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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.

More stories from the ground in Alabama- Some Families Flee, Others Stay Behind and Live in Fear

Continuing the story of the Gonzales family in Birmingham, Alabama and how they have been impacted by HB 56. Previous posts include ‘Life after Alabama’s anti-immigrant law for an American family names Gonzales’ and ‘Singled out in Alabama schools.’

Guestblogger: Vesna Jaksic. Crossposted from the ACLU.

Since parts of Alabama’s anti-immigrant law, H.B. 56, took effect, many families have been fleeing the state in fear. Cineo Gonzales, an Alabama resident and a father of two, talks here about those who left in a hurry, including families with children who are American citizens.

“Their children are U.S. citizens and they are running away in their own country,” said Gonzales, a taxi driver who has been receiving calls from many panicked families.

 Others stayed behind, but their lives have been anything but normal. During a visit to Alabama last week, many families told me that they now live in constant fear and are scared to go to work, school or the grocery store. From small cities like Albertville to the capital of Montgomery and in between, many Hispanic residents said they are now afraid of getting stopped by the police because the law encourages racial profiling.

“When the law passed, I didn’t work for a week,” a landscape worker from Mexico told me. “I had fear because people said police will see your face and stop you, see you’re Latino.”

The worker, who lives in Montgomery and has been in Alabama for seven years, told me he tries to only drive to work now, and is even scared to do that.

“We work to live,” he said. “If we can’t work, we can’t eat and we can’t live.”

The law affects not only the undocumented, but many legal residents and citizens as well. One high school senior told me his three siblings — all U.S. citizens — are afraid they will be separated from their mother, who is an undocumented immigrant.

“My mom just bought a home in May and she really doesn’t want to move,” said the Birmingham area resident, who is 18. “She spent her whole savings trying to build this home for us.”

He was born in Mexico but has lived in the United States since he was a baby, most of it in Alabama. He is bilingual, gets good grades and has a part-time job after school.

“They brought me here since I was one month old,” he told me. “If I go back, I don’t know what I would do.”

Another Holiday in Exile

Guest blogger: Nicole Salgado

Querétaro, Mexico, October 18, 2011. You know the year-end holidays are approaching when the stores starting filling with decorations. From here on in it’ll be an endless blur of pumpkins, tinsel, and Santas from Halloween to New Years. Except I’ll also find candy skulls and praying Virgin Marys. And I won’t be sharing a table spread with turkey with my family. This is because I’ll be spending my fifth holiday season in Querétaro, Mexico, where in addition to the popular U.S. holidays, they also celebrate Día de los Muertos and Our Lady of Guadalupe Day.

When I met my husband in the San Francisco Bay Area in 2001, my life changed forever. At the time, he was an undocumented immigrant from Mexico, and because of him I learned how much the rules had changed since the days when my own ancestors came to America from Mexico and Germany. Because he’d left and come back more than once and stayed to work for longer than a year, my husband had what is considered the permanent bar, leaving us limited options to make things right with his immigration record. Although we wanted to stay in the Bay Area because we had good jobs and a fulfilling life, we lived in fear that our lives would be turned upside down by an unexpected deportation. Our only option for his adjustment of status was to leave the U.S. and apply for a waiver in 10 years, from Mexico.

I finally made the difficult decision to leave the U.S. with my husband and move to his home state of Querétaro, Mexico in 2006. We have no guarantee we will ever be able to return to the U.S. together. We used all our savings to build a house here, and good-paying jobs in our fields are hard to come by. Underemployment for the last 5 years has left us struggling economically. Despite all this, we did not want to put our dreams of getting on with our lives or starting a family on hold indefinitely. We had a daughter last year and she is a blessing.

We are currently halfway through our waiting period. Visits with family and friends from the States are rare. I’d like to spend the holidays with family, but I cannot afford to travel very often. Even if I could, my husband, her father, cannot join us. Luckily, my parents will visit this Christmas. But my husband hasn’t seen my nearly 90-year old grandmother since we were married in 2004, or my brother since we left the U.S. Although my daughter and I have become dual citizens, it’s uncertain whether her father will ever become a welcome member of American society, I am not sure how I will explain that to her someday. My family and I have suffered in the wake of this situation. As a result of legal technicalities, I struggle with stress-related disorders and the task of redefining myself professionally and culturally.

After several years of relative isolation from the online and social activist community, I have decided to make our story public, and am co-authoring the book Amor and Exile with journalist Nathaniel Hoffman (amorandexile.com). Despite coming face to face with plenty of anti-immigrant sentiment, I have also been heartened by all the support growing from people who recognize the need for true fairness, justice, and equality. Many other brave people, who’ve had to make choices like me, decided that love and integrity are more important than their own personal comfort level. I hope people and governments worldwide will come together and make the changes necessary so that families can reunite to celebrate the holidays in peace and joy.

Breakthrough’s media team returns from eye-opening trip at Mexico/AZ border

Post written by Dana Variano, Breakthrough’s newest media team member

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 earlier in the week in 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.

I’ve just returned from Tucson, where Ishita Srivastava (part of Breakthrough’s media team) and I were part of the National Border Justice and Solidarity Delegation. Made up of a group of organizers from DRUM (Desis Rising Up and Moving)Vamos Unidos, and Coalicion de Derechos Humanos, the delegation spent five days learning about the struggles of migrants and people of color in Arizona, first-hand. Ishita and I filmed the delegation for a documentary to be released on the tenth anniversary of September 11th. The video camera could hardly capture all that we saw.

Arizona is everywhere in the news. Sheriff Joe ArpaioSB 1070Secure Communities: up here in New York, these problems loom large, but also appear fuzzy and distant. So our delegation came together in a place where the struggle is immensely urgent- in Tucson, Arizona- to show solidarity, and bring back what we’ve learned to our peers in New York.

The delegation spent the first day with Isabel Garcia, (Co-Founder of Coalición de Derechos Humanos) learning of the realities of howNAFTA crushed Mexico’s economy, and forced families to leave their homes for the north in order to survive. We watched an Operation Streamline (PDF download) court proceeding, and witnessed first-hand as 60+ migrants were denied due process, and sentenced to felonies and months in prison. If they come back again (which most do), they will be facing up to 30 years in jail. The men were brought up and sentenced in groups, having no chance to do more than answer “si” or “no” to questions they did not understand.  As they were paraded out of the court and into the jails, one man looked as if he was going to pass out. He had been in the desert for days, his lawyer told us, with no food and too little water. “When you get to the facility, tell them you’re sick,” said the judge in an irritated manner. “Be proactive.” Proactive. It was all we could do not to yell out at the irony.

And yell we did, a few hours later, outside Police Chief Villaseñor’s precinct, calling for him to resign for his participation in the racist Secure Communities Taskforce. Our “honk for justice” sign got a heartening amount of love, and that strengthened us enough for facing the desert.

The next day, we walked across the border in Nogales, Mexico and drove across in Sasabe, Mexico: these excursions were crucial in understanding how militarization feels. The highway was empty, except for the white border patrol trucks which passed us by every 2-3 minutes. Buses with tinted windows and bars inside lay hidden by the sides of the road, waiting in the brush to be filled with migrants and driven to American prisons. Border Patrol stopped and searched our van three times that day, even once when we were leavingthe U.S. and entering Sasabe. That time, four patrols eyed us as one checked our passports and green cards: between them they had eight guns, three semi-automatic. They were not happy to see us, a group of 17 American citizens, each a different color, focused on justice.

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Once we crossed into Sasabe, a town which has been taken control of by the cartels, an air of stress lifted from our van- children waved at us, men drank sodas in the shade. The van let out a collective sigh. We weren’t being watched anymore. The Mexican border employees let us into their private building to use their bathrooms. We were greeted with smiles and cheers directed at the football game on the TV, as the US Border Patrol watched from down the street grudgingly. The juxtaposition was stunning.

And then we were at the border wall, made of recycled tanks from the Afghanistan and Iraq wars, dividing the countryside in two. On one side: flood lights, border patrol, and empty desert. The other: a litter of discarded black water jugs, and empty desert. The wall now stretches across Arizona in the easiest places to cross, so that migrants are purposefully funneled into the most treacherous conditions. As a result, death counts have risen to record breaking numbers: the human remains of 183 men, women and children were recovered on the Arizona-Sonora border in the fiscal year 2006-2007 alone. And for every body discovered, there are many more not found. The most surprising thing about the wall? How it suddenly ends, leaving a gaping whole- one vast desert land- showing how imagined these “borders” are, and how American policy is literally dividing communities.

Arizona is a testing ground for policies that could be enforced across the United States. Racial profiling laws, unjust treatment by the police and court systems, the belief that one human is not equal to another: these are all things for which we must speak out, before these poisonous policies spread. To learn how you can help the crisis on the border, from anywhere, visithttp://www.derechoshumanosaz.net/get-involved/ and our immigration and racial justice campaign - Restore Fairness.  Breakthrough’s film, which will focus on the issue of racial profiling, will premiere on September 11th’s tenth anniversary.  Stay tuned.

Watch “A Better Life”- a powerful film about an undocumented family from the director of “Twilight”

From our b-listed blog-

We know you’ve been waiting for Harry Potter forever, but make sure you support the film A Better Life!

Undocumented stories are being told. Just recently, award-winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas came out of the shadows.  For years, the Dreamers – the students actively fighting for the Dream Act – have been sharing their stories.  And now,  A Better Life is bringing the story of an undocumented family to mainstream theaters.

A Better Life is a beautifully told story about an undocumented Mexican gardener named Carlos Galindo (played by Demian Bichir) who does everything that he can to give his son, Luis (played by Jose Julian) a better life.  As an undocumented immigrant living in a rough East L.A. neighborhood, Carlos tries to stay invisible and struggles to work outside of the system while simultaneously trying to keep Luis in school and away from gangs.  The film captures how being undocumented may chip away at one’s inner being. “All he does is work,” director Chris Weitz said of the character Carlos. “He is invisible — and he prefers to remain invisible. Because to raise his head is to risk getting in trouble.” (LA Times.) To see a full trailer, click here.

In an interview with director Weitz, he calls A Better Life “the “biggest movie he has ever made,” considering he has directed hits such as “The Twilight Saga: New Moon”, “About a Boy,” and “The Golden Compass.”  However, Weitz explained that the subject matter is far more important than any other he has addressed as a filmmaker.

Click here to see a full list of cities showing A Better Life.  Enter your zipcode on Fandango here, or Movietickets.com here to find showtimes near you!

Check out A Better Life’s Facebook page here.

Click here to listen to an interview with Chris Weitz and Demian Bichir on their own thoughts on the film!

Photo courtesy of IMDB

The 4 million women you can thank for your last meal

They’re the backbone of our food supply. Their hands sliced the chicken breast we had for lunch. Their sweat brought the fresh tomato to our plates. Their backs bent to pick the lettuce in our salads. They are America’s undocumented workers.

Every day, on farms and factories across America, millions of women work to produce billions of dollars worth of fruit and vegetables that fill our stores and kitchens and nourish our children. At least 6 out of every 10 farm workers in this country are undocumented, and almost all of them live on the fringes of society, earning below minimum wage and facing humiliation, exploitation and sexual assault from their employers on a regular basis.

According to a new report, ‘Injustice on Our Plates,’ published by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the 4.1 million undocumented women living and working in the U.S. are among the lowest paid and most vulnerable members of our society. These women form the backbone of the agricultural system in this country, looking after their families, often working weeks without getting paid, working in unsafe and unsanitary conditions, with little or no recourse to any protection against the indignities they suffer at the workplace. They live in constant fear of being discovered and sent back to their home countries, with the looming threat of being separated from their children, many of whom are American born. It is grossly unfair that while contributing as much as $1.5 billion a year to the Medicare system and $7 billion a year to the Social Security system, undocumented immigrants will never be able to collect benefits upon retirement.

The report was compiled by SPLC researchers who conducted extensive interviews with 150 women from Mexico, Guatemala and other Latin-American countries who are or have been undocumented, and are working in the food industry, picking tomatoes, apples, green beans, lettuce, etc. in places like Arkansas, California, Florida, Iowa, New York and North Carolina. From a CNN article about the report-

Regardless of what sector of the food industry these women worked in, they all reported feeling like they were seen by their employers as disposable workers with no lasting value, to be squeezed of every last drop of sweat and labor before being cast aside.

Interviewed for the report, a woman called Maria reported being paid as little as 45 cents for each 32-pound bucket that she filled with tomatoes, and said that one employer did not allow his workers to go to the bathroom during their work-shifts. Olivia, a 46-year old meatpacker who came to the U.S. from Mexico to run away from her abusive husband and build a better life for herself, told the SPLC the horrific story of how she was raped by one of her supervisors after working a 12-hour shift. When she tried to report the incident to the senior management, her complaints were met with the retort, “What is so bad about that? He left you in one piece, didn’t he?” Despite extreme medical injuries and severe emotional trauma from the attack, Olivia was too scared to report the rape to the police out of fear that her immigrant status would be found out and she would be deported. Like countless women in similar circumstances, she was bound by the desperate need to work in order to look after her daughter and her parents who depended on her, and she had no option but to continue working for the man that beat her unconscious and raped her. The new report tells us that Olivia’s story is not the anomaly, but the norm-

Undocumented immigrant women are, in most cases, virtually powerless to protect themselves against such attacks…Some feel too much shame to report harassment or sexual violence, leaving them extremely vulnerable to exploitation by male co-workers or supervisors…Their abusers use their lack of legal status against them, knowing they are not likely to report sexual harassment or even violent attacks. Because of the many obstacles arrayed against them — fear, poverty, shame, lack of access to legal resources, language barriers, immigration status and cultural pressures — few immigrant women ever come forward to speak out against the wrongs committed against them. Too often, they are forced to compromise their dignity — to endure sexual harassment and exploitation — to obtain a better life and a measure of economic security for themselves and their families.

These women are economic refugees, running away from lives beneath the poverty line, hunger and desperation in their home countries, with the hope of working hard to provide their children with basic amenities like education, health and stability. The fact that such injustice and degradation is suffered by tens of thousands of hard-working women in this country on a regular basis is horrific and shameful on a number of levels. These women, responsible for putting food on our tables, are part of a systemic malady that is only getting worse. This is indicative of the sad irony of a world where high-level trade and capital move across borders with uncanny speed and ease, lining the pockets of nations and people in power, while the hands that build these “globalized” empires are forced to remain circumscribed within their lot, regardless of how unfair a lot it might be.

Deporting all 10.8 million undocumented immigrants would cost the economy over $2.6 trillion over the next ten years, not to mention the huge human rights violations that would occur as a result. Moreover, legalizing undocumented workers would raise the U.S. gross domestic product by $1.5 trillion over a decade. The report stresses the importance of immigration reform that would address these injustices in a way that is comprehensive, while respecting fundamental American values of dignity and justice.

Photo courtesy of the Southern Poverty Law Center

ICE Deports Non-Spanish Speaking American Citizen to Mexico

Guest blogger: Sam Ritchie from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)

How does a U.S. citizen who has never been to Mexico, speaks no Spanish and shares no Mexican heritage end up being deported there, spending the next four months living on the streets and in the shelters and prisons of Mexico, Honduras, Nicaragua and Guatemala? It’s just the latest instance of blatant disregard for the rights and well being of people with mental disabilities by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Mark Lyttle’s brush with immigration officials began when he was about to be released from a North Carolina jail where he was serving a short sentence for touching a worker’s backside in a halfway house that serves individuals with mental disabilities. Even though they had plenty of evidence that he was a U.S. citizen — including his Social Security number and the names of his parents — corrections officials turned him over to ICE as an undocumented immigrant whose country of birth was Mexico. (Mark is actually of Puerto Rican descent, but I guess when the government is trying to kick a Latino guy out of the country, the easiest place to send him is Mexico.)

ICE held Mark for six weeks, and though they knew about his history of mental illness and noted that he didn’t understand the investigation into his immigration status, they provided no legal assistance in either his interrogation or court appearance and eventually deported him to Mexico. Penniless and unable to speak the language, he was sent by Mexican officials to Honduras, where he was imprisoned and threatened by prison guards. Honduran officials sent him to Guatemala, where he eventually made his way to the U.S. Embassy.

Within a day, embassy officials were able to contact one of Mark’s brothers on the military base where he was serving and issue Mark a passport. His brother wired him money and Mark was soon on a flight to Atlanta. But adding insult to injury, upon seeing his history of ICE investigations, immigration officials in Atlanta held and questioned him for several hours before letting him go.

On October 13th, the ACLU and our affiliates in Georgia and North Carolina have filed lawsuits on Mark’s behalf, but the question on my mind is “how could this have happened?” The answer, as reported by the ACLU and Human Rights Watch in a report issued this July, is that both ICE and the Department of Justice (DOJ) have failed to implement meaningful safeguards for people with mental disabilities facing possible deportation from the United States. The system fails to even live up to basic standards of the American justice system, such as the right to appointed counsel for people who must defend against deportation even when their mental disabilities make it practically impossible to understand what “deportation” means. As immigration attorney Megan Bremer has noted:

Due process is part of judicial integrity. It’s a basic principle that this country has decided to prioritize. It’s one of our greatest exports — we send people all over the world to talk about rule of law and how to reform judicial systems but we’re not doing it here in our fastest growing judicial system [the immigration courts].

The result is that people like Mark who have a right to remain in the United States can be deported because they never get a fair chance to present their cases.

Azadeh Shahshahani, director of the National Security/Immigrants’ Rights Project of the ACLU of Georgia, told the Inter Press Service News Agency-

Mark’s case is a tragedy that serves to underscore the deep systemic injustices that continue to plague our government’s system of detention and deportation…Mark is just one of thousands of people in this country who have been victimised by a single-minded focus on detention and deportation without the kind of individualised determinations that are the essence of due process.

Mark’s story is a wake-up call. We hope that ICE and DOJ will implement reforms designed to protect the rights of people with mental disabilities now, before they accidentally put another citizen through the ordeal they caused for Mark Lyttle.

Jury Rules Immigrant’s Murder a Hate Crime, Even as Vicious Ads Continue to Stoke Racial Tensions

Guest Blogger: Jackie Mahendra from America’s Voice.

While the mainstream media has been largely absent, Latina Lista has been busy covering the dramatic trial of the two men charged with the hate crime killing of immigrant Luis Ramirez in Shenandoah, Pa. It turns out the 2008 murder was, indeed, a hate crime.

A federal grand jury has convicted the two Pennsylvania men, in a verdict that many argue was long overdue.

On July 14, 2008, Ramirez was beaten to death by a group of teenagers who yelled racial epithets throughout the killing.  A retired Philadelphia police officer said she heard one of the defendants yell to Mr. Ramirez’s friends, “Tell your [expletive] Mexican friends to get the [expletive] out of Shenandoah or you’ll be [expletive] laying next to him.”  Defendants were reported to have yelled, “Go back to Mexico” as they beat him to death.

Despite the evidence, an all-white jury found two of the defendants “not guilty” of third-degree murder and ethnic intimidation last year, to cheers in the courtroom and the astonishment of the Latino community.  The Federal government took up the case and finally justice was served.

Yet, two years after Ramirez’ gruesome murder, we continue to see egregious examples of race-baiting and immigrant bashing for political gain. This campaign season, a number of candidates are running race-baiting campaign ads that demonize immigrants. They use extreme, anti-immigrant rhetoric instead of offering real solutions to our immigration crisis.  Republican Senate candidates David Vitter (R-LA) and Sharron Angle of Nevada are both running anti-immigrant ads that paint Latinos as dangerous criminals, freeloaders, and the enemies of “real” Americans.

The FBI reports that hate crimes against Latinos rose 32% between 2003 and 2008 (the last year for which data is available), and groups such as the Southern Poverty Law Center have documented a correlation between anti-immigrant rhetoric and anti-Latino violence.

According to Lynn Tramonte, Deputy Director of America’s Voice:

Hateful campaign ads and rhetoric that demonize immigrants have no place in America today.  It’s as if some politicians think there is no cost for immigrant-bashing.  Well they are wrong.  This type of rhetoric creates a climate where violent crimes are committed against human beings simply because of the color of their skin.  Yesterday’s verdict in the Luis Ramirez murder is just, but it’s not nearly enough.  Politicians and pundits must stop using immigrants as scapegoats and instead use their microphones to spread a message of tolerance, humanity, and the need for common sense immigration reform.

In light of this tragic case, we believe it’s time for politicians and pundits to end the hateful rhetoric and immigrant bashing that has created a hostile climate for Latinos and encouraged hate crimes like the murder of Mr. Ramirez. Luis Ramirez lost his life because of the unaccountable, incendiary, and out-of-control immigration debate in this country.

Politicians who stoke racial fears and hatred need to realize that their rhetoric has severe — but not unforeseen– consequences.

The ruling on Luis Ramirez’ murder should serve as a wake-up call to those who refuse to end the politics of division and fear.

Photo courtesy of americasvoiceonline.org

Feds may have held off Arizona law, but border law gets the green light

Although a federal judge struck down on some of Arizona’s anti-immigrant law SB 1070’s major provisions in a critical victory, the untrue notion that Washington has lost control of the border remains. Within this atmosphere of hate and misinformation, President Obama signed a $600 million bill that increases appropriations for border security in a piecemeal approach to immigration reform, leading to profound disappointment at Congress’s decision to propose, promote, and pass border enforcement bill HR 6080. In a statement on the passage of the bill into law President Obama said,

“I have made securing our Southwest Border a top priority since I came to office… So these steps (passage of the law) will make an important difference as my administration continues to work with Congress toward bipartisan comprehensive immigration reform to secure our borders, and restore responsibility and accountability to our broken immigration system.”

For many, the emphasis on increased enforcement without any effort to address the egregious violations that come along with these is unacceptable. The New York Immigration Coalition for one argued,

The immigration crisis is dividing our nation in ugly ways we have not seen in generations – a situation exacerbated by ramped-up enforcement.  Not only is it not solving the immigration crisis, it is also tearing up our communities and our nation.  However much money is thrown at aerial drones and border agents and the like, it still won’t fix the problem.

Ironically, HR6060 was introduced by Senator Charles Schumer who is leading the immigration reform effort in Congress, and was passed unanimously in the Senate. The approaching Senate elections seem to have driven forth the abrupt decision, as jobs and border security are considered issues expected to be on voters’ minds when they go to the polls in November. House Democrats actually called a special session to pass the border security bill as well as a $26 billion aid bill to keep teachers and other public workers from being laid off.

The border security measure would fund the hiring of 1,000 new Border Patrol agents to be deployed at critical areas along the border, 250 more Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents, and 250 more Customs and Border Protection officers. It provides for new communications equipment and greater use of unmanned surveillance drones. Almost one-third of the money goes to the Justice Department to help agencies such as the FBI, the DEA and the ATF deal with drug dealers and human traffickers. The bill is funded by raising fees on foreign-based personnel companies that use U.S. visa programs, including the popular H-1B program, to bring skilled workers to the United States. India says higher fees would discriminate against its companies and workers.

According to Los Angeles Times,

Immigration is an important election-year issue for some voters, and supporters of the measure from both parties hope it will demonstrate that Washington is capable of addressing border security after Arizona passed a tough illegal immigration law.

For these very reasons, many organizations oppose the law, shunning these politically expedient strategies which ultimately damage immigrant communities, instead calling for a renewal of the administration’s commitment to uphold our nation’s values and achieve real progress on immigration reform. With the negative focus on enforcement, many are calling for passage of the Dream Act and AgJobs in September to help undocumented students and farmworkers as important down payments on the broader reform that is needed. At the same time, they are calling for President Obama and the Department of Homeland Security to implement administrative reforms that would provide relief to those at risk of deportation and family separation and measures that would restore basic due process to the immigration system. As Deepak Bhargava from the Center for Community Change noted,

It is extremely disappointing to see Congress fall for Republicans’ wholly manufactured allegations of an insecure border. Every study and report shows the border has never been safer. Crime statistics, free of political bias, show crime has never been lower…Republicans are impervious to facts.

According to blog ImmPolitic, many Republicans who keep calling for more border security before considering immigration reform will never be satisfied.

As we wrote about here and here, a series of enforcement “benchmarks” were set in the 2007 immigration reform legislation.  Those “benchmarks” have largely been met, and more enforcement resources have been deployed that were not contemplated at the time.  Still, politicians who are opposed to actually fixing our broken immigration system call for more enforcement.  They have moved the goalposts, and they will move them again.

Instead of building on the victory of the Arizona lawsuit, Congress and President Obama is taking a step backward.

Photo courtesy of www.latimes.com

Let’s get real about harsh anti-immigrant laws and their implications

The small town of Fremont, Nebraska is the latest in a series of U.S. towns that have decided to take immigration law into their own hands. On Monday, the 21st of June, 57% of the town’s 25,000 residents voted in favor of a law that would ban landlords from renting to people that were undocumented, and ban employers from hiring people without the correct immigration documents. The measure will require city officials and employers to verify people’s immigration status before taking them on as employees or tenants.

The arguments in support of this measure are similar to those heard in Arizona from those that support SB1070, the Arizona law that makes it a misdemeanor to be undocumented in Arizona and sanctions local law enforcement to stop people who appear reasonably suspicious of being undocumented. In Fremont, those in favor of the anti-immigrant ordinance attribute it to the Federal government’s inaction on the issue of immigration. A resident of Fremont, Trevor McClurg thinks that it is a fair measure. He said, “I don’t think it’s right to be able to rent to them or hire them. They shouldn’t be here in the first place.”

Speaking to the Associated Press, 56 year old Alfredo Velez, who runs a general store in Fremont and is an American citizen, has a very different opinion. Surprised by the law, he was only certain about one thing. “We’re not welcome here,” he said, expressing concern about the future of the town’s Hispanic population and his store, Guerrero, which sells products from Central America and Mexico. The town, about 35 miles northwest of Omaha, has seen its Latino population grow in leaps and bounds in the last decade due to the availability of jobs at the nearby Fremont beef and Hormel factories. Velez, who is the father of four and has lived in the town for 12 years, considers it home and has no plans of leaving, but was incredibly hurt by the high percentage of residents that voted to get the anti-immigrant ordinance passed. An owner of a building downtown, he is certain that if passed, this law will scare people away from the town, chasing away many potential renters.

The probable implications of a law like this are huge, and can run much deeper than deterring immigrants from settling in the town. In addition to inciting racial discrimination and racist sentiments, laws like this often result in length legal battles, the costs of which have to be filled by town taxes. In Fremont, the American Civil Liberties Union has already planned to file a lawsuit opposing the new measure. Explaining the motivation behind such bills, Amy Miller, ACLU Nebraska’s legal director said-

I’m afraid this is part of a larger, nationwide trend, most obviously typified by what has happened in Arizona,”There is no rational reason for Fremont to be worried about protecting our border. But it is a community, like many in rural Nebraska, where the only population growth has been in new immigrants, many of them people of color.

ACLU Nebraska has two main problems with the bill. She feels that in addition to immigration policy being a federal function, the measure violates the14th amendment of the constitution, which guarantees due process to everyone in the U.S., not just American citizens. Other cities with similar ordinances such as Hazelton, PA and Riverside, NJ, have faced lawsuits that have kept the laws tied up in the courts, preventing them from being implemented and resulting in extremely high legal costs for the cities. City officials in Fremont are estimating up to $1 million dollars as the cost of the ordinance, including legal fees, employee overtime and computer software, not taking into account the deduction in city taxes that will take place as a result of the law driving away people who fear being targeted by it.

And it isn’t just small towns that are passing laws such as this. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 5 other states (South Carolina, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island and Michigan) are looking at copycat legislation, and as per a Washington think tank, NDN, 17 other states had expressed interest in similar laws. Lawmakers in cities such as Fremont should learn a lesson or two from Arizona when executing harsh anti-immigrant measures such as this.

Even before Arizona’s SB1070 has been implemented,it has been responsible for sizable numbers of people, especially Latinos, leaving their homes in Arizona and moving to other states. Although there is no official data tracking the numbers of people leaving, piecemeal information from businesses, schools and health centers indicates that since Gov. Brewer signed SB1070 on April 23rd, the populations of Hispanic neighborhoods is dwindling. Latino families that are frightened about the repercussions of the law for their children and community, are pulling their children from schools, leaving their jobs and uprooting their lives to move elsewhere, in moves that are highly risky given the current economy. According to Alan Langston, president of the Arizona Rental Property Owners & Landlords Association in Phoenix, landlords and realty companies will be hard hit by the new law. In Phoenix’s Belleview street, home to a large Latino population, now more than half of the properties have “for rent” signs hanging outside them.

Additionally, dozens of healthcare clinics in Arizona are concerned because people are too afraid of being questioned about their immigrations status to show up to their appointments. Tara McCollum Plese, a spokeswoman for the Arizona Association of Community Health Centers, which oversees 132 facilities said that people are either moving away or too afraid to turn up, and the health care workers are worried about the implications of people resisting treatment. “We’re actually worried about communicable diseases,” said Tara, speaking to the Washington Post. Educators are worried that with so many children being pulled out of schools, they may be forced to cut programs and lay off teachers, since lower enrollment means funding cuts for schools. According to the Washington Post-

Parents pulled 39 children out of Balsz Elementary, which has a 75 percent Hispanic student body, since April 23…In the small, five-school district, parents have pulled out 111 children, said district Superintendent Jeffrey Smith, who cites the new law as the leading factor. Smith said each student represents roughly $5,000 in annual funding to the district, so a drop of 111 students would represent roughly a $555,000 funding cut.

Small businesses like grocery stores and car washes are already feeling the impact of the law as well, having lost up to 30% of their business in the last two months. Most recently, Phoenix’s police chief released an estimate saying that once implemented, the enforcement of SB1070 would cost the city of Phoenix up to $10 million per year, as a result of the clause that makes it a criminal, rather than civil offense to be in the state without the correct documents.

State legislatures taking immigration law into their own hands can have a potentially devastating impact on the economies and communities of their states. It is imperative that the Federal government acts to pass immigration reform before more states follow suit. Take action now and write to Congress and President Obama to pass comprehensive immigration reform that upholds due process.

Photo courtesy of dsnews.com