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A small step for immigration reform is a big step for family unity

Today the Obama administration announced a small but significant change to immigration law that will affect thousands of people and prevent the heartbreaking separation of families that takes place on a daily basis.

Currently, undocumented spouses and children of U.S. citizens have to leave the country before they can apply for visas that they are entitled to– in many cases, they are forced to stay away from their families for up to a decade due to a bar against returning to the U.S. for a minimum of 3 years. The new rule will allow undocumented spouses and children of U.S. citizens who are eligible for applying for adjusting their status to apply for a family unity waiver that will ensure that they can be reunited with their family in the U.S. soon after going to their home country to apply for their visa.

From the New York Times-

Now, Citizenship and Immigration Services proposes to allow the immigrants to obtain a provisional waiver in the United States, before they leave for their countries to pick up their visas. Having the waiver in hand will allow them to depart knowing that they will almost certainly be able to return, officials said. The agency is also seeking to sharply streamline the process to cut down the wait times for visas to a few weeks at most.

“The goal is to substantially reduce the time that the U.S. citizen is separated from the spouse or child when that separation would yield an extreme hardship,” said Alejandro Mayorkas, the director of the immigration agency.

While this is a small tweak to the immigration system and is not expected to go into effect for several months, once it does it will stop the devastating separation of thousands of children from their parents, something that has been taking place for too many years.

You can read more about the waivers at Reform Immigration for America’s blog.

Here’s what CBS and the Huffington Post had to say about the announcement.

Everyone’s talking about this development. Are you?!

Photo courtesy of cbsnews.com

 

Alabama’s HB56 shows racism still part of state culture

Guest blogger: Keith Rushing, Communications Manager, Rights Working Group. Crossposted from The Huffington Post.

Last week, a federal court’s decision allowed parts of a law to go into effect that essentially requires police to racially profile people while criminalizing undocumented migrants for being without immigration documents. The law and the decision upholding it shows that Alabama — in passing the harshest anti-immigration law in the nation — is still mired in its racist, segregationist past.

The message Alabama sent to brown people by passing this law — especially those thought to be migrants — is a simple one: Get out of Alabama. We don’t want your kind here.

In the 1950s and early 1960s, Alabama was a place of intense racial hatred. Montgomery, Ala., central to the Civil Rights Movement, is the city where, in 1955, Rosa Parks was arrested after sitting in the whites-only section of a city bus, leading to a massive and ultimately successful boycott of the city’s public bus system. A year later, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned segregation on public buses nationwide finding that the Alabama law allowing seating according to skin color was unconstitutional.

Despite that success, much of Alabama’s white residents were determined to defend their segregated way of life through brutal violence.

In 1961, some 200 white men in Anniston, Ala attacked the Freedom Riders, a racially integrated group of activists on a bus trip through the South. The bus was firebombed and the activists were beaten with pipes and bats.

Alabama is also the state where four little black girls were killed in 1963 in the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church.

After years of people putting their lives on the line and going to jail and the help of federal civil rights legislation, Alabama ended legalized oppression of African Americans that barred them from voting, from attending better resourced all-white schools and from many jobs that had been reserved for whites.

But a cursory look at the state’s history shows how Alabama was dragged kicking and screaming into accepting desegregation. It took enormous courage, self-sacrifice and the power of the federal government to force change. But by passing Alabama’s harshest anti-immigration law, the state has shown that while Jim Crow laws may not exist anymore, the spirit of Jim Crow, which is defined by white supremacy, is alive and well.

Alabama’s H.B. 56 requires police to investigate the immigration status of those pulled over for routine traffic stops, if they have a “reasonable suspicion” that a person is undocumented. It’s obvious that police will make these judgments of who to investigate based on appearance, including skin color.

The law will also allow undocumented migrants to be held without bond; make it a felony for an undocumented migrant to do business with the state; make it a misdemeanor for an undocumented resident to be without immigration documents; and require elementary and secondary schools to check the immigration status of incoming students.

The enforcement of the nation’s immigration law has primarily been a responsibility of the federal government. But by making it a state law to be without immigration papers, undocumented immigrants are subject to a whole range of new state laws and penalties.

By treating someone different based on skin color or appearance, this law, which violates the constitution in my view, institutionalizes inequality. It’s clear that white Americans will be given a pass and people who are thought to be immigrants will be forced to prove they have the documentation to reside in the United States legally. Since the majority of migrants come form Latin America, people who are brown-skinned, Latino, or thought to be Latino, will likely bear the brunt of this law.

By making it a felony for an undocumented migrant to do business with the state, which could mean applying for a driver’s license or applying for a license to operate a business, Alabama will isolate and ghettoize people who came to the United States to pursue the American Dream and are simply trying to survive.

And by requiring that schools check the immigration status of students, many migrant parents will avoid sending their children to school out of fear that sending them to school will lead to arrest and deportation. The only reason that Alabama lawmakers would want undocumented migrants to keep their kids out of school is because they don’t care about the children’s welfare. In all honesty they could only back such laws if they simply want a group of people gone.

This hateful law has already had a horrible effect. Hundreds of children have already reportedly been absent from schools in some Alabama cities.

The anti-immigrant climate was already causing migrant workers to leave the state, the Christian Science Monitor reported last week.

Racism in the United States often increases during tough economic times and is reflected in scapegoating. That’s what seems to have happened in Alabama. Passing H.B. 56 allowed lawmakers to claim that they’re keeping undocumented migrants from taking jobs that should go to those born in the United States. However the Alabama Farmers Federation indicates that they have not been able to find legal residents to fill the agricultural jobs that must be filled.

The Obama administration is right to have filed an appeal of the federal court decision. And civil rights groups, including the ACLU and Southern Poverty Law Center have asked the federal court to block last week’s decision form taking effect, pending their appeal.

Rights Working Group Executive Director Margaret Huang had it right last week when she said: “People of conscience across Alabama and the United States should send the message that the human rights of all people should be respected regardless of their race, nationality, ethnicity, religion or immigration status.”

We must all speak out against this law.

Photo courtesy of uprisingradio.org

Human rights commission urges U.S. government to stop deportations to Haiti

Today, in response to an emergency petition filed on January 6, 2011 by six rights groups, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) took a rare step and urged the U.S. government to cease deportations to Haiti immediately for persons with serious illnesses or U.S. family ties. The action follows the first reported death of  Wildrick Guerrier, deported by the U.S. since removals resumed on January 20, 2011.

In its decision, the IACHR expressed concern that “detention centers in Haiti are overcrowded, and the lack of drinking water and adequate sanitation or toilets could facilitate the transmission of cholera, tuberculosis, and other diseases. The deceased, Wildrick Guerrier, 34, who was deported in the last two weeks, exhibited cholera-like symptoms but is believed to have received no medical treatment while in a Haitian police station cell in the midst of a cholera epidemic. A second deported person was reportedly exhibiting cholera-like symptoms and released without medical attention. The IACHR also expressed their apprehension over the deportation of people with immediate family members, even children, in the United States, and of those who did not have any family members in Haiti.

Michelle Karshan, Executive Director of Alternative Chance, a re-entry program for criminal deportees in Haiti, responded:

The IACHR has rightly and courageously come through on the side of life, family and human rights. By resuming the suspension of deportations to Haiti for now, the U.S. can truly demonstrate its commitment to aiding Haiti through this difficult period towards real reconstruction.

Sunita Patel, a Staff Attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights had a strong message for the Obama administration-

We implore the U.S. Government to follow the IACHR’s instructions…Stop the deportations to stop the deaths. The Obama administration should live up to its promise to abide by human rights obligations and protect the right to life of Haitians in the United States.

The emergency petition, submitted by the University of Miami School of Law Human Rights and Immigration Clinics, the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center (FIAC), the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), Alternative Chance and the Loyola Law Clinic and Center for Social Justice, argued that deporting people at this moment to Haiti, which is still reeling from the devastating January 2010 earthquake and burdened with a massive cholera epidemic, political unrest and street violence, will result in serious human rights violations, including deprivations of the rights to life, family and due process, and freedom from cruel or unusual punishment.

Deportations from the U.S. to Haiti had been halted on humanitarian grounds since the January 12, 2010 earthquake devastated Haiti. Advocates and community members were shocked when, on December 9, 2010, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) unexpectedly announced that it was lifting the ban on deportations to Haiti for individuals with criminal records and would resume deportations in January 2011, just one year after the earthquake. On January 20, 2011, the U.S. resumed deportations to Haiti, deporting an estimated 27 people of Haitian origin, several of whom had not set foot in Haiti since they were young children.

Tell Secretary Napolitano and the Obama Administration that now is not the time to deport Haitians to Haiti. Take action now and urge the Obama administration to take into account the circumstances in Haiti and ensure due process and human rights for all.

Photo courtest of miamiherald.com

We call for dignity, not detention!

When Esmeralda, a transgender asylum seeker from Mexico, came to the US seeking a place that was accepting of her identity, what she received instead was a horrific experience in immigration detention. Kept in a segregated cell with other transgender detainees, Esmeralda never realized that her experience in detention would match the trauma of discrimination she had faced back home. “They would handcuff us as if we were murderers and were trying to escape…. but we were not trying to run away,” she said. While handcuffed in a cell, she was sexually abused by an immigration guard, an experience which caused her deep mental and emotional trauma.

The US immigration detention system is in deep crisis. Since 1994 the number of detention beds has grown from 5,000 to over 33,000 with more than 1.7 million individuals passing through the system since 2003. The government is denying due process and fairness in our communities by detaining immigrants who pose no danger and are not a flight risk to the community in inhumane and unregulated detention centers. Hundreds of thousands of immigrants are detained each year. Transferred far away from their homes and families, there are many stories of detainees such as Esmeralda who are denied basic human rights, such as telephone calls, visitation,access to a lawyer, medical care, and they can be subject to physical and verbal abuse. Even with reported deaths of detained immigrants, detention conditions continue to decline.

Today, human rights groups around the country participated in a National Day of Action organized by Detention Watch Network to mark the one-year anniversary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Immigration Customs and Enforcement’s (ICE) 2009 detention reform announcement. The National Day of Action is part of the, “Dignity, Not Detention: Preserving Human Rights and Restoring Justice,” campaign led by the Detention Watch Network, which calls for an end to the human rights abuses in detention centers, the restoration of due process in the enforcement of immigration laws, and the implementation of cost saving alternatives.

As part of the Day of Action, Detention Watch Network released a joint report, Year One Report Card: Human Rights & the Obama Administration’s Immigration Detention Reforms, that it co-authored with the National Immigrant Justice Center and the Midwest Coalition for Human Rights. The report reveals that many of those detained still suffer egregious human rights violations while in custody. Immigrants continue to be jailed for months or even years under substandard conditions. Mistreatment by guards, grossly deficient medical care, use of solitary of confinement, and limited access to family and counsel remain persistent problems.

Detention should only be used as the last possible option and for the shortest amount of time. Currently, many vulnerable people, including asylum seekers, pregnant women, children, lawful permanent residents and even U.S. citizens are among those detained, without knowing how long they will be held or why they are being held. Instead of placing thousands in detention centers that cost tax payers $99 per day, DHS should improve legislation around the cost-saving community-based alternatives to detention such as conditional release, requiring people to check in either in person or by phone, bonds or financial deposits.

Participants in the National Day of Action are calling for the restoration of human rights within the detention system, and an end to programs that indiscriminately channel immigrants into the detention and deportation system. Coordinated actions occurred across the country in cities including Austin, TX, Freehold, NJ, Minneapolis, MN, Seattle, WA and Trenton, NJ.  For more information visit www.dignitynotdetention.org

On the first anniversary of immigration detention reforms, what has changed on the ground?

From the Detention Watch Network

On the first anniversary of an announcement that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the enforcement agency within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)) would overhaul the nation’s immigration detention system, reports show that for the nearly 400,000 immigrants ICE has detained this year, little has changed.

On August 6, 2009, in response to sharp criticism from advocacy groups, community organizations, and government officials, ICE Assistant Secretary John Morton promised sweeping changes to improve detention conditions.  According to Mr. Morton, the agency intended to take substantial steps to transform the sprawling patchwork of approximately 350 jails and prisons into a non-penal, “civil” detention system.  

While advocates were initially encouraged by Mr. Morton’s promise to overhaul the detention system and move away from holding immigrants in jails and prisons, the reality on the ground is that little has changed.  ICE must do more to address the human rights violations occurring in both the detention and enforcement systems.

There have been a number of positive developments in the past year.  However, these are to achieve meaningful impact in the lives of those detained.  The reality is, under President Obama’s Administration, more people are being detained and deported than under the Bush Administration, in a manner that fails to meet the United States’ human rights obligations under international law.

Some of the steps ICE has taken toward achieving reform include last month’s launch of an Online Detainee Locator System, a tool allowing, for the first time, families and attorneys to find loved ones and clients in ICE custody.  In May, ICE piloted a risk assessment and custody classification tool, which will allow the agency to screen individuals to determine whether they should be released. Historically, ICE has routinely detained people that should have been released.  

ICE has also discontinued the detention of families and children at the T. Don Hutto Facility in Taylor, Texas, which received national attention when the facility’s substandard conditions became the subject of lawsuits. Today, ICE uses the Hutto facility, which is privately owned and operated by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), to detain only women.

But there is much to be reformed. In May, Hutto came under scrutiny once again when allegations surfaced of a series of sexual assaults by a CCA guard against females detained there. “We were heartened that the Obama Administration ended family detention at Hutto and took on reforming the broader immigration detention system,” said Rocío Villalobos, of Texans United for Families, a member organization of Detention Watch Network. “Today, the majority of women at Hutto are seeking refuge from violence in their home countries.  This spring’s sexual assault incidents show how detention subjects people to more violence, which deepens their trauma, rather than protects them from it.”

ICE has also appointed “detention managers” to work in 42 facilities and hired experts in detention management and health care. However, their presence has meant little change for detained immigrants. For example, a detention manager was working at the Hutto facility at the time the sexual assaults occurred, calling into question the detention managers’ ability to adequately oversee detention operations.

The Detention Watch Network, Heartland Alliance’s National Immigrant Justice Center, and the Midwest Coalition for Human Rights, are releasing a report evaluating ICE’s progress in October 2010.

 A snapshot of the reports reveals that human rights violations persist.  In Florida, the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center reported that gross deficiencies in the provision of medical care continue, as well as the unnecessary detention of individuals with serious medical conditions. For example, a woman at the Baker County Detention Center who had been detained for five years remained in custody despite her deteriorating health, which involved a heart catheter, ulcers, and lung and orthopedic problems.  

Multiple reports were received of inappropriate treatment of detained immigrants with mental health issues, including one man that was placed in solitary confinement after he exhibited suicidal tendencies. In New Jersey, the Middlesex County Coalition for Immigrant Rights described only two working toilets for a dorm with a maximum capacity of 48 that held 60 men.  Groups also report that individuals continue to be subjected to indefinite detention – in some cases for years.

Most recently,  the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has found that “U.S. deportation policy violates fundamental human rights because it fails to consider evidence concerning the adverse impact of the destruction of families, the best interest of the children of deportees, and other humanitarian concerns.”

Photo courtesy of www.machamexico.com

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.

How has the immigration system fared one year under Obama’s presidency?

In early 2009, President Obama appointed the governor of border-state Arizona Janet Napolitano, and a supporter of comprehensive immigration reform, as the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). For many, it was a sign that the administration would tackle immigration reform as a priority. In her first week in office, Napolitano ordered a sweeping internal review of DHS, aimed at identifying key areas for reform. March 2010 marks the one year anniversary from that week. So how much has changed for immigration?

For this we turn to a new report released by the Immigration Policy Center which compares actual reform undertaken by the agency to reforms that were recommended to them by immigration policy experts, academics and community members that would instill fairness and due process.

While DHS struggles towards reform it has failed to meet some key expectations… The department has engaged thoughtfully and strategically on some issues… However, turning principles into practice has fallen short, and the practical realities for individuals caught up in the system have not necessarily changed for the better.

DHS has done well in some areas. Focus has been shifted away from from harsh worksite raids to a focus on  employers who hire undocumented workers. Welcome detention reforms have been announced particularly focused on healthcare and conditions of detention. A precedent was created whereby women who have suffered domestic violence are eligible for asylum. The Department was  efficient in responding to the earthquake in Haiti, granting Temporary Protected Status to Haitians in the U.S. and humanitarian parole to 500 orphans.

But the spirit of reform has been strangled by an “over-reliance on enforcement policies”. There has been little growth in community alternatives to detention or legally enforceable standards and people continue to face poor medicare care and substandard conditions. 2009 has seen the growth of partnerships with state and local law-enforcement that arm them with the power to enforce immigration law even though this is a federal responsibility. There has been a growth in programs that criminally prosecute those caught crossing the border, draining resources away from prosecution of serious crimes such as drug and human trafficking.

And the failures. There has been little tangible progress in the areas of due process, with the immigration court system continuing to remain overburdened, and an appeals process still compromised. The continued expansion of state and local law enforcement programs like Secure Communities and 287(g) programs have led to accusations of racial profiling and large scale prosecutions of individuals with no criminal history.

But although there are many areas where reform is desperately needed, ultimately these will be administrative measures carried by an administrative agency DHS. But the fundamental problems of the system will continue to grow until Congress works up the courage to institute just and humane immigration reform. We can only hope that the White House and Congress gives the broken immigration system the attention it deserves, so that rather than counting down another year of incomplete policies and inefficient reforms, we have a just and human immigration system that accounts for the realities on the ground.

Photo courtesy of fairimmigration.files.wordpress.com

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Take action to protect Haitians in the U.S. who have no place to safely return

-1On January 12th, 2010, the already impoverished Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince, was hit by an earthquake that measured 7.0 on the Richter scale. Frighteningly, that is all that is quantifiable about the disaster at the moment, with thousands trapped under rubble and the scale of destruction to lives and infrastructure yet unknown.

So how much more devastation does the nation of Haiti need to go through before the U.S. administration is convinced that the country is not equipped to cope with the thousands of Haitians who are currently facing deportation back to Haiti?

Between August and September of 2008 Haiti was hit with four tropical cyclones (Fay, Gustav, Hanna and Ike) which killed 800 people, displaced many thousands, and destroyed the economy of the country. Directly following those disasters the Bush administration faced pressure to grant Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to Haitians living in the U.S., a temporary amnesty, given in 18-month increments to immigrants stranded in the U.S.

The Secretary of Homeland Security may designate a foreign country for TPS due to conditions in the country that temporarily prevent the country’s nationals from returning safely, or in certain circumstances, where the country is unable to handle the return of its nationals adequately…Ongoing armed conflict (such as civil war); An environmental disaster (such as earthquake or hurricane); Other extraordinary and temporary conditions.

But not only did the Bush administration fail to include Haiti within the nations whose citizens are granted TPS (namely Sudan, Somalia, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua), but soon after the Obama administration called for the deportation of 30,000 Haitians that President Bush had ordered. Unable to copy with the influx of so many deportees, the Haitian government ceased issuing travel documents for them, resulting in hundreds of deportees being held in detention centers even after they were flown back to Haiti.

At the time in March 2009, many  expressed outrage at the administration’s treatment of Haitian immigrants and demanded TPS for Haitians in the U.S. based on the horrific “conditions on the ground” in Haiti,

Gonaives, Haiti’s third largest city, is uninhabitable; most of the nation’s livestock, food crops, farm tools and seeds destroyed; irrigation systems demolished; collapsed buildings throughout the country; 800,000 people left homeless and more than 800 dead. USAID estimates that 2.3 million Haitians now face “food insecurity,” reeling from prices 40 percent higher than in January.

One year and another natural disaster later, the pressure to grant TPS to undocumented Haitians in the U.S. has reached its peak. On Wednesday, three Republican Member of Congress, Reps. Lincoln Diaz-Balart and Mario Diaz-Balart, and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen wrote a joint letter to President Obama calling for immediate granting of TPS to Haitian nationals. Democrat Alcee Hastings added his name to the appeal, stating it was “not only immoral, but irresponsible” to not allow Haitians to remain in the U.S. Additionally, New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand addressed a letter to the President saying,

Now is certainly not the time to deport Haitians into an overly burdened country…Haiti clearly meets the criteria for TPS designation and extending it would be one way to help address this catastrophe, as well as alleviate additional burdens on American assistance workers.

Yesterday, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano temporarily halted deportations to Haiti, and today Secretary of State Hillary Clinton indicated they may be moving towards TPS for Haitians. As it stands, those Haitians already in detention, such as Haitian activist Jean Montrevil, will continue to remain detained.

In their appeal to Obama, a number of immigrant advocacy organizations such as National Immigration Forum expressed their relief at the U.S. government’s support for Haiti but asked for more long term revisions of the immigration policy,

We find some consolation that the Administration is acting quickly to mobilize relief efforts to Haiti. We support the latest Immigration and Customs Enforcement announcement that it is halting all deportations of Haitian immigrants for the time being, in light of the devastation caused by yesterday’s earthquake…These are the right immediate initial responses. But as part of its long term relief effort, the Administration must grant Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to Haitian immigrants who are now in the U.S.

Granting Haitian nationals TPS would release those in detention centers, unite them with their families, allow them to live and work legally in the U.S., and contribute to the economy in the U.S. and recovery of Haiti. It would also help undocumented Haitians across the U.S. Overall it would impact 125,000 Haitians.

When President Obama said, “You will have a friend and partner in the people of the United States today, and going forward,” we certainly hope that support extends itself to aiding those Haitians who are here.

We urge you to sign a petition, sign a letter to Obama and join a facebook group in support of TPS. And if you are looking for a reliable way to contribute to the earthquake, donate here.

Human Rights First report tells us that broad immigration laws label bona fide asylum seekers as “terrorists”

AsylumReportAccording to a Human Rights First report released last week, since 2001, over 18,000 refugees and asylum seekers who pose no threat to U.S. security have not received protection from the U.S. government due to the overly broad provisions of Immigration law, and the expansive way that they have been interpreted by federal immigration agencies. The report, entitled, ‘Denial and Delay: The Impact of the Immigration Law’s “Terrorism Bars” on Asylum Seekers and Refugees in the United States’, outlines the pervasive, unintended consequences of the “terrorism” provisions in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) and provides some recommendations for swift and comprehensive solutions to the problem.

Out of the 18,000 cases, 7,500 are in limbo after having been put on hold or delayed by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Most of these are people who are already in the U.S. and have filed for permanent residency. However, the delays are thwarting efforts of these people to bring over their family members, many of whom remain in stuck in very dangerous and difficult situations in their home countries.

While this situation can be traced back to provisions instituted in the 1990s, the USA Patriot Act of 2001 and the 2005 Real ID Act expanded the scope of laws dealing with “terrorist organizations”, “terrorist activity” and “material support” in ways that ensured that thousands of men, women and children who comprised of people who were abducted by rebel armies, who fought for democracy in their countries, and doctors who provided medical care to the wounded in accordance with their occupational obligation, were denied asylum even while they had fought for causes that the U.S. supports.

At the center of the report lie personal stories of those affected by these provisions. The most striking is that of a young girl who was kidnapped by a rebel group in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, forced to take part in armed conflict, and threatened for her work against the use of children in armed conflict. Her application for asylum has been on hold for a year because of her previous involvement in armed conflict.

In another case, a refugee from Burundi was detained in U.S. county jails for 20 months because DHS and the immigration judge that heard his case decided that he had provided “material support” to a rebel group when the rebels had, in fact, forcibly robbed him of 4 dollars and food. Sachin Karmakar, a Bangladeshi man who advocated for religious minorities and was facing persecution for his work, was granted asylum but not permanent residency because he was involved in Bangladesh’s 1971 fight for independence from India.

Calling for reform, the report details that although DHS has been trying to deal with this situation by granting discretionary waivers, it has been piecemeal and is clearly not enough. They suggest that Congress amends the notion of “Tier III terrorist organizations” and the definition of “terrorist activity” to be more specific and appropriate.

The INA’s sloppy definition of a “Tier III terrorist organization” is causing groups that the U.S. does not treat as “terrorist” in any other context to be defined in this way…refugees who pose no threat to the U.S., and are not guilty of any conduct for which the U.S. would legitimately want to exclude them, are being denied the protection they need or are unable to obtain permanent residence or reunited with their spouses or children. Any non-citizens who do pose a threat to the U.S. or who are guilty of actual terrorist acts or other crimes are already covered by other provisions of the immigration law, so that the “Tier III” definition is being used overwhelmingly against people who were not its intended targets.

Moreover the Human Rights Watch report demands that DHS -

adopt a more effective and fair approach to granting “waivers”, one that allows people initially applying for asylum, refugee status or other relief to be considered for waivers based on an individualized assessment of their actions, that permits prompt adjudication of the large mass of applications for permanent residence and family reunification of people…and that ensures that no refugee is deported without being considered for a waiver if eligible for one under law.

Anwen Hughes, the author of the report, says that the speed at which Congress and the Obama administration is dealing with situation is disastrously slow. She said that change is critical in order to ensure that the immigration laws are no longer used to exclude legitimate refugees from the protection the U.S. is committed to offering them.

Photo courtesy of www.humanrightsfirst.org