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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

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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.

Immigration Detention Conditions in Georgia Run Afoul of Human Rights Standards

Guestblogger: Azadeh ShahshahaniDirector, National Security/Immigrants’ Rights Project, ACLU of Georgia

In late June, the ACLU delivered a statement to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in response to the United Nations Special Rapporteur’s report on detention of migrants. The report sets out the international and regional human rights legal framework applicable to the detention of migrants, including in regards to vulnerable groups with special protection needs, and discusses alternatives to detention. While the report does not discuss country-specific immigration detention policies and practices, it offers useful recommendations and urges governments to adopt a human rights-based approach.

The ACLU stated in its remarks before the Human Rights Council that,

The U.S. immigration detention system locks up tens of thousands of immigrants unnecessarily every year, exposing detainees — including vulnerable populations such as persons with mental disabilities, asylum-seekers, women, children and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals — to brutal and inhumane conditions of confinement at massive costs to American taxpayers… This system of mass detention persists despite the fact that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) acknowledges that most immigration detainees ‘have a low propensity for violence.’
The ACLU statement also highlighted the May 2012 ACLU of Georgia report titled “Prisoners of Profit: Immigrants and Detention in Georgia.” The report covers the four immigration detention centers in Georgia including the largest immigration detention facility in the United States, the Stewart Detention Center. Three of the four facilities are operated by corporations, including Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the largest owner and operator of privatized correctional and detention facilities in the U.S.

Findings raise serious concerns about violations of detainees’ due process rights, inadequate living conditions, inadequate medical and mental health care, and abuse of power by those in charge.

Among due process concerns documented are that ICE officers have coerced detainees to sign voluntary orders of removal, non-citizens are detained in excess of a presumptively reasonable time, and there is inadequate information about available pro bono legal services at the facilities. Conditions for attorney visits also raise attorney/client confidentiality issues.

Numerous concerns about cell conditions exist, including overcrowding and temperature extremes. When facilities run out of hygienic items, detainees have to go without. At Irwin, detainees are given used underwear. In at least one case, a female detainee was given soiled underwear, leading to a serious infection.

Food concerns include insufficient quantity and poor quality of food. Additionally, Stewart and NGDC both have “voluntary” work programs where detainees have been coerced to work at wages far below minimum wage and threatened with retaliation if they stop working.

Medical and mental health units are understaffed and initial intake examinations are insufficient. Detainees with mental health disabilities are put in segregation units as a punishment and in lieu of receiving treatment.

Detainees reported that guards yelled threats and racist slurs at them. This verbal abuse was also sometimes accompanied by physical violence. Detainees also relayed personal accounts of guards threatening to or actually placing detainees in segregation as a means of retaliation.

ICE should discontinue detaining immigrants at the corporate-run Stewart and Irwin County Detention Centers given the extent of the documented violations as well as the distance to family and communities of support. Detention center officials should improve food quality and living conditions and supply on-site, full-time medical and mental health care staff. The federal government should also make greater use of cost-effective alternatives to detention instead of continuing to rely on the for-profit prison industry to keep more and more people imprisoned in substandard conditions.

As the ACLU statement to the Human Rights Council concluded,

U.S. immigration authorities should use detention only as a last resort, in those circumstances where no alternative conditions of release would be sufficient to address the government’s concerns about danger or flight risk… The U.S. government should heed the Special Rapporteur’s recommendation to establish a presumption in favor of liberty, first consider alternative non-custodial measures, proceed to an individual assessment and choose the least intrusive or restrictive measure.

Jamil Dakwar, Director of the ACLU Human Rights Program drafted the ACLU statement to the Human Rights Council and contributed to this blog.

Cross posted from Huffington Post

Picture Courtesy of http://www.stewartcountyga.gov/

From Alabama: “We stand in solidarity with our sisters, and all immigrant women around the nation”

We are currently in Alabama with the We Belong Together delegation of activists and thought leaders who are working to protect and promote the rights of immigrant women. Read more about our trip here and a statement from the ground below:

WE BELONG TOGETHER WOMEN’S HUMAN RIGHTS20120321_mfw_wbt_al_509
DELEGATION STATEMENT

Together, we are a diverse group of women leaders representing national advocacy communities. We represent faith-based, legal, human rights, worker rights, civil rights, immigrant rights, children advocate and reproductive justice organizations. We have traveled from throughout the country to come together with our sisters here in Birmingham, Alabama – the battleground of the civil rights movement – to bear witness to the impact of the harshest anti-immigrant law in the US – HB56.

Last night we listened to the stories of Jocelyn, Trini, Tere, Elvia, Araceli, Jovita, Maricela:
• The story of a 14-year old girl left alone in Alabama, the only home she’s ever known, when her parents were forced to leave for Mexico – a courageous young woman who has become an outspoken youth leader in the movement for immigrant rights.
• The story of a survivor of domestic violence who worries that because of HB56, other women facing life-threatening abuse will be unable to liberate themselves as she bravely did.
• The story of a mother who lived through the upheaval and displacement of a tornado, who told us that her family was “barely renewing their lives” when HB56 plunged them into chaos again.
• The story of a mother who came for a life-saving heart surgery for her son only to learn, that under HB56, her son may be unable to access follow-up surgery and care he desperately needs.
• The story of a woman who has repeatedly been harassed and terrorized by police, whom she once trusted, but now whose racial profiling and corruption has been legitimized by HB56.
• The story of a mother with a disabled child who fears separation from her son each and every day as she faces the threat of deportation.
• And the story of a woman who told us of her love for Birmingham and for her only son, but who now fears being deported to a country where there is no work for her or future for her child.

The common bond among these women is the dream for a better life for themselves and their families and the right to live without fear. The sacrifices that these women have made for the well-being of their families, to earn a living to support those families, to obtain life-saving health care for their children, are the same sacrifices that generations of women have made in coming to this country to provide for the ones that they love. Moreover, the women who shared their stories with us made it clear that the ability to stay in Alabama is, in many cases, a matter of life and death. The reality is that for these women, the decision to leave or to stay here in their homes is an impossible weighing of unthinkable risks. We listened with empathy and compassion to the stories of fear, psychological abuse, and torment that are representative of the experiences of immigrant women and children in Alabama. Woven throughout these stories is the spirit of resiliency, courage, empowerment, and most importantly – love. As Trini told us, “If we were going to stay, we were going to act!”

That is our pledge: that we, too, will act to fight HB 56 and all other anti-immigrant, anti-family laws. We cannot have a democracy if any group is denied basic human rights and access to basic human needs. Today, we stand in solidarity with our sisters, and all immigrant women around the nation, by pledging to hold these stories in our hearts. We pledge to bring these stories back to our communities, to share them with our constituencies, and to use these stories to educate our nation’s decision-makers. In turn, we call upon everyone who values human rights and social justice to join our courageous sisters in Alabama who are fighting for the right to live with dignity, humanity, and justice. Stand with us and stand with our sisters to support the repeal of HB56, fight the spread of racist anti-immigrant policies, and uplift our shared humanity, and the dream for a brighter future.

Why the “war on women” is bigger than you think.

Imagine this scenario: you feel safer staying with your abusive husband than you do calling the cops to report him.

For many immigrant women in Alabama and elsewhere, that scenario is reality. The escalating “war on women” has —- rightly —- sparked broad outrage and urgent action to protect human rights in the United States.

Now let’s make sure we continue to fight, side by side, for the fundamental human rights of all U.S. women —- including immigrant women, documented or otherwise.

A team from Breakthrough, led by president and CEO Mallika Dutt, is headed to Birmingham, Alabama today with the We Belong Together delegation of activists and thought leaders who are working to protect and promote the rights of immigrant women.

Alabama’s HB56, enacted last June, is regarded as the nation’s strictest anti-immigrant law. It permits —- in fact, encourages —- racial profiling by police of anyone even suspected of being undocumented, with results that devastate families, the local economy, the state and, potentially, the soul of our nation. Breakthrough will be there with our video cameras and social media streams to expose the human rights violations targeting women and families on our own soil —- and to amplify the collective call for dignity, equality, and justice for all.

Please follow Mallika Dutt on Twitter (@mallikadutt) for on-the-ground updates, starting late this afternoon. And please join Breakthrough in Alabama on Facebook,Twitter and Foursquare to stand up for the human rights of all women.

The Breakthrough Team

Karma’s immigration story: “Life in New York was no crystal staircase”

From our awesome intern, Karma D., from Flushing International High School. See her on our Tumblr and on our I AM THIS LAND story-telling project.

I am a girl from the faraway lost land of Tibet. I ran with my parents, older brother and my small baby brother resting in my mom’s warm womb in search of freedom and a better life. I am a girl who struggled to find her own identity especially after knowing my birth country is now a place that cannot be reached or seen. In search of independence and better opportunity, I came to America with very limited English but with great hope. I also carried the blessings of my grandparents from Tibet and the memories of my loved ones from Nepal and India throughout the journey.

My feet landed in this foreign land of liberty in 2006. It took me years to realize that life in New York was no crystal staircase, that there weren’t trees and leaves made of money, nor was there the easy independence that my fellow Tibetans and I had been searching for. I struggled every morning to wake up because I wasn’t use to the timing, then I would try to get on the yellow bus on time. I made sure my brother and I sat on the front seats, so the other students might not make fun of us. We looked different from them.

For an immigrant like me, whose mom was jobless for three years due to her lack of English, and whose dad worked in a Sushi store for eight years, constantly fearful of not being able to support my two brothers and me, the United States was more struggle than freedom. My life turned 180 degrees. At the age of thirteen, I realized I had to step up and contribute to my family financially, and I’ve been working ever since.

Read the rest of this entry »

DESERTED: The Human Rights Crisis On Our Soil

When I traveled to Arizona with Ishita to create Checkpoint Nation, I wrote:

It was the first time I had experienced the overwhelming size of the desert sky. The sunset was magnificent, and the endless stretch of cacti and desert rocks were lit up with the last pink moments of twilight. But the sunset’s beauty was overpowered by what I had seen in the rest of Arizona: men and women in shackles (feet chained to waist, waist chained to wrists), a morgue filled twice-over with John & Jane Does, a wall that divides families and ancient lands. From this view, the sunset had a whole different meaning: it marked the beginning of one more cold, waterless night for so many migrants forced to hide in the militarized desert.
Our video camera could hardly capture all that we saw, but we knew that this footage had to be shared with the world.

There is a human rights crisis on our soil that no one is talking about. Migrant men, women, and children are driven by extreme poverty to cross the U.S.-Mexico border — and dying for it. One one side of our border wall: flood lights, empty desert, and countless human remains. On the other: discarded water jugs, and empty desert. The border wall now stretches across Arizona in the easiest places to cross, so that migrants are purposefully funneled into the most treacherous conditions. The remains of over 6,000 human bodies have been found in the desert since militarized immigration policies started in the mid 1990s. And for every body discovered, there are many more not found — and innumerable families who will never know what happened. No matter your opinion on immigration reform, this is a crisis that all of us, as humans, are responsible for addressing — and ending. Join with Breakthrough: WATCH. SHARE. ACT.

For information on how to end this crisis on our border, visit Coalición de Derechos Humanos and No More Deaths.

VIDEO CREDITS: Directed, filmed and edited by Dana Variano with Ishita Srivastava; music by Denver Dalley; post-production audio by Hobo Audio. Produced by Breakthrough.

Communities speaking out against injustice targeted by ICE

On Saturday, September 17, early in the morning, a man in Shelbyville, Tennessee, woke up to find Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents in his bedroom. They had entered his home through an unlocked door and and took him into custody. The residents of Shelbyville are facing an unexpected, alleged, government backlash after a hearing held on September 12 by several nonprofits, where Latino residents testified against federal, state and local law enforcement authorities, accusing them of racial profiling and illegal detention. Representative from the U.S Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) were present at the hearings.

ICE also raided the homes and businesses of at least two people that had organized the hearing, sparking immigrant rights advocates to call for a federal investigation into the misconduct of the local authorities and ICE agents. While ICE denies that the raids were conducted in response to the hearings, Shelbyville residents and community advocates refuse to believe that there is no connection between their speaking out against the authorities and these ICE raids just five days later.

The community has reacted strongly to these developments, claiming that ICE’s goal is to intimidate the residents, especially the undocumented immigrants that live there. Bill Geissler, longtime Shelbyville resident and business owner, commented:

The real problem with these sorts of violations is that everyone needs to follow the law.  If ICE is going after immigrants who they suspect have broken laws, why aren’t they following guidelines that are intended to protect the civil liberties of Shelbyville residents?

Furthermore, the Rights Working Group and the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition have joined forces in sending a formal letter to the Office for Civil Rights and Liberties (OCRL) as well as the DOJ in Washington DC to protest these actions by ICE, and encourage national leaders to do something. In their letter to the OCRL (see PDF here), the advocacy groups state:

..These actions have spread fear throughout the Latino community, which feels targeted and increasingly under siege by law enforcement – whether it be ICE, state or local police. The result has been a severe chilling of speech in the community and increased fear of government agents. The Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties was in attendance at this forum for the purpose of listening to community concerns about civil rights abuses by state and local police and ICE. Days later, this same community was targeted by an immigration enforcement action leading to the chilling of free speech and further civil rights abuses.

The town of Shelbyville has been in the spotlight for some time especially because of director Kim A. Snyder’s compelling documentary, Welcome to Shelbyville. The film looked at the community at a crossroads, as the longtime African-American and White populations adapted to the rapidly growing Latino and Somali immigrant communities moving in. While exploring immigrant integration, the film unravels the interplay between race, religion and identity. As the film’s website states, “Ultimately, the story is an intimate portrayal of a community’s struggle to understand what it means to be American.”

This question of being American and the integration of immigrants is also the theme of Breakthrough’s latest video, Checkpoint Nation? Building Community Across Borders that sheds a light on post-9/11 racial profiling that has been mandated by laws such as Arizona’s SB1070. In particular, it tells the story of Maria, nine months pregnant, who was stopped along with her family by police for no discernable reason. What followed was a nightmarish situation as Maria went into labor and found herself giving birth to her son with immigration agents – and not her husband – by her side.

The video has been highlighted in a Huffington Post feature titled Undocumented Women Forced To Give Birth While Shackled And In Police Custody which looks at the stories of women who have been in similar situations to Maria and the ongoing climate of fear and inhumane conditions that is being perpetuated by law enforcement authorities. Mallika Dutt, president and founder of Breakthrough, said about the issue:

We talk about cops in other parts of the world, and we say ‘Oh, they don’t respect human rights,’ but where are we now? If something as important and sacred as someone giving birth can no longer be treated as human, where are we?

While law enforcement authorities must change their policies to end the unjust treatment of immigrants in communities across the country, some communities are taking their own steps to work towards unity and end discriminatory violence. In 2008, a series of attacks against Latino residents of Patchogue, New York and the murder of Marcelo Lucero, an Ecuadorian immigrant, shattered the community of the small town.

For two years after the murder, the town’s Mayor Paul Pontieri, the victim’s brother, Joselo Lucero, and Patchogue residents worked to heal the community and move forward as a unified and diverse group. This story is told in a poignant documentary, Not In Our Town: Light in the Darkness, that follows the healing process of the community to work towards a a community that respects its own diversity and doesn’t give way to divisive politics. The film premiered on PBS on September 21 and is also available for local screenings.

Comprehensive immigration reform is of utmost importance in our nation now so unjust and discriminatory actions like those committed by ICE and other authorities in Shelbyville and other communities are stopped. We must, as a nation, find a solution that works with immigrants in a dignified and humane way to mend a system that has been broken for a long time.

Join Restore Fairness today and lend your voice to the struggle for dignity, equality and justice.

Photo courtesy of standing-firm.com

National award honors three Arizona winners for immigrant rights

From our B-listed blog:

This came across our desk – check out this event today!

On Wednesday, September 28th, the Freedom From Fear Award will hold a reception from 5:30 to 6:30 pm at the Sheraton Downtown Phoenix to celebrate Arizona’s three winners of the award, which honors “15 ordinary people who have committed extraordinary acts of courage on behalf of immigrants and refugees—individuals who have taken a risk, set an example, and inspired others to action or awareness.” Arizona has more winners than any other state and was also represented on the Selection Committee by State Senator Kyrsten Sinema. Arizona’s winners are:

Erika Andiola, Leader of the Arizona DREAM Coalition (Mesa)
Jack Harris, Former Police Chief of Phoenix
Gene Lefebrve and Sarah Roberts of No More Deaths (Tucson)

The awards, produced by Public Interest Projects, were originally announced on June 18th at the Netroots Nation conference in Minneapolis. This is the first regional event to recognize winners. More information about the award and all the winners is available at www.FreedomFromFearAward.com.