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NEW FILM: The Call – A choice no woman should face

Sonia has worked so hard for this: a healthy family and a normal life in an average American town. But on a night that should have been like any other, she is forced to make an impossible choice that could shatter her family’s dreams forever.

 Keep your daughter safe — or keep your family together? 

What call would you make?

In our powerful new short film inspired by a true story, Sonia’s crisis shows why we must all support the human rights of immigrant women today. This video is the centerpiece of Breakthrough’s #ImHere campaign, an urgent and innovative call to action for the rights of immigrant women in the United States. More about #ImHere after the jump.

Produced in collaboration with over 30 partner organizations, the multi-award-winning People’s Television and starring distinguished actors from stage and screen, “The Call” is inspired by the real experiences of the brave women and families we’ve encountered in our work. “Sonia” is fictional, but her emotional story is not. No mother should have to face the choice she does. With your help, no mother will.

Please watch and share this film to say: #ImHere to put the rights of women like Sonia on the national agenda. Are you?

Tweet the filmKeep your daughter safe or your family together: what call would you make? Watch and share http://ow.ly/e4jGH #ImHereIVote @Breakthrough

Share on Facebook: Watch #ImHere: THE CALL, a short film about a choice no woman should have to face. http://ow.ly/e4jGH

Read the rest of this entry »

Soy poderosa because I can lend my voice in solidarity

Guest Blogger: Karen Guzman, Policy Intern, National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health

Karen Guzman tells the story about when she realized she was poderosa – when she found out her cousin was undocumented, and could lend her voice in solidarity.

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Every time I hear the word poderosa or powerful, a particular experience in my life strikes me immediately. The details are all incredibly vivid and I begin to remember this particular moment that completely changed my life. I was 18 years old the first time I ever felt empowered to create positive social change. At the time, I was applying for colleges and universities and immigration started to play a huge role in my life.  During this time I was lucky to have 2 of my cousins go through the college application process with me since we were all the same age. It was an exciting time for us because we were all about to be the first ones in our families to go to a college or university. After years of waiting and asking others for advice on how to apply and what scholarships to look for, we were finally going to achieve one of the biggest goals we had set for ourselves: to be professionals in the United States. To my surprise, it was while filling out one of those applications that I found out that one of my cousins was undocumented. The blank after “SSN:”  on an application — that I had quickly filled out and overlooked — was the only thing standing in the way of her dreams. Never mind the fact that she wanted to be a doctor and was incredibly smart, or that she was on the honor roll every quarter in high school. It felt as if her shot of going to a four-year university was shot down instantly. The day I found out about my cousin’s immigration status, I felt hopeless and disempowered because I knew that nothing I could say to her would bring the light back to her eyes when she talked about her future.

My cousin, who was once so hopeful about her life and her future, now felt trapped and betrayed by the American Dream and, even worse, she felt alone. I don’t know what exactly happened to me after that day, but something struck inside of me and I knew I had to do something for my cousin and for the thousands of people like her. A couple of months later, the perfect opportunity showed up as I found out about a rally in Washington, DC right by the mall on a sunny summer day. This rally would be the first one I ever participated in, but certainly not the last. I decided to go with my mom because I was terrified of going by myself and since she knew how much this meant to me, I knew she would be a great supporter. Together we went to the rally for immigration reform, which was hosted by the campaign to Reform Immigration for America where hundreds of individuals and organizations came out to express their thoughts on our broken immigration system and possible solutions to fix it. Amongst the advocates and supporters there that day were grandparents, fathers, mothers, and lots of youth. The diversity of the people really struck me and I felt at home. Between chants and marching, I eventually found myself next to about 15 DREAMers from Texas. They were holding up a huge American flag with the word “DREAM” on top of the red and white stripes. Their motivation and energy was contagious so my mom and I decided to join them. While we marched, we each exchanged stories and in each one of them I saw my cousin and I knew she wasn’t alone. Their courage and resilience really touched me and I still remember feeling like I could actually do something about the immigration system in America—right then and there I felt poderosa—powerful and almost invincible. I realized that my words and my actions do have meaning and purpose and that I could be a catalyst for social change in my community.

Years after that rally, I created several events and programs at the University of Maryland to raise awareness on immigration and have been actively supporting the Marlyand DREAMers. I am continuously finding ways to engage my community to fight for justice by being a support and resource for them, after all that’s when I feel that I am a poderosa.  My cousin, who was my main motivation for my activism ended up getting permanent residency and is now in the process of completing her nursing degree. Thank you primita for letting me find my passion and helping others realize just how poderosas y poderosos they truly are!

Photo Courtesy of The New York Immigration Coalition

These Lives Matter: “Detainee Not Found”

Port Isabel Detention Center

Guestblogger:Claudia Valenzuela, Associate Director of Litigation for Heartland Alliance’s National Immigrant Justice Center

This post is the second in a new series titled “These Lives Matter,” in which NIJC staff, clients, and volunteers will share their unique perspectives on immigration stories that do not always make the news.

I began my legal career working with Guatemalan asylum seekers looking to become lawful permanent residents of the United States. In working with this community, I heard stories time and again about loved ones who had been disappeared and saw firsthand how having a husband, son, or daughter disappeared can create a special kind of guilt, fear and grief. Working with detained immigrants many years later, I cannot help but notice parallels between individuals who were purposely disappeared in 1980s Guatemala and individuals who disappear when taken into ICE custody – mainly in the ways that family members left behind are affected by not knowing the immediate fate of their loved ones.

When an individual is detained by ICE, he or she can in fact be disappeared. It can take family members days, or in some cases weeks or even months, to locate loved ones arrested by ICE. Sometimes, a family does not learn of a loved one’s whereabouts until that person calls home after they are deported.

Locating a loved one relatively quickly does not necessarily lessen the trauma of witnessing the arrest in the first place. Take the case of Viviana and Martin*—mother and son. ICE officers came to their home and misled Viviana into believing that they were local police officers who only wanted to talk to Martin. They convinced Viviana to call her son home. She was devastated after witnessing the officers take her son into custody without further explanation. Martin—who had just turned 18,had diagnosed learning disabilities, had no previous encounters with the immigration authorities, and had engaged in no wrongdoing—was taken away, surrounded by armed men, while Viviana watched helplessly. The hours following Martin’s arrest were harrowing. Viviana spent that night calling every police station in town, only to be told there was no one by her son’s name in custody. Throughout the ordeal, Viviana was overcome with grief at the thought that she had turned in her own son.

There are countless stories like Viviana and Martin’s—sometimes it’s mothers, sometimes fathers, sons or daughters, taken away while loved ones, including children, stand by helplessly. In the aftermath, there usually are frantic calls to numbers that lead nowhere. It takes luck to reach an ICE officer who will answer any questions. The ICE Online Detainee Locator System—a public relations initiative ICE instituted following a series of wide-scale raids that resulted in mass “disappearances” —is hit or miss, more often a miss. If loved ones can get online—and most of the family members we encounter every day do not have access to the internet—they must either have the person’s “alien number” or the exact spelling of their name, date of birth and country of nationality. Then they must pass a “captcha” security check by typing in a word that appears in a box. Even lawyers have a difficult time getting the system to work. Despite having the necessary, accurate information, we still frequently get the message “detainee not found” if it is less than 24 hours since the arrest. It also takes the system a while to be updated following a transfer to a new detention center. This delay makes the first 24 hours or so following a person’s arrest all the more distressing for loved ones who realize a family member has gone missing.

Martin eventually reached his mother, after a collect call finally made it through to Viviana. He was later released from ICE custody after posting a bond. But months later, Viviana lives with the fear and guilt of those critical hours after Martin was taken away, when she believed her son to be missing and felt that she was responsible.

*Names have been changed to protect identity.

Picture Courtesy of http://www.texasobserver.org

#ImHere for Immigrant Women. Are You?

For millions of immigrants, here — the U.S. — is home. But for many immigrant women, home is not safe. The last few years have brought a steady decline in the human rights of all immigrants to the United States. Our broken immigration system and cruel anti-immigrant laws have had particular impact on immigrant women and the families they’re raising. Many immigrant women are sole breadwinners — yet they earn 13 percent less than their male counterparts and 14 percent less than female U.S. citizens.

Many families have already been separated by deportation or indefinite detention, often without due process. Other parents and children — especially in states where police demand the papers of anyone inviting “reasonable suspicion” of being undocumented — live in fear of these threats, rarely leaving home at all. These laws also force women to choose between the threat of an abusive husband and the threat of deportation if they call the police. They send pregnant mothers to give birth in shackles with federal agents by their side. They trap women and LGBTQ people in immigrant detention centers under the constant threat of physical and sexual abuse. They drive parents to give power of attorney over their children to friends, neighbors and employers because the threat of deportation and indefinite detention is just too real. In fact, in the first six months of 2011, the U.S. deported more than 46,000 parents of U.S.-citizen children.

Does this feel wrong to you?

Do you believe in human rights for all?

Do you believe you can make a difference?

If so, let us know you’re here for, in support of, and in solidarity with, immigrant women.

Here are 3 quick things you can do:

1. UPLOAD A PHOTO of yourself on the #ImHere wall and join the growing number of women, men and young people in the U.S. and beyond who believe in human rights for all women. Check out the wall here: http://ow.ly/bKlar. First, print or write out a sign saying #ImHere. Second, take your picture holding up the sign. Third, upload the photo here: http://imherebreakthrough.tumblr.com/submit. (NOTE: You don’t need to have an account to upload.)

2. Post this on your Facebook page: Here’s a great way to show solidarity with immigrant women. Upload your photo onto your own, or your organization’s Facebook page and tag @Breakthrough.

 3. Tweet this out: #ImHere to support the rights of immigrant women. Are you? http://ow.ly/bKlar #waronwomen @breakthrough

Other ways to submit:

EMAIL: Send your photo to us at imhere@breakthrough.tv. Include your first NAME, CITY of residence, and TWITTER handle (if you have one) so we can follow you.

INSTAGRAM: Tag your photo #ImHere and share to Twitter and Facebook.

FACEBOOK: Post your photo to your timeline and tag our Breakthrough page. We’ll do the rest!

Thanks so much. Together we can build an America where all women, and their families, are safe in their homes and limitless in their dreams.