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A nation’s spirit uprooted by conservative focus on “anchor babies”

The 14th amendment, established in 1868 as a major gain from the Civil War, united a nation that was once half-slave and half-free. Today, some Republicans wish to revisit the debate of 1868 and revoke its notion of birthright citizenship in order to help prevent undocumented immigration. Instead of focusing on reforming the immigration system, these Republicans focus on punishing immigrants and Americans alike by altering an amendment that continues to carry so much of our national spirit.

The 14th amendment grants citizenship to “all persons born or naturalized in the United States”. It also forbids states from denying anyone “life, liberty or property, without due process of law” or “denying any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”

Senator Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) has led the proposal to debate the amendment, arguing that it induces undocumented immigration and the desire to have a baby to claim citizenship, calling such a baby by the derogatory term, “anchor baby.” Arizona’s Republican state Sen. Russell Pearce, the architect of SB 1070, agrees. He said,

“When [the 14th Amendment] was ratified in 1868, the amendment had to do with African-Americans; it had nothing to do with aliens. It’s got to be fixed.”

Anti-immigration activists often claim that their real concern is to prevent law-breaking. But the Washington Post puts it best,

Revoking birthright citizenship would turn hundreds of thousands of infants into ‘criminals’ – arriving, not across a border, but crying in a [U.S.] hospital. A whole class of people would grow up knowing they are hunted aliens, through no fault of their own. This cannot be called the rule of law. It would be viciousness and prejudice on a grand scale.

Even Lou Dobbs, known for an anti-immigration stance in many respects, spoke out against changing the 14th amendment.

I believe that the 14th amendment – particularly in its due process and equal protection clause – is so important; it lays the entire foundation for the Bill of Rights being applied.

Defenders of the amendment say altering it would weaken a fundamental American value while doing little to deter immigration. In fact, immigration activists say that birthright citizenship is not even a significant driver of immigration, because a child has to reach age 21 to petition for permanent legal residency for his or her parents.

In even more charged reasoning, Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) warned that birthright citizenship was a national security issue – involving a diabolical 30-year-long plot by some very patient terrorists. He said,

I talked to a retired FBI agent who said that one of the things they were looking at were terrorist cells overseas who had figured out how to game our system. And it appeared they would have young women, who became pregnant, would get them into the United States to have a baby… And then they would turn back where they could be raised and coddled as future terrorists. And then one day, twenty, thirty years down the road, they can be sent in to help destroy our way of life.

If birthright citizenship was revoked on the premise of fearing terrorists, our nation would embark on an even uglier journey of racial profiling. Moreover, on a practical level, revoking the 14th Amendment would affect those Americans who “look immigrant”, leading to an ugly ladder of bureaucracy to  prove citizenship.

Rep. Duncan D. Hunter (R-CA) has gone even further and said we should deport existing natural-born citizen children if their parents are illegal immigrants. This retroactive stripping of citizenship is completely unconstitutional.

We simply cannot afford what we’re doing right now. We’re not being mean. We’re just saying it takes more than walking across the border to become an American citizen.

The solution – to criminalize millions of babies who are born in this country is unacceptable. Denying these babies the 14th Amendment is the same as denying African-American slaves the 14th Amendment 150 years ago. Abolishing the birthright to citizenship is a movement not about the legality of immigrants, but about the stripping away of human rights.

The real anachronism standing here is these senators who want to take us back to the times before the Civil War. When the president of FAIR said, “We should not allow language from 1868 enslave our thinking…in the 21st Century,” Masao Suzuki, writer for Fight Back News Service, urges us to respond by saying, “We are not going to be enslaved ever again.”

Graham’s notion to debate the 14th amendment had a mixed reception even from groups that back tougher enforcement of the nation’s border restriction. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, for one, supports stronger enforcement and, yet, refuses to endorse Graham’s suggestion. Instead, he suggested looking into reports of businesses that help immigrants arrange to have babies in the U.S. in order to win their children U.S. citizenship. Many Democrats also refuse to endorse Graham’s suggestion, but they resist stronger enforcement as a solution, stressing the urgency for comprehensive immigration reform. While President Obama’s push for immigration reform is considered dead, some Democrats are pushing for a scaled-back bill to move this fall.

Given the controversial nature of Graham’s proposal, successfully amending the Constitution would be considered unlikely. Many understand that the 14th Amendment made the Constitution what it is today: a document that guarantees the equal rights of all Americans and to which individuals and groups who feel they are being denied equality can appeal. As the 19th-century Republican editor George William Curtis wrote how it was part of a process that changed the U.S. government from one “for white men” to one “for mankind.” Since the Reconstruction era, the amendment had not stopped short of protecting African-Americans. Those who lived during the civil rights era had sought its protection, as well. Even today, the Supreme Court has used it to expand the rights of aggrieved Americans, as it did in Lawrence v. Texas, which in 2003 overturned a state law criminalizing homosexual acts.

Birthright citizenship has continued to protect all sorts of people outside the legacy of slavery, thereby rejecting any claim that it is anachronistic and requires amending.

Department of Justice vs. Arizona

In the short time since Arizona passed SB 1070 into law, it has become one of the strongest and most controversial symbols of our nation’s debate on immigration. SB 1070 requires the police to stop anyone that has a “reasonable suspicion” of being undocumented but once enacted, it is believed that may well lead to unconstitutional racial profiling and a breakdown of trust between police and the communities they protect. But SB 1070 is also emblematic of the frustration that many have with our broken immigration system, a sign that states have decided to take immigration into their own hands as Congress remains in a deadlock over immigration reform. The latest catalyst for this debate -  a lawsuit filed by the Department of Justice brought against the state of Arizona and SB1070 on July 6th, 2010.

Analysis over the implications of the lawsuit are rife in the media. Many are looking at the lawsuit and its potential for setting a new precedent with regards to the tussle between the federal government and state laws around immigration. Previous precedent shows a tendency for federal courts to side with the federal government on cases when states and cities pass laws that conflict with federal immigration law. An article in the Wall Street Journal traces this precedent back to laws in the 1880s aimed at limiting Chinese immigration. While the dispute could go either way, some analysts hold that that the federal court could only block sections of the law, while allowing some others to be enforced.

By bringing a lawsuit against the state of Arizona, the Obama administration (via the Justice Department) has taken a strong stand against the law. But an article in the Washington Post discusses further implications of this stand. The article quotes the Democratic strategist who spoke about the implications of the lawsuit for the Democrat party -

There is probably some short term pain politically given how popular the law is…But considering the demographic changes the country is undergoing, long term, there is a lot of upside in advocating for Latinos and comprehensive immigration reform.

While the Obama administration is advocating for comprehensive immigration reform, the Democrat party has continued to play safe so as not to alienate the large electoral base that supports the Arizona law and other enforcement heavy approaches to immigration. On the other hand, many Republicans, who support the law and an enforcement heavy approach, continue to emphasize a secure border-then reform approach, a rhetoric that leads to little progress on the issue. Republicans such as Senator John McCain,who previously argued for comprehensive reform, have abandoned their support of an immigration overhaul in the face of resentment and anger from within the party as well as from anti-immigrant groups such as the Tea Party Movement.

In the midst of all these actions are ordinary people suffering disruptions to their everyday lives on account of an immigration system that remains unjust and broken.

Photo courtesy of americasvoiceonline.org

President Obama gives immigration reform a boost on Independence Day weekend

How fitting it is that the day after President Obama delivered his first speech devoted entirely to the issue of immigration reform, 150 people are being sworn in as naturalized U.S. citizens on Ellis Island. In an address at American University, President Obama vowed not to “kick the can down the road” on immigration reform, restating his desire to fix a broken immigration system.

In his speech, the President asserted the need for a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 11 million people currently residing in the U.S. who do not have legal status, while stressing that the U.S. government secures the border, and businesses face consequences for hiring undocumented workers and keeping wages depressed. Calling on Congress to pass a comprehensive plan to fix an immigration system that is “fundamentally broken,” President Obama tackled the issue that has been the subject of contentious political debate in these months leading up to the mid-term November elections. He spoke about the “…estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States” and said that “the overwhelming majority of these men and women are simply seeking a better life for themselves and their children.” The President cautioned against rounding up and deporting the undocumented immigrants that are an intrinsic part of American society and economy, and against a blanket amnesty for all that he said would be “unwise and unfair…would suggest to those thinking about coming here illegally that there will be no repercussions for such a decision,” and “could lead to a surge in more illegal immigration. ” Instead, he advocated for a solution that eschewed both polar extremes of the debate in favor of rational middle ground. He said-

Ultimately, our nation, like all nations, has the right and obligation to control its borders and set laws for residency and citizenship.  And no matter how decent they are, no matter their reasons, the 11 million who broke these laws should be held accountable. Now, if the majority of Americans are skeptical of a blanket amnesty, they are also skeptical that it is possible to round up and deport 11 million people. They know it’s not possible. Such an effort would be logistically impossible and wildly expensive. Moreover, it would tear at the very fabric of this nation -– because immigrants who are here illegally are now intricately woven into that fabric.  Now, once we get past the two poles of this debate, it becomes possible to shape a practical, common-sense approach that reflects our heritage and our values.

This speech was influenced by a number of recent developments in the immigration issue. Most notably, Arizona’s harsh anti-immigrant law that has set a precedent for states around the country taking the enforcement of immigration law into their own hands. Since April 23rd, when Arizona Gov. Brewer signed off on the law, its unconstitutional statutes that give a green light to racial profiling, have catapulted the immigration issue and the Federal government’s inaction on it, into center stage. The controversial “show me your papers” law, which is currently under review by the Department of Justice, has “fanned the flames of an already contentious debate,” Mr. Obama said. President Obama acknowledged the frustration that has led to Arizona and the 20 other states that are in the process of implementing similar laws as “understandable,” but stated that it was “ill- conceived” and that it “put huge pressure on local law enforcement to enforce rules that ultimately are unenforceable.” Referring to the police chiefs that have stood in opposition to SB1070, he said that laws such as these make communities less safe by “driving a wedge between communities and law enforcement, making our streets more dangerous and the jobs of our police officers more difficult.” He criticized this “patchwork of local immigration laws” for having “the potential of violating the rights of innocent American citizens and legal residents, making them subject to possible stops or questioning because of what they look like or how they sound.”

In his undeniably political speech, President Obama stressed the necessity for bipartisan support for immigration reform. He took Republicans to task for the lack of movement on immigration reform in Congress, specifically calling out the 11 Republicans Senators who had shown support for a comprehensive reform bill in 2006, and subsequently withdrawn this support, with the Republican party now unanimously calling for a “border security first” approach and balking at a comprehensive reform bill. Obama argued that the process has been “held hostage” by “political posturing, special-interest wrangling and . . . the pervasive sentiment in Washington that tackling such a thorny and emotional issue is inherently bad politics.” Referring to his recent b0lstering of border security by sending 1200 troops to the border, he said that the border was now more secure than it had been in 20 years, and that crime along the border was at a record low. Moreover, he dismissed the “border security first” approach saying that the systemic problems were too vast to be fixed with “only fences and border patrols.”

The President’s speech has been criticized for offering no “new solutions, timetables or points of compromise. Instead, he outlined a longstanding prescription for change that, in addition to having no support from Republicans in Congress, also has failed to unite his fellow Democrats.”

And even as President Obama waits for bipartisan consensus on immigration reform, families continue to be torn apart, immigrant youth live in fear of being deported, violations in detention continue to grow and local and state police armed with immigration powers bring fear to communities. Many of these problems can be tackled be administrative measures, but there was little spoken of in the speech. No action was pledged on any of the bills already in Congress though he did mention support for the DREAM Act that would give undocumented students a chance to live in the U.S. And even with a forum for an announcement on whether the federal government is going to sue the state of Arizona, no mention was made on the issue. Many groups have decided to take action into their own hands.

Following on the heels of President Obama’s address, leading law enforcement officials shared their concerns about programs that require enforcement of immigration laws by state or local law police, a trend that continues in absence of a federal solution. With the country’s foremost police chiefs and sheriffs speaking out against such enforcement that undo decades of progress in community policing, Presente.org in collaboration with the National Day Labor Organizing Network (NDLON) and the Trail of DREAMs is launching an ambitious new campaign calling on the President to use his power to create real change, starting with ending the deeply problematic 287g program.

Reform Immigration for America is asking people to write to Senate Republicans, asking them to”stop holding up the process and hurting families” America’s Voice is asking people to support the DREAM Act, “a stepping-stone to broader reform that we can pass right now” to support “youth who would qualify to earn citizenship under the DREAM Act who are future valedictorians, nurses, computer programmers, and soldiers.”

And Restore Fairness is calling on President Obama and Members of Congress to fix the broken detention and deportation system that traumatizes families and has led to many human rights violations.

While we are encouraged by the President’s speech and commitment to the issue of immigration, and reminded of our nation’s proud immigrant heritage, there is a deep need for bipartisan action as peoples lives hang in the balance.

Photo courtesy of nydailynews.com

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Bloomberg leads U.S. corporations and cities to lobby for immigration reform

It seems fitting that New York City, the crux of the U.S.’s rich immigrant history is leading a new direction in the movement for immigration reform.

In what promises to be an important step towards re-framing the immigration debate in this country, New York City Mayor Bloomberg has formed a coalition of top executives and city mayors to put pressure on Congress and steer the nation towards immigration reform. On Thursday the 24th, Mayor Bloomberg announced the Partnership for a New American Economy, a coalition that includes the chief executives of major corporations such as News Corp., Hewlett-Packard, Disney, Boeing, Morgan Stanley, Marriott International and the NY Mets, and the mayors of Los Angeles, Philadelphia, San Antonio and Phoenix.

The coalition argues that immigration reform is the key solution to repairing and rejuvenating the economy. By conducting polls, funding public educational campaigns, convening forums and publishing studies that demonstrate the ways in which a healthy economy thrives on immigrant workers, the coalition aims to “break the legislative stalemate that has taken over Congress.” Rupert Murdoch, a central member of the partnership and chairman of the News Corporation, who is also a naturalized immigrant from Australia, summed up the argument for the New York Times-

This country can and must enact new immigration policies that fulfill our employment needs, provide a careful pathway to legal status for undocumented residents, and end illegal immigration….American ingenuity is a product of the openness and diversity of this society.

The CEO’s who have signed on to the partnership released statements about how their companies rely on immigrants. They mentioned the constant challenge they face in acquiring visas for professional workers whom they want to hire. Walt Disney chairman and CEO, Robert Iger said that the country’s immigrant population was “our great strength as a nation, and …critical for continued economic growth.” His statement went on to say, “To remain competitive in the 21st century, we need effective immigration reform that invites people to contribute to our shared success by building their own American dream.”

While stressing the importance of securing the national borders and preventing further entry of undocumented immigrants, the coalition urges Congress to create a path to legalization for the 12 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the U.S. According to Mayor Bloomberg, in addition to the fact that deporting the existing undocumented immigrants was an impossible task, doing so would ruin the economy as these immigrants are a crucial part of the workforce.

On Thursday morning, Mayor Bloomberg and Rupert Murdoch appeared on Fox News to talk about the ways in which immigration reform would benefit the economy. Bloomberg made his case for a reformed immigration policy which creates a system that allots green cards to those that have been education in the country rather than preventing them from staying on. Bluntly referring to the current system as “national suicide,” the NYC Mayor warned against the pitfalls of the present system in which prohibitive laws, bureaucracy and stiff enforcement prevent hundreds of potential entrepreneurs from staying on and leading to the creation of more jobs. He reiterated that the people who seek to the immigrate to the U.S. were hard working, dynamic, innovative people who want the opportunity to strive for better lives for themselves and their families, and that those are the people that build America in the first place. He said-

I can’t think of any ways to destroy this country quite as direct and impactful as our immigration policy. We educate the best and the brightest, and then we don’t give them a green card.

The business leaders in the coalition that have taken it upon themselves to lead the country towards immigration reform employ more than 650,000 people and make more than $220 billion in annual sales, combined. However it is yet to be announced as to whether the partnership will be a non-profit organization, a political action committee, or a non-standard non-profit. Either way, this bipartisan group’s decision to take on an issue that is of national importance and has been stuck in politics for so long, is deeply encouraging. Let’s get behind them and add to the pressure on President Obama and Congress to pass immigration reform now!

At 0:40 in the Fox News interview Mayor Bloomberg says, “We need to create jobs in this country….and immigrants can come here and create jobs. There’s this belief that immigrants take jobs away and that’s not true.”

Photo courtesy of news.yahoo.com

“Barack Obama is taking everybody away” says little girl to the first lady

Sometimes it’s about keeping it real. As President Obama welcomed the Mexican President Felipe Calderón to the White House for the first series of official talks between the two countries, Michelle Obama and Mexico’s first lady Margarita Zavala met a little girl who put a human face to the diplomatic talks about immigration that were taking place in the White House.While the two Presidents were to discuss a number of issues including the economy, climate change and drug wars, given President Calderón’s vehement condemnation of Arizona’s new law, immigration was likely to take center stage. Meanwhile, the first ladies stopped off at a elementary school in Silver Spring which is two-thirds Hispanic students and has a large proportion of students below the poverty line to promote Michelle Obama’s campaign for healthy eating. But a little girl changed all that with a powerful question.

Student: “My mom … she says that Barack Obama is taking everybody away that doesn’t have papers.”

Mrs. Obama: “Yeah, well that’s something that we have to work on, right? To make sure that people can be here with the right kind of papers, right? That’s exactly right.”

Student: “But my mom doesn’t have any …”

Mrs. Obama: “Well, we have to work on that. We have to fix that, and everybody’s got to work together in Congress to make sure that happens.”

The abstract issue of immigration was brought into human focus by the little girl’s question, prompted by the fear that her mother would be taken away from her. In the midst of the pomp of diplomatic state visits and lawmaker’s efforts to appease their electorates, a little girl’s honest fears about her family summed up the massive problem that the country currently faces.

Addressing this volatile issue, President Obama concurred with President Calderón on the pressing need for immigration reform and joined him in denouncing Arizona’s harsh new immigration enforcement measure, SB1070. President Obama said-

We also discussed the new law in Arizona, which is a misdirected effort – a misdirected expression of frustration over our broken immigration system, and which has raised concerns in both our countries.. Because in the United States of America, no law-abiding person – be they an American citizen, a legal immigrant, or a visitor or tourist from Mexico – should ever be subject to suspicion simply because of what they look like.

While the President reaffirmed his commitment to work with Congress to pass bipartisan, comprehensive reform, the truth is that the Obama administration has already surpassed the Bush administration’s deportation levels. And enforcement continues to be a problem. Former New York City District Attorney Robert Morgenthau lashed out against programs that promote collaboration between federal officials and local law enforcement on immigration, including Arizona’s new law.

Morgenthau drew on his personal experience as district attorney in Manhattan to criticize the Criminal Alien program which enables federal immigration officials to be stationed in local jails and issue “detainers” to foreign born inmates, many of whom are unaware of what is happening to them. In addition to increasing the burden of cost on New York, programs such as these mostly trap people who have committed minor crimes (or sometimes none at all). But for the former D.A., the most dangerous consequence of such programs is that by blurring the distinction between federal officials and local law enforcement, they severely impair the relationship that local police have with the public. Speaking of New York he explains-

When immigrants perceive the local police force as merely an arm of the federal immigration authority, they become reluctant to report criminal activity for fear of being turned over to federal officials. Given that immigrants (legal and illegal) currently comprise 36% of the city’s population, this unwillingness to cooperate with local law enforcement presents an obstacle to stemming crime in the city as a whole. That’s why during the 35 years I was district attorney in Manhattan, I made it a policy never to turn over names of individuals involved with the criminal justice system to immigration authorities until after they were convicted of a serious crime.

It is not surprising then that police chiefs across Arizona have spoken out in opposition to Arizona’s anti-immigrant law. Following this, police chiefs from Nevada, California and Maryland have also opposed Arizona’s law on the grounds that it would lead to racial profiling and breed fear of the police within Hispanic communities. Maryland Police Chief Thomas Manger said that taking on federal enforcement responsibilities would result in local police losing much more than they would gain and would prevent them from doing their jobs. But lawmakers seem oblivious to this advice. Similar bills are in the works in 10 states including Nebraska and Rhode Island.

Will immigration reform pass this year? Olympic medalist hopes so.

It took courage for 18-year old Olympian bronze medalist Simon Cho to relate the inspirational story of his life as an immigrant in America. Born in Seoul, Simon came to the U.S. with his family at the age of four as an undocumented immigrant. Aspiring to give their children the American Dream, Simon’s parents worked tirelessly, day and night, to ensure that their children got the opportunities they deserved. While Simon’s parents worked hard in their seafood shop 365 days of the year, Simon devoted most of his time to speed skating, a sport he was exceptionally good at. Realizing their son’s talent, Simon’s parents sold their shop and everything they had in order to afford his full-time training with the Olympic team in Salt Lake City. Now a U.S. citizen (due to more relaxed immigration regulations at the time), Simon tried for and made the U.S. Olympic speed skating team as one its youngest athletes, returning from this year’s Vancouver games with a bronze medal for the U.S.

Like Simon, thousands of immigrant youth have the potential to realize the American Dream and make their country pride. Unfortunately, many of them never get the chance to do so, and instead, live in fear despite having lived in America most of their lives. 21-year old Jessica Colotl, a student of Political Science and French at Kennesaw State University in Georgia, is a case in point. A bright, diligent young woman, Jessica worked nights in order to pay her tuition and hopes to continue her education and become a lawyer after graduating in the fall. Sounds like someone you know?

A few days ago, as Jessica pulled into her University parking lot, a campus police officer pulled her over saying she was “impeding the flow of traffic.” She was honest about not having a license and being undocumented, and was immediately detained in Cobb Country, in accordance with their 287(g) program that gives local police the power to enforce federal domain immigration law. An immigration judge denied her bond and ordered that she be deported in 30 days. Is she a danger to society? No. Is she draining the resources of the State? No. Is she a hard-working young student who pays taxes and contributes to the economy and the state. Yes. As you read this, Jessica is sitting behind bars in a detention center in Gadsden, Alabama, awaiting deportation to Mexico, a country she hasn’t lived in for over ten years, a country she barely remembers.

Our country’s immigration system is broken and in dire need of reform so that instead of facing the unjust circumstances that Jessica finds herself in, more people can work towards its collective good, the way Olympian Simon Cho is doing. Yesterday, Senate Democrats Harry Reid, Charles Schumer, Richard Durbin, Dianne Feinstein and Robert Menendez introduced a conceptual framework for immigration reform in the hopes of getting immigration reform passed in 2010.

The enforcement heavy proposal calls for enhanced border security and stronger enforcement, continuing with the current 287(g) programs, and leaving in a biometric Social Security card that will serve as an employment verification card. The new legislative framework also includes provisions for more green cards for highly-skilled immigrants and a detailed process for the legalization of undocumented immigrants that would require them to get extensive background checks, pay fines, be fluent in English and undergo a long waiting period before they achieve complete legalization. Additionally, the framework aims to include much-needed pieces like the DREAM Act, AgJOBS and provisions for same sex partner immigration.

Since its introduction yesterday, the proposal has garnered mixed reactions across the board. While advocacy groups are relieved at a concrete plan to register undocumented immigrants and begin the process of legalization, as well as the proposal’s focus on family-based immigration, its prioritization on enforcement and border security has created discomfort. Groups have condemned the bill for calling for increasing border security and enforcement without undertaking any positive provisions. AILA has critiqued Schumer’s new proposal for the increased detention recommendations that do little to rectify all that is wrong with the existing detention and deportation system. The American Civil Liberties Union is deeply dissatisfied with the inclusion of the Biometric ID card program “Believe,” which they predict will be extremely expensive and inefficient, while “usher(ing) government into the very center of our lives.”

As debate over the proposal continues, one thing everyone agrees on is that we need to fix our broken immigration system. Tomorrow, 80 cities around the country will bring in May Day with rallies, protests and marches demanding just and humane immigration that supports civil rights and family values. Find a march near you and be one step closer to fixing the broken immigration system.

UPDATE: Good news! On the occasion on Cinco de Mayo, Jessica Colotl was released from the Etowah County Detention Center and is now back at home with her mother. At the moment, it seems like ICE has granted her “deferred action,” which means that work remains in the courts before a real victory for Jessica’s freedom is won. But we know that all the phone calls, letters and support paid off, so we need to make sure that we keep the pressure on ICE to ensure that cases like hers receive the right kind of attention and justice and due process is restored to the system!

Photo courtesy of www.globalimmigrationcounsel.com

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How many more hate crimes against immigrants will it take?

Quintessentially ‘New York,’ Port Richmond is a diverse and vibrant neighborhood that has been home to most of Staten Island’s Latino community for many years. In incidents that often go unreported, in the past few years this neighborhood has seen more hate crimes against Latino immigrants than one can bear to count. The latest one took place early morning on April 5th when 26 year-old Mexican immigrant Rodulfo Olmedo was attacked by four young men outside his apartment. In this horrifyingly vicious assault, the attackers yelled racial slurs at him, beat him with wooden planks, metal chains and a baseball bat, and took his money, leaving him with a fractured skull.

Although Olmedo is home from the hospital and recovering from his injuries, the entire community is reeling from the psychological and emotional trauma caused by yet another episode of race-based violence in their midst. Last night, there was a combination of sadness and outrage as 150 community members gathered for a candlelight vigil outside the bakery where Olmedo was employed. Led by a local priest, they prayed for an end to the violence that has plagued the immigrant community for years. Speaking about the frequency of hate crimes in the area, Gonzalo Mercado, the director of the Center for Immigrant Families in Port Richmond, said that “the community is living in fear, because these types of situations are not new to this area.”

Rodulfo’s mother, Margarita Olmedo, said that the family is traumatized by the violent attack and is determined to make sure that it does not go unnoticed. She spoke to local press on Rodulfo’s behalf-

He’s under a lot of medication, so he’s resting sleeping…He just wants to make sure that everybody says something about it, that nobody should keep quiet. He does not want this to happen to anybody else.

The attack was captured by two surveillance cameras, and was broadcast on the local television channel (NY1). Following the broadcast the police received a tip, and, after searching their “stop-and-frisk” database, they arrested four suspects on Friday, the 9th of April.  The arrested youth face assault and hate crime charges, and if convicted, could received up to 25 years in prison. The arrest of the suspected perpetrators has given rise to a controversy around the NYPD database that contains information of all the people they stop, question or frisk on grounds of “reasonable suspicion,” as a part of their “stop-and-frisk” policy.

Begun in 2001, the database was started as a safeguard that recorded information of all police stops, thereby ensuring against racially disproportionate action on the part of the police. This case has brought to light the fact that a database that was initiated to prevent against racial profiling, is being used by the police to track down suspects, raising concerns amongst civil liberties advocates like the New York Civil Liberties Union. Speaking about the potential of the database to allow for racial profiling, Chris Dunn, associate legal director of the ACLU said-

The prospect of occasionally finding additional information about suspects already known to the police does not come close to justifying a police database of millions of innocent black and Latino New Yorkers.

While this case received coverage in the press, most of these cases go unreported. On Friday, community leaders in Staten Island gathered to tell people that the only way for concrete action towards putting an end to such violence is if people who are victims or witnesses of hate crimes come forward and report them. The “April 5 bias crime,”as the press has named it, drives home the fact that race-based violence against immigrants has seen a dangerous surge in the past few years.

As the momentum is growing towards just and humane immigration reform, it is important to keep in mind the horrific reality of individual stories like Rodulfo’s, unfolding in our own neighborhoods, right before our eyes.

Tonight on HBO – Ted Kennedy fights for immigration rights up until his death

From our b-listed blog

Tune in tonight to HBO2 at 8pm EST for “The Senators’ Bargain“.

Given the massive 200,000 turnout in D.C. this sunday that marched for immigration reform,  this documentary is perfectly timed as it provides an in-depth look at the inner workings of our nation’s political system as Senator Edward M. Kennedy and his team, including advocate Frank Sharry, fight to push the immigration reform bill through Congress in 2007. The film follows Kennedy, who died in 2009 from brain cancer,

capturing the political legend in candid conversations at his Capitol Hill hideaway and rallying his allies with impassioned rhetoric on the Senate floor.

“The Senators’ Bargain” is just one episode in HBO’s 12-story “How Democracy Works Now” series that began filming in 2001 to give the American people a more comprehensive understanding of what really takes place inside the massive political machine that determines our rights.

According to a NY Times review, the documentary

provides scary insight into the ways of Washington and the expediencies that trump reason and goodwill. But mostly it’s a bruised, elegiac look back at a Democratic defeat. The tone is not so much indignant as wistful, attuned to the lyricism of lost causes and the-dream-shall-never-die romance of failure.

A review from New American Media had a slightly different take.

What’s inside the box is an arcane world of closed-door meetings, book-length legislative blueprints, and bare-knuckled and profanity-strewn negotiations carried out to a large degree via phone and Blackberry…”The Senators’ Bargain” contrasts with many documentaries about immigration because it focuses not on the world of the U.S.-Mexico border or ethnic neighborhoods, but the drab Washington, D.C. cubicles, offices and conference rooms where policy is made.

Indeed, immigration reform is a dream that has not died despite the passing of one of its most staunch supporters. Considering the fact that 200,000 showed up to march for immigration rights in Washington D.C. this past weekend, it is clear that people have not forgotten the urgency of this cause. Just last week, Senator Schumer and Senator Graham revealed a blueprint for immigration reform, and this back-story to major legislation will hopefully guide us and provide deep insights into the process that will make it a success.

Photo courtesy of bluejersey via flickr.

The Trail of Dreams encounters the KKK

On January 1st, four courageous students embarked on a 1500-mile symbolic walk from Miami to Washington D.C. to strengthen and inspire the immigration movement. Inspired by the idea of non-violent resistance, the Trail of Dreams has been joined by hundreds of inspired folks who walk along with the students in small towns and cities, to stand together for the passage of the DREAM Act.

But Felipe, Gabby, Carlos and Juan have also met with their share of challenges along the way. Coping with limited resources, finding shelter at each stop on their journey, and being away from their families for four months, they have also had to contend with some opposition to their cause. Now in the deep south, the most recent, and decidedly the most jarring of these, has been their encounter with the Ku Klux Klan in Nahunta, Georgia last week.

Yes, we too thought the KKK had no place outside of the embarrassments of history. Apparently we were all wrong on that. While the group is not very strong or active nowadays, there are still a few thousand Klan members scattered around the country, 50 of whom decided to hold a rally “against the Latino invasion” in Georgia at the same time that the “dreamwalkers” were passing through the area. One of the students, 20 year old Juan Rodriguez, wrote about the encounter on the Trail of Dreams blog -

Today we drove to Nahunta, GA where the Ku Klux Klan was organizing an anti-immigrant demonstration, under the premise that “God put each race in their respective continent and they were meant to stay there”. I can’t help but keep being amused by these concepts that the very organization can’t seem to be able to uphold appropriately. Is the KKK secretly on a campaign to reclaim all lands back for the indigenous people of North America and preparing for the voyage back to Europe? I find this highly unlikely….It is disappointing that after so many years of social reformation, we still have organizations filled with so much hate convening and gaining the support of communities….Ultimately, the success of today was to be able to stand hand in hand with our friends from the NAACP; singing liberation songs together and acknowledging our united struggle for racial justice. We ALL deserve to be treated with dignity and respect.

It seems unacceptable that while the walkers and the NAACP (who had organized a rally to counter the KKK) were promoting tolerance, dignity, and humanity, the KKK were propagating hatred and racism. And it’s far from over. After completing 600 miles of their walk, the four students are in a part of the country that is notorious for its anti-immigrant sentiment. This week they will enter Gwinnett County, Georgia, home of Sheriff Conway, known for his anti-immigrant stance.

It takes a lot of courage and determination to do what the dreamwalkers are doing and that’s why they need your support. Check where your Member of Congress stands on immigration reform and let them know what you think about it.

UPDATE: Yesterday we had mentioned that the Trail of Dreams walkers were going to be passing through a very risky area, Gwinnett County, which is a 287(g) county that is home to Sheriff Conway, also known as the “Joe Arpaio of the South.” Sheriff Conway is notorious for having racially profiled and arrested many immigrants, documented and undocumented, in the past few months. We need you to support them right now, more than ever, by monitoring their progress, spreading the word, blogging, and garnering support for them. Today, we found out that the students walked into the Gwinnett County courthouse and demanded to speak to Sheriff today. And they did while wearing shirts emblazoned with the word “UNDOCUMENTED.” Rather than face them, Sheriff Conway opted to have one of his subordinates deal with the walkers. In sum, Conway backed away from doing what he does to immigrants in Gwinnett County on a daily basis: arrest and help deport them.

Photo courtesy of trail2010.org

Down to the Wire: Vote for us in the next 3 hours for fairness in immigration

Picture 2We’re down to the wire and need your vote now! In the next three hours, you can vote to Restore Fairness to our broken immigration system on Change.org’s Ideas for Change in America and take us one step closer to an opportunity to have our voice heard in Washington.

Immigration reform has been proven to benefit the livelihood and stability of all of us, leading to a vibrant and viable future. So vote now! Here’s our idea.

Unite to pass immigration reform this year that “Restores Fairness” to our broken immigration system

Today, a broken immigration system denies basic human rights and due process to people who live here. In the aftermath of 9-11, immigrants have borne the brunt of harsh policies with the U.S. government allowing raids and arrests without warrants, holding thousands in inhumane detention conditions, and deporting people without a fair trial.

But there is hope. This year, people across America are coming together to ask for just and humane immigration reform, one of President Obama’s election promises. Right now, Senator Schumer is crafting a bill with Senator Graham to be introduced in the Senate after which it will move to the House. But there are divisive, nativist, voices out there that are trying to stop this.

Raise your voice for a just and humane immigration reform that:

1. Creates a fair path to citizenship for the millions of hardworking individuals and families who live here.
2. Creates fair enforcement practices that include -

- creating legally enforceable detention standards and implementing secure alternatives to detention so that we stop locking up harmless individuals, children and people with severe medical conditions
- stopping indiscriminate raids and the continued use of local law enforcement to enforce federal immigration law
- restoring the ability of immigration judges to consider individual circumstances before they detain and deport people

Immigration reform must also address border security, workers rights, family reunification and future flows of workers.

Photo courtesy of Change.org