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DESERTED: The Human Rights Crisis On Our Soil

When I traveled to Arizona with Ishita to create Checkpoint Nation, I wrote:

It was the first time I had experienced the overwhelming size of the desert sky. The sunset was magnificent, and the endless stretch of cacti and desert rocks were lit up with the last pink moments of twilight. But the sunset’s beauty was overpowered by what I had seen in the rest of Arizona: men and women in shackles (feet chained to waist, waist chained to wrists), a morgue filled twice-over with John & Jane Does, a wall that divides families and ancient lands. From this view, the sunset had a whole different meaning: it marked the beginning of one more cold, waterless night for so many migrants forced to hide in the militarized desert.
Our video camera could hardly capture all that we saw, but we knew that this footage had to be shared with the world.

There is a human rights crisis on our soil that no one is talking about. Migrant men, women, and children are driven by extreme poverty to cross the U.S.-Mexico border — and dying for it. One one side of our border wall: flood lights, empty desert, and countless human remains. On the other: discarded water jugs, and empty desert. The border wall now stretches across Arizona in the easiest places to cross, so that migrants are purposefully funneled into the most treacherous conditions. The remains of over 6,000 human bodies have been found in the desert since militarized immigration policies started in the mid 1990s. And for every body discovered, there are many more not found — and innumerable families who will never know what happened. No matter your opinion on immigration reform, this is a crisis that all of us, as humans, are responsible for addressing — and ending. Join with Breakthrough: WATCH. SHARE. ACT.

For information on how to end this crisis on our border, visit Coalición de Derechos Humanos and No More Deaths.

VIDEO CREDITS: Directed, filmed and edited by Dana Variano with Ishita Srivastava; music by Denver Dalley; post-production audio by Hobo Audio. Produced by Breakthrough.

Communities speaking out against injustice targeted by ICE

On Saturday, September 17, early in the morning, a man in Shelbyville, Tennessee, woke up to find Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents in his bedroom. They had entered his home through an unlocked door and and took him into custody. The residents of Shelbyville are facing an unexpected, alleged, government backlash after a hearing held on September 12 by several nonprofits, where Latino residents testified against federal, state and local law enforcement authorities, accusing them of racial profiling and illegal detention. Representative from the U.S Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) were present at the hearings.

ICE also raided the homes and businesses of at least two people that had organized the hearing, sparking immigrant rights advocates to call for a federal investigation into the misconduct of the local authorities and ICE agents. While ICE denies that the raids were conducted in response to the hearings, Shelbyville residents and community advocates refuse to believe that there is no connection between their speaking out against the authorities and these ICE raids just five days later.

The community has reacted strongly to these developments, claiming that ICE’s goal is to intimidate the residents, especially the undocumented immigrants that live there. Bill Geissler, longtime Shelbyville resident and business owner, commented:

The real problem with these sorts of violations is that everyone needs to follow the law.  If ICE is going after immigrants who they suspect have broken laws, why aren’t they following guidelines that are intended to protect the civil liberties of Shelbyville residents?

Furthermore, the Rights Working Group and the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition have joined forces in sending a formal letter to the Office for Civil Rights and Liberties (OCRL) as well as the DOJ in Washington DC to protest these actions by ICE, and encourage national leaders to do something. In their letter to the OCRL (see PDF here), the advocacy groups state:

..These actions have spread fear throughout the Latino community, which feels targeted and increasingly under siege by law enforcement – whether it be ICE, state or local police. The result has been a severe chilling of speech in the community and increased fear of government agents. The Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties was in attendance at this forum for the purpose of listening to community concerns about civil rights abuses by state and local police and ICE. Days later, this same community was targeted by an immigration enforcement action leading to the chilling of free speech and further civil rights abuses.

The town of Shelbyville has been in the spotlight for some time especially because of director Kim A. Snyder’s compelling documentary, Welcome to Shelbyville. The film looked at the community at a crossroads, as the longtime African-American and White populations adapted to the rapidly growing Latino and Somali immigrant communities moving in. While exploring immigrant integration, the film unravels the interplay between race, religion and identity. As the film’s website states, “Ultimately, the story is an intimate portrayal of a community’s struggle to understand what it means to be American.”

This question of being American and the integration of immigrants is also the theme of Breakthrough’s latest video, Checkpoint Nation? Building Community Across Borders that sheds a light on post-9/11 racial profiling that has been mandated by laws such as Arizona’s SB1070. In particular, it tells the story of Maria, nine months pregnant, who was stopped along with her family by police for no discernable reason. What followed was a nightmarish situation as Maria went into labor and found herself giving birth to her son with immigration agents – and not her husband – by her side.

The video has been highlighted in a Huffington Post feature titled Undocumented Women Forced To Give Birth While Shackled And In Police Custody which looks at the stories of women who have been in similar situations to Maria and the ongoing climate of fear and inhumane conditions that is being perpetuated by law enforcement authorities. Mallika Dutt, president and founder of Breakthrough, said about the issue:

We talk about cops in other parts of the world, and we say ‘Oh, they don’t respect human rights,’ but where are we now? If something as important and sacred as someone giving birth can no longer be treated as human, where are we?

While law enforcement authorities must change their policies to end the unjust treatment of immigrants in communities across the country, some communities are taking their own steps to work towards unity and end discriminatory violence. In 2008, a series of attacks against Latino residents of Patchogue, New York and the murder of Marcelo Lucero, an Ecuadorian immigrant, shattered the community of the small town.

For two years after the murder, the town’s Mayor Paul Pontieri, the victim’s brother, Joselo Lucero, and Patchogue residents worked to heal the community and move forward as a unified and diverse group. This story is told in a poignant documentary, Not In Our Town: Light in the Darkness, that follows the healing process of the community to work towards a a community that respects its own diversity and doesn’t give way to divisive politics. The film premiered on PBS on September 21 and is also available for local screenings.

Comprehensive immigration reform is of utmost importance in our nation now so unjust and discriminatory actions like those committed by ICE and other authorities in Shelbyville and other communities are stopped. We must, as a nation, find a solution that works with immigrants in a dignified and humane way to mend a system that has been broken for a long time.

Join Restore Fairness today and lend your voice to the struggle for dignity, equality and justice.

Photo courtesy of standing-firm.com

Looking forward to 2011, we hope 2010 goes out with a bang (and a DREAM)!

In this past year we witnessed many negative events: An all-time record number of deportations with over 400,000 men, women and children deported, most of whom were not guilty of crimes; reports of medical negligence, sexual assault and the denial of due process in detention centers; unfulfilled promises of immigration reform masked by the threat of raids; the introduction of harsh anti-immigrant legislation such as SB1070, mandating racial profiling and fueling anti-immigrant sentiment around the country; the expansion of partnerships between Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and local police with the introduction of programs such as Secure Communities; the “anchor-baby” bill; the list goes on and on.

From anti-immigrant actions and racial profiling to bullying and homophobia; from fear mongering to the extreme, divisive rhetoric of the mid-term elections, it is difficult to look back at 2010 and feel hopeful. In the midst of this, however, it is important to note that these events engendered unprecedented activism, and the mobilization and coming together of diverse communities, resulting in a number of victories in the name of restoring dignity, justice and equality. The rigorous debate over Arizona’s controversial SB1070 law resulted in sports men and women, musicians, artists, politicians, faith leaders, business owners, young people, as well as the Department of Justice and President Obama, taking a stand against a law that was unjust and offensive, and finally deemed unconstitutional. The March for America in Washington D.C. on March 21st saw 200,000 people, workers, LGBT groups, faith-based groups, etc., come out in support of comprehensive immigration reform, and even without the passage of CIR, the momentum built during that time was palpable for months after. Most recently, following a rally against Secure Communities in New York City, a judge ordered ICE to be transparent and release documents related to Secure Communities and the ability for localities to opt-out of the program.

And two weeks before the end of the year, we are just hours away from a Senate vote on the DREAM Act, a legislation that would provide a path to citizenship for young people that came to the U.S. as children, have completed high-school, and want to pursue college or military service. Every year, around 65,000 young, undocumented boys and girls- including honor rolls students and star athletes- graduate high school and then find themselves high and dry, without the chance to pursue their careers. A number of them, like Eric Balderas, find themselves facing deportation with the chance of being sent back to a country they are supposed to call ‘home’ but have no memory of. For David Cho, a senior honors student at UCLA who can’t count on entertaining job offers the way that his friends are, there are not a lot of options. So instead of young, able, bright people like David and Eric following their careers, pursuing their dreams, giving back to the country by supporting the economy and making the most out of the taxpayers money that has paid for the k-12 education, they are busy mobilizing support to ensure that the Senate passes the DREAM Act tomorrow morning.

Since Sen. Reid announced that he would be holding true to his campaign promise and bringing the DREAM Act up for a vote in the Senate as a stand-alone measure, the DREAMers and all the activists who support the passage of the DREAM Act have been working extremely hard to put pressure on Senators to pass the bill. As it stands, the Senate will vote on the version of the bill that that was passed in the House last week, by around 10am tomorrow. In addition to the DREAMers themselves, who have come out of the shadows to tell their individual stories and have mobilized unprecedented support for the movement, the Latino community is seeing this as a pivotal moment. Speaking to the New York Times, Janet Murguía, president of the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) said-

This will be a watershed vote that Latinos will not forget. There is nowhere left to hide, in the minds of Latino voters. There will be members who choose to stand for innocent children and members who do not. This vote will be an indication of who stands for our families and our communities.

As we get closer to the vote, an increasing number of people are speaking up, urging Senators to vote in favor of the bill. Representatives from the Department of Defense, heads of educational institutions, religious leaders, heads of labor organizations and workers unions, officials from the Department of Homeland Security, and hundreds of others have spoken up in support of the bill and why it is crucial to the integrity and prosperity of the country. President Obama himself made calls to Democrat and Republican senators to garner support for the bill.

Currently, the legislation needs 60 Senate votes in order to be end debate, at which point the House-approved version of the bill will be finally voted on, on Sunday. If passed, it will go directly to President Obama for a signature.The momentum that has brought the movement to this point (since the DREAM Act was first introduced almost a decade ago) is solely the result of intense grassroots activism on the part of students. DREAMers and DREAMActivists have worked tirelessly, putting themselves on the line by coming out as undocumented and basically pushing this piece of legislation forward with their cross-country walks, vigils, hunger strikes and their storming of Capitol Hill online and off. But they can’t do it alone. So on the eve of this historic vote, and the eve of the New Year, call your Senators right now and tell them to vote YES on the DREAM Act.

What better way to conclude 2010 than by ensuring that the hard work and courage of the DREAMERs pays off and the DREAM Act passes in the Senate tomorrow morning, less than two weeks before the end of this year.

Pick up the phone, write a letter, and make a wish for the New Year. See you then!

Photo courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

Restore Fairness at progressive gathering Netroots Nation 2010 in Vegas

Restore Fairness is presenting two panels on immigration at Netroots Nation in the last week of July . Netroots Nation is an annual convention that amplifies progressive voices online and in-person and provides space for discussing ways to improve the use of technology to influence the public debate.

On Friday, July 23 (3:00 p.m.-5:45 p.m.), we will be screening Breakthrough’s 9-minute video Restore Fairness, which calls for the U.S. government to bring back due process and fairness to the immigration system. The screening also encompasses other films on immigration, race and the need for reform from across the country including Speaking in Tongues, a film on language and its importance at breaking down barriers between ourselves and our neighbors, and Not In Our Town, focusing on the murder of a 37-year-old Latino immigrant Patchogue, New York. Screening info is available here:  http://www.netrootsnation.org/node/1499

On Saturday, July 24 (10:15 a.m.-11:30 a.m.), we will be presenting within a panel on “Crimmigration Under Obama: Pushing back against the “enforcement-only” immigration regime” along with . Immigration enforcement under the Obama administration has continued almost unchanged from the Bush administration. While Department of Homeland Security officials have promised to reform the immigration detention system after dozens of deaths in detention, the effort has been cosmetic and designed to forestall more rigorous oversight. Despite moving away from massive workplace raids, the agency has continued home and business raids under the radar, with the result that overall levels of deportation have actually increased under President Obama. Meanwhile, legislative reform is stalled in Congress. Find panel info here: http://www.netrootsnation.org/node/1407

The fifth annual Netroots will be held July 22–25 at the Rio Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas. Netroots Nation 2010 will include panels led by national and international experts, prominent political, issue and policy-oriented speakers; a progressive film screening series, and the most concentrated gathering of progressive bloggers to date. Speakers include Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Minnesota Senator Al Franken and Congressman Raul Grijalva.

To learn more about our broken immigration system and to take action visit Restore Fairness.

Amid Oil Spill Crisis, U.S. Authorities Search for Undocumented Immigrant Cleanup Workers

Talk about misplaced priorities. In the midst of a national crisis over the gargantuan BP oil spill that is destroying the water, marine eco-systems, and coastal livelihoods along the Gulf Coast, Federal immigration officials have decided to focus their resources on checking the immigration status of the people that BP has finally employed to begin cleaning up the massive destruction that the oil is causing along the coast.

Check out this amazing exclusive report co-produced by Feet in Two Worlds (English) and El Diario (Spanish)-

Federal immigration officials have been visiting command centers on the Gulf Coast to check the immigration status of response workers hired by BP and its contractors to clean up the immense oil spill.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in Louisiana confirmed that its agents had visited two large command centers—which are staging areas for the response efforts and are sealed off to the public—to verify that the workers there were legal residents.

“We visited just to ensure that people who are legally here can compete for those jobs—those people who are having so many problems,” said Temple H. Black, a spokesman for ICE in Louisiana.

After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, thousands of Hispanic workers, many of them undocumented, flocked to the region to help in the reconstruction of Louisiana’s coastal towns.  Many stayed, building communities on the outskirts of New Orleans or finding employment outside the city in oil refineries and in the fishing industry.

These Hispanic workers have been accused of taking away jobs from longtime Louisiana residents, and the tension has grown as fishing and tourism jobs dry up, leaving idle workers to compete for jobs on the oil spill clean-up effort.

Black explained that ICE and Border Patrol began to monitor the response efforts shortly after job sites were formed following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill that began on April 20 and has yet to be contained.

ICE, a branch of the Department of Homeland Security, visited two command centers, one in Venice and the other in Hopedale, twice in May. ICE agents arrived at the staging areas without prior notice, rounded up workers, and asked for documentation of their legal status, according to Black.

The command centers, located in the marshes a few hours east of New Orleans, are among the largest, with hundreds of workers employed at each site.

“We don’t normally go and check people’s papers—we’re mostly focused on transnational gangs, predators, drugs. This was a special circumstance because of the oil spill,” said Black.

“We made an initial visit and a follow-up to make sure they were following the rules,” he said.

“These weren’t raids—they were investigations,” he added.

There were no arrests at either site, according to the ICE spokesman. But he said if undocumented workers had been discovered, they “would have been detained on the spot and taken to Orleans Parish Prison.”

Etanisla Hernandez is a response worker at the Hopedale Command  Center - Photo: Annie Correal

BP and one of the companies that holds a large contract in Hopedale, Oil Mop, did not return calls requesting comment. A high-level employee for another contractor in Hopedale, United States Environmental Services, who did not give her name, said, “I just got a phone call. I heard they were visiting.”

St. Bernard Parish, where the Hopedale site is located, assured that the local government had nothing to do with the checks and had no knowledge of them.

The ICE agents who visited the sites reminded subcontractors of immigration laws and their obligation to use programs including E-verify, an electronic system run by the Department of Homeland Security which checks workers’ immigration status.

An Oil Mop subcontractor called Tamara’s Group has hired more than 100 Hispanic workers from the region to work at the Hopedale site. The owner of Tamara’s Group, Martha Mosquera, said that when ICE came in the first week of May, “they gathered them all in the tents and they asked for their papers.”

One of the workers in this group, a 61-year-old Mexican woman named Cruz Stanaland, rememberes ICE’s visit: “They were civilians, they weren’t wearing uniforms and they were driving in cars that didn’t have the Immigration logo…dark cars with tinted glass.”

Another worker from the same group, Etanlisa Hernández, who is 30 and from the Dominican Republic, said, “There were five or six men. They were very polite.”

Although Mosquera said her company had no problems because all of her employees were legally employed, some pro-immigrant leaders criticized the government’s quickness to enforce immigration requirements during a crisis.

“It’s like, ‘round everybody up and leave the oil on the beach,’” said Darlene Kattan, Director of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Louisiana. “In a catastrophic situation like this, I think we should be more well-reasoned.”

“People are desperate for jobs,” she added, “And they think that if someone looks like an undocumented immigrant they’re taking the food from their mouth.”

Clarissa Martinez de Castro, Director of Immigration and National Campaigns at the National Council of La Raza, an advocacy group in Washington DC, said, “the clean-up effort is a gargantuan effort and we have to ensure that the crews are working in a way that protects their health and safety, and that should be the priority.” She added, “if ICE thinks that there are bad apple employers, they should go directly to them instead of harassing clean-up crews that we all know are doing a crucial job.”

Despite the visits by ICE, some undocumented workers have been hired by BP contractors. One fisherman from El Salvador, who didn’t want to reveal his name because he was afraid of being deported, has been laying down boom alongside the marshes for a week.

“You’re always afraid Immigration is coming,” he said.

He explained that although he didn’t feel safe doing the clean-up work, he took the risk because the job pays $360 a day. “I came because I have a wife, and kids, I came to give them a better life. My uncle’s family lent me money to come here. Maybe this will help me pay them back.”

Listen this week to NPR’s Latino USA for Annie Correal’s report on the latest from the Gulf Coast.

Photos courtesy of news.feetintwoworlds.org

Doing the right thing can get you deported

When Abel Moreno made a call to 911 to report a police officer assaulting his girlfriend, he had no idea of the consequences of his actions. He now faces deportation for reporting a crime he witnessed.

It all began with a traffic stop in Charlotte, North Carolina. Officer Marcus Jackson stopped Abel Moreno and his girlfriend and allegedly fondled the young woman. Moreno, 29, responded by calling 911 to report it, at which point the police officer ordered him to end the phone call and arrested Abel and his girlfriend for “resisting arrest.” This charge was soon dropped after investigators found it to be false. However, because the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office which is in charge of the county jail where Abel Moreno was held is one of the 67 local law enforcement agencies in the country that participates in agreements with immigration to enforce immigration law, Abel now faces deportation by the end of the year. Following Abel’s charge of assault against Officer Jackson, five other women came forward saying that he had tried to assault them as well, leading to an investigation that resulted in Officer Jackson being fired from the police department and facing 11 counts of “sexual battery, extortion and interfering with emergency communication.”

Despite the police acknowledging that Abel should not have been arrested and that his call helped them uncover serious wrongdoings committed by of one of their officers, Abel faces deportation. A judge gave him six months deferment on his deportation only because he is a witness to a criminal investigation. By responding to Moreno’s courageous act by putting him in deportation proceedings, the system seems to be working against itself, setting an example that creates fear among the community, discouraging people from coming forward and doing the right thing.

Abel Moreno’s case is emblematic of the problem that lies at the core of the flawed 287(g) program. The program, managed by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE), allows for agreements with local law enforcement to enforce immigration law and detain suspected immigrants for deportation. Countless examples have showed that the program, while intended to focus on Level 1 offenders who are guilty of serious crimes, targets a large proportion of people stopped for minor offenses, or none at all, as in the case of Abel. This has resulted in a grave misdirection of resources as well as allowing for a situation where local police are unable to do justice to their primary job – that of ensuring the safety of the community – because the community does not trust their local law enforcement.

In spite of the Department of Homeland Security’s own critique of the 287(g) program, cities are continuing to sign on to it, and incidents such as Moreno’s continue to take place. Arizona’s new draconian anti-immigrant law which a number of state legislatures including North Carolina are planning to adopt is simply a step further in this mismanaged, flawed system of immigration enforcement that allows badly supervised and inefficient partnerships between federal immigration and local police that often result in blatant racial profiling. Unfortunately, in addition to expanding the 287(g) program, the Obama administration has also come up short in another aspect of immigration enforcement – raids.

Early on in his presidency, President Obama had expressed distaste for the Bush administration’s large-scale worksite raids which he critiqued for terrorizing communities and tearing families apart. While these militarized raids of the Bush era have ceased, enforcement continues to rise with no comprehensive immigration reform policy in sight. ICE’s actions over the past year indicate that even their “softer” enforcement policy that is meant to target employers rather than workers ends up hurting workers the hardest. In a recent case, federal immigration authorities went through the personnel records of workers at ABM, a large building service company, and pressurized the company into firing hundreds of its workers. Considering that these workers were unionized and being given adequate pay with benefits, it seems to go against ICE’s Worksite Enforcement Advisory that claims to go against “unscrupulous employers (who) are likely to pay illegal workers substandard wages or force them to endure intolerable working conditions.” An article about this case holds that-

Curing intolerable conditions by firing or deporting workers who endure them doesn’t help the workers or change the conditions, however. And despite Obama’s contention that sanctions enforcement will punish those employers who exploit immigrants, employers are rewarded for cooperating with ICE by being immunized from prosecution.

With President Obama’s decision to send troops to secure the border, concrete evidence about the rapid increase in deportations, more and more cases of people like Abel Moreno being persecuted for being contributing members of society, and electronic raids like the one above, there is no doubt about the fact that the current administration has pushed the throttle on immigration enforcement while doing little to ease the legislative stalemate on reform.

On a more positive note however, the three amendments brought to the Senate yesterday regarding increased enforcement, detention and border security were all shot down by Democrats who suggested that the additional resources pledged by President Obama were sufficient for the moment. It is heartening to know that the call to action to urge Senators against the amendment generated 25,000 phones and faxes, an effort that no doubt played a role in them being defeated through collective voices of dissent.

Photo courtesy of msnbc.com

POLL: Do you think Abel Moreno should be deported?

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Nationwide vigils tell immigration agencies that they are “completely out of control”

Between the discovery of Haitian earthquake survivors in immigration detention (later released), an agency memo showing support for larger amounts of immigrant deportations, and the agency’s own admission of mismanagement, an embarrassed Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) needs to be held accountable for its actions.

While civil rights groups have continued to be critical of ICE over the past year, the first protests against their recent misadventures has been spearheaded by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). Starting yesterday, the SEIU mobilized their members to participate in vigils outside ICE offices across the country to call on the agency to bring itself back to the enforcement goals it had set at the beginning of the Obama administration last year, goals that it seems to have lost sight of.

One of the country’s largest labor unions, the SEIU held prayer vigils outside USCIS offices in Oakland and Sacramento yesterday and outside ICE headquarters in Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Jose, Boston and Minneapolis today. Speaking on behalf of thousands of workers and human rights advocates across the country, Executive Vice-President of SEIU, Eliseo Medina said-

When DHS first announced its enforcement goals – including its increased focus on worksite I9 audits – SEIU was optimistic that the Obama Administration would clean up past wrongdoings…Instead, the agency has added flames to the fire by replacing worksite raids with electronic raids. Field officers are acting like cowboys, more interested in adding scalps to their belts than targeting criminals and abusive employers, which would actually help solve our immigration problems. As a result, communities lose, businesses lose, families lose, America loses.

President Obama has expressed his commitment to the need for immigration reform saying that tearing apart families, terrorizing communities through raids, and denying due process to those detained, were all indications of a broken immigration system that needed to be fixed. With the expansion of an unsuccessful 287(g) program and an increase in deportations in the past year, it is clear the the system is failing. SEIU activists are demanding-

Rather than wasting limited funds to chase hard-working, tax-paying cleaners, home-care providers and nannies, the activists will call on President Obama and Secretary Janet Napolitano to re-focus ICE enforcement on its original goals of targeting crooked employers and criminals.

The human repercussions of political decisions made behind closed doors cannot be under estimated. If the promises that the administration made are not upheld, retaliatory actions will continue to take place across the nation.

Watch the latest video from America’s Voice, telling us how the current state of immigration is “More Rouge Than Right”-

Photo courtesy of thenation.com

POLL: Will these rallies have an impact on ICE policies?

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Delaying immigration reform gets expensive

Sirens, helicopters, immigration agents with guns swarming into factories and homes, this was standard game for immigration raids during the Bush administration. But all that was supposed to change during President Obama’s tenure. In a disturbing turn of events, documents procured by the Washington Post have exposed a senior-ranking Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) official explicitly stating that even while deportation of those with criminal charges has risen, the overall number of deportations is “well below the agency’s goal” and what is needed is a reversal of the downward trend of deportations.

Rather than reflect the plans of the Obama administration that is committed to an enforcement agenda focused on immigrants that commit serious crimes, the exposed ICE memo has laid out a plan that will -

pump up the numbers by increasing detention space to hold more illegal immigrants while they await deportation proceedings; sweep prisons and jails to find more candidates for deportation and offering early release to those willing to go quickly; and, most controversially, include a “surge” in efforts to catch illegal immigrants whose only violation was lying on immigration or visa applications or reentering the United States after being deported.

In keeping with this plan, ICE field offices in Dallas, Chicago and Northern California have set their agents an incentive system that calls for them to process 40-60 cases in a month in order to earn “excellent” ratings. Such a policy encourages agents to target “easy” cases rather than focus on high risk, criminal cases that take longer to process.

ICE immediately distanced themselves from Chaparro’s memo.

Our longstanding focus remains on smart, effective immigration enforcement that places priority first on those dangerous criminal aliens who present risk to the security of our communities. This focus has yielded real results – between FY2008 and FY2009, criminal deportations increased by 19%… Significant portions of the memo cited in The Washington Post did not reflect our policies, was sent without my authorization, and has since been withdrawn and corrected.

Mixed signals from an agency known for its harsh implementation of detention and deportation policies. A report published by the Center for American Progress weighs the fiscal damage that would result from mass deportation of all immigrants, the alternative to comprehensive reform that is championed by immigration hardliners, and the results should worry us all.

Based on federal spending on border enforcement and deportation for 2008, the report estimates the cost of detention and deportation for 10.8 million undocumented immigrants present in the U.S. at around 200 billion dollars. Referring to the option of mass deportation as the “status-quo on steriods”, it points to this option as a highly irresponsible one that would require “$922 in new taxes for every man, woman, and child in this country.” The bad news, the National Immigration Forum puts this number on the lower side.

The good news. Americans aren’t buying this option and are demanding immigration reform in record numbers. The Public Religion Research Institute asked American voters (predominantly white Evangelicals, Catholics and Mainline Protestants) what they think about immigration reform, and found-

Two-thirds of Americans believe in a comprehensive approach that offers illegal immigrants an earned path to citizenship. Overwhelming majorities of those asked believed that immigration reform should be guided by values of fairness, security, dignity and keeping families together.

On the other side is Public Agenda, a non partisan group that decided to find out what immigrants think about their lives in the United States. What did they find?

The overwhelming majority of immigrants say they’re happy in the United States, and would do it all over again if they could. Immigrants “buy in” to American society, for themselves and their children. They rate the United States as an improvement over their birthplace in almost all dimensions, and most say they expect their children to remain in this country. A solid majority says that illegal immigrants become productive citizens and an overwhelming 84 percent support a “guest worker” program

So what’s next? We’ve marched. We’ve rallied. We’ve practically shouted from rooftops demanding immigration reform. And now it’s time to make sure that we get some concrete action. With the current system broken, expensive and inefficient, and with 10.8 million people eager to contribute to the nation’s economy and society, everyone should be on board for finding a sustainable, just, and humane solution to the current immigration system. We rest our case.

Photo courtesy of americanprogress.org

Coming up to March 21, raids undermine White House talk of immigration reform

With less than a week to go, advocates across the country are gearing up to “March for America,” the massive mobilization for immigration reform where 100,000 supporters are expected to descend on the nation’s capital on March 21st. In anticipation of the march, members of the National Day Labor Organizing Network (NDLON) have set off from different parts of the country to Washington D.C., with the aim of building support amongst local communities on the way and calling attention to the desperate need for reform of immigration laws that tear families apart and repress the immigrant community.

The Puente Movement, and their “Human Rights Caravan” of day laborers, advocates and community members left Phoenix on March 6th for a three-week, awareness-raising journey through Arizona that will culminate in Washington D.C. on March 21st. As part of their efforts, they have been organizing events in small towns and big cities to highlight the civil and human rights crisis in Arizona and other places where large communities are impacted by increased enforcement policies. On March 13th, the caravan was joined by Rep. Luis Gutierrez in Houston for a large rally that called for immigration reform. On the East Coast, several day laborers from New York and New Jersey began a 300-mile “Walk for Human Dignity” on Saturday, March 13th. Inspired by the courageous “Trail of Dreams” walkers, they will be stopping at various day labor corners, churches and worker centers on their way to Washington D.C.

So is all this buzz around the “march” reaching Washington D.C.? When President Obama announced three meetings on the issue of immigration reform last Thursday (March 11th), it seemed like the message that immigrant rights advocates across the country were sending out was finally hitting home. After the President had a “feisty” meeting with representatives from immigrant rights groups on Thursday morning, Sen. Schumer and Sen. Graham presented their legislative plans for the bill on comprehensive immigration reform in the Oval office. The Senators requested the President for his support in ensuring bipartisan support for the bill, and while the President committed his “unwavering support” to reforming immigration laws, he gave no concrete plan of action or time-line for moving forward. However, as summed up in a New York Times editorial about the meetings that President Obama had with immigrant rights advocates, with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, and with Sen. Charles Schumer and Sen. Lindsey Graham, “What we’d rather know is when the bill is coming, what it will look like and what he is going to do to get it passed. Enough with the talk.”

In a statement released by the White House after the meetings-

Today I met with Senators Schumer and Graham and was pleased to learn of their progress in forging a proposal to fix our broken immigration system. I look forward to reviewing their promising framework, and every American should applaud their efforts to reach across party lines…I also heard from a diverse group of grassroots leaders from around the country about the growing coalition that is working to build momentum for this critical issue. I am optimistic that their efforts will contribute to a favorable climate for moving forward. I told both the Senators and the community leaders that my commitment to comprehensive immigration reform is unwavering, and that I will continue to be their partner in this important effort.

As indicated by White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, it seems that while immigration remains an important issue for President Obama, it is not a priority in this election year, thereby making the concrete action that the Obama administration had promised within the first year of office, seem like a distant dream. It is clear that the meetings were a result of the mounting pressure for action on immigration reform from the grassroots and community level. In spite of the build-up towards the nation-wide mobilization on March 21st, the outcome of the meetings, beyond a reiteration of the promise of support, remains unclear.

As if to highlight just how pressing the need for reform of the broken immigration system is, while Obama was meeting with advocates who were frustrated with increased enforcement and deportations under the Obama administration and anxious to enlist his support for moving reform forward, a series of raids in Maryland led to the arrest and detention of 29 workers. Not far from D.C. on Thursday morning, Immigration and Customs Enforcement conducted simultaneous raids in Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties at two restaurants, several residences and an office. On Friday, advocates from the immigrant rights organization Casa de Maryland were back outside the White House, but rather than meeting with the President, they had gathered to protest the raids and splitting of families as a result of enforcement policies. Gustavo Torres, Executive Director of Casa de Maryland denounced the raids-

Everyday, tens of thousands of hardworking immigrants in Maryland leave their families to go to work, and tonight twenty-nine of our brothers are detained as their families are left to grieve…This is not an acceptable way to treat members of our community who work hard every day to make Maryland strong for us all.

In the face of the push for the nation-wide push for reform, the efforts of mobilization towards the March for America, and the Presidential meetings, it is not difficult to wonder about the timing of the ICE raids in Maryland. Either way, the continuation of such unjust and inhumane enforcement policies is unacceptable. We can only hope that the final push for support over the next week bears fruit and the impact of the march in Washington D.C. is felt by everyone.

A New York Times op-ed states that the “March for America” could be the “game changer” in the equation, so come to Washington D.C. and make it count! Like we said before, this is your march, so see you at the National Mall in Washington D.C.!

Photo courtesy of flickr.com/photos/americasvoice

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Down to the Wire: Vote for us in the next 3 hours for fairness in immigration

Picture 2We’re down to the wire and need your vote now! In the next three hours, you can vote to Restore Fairness to our broken immigration system on Change.org’s Ideas for Change in America and take us one step closer to an opportunity to have our voice heard in Washington.

Immigration reform has been proven to benefit the livelihood and stability of all of us, leading to a vibrant and viable future. So vote now! Here’s our idea.

Unite to pass immigration reform this year that “Restores Fairness” to our broken immigration system

Today, a broken immigration system denies basic human rights and due process to people who live here. In the aftermath of 9-11, immigrants have borne the brunt of harsh policies with the U.S. government allowing raids and arrests without warrants, holding thousands in inhumane detention conditions, and deporting people without a fair trial.

But there is hope. This year, people across America are coming together to ask for just and humane immigration reform, one of President Obama’s election promises. Right now, Senator Schumer is crafting a bill with Senator Graham to be introduced in the Senate after which it will move to the House. But there are divisive, nativist, voices out there that are trying to stop this.

Raise your voice for a just and humane immigration reform that:

1. Creates a fair path to citizenship for the millions of hardworking individuals and families who live here.
2. Creates fair enforcement practices that include -

- creating legally enforceable detention standards and implementing secure alternatives to detention so that we stop locking up harmless individuals, children and people with severe medical conditions
- stopping indiscriminate raids and the continued use of local law enforcement to enforce federal immigration law
- restoring the ability of immigration judges to consider individual circumstances before they detain and deport people

Immigration reform must also address border security, workers rights, family reunification and future flows of workers.

Photo courtesy of Change.org