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Looking forward to 2011, we hope 2010 goes out with a bang (and a DREAM)!

In this past year we witnessed many negative events: An all-time record number of deportations with over 400,000 men, women and children deported, most of whom were not guilty of crimes; reports of medical negligence, sexual assault and the denial of due process in detention centers; unfulfilled promises of immigration reform masked by the threat of raids; the introduction of harsh anti-immigrant legislation such as SB1070, mandating racial profiling and fueling anti-immigrant sentiment around the country; the expansion of partnerships between Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and local police with the introduction of programs such as Secure Communities; the “anchor-baby” bill; the list goes on and on.

From anti-immigrant actions and racial profiling to bullying and homophobia; from fear mongering to the extreme, divisive rhetoric of the mid-term elections, it is difficult to look back at 2010 and feel hopeful. In the midst of this, however, it is important to note that these events engendered unprecedented activism, and the mobilization and coming together of diverse communities, resulting in a number of victories in the name of restoring dignity, justice and equality. The rigorous debate over Arizona’s controversial SB1070 law resulted in sports men and women, musicians, artists, politicians, faith leaders, business owners, young people, as well as the Department of Justice and President Obama, taking a stand against a law that was unjust and offensive, and finally deemed unconstitutional. The March for America in Washington D.C. on March 21st saw 200,000 people, workers, LGBT groups, faith-based groups, etc., come out in support of comprehensive immigration reform, and even without the passage of CIR, the momentum built during that time was palpable for months after. Most recently, following a rally against Secure Communities in New York City, a judge ordered ICE to be transparent and release documents related to Secure Communities and the ability for localities to opt-out of the program.

And two weeks before the end of the year, we are just hours away from a Senate vote on the DREAM Act, a legislation that would provide a path to citizenship for young people that came to the U.S. as children, have completed high-school, and want to pursue college or military service. Every year, around 65,000 young, undocumented boys and girls- including honor rolls students and star athletes- graduate high school and then find themselves high and dry, without the chance to pursue their careers. A number of them, like Eric Balderas, find themselves facing deportation with the chance of being sent back to a country they are supposed to call ‘home’ but have no memory of. For David Cho, a senior honors student at UCLA who can’t count on entertaining job offers the way that his friends are, there are not a lot of options. So instead of young, able, bright people like David and Eric following their careers, pursuing their dreams, giving back to the country by supporting the economy and making the most out of the taxpayers money that has paid for the k-12 education, they are busy mobilizing support to ensure that the Senate passes the DREAM Act tomorrow morning.

Since Sen. Reid announced that he would be holding true to his campaign promise and bringing the DREAM Act up for a vote in the Senate as a stand-alone measure, the DREAMers and all the activists who support the passage of the DREAM Act have been working extremely hard to put pressure on Senators to pass the bill. As it stands, the Senate will vote on the version of the bill that that was passed in the House last week, by around 10am tomorrow. In addition to the DREAMers themselves, who have come out of the shadows to tell their individual stories and have mobilized unprecedented support for the movement, the Latino community is seeing this as a pivotal moment. Speaking to the New York Times, Janet Murguía, president of the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) said-

This will be a watershed vote that Latinos will not forget. There is nowhere left to hide, in the minds of Latino voters. There will be members who choose to stand for innocent children and members who do not. This vote will be an indication of who stands for our families and our communities.

As we get closer to the vote, an increasing number of people are speaking up, urging Senators to vote in favor of the bill. Representatives from the Department of Defense, heads of educational institutions, religious leaders, heads of labor organizations and workers unions, officials from the Department of Homeland Security, and hundreds of others have spoken up in support of the bill and why it is crucial to the integrity and prosperity of the country. President Obama himself made calls to Democrat and Republican senators to garner support for the bill.

Currently, the legislation needs 60 Senate votes in order to be end debate, at which point the House-approved version of the bill will be finally voted on, on Sunday. If passed, it will go directly to President Obama for a signature.The momentum that has brought the movement to this point (since the DREAM Act was first introduced almost a decade ago) is solely the result of intense grassroots activism on the part of students. DREAMers and DREAMActivists have worked tirelessly, putting themselves on the line by coming out as undocumented and basically pushing this piece of legislation forward with their cross-country walks, vigils, hunger strikes and their storming of Capitol Hill online and off. But they can’t do it alone. So on the eve of this historic vote, and the eve of the New Year, call your Senators right now and tell them to vote YES on the DREAM Act.

What better way to conclude 2010 than by ensuring that the hard work and courage of the DREAMERs pays off and the DREAM Act passes in the Senate tomorrow morning, less than two weeks before the end of this year.

Pick up the phone, write a letter, and make a wish for the New Year. See you then!

Photo courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

Civil disobedience, courage and determination mark May Day rallies in 70 cities

Fueled by anger over Arizona’s harsh new immigration law, more than 200,000 people gathered in 70 cities across the country on May 1st to put pressure on Congress and the Obama administration to act on their long-overdue promise of an immigration overhaul. While people were gearing up to rally for reform across the country, law makers in Arizona decided to re-write one of the more controversial provisions of SB1070 to counteract accusations of racial profiling. While the amendment HB2162 clearly demarcates that police cannot use race and ethnicity to determine whom to question about their immigration status, opponents of the law called the repeal an insufficient “cosmetic” change that does not address the way it offends the civil liberties of the people of Arizona.

Turnout for May Day rallies outdid all expectations with numbers in Los Angeles, Washington D.C., Dallas, New York, Milwaukee, Chicago, Denver, San Francisco and other cities, numbering in the tens of thousands. In Los Angeles, a 100,000 workers, students, activists and families marched through downtown L.A. to City Hall, waving American flags and signs protesting the Arizona law, the largest turnout for a May Day rally since 2006. Marchers included people like Yobani Velasquez, a 32-year-old Guatemala native and U.S. legal resident, who was motivated to head the rally in Los Angeles out of his distaste for SB1070 which he called “racist” and “unfair.”

In Washington D.C., 35 people were arrested at the rally for picketing on the sidewalk of the White House in an act of civil disobedience. Amongst those arrested were the leaders of the national immigration movement including Congressman Luis Gutierrez, Ali Noorani, Chair of Reform Immigration for America, Deepak Bhargava, Executive Director of the Center for Community Change, and Gustavo Torres, Executive Director of CASA de Maryland. The leaders were wearing T-shirts that said “arrest me, not my friends,” and were taken away peacefully after refusing to leave the gate of the White House, with signs that protested the government’s inaction and lack of support for the immigrant community. Speaking at a rally in Lafayette square before the act of civil disobedience, Rep. Gutierrez hearkened back to the civil rights movement of the 1960s saying,

There are moments in which you say, ‘We will escalate this struggle…Today they will put handcuffs on us. But one day we will be free at last in the country we love.’

These arrests were representative of the strength and determination of tens of thousands of people, from labor, civil rights, immigrant rights groups as well as thousands of families that turned out to demonstrate for just and humane reform.

One of the highlights of the D.C. chapter of the May 1st rally were the courageous Trail of Dreams walkers who arrived in the nation’s capital last week after walking 1500 miles over four months, through some of the most conservative states in the country. The four young students, Gaby, Juan, Felipe and Carlos began their journey in Miami, Florida on January 1st, 2010, determined to draw attention to the plight of all the young, undocumented immigrants in this country who, despite having lived here for most of their lives, are unable to live out their dreams because of a broken immigration system. During their journey, they made numerous stops in towns along the way, telling their personal stories and raising awareness about the need for the DREAM Act, legislation that would enable young people who were brought to America, to lawfully live in the U.S. They finally reached D.C. last Wednesday, armed with 30,000 signatures on a petition to tell President Obama to help others like them. Despite their arduous journey, and having their laptops and phones that had been their main contact with the world stolen on arrival in Washington D.C., they joined in the May 1st rallies, unshaken in their determination.

As we wait for what unfolds with the immigration proposal introduced last week, we hope that this is the year for just and humane immigration reform.

Photo courtesy of Michael Ainsworth.

Let this video tell you if 2010 is the year of immigration reform?

On the very same day that health care reform passed in Congress, Breakthrough joined 200,000 workers, families and communities to march for just and humane immigration reform. The atmosphere was electric. Crowds chanting slogans, waving American flags, reasserting the need to restore fundamental human rights to our broken immigration system, cheering President Obama as he extended his support to immigration reform. If you weren’t there, get a quick glimpse right here.

When we as a nation deny fairness to any one group of people, we are ultimately putting all of our rights and values at risk. We need to keep up with this unbelievable momentum and translate it into concrete action. The next logical step is the introduction of a bill into Congress. While we’ve been getting hints of this with Senator Charles Schumer and Senator Lindsey Graham releasing a bipartisan blueprint for reform, we need to get more Members of Congress (like Senator Harry Reid and Senator Patrick Leahy) to support fair and just legislation. These next few weeks are crucial so take action now.

Delaying immigration reform gets expensive

Sirens, helicopters, immigration agents with guns swarming into factories and homes, this was standard game for immigration raids during the Bush administration. But all that was supposed to change during President Obama’s tenure. In a disturbing turn of events, documents procured by the Washington Post have exposed a senior-ranking Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) official explicitly stating that even while deportation of those with criminal charges has risen, the overall number of deportations is “well below the agency’s goal” and what is needed is a reversal of the downward trend of deportations.

Rather than reflect the plans of the Obama administration that is committed to an enforcement agenda focused on immigrants that commit serious crimes, the exposed ICE memo has laid out a plan that will -

pump up the numbers by increasing detention space to hold more illegal immigrants while they await deportation proceedings; sweep prisons and jails to find more candidates for deportation and offering early release to those willing to go quickly; and, most controversially, include a “surge” in efforts to catch illegal immigrants whose only violation was lying on immigration or visa applications or reentering the United States after being deported.

In keeping with this plan, ICE field offices in Dallas, Chicago and Northern California have set their agents an incentive system that calls for them to process 40-60 cases in a month in order to earn “excellent” ratings. Such a policy encourages agents to target “easy” cases rather than focus on high risk, criminal cases that take longer to process.

ICE immediately distanced themselves from Chaparro’s memo.

Our longstanding focus remains on smart, effective immigration enforcement that places priority first on those dangerous criminal aliens who present risk to the security of our communities. This focus has yielded real results – between FY2008 and FY2009, criminal deportations increased by 19%… Significant portions of the memo cited in The Washington Post did not reflect our policies, was sent without my authorization, and has since been withdrawn and corrected.

Mixed signals from an agency known for its harsh implementation of detention and deportation policies. A report published by the Center for American Progress weighs the fiscal damage that would result from mass deportation of all immigrants, the alternative to comprehensive reform that is championed by immigration hardliners, and the results should worry us all.

Based on federal spending on border enforcement and deportation for 2008, the report estimates the cost of detention and deportation for 10.8 million undocumented immigrants present in the U.S. at around 200 billion dollars. Referring to the option of mass deportation as the “status-quo on steriods”, it points to this option as a highly irresponsible one that would require “$922 in new taxes for every man, woman, and child in this country.” The bad news, the National Immigration Forum puts this number on the lower side.

The good news. Americans aren’t buying this option and are demanding immigration reform in record numbers. The Public Religion Research Institute asked American voters (predominantly white Evangelicals, Catholics and Mainline Protestants) what they think about immigration reform, and found-

Two-thirds of Americans believe in a comprehensive approach that offers illegal immigrants an earned path to citizenship. Overwhelming majorities of those asked believed that immigration reform should be guided by values of fairness, security, dignity and keeping families together.

On the other side is Public Agenda, a non partisan group that decided to find out what immigrants think about their lives in the United States. What did they find?

The overwhelming majority of immigrants say they’re happy in the United States, and would do it all over again if they could. Immigrants “buy in” to American society, for themselves and their children. They rate the United States as an improvement over their birthplace in almost all dimensions, and most say they expect their children to remain in this country. A solid majority says that illegal immigrants become productive citizens and an overwhelming 84 percent support a “guest worker” program

So what’s next? We’ve marched. We’ve rallied. We’ve practically shouted from rooftops demanding immigration reform. And now it’s time to make sure that we get some concrete action. With the current system broken, expensive and inefficient, and with 10.8 million people eager to contribute to the nation’s economy and society, everyone should be on board for finding a sustainable, just, and humane solution to the current immigration system. We rest our case.

Photo courtesy of americanprogress.org

Racial profiling in Georgia a microscosm of whats happening all over the U.S.

As the dust settles around the 200,000 March for America in D.C. this weekend, it is important to remind ourselves why we need immigration reform. A new report by the ACLU is one such reminder of racial profiling that is alive and kicking in the United States. As one of the most unconstitutional implications of our broken immigration system, racial profiling takes place when police stop, interrogate, and detain people on the basis of their appearance, accent or general perceived ethnicity, rather than on the basis of concrete evidence of criminal activity.

Called “The Persistence of Racial Profiling in Gwinnett: Time for Accountability, Transparency, and an End to 287(g),” the report uses individual testimonies from the community to examine the persistence of racial profiling in Gwinnett County, Georgia, before and after the introduction of the 287(g) program that partners local law enforcement with federal Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to enforce immigration law. Dedicated to the brave undocumented students walking the Trail of Dreams who marched into this “risky” 287(g) county, the report focuses on Sheriff Conway known as the “Joe Arpaio of the South”, who claimed that November 16th, 2009 or the day that the 287(g) program officially took off in Gwinnett County “was a great day for Gwinnett County citizens.”

Racial profiling has always been prevalent in Gwinnett County. In a case that took place before the implementation of 287(g), a woman named Mary Babington witnessed two police officers stop a white Sedan and pull out two Latino men at gun-point, shouting at them the entire time. They were then cuffed and made to lie on the ground, shirtless. One of the men was crying and asked the officer for his shirt, saying he felt cold. The officer then kicked him on his back and yelled at him not to move. Mary then heard one officer boast to the other -

They wouldn’t come out when I pulled my gun, so I sprayed the whole can of pepper spray. I emptied the whole can on them…Dude, I emptied the can in his face. I love my job.

According to the witness, Mary, the officers did not tell the men why they had been stopped, and did not read the men their rights at any point. Finally the officers administered a breathalyzer test and gave one of them a ticket for driving under the influence.

The implementation of the 287 (g) program has only exacerbated racial profiling. Many people of color have been stopped, interrogated, detained and even abused based on minor traffic violations even though 287(g) is supposed to be implemented to catch serious criminals. Some were stopped without any probable cause and never given an explanation.

A case in point is the testimony of Juan, a 48-year maintenance technician who is a legal permanent resident, entitled to live and work in the U.S. In the last year he has been stopped by local police on two different occasions, both times without any legal basis. On the most recent occasion, a Gwinnett police officer asked Juan to pull over as he was driving home from work. Despite him asking the officer five times why he was being stopped, he was given no answer. Instead the officer continuously screamed at him for asking questions and asked him for his driver’s license, which he handed over. Juan was eventually released without a citation but never found out why he had been pulled over and detained. He is now constantly worried about such an event recurring and avoids driving in certain areas of Gwinnett County.

In a podcast interview, Azadeh Shahshahani from the ACLU talks about the ways in which the 287(g) program has been extremely harmful for the 70 jurisdictions in which it operates. Local profiling has threatened public safety so that instead of trusting the local police, people are increasingly afraid to approach them, creating a dangerous communication barrier between local law enforcement and the community. In addition to diverting resources, the 287(g) program employs local police officers who are not trained in making immigration and status determinations, resulting in them restoring to their perceived notions about people’s race, ethnicity and accent.

While 50% of U.S. states have enacted legislation against racial profiling, legislation is still pending for Georgia. According to Azadeh -

In Georgia the problem is compounded because not only is there not any meaningful federal oversight, but there is also no oversight at the local or county level that we have seen…One of our main recommendations would be for law enforcement to revert to a policy of having federal immigration laws enforced only by federal immigration officials, and leave police to the job of protecting our communities.

So what’s the best outcome? Lacking training and oversight, stop 287(g) program all over the country. Document all the stops that are being made in the name of the program to check for patterns of racial profiling. And pass anti-racial profiling legislation so everyone is protected.

Photo courtesy of acluga.org

POLL: Do you feel the 287(g) program increases racial profiling?

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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.

200,000 people marched for America this weekend. Now it’s your turn….

Do you know what it feels like to be a part of a 200,000 person-strong protest? In a word- amazing. But why scrimp on words when describing the largest demonstration for immigration reform since 2006!

On Sunday March 21st we joined tens of thousands of people from every corner of the country as they came together in Washington D.C. to demand humane immigration reform NOW. With thousands of workers, faith based groups, young people, LGBT folks and African-Americans demonstrating, the atmosphere on the National Mall was electric. Once we finished taking in the sheer magnitude of the sea of people that stretched across five blocks of the Mall, we held our signs up high and joined in the innovative and energetic rallying. It was difficult to not be distracted by the variety of colorful banners, signs, puppets and slogans that people creatively designed, and we were inspired by chants of “Sí Se Puede”, “No Human Being is Illegal,” and “Change Takes Courage.” The most prominent colors of the day were red, white and blue as demonstrators proudly waved American flags as they marched for justice.

Drawing on the history of the civil rights movement, Reverend Jesse Jackson was one of the enigmatic speakers who spoke of immigration as a civil rights issue that impacted all Americans. Other speakers included Rep. Luis Gutierrez, the leader of the movement for immigration reform, whose speech mirrored the spirit of urgency palpable in the crowd.

We’ve been patient long enough. We’ve listened quietly. We’ve asked politely. We’ve turned the other cheek so many times our heads are spinning…It’s time to let immigrants come out of the shadows into the light and for America to embrace them and protect them.

Cardinal Roger Mahony from L.A. made a touching and inspirational speech reminding us of the pain visited upon immigrant families impacted by the broken immigration system.

Consider what happened to little Gabby, a U.S. citizen whose father was taken from their home at 5 a.m. when she was nine. Now 14, instead of playing with her friends she takes care of her baby brothers while her mother tries to make ends meet. Gabby prays that Congress and the President enact immigration reform, so that she can once again feel the warmth of her father’s embrace and never again have nightmares that she will be left alone.

The surprise highlight of the “all star” line-up was President Obama’s video speech that was projected on giant screens to the vast crowd.

If we work together, across ethnic, state and party lines, we can build a future worthy of our history as a nation of immigrants and a nation of laws…I have always pledged to be your partner as we work to fix our broken immigration system, and that’s a commitment that I reaffirm today.

As health care reform passed by evening, the time for talk seemed likely over. Sunday showed us that the lack of forward movement on reform and the unending enforcement actions targeting innocent workers and families would be tolerated no further. The next day, we joined a national action organized by FIRM at the Republican National Committee offices to call for stronger support and leadership for immigration reform from Republican leaders. As we picketed outside, organizers marched into the RNC office and demanded a meeting with RNC Chair Michael Steele, who had rejected an earlier request. The strategic sit-in action met with success as a meeting was fixed for March 31st.

There will be a lot of hard work in the upcoming weeks. For now, we need you to send a free fax and tell your Members of Congress that if they “don’t choose courage over hate, we’ll elect people who will.” And keep tuned for our video of this momentous event.

POLL: Will the March for America motivate Congress to pass immigration reform this year?

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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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Coming up to March 21, raids undermine White House talk of immigration reform

With less than a week to go, advocates across the country are gearing up to “March for America,” the massive mobilization for immigration reform where 100,000 supporters are expected to descend on the nation’s capital on March 21st. In anticipation of the march, members of the National Day Labor Organizing Network (NDLON) have set off from different parts of the country to Washington D.C., with the aim of building support amongst local communities on the way and calling attention to the desperate need for reform of immigration laws that tear families apart and repress the immigrant community.

The Puente Movement, and their “Human Rights Caravan” of day laborers, advocates and community members left Phoenix on March 6th for a three-week, awareness-raising journey through Arizona that will culminate in Washington D.C. on March 21st. As part of their efforts, they have been organizing events in small towns and big cities to highlight the civil and human rights crisis in Arizona and other places where large communities are impacted by increased enforcement policies. On March 13th, the caravan was joined by Rep. Luis Gutierrez in Houston for a large rally that called for immigration reform. On the East Coast, several day laborers from New York and New Jersey began a 300-mile “Walk for Human Dignity” on Saturday, March 13th. Inspired by the courageous “Trail of Dreams” walkers, they will be stopping at various day labor corners, churches and worker centers on their way to Washington D.C.

So is all this buzz around the “march” reaching Washington D.C.? When President Obama announced three meetings on the issue of immigration reform last Thursday (March 11th), it seemed like the message that immigrant rights advocates across the country were sending out was finally hitting home. After the President had a “feisty” meeting with representatives from immigrant rights groups on Thursday morning, Sen. Schumer and Sen. Graham presented their legislative plans for the bill on comprehensive immigration reform in the Oval office. The Senators requested the President for his support in ensuring bipartisan support for the bill, and while the President committed his “unwavering support” to reforming immigration laws, he gave no concrete plan of action or time-line for moving forward. However, as summed up in a New York Times editorial about the meetings that President Obama had with immigrant rights advocates, with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, and with Sen. Charles Schumer and Sen. Lindsey Graham, “What we’d rather know is when the bill is coming, what it will look like and what he is going to do to get it passed. Enough with the talk.”

In a statement released by the White House after the meetings-

Today I met with Senators Schumer and Graham and was pleased to learn of their progress in forging a proposal to fix our broken immigration system. I look forward to reviewing their promising framework, and every American should applaud their efforts to reach across party lines…I also heard from a diverse group of grassroots leaders from around the country about the growing coalition that is working to build momentum for this critical issue. I am optimistic that their efforts will contribute to a favorable climate for moving forward. I told both the Senators and the community leaders that my commitment to comprehensive immigration reform is unwavering, and that I will continue to be their partner in this important effort.

As indicated by White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, it seems that while immigration remains an important issue for President Obama, it is not a priority in this election year, thereby making the concrete action that the Obama administration had promised within the first year of office, seem like a distant dream. It is clear that the meetings were a result of the mounting pressure for action on immigration reform from the grassroots and community level. In spite of the build-up towards the nation-wide mobilization on March 21st, the outcome of the meetings, beyond a reiteration of the promise of support, remains unclear.

As if to highlight just how pressing the need for reform of the broken immigration system is, while Obama was meeting with advocates who were frustrated with increased enforcement and deportations under the Obama administration and anxious to enlist his support for moving reform forward, a series of raids in Maryland led to the arrest and detention of 29 workers. Not far from D.C. on Thursday morning, Immigration and Customs Enforcement conducted simultaneous raids in Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties at two restaurants, several residences and an office. On Friday, advocates from the immigrant rights organization Casa de Maryland were back outside the White House, but rather than meeting with the President, they had gathered to protest the raids and splitting of families as a result of enforcement policies. Gustavo Torres, Executive Director of Casa de Maryland denounced the raids-

Everyday, tens of thousands of hardworking immigrants in Maryland leave their families to go to work, and tonight twenty-nine of our brothers are detained as their families are left to grieve…This is not an acceptable way to treat members of our community who work hard every day to make Maryland strong for us all.

In the face of the push for the nation-wide push for reform, the efforts of mobilization towards the March for America, and the Presidential meetings, it is not difficult to wonder about the timing of the ICE raids in Maryland. Either way, the continuation of such unjust and inhumane enforcement policies is unacceptable. We can only hope that the final push for support over the next week bears fruit and the impact of the march in Washington D.C. is felt by everyone.

A New York Times op-ed states that the “March for America” could be the “game changer” in the equation, so come to Washington D.C. and make it count! Like we said before, this is your march, so see you at the National Mall in Washington D.C.!

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/photos/americasvoice

POLL: Do you think President Obama's meetings on immigration reform will help move the bill forward?

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Obama meets senators on immigration as undocumented dreamers come out of the shadows

My name is Nico and I’m undocumented. I’m coming out of the shadows because I am no longer afraid. I came to this country in 1992, following my mother to the land where the bread that would feed her children was. I have recently lost my mother to cancer, undoubtedly from the chemical factory she worked at most of her life. She was unable to demand better health and safety conditions due to her “status.” But she kept on working for me and the rest of my family. She worked everyday in fear not knowing if “la migra” would come and take her away from us. Now she is buried in the land of freedom, the land where she’s considered a criminal. I’m standing up today for her, myself, and the millions of families like ours.

Nico was just one of dozens of undocumented youth who took the decision to take to the streets and “come out” of their undocumented status in mobilizations across the country yesterday. “Coming Out of the Shadows Week” is an initiative of Dream Activist and the Chicago-based Immigrant Youth Justice League which  which will culminate in the nation-wide “March for America”. Inspired by gay rights activism, the initiative empowers undocumented youth who are tired of being persecuted by the system to stand up and break the silence about their status.

Its kick off began yesterday in Chicago when eight undocumented youth surrounded by a thousand supporters holding signs saying “Undocumented and Unafraid” gathered outside Senator Richard Durbin’s office to ensure the introduction of the bipartisan immigration reform bill in the Senate. 26 year old University of Illinois student Tania Unzueta, one of the founders of the Immigrant Youth Justice League, was one of the eight.

Like thousands of others, Tania was brought to the U.S. on a tourist visa by her parents at the age of 10, who stayed on with the hope of a better future. Despite being captain of the swim team, Tania has always had to keep her status a secret and make up stories to justify not having a driver’s license and not being able to travel out of the country with her swim team. Tired and frustrated of being trapped in a scenario that she had no hand in creating, she has taken steps to become active in the movement for the passage of the Dream Act. Speaking about “Coming Out” as a radical and extremely personal act, she said,

It’s scary on one hand, but it’s also liberating. I feel like I’ve been hiding for so long…There’s a sense of urgency. We’re angry. We’re frustrated. We thought this would be a good strategy to get our community mobilized.

Every year, about 65,000 undocumented immigrants graduate from U.S. high schools and live in constant fear of being kicked out of college, losing their scholarships, and not being able to apply for jobs. Research indicates that there are currently 3.2 million undocumented young adults living in a state of limbo whose status prevents them from using their education to become fully contributing members of society. First introduced by Senator Richard Durbin and Representative Howard Burmen, the provisions of the Dream Act allows undocumented youth to be eligible for a conditional path to citizenship. If you are an undocumented youth and need help to come out, here’s some great advice on why and how to do so. To get you started, here’s Gabriel’s brave coming out story.

The pressure mounting on Congress seems to be yielding some results. Three grassroots meetings are slated for today, ones that we hope will lead to concrete action. At 1 pm, grassroots leaders will meet with senior White House staff. This will be followed by a much publicized meeting between President Obama and Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) (who are working on a bipartisan immigration reform bill), seen as a move to insert immigration back onto a congressional agenda. And finally, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus is also meeting with the President today to discuss health care and immigration.

Should we be holding our breaths?

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