptist Convention Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, sees comprehensive immigration reform as a biblical mandate—and worries that conservatives will burn bridges with the country’s fast-growing Hispanic bloc if they take a hard anti-immigrant line.  Describing political similarities between Hispanics and white Southern Baptists, Land recently told CNN,

Hispanics are hard-wired to be like us on sanctity of life, marriage and issues of faith.  I’m concerned about being perceived as being unwelcoming to them.

Evangelicals recognize immigration reform as a biblical imperative of reconciling the rule of law with compassion for the stranger. In this case, they support interpreting the rule of law with compassion for immigrants.

The fact that these pro-lifers support a Democratic President shows that in some cases they refuse to follow party politics and, instead, take political action based on what they think is morally and ethically correct.

In response to an article on the Opinion Streams blog, Rob J posts,

GOP leadership…exploits the name of God and bastardizes our ideals to foment hatred, division and racism and to engender animosity toward Christians by associating us with a platform that is anathema to God’s love.

So far, Organizing for America records 454 evangelicals who support Obama.

The morally-based mindset of these evangelicals should signal to those in America that it is necessary to place aside party politics and platforms while deciding which laws should govern our nation. If we are striving to establish bipartisan immigration reform, we must lessen Congressional polarization. We can only approach bipartisanship if we think for ourselves, and support an immigration policy that works to accept all communities.

Photo courtesy of www.patheos.com

False hype about crime in border cities has tragic implications

On June 7th, a Border Patrol agent allegedly shot and killed Sergio Adrián Hernández Huereca, a 14- year old Mexican boy in El Paso, Texas. While exact details of the incident remain murky, the FBI said that the shooting was prompted when border patrol agents were assaulted by rock throwers across the Mexican border. Even though no border patrol agent was injured, T.J. Bonner, the president of the union representing Border Patrol agents released a statement saying that given the common occurrence and potential danger of rock throwing incidents at the border, he classified it as a “deadly force encounter” that “justifies the use of deadly force.” Susan Lee, American director of Amnesty International condemned the shooting of the young boy saying-

This shooting across the border appears to have been a grossly disproportionate response and flies in the face of international standards which compel police to use firearms only as a last resort, in response to an immediate, deadly threat that cannot be contained through lesser means

Following condemnation from the Mexican President and government and from civil rights groups in the US, the FBI has launched a full scale investigation into the shooting. At this point it is still not known whether the boy was even involved in the rock throwing. This incident comes only weeks after Anastacio Hernandez, a 32- year old father of five U.S. born children, was hit in the stomach with a baton and then shocked with a stun gun fired by a Customs and Border Protection officer at the San Ysidro border crossing when he resisted being deported. Once again, the officers involved were completely unharmed and insisted that their use of force was necessary given the situation. Last week, the San Diego County coroner ruled his death a homicide.

Speaking to CNN, State Department spokesperson P.J. Crowley acknowledge that the death of the young Mexican boy is not an isolated incident and committed to a fully transparent, large-scale investigation. He said that the only long-term solution to tragic incidents like these was the passage of comprehensive immigration reform.

Instead of working towards comprehensive immigration reform, the White House has succumbed to political pressure to increase immigration enforcement. This tragic incident occurs in the wake of the White House decision to add $500 million to border enforcement and send 1200 more troops to “secure the border” against so-called waves of violence at the border. Bipartisan members of Congress wrote to President Obama about the “urgent” need for increased border enforcement saying-

Violence in the vicinity of the U.S.-Mexico border continues to increase at an alarming rate. We believe that this violence represents a serious threat to the national security of the United States as well as a serious threat to U.S. citizens that live along the 1,969-mile long border.

In spite of numerous reports that constantly disprove such hype about increased border crime rates, politicians continue to take recourse to it time and again. As politicians like John McCain and Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer insist on the need for increased enforcement at the border to protect U.S. citizens from crime committed by immigrants, a recent FBI report obtained by the Associated Press on the basis of the Freedom of Information Act has found that the top four safest big cities in the U.S. are all in the border states. According to the new FBI report, San Diego, Phoenix, El Paso and Austin are big cities that have the lowest rates of violent crime in the U.S. With respect to killings at the hands of U.S. Border Patrol it is important to note a Customs and Border Protection report that shows that Border agents face far less danger than local law enforcement in most U.S. cities. From the Associated Press:

The Customs and Border Protection study, obtained with a Freedom of Information Act request, shows 3 percent of Border Patrol agents and officers were assaulted last year, mostly when assailants threw rocks at them. That compares with 11 percent of police officers and sheriff’s deputies assaulted during the same period, usually with guns or knives. In addition, violent attacks against agents declined in 2009 along most of the border for the first time in seven years.

In the face of concrete research, evidence and admissions from U.S. Border and Customs personnel themselves stating that the southern U.S. “border is safer now than it’s ever been,” is it astonishing that politicians and lawmakers continue to use the myth of the “immigrant threat” to safety as justification for increased immigration enforcement. Arizona Gov. Brewer, who signed off on the draconian anti-immigrant law, SB1070, made numerous statements justifying the law that relied on the myth of widespread crimes being perpetrated as a result of immigration at the border. Before her meeting with President Obama to express her frustration at the Federal Government’s lack of action in securing the border, Gov. Brewer told the press-

We are out here on the battlefield getting the impact of all this illegal immigration, and all the crime that comes with it.

A few days ago we brought you concrete statistics proving that Arizona’s “crime wave” is nothing but racist hype and fear-mongering. Research released by the Immigration Policy Center proves that immigrants are, in fact, less likely to commit crime than non-immigrants, with crime rates being lowest in cities with El Paso, Texas, with a high population of undocumented immigrants. El Paso, where 14-year old Sergio Adrián Hernández Huereca was killed, is one of the poorest and safest cities in the United States.

It would be useful if lawmakers and politicians took note of police chiefs from around the country who have taken a stance against the implementation of SB1070, Arizona’s new law. 8 police chiefs, including two from Arizona, met with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder on May 27 to urge the Department of Justice to put a stop to SB1070, which they believe will make their jobs harder by diverting resources away from policing actual crime and eroding the trust between the community and local police; trust that is necessary for effective law enforcement. It is surprising that more local law enforcement officials have not spoken out against laws such as SB1070. On June 10th, 55 organizations in NYC, including us at Breakthrough, signed a letter to NYPD chief Raymond Kelly urging him to break his silence and publicly condemn SB1070 just as New York Mayor Bloomberg and the New York City Council has done.

With states like Arizona taking immigration law into their own hands, and the Federal Government pushing an enforcement only approach appeases politicians and invests in border security and partnerships between Federal immigration officials and local law enforcement, valuable time and energy is being diverted away from the only sustainable solution- humane and comprehensive immigration reform.

Photo courtesy of the elpasotimes.com

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Reform versus enforcement – Game on!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Photo courtesy of twitter.com/izofice

Arizona experiences “Largest immigrant smuggling raid in U.S. history”

While Arizona’s harsh anti-immigrant bill SB 1070 awaits its fate in the hands of Governor Brewer who will decide to sign it into law on Monday, the immigration enforcement spotlight turns once again to Arizona. Led by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE), with the full cooperation of Mexican police agencies, more than 800 agents and officers from federal, state and local law enforcement agencies carried out a massive search and arrest operation yesterday on border crossings located on either side of the border.

In what the New York Times has called the largest immigrant smuggling raid in U.S. history, the operation focused on privately run shuttle vans used to transport people across the border, resulting in the arrest of 47 people across four cities in Arizona. The raid formed the culmination of what ICE says has been a “comprehensive year-long investigation” entitled “Operation In Plain Sight.” John Morton, the director of ICE, who has come under a lot of fire in the last month, said that this was sweep was an example of a concerted effort to push immigration enforcement in the direction of going after the umbrella organizations, networks and businesses that lead smuggling efforts. The New York Times quoted John Morton -

What we are trying to do is rip this thing out by the roots…We are taking out the whole industry and giving such a shock to individuals that they won’t recover as they have in the past.

The suspects taken into custody from the cities of Phoenix, Tucson, Nogales and Rio Rico face a number of charges against them, including money laundering, smuggling and conspiracy. Given the current pressure to see immigration reform introduced into Congress, and the very recent upheaval caused by the passage of SB 1070 in Arizona’s State legislature that expands police powers to detain individuals for not having proper identification, this large-scale ICE operation has already come under a lot of criticism. From the New York Times-

Immigrant advocacy groups on Thursday denounced what they called a climate of fear and criticized the ICE operation for coming at the same time as the legislation. A handful of protesters outside the United States attorney’s office here chanted, “We are going to beat back John Morton’s attack.”

In a press release from the Arizona-based advocacy group Coalition de Derechos Humanos, they talk about the atmosphere of panic and fear that is palpable through Arizona’s immigrant community, given the threat of SB1070 coupled with yesterday’s raid. Talking about border enforcement and immigration reform, Derechos Humanos co-chair Isabel Garcia stressed the need for debates around immigration to focus on economic and political forces that motivate it, rather than framing it as a threat to national security. Decrying the impending legislation in Arizona, Garcia told Democracy Now that the state had been turned into a “laboratory of anti-immigrant measures”and that the answer lay in “real reform” rather than increased enforcement and an atmosphere of fear.

Immigrant advocates are concerned by the fact that instead of ending the Bush-era policy of “enforcement now, enforcement forever”, immigration enforcement is as harsh as ever. Moreover, the Obama administration has been critiqued for giving “mixed messages” on the issue of immigration reform and enforcement. Advocates such as Fernando Garcia, the executive director of the Border Network for Human Rights, are calling on President Obama to take a clear stand on the issue, and lead an approach to enforcement that is humane and efficient.

Photo courtesy of nytimes.com

Looking forward to immigration reform and how it will benefit the U.S. economy by $1.5 trillion

story.chicago.march.cnnDo we need more evidence of the fact that Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR) will benefit the country? For those that are unconvinced, the new report brought out by the Center for American Progress and Immigration Policy Center should help point our how crucial CIR is to the future of the U.S. economy.

The report “Raising the Floor for American Workers: The Economic Benefits of Comprehensive Immigration Reform” concludes that immigration reform would have a positive ripple effect which would in turn boost the economy. According to the National Immigration Forum

“The program would have economic ripple effects that would, when compared to the alternative policy of mass deportation promoted by immigrant restrictions, have a net economic benefit of as much as $4.1 trillion for the U.S. economy over 10 years.”

Some of the consequences of reform include raised worker’s wages which subsequently “raise the wage floor” for everyone,  a willingness to invest, more income, more spending and more taxes – all of which will result in growth of gross domestic product by approximately $1.5 trillion over a ten-year period. The figure comes from findings of surveys conducted after the passing of the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) of 1986 which granted legal status to 3 million immigrants. Research shows that those undocumented immigrants who were legalized as per the IRCA (which was also implemented during an economic recession similar to the present one) went on to better jobs and higher wages. Many further invested in higher education which increased their skill level and socio-economic mobility, positively impacting the economy. Where the IRCA failed was in creating a flexible policy for future immigration, leading to the present situation in which the government spends large amounts of resources on an inefficient and costly system of enforcement.

In a recent CNN article, the author of the report Hinojosa-Ojeda who belongs to the North American Integration and Development Center at UCLA states,

“The number of unauthorized immigrants in the United States has increased dramatically since the early 1990s despite equally dramatic increases in the amount of money the federal government spends on immigration enforcement…The U.S. Border Patrol says its annual budget has increased by 714 percent since 1992, from $326.2 million in fiscal year 1992 to $2.7 billion in fiscal 2009.”

In addition to being expensive, it is evident that the current enforcement-only policy of the government is inefficient, and has led to a damaging of the economy. The current policy seems to be heading towards a scenario of “mass deportation”, which the report analyzes as one of three avenues through which the government can approach immigration policy. The other two scenarios are “comprehensive immigration reform” and a “program for temporary workers”. While mass deportation would cause a loss of $2.6 trillion in gross domestic product over a 10 year period, the worker program would lead to a gain of $792 billion. Full legalization of existing immigrants along with new, flexible legal limits on permanent and temporary immigration is the best scenario, leading to $1.5 trillion in gross domestic product growth over the next ten years.

Hinojosa-Ojeda explains his calculation for “full legalization”,

“All immigrant workers in this scenario have full labor rights, which results in higher wages – and higher worker productivity – for all workers in industries where large numbers of immigrants are employed. As wage and productivity levels rise, the U.S. economy’s demand for new immigrant workers actually declines over time as the market shrinks for easily exploited, low-wage workers…The higher earning power of newly legalized workers translates into an increase in the net personal income of $30 to $36 billion, which would generate $4.5 to $5.4 billion in additional net tax revenue. Moreover, an increase in personal income of this scale would generate consumer spending to support 750,000 to 900,000 jobs…”

The report demonstrates that the economic argument can no longer be used as an excuse to avoid immigration reform, and poses a stiff challenge to the mythical notion that legalizing undocumented workers will increase unemployment. Instead it helps to drive home the pressing need for the government to enact comprehensive immigration reform. In an article by New American Media, Benjamin Johnson, executive director of the American Immigration Council, says,

“I think there are two very important things about this report. One certainly is that it shines a spotlight on the potential for a very large impact on our economy in a time when we need it. Even in Washington D.C., $1.5 trillion is a lot of money. But the report also reminds us of where the focus of an immigration reform effort ought to be, and that is about how do we provide benefits to the American economy and to the American worker.”

Momentum for immigration reform is building in 2010. On December 15th, Rep. Gutierrez unveiled CIR ASAP in the House, a historical bill that outlines progressive solutions to our immigration policy crisis, and early this year, Sen. Schumer is expected to introduce a bill in the Senate. You can do your bit to urge Congress to support immigration reform leading to a healthier economy and more due process and human rights for all.

Photo courtesy of www.cnn.com

Lou Dobbs to resign from CNN after pressure by advocacy groups

After facing intense pressure for his anti-immigration rhetoric, Lou Dobbs announced his resignation last night to his viewers. He will be replaced by John King.

Wednesday’s program will be his last on CNN, even though his contract was not set to expire until the end of 2011.While his reasons were “some leaders in media, politics and business have been urging me to go beyond the role here at CNN and to engage in constructive problem solving as well as to contribute positively to the great understanding of the issues of our day”, the truth is that intense pressure from campaigns like Drop Dobbs and Basta Dobbs have had a tremendous impact, including the airing of a Drop the Hate ad on MSNBC.

The New York Times reports,

Mr. Dobbs has evolved over the years from a straight-laced business anchor to an outspoken commentator who rails against illegal immigration and taxpayer bailouts, among other subjects. Lately, though, he has saved most of his opinions for his afternoon radio show, which made its debut in March 2008. It is on the radio show that he talked repeatedly about the conspiracy-theory claims that President Obama is not a United States citizen. When he mentioned the citizenship issue on CNN over the summer, his bosses were forced to call it a “dead issue.”

Let’s celebrate the defeat of hate politics and the strength of action when we all rally together.