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How ‘Un-American’ are Peter King’s Congressional hearings?

On Friday, March 4, two elderly Sikh men were gunned down without provocation while they were out for a casual stroll in a suburb of Sacramento. One of them, Surinder Singh (67), died immediately while his friend Gurmej Atwal (78), who was shot twice in the chest, is said to be in critical condition. The police who are investigating the attack have called on any witnessed to come forward and said that while they are still searching for evidence, there is a high probability that the there was a “hate or bias motivation for the crime.” This unfortunate attack took place just days before Rep. Peter King (R-NY) began his controversial House Homeland Security Committee hearings on the “The Extent of Radicalization” among American Muslims. With the upcoming 10th year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks and the endless spate of hate crimes against minority groups, it is difficult to ignore the implications that this Congressional hearing will have on the future of this country.

In the aftermath of 9/11,  heightened national security measures and increased suspicion of immigrant communities have placed a harsh spotlight on Muslim Americans as well as the wider South Asian and Arab American communities, deeply impacting the ways in which these communities are perceived and damaging their sense of national identity.

The first of the King hearings took place in Washington D.C. yesterday. Rep. Peter King said that he initiated these hearings in response to a string of arrests in 2010 concerning Muslim Americans who were connected to intercepted plots against American targets. In an interview with the Associated Press, King stated-

There is a real threat to the country from the Muslim community and the only way to get to the bottom of it is to investigate what is happening.

The committee yesterday heard from a panel of witnesses that argued for and against the premise of the hearings. Those who argued that the country needs to be more vigilant about the “radicalization” of the Muslim community included Dr. M Zuhdi Jasser, a doctor and Navy veteran who called on his fellow Muslims to be more outspoken against radical Islam, and Abdirizak Bihi, a Somali American activist whose nephew joined a militant group in Somalia and was subsequently killed in 2009. During the hearing, the most pointed questions against the premise came from Representatives who raised concerns over why other extremist groups – affiliated with various religions – were not even being considered by King and his committee. Speaking to the press after the hearing yesterday, King called it a success, emphasizing that the purpose was to “inform, not to inflame.”

The run-up to the hearings saw a very polarized response, with groups like Fox News expressing substantial support for them, while human rights advocates consistently condemned them. The greatest criticism of the hearings was not that extremist acts of terror pose a threat to national security and need to be investigated, but that King’s approach is biased and isolationist. The criticism holds that by scapegoating a community based on their religious affiliation, the King hearings will have widespread repercussions on how American Muslims will be perceived by the wider public. For a community that is already the subject of suspicion and profiling, the Congressional hearings, by calling for greater accountability for American Muslims above any other group, has very real implications for community identity, public perception, integration and collective healing.

One of the most vocal opponents of the hearings is the country’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a group that Peter King has accused of conspiring with radical Islamist groups. In addition to asserting their identity as a peaceful organization, CAIR said that they would have supported the hearings if they were “balanced and fair.” Also opposing King’s approach to the issue is the civil rights organization, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), that stated in their 2010 annual report on “hate and extremism” that the “radical right in America expanded explosively in 2010,” as the number of hate groups topped 1,000.

A number of critics also held that this kind of focalized criticism of a specific community could result in the loss of trust these groups have towards law enforcement agencies and the government, impeding the work of law enforcement and thus work against ensuring the safety of all communities. At the hearing, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), the first Muslim member of Congress, gave an emotional testimony about Mohammad Salman Hamdani, a NYPD cadet who was under suspicion for being involved with the attacks even as died trying to help victims on September 11, 2001. Breaking into tears, Ellison described -

After the tragedy…some people tried to smear his character … solely because of his Islamic faith. Some people spread false rumors and speculated that he was in league with the attackers because he was a Muslim. But it was only when his remains were identified that these lies were exposed. Mohammad Salman Hamdani was a fellow American who gave his life for other Americans. His life should not be identified as just a member of an ethnic group or just a member of a religion, but as an American who gave everything for his fellow Americans.

This anecdote, from an event still fresh in public memory, highlights the deeply damaging impact that continued demonization of an entire religious group can and does have on people’s lives. Moreover, by coming from an institutionalized source such as the House of Representatives (despite a marked distance by the Obama administration), the hearings put out a very strong message to the American public, and need to be understood for the authority that they wield. Even after Rep. King diluted his more aggressive original agenda, the hearings signal and amplify a deep sense of suspicion towards one group of Americans. Especially when ratified by the political leaders of the country, such trends pose a threat to the fundamental American principles of dignity and respect towards everyone. And that, perhaps, is a bigger threat to national security, especially in these testing times.

For a lighter, yet insightful take on King’s track record and alleged hypocrisy in this issue, watch Jon Stewart’s analysis of the hearings here:

Photo courtesy of www.upi.com

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Tell your Senators to support the DREAM Act

In a historic bipartisan vote, the U.S House of Representatives passed the DREAM Act on December 8th, bringing the hopes of thousands of young people that have built their lives in America, one step closer to being realized. Soon the Senate will bring the House-approved version of the bill to the floor for a vote, and we need you to make sure that your Senators will vote to make the DREAM Act a reality.

If passed, legislation would provide a clear legal pathway for immigrant youth, who have been raised in the United States and who will pursue higher education or serve the United States Armed Forces, to become U.S. citizens and live the American dream.

We need to flood the Senate with phone calls and ensure that we get the 60 votes needed to pass the DREAM Act.

1.  Dial the switchboard 1-866-587-3023
2.

2. Ask the operator for a Senator from the target list

3. When the receptionist picks up leave a message urging the Senator to vote yes on the DREAM Act.

Follow up your phone call with a letter to your Senators telling them why they need to get behind the DREAM Act. Their vote could make the difference between granting or breaking the dreams of thousands. Take action now.

For the first time in history we were able to pass the DREAM Act in the House. Let’s not stop now.

Photo courtesy of dreamactivist.org

As DREAM passes in House, momentum builds towards victories for immigrant rights

Following a historic 216-198 vote in which the House of Representatives passed the DREAM Act last evening, today’s events in the Senate reflected a strategic decision on the part of Sen. Reid to buy time to ensure the support needed to get the DREAM Act passed in the Senate. Since the Republicans in the Senate have vowed to block all bills until the issue of tax cuts was resolved, Sen. Reid made a motion to table the cloture vote on the DREAM Act that was otherwise scheduled to take place at 11:00 AM this morning. By tabling it, the Senate Democrats will be able to bring the version of the bill that has already been passed in the House, up for a vote in the coming week, once the other issues have been resolved. Immigrant rights advocates now have additional time to build on the momentum created by the House victory yesterday, and work on getting more Senate support for the DREAM Act, so that when it does finally come up for a vote, it can have the same success that it had in the House of Representatives. According to the Vivir Latino blog-

All in all this gives DREAM a better chance in passing, especially when considering that there are Senators on the fence who do not want to be targeted and be in the spotlight twice. And obviously this gives advocates, activists, and you more time to call and ask that DREAM be supported.

According to the New York Times, once the bill wins the approval of the Senate, it will go straight to President Obama, signaling one of the most significant victories that immigrant rights will have seen in decades. The White House and the President’s support for the DREAM Act has become increasingly evident in recent weeks. While always a supporter of the bill, this is the first time he has actively worked for it to be passed. Over the last few weeks, and up until yesterday, he has been personally making calls to garner support for the DREAM Act.

The DREAM is very much alive and will have its final vote in the Senate in the next week or so. Take the time to follow the example of President Obama and pick up the phone to call your Senators! Tell them that it is important that they pass the DREAM Act and keep the dreams of millions of our country’s youth alive.

Riding the positive momentum created by the hard work of DREAM Activists, advocates protesting the Secure Communities program gathered for a peaceful rally outside Governor David Paterson’s office in New York City earlier today. Despite the bitterly cold morning, a number of activists and local groups turned up to urge Gov. Paterson to rescind the Memorandum of Agreement that New York State signed with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to approve the Secure Communities program in which local police will send fingerprints of all arrestees to federal immigration databases, with immigrants who are found “deportable” being directly pushed into the deeply flawed detention and deportation system. Sarahi Uribe of the National Day Labor Organizing Network spoke about the need for the rally-

To keep our families together, we need to keep police and ICE separate. The Orwellian-named Secure Communities program does the opposite of making us safer. We see innocent people swept up in a massive dragnet sending a chilling effect through migrant communities.

The advocates and religious leaders who spoke at the rally voiced their concerns about the implementation of the program: they stressed the ways in which it jeopardizes the relationship between law enforcement and the community, jeopardizing the safety of the community at large; it offends the values of liberty, due process and justice by undermining the basis of our legal system that aims to provide equal protection to all; it imposes significant costs on our localities, on the detention system, and the State; and it encourages racial profiling by law enforcement.

Following the rally that took place at 11:00 am, the Center for Constitutional Rights and the Kathryn O. Greenberg Immigration Justice Clinic of Cardozo Law requested an emergency injunction in federal court in a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit NDLON v. ICE filed on behalf of the NDLON. The case requests information regarding the controversial Secure Communities program and the emergency injunction specifically requests documents related to the voluntary nature of the program, which has been vague so far. CCR’s staff attorney Sunita Patel said-

“As advocates across the country are pushing on the state and local levels to find a way to opt-out of Secure Communities, we are going to court to obtain information that the public and advocates need to determine how and if it’s possible to opt-out. Only the government has the information everyone needs.”

We thank everyone who came out to show their support at the rally. It is important that we build on this momentum and keep working hard to make sure that we can honor the values that are the strength of this nation. As long as we continue to deny equality, justice, dignity and liberty to some, we cannot guarantee human rights for anyone. Together, we can stop the erosion of our fundamental human rights.

Photo courtesy of cspan.org

John McCain betrays the immigration movement

How exactly does a leopard change his spots? Ask Senator John McCain. When asked about SB 1070, Arizona’s new anti-immigration bill and one of the harshest affronts to civil liberty and racial equality in recent memory, the previously pro-immigration Senator endorsed the legislation calling it a “good tool” and “an important step forward”. He went on to say the bill was a “commentary on the frustration of the state legislature” with the federal government and its inaction on the issue of immigration, and added that he understood the reasoning behind it. Back in 2004, the very same John McCain had spoken up in opposition to a ballot measure in Arizona which denied undocumented immigrants some public services, referring to it during a campaign for re-election to the Senate saying-

Things are terrible, and we’ve got to fix it…But we’re not going to fix it until we have comprehensive immigration reform…When there’s a demand, there’s going to be a supply. There are jobs that Americans will not do, so we have to make it possible for someone to come to this country to do a job that an American won’t do and then go back to the country from where they came.

From 2004 to 2007, Senator McCain worked closely with Senator Kennedy and immigration advocates to fight for comprehensive immigration reform, an issue that was as controversial back then as it is now. During that time, although he faced a lot of opposition for his stance on immigration reform from within the Republican party, he stood firm, denouncing a similar measure to SB 1070 approved by the House of Representatives as “anti-Hispanic.” In 2006, referring to his unpopularity within his party over the issue of immigration, Senator McCain noted

They tell me my poll rate has plummeted over this, but I’m a big boy, I can take it.

Today, his convictions seem to be completely at the mercy of his election opponent, former Congressman J.D. Hayworth, who is staunchly anti-immigration. Speaking on the O’Reilly Factor on Tuesday night, Senator McCain offered a weak defense of the bill that directs police officers to stop anyone whom they suspect is undocumented, mandating racial profiling. When asked about the racial profiling angle, Senator McCain said that while he would be “very sorry” if that happened, the bill itself was justified by the-

…the people whose homes and property are being violated…The drivers of cars with illegals in it that are intentionally causing accidents on the freeway…Look, our border is not secured. Our citizens are not safe.

Reneging on what has been one of his signature bipartisan issues in the past, Senator McCain’s position highlights one thing very clearly – while Sb 1070 will deeply impact the rights, dignity and safety of everyone in Arizona, decisions about it are based on political gamesmanship rather than on what is best for the residents of the State. In an article in the Huffington Post, veteran immigration advocate Frank Sharry expresses his deepest sadness that Senator McCain of all people, is supporting a bill that is “a civil rights retreat of historic proportions”.

Many groups are calling on the federal Government to intervene by overturning SB 1070 and asserting their authority to enforce immigration law. Condemning the bill for making racial profiling the norm, they point to its propensity to interfere with the ability of law enforcement to engage in its primary mission which is to protect and serve the community it works in.

In the wake of seemingly petty political charades, it is important to remember that views such as Senator McCain’s are being countered by law enforcement (Arizona Association of Chiefs of Police), faith-based groups and immigrant rights advocates that are working hard to condemn and protest the bill. Arizona Governor Jan Brewer has received 11,931 calls, emails and faxes asking her to veto the bill, compared to only 1,356 in favor of it. Nine students protesting the bill through chanting and banging drums outside the Capitol were arrested “on suspicion of disorderly conduct” as 83,000 signatures against the bill were delivered to Governor Brewer’s office.

Make your voice heard and write to Governor Brewer today.