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Despite scorching heat, tens of thousands march for justice against SB1070

On Saturday, May 29th, while the hot Arizona sun seared with temperatures in the high 90s, Phoenix saw the largest demonstration against SB1070 since Gov. Brewer signed the controversial bill into law on April 23rd. Ten of thousands of protesters marched down a five mile stretch in central Phoenix, wearing white shirts, waving American flags, chanting, singing, beating drums and carrying umbrellas to shield them from the unrelenting sun.

The diverse crowd of marchers who had flown in from states as far as Rhode Island and Louisiana, as well as Wisconsin, Texas, Illinois, Chicago, Seattle, Los Angeles and San Diego, made do with whatever sleeping arrangements they could find. Justin Akers Chacon, for example, a college professor from San Diego who, with 100 other people, reached Phoenix on Friday night, slept on sleeping bags provided by the organizers at a warehouse in downtown Phoenix. “There is a seriousness and confidence that we’re all here for the right reasons,” he said.

Just before 10am on Saturday morning, the marchers set off from Steele Indian School Park, with the first group of protesters reaching the Capitol at 12. 30pm. Along the way, organizers handed out bottles of water while people chanted and held up signs that read “We are not criminals, we are humans,””Si Se Puede,””Heroes against racism,””We are all Arizona,””Legalization or no re-election,” and the ubiquitous “Do I look Illegal.”While a number of people took breaks along the way to get some shelter from the heat, there were no arrests or untoward encounters with the police. Although police declined to give an official estimate of the size of the march, organizer’s estimates ranged from 50,000 to a 100,000 people.

A Los Angeles Times article covering the May 29th National Day of Action mentions the diversity of the crowd of protesters that included families and people of all ages. 68 year old Dennis DuVall, a retired bus driver, drove 100 miles from Prescott, Arizona to be there and show his support. He said-

It’s my civic duty. It shows commitment. People are willing to come out and walk five miles in 100 degrees. It’s important.

The Baez family, including Juan and Guadalupe Baez, their six children between age 2 and 18, and Guadalupe’s mother had driven down from San Diego the previous night. They all wore T-shirts that said-

We are hard workers, not criminals! We believe in USA justice. Arizona’s SB 1070 is not justice.

At the rally, Rev. Warren Stewart of the First Institutional Baptist Church in Phoenix called upon President Obama saying, “”God put you in the White House. You are a person of color. Stand with us.” Echoing the basic asks that Alto Arizona had listed before the National Day of Action, most of the speeches at the rally were directed at President Obama, demanding that he reassert the Federal Government’s control over immigration law by revoking all partnerships between local law enforcement and ICE, and put an immediate end to Arizona’s law, SB1070, which effectively makes it a crime to be undocumented, and, by allowing police to question anyone who looks “reasonably suspicious” of being undocumented, effectively mandates racial profiling.

While the thousands of opponents of the harsh new law marched down Phoenix’s avenues in the height of the day’s heat, those in favor of the law waited till the sun had gone down to hold a smaller rally at a stadium in the suburbs. Predictably, this crowd was mostly middle-aged and white, holding signs saying “Illegals out of America,” while speakers repeatedly insisted that there was nothing racist about their rhetoric. This rally had been organized by Tea Party groups from St. Louis and Dallas who aimed to support the state against boycotts protesting the law by states like San Francisco and Seattle.

As it stands, the law is slated to come into effect on July 29th, unless it is overturned in the courts before that. At the moment, the state is expecting a possible litigation from the United States Justice Department, which, under the leadership of Attorney General Eric Holder, is considering challenging the law on the grounds that it has “pre-empted” Federal powers, and violated Federal civil rights statutes. In preparation for this, Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer has made it very clear that she does not want Arizona attorney general, Terry Goddard (who is a Democrat that has expressed his opposition to SB1070) to be defending the state in the event of the lawsuit from the Justice Department. She has made her decision to remove the attorney general from this case, and said that the legislature has given her the power to use outside counsel “because of its lack of confidence in the Attorney General’s willingness to vigorously defend” the law. Terry Goddard, who is a possible challenger in Gov. Brewer’s bid for re-election, told the New York Times that he was “definitely defending the state” in any legal challenges to the law.

We can only hope that the commitment and determination of all the students, workers, families and activists who showed up to protest the draconian SB1070, pays off, and that by channeling all our frustration and anger at the inhumanity of this law, the events on May 29th are translated into direct action against the implementation of such a harsh measure.

Photo courtesy of the New York Times

Schumer and Graham release blueprint for immigration reform

It’s impossible for Congress to ignore the drumbeats of  a 100,000 people, descending on D.C. this weekend, to march for just and humane immigration reform. With the pressure for concrete action mounting, President Obama met Senators Charles Schumer (D-NY, head of the Senate’s Immigration Subcommittee) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) last week, giving them that much needed nudge to introduce immigration reform legislation into the Senate. The Senators for their part asked the President to be more engaged in getting support for immigration reform.

The two Senators have been involved in discussions about immigration reform legislation for months. Today, for the first time, we are seeing the framework for immigration reform in an Op-Ed in the Washington Post, no doubt triggered by a need for answers from those coming to D.C.

Throughout our history, immigrants have contributed to making this country more vibrant and economically dynamic. Once it is clear that in 20 years our nation will not again confront the specter of another 11 million people coming here illegally, Americans will embrace more welcoming immigration policies.

The framework, rests on four pillars: ending illegal employment through biometric Social Security cards, enhancing border and interior enforcement, managing the flow of future immigration to correspond to economic realities, and creating a tough but fair path toward legalization for the 11 million people currently in the U.S. without authorization.

The President welcomed the news.

I am pleased to see that Senators Schumer and Graham have produced a promising, bipartisan framework which can and should be the basis for moving forward.  It thoughtfully addresses the need to shore up our borders, and demands accountability from both workers who are here illegally and employers who game the system.

The announcement will no doubt trigger intense debate over the specifics of the legislation. But many feel that the framework marks an important bipartisan step forward. Any reform legislation must move away from an enforcement only approach and enact humane immigration policies which keep families together and restore fairness to the broken immigration system. Detention continues to be substandard and unjust while immigration raids and other enforcement actions continue to tear apart families, workplaces, communities, and congregations. The idea of a biometric card triggers many concerns about privacy and security.

Meanwhile the anti-immigration squad is playing out their strategies to counteract immigration reform. Yesterday, the Center for Immigration Studies released a 27 page report lashing out against immigration advocacy groups such as the National Council for La Raza and the Southern Poverty Law Center for “manipulating the press” with research and campaigns in favor of reform, clearly in retaliation to the extensive research done by these groups linking CIS with white nationalist and racist rhetoric. At the event to release the report, Campus Progress turned the tables by asking CIS Executive Director Mark Krikorian about a quote in one of CIS’s reports that said,

If small time con-artists and Third-World gold diggers can obtain green cards with so little resistance, then surely terrorists can (and have) done the same.

Krikorian’s response. The basis of the statement was justified but the language used,

it was colorful language that was too colorful. Um, but, is it beyond the pale, I would say no.

It’s exactly to counteract such racism that you need to be in D.C. this weekend. To get your voice heard above the racist din, call or tweet your Senator and write to your local newspaper. Not only do we need reform, we need good reform, and for that our voices need to get stronger and more urgent.

POLL: Do you think Schumer and Graham's blueprint for reform is a good blueprint?

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Is the Tea Party’s racist rhetoric going to save broken families?

While it is difficult to find much coherence within the fractured and fast-changing Tea Party Movement, a look at their convention in Nashville last week shows that the issue of immigration seems to have gained greater popularity, emerging largely from the links made between immigration and the healthcare debate at their town hall meetings held last summer. Spearheading this issue for the Tea party agenda was Tom Tancredo, a former Colorado Congressman who kicked off the Nashville Tea Party Convention with a slew of racist comments meant to further the argument against immigration reform.

And then because we don’t have a civics literacy test to vote, people who couldn’t even spell vote, or say it in English, put a committed socialist ideologue in the White House named Barack Hussein Obama.

The Nashville Convention sought to unite the movement against the path to legalization. Tancredo’s opening speech included the argument that while Obama’s plans for immigration reform needed to be halted, it was a good thing that McCain had not been elected or he would already have ensured that Rep. Gutierrez’s bill for immigration reform was passed and “amnesty” given to the country’s undocumented immigrants. He incited the audience to protect the country’s culture saying “our culture is based on Judeo-Christian values whether people like it or not!”

While some, such as a Tea Party blogger Keli Carender said that immigration was not a part of the official agenda, Tancredo’s opening remarks, the prominent presence of the anti-immigrant group NumbersUSA, as well as a number of signs against “amnesty” from their individual supporters at the convention indicated that immigration issues could become a prominent feature on the movement’s agenda.

So what would Tom Tancredo have to say about the latest report by the Urban Institute that holds that immigration enforcement has a large-scale, detrimental effect on children? The truth is that the immigration system is in dire need of reform and racist rhetoric is not going to solve the complex problems caused as a result of a broken immigration system.

The report is based on research conducted amongst over 100 children of undocumented immigrants that were targeted by raids and arrests by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in six U.S. states. Of the 190 children interviewed for this study, two-thirds were U.S. born citizens. The study says,

Children whose parents were detained for longer than a month experienced more changes in eating, sleeping, frequent crying, fear, anxiety, regression, clinginess, and aggressive behavior.  68% of parents or caretakers questioned said they noticed at least three behavioral changes in the short-term, or three months after a parent was arrested. In the long-term, or nine months after an arrest, 56 percent of children ages 6 to 11 and 12 to 17 showed angry or aggressive behavior. The most typical changes were an increase or decrease in eating among all age groups.

Long-term separation of children from their parents is “exceptionally harmful” to the development and growth of children. The report recommends immigration reform must include alternatives to detention such as electronic monitoring and supervised released, as well as a priority quota for immigrants with children to be considered for legal residency.

It’s groups like Tancredo’s that have gone on about the connections between immigrants and crime. An ACLU brief finds that the increasing criminalization of undocumented immigrants has led to a diversion of attention and resources away from more serious criminal offenses such as organized crime, gun trafficking and white collar crimes. For starters unlawful presence in the United States is NOT a “crime”. And secondly only the Federal Government can regulate immigration. So when states and localities use criminal laws to go after undocumented immigrants, they are not only adding to the misinformed rhetoric around “criminal” immigrants but actually diverting resources from where they should be applied. Moreover, studies have shown that increased immigration does not lead to increased crime and that immigrants are less likely to be incarcerated for violating criminal laws than non-immigrants.

Once again, we urge the leaders and citizens of this country to step away from their petty vendettas and take a look at the bigger picture, both in terms of what already exists and in terms of what would be best for all.

Photo courtesy of RaceWire.org

Progressive bloggers and advocates set the stage for immigration reform in 2010

Next Up, Comprehensive Immigration Reform “Not the usual suspects-” This is how Nico Pitney, National Editor for the Huffington Post and moderator on a panel discussion about the prospect of immigration reform, introduced his fellow panelists. Organized by the Center for American Progress, Netroots Nation, and America’s Voice, the panel featured some of the leading voices for comprehensive and just immigration reform, including Markos Zúñiga, founder and editor of Daily Kos, Andrea Nill, immigration blogger for Think Progress, and María Elena Durazo from the AFL-CIO.

Using the context of Rep. Luis Gutierrez‘s progressive CIR ASAP immigration reform bill introduced in mid December, the recent election of Sen. Scott Brown in Massachusetts (and the obvious question of how this will affect the progressive agenda including immigration reform), President Obama’s campaign promise to address immigration reform with his election, a lively discussion ensued on what makes the present time ripe for the passage of immigration reform legislation. Unlike the harsh and divisive debates of failed reform in 2007, the overall outlook amongst the panelists was positive, as they approached the topic from the point of view of electoral vote politics, the economy, and the labor movement.

Using Rep. Gutierrez’s bill as a solid base, Andrea Nill began by clarifying the fundamentals of Comprehensive Immigration Reform which would include,

An earned path to legalization for undocumented immigrants, including registering with the government, a background check, paying taxes, and ensuring their integration into society.

Creating flexible channels for the future legal flow of immigration which could adjust itself to the ebb and flow of the economy.

Smart enforcement policies including moving resources away from spending money trying to detain and deport immigrants and “chasing busboys and nannies through the desert” into addressing problems such as drug and human trafficking at the border.

Markos Zuniga made the distinction between the political climate around immigration in 2007 and now by talking about today’s polls that show 66% of voters (an equal percentage of Democrats and Republicans) support reform making it a truly bipartisan issue. With Latino groups reaching a plurality in 2050 and Asian and other minority communities growing rapidly, the co-relation between electoral votes and reform is clear. For many Republicans, falling back onto nativist rhetoric and hate-mongering like in 2007, could mean a significant loss in votes from Latino and other immigrant communities.”President Bush won 40% of the immigrant vote in 2004, John McCain only got 28% in 2008, so the long term health of republican party is in jeopardy if they can’t appeal to immigration groups.”

Andrea Nill added that while there are three groups largely responsible for the nativist rhetoric – FAIR, NumbersUSA and the Center for Immigration Studies, there is also division between the anti-immigration movement, including within the Republican party between moderates willing to engage with immigration reform, and hardliners such as  Rep. Joe Wilson and Rep. Brian Bilbray and other members of the House Immigration Reform Caucas.

Speaking on behalf of  the labor movement, Maria Durazo said there is high expectations from the administration and Congress to deliver on its promise of reform.”These are people who harvests our crops, build our buildings and work in our restaurant…they do services for us but then when we need to respond to their need to bring them out of the shadows we call them names – law breakers, illegals…we want to make sure any immigration legislation has protections for workers, both native born and undocumented immigrants who will come out of the shadows – because we will all lose if we don’t work together.”

In terms of Sen. Scott Brown’s recent victory, the panelists felt that it has little effect since immigration reform has and always will be a bipartisan issue. But on a larger scale, the election felt emblematic of the waning of Democrat popularity due to their lack of engagement with many issues, including immigration, and while voters are looking for the ‘hope’ and ‘change’ that they were promised, immigration reform is an opportunity for both Democrats and Republicans to work together towards a viable solution.

But there is also an economic argument for reform. According to a recent Center for American progress report, immigration reform will be crucial for the economy, with mass deportation causing a loss of $2.6 trillion as opposed to a growth of approximately $1.5 trillion over a ten-year period if reform passes. And since the economy, like healthcare,  is a foremost priority of the Obama administration, this is an opportunity to address both issues simultaneously.

The panelists were unanimous on the fact that the present situation is highly favorable towards immigration reform and highlighted the expanse, width and strength of the present coalitions, which today include faith-based groups, LGBT groups, ethnic groups, immigrant rights advocates and immigrant communities in general.

Looking ahead, while Rep. Gutierrez‘s progressive immigration bill which has 90 co-sponsors would serve as the progressive conscience, everyone is waiting for the bill that Sen. Charles Schumer is working on with Sen. Lindsey Graham is introducing for debate in the Senate. It will then move to the House where it will be written by Rep. Zoe Lofgren.

The penultimate point of the discussion centered around ensuring that the mainstream media begin to report on the issue and mobilize around reform. Maria Elena pointed out the importance of providing people with honest information about the implications of enforcement actions such as raids and detention to families and the economy. Markos Zuniga pointed out that Latino and Asian communities are virtually invisible to the mainstream media, thus removing one side of the immigration story. Stressing the importance of building a pro-immigration story into the media narrative, the speakers highlighted the essential role of online journalism, blogging and networking in building knowledge and momentum for the movement.