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What happens when we give up the ideals that define us?

Incidents around the country continue to undermine the principles of equality, justice and dignity for all that have played an important role in making America the strong nation it is today. In a story reported by the New York Times, a Brazilian man, Genesio Oliveira, is facing deportation and separation from his husband, Tim Coco, an American citizen and resident of Massachusetts, soon after federal officials allowed him to be reunited with his husband earlier this year.

The current situation is reminiscent of the ordeal the couple went through 3 years ago when they were forced to live apart after Genesio was denied asylum on claims of being raped as a teenager in Brazil. The judge deciding the case said he found Genesio’s fear of returning to Brazil “genuine” but denied him asylum on the grounds that he was never physically harmed by the rape. This ruling received a lot of attention from civil rights and immigrant rights groups around the world who criticized U.S. officials for separating a couple that was legally married. Following a request from Senator Kerry in June this year Genesio Oliveira was allowed back into the country on humanitarian grounds. He fervently hoped that this would induce the Attorney General to reverse the initial ruling that forced him back to Brazil, but even on Sen. Kerry’s urging, Eric Holder is refusing to reverse the earlier decision in a way that would allow Genesio to apply for permanent residency and stay with his husband.

Laws that interfere with civil rights and liberties are making their presence felt on a national level, as is evident in the constantly evolving TSA (Transportation Security Administration) regulations regarding security screenings in airports around the country. Three of the largest Sikh advocacy groups in the country are opposing screening measures at airports that require hand searches of all people wearing turbans, even if they agree to undergo full body scans using Advanced Imaging Technology. Representatives from the Sikh Coalition, United Sikhs and the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund announced their opposition to screening policies that they say unfairly target members of the Sikh community.

Hansdeep Singh, a senior staff lawyer for United Sikhs based in New York, told the New York Times about a meeting that took place with TSA officials some weeks ago, in which members of Sikh groups had hoped to hear that with the introduction of Advanced Imaging Technology, there would be less hand and wand searches of turbans in airports. Instead, what they were met with was news of the development of “a patchwork of airport security policies… in which all turbans are searched.” Amardeep Singh, the Sikh Coalition’s director of programs, told the Associated Press, “The TSA told us, point blank, that turbans will now be screened 100 percent of the time.” Referring to the racial profiling and hate crimes that Sikh Americans have been faced with post September 11, 2001, Singh said, “Sikh Americans are already looked at differently in this country. Once you start pulling Sikhs aside for extra screening, it sends a message that the government is suspicious of them for the same reasons [other passengers] are suspicious of them.”

While TSA officials have not confirmed the introduction of a blanket policy, they reiterated Security procedures introduced in 2007 that included provisions for all “bulky” headwear to be searched. National Sikh organizations are urging their constituents to lobby Congress to overturn a blanket TSA policy that calls on all Sikhs wearing turbans to undergo a hand search of their turbans in spite of the Advanced Imaging Technology screening that screens metallic, plastic and ceramic through items of clothing.

In the midst of these incidents and policies that strike at the heart of this nation’s diversity, we did get wind of a heartening story that evidences a positive stance towards minority communities. Today, New Haven officials announced their plans for New Haven Promise, a new program that grants college tuition to high school students from public and charter school, provided that they maintain a 3.0 grade point average and 90% attendance rate.  The program, financed by Yale University, will pay up to 25% of the tuition for qualifying seniors who go on to public colleges or universities in Connecticut next year, up to 50% for the class after that, up to 75%for the following class; and up to 100% for the Class of 2014. According to Mayor John DeStefano, Jr., the program is like a “contract that says to kids: If you work hard, you demonstrate academic achievement and display appropriate behaviors, we’ll give you the tools to go to college and therefore inject choice and opportunity in your lives.”

Most importantly, the Promise will be open to all New Haven residents irrespective of their immigration status, and that includes those young adults who are undocumented and would be eligible for the DREAM Act, were it to be passed. Right now, students have to be legal residents or citizens in order to be eligible for in-state tuition rates and undocumented students are charged out-of-state tuition, which is about $10,000 at the state universities and $24,500 at University of Connecticut.

This is just one more step in the right direction for New Haven officials who are supportive of the immigrant communities that are an integral part of the city. From the New Haven Independent-

State legislators, including New Haven Sen. Martin Looney, have been pushing for a statewide version of the DREAM Act that would allow Connecticut residents who are undocumented immigrants to get in-state tuition. DeStefano said he will urge the state legislature to pass such a bill; he also said he’s working with various in-state colleges to work out an arrangement concerning the issue. Until such a change is made, he said, Promise will pay “full tuition” for each eligible student, even if that student is an immigrant who must pay out-of-state tuition.

It is important that we work together to honor the diversity that is the strength of this nation. As long as we continue to deny equality, justice, dignity and liberty to some, we cannot guarantee human rights for anyone.

Photo courtesy of blogs.cnn.com

U.S. Department of Justice announces probe into racial profiling allegations against East Haven police

EastHavenpoliceIn March 2009, the members of St. Rose of Lima Church in East Haven, Connecticut submitted an official racial-profiling complaint to the U.S. Department of Justice, alleging that the local law enforcement agency, the East Haven Police Department (EHPD), had been engaging in a pattern of race-based violence against Latinos in and around East Haven. After considering the complaint, the Department of Justice announced on Wednesday, December 3rd, that they were launching a federal investigation based on the allegations of harassment against the EHPD.

Angel Fernandez, a parish leader from Fair Haven’s St. Rose of Lima Church, made the announcement at a vigil held in East Haven on Wednesday, and was met with a thunderous burst of applause from the crowd that was assembled. The audience included New Haven’s Ecuadorian Consulate, parishioners from St. Rose, and Father James Manship, a priest that was arrested in February while trying to videotape an incident of racial harassment taking place in a store in East Haven.

While the complaint traces stories of racial-profiling by the East Haven police beginning in June 2008, the EHPD’s discrimination against Latinos is part of a much longer history of police abuse of racial minorities in East Haven. The Latino community in this otherwise predominantly white area now accounts for about 6 percent of the population,  and while Latino-owned businesses and shops line the town’s streets, they have consistently been faced with suspicion and hostility from local law enforcement. From the complaint:

Since June 2008, the EHPD has targeted the Latino community in improper stops, searches and seizures, false arrests, and the use of excessive force in ordinary encounters with Latino residents and motorists. Latinos are pulled over without reasonable suspicion while driving, arrested without probable cause and in some cases, severely beaten by law enforcement officials. As a consequence, Latinos in East Haven now live in daily fear of harassment and retaliation by East Haven police officers.

The complaint documents more than twenty detailed accounts of race-based violence and harassment suffered by shopkeepers and residents of East Haven and its neighboring towns, and classifies the accounts into the following broad categories: ‘Race-Based Violence and Excessive Force,’ ‘Harassment and Intimidation,’ ‘The Department’s Tacit Approval,’ and ‘Police Retaliation and Lack of Redress.’ In his speech announcing the investigation last Wednesday, Fernandez recounted some of the personal stories that lie at the center of the complaint and called it  “a victory for the brave men and women who risked retaliation to tell their stories of abuse to the public for the first time.”

One of the accounts tells of four men, Guillermo, Juan, Jorge and Juan, who were driving to a restaurant and were followed and stopped by Officer Dennis Spaulding. Without telling them why they were being stopped, the officer asked to see the license of two of the men, even though one of them, Juan, was a passenger and not the driver. On finding that Juan’s was not a Connecticut license, the officer threw it on the ground, and when Juan tried to pick it up, he was arrested. When Jorge inquired as to why his friend was being arrested, he, too, was arrested. By this point, five other squad cars had gathered and were all witnessing this. In a few minutes, all four men had been arrested, frisked, and put in different cars. During the course of the evening, they were punched, pepper-sprayed, and subject to racial epithets and verbal abuse as they spent the night in the police station.

The complaint also contains numerous accounts of race-based traffic stops, harassment and abuse by the police, often in the police station and in full view of senior police officers. A number of the Latino store owners told of how the police would set up check-points directly outside their stores and stop Latino customers as they were exiting the parking-lot, asking them for their license and registration. One shop owner, Lazaro, often came to work and found the police and a tow truck in his parking lot. When he asked them to leave, the officer threatened to come every day. Lazaro asked him, “What, you don’t like Hispanics?” and the officer replied, “No, I don’t.” After this incident, the police began to come into Lazaro’s store and harass the customers for their ID and car papers. Lazaro has seen a significant drop in customers and has made it difficult for him to pay his rent and monthly bills.

Police officers have repeatedly denied allegations of racial profiling, and have being caught lying about incidents since members of the community took to filming confrontations taking place in stores and checkpoints. Tafari Lumumba, a Yale student attorney who helped draft the complaint gave an idea of the possible outcomes of the investigation by the Department of Justice.  Siting a similar probe of the LAPD, he said that a possible outcome could be a consent decree covering the East Haven police department, that would require the department to track the race of people being arrested and stopped for traffic violations. Further requirements could include additional training for the officers and the implementation of a new citizen complaint system.

On the note of race-based violence, a town hall meeting will be held in Miami, Florida on December 10th, Human Rights Day, to talk about racial profiling. Organized by the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, ‘Racial Profiling: Face the Truth‘ will be a meeting of national and local activists and people who want to share their personal stories of racial profiling. Panelists include Chandra Bhatnagar, Marleine Bastien, Subhash Kateel, Muhammed Malik and Jumana Musa. For more information, click here.

Photo courtesy of www.newhavenindependent.org