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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

Immigration and Detention: Women’s Human Rights Across Borders

Cross- posted from our Bell Bajao blog. Written by Eesha Pandit, Breakthrough’s Women’s Rights Manager

As she went into labor Juana Villegas was shackled to her hospital bed. Living in Tennessee, she gave birth while in custody. She had been pulled over while driving and taken to jail when the officer discovered that she did not have a valid drivers license as was undocumented. She went to prison, where she went into labor. Her ankles were cuffed together on the ride to the hospital and once there, Juana begged the sheriff to let her have at least one hand free while in labor. She was denied.

Watch Juana’s story:

In another instance, Maria, also undocumented, was more than 8 months pregnant and on the road with her husband and two US born children when they were pulled over by a police officer in Tuscon, Arizona.

Tuscon police spokesmen claimed in an interview with the Huffington Post, that the family had been stopped as part of a “random license plate check,” which indicated that insurance on the vehicle was suspended. When Maria’s husband did not have a valid driver’s license and admitted to being in the United States without documentation, the authorities called the Border Patrol.

Maria asserts that her water broke when she was roughly pushed into a Border Patrol car. She soon went into labor and was not allowed to be with her husband as she gave birth and he was deported within the week. Inside her delivery room with her were two armed Border Patrol agents.

Watch Maria’s story:

These women, living miles apart, share an experience of giving birth while in custody. It is an experience shared by more and more women in the United States and around the world. In the US specifically, incarcerated women, particularly those who are undocumented, face a vast set of barriers to accessing health care, as do their children and families. What do Maria’s and Juana’s experiences show us?

They show the additional points of vulnerability faced by women who are immigrants and refugees. They are at greater risk to experience violation of their human rights either at the hands of others in the community or at the hands of the state, because they often live outside the protections afforded by citizenship. Yet another border is created around them. This border keeps civil society protections just out of reach. Their very identity is criminalized leaving them no recourse for justice.

In another illuminating example, immigrant and refugee women, like all women, face the risk of domestic violence. But their status as immigrants or refugees often means that they face a tougher time escaping abuse.  They often feel trapped in abusive relationships because of immigration laws, language barriers, social isolation, and lack of financial resources. They worry about what will happen if they go to the police. Will they be sent away? Will their families be torn apart? Will they have any financial resources available to them? How will they survive?

These challenges facing immigrant women are particularly acute for women who are undocumented. How can an undocumented woman who is considered a criminal by simply being in the US appeal the government to uphold her human rights? As it turns out, this is exactly the tough spot that we put undocumented people in. And it is exactly the reason that human rights should be afforded to everyone regardless of their citizenship status, in the US and everywhere else in the world.

No one should have to deliver their child while cuffed to a hospital bed, or be forced to deliver their baby in the presence of armed guards. Yet this is what happened to Juana and Maria, and countless other women in the US and around the world. Their stories show us something very important: Borders shift. Citizenship policies change. But human rights must remain constant.

Take action! Encourage your representatives to support the International Violence Against Women Act, which calls for a comprehensive U.S. response to end violence against women and girls globally.
Photo courtesy of bellbajao.org

Shackled no more: Justice for Juana

We’re pleased to announce that the Nashville, TN Sheriff’s office has been found guilty of violating the Constitutional rights of Juana Villegas, a pregnant immigrant woman who was inhumanely shackled during labor and denied proper treatment after a traffic stop, of which she was later cleared.

Back in 2008, through documentary and our interactive experience, Homeland Guantanamos, we put a face to Juana Villegas’s story. Because of an agreement between local police and federal immigration authorities, called 287g, she was picked up, detained and shackled during labor. She was not allowed to use a breast pump to nurse her newborn child. Villegas said, “The nurse brought me a breast pump… she asked permission for me to take it to jail… again the sheriff said, no.”

Our friends at Colorlines wrote about this historic verdict and about the nationwide effort against shackling incarcerated women while they’re in labor. From Colorlines-

In 2009, former New York Governor David Paterson signed a bill to outlaw the practice. Former California Governor Arnold Swarzenegger vetoed a similar measure. According to the Rebecca Project for Human Rights, so far only ten states have legislation regulating the use of restraints on pregnant women. Because of the criticism that has stemmed from her case, the sheriff’s office has changed its policy such that “pregnant women are shackled only during transport if there is a credible threat that they may try to escape.

Watch our first interview with Juana below-

While she has won the case, Juana Villegas faces the threat of deportation once again as the U.S. 6th District Court of Appeals has denied a request that would allow her to stay. Villegas’s case sheds light on the grave injustices in our broken immigration system.  As we continue to tell these stories, in the hope of similar successes, we ask that you play our new Facebook game, America 2049, which weaves human rights issues into each week of game play. Next week, the game explores the struggles of Latino immigrants.

This ruling against the Nashville Sheriff’s office is a historic step. We will continue to tell stories, invite conversation, and inspire action that will help America move even further in the right direction.

Watch the new Restore Fairness documentary and “Face the Truth” about racial profiling

“I’ve seen a lot in my life but to be degraded…  not just stripped of my clothes, being stripped of my dignity, was what I had a problem with.”

Kurdish American Karwan Abdul Kader was stopped and stripped by local law enforcement for no reason other than driving around in the wrong neighborhood. This is one among many stories featured in a powerful new documentary “Face The Truth: Racial Profiling Across America”, produced by Breakthrough’s Restore Fairness campaign and the Rights Working Group, showcasing the devastating impact of racial profiling on communities around our country, including the African American, Latino, Arab, Muslim and South Asian communities.

The documentary brings to life a new report by the Rights Working Group released along with 350 local and national partners on the one year anniversary of the Face the Truth campaign to end racial profiling. Both the video and report urge Congress to pass the End Racial Profiling Act (ERPA), and are featured in a Congressional briefing on Thursday, September 30th in Washington D.C. attended by advocates, police chiefs and community organizers.

Besides compelling personal stories, the documentary features interviews with notable law enforcement and civil society leaders such as Hilary O. Shelton (NAACP), Dr.Tracie Keesee (Division Chief, Denver Police Department) and Karen Narasaki (Asian American Justice Center), all of whom decry racial and religious profiling as a pervasive problem that is not only humiliating and degrading for the people subjected to it, but one that is unconstitutional, ineffective as a law enforcement practice, and ultimately damaging to community security.

Together, we can stop the erosion of our fundamental human rights. Watch the video and take action now.

POLL: Do you support the passage of the End Racial Profiling Act (ERPA)?

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End it. Not mend it. Message to the administration over failed immigration program.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the agency responsible for detention and deportations of immigrants, is on a roll. Haitian earthquake survivors and mentally ill detainees are amongst those locked up in inhumane detention centers. Memos leaked last week confirmed a desire for growing deportations of immigrants. And now, the government’s own agency, the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General delivers a scathing critique of ICE’s 287(g) program that gives local police the power to enforce immigration law.

60 police forces across the country have signed agreements with ICE that allow their local officers to detain suspected immigrants for deportation. Various reports have documented racial profiling concerns, but the government has failed to listen. Even Members of Congress and police foundations have spoken out against the program, which diverts scarce resources from the police and endangers community safety as people are afraid to report crimes.

The OIG points out serious flaws in ICE’s 287(g) program for its lack of training, oversight and transparency, and its failure to protect against racial profiling and civil rights abuses. In one example, a victim of a traffic accident who was also an immigrant was taken straight to the local jail until federal officers arrived to check his legal status. And although the program is supposed to focus on “Level 1″ offenders or those who have committed serious crimes, almost half of those reviewed had no involvement in such crimes, revealing a misdirection of resources.

The issue around a lack of supervision is grave. “In the absence of consistent supervision over immigration enforcement activities, there is no assurance that the program is achieving its goals.”This has led to severe violations, with Sheriff Arpaio type neighborhood sweeps to locate undocumented immigrants. Other horrific examples – Juana Villegas, 9 months pregnant, was detained on a minor traffic stop and remained shackled while giving birth, while Pedro Guzman, a mentally ill U.S. citizen was mistakenly deported to Mexico.

And finally, the 287(g) training of police officers is very inadequate. In one example, two officers who were enrolled in the program had been defendants in past racial profiling lawsuits, indicating a flawed selection process. The performance records of local officers are not examined properly while many officers are given only a cursory training in immigration law.

While ICE claims that the report was researched before it has made radical changes to the program, the changes that have been made are largely superficial and problems continue unchecked. Many groups consider this report a wake up call and have demanded the 287(g) program be “ended, not mended.” Take action to “Reign in the Cowboys at ICE.”

Photo courtesy of thenation.com

POLL: Shall we end not mend the 287(g) program?

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Will Sheriff Arpaio’s clipped wings stop him from flying?

1903 Judge - Immigration a National Menace

The news is in that Sheriff Arpaio’s agreement under the controversial 287(g) program will be renewed, albeit in a limited manner, allowing him to enforce federal immigration law in county jails and not on the street. Today we learned that the County Board of Supervisors approved the agreement after hearing emotional appeals from residents on both sides of the issue. Yet no final word has come in from the Department of Homeland Security which has remained strangely silent on the issue.

For those not familiar with the Arizona sheriff, he is currently under investigation by the Justice Department for racial profiling, a figure both reviled and hailed, with his policies having led to budgets shortfall and an increase in unsolved violent crimes. Yet, he insists he will continue his “immigrant crime sweeps“, with or without authority.

Government programs that arm state and local police with immigration powers have been on the rise for a while now. According to the New York Times, a report on immigration detention released Tuesday by the Obama administration shows that 60 percent of the 380,000 people detained during 2009 had been turned over to by state and local police.

But is this effective strategy? Not if we take the stated goal into account which is for the police to identify serious criminal offenders and turn them over to immigration authorities, because well over half the immigrants taken into custody under the programs have no criminal convictions.

Where are the numbers coming from then if they are not serious offenders? Reports and testimonies have been documenting the racial profiling that accompanies giving police immigration powers. One example comes from Irving, Texas, that shows traffic arrests and petty misdemeanors rose substantially for Hispanics once immigration enforcement became part of the jails. Even a Government Accountability Office has found an increase in the arrest of minor offenders instead of serious offenders that were the original target. And a government task force has recommended that these programs be scaled back.

So the tide seems to be turning slowly. A 521 organization sign-on letter opposing 287(g) has had a large impact, and recently, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus took a bold position asking for a termination to the 287(g) program.  Two Massachusetts and Florida law enforcement agencies canceled their 287(g) agreements recently with one of them, Framingham Chief Steven Carl stating, “it doesn’t benefit the police department to engage in deportation and immigration enforcement”. And today, one more mayor from Houston has distanced himself from the program.

The Police Foundation, the International Association of Chiefs of Police, and the Major Cities Chiefs Association have all expressed concerns that these programs only serve to divert scarce resources and undermine public trust. It makes sense because we all will be less safe when communities are afraid to cooperate with police because they are afraid of immigration consequences.

And if these facts and figures aren’t enough, here are some compelling stories. Pedro Guzman, a Latino U.S. citizen was deported to Mexico because an employee of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office, a 287(g) participant determined that Mr. Guzman was a Mexican national.  Cognitively impaired and living with his mother prior to being deported, he ended up being dumped in Mexico, forced to eat out of trash cans and bathe in rivers for several months. Luckily, his mother found him several months later. Or Juana Villegas, who was driving in Nashville  (within Davidson County’s 287(g) jurisdiction) when she was pulled over by a Berry Hill police officer for “careless driving.”  Nine months pregnant, Juana was held in county jail for six days, enduring labor with a sheriff’s officer standing guard in her hospital room, where one of  her feet was cuffed to the bed most of the time.

These are not unusual examples but demonstrate policies that have gone wrong and are absolutely counterproductive to increasing public safety. But we still wait to see a complete cessation of these policies. Meanwhile, Sheriff Arpaio continues his rampage saying “I can do it without federal authority, and I’m going to continue to do it. It makes no difference.” Its a classic example of what can happen if we allow people to take the law into their own hands.

Image courtesy www.printsofpropoganda.com