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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

Native American identity & rights – past, present and 2049

“Nothing is as sweet as self-determination.” – Zia, a character in Breakthrough‘s America 2049.

This week, in Breakthrough’s Facebook game America 2049, players continue their mission in the fictional country, Independent Pueblo Nation, that has seceded from America. Players meet Zia, the Secretary of State for the Pueblo Nation, and discover the plight of the Native Americans historically as well as in the future. Zia is fighting for the right to self-determination of the Native American peoples.

The theme stems from the very foundations of our country and the periodic mistreatment of Native American tribes since then. The future in America 2049 may be dystopic, but it synthesizes our past with a potential future where history not only repeats itself but is also reversed. The Independent Pueblo Nation in America 2049 forms in what is now the American southwest and enforces strict immigration regulations against Americans trying to enter the newly formed republic. Among the many artifacts of Native American struggles in the past, a painting depicting ‘The Trail of Tears’ provides the most notable bridge to history. Starting in 1838, the Cherokee nation was forced to relocate from their home in southeastern United States to internment camps and Indian Territory, which is present-day Oklahoma. Their treacherous march over such a long distance and through harsh conditions claimed the lives of an estimated 4,000 people. In 1987, Congress designated the Trail of Tears National Historic Trail, and since 1993, the National Park Service (NPS) and the Trail of Tears Association have been working together to remember and commemorate the struggles of the Cherokee people.

Watch a message from ‘M,’ a character in America 2049, as she speaks about the historical treatment of Native Americans and their condition in America of the future:

Native American rights have come a long way today and the various tribes and communities proudly contribute to the diverse fabric of America. Most recently, the Chahta tribe in St. Tammany Parish, New Orleans, have received an award from the U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Census, for its support in “raising awareness of and inspiring participation in the 2010 census.” Chief Elwin ‘Warhorse’ Gillum of the Tchefuncta Nation was happy with the outcome of the 2010 Census, and emphasized the importance of allowing Native Americans to be self-identify their tribal affiliations. Gillum emphasized that more work still needs to be done, in time for the next census, so even more Native Americans can be identified in the count. Stressing the importance of holding on to American Indian heritage and identity, Gillum said-

If a chicken laid an egg, I don’t care if a duck sat on it, it’s still going to hatch a chicken. My grandmother was Indian, I am still an Indian today…If they can change a chicken into another bird before it hatches, I’ll let them change my race… People have fought all their lives to tell their children who they are. We are not altering history, we are confirming it. We’re eliminating racial barriers [to document all the Native American tribes].

It is important that we maintain the progress on the rights of Native Americans in our country, to avoid a return to the past or an even more troublesome future, such as the one America 2049 alerts us to. Despite many positive moves towards ensuring equal rights for these communities, some incidents do threaten this progress. In a recent development in New Mexico, for example, members of a Navajo group are claiming that the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s granting of a uranium mining license on land surrounded by the Navajo Reservation is tantamount to human rights violations. The Navajo group claims that the mining will contaminate their water supply, causing them long term health problems. Such issues hint at a past where Native American rights were regularly infringed upon for the sake of development. In an ongoing climate where the situation is considerably better than it was in the past, such incidents must be addressed swiftly and fairly to ensure an even better future ahead.

We leave you with a Pueblo Indian prayer that speaks of faith and resolve, a sentiment that applies to each one of us as we work towards a future of equality, dignity and justice-

Hold on to what is good, even if it’s a handful of earth.
Hold on to what you believe, even if it’s a tree that stands by itself.
Hold on to what you must do, even if it’s a long way from here.
Hold on to your life, even if it’s easier to let go.
Hold on to my hand, even if someday I’ll be gone away from you.”

Photo courtesy of The Granger Collection, New York.

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Fictional ban on interracial unions and abortion in America 2049 becoming all too real today

Games, it turns out, imitate life — sometimes eerily so — just as history so often threatens to repeat itself. This week, Breakthrough’s ongoing Facebook gaming event, America 2049, tackles two major issues that become linked within the narrative of the game: interracial unions and abortion. During gameplay, players encounter the story of Bonnie, a privileged white Southern woman who is pregnant with the child of a black man: the product, that is, of an illegal relationship. But that’s not the only reason she’s in hiding; she’s also at risk of being forced to abort her baby as a “mercy” (”A baby like that wouldn’t know who its own kind is,” her father says), even though abortion too is illegal in this scenario. That’s where class comes in, too: it’s made clear that while families like hers have access to skilled abortion care, women less fortunate — and forced to seek out back-alley providers — die at a rate of 180,000 per year.

Sounds a lot like our pre-Roe v. Wade past, but also, more and more, like our near future. Last month, a Public Policy Polling survey (PDF) found that a majority of Republican voters in Mississippi would support a ban on interracial marriage. Meanwhile, on May 4, all House Republicans and 16 Democrats voted to pass H.R.3, the so-called “No Tax Payer Funding for Abortion Act,” which Ms. Magazine has called “misleading and punitive.” (For one thing, there is no federal funding of abortion.)

The bill will now go to the Senate, which is Democrat-controlled, leading many to believe that it will likely not pass. The Obama administration has also promised to veto the bill if it comes across the President’s desk.

The Mississippi poll results and the H.R.3 passage in the House happened independently, but their timing is apt. The scenario explored in America 2049 connects back to our country’s history of anti-miscegenation laws, which were not repealed until 1967. The story of Bonnie, the character in the game, echoes that of an interracial married couple Richard and Mildred Loving, whose fight for equality led to the historic 1967 decision to legalize interracial unions.

The Lovings are the subject of the new documentary The Loving Story that screened recently at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York and will air on HBO in February 2012. Richard Loving, a white man, met Mildred Jeter, a woman of African and Native American ancestry, in 1951 in a small town in Virginia. When Mildred was 18, she became pregnant. She and Richard went to nearby Washington, D.C. and got married, since Virginia laws at the time prohibited interracial marriage. A few weeks later, back in Virginia, the Lovings were arrested for their union and banished from the state for 25 years. The Lovings reached out to legislators and advocates in Washington, D.C. and, after a long fight, they won their right to be together. On June 12, 1967, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down all remaining state anti-miscegenation laws and the Lovings returned to Virginia to live out the rest of their lives. The anniversary of the date, June 12, is now celebrated as “Loving Day“ by some interracial couples and increasing numbers of same-sex couples, who are currently fighting for their own right to marry.

Watch a testimonial by Bonnie, a character in America 2049, who speaks about the danger she is in for being in an interracial relationship and being pregnant with an interracial child:

The right to choose whom to love or marry; the right to control one’s body and future: they’re intimately linked. And at present — with H.R.3 only one of numerous legislative attacks on women’s human rights today — the latter truly hangs in the balance.

As Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, commented:

”True to form, the House majority has cast a wide net in its attack on women’s health and rights — this time, trying to use the tax code to eradicate all insurance coverage for abortion. This move is the height of hypocrisy, because politicians who regularly rail against big government today voted to raise taxes on millions of families and small businesses — merely to stop them from purchasing insurance plans that cover abortion.”

Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, added:

”Despite facing intense public backlash for bringing the government to the brink of shutdown over defunding Planned Parenthood, Speaker Boehner and his allies have resumed their war on women with the passage of H.R.3. This bill is so extreme that it manipulates the tax code to advance anti-choice policies and could spur the IRS to audit rape and incest survivors who choose abortion care.”

The H.R.3 bill also affects the rights of physicians and their freedom to properly care for their patients. While women’s rights are greatly affected by this potential piece of legislation, the providers who would administer the abortions safely will be even more restricted and possibly at greater risk. The Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health (PRCH) is one such group of providers who have committed to providing reproductive medical care, especially to those who with limited financial means. The organization supports the right of their doctors to deliver such care without becoming a target. Last night in New York, the PRCH Abortion Provider Awards recognized the dedication, compassion and tenacity of Dr. Eleanor Drey and Dr. Curtis Boyd. Said Dr. Boyd: “We are now facing the most repressive and aggressive legislation against women that we’ve seen since the 1950s.” How will we treat women and families of all sorts in the 2050s? You decide.

Photo courtesy of america2049.com

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“With Osama Bin Laden dead, can we have our rights back?” – How the effects of 9/11 could lead to America 2049

On Sunday, May 1, President Obama announced the death of Al Qaida leader Osama bin Laden, the notorious terrorist who spearheaded the 9/11 attacks against the U.S. While the predominant reaction from around the world has been one of relief and joy, bin Laden’s death reminds us of just how big an impact the 9/11 attacks had on us and the way we perceive and treat each other.

While the U.S. was already grappling with the immigration issue, 9/11 triggered a major overhaul of legislation that imposed stringent restrictions on immigration and gave the government much greater power to infringe on the rights of citizens and visitors to this country. The U.S had essentially gone into lock-down mode domestically, and U.S. foreign policy became more aggressive. At the time of the attacks, Barack Obama was an local politician only known in Chicago, and largely unknown to the world. He wrote a short article for his local newspaper, the Hyde Park Herald, in which he reacted to the tragic events of that day and suggested a cautious approach to its repercussions. He stated-

The essence of this tragedy, it seems to me, derives from a fundamental absence of empathy on the part of the attackers: an inability to imagine, or connect with, the humanity and suffering of others. Such a failure of empathy, such numbness to the pain of a child or the desperation of a parent, is not innate; nor, history tells us, is it unique to a particular culture, religion, or ethnicity….

We will have to make sure, despite our rage, that any U.S. military action takes into account the lives of innocent civilians abroad. We will have to be unwavering in opposing bigotry or discrimination directed against neighbors and friends of Middle Eastern descent. Finally, we will have to devote far more attention to the monumental task of raising the hopes of embittered children across the globe—children not just in the Middle East, but also in Africa, Asia, Latin American, Eastern Europe, and within our own shores.

Obama’s emphasis on steering clear of blind rage and discrimination, as a way of blaming certain groups for the attacks, seems prophetic now. Over the last ten years, we have witnessed increasingly stringent immigration enforcement, and a steady dissolution of civil rights and attitudes towards immigrant communities, especially Muslim-Americans and South Asians. This view was echoed by Chris Hedges, a senior journalist and war correspondent who witnessed 9/11 and was plunged into its aftermath. In an address at a fundraising event on Sunday night as news of bin Laden’s death was creeping in, Hedges remembered-

When I was in New York, as some of you were, on 9/11, I was in Times Square when the second plane hit. I walked into The New York Times, I stuffed notebooks in my pocket and walked down the West Side Highway and was at Ground Zero four hours later. I was there when Building 7 collapsed. And I watched as a nation drank deep from that very dark elixir of American nationalism … the flip side of nationalism is always racism, it’s about self-exaltation and the denigration of the other.

The risks and backlash that both Obama and Hedges referenced have materialized over the last decade and placed the U.S. at a crucial crossroads where the decisions we take now will significantly impact the America of the future. In its fifth week, Breakthrough‘s human rights Facebook game America 2049 takes players to their mission in Phoenix, Arizona, which has been in someway the epicenter of the immigration debate.  In Phoenix, players confront heightened debates around severely restricted immigration policies. Players are also confronted with a scenario where ethnic celebrations and festivals have been outlawed for fear that “they promote dissent and unnecessarily emphasize differences between populations.” The game presents players with choices for how to address such a situation in the future, and by referencing historical artifacts, shows how our present could very well lead to the dytopic future that the game depicts. One example of this historical reference is a 1920s songbook – “O! Close the Gates.” (see photo) – that demonized immigrants in popular culture.

In Level 5 of America 2049, players also meet Cynthia Espinoza. Watch her testimonial about the need to preserve America’s multicultural heritage:

America 2049 addresses the rights of immigrants, including forced immigrant workers, in a country that has struggled to reach a rational solution to the “foreign threats” amplified by the attacks of 9/11. The attacks changed the immigration issue in America dramatically, sparking off a wave of new legislation or a tightening of existing ones. In an intriguing article, the Southern California Public Radio (SCPR) outlined five ways in which Osama bin Laden — and the 9/11 attacks he masterminded — altered the immigration landscape in the U.S. These include, perhaps most notoriously, the establishment of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which has been responsible for a growing number of deportations each year, as well as the now-canceled Secure Border Initiative network (SBInet) or the “virtual fence” that was planned for the entire stretch of US-Mexico border. The erosion of basic rights accelerated with the Patriot Act, which considerably expanded the government’s ability to conduct surveillance over Americans.

The calls for comprehensive immigration reform have intensified over the past few years, making it even more pressing to address the rights of immigrants who have no criminal records and are working hard to become part of American society. Another aspect of the immigration debate that is brought up in America 2049 is the degradation of immigrant worker rights and forced migration. While the tragedy of 9/11 caused the government to enforce stricter anti-immigrant legislation, one of the side effects has been the neglect of immigrant worker conditions. In America 2049, players discover an actual account by a Puerto Rican laborer at Camp Bragg, Rafael F. Marchan, who protested against his deplorable working conditions in the early 1900s. Unfortunately, such situations still exist today, as reported by the New York Times about a story of “500 Indian men hired by Signal International of Alabama for rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina were confined in squalid camps, illegally charged for lodging and food, and subject to discrimination and abuse.” The fact that such forced servitude of immigrant workers continues a hundred years on from the example in America 2049 proves that prompt action must be taken to restore basic human rights for everyone.

So while the world celebrates the end of a tyrant, we must remember that more than celebrating a death, we must take this opportunity to work towards lasting peace and respect for basic rights for everyone, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion or background. Osama bin Laden caused much havoc around the world and claimed countless innocent lives, but letting his actions be used as a reason for the dissolution of respect and rights for hard working, innocent people can simply not be justified. As a statement that circulated virally soon after bin Laden’s death was announced said- “If Osama Bin Laden is dead, can we have our rights back?” Ten years on, let’s make that our main goal.

Photo courtesy of Norton, et. al., A People and a Nation (5th ed., 1998)

Re-enactment of Chinese immigrant exclusion and recent quelling of protests show a future without diversity and freedom

“The only way to make sure people you agree with can speak is to support the rights of people you don’t agree with.”
- Eleanor Holmes Norton, civil rights activist and Democrat Delegate to Congress representing the District of Columbia.

The freedom to disagree forms the bedrock of a thriving democratic society. Today, as we witness numerous incidents of suppressed protests and dissent around the world, the call for this freedom becomes even more pertinent. It also reminds us of America’s fortunate position as a society where considerable disagreement is allowed to foster healthy debates on issues. This freedom of speech and debate is inextricably linked to our nation’s fabric as a confluence of immigrants. This week, Breakthrough‘s ongoing Facebook game America 2049 addresses the issue of quelling dissent in the future, reminding us that the freedoms we have today can easily be restricted for the sake of supposed national security. On Saturday, April 30, Breakthrough is also partnering with the Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation (AIISF) in San Francisco to host the Interrogation Reenactment Event,* an opportunity for visitors to witness a historical scenario and learn about its repercussions today. From the event organizers-

…actors in period costumes will reenact an actual interrogation of Chinese immigrants attempting to overcome the Chinese Exclusion Acts [of 1882], the first American legislation to exclude a specific race or nationality from immigration to this country. We will see what these intended immigrants went through at the island’s Administration Building, and the outcome of their ordeal. Following that, well-known professors Judy Yung, professor emerita at UC Santa Cruz, and Bill Ong Hing, law professor at the University of San Francisco, and a recent immigrant who is a college student will participate in a panel discussion relating the Angel Island experience to what immigrants face today.

The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 provided a 10-year absolute moratorium on Chinese labor immigration. It was then extended in the form of the Geary Act, which added further restrictions on Chinese immigrants already in the United States. Chinese immigration was stringently regulated until 1943, when all these exclusionary acts were repealed in favor of more rational quotas on immigration for each nationality. The targeting of specific immigrant groups (based on their ethnic background) in the U.S. exists in other forms even today with some states passing stringent immigration acts that tend to affect the Latino communities primarily.

Harsh immigration laws affect our country to this day. The diversity of opinion that comes with healthy immigration forms the unique social, cultural and political fabric of our country. Today, as the people of several Arab nations are rising to claim their rights for equality and fair governance, some of their own governments are actively halting their protests. While the future of the ‘Arab Spring’ remains to be seen, this moment in history points to the greater issue of freedom of speech. Americans are fortunate to have much greater freedoms in protesting and dissent, but we must remain aware of this and not take it for granted.

In America 2049 this week, players are confronted with a situation where the authorities have sanctioned the use of a chemical agent in the water supply, SerennAide, that would pre-emptively quell any dissenting activity, making the population completely passive. Whether fictitious, as shown in Joss Whedon’s 2005 space western film Serenity (in which a chemical agent was added to the air processors of a planet to calm the population), or the very real new “calming” drink ‘Just Chill’ from a California-based company, a SerennAide-like scenario is not too far from reality. Most importantly, SerennAide is also a symbol for institutional measures that have sought to prevent dissent or difference of opinion for the sake of national good throughout our history. In the bleak future of America 2049, the situation is at an extreme, raising awareness for the value of diversity of opinion.

A society that is so heavily based on immigration and diversity, such as the United States, must remain aware of its uniqueness and strengths. We must learn from our past, from decisions we made then to actively prohibit specific groups of immigrants, and understand how such practices today or in the future will only damage our social framework.

Watch a message from ‘M,’ the masked leader of Divided We Fall, the presumed terrorist group in America 2049. ‘M’ speaks about the the importance of dissent and difference of opinion to nurture a healthy democracy, especially as authorities in 2049 sanction the use of SerennAide:

*Be sure to check out the ferry schedule to allow for more time to arrive to the Immigration Station. For more information on ferry, tickets and schedule, visit AIISF’s event page.

Click here to “Like” the America 2049 Facebook Page.

Photo courtesy of guardian.co.uk

Comments on Breakthrough’s I AM THIS LAND give great insight and hope for the future

From our b-listed blog-

Thank you for all your amazing submissions to the I AM THIS LAND contest. The contest is now officially closed for entries but stay tuned as winners will be announced on Feb 1!

While the videos themselves were overwhelming and impressive, we were also amazed at all the viewers who posted engaging and insightful comments.

From looking at the production value of entries to discussions on diversity and the editorial content of the submissions, I AM THIS LAND’s comments section is informative, inspiring and encouraging. They are as important as the videos submitted! As one mentioned:

“If we believe the aphorism that “two heads are better than one,” then a multitude of traditions, values, and ideas can only be a tremendous resource as we face the challenges and opportunities of this century.”

Viewers suggested looking beyond the physical appearance of a person, beyond their clothes, the color of their skin and their accents. Many discussed how perceptions are formed, the way we quickly form an idea based on preconceived notions.

“If each one of us were to trade places with another race, culture for a period of time, this world would be more understanding to each other.”

Many left personal anecdotes and stories, and had a platform to express their own emotions. The attempt by some of the filmmakers to break away from the stereotypical portrayal of certain communities and issues of sexuality was applauded by others.

At first I had tears in my eyes – “Gay, straight, crooked” – but then it was hard not to laugh “Eyes like Bobby” etc. I’m stunned – such a simple, loving, hysterical coming out should be had by any and all who want one. This message will help to make it so. I’m sure of it. Bravo!

We are proud to have hosted I AM THIS LAND hope these conversations can continue. Check out all entries and feel free to continue write to us with comments and feedback.

How is 2011 faring so far? Ethnic studies and the 14th amendment

At this moment it is very hard to focus on anything but the tragic incident that marked the beginning of this year when a man in Tucson, Arizona opened fire on a public meeting killing 6 people and gravely injuring 14 others last Saturday. While this tragedy cannot be undone, there are a number of issues around which we can hope for some positive developments in 2011.

In Arizona, the first week of 2011 saw all classes in the Tucson Unified School District’s Mexican-American ethnic studies program being declared illegal by the State of Arizona, in accordance with a state law came into effect on January 1st. Tom Horne, Arizona’s newly elected Attorney General, declared the program illegal on account of it allegedly teaching Latino students that are being mistreated, and encouraging the students to become activists for their race. In the capacity of State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Horne had written the law challenging the ethnic studies program last year. The bill, HB 2291, was passed by the State Legislature in April and signed into law by Gov. Jan Brewer in May of 2010. Defending his latest action deeming that the Tucson district’s Mexican-American program was not in compliance with state standards, (while allowing similar programs for black, Asian and Native America students to continue) Horne said that “They teach kids that they are oppressed, that the United States is dominated by a white, racist, imperialist power structure that wants to oppress them.” Under the law, Tucson would stand to lose 10 percent of its state education funds if the classes are not discontinued, amounts to nearly $15 million.

According to Augustine F. Romero, director of student equity in Tucson schools, the debate over the ethnic studies program demonstrates the strong anti-Latino sentiment in the state, and highlights the pressing need for such programs to continue to exist, giving the students a chance to be proud of their heritage. Mr. Romero posed the question in an interview with the New York Times-

Who are the true Americans here — those embracing our inalienable rights or those trying to diminish them?

In an even deeper affront to inalienable American values, on January 5th, a coalition of legislators from over 14 states announced a plan to join together in a state compact and deny citizenship rights to the children of undocumented immigrants. The compact, clearly motivated by anti-immigrant feeling, is designed to challenge the 14th amendment to the U.S. constitution which states that those born in the United States will be considered U.S. citizens, irrespective of race, class or creed. This was closely matched by Rep. Steve King’s introduction of legislation H.R. 140 before the new session of Congress, aimed to take away the citizenship of children born in the U.S. to parents who were undocumented.

The state compact is being led by Senator Russell Pearce of Arizona, the state Senator best known for introducing the controversial and harsh anti-immigrant law, SB1070 in 2010. The legislators that introduced the plan unveiled a plan that seeks to take birthright citizenship, which is a Federal issue, into state hands by establishing state citizenship laws that deny citizenship rights to those born to parents who are undocumented, and then developing a compact between the various states by which the laws are upheld in all those states. The group claims that their model state legislation aims to halt the “misapplication of the 14th amendment,” which they say is sapping taxpayers funds and attracting further immigration to the U.S. Ultimately, the goal of the coordinated state-level strategy is to force the Supreme Court to take up the issue.

The plan is a joint effort of anti-immigration legislators like Russell Pearce and Kansas Secretary of State-elect Kris Kobach, and State Legislators for Legal Immigration, an anti-immigration group of lawmakers which had representatives from Alabama, Arizona, Delaware, Idaho, Indiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Texas and Utah. Senator Pearce told the Washington Times-

I’m not stopping until the problem is solved, and clearly the problem is not solved. The cost is destroying this country, and it can no longer be ignored…The 14th Amendment was never intended to be applied to illegal aliens. They [the sponsors] specifically said it didn’t apply to foreigners or aliens. That amendment belongs to the African-Americans of this country. It’s their amendment.

Critics are suggesting that in fact, the proposal is completely unconstitutional and deliberately misunderstands the 14th amendment. By suggesting a two-tiered system of citizenship by which those who are born to parents who are undocumented receive different birth certificates than those who are born in the U.S. to parents who are legal residents, the compact goes against the fundamental values of the constitution. Elizabeth Wydra, writing for Politico, sums it up clearly-

The 14th Amendment, which was drafted and ratified against a backdrop of prejudice against newly freed slaves and various immigrant communities, was added to the Constitution to place the question of who should be a citizen beyond the politics and prejudices of the day. The big idea behind the 14th Amendment is that all people are born equal, and, if born in the United States, are born equal citizens — regardless of color, creed or social status. It is no exaggeration to say that the 14th Amendment is the constitutional embodiment of the Declaration of Independence and lays the foundation for the American Dream. Because of the 14th Amendment, all American citizens are equal and equally American. Whether one’s parents were rich or poor, saint or sinner, an American child will be judged by his or her own deeds.

As long as the Federal government avoids enacting a comprehensive reform of the existing immigration system and dealing with an issue that is in their jurisdiction, restrictionists will continue to introduce laws that threaten the fabric of the United States. At the start of this year, as we hope that Rep. Giffords recovers her health, we must recall the values of equality, dignity and respect that are intrinsic to the strength of this country and remember that when we deny human rights to some, we jeopardize the rights of all.

Photo courtesy of colorlines.com

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Standing Up for Your Faith Could Get You Arrested in Douglasville, Georgia

Guest blogger: Azadeh Shahshahani from the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia

Yesterday, I joined Lisa Valentine in front of the Douglasville Municipal Courthouse to announce a lawsuit brought by the ACLU and the ACLU of Georgia on her behalf.

This was the same courthouse that Mrs. Valentine attempted to enter in December 2008 to accompany her nephew to his traffic hearing, only to be arrested and jailed for standing up for her right to wear a head covering according to her practice of her Muslim faith. “When we started out for the courthouse that morning, I had no idea I was in for the most humiliating and shocking day of my life,” said Mrs. Valentine.

After being informed by an officer that she would have to remove her head covering, Mrs. Valentine attempted to leave the courthouse and expressed her frustration with the policy to the officer. She was prevented from leaving, handcuffed, and taken before the judge who sentenced her to 10 days in jail for contempt of court. Mrs. Valentine was then taken to the booking area, where she was made to remove her head covering. She was detained first at the temporary holding facility at the courthouse and then in jail for several hours without her head covering before police determined that Mrs. Valentine did not fight with officers and that her “actions were primarily verbal and her resistance passive.” She was released that evening.

By locking up Mrs. Valentine and forcing her to remove her head covering in public, officers not only showed extreme indifference to her fundamental right to practice her faith, but also humiliated her and caused her unnecessary emotional suffering. For weeks, Mrs. Valentine could not sleep well. She felt deeply hurt and ashamed by the experience. “To be forced by someone else to remove my hijab in public was humiliating, and a serious violation of my privacy, modesty, and right to practice my faith,” said Mrs. Valentine.

In July 2009, the Georgia Judicial Council adopted a policy clarifying that religious head coverings can be worn in Georgia courthouses. The policy, which balances courts’ security concerns with individuals’ fundamental right to religious liberty, was presented by the ACLU of Georgia to the Supreme Court of Georgia Committee on Access and Fairness in the Courts at a June 2009 meeting. Mrs. Valentine was there to testify about the experience she faced at the Douglasville courthouse. But the policy serves as a recommendation to courthouses, and is not binding. The lawsuit we brought yesterday against the City of Douglasville and the arresting officers charges that Mrs. Valentine’s First and Fourth Amendment rights were violated, and asks the court to ensure that religious head coverings will be allowed in the Douglasville courthouse.

“I hope that no person of faith will ever have to experience the type of egregious treatment I suffered at any Georgia courthouse because of the expression of my beliefs,” Mrs. Valentine said yesterday. We hope so as well. It is outrageous enough for the government to hamper people’s free exercise of religion. Arresting and unlawfully jailing Americans for standing up for the right to practice their faith further violates the fundamental tenets of our democracy.

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

Watch the new Restore Fairness documentary and “Face the Truth” about racial profiling

“I’ve seen a lot in my life but to be degraded…  not just stripped of my clothes, being stripped of my dignity, was what I had a problem with.”

Kurdish American Karwan Abdul Kader was stopped and stripped by local law enforcement for no reason other than driving around in the wrong neighborhood. This is one among many stories featured in a powerful new documentary “Face The Truth: Racial Profiling Across America”, produced by Breakthrough’s Restore Fairness campaign and the Rights Working Group, showcasing the devastating impact of racial profiling on communities around our country, including the African American, Latino, Arab, Muslim and South Asian communities.

The documentary brings to life a new report by the Rights Working Group released along with 350 local and national partners on the one year anniversary of the Face the Truth campaign to end racial profiling. Both the video and report urge Congress to pass the End Racial Profiling Act (ERPA), and are featured in a Congressional briefing on Thursday, September 30th in Washington D.C. attended by advocates, police chiefs and community organizers.

Besides compelling personal stories, the documentary features interviews with notable law enforcement and civil society leaders such as Hilary O. Shelton (NAACP), Dr.Tracie Keesee (Division Chief, Denver Police Department) and Karen Narasaki (Asian American Justice Center), all of whom decry racial and religious profiling as a pervasive problem that is not only humiliating and degrading for the people subjected to it, but one that is unconstitutional, ineffective as a law enforcement practice, and ultimately damaging to community security.

Together, we can stop the erosion of our fundamental human rights. Watch the video and take action now.

POLL: Do you support the passage of the End Racial Profiling Act (ERPA)?

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