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Which states are going to great lengths NOT to be Arizona?

Outraged over Arizona’s new law that will inevitably lead to racial profiling and civil rights issues, the Washington D.C. City Council has introduced two bold bills that counter Arizona’s SB1070, both of which have been met with unanimous approval from Council members.

In the first one, the Council sponsored a (non-binding) bill that encourages all businesses in the state to boycott Arizona by cutting off business with it as long as the harsh legislation continues to be implemented. The bill introduced by Councilman Michael A. Brown also calls on the D.C. government to divest themselves of any Municipal bonds issues by Arizona and to not participate in any conferences held in the state. The move to boycott the state of Arizona is not unique to D.C. but has been carried out by many other City Councils including those of Hollywood, San Diego, San Francisco, Oakland and Boston. The City Council’s of New York and Los Angeles are considering similar measures against Arizona to protest the bill that has caused so much controversy in the past few weeks.

The second bill, introduced in Washington D.C. by Council members Phil Mendelson and Jim Graham is called the “Secure Communities Bill of 2010″ and is a much more aggressive measure aimed at the federal government’s Secure Communities program. This bill, also unanimously supported by the Council, is groundbreaking as it prohibits D.C. Metropolitan police from sharing information with Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Secure Communities Program. The Secure Communities program enlists local law enforcement to collaborate with immigration authorities by providing them with all identity and fingerprint information pertaining to anyone that is arrested by the local police. Washington D.C. became a part of the Secure Communities Program last November, but now police won’t be allowed to co-operate with ICE. In a statement made yesterday, Council member Mendelson, the bill’s main author said-

Contrary to its name, the Secure Communities program makes the public less safe by creating fear and mistrust of the police and undermining community policing…I’m proud that so many of my colleagues are joining me in introducing this bill to offer a strong counter-statement to the one recently made in Arizona.

Stressing that immigration enforcement was a federal issue, Phil Mendelson expressed his reservations for the Secure Communities program, saying that it often led to racial profiling by allowing police to conduct an immigration check on person even before they had been found guilty of a crime.

The “Uncover the Truth” campaign brings to light the ways in which collaborations between federal immigration and local police, carried out through the 287(g) and Secure Communities programs have become notorious for racial profiling and misuse by local police, in addition to providing precedents for legislation like that recently introduced in Arizona. Led by the The National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON), the campaign gets local groups to question collaborations between immigration and local police and hold lawmakers accountable through press conferences, community forums, reports, vigils and discussions. Speaking about the legislation introduced in the D.C. Council, Sarahi Uribe of NDLON hoped that other City Councils would follow suit and blamed Secure Communities for the “disaster in Arizona.”

Not to be left far behind in the battle against inhumane and unjust immigration policy, New York City Governor David A. Paterson announced that he was considering setting up a “Special Immigration Board of Pardons” to review cases of New York immigrants who are facing deportation based on minor criminal convictions. In this path-breaking move, Gov. Paterson has said that the board will consider the cases on an individual basis, distinguishing major offenses from major convictions. Gov. Paterson said that he was motivated to rectify a system that was “embarrassingly and wrongly inflexible” in deporting people without discretion or consideration of their families and specific circumstances. At present there are only a few such cases pending, but once the panel is set up, they are expecting hundreds of petitions for pardon.

Inspired by the case of Qing Hong Wu, a 29-year-old man, who despite living in the U.S. since age five, faced deportation to China because of a minor infraction he committed when he was a teenager, Gov. Paterson decided to do his bit to restore fairness into immigration policy in New York. Speaking on Monday at the Court of Appeals he said-

To be sure, there are some individuals whose crimes are egregious or who pose a threat to public safety. And they are justly removed from the United States. But there are others for whom the situation is far less clear. For them, our national immigration laws leave no room to consider mitigating circumstances. But in New York, we believe in rehabilitation. And we believe in renewal. And we believe in second chances.

Attributing Gov. Paterson’s timing to a general critique of harsh immigration laws and even harsher enforcement, a New York Times editorial compares it to Arizona’s new law-

Mr. Paterson has shown courage and common sense at a time when the national debate about immigration shows little of either. His move was unconnected to the radicalism in Arizona, which just passed a law making criminals of every undocumented person within its borders, and greatly empowering the police to arrest people they suspect are here illegally. But it inevitably calls to mind the bad example of Arizona.

It is heartening to know that lawmakers and leaders in different parts of the country are engaging in the pressing issue of immigration, and making use of their authority to take a stand against laws like Arizona’s SB1070 that attack the fundamental rights and dignity of residents of this country. We only hope that continued pressure will put an end to the law, so that the people of Arizona can go about their daily lives without constant fear of being harassed.

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POLL: Do you support Gov. Paterson's "Special Immigration Board of Pardons?"

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Be inspired and be inspiring. Human rights can start with YOU.

There’s nothing better than a real-life inspirational story. Last week we brought you the amazing story of New York’s favorite District Attorney, 90 year old Robert Morganthau, and his commitment to equal justice for all. Today, we are happy to bring you another story confirming that New York stalwarts of justice are on a roll.

A New York Times article tells the story of Ex-Judge Michael A. Corriero and his commitment to supporting Qing Hong Wu, a man who he sentenced as a juvenile 15 years ago, for misdemeanors on the “mean streets” of New York. Motivated by Wu’s reputation as a stellar student, and intent on creating a juvenile criminal system that promised a chance for reform, Corriero promised Wu that if he got educated, worked hard, and reformed his life, he would stand behind him if ever he needed it. Today Wu desperately needs Corriero’s help and Corriero, long-retired, is doing everything he can to ensure justice.

Qing Hong Wu moved to the U.S. with his parents when he was 5 years old. With his parents working long hours to make ends meet, he got mixed-up in some bad company at the age of 15. At his trial, the teenager pleaded guilty, saying, “I’m sorry and I really hope that you will forgive me for all the pain and trouble I made them go through.” Court transcripts show that Judge Corriero called the case a tragedy and gave Wu the following advice,

This is not the end, this is really the beginning of a new period for you. I want you to educate yourself. Continue to read, follow the rules. You will want to get a job and become a meaningful, constructive member of society to help your family. I will be there to make sure that you can.

A model inmate, Wu took Judge Corriero’s advice very seriously. He was released from his nine year reformatory sentence in three years and worked towards turning his life around; he studied hard and supported his mother by working his way up to the position of Vice-President of IT at a management company, and is now engaged to be married. Inspired by the example of his mother, sister and fiance becoming U.S. citizens, he applied for citizenship last November, 15 years after having served his time. Immediately, Wu became subject to 1996 laws that make no allowance for those who have rehabilitated their lives and earned a place in society. He was locked up by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement in a detention center in New Jersey and is facing deportation to China, a country that he has not lived in for 25 years.

At the time that Mr. Wu pleaded guilty, he was not made aware of the consequences to his immigration future that could be a direct result of his sentence. Currently, the only way that Mr. Wu’s deportation can be stayed is if he is granted a pardon that erases his criminal record. While in detention, Wu wrote a letter to Judge Corriero, reminding him about the promises that they had made to each other 15 years ago. Amongst the many appeals for his release from employers, friends and family is the strong appeal that Judge Corriero, now 67 and retired, has made to Governor David Paterson, saying that Mr. Wu has earned his second chance and should be allowed to remain in the country.

Judge Corriero is of the strong opinion that while on the one hand the justice system aims to rehabilitate those accused of crimes, especially juveniles, so as to prevent against the trap of them repeatedly re-entering the criminal system, a parallel law enforcement system is working directly against this by ignoring the details of individual cases and blindly enforcing old laws. In his book, “Judging Children as Children: A Proposal for a Juvenile Justice System”, Judge Corriero envisages a more flexible justice system that supports and nurtures those who have committed mistakes and learnt from them, allowing them to change their lives rather than perpetuating a vicious cycle.

Now the Executive Director of Big Brothers, Big Sisters of New York City, the judge is going to great lengths to do something for Mr. Wu. We always believe that human rights begins with an individual. Judge Corriero has made a personal effort, and we really hope that this, combined with all the support that Mr. Wu has received, will make a difference.

In the mean time, if you want to be an inspiration, join SAALT’s new video project, “Say it Loud: Share Your Story for Immigration Reform”, As Congress and the Administration debate immigration reform this Spring, SAALT is collecting video testimonials from individuals who have a personal story to tell about how they might have been affected by the broken immigration system and what immigration reform would mean to them. These stories of personal experience will serve as powerful and inspiring tools in the mobilization towards immigration reform, so if you have something to say, then create a video with your personal take on this question, “Why do you believe the U.S. immigration system needs to change”. Send it to SAALT and join the likes of Morgenthau and Judge Corriero by taking a step for human rights!

UPDATE: We are very pleased to tell you that this story has a happy ending. As a result of Judge Corriero’s personal appeal for justice and all the support that Mr. Wu has received since he was detained in November, Governor Patterson announced his pardon on Saturday. Gov. Patterson said that based on the exemplary way the Qing Wu served time, and rose from his mistakes by turning his life around, he has been pardoned for the misdemeanors he was charged with in his youth. The full and unconditional pardon that Mr. Wu received should prevent the Federal Government from deporting him, but should also allow him to be eligible for citizenship, the application that got this entire process started in the first place. A statement released by the Governor said that in his mind, Wu’s case was a chance to draw attention to “the harsh inequity and rigidity of the immigration laws.” We are with Judge Corriero in hoping that this does not remain one family’s happy ending, and is, instead, a signal of change for the criminal justice system and the immigration system so that they work together to allow people to recover from their mistakes and reclaim their lives.

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POLL: Do you think that Qing Hong Wu should be deported?

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