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Shackled and Detained: A Pregnant Woman’s Story

Juana’s story is one of Breakthrough’s most shared and talked- about videos.

One day while driving in Tennessee — and while nine months pregnant — Juana was stopped for a supposed traffic violation (of which she was later cleared). Before she knew it, Juana, an immigrant from Mexico, found herself in jail awaiting possible detention. Then she went into labor — and to the hospital, without her family, to give birth in shackles.

Watch the video to learn the rest of Juana’s ordeal, and to see the damage our broken, inhumane immigration system causes to women, families and communities. And consider this: we are talking a lot these days about the “war on women.” But the war on women is even bigger than you may think. Yes, it is about reproductive and economic justice —- and yes, that’s pretty big already. But this “war” is more. The war on immigrants and the escalating “war on women” are part of one sweeping crusade against the fundamental rights of all women living in the United States, documented and otherwise.

It’s time for us to protect the true American values of diversity and democracy, dignity and respect. It’s time for those of us outraged by women’s human rights violations across borders and oceans to support women’s human rights at home. We’re here to stand up for the rights of all women in the United States. Are you?

Tweet this video: I’m here to support the #humanrights of all women in the US. Are you? Watch Juana: http://ow.ly/aDACZ #immigration #waronwomen

A small step for immigration reform is a big step for family unity

Today the Obama administration announced a small but significant change to immigration law that will affect thousands of people and prevent the heartbreaking separation of families that takes place on a daily basis.

Currently, undocumented spouses and children of U.S. citizens have to leave the country before they can apply for visas that they are entitled to– in many cases, they are forced to stay away from their families for up to a decade due to a bar against returning to the U.S. for a minimum of 3 years. The new rule will allow undocumented spouses and children of U.S. citizens who are eligible for applying for adjusting their status to apply for a family unity waiver that will ensure that they can be reunited with their family in the U.S. soon after going to their home country to apply for their visa.

From the New York Times-

Now, Citizenship and Immigration Services proposes to allow the immigrants to obtain a provisional waiver in the United States, before they leave for their countries to pick up their visas. Having the waiver in hand will allow them to depart knowing that they will almost certainly be able to return, officials said. The agency is also seeking to sharply streamline the process to cut down the wait times for visas to a few weeks at most.

“The goal is to substantially reduce the time that the U.S. citizen is separated from the spouse or child when that separation would yield an extreme hardship,” said Alejandro Mayorkas, the director of the immigration agency.

While this is a small tweak to the immigration system and is not expected to go into effect for several months, once it does it will stop the devastating separation of thousands of children from their parents, something that has been taking place for too many years.

You can read more about the waivers at Reform Immigration for America’s blog.

Here’s what CBS and the Huffington Post had to say about the announcement.

Everyone’s talking about this development. Are you?!

Photo courtesy of cbsnews.com

 

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

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

Flip-flopping about a Bad Policy

Guest Blogger: Margaret Huang from the Rights Working Group reposted from The Huffington Post.

Last week, the Arlington County (Virginia) Board sent a letter to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) notifying the federal agency that the County does not wish to participate in the “Secure Communities” Initiative (SCI). The letter is a result of a resolution adopted by the County Board on September 28th expressing the County’s intent to withdraw from SCI. Arlington County adopted its resolution based on the repeated public statements by DHS that local jurisdictions could choose not to participate in the program. Very little is known – or understood – about the “Secure Communities” program, in large part due to contradictory information disseminated about the program by DHS. What Arlington County residents do know about “Secure Communities” is troubling for supporters of community policing, civil liberties and human rights.

Consistently, independent reports on ICE’s cooperation with local law enforcement agencies (including one by DHS’s own Inspector General) found that such collaborations have frequently led to allegations of racial profiling and other due process violations. Police in some jurisdictions have used minor infractions – such as fishing without a license or driving with a broken tail pipe – to arrest people and check their immigration status.

It is simply wrong to say that these programs only affect undocumented immigrants. The function of local police is to investigate crime that threatens the safety of the local community; forcing them to also serve as immigration agents dilutes and directly impedes that core mission. Since there are no obvious visual indicators of a person’s immigration status, police default to race and ethnicity as a proxy. Targeting people – or even being perceived as targeting people – based on their perceived ethnicity or race destroys the trust between the police and the communities that they are sworn to protect. When a community loses trust in the local police, everyone’s safety is put at risk. If a witness to a crime, or even a victim of a crime, is afraid to call the police for help, then the police cannot do their jobs and community security suffers.

The “Secure Communities” program was not established by any law, and Arlington’s elected local and national representatives had no voice in whether or not to participate in this program. In Virginia, it was the Virginia State Police who signed an agreement with ICE imposing SCI on every county in the state. It is telling that Arlington’s law enforcement agencies have refused to participate in other ICE programs because of their concerns about the impact on community policing programs and their ability to protect community safety.

Recently, ICE has released conflicting messages about whether or not a local jurisdiction can opt out of the program. On September 7th, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano sent a letter to Congress stating that jurisdictions that wished to withdraw from the program could do so; another letter from the Director of the Secure Communities program to California officials last month also stated that a jurisdiction could pull out.

But in an October 1st Washington Post article titled, “Local jurisdictions find they can’t opt out of federal immigration enforcement program,” an anonymous ICE spokesperson stated that “…opting out of the program is not a realistic possibility – and never was.” And on October 5th, Secretary Napolitano held a press conference where she contradicted her written letter by stating that jurisdictions could not opt out of SCI.

Arlington County did the right thing in its resolution. The County Board stood up for democratic processes that engage elected officials and community members in a discussion about what’s best for that community. The resolution commended the Chief of Police and the Sheriff who have lowered County crime rates through effective community policing programs and who want to focus on stopping and solving crimes, not doing the federal government’s job on immigration. The County pointed out that no one at ICE asked Arlington whether they wanted to be part of this program. And the elected government officials placed the community’s safety first by restoring trust in local law enforcement.

With the resolution adopted on the 28th, Arlington joined Washington, DC, San Francisco, and Santa Clara County (California) in formally requesting to withdraw from SCI. Arlington residents hope that ICE will respond to the County’s letter by implementing its promised opt-out mechanism from the Secure Communities program.

Photo courtesy of nostri-imago @ flickr.com

ICE’s Misplaced Priorities: The Numbers Speak for Themselves and the Stories Cry out for Justice


Guest Blogger: Azadeh Shahshahani from ACLU of Georgia reposted from The Huffington Post.

This past Wednesday, Jessica Colotl was released from the Etowah Detention Center in Alabama and allowed to reunite with her family back in Cobb County, Georgia. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has granted Jessica deferred action on her deportation case.

Jessica is a 21-year-old smart hard working student at Kennesaw State who has worked nights in order to pay her tuition. She hopes to become a lawyer after graduating in the fall.

So why was Jessica at a detention center all the way in Alabama in the first place? A few weeks ago, as Jessica pulled into her university parking lot, a campus police officer pulled her over, telling her that she was “impeding the flow of traffic.” She could not produce a driver’s license due to her undocumented status and eventually ended up at the Cobb County jail. This is when 287(g) kicked in. Per an agreement between Cobb County and ICE, some Cobb sheriff deputies have been granted certain enforcement powers of an immigration officer. Jessica was placed in deportation proceedings. Before long, she found herself behind bars at the Alabama detention center, awaiting deportation to Mexico, a country she has not lived in for over ten years and which she hardly remembers. Jessica was only released after strongly voiced and sustained demands by the community, including her sorority sisters, and after the ACLU contacted the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Headquarters on her behalf.

Is it unusual for ICE and the localities to waste limited resources meant for targeting perpetrators of the most dangerous crimes by going after individuals with great potential like Jessica?

Unfortunately not. Jessica is just one of the untold numbers of hard-working people who get caught up in the local immigration enforcement programs, including 287(g). In a sense, Jessica’s case is very unusual, as she actually won respite (albeit temporary) from deportation. Most people in her situation, faced with prolonged detention at a jail, oftentimes isolated and hours away from their families, opt to give up their immigration case and are subsequently deported.

An ACLU of Georgia report released in October 2009 recounted stories of 10 community members in Cobb and their families impacted by 287(g). As documented by the report entitled, “Terror and Isolation in Cobb: How Unchecked Police Power under 287(g) had Torn Families Apart and Threatened Public Safety,” mothers, fathers, brothers, and sisters are torn apart from their families every day in Cobb County, many with little recourse.

In one case, a husband and father was pulled over for “an incomplete stop” on the way to the bank. Angel subsequently ended up at the Stewart Detention Center. He left behind his wife Sharon, an American citizen who is physically disabled and who “depended on [her] husband for everything.” Sharon and Angel had to “celebrate” their 7-year wedding anniversary apart; their only means of contact was a phone call by Angel from the Stewart Detention Center.

In Cobb, immigrants disappear into detention for violations such as a broken tail light or tinted windows on their car. In 2008, Cobb County turned over 3,180 detainees to ICE for deportation. Of those, 2,180, about 69 percent, were arrested for traffic violations.

But you don’t only have to rely on the ACLU of Georgia report to believe there is something wrong with this picture. A Government Accountability Office investigation of 287(g) released in January 2009 found that ICE was not exercising proper oversight over local or state agencies. And a report released in March 2010 by the DHS Office of the Inspector General (OIG) documents significant lapses in 287(g) priorities and oversight. ICE claims that 287(g)’s mandate is to focus on non-citizens who pose a threat to national security or are dangers to the community. But less than 10 percent of those sampled by OIG were ICE “Level 1″ offenders. Almost half had no involvement in crimes of violence, drug offenses, or property crimes.

This trend of misplaced priorities is shared by other ICE local enforcement programs.

Last week, a piece appeared by John Morton, the head of ICE, in the Atlanta Journal Constitution as well as other papers around the country defending the “Secure Communities” initiative through which arrestees’ fingerprints are checked against DHS databases with information about civil immigration history, rather than just against FBI criminal databases. Morton claims that his agency is prioritizing perpetrators of dangerous crimes for deportation.

Morton’s strongest rebuttal is his own numbers. According to the data ICE released in November 2009, out of 113,000 non-citizen individuals identified in the program during its first year of operation, more than 101,000, or close to 90%, were never charged with or convicted of dangerous crimes. “Secure Communities” is in fact designed to sweep up any foreign-born individual who is arrested by local law enforcement for any reason whatsoever, including traffic infractions, even if that person is never charged with, or convicted of, any crime at all. An alarming 5% of the total number of individuals identified were actually U.S. citizens, testifying to the inaccuracy and incompleteness of the federal agency databases against which fingerprints are matched.

Meanwhile, precious resources are diverted from identifying and removing perpetrators of the most dangerous crimes.

Contrary to Morton’s assertion, the program is also profoundly susceptible to abuse and racial profiling, similar to the misguided 287(g) program. Any police officer or sheriff’s deputy can arrest individuals simply to bring them to the attention of immigration officials. Without federal standards or oversight, this creates an unacceptably high risk of unlawful racial profiling.

The risk of racial profiling through local enforcement programs is compounded in Georgia, as there is no state legislation banning racial profiling and mandating accountability and transparency for law enforcement.

It is past time for ICE to match their rhetoric regarding priorities with action and put an immediate end to the unaccountable outsourcing of immigration enforcement functions. If the numbers weren’t enough proof, Jessica’s story and other accounts cry out for justice.

Photo courtesy of acluga.org

On Cinco de Mayo, we have music and games in support of Arizona’s immigrants

By the time I get to Arizona…By the time I get to Arizona….

What happens if you get to Arizona and you are stopped by the cops there and you don’t have any ID on you? Once the new anti-immigrant law, SB1070, comes into effect, its likely you will be detained. DJ Spooky and Public Enemy’s Chuck D think that’s ridiculous and take a stab at what that might be like. Both of them felt strongly about the ways in which such a law engenders racism and decided to rework the classic Public Enemy protest song, “By the Time I Get to Arizona”, originally written to protest the Arizona state government’s 1993 decision not to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday. This time around, the lyrics reflect their discontent at “those who don’t learn from the past with DJ Spooky seeing it as a “21st century look in the rear view mirror”. Check out the catchy tune.

Chuck D and his wife Theresa aren’t far behind. The rapper condemns the architect of the law Russell Pearce, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer and the Arizona State Senate for supporting a law that he calls “racist and deceitful.” Chuck D, known for his socially and politically-conscious style of rapping and for trying to bridge the racial gap between “black and brown” makes-

a call to action urging fellow musicians, artists, athletes, performers, academics and production companies to refuse to work in Arizona until officials not only overturn this bill, but recognize the human rights of immigrants.

He also calls on the world of sports to “speak up in defense of our brothers and sisters being victimized in Arizona, because things are only getting worse.” And the world of sports, a space that often stays well away from politics, has spoken, with players, sports associations and teams calling the law unjust. A number of Major League Baseball (MLB) players have taken a stand against Arizona’s new law, calling it an “immoral” violation of human rights. On Cinco de Mayo, the NBA team, the Phoenix Sons, made a statement against SB1070 by wearing special jerseys that had their team name written in Spanish, “Los Suns”, for a big game against the San Antonio Spurs. The jerseys, usually reserved for a once a year occasion on the NBA’s “Noche Latina” program were worn to make a political statement.

In announcing the Suns would wear their Spanish jerseys for Game 2 against the San Antonio Spurs — which falls on the Mexican holiday known as Cinco de Mayo — Suns owner Robert Sarver went out of his way to knock Arizona’s controversial immigration enforcement law known as Senate Bill 1070.

The young Latina pop sensation Shakira, who has met with White House officials to talk about immigration issues and even got an exclusive meeting with President Obama to lobby for children’s education, was quick to fly to Phoenix to offer her support to Latino families that were suddenly fearful for themselves after the passage of SB1070. In an emotional and heartfelt piece in the Huff Post, she writes-

To the rest of the world, the United States represents the dream of a better life based on justice and freedom for everyone — no matter the color of your skin. This law goes against those values and against the principles of every American I know…This law not only hurts the whole state of Arizona but the fundamental core values of America, the fabric of society itself. The true victory of a democratic nation is when its people can walk the streets without fear… This law won’t bring safety or protect America; it will cause chaos. It won’t create unity; it will create division.

Her words found resonance in Nobel Peace prize winner, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who expressed his deep sadness at the passage of the Arizona law that targets immigrants. Recognizing the fact that Arizona suffers from a broken immigration system he said-

A solution that fails to distinguish between a young child coming over the border in search of his mother and a drug smuggler is not a solution…An immigrant who is charged with the crime of trespassing for simply being in a community without his papers on him is being told he is committing a crime by simply being…These are the seeds of resentment, hostilities and in extreme cases, conflict…With the eyes of the world now on them, Arizona has the opportunity to create a new model for dealing with the pitfalls, and help the nation as a whole find its way through the problems of illegal immigration. But to work, it must be a model that is based on a deep respect for the essential human rights Americans themselves have grown up enjoying.

Let’s hope that all these efforts in the name of dignity, human rights, equality and peace do not fall on deaf ears. Write to President Obama and let him know the need for immigration reform now.

Photo courtesy of cbsnews.com

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.

Condemnation of Arizona’s anti-immigrant bill goes national

Tonight, Arizona’s future hangs in the balance as Arizona Governor Jan Brewer decides whether to sign SB 1070, one of the harshest anti-immigrant bills in recent memory, into law. The bill will be forwarded to the Governor’s desk this evening and could ostensibly be signed into law by midnight tonight.

Ironically titled the “Safe Neighborhoods Bill”, the bill makes it mandatory for state and local police to stop anyone based on a “reasonable suspicion” of being undocumented, effectively mandating racial profiling and creating panic across communities. Immigration law is within the domain of the federal government, not local police, but the bill is egregious even in its application of due process, allowing for the arrest of people without a warrant including day laborers and those who hire them. It also makes it mandatory for local towns and cities to share information with the Department of Homeland Security and any citizen can press charges against local administrations who they believe are not be enforcing the law.

If passed into law SB 1070 will have enormous repercussions on the United States. Already, a senator in Ohio is looking for a co-sponsor to introduce a similar bill, and similar movements are expected across many states. Condemnation of the bill has reached massive proportions and a cohesive movement of immigration groups, agriculture, labor, police foundations and civil rights groups is emerging.

It started with Congressman Luis Gutierrez  calling on President Obama denouncing the Obama administration’s silence on the bill. Condemning deportations that have reached 1000 a day, half of which are originating in Ohio, he said-

Giving police such a broad mandate to arrest and book people “suspected” of looking a certain way isn’t just an invitation to racial profiling, it’s like waving a green flag and saying “gentlemen start your engines”… If we allow police-state tactics in Arizona to continue, the level of basic community security will erode and civil unrest could escalate. The President must act now to diffuse the Arizona panic and take control of a deteriorating situation that could become a national crisis.

The media reacted almost immediately. In a heated exchange with Fox’s Bill O’Reilly, Alfredo Gutierrez, editor of the La Frontera Times, criticized the SB 1070 bill for taking immigration law enforcement away from the federal Government, referring to it as a “civil libertarian’s nightmare…You don’t have to throw out civil liberties because you have a major issue.”

Vigils, rallies and press conferences against the bill are reaching a fevered pitch. Advocacy groups across the country, such as Amnesty International, Reform Immigration For America, NDLON, and the National Immigration Forum are joining groups in Arizona including the Border Action Network, the Puente Movement and Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in denouncing the bill. A group of people are fasting until the bill is vetoed. PSA’s and two hotlines have been introduced to educate people about the bill and dispel some of the fear and panic created by its introduction in communities. The National Day Laborers Organizing Network (NDLON) is organizing a press conference outside the Department of Homeland Security HQ in D.C. to call on Assistant Secretary John Morton to denounce the bill, coming on the heels of demands by civil rights groups to end the 287(g) and other programs that mandate local and state police to enforce federal immigration law. The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) is taking legal action against the bill if signed into law, arguing that it violates due process and Supreme Court precedents, urging Governor Brewer to recognize that-

… This law is an open invitation to racial discrimination, community discord, and naked clash between state and federal government. The law’s constitutional flaws will inevitably attract costly legal challenges, to the detriment of all Arizona.

Take urgent action today and ensure that Gov. Brewer vetoes SB 1070.

Photo courtesy of www.altoarizona.com

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Is the criminal justice system “The New Jim Crow”?

Jarvious Cotton’s great-great-grandfather could not vote as a slave. His great-grandfather was beaten to death by the Klu Klux Klan for attempting to vote. His grandfather was prevented from voting by Klan intimidation; his father was barred by poll taxes and literacy tests. Today, Cotton cannot vote because he, like many black men in the United States, has been labeled a felon and is currently on parole. – From ‘The New Jim Crow’.

Placed within the context of the euphoria around the election of President Obama as the nation’s first black President, Michelle Alexander‘s first book “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness” argues that while on the surface it seems like racial subordination is no longer entrenched in the law books, the truth is Jim Crow laws have simply been redesigned and appropriated by the criminal justice system.

Some shocking stats. One in every eight black men in their twenties are in prison or jail on any given day. There are more African Americans who are in jail, prison, probation or parole today, than were enslaved in 1850. Alexander reacts against the dominant narrative of racial justice which says that while there is still a way to go, America has come a long way from it’s history of racial discrimination, and instead explains the way that the system works to exercise a contemporary form of racial control, a process that continues long after the individuals are officially released out of the system. From Chapter 5 of the book-

The first stage is the roundup [when] vast numbers of people are swept into the criminal justice system by the police, who conduct drug operations primarily in poor communities of color… Once arrested, defendants are generally denied meaningful legal representation and pressured to plead guilty, whether they are or not. Once convicted… virtually every aspect of one’s life is regulated and monitored by the system. The final stage… often [has] a greater impact on one’s life course than the months or years one actually spends behind bars. [Parolees] will be discriminated against, legally, for the rest of their lives-denied employment, housing, education, and public benefits. Unable to surmount these obstacles, most will eventually return to prison and then be released again, caught in a closed circuit of perpetual marginality.

In Alexander’s opinion, far from living in a post-racial utopia, the last few decades have seen the United States move towards a “color-coded caste system” where minority groups are targeted, maligned and marginalized by the criminal justice system. She attributes this increase in the mass incarceration of African Americans over the past thirty years to draconian laws that have been constructed to wage “The War on Drugs”, a battle waged against low-income communities of color, even though research consistently counters the claim that any one racial community uses and sells illegal drugs more than any other.

It’s a moment to contemplate race and class in today’s America. To go beyond the illusion that all is well to a striking reminder that racial injustice is still deeply entrenched in the country. According to Alexander, nothing short of an informed and agitated movement will put an end to this perpetuation of racial inequality in the guise of enforcing justice.

Photo courtesy of newjimcrow.com

POLL: Does the criminal justice system unfairly target communities of color?

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