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Watch two moms fight to stay together

In countries around the world, the month of June is celebrated as LGBT Pride month, and is a time for people to come together in affirmation of the LGBT community and the movement for gay rights. June was chosen as Pride month to commemorate the Stonewall riots of 1969 which led to birth of the gay rights movement. Pride month provides us with an opportunity to recognize the successes of the movement for equal rights and to celebrate the diversity of the community, but is also a time to look at the numerous battles that are still to be won before we can all live freely and equally, irrespective of our gender and sexual orientation.

This LGBT Pride month we want to celebrate families- families like the one that Shirley and Jay, moms of twin boys, are fighting to keep together. A picture perfect family, Shirley Tan and Jay Mercado live in Pacifica, California with their thirteen year old twin boys, Jashley and Joriene, and Jay’s mother, Renee. Shirley and Jay fell in love 23 years ago when Shirley was visiting from the Philippines, and have been together ever since. Always wanting to have children, Shirley gave birth to the twins in 1997, and the couple entered into a domestic partnership under California law. Within their suburban community they are considered a “model family” in which Shirley is a typical stay-at-home soccer mom who volunteers at the boys’ school and looks after her mother-in-law while Jay works at an insurance firm. On Sundays, Jay and Shirley sing as a part of their church choir.

As per family unification provisions in immigration law, American citizens are able to petition for residency for their spouses. Unlike countries like France, Germany and Canada, this does not apply to same-sex partners in the United States, so although Jay Mercado is an American citizen, she is unable to sponsor Shirley. Having come to the United States to escape a traumatic and violent familial situation in the Philippines, Shirley had applied for political asylum in 1995. Her lawyer had advised the couple that they should be patient while the application was being processed. News of the denial of Shirley’s application came in the form of a rude shock that disrupted the whole family.

At 6:30 am on a winter morning last year, Jay was getting dressed to go to work and Shirley was getting ready to take the boys to school, when the doorbell rang. On opening it they were faced with two agents from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) who showed them a 2002 letter ordering Shirley’s deportation (which she had never seen before). Minutes later she was handcuffed and taken away as Jay and her mother watched, frightened and helpless. Shirley was held in detention at the Sansome facility in San Francisco before being tagged with an electronic bracelet and returned to her family, awaiting deportation to the Philippines. Shirley describes her time in detention as one of the most traumatic ordeals of her life-

My agonizing, humiliating and tragic experience started when I got in their SUV. My partner ran to the car and saw me being handcuffed and she broke down to tears… I thought it was the lowest point of my life…I was taken like a criminal… My heart was beating so hard, my whole body was shaking and I felt so nauseated with what was happening to me.

Reporting to ICE three times a week and struggling to deal with the possibility of being separated from her wife and children, Shirley sought the support of LGBT advocates and the media to raise awareness about the case and seek justice that would prevent her family from being torn apart. As a result of this, in April 2009, California Sen. Diane Feinstien introduced a rare bill that granted Shirley a temporary reprieve from deportation, allowing her to stay in the U.S. till January 2011.

While the Tan-Mercado family are extremely grateful for the respite that Sen. Feinstein’s bill has provided them, they are worried about what will happen to them post-Janunary 2011. In a testimony that Shirley delivered to the United States Senate Committee, Shirley expressed her concerns for the future of her family-

All the while my family was first and foremost the center of everything on my mind.  How would Jay work and take care of the kids if I was not there?  Who would continue to take care of Jay’s ailing mother, the mother I had come to love, if I was not there?  Who would be there for my family if I was not there?  In an instant, my family, my American family, was being ripped away from me.  And when I did return home, I had an ankle monitoring bracelet. I went to great lengths to hide it from my children. I have a partner who is a U.S. citizen, and two beautiful children who are also U.S. citizens, but not one of them can petition for me to remain in the United States with them. Because my partner is not a man, she cannot do anything to help me. Nor can my children, who keep asking why this happened to us and what will ultimately happen to our family.

The only way for Shirley to stay in the United States with her family is if gay and lesbian couples to be able to sponsor their partners. It is important that we recognize families like the Tan-Mercado’s so that families can stay together, in Pride month and beyond.

The good news is that the provision that allows for same-sex partner sponsorship has now been folded into the proposal for comprehensive immigration reform which was first introduced by Rep Gutierrez in December 2009.

Take action now to fix our immigration system and keep families together.

Religious leaders of all faiths come together in the “immigrant capital of America”

A few days ago we told you about the many events taking place across New York City to mobilize support for immigration reform, building up to the nationwide march in DC on March 21st. Today we attended one of these events – an inter-faith convocation in which religious leaders of all faiths came together to talk about the pressing need for  just and human immigration reform in 2010.

The minute I walked in to the hall at the majestic Riverside Church, I could feel the energy in the room. There was a feeling of community, emerging from people united with the same purpose with a sense of hope and excitement as they look forward to change on the immediate horizon. Hosted by the Riverside Church and organized by the New York State Interfaith Network for Immigration Reform and the New York Immigration Coalition, the line-up of speakers was impressive in its variety and scope. In addition to a Member of Congress and representatives from the different immigration activist groups, the speakers represented various Christian denominations, and Jewish, Hindu, Sikh, Muslim and Buddhist faiths.

Kicking off the event, Rev. Robert Coleman welcomed everyone, alluding to the strength and responsibility of New Yorkers as citizens of the “immigrant capital of America.” He established concepts of equality of all before God, access to human rights for all, and the principle of hospitality as intrinsic to the Christian faith. These ideas were echoed by all the speakers from the different faiths as they referenced their scriptures and called for comprehensive immigration reform that respects due process and ensures the safety and unity of immigrants and their families. Referring to sections from the Torah, Rabbi Noam Marans spoke about the duty of people to look after those who were less privileged and stated that the greatness of a nation is judged not on how its most privileged are treated, but on how it supports its “weakest links.”

Rep. Charles Rangel, the New York Congressman who was instrumental in initially deferring the deportation of Jean Montrevil and eventually contributing to reuniting him with his family, gave his support to the convocation and praised the faith-based groups for uniting on the issue of immigration reform, one that he said was crucial to the growth, stability, and moral integrity of the country.  Rep. Rangel said that he believed that immigration reform would benefit the economy as well as national security, and assured the group that he was committed to ensuring that the reform bill introduced by Rep. Gutierrez and Sen. Schumer would be passed in the Senate and the House this year.

In addition to the idea that all humans must treat each other with respect and dignity irrespective of their language, nationality or status, there was a second trope that ran through the speeches that jumped out at me; the notion of the United States as a nation that was built on the hard work and contribution of immigrants from all over the world. A number of the speakers mentioned the ways in which a path to legalization for the nation’s 12 million immigrants would benefit the economy, as well as the ways in which the current situation was allowing for immigrant workers to be exploited and paid less than minimum wage. Anindita Chatterjee Bhaumik, the Hindu Clergy Liason for the NYPD, for example, quoted from the Hindu text, the Bhagavad Gita, and spoke of how the country cannot progress without access to human rights for all. Bishop Jeremiah Park of the United Methodist Church told his own story as a first generation immigrant from South Korea in search of the American dream, and invoking the values inherent in the Statue of Liberty, urged President Obama and Congress to build bridges and allow immigrants to be productive and healthy members of the country that they were already a part of. “We, as people of faith, cannot be passive,” he urged.

As communities across the country have been coming out in support of immigration reform, the faith community has remained one of the strongest forces in this fight for immigration reform. We hope that their united front, combined with their commitment to the cause and dedication to their faiths will encourage more people to join the movement and see that this issue affects everyone in one way or another.

Is the Tea Party’s racist rhetoric going to save broken families?

While it is difficult to find much coherence within the fractured and fast-changing Tea Party Movement, a look at their convention in Nashville last week shows that the issue of immigration seems to have gained greater popularity, emerging largely from the links made between immigration and the healthcare debate at their town hall meetings held last summer. Spearheading this issue for the Tea party agenda was Tom Tancredo, a former Colorado Congressman who kicked off the Nashville Tea Party Convention with a slew of racist comments meant to further the argument against immigration reform.

And then because we don’t have a civics literacy test to vote, people who couldn’t even spell vote, or say it in English, put a committed socialist ideologue in the White House named Barack Hussein Obama.

The Nashville Convention sought to unite the movement against the path to legalization. Tancredo’s opening speech included the argument that while Obama’s plans for immigration reform needed to be halted, it was a good thing that McCain had not been elected or he would already have ensured that Rep. Gutierrez’s bill for immigration reform was passed and “amnesty” given to the country’s undocumented immigrants. He incited the audience to protect the country’s culture saying “our culture is based on Judeo-Christian values whether people like it or not!”

While some, such as a Tea Party blogger Keli Carender said that immigration was not a part of the official agenda, Tancredo’s opening remarks, the prominent presence of the anti-immigrant group NumbersUSA, as well as a number of signs against “amnesty” from their individual supporters at the convention indicated that immigration issues could become a prominent feature on the movement’s agenda.

So what would Tom Tancredo have to say about the latest report by the Urban Institute that holds that immigration enforcement has a large-scale, detrimental effect on children? The truth is that the immigration system is in dire need of reform and racist rhetoric is not going to solve the complex problems caused as a result of a broken immigration system.

The report is based on research conducted amongst over 100 children of undocumented immigrants that were targeted by raids and arrests by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in six U.S. states. Of the 190 children interviewed for this study, two-thirds were U.S. born citizens. The study says,

Children whose parents were detained for longer than a month experienced more changes in eating, sleeping, frequent crying, fear, anxiety, regression, clinginess, and aggressive behavior.  68% of parents or caretakers questioned said they noticed at least three behavioral changes in the short-term, or three months after a parent was arrested. In the long-term, or nine months after an arrest, 56 percent of children ages 6 to 11 and 12 to 17 showed angry or aggressive behavior. The most typical changes were an increase or decrease in eating among all age groups.

Long-term separation of children from their parents is “exceptionally harmful” to the development and growth of children. The report recommends immigration reform must include alternatives to detention such as electronic monitoring and supervised released, as well as a priority quota for immigrants with children to be considered for legal residency.

It’s groups like Tancredo’s that have gone on about the connections between immigrants and crime. An ACLU brief finds that the increasing criminalization of undocumented immigrants has led to a diversion of attention and resources away from more serious criminal offenses such as organized crime, gun trafficking and white collar crimes. For starters unlawful presence in the United States is NOT a “crime”. And secondly only the Federal Government can regulate immigration. So when states and localities use criminal laws to go after undocumented immigrants, they are not only adding to the misinformed rhetoric around “criminal” immigrants but actually diverting resources from where they should be applied. Moreover, studies have shown that increased immigration does not lead to increased crime and that immigrants are less likely to be incarcerated for violating criminal laws than non-immigrants.

Once again, we urge the leaders and citizens of this country to step away from their petty vendettas and take a look at the bigger picture, both in terms of what already exists and in terms of what would be best for all.

Photo courtesy of

Abounding protests kick off the New Year and highlight the pressing need for immigration reform

TrailofDreams 2009 witnessed neither abatement in the numbers of people detained by immigration enforcement, nor in the number of families separated as a result of deportation. And little progress was made towards advancing comprehensive immigration reform, except for the bill introduced by Rep. Gutierrez on December 15th. Consequently, 2010 has begun with a flurry of courageous and provocative protests by immigrant rights advocates calling for just and humane immigration reform ASAP.

On the 1st of January, four young student activists set out on a protest march in which they have committed to walking 1,500 miles from Miami, Florida, across the Southeast, to Washington D.C., arriving on the steps of  the Capitol on May 1st (a day that has become important for immigrant rallies in recent years). The walk, which has been called The Trail of Dreams, is inspired by the idea of non-violent resistance, and aims to strengthen and inspire the immigrant rights movement and help organize the advocate networks across the country to stand together for the passage of the Development Relief in Education for Alien Minors Act (DREAM ACT).

About 100 people gathered to see off the four walkers, Juan Rodriguez (20), Carlos Roa (22), Felipe Matos (23), and Gaby Pacheco (24), as they began their journey from the Freedom Tower in Miami. Over the next few months, the four will be chronicling their journey through a blog as often as they can. The walkers are all top students and community organizers at local colleges and expect students and supporters to join them along the way.  Since they are not all here legally, they face a high risk of exposing themselves to immigration agents over the duration of their walk.  “We are aware of the risk,” Felipe said to the New York Times. “We are risking our future because our present is unbearable.”  From an article in the Washington Post:

All say they are willing to take the risks that come with bringing attention to the plight of students who, like themselves, were brought to the U.S. as children and are now here illegally. “I’m tired of coming back to school each semester and hearing about another friend who was picked up and deported,” Juan Rodriguez told a group of supporters during a recent gathering.

Also on the first day of the new decade, after sitting down to their final meal together, another group of brave and committed individuals in Florida began the Fast for Our Families protest, in which they have initiated an indefinite fast in the name of all those people who have lost, and continue to lose, loved ones due to deportation, detention and raids.

The fasters include a Haitian mother who is facing the threat of being separated from her children, a Puerto Rican man whose wife faces deportation, and a female professional truckdriver, the initiator of the fast, who lost her business and her livelihood when she was deported in 2005 after living here for 18 years, when her ex-husband reported her to the authorities. She came back to the country to be with and support her three children, and was subsequently put under surveillance by ICE. Today she wears an electronic bracelet and faces deportation.

One of the fasters is Jon Fried, a 50 year old man who has been involved in social justice and labor movements for 35 years and runs the organization We Count! On day 2 of the fast, he wrote:

Five of us are fasting indefinitely, as long as it takes; our target is President Obama and our goal is to get him to use the legal authority he has, now, without Congress, to suspend the detention and deportation of immigrants with American families, those who have US citizen children and/or spouses…This decision to fast was not taken lightly. I was tired of getting phone calls from a mother, a father, a brother, a sister saying that their loved ones, their family, was taken away by ICE…

Most urgently, the cost is too high. Now. It’s too painful. It’s too horrific. My friends and neighbors shouldn’t be collateral damage in a political scheme. Parents and youth ripped from their families is not an acceptable cost. Thousands of people marked and tracked with electronic shackles, living in fear of being taken away from their loved ones every time they report to ICE or its private contractors, is not an acceptable cost. Young people being deported to homelands they hardly remember is not an acceptable cost. It is time to say to President Obama: This is on your watch.

Together, the participants of the Trail of Dreams and the Fast for Our Families campaigns hope to build momentum and push the current administration towards just and comprehensive immigration reform that asks for:

2) A pathway to citizenship
3) An end to the separation of families
4) And a deliberate and radical shift from the federal funding of raids, detentions and deportations to better educational opportunities for ALL the youth of America!

There are a number of ways that YOU can get involved and show your support towards these bold efforts.

For updated information about the Trail of Dreams, click here, and to follow the Fast for Our families, here. Also, join their facebook group to learn more about their personal stories.

Photo courtesy of

Faith communities shine the light for CIR ASAP on International Migrants Day

candle_flame_0.thumbnailFaith communities across the country have been banding together to give an important voice for immigration reform, countering extremism, forcing a conversation about morals and American values, and in some instances intervening on the part of their congregation members.

Last week, faith leaders launched the “Shine the Light for Immigration Reform” campaign, a week-long series of Interfaith Days of Action urging Congress to reunite families and welcome the stranger. The days of action, which began on December 10th, International Human Rights Day, will culminate tomorrow, December 18th, the eve of International Migrants Day, with a vigil at a church near the White House where diverse faith leaders will deliver prayer flags and signed postcards from the various vigils and posadas held over the week to send a powerful message to Congress that comprehensive immigration reform must be delivered early in 2010.

Rev. Michael Ellick, Associate Minister of the Judson Memorial Church in New York City, a participating congregation, articulated the timeliness of this call to action; echoing Rep. Gutierrez’s recent words before Congress:

“This is the greatest crisis of our time. To delay or deny immigration reform not only turns our backs on the great legacy of our society of immigrants – which by the way was forged and populated by the greatest migration of people in the history of the world, it’s to turn our back on 5.5 million children who are our own.”

Other churches, like the century-old Reformed Church of Highland Park, New Jersey has been engaged in activism for several years. After the 2006 raids, when armed federal immigration agents rounded up 35 Indonesian men with expired visas and outstanding deportation orders, their wives and children, as well as others in hiding, began pleading to sleep at the church, and Rev. Seth Kaper-Dale couldn’t ignore the issue.

While attempting to intervene and understand the complex terrain of immigration law and detention on behalf of the Indonesian Christians who shared his sanctuary, Kaper-Dale discovered that many of them had initially arrived on tourist visas in the 1990s, but had over-stayed their visas, because they faced violence and discrimination in their home country.  After 9/11 when the government required “special registration,” NSEERS (termination recently requested in a December 7th letter to DHS and DOS), of men ages 16 to 65 who entered the country on temporary visas from a list of primarily Muslim countries, including Indonesia, most of these Indonesians complied, on the advice of their pastors, hoping that honesty would open a pathway to citizenship. Instead, their appeals for asylum were denied, and those who registered became targets during immigration crackdowns.

However, under an unusual agreement eventually negotiated between Kaper-Dale and Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials in Newark, four Indonesians have been recently released from detention, and 41 others, living as fugitives from deportation, have turned themselves in under the protection of the church. And rather than jailed, they have been released under supervision, and are eligible for work permits while their lawyers figure out how their cases might be reopened.

Though agency officials claim this type of arrangement is determined on a case-by-case basis, advocates hope it signals a broader use of humanitarian relief as Congress begins to tackle immigration reform in the new year. But skeptics recognize that this “church run-alternative to detention” is both an inconsistent exception and a temporary band-aid within a flawed immigration system that demands an overhaul.

Therefore, until the “Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America’s Security and Prosperity Act of 2009 CIR ASAP” which Rep. Gutierrez (D-IL) introduced on December 15th, and other proposals, based on the same principles, including one from Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY), who heads the Senate Immigration Subcommittee and Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), who heads the House of Immigration Subcommittee, which are expected to be put on the table in early 2010, are transformed into actual legislation, millions of immigrants, like Patricia, a mother fighting a deportation order, will live in limbo with the fear of separation, only temporarily mitigated by the passionate efforts of pastors, like Rev. Kaper-Dale, and a committed volunteer base.  As Patricia simply asserts through a translator:

“Before our neighbors took us in for sanctuary, we lived in fear and insecurity…As a family, we want to call for comprehensive immigration reform that can help us to have a better life, so we can live with dignity and honor in this country, as children of God.”

So, if you’re in Washington tomorrow, shine some light for CIR ASAP, and URGE the remaining congressional members to get on board to fix this crisis.

Photo courtesy of Christian Religious Leadership Network

Answer this call to action for immigration reform on November 18th- listen in and party it out!

November 18th is a day of National Action for immigration and here is an opportunity for you to take leadership in your community and fight for immigration reform.

On Wednesday, November 18th, supporters of immigration reform from all across the country are getting together for a nation-wide dialogue about the steps necessary for immigration reform. Reform Immigration for America will be hosting a virtual/telephonic town hall meeting in which Congressman Luis Gutierrez will lead a discussion about why the broken immigration system needs to be fixed, and how we are going to win this fight. Gutierrez and other immigration reform leaders will lay out the ways families are hurting right now, and how Reform Immigration for America’s campaign for Families, Freedom and Faith can make a difference.

At 8:00 PM Eastern time/5:00 PM Pacific time tomorrow, you can join this exciting conversation with Representative Gutierrez and other reform leaders by listening in along with thousands of others, voicing your concerns and asking questions en route to winning this fight. Also, there are 650 parties taking place across the country that night in houses, churches and ESL classes, in which all those who support comprehensive immigration reform are gathering with their friends, families and neighbors to join in on the call and learn about what action needs to be taken to fix the system. By attending a party, you and immigration reformers in your neighborhood will tell the world that you’re committed to the cause. Not only will you hear firsthand what’s already being done for immigration reform, but you’ll also learn about what’s next for this movement and how to take a stand.

Click here to find a party near you, and if you don’t find one, then host one yourself! Not sure how to host a party? Here’s a helpful ‘host a party’ toolkit that will tell you how. And if you can’t attend a party, then sign up here to participate in the Families, Freedom and Faith call!

This call will lay out how we’re going to win the fight for immigration reform. And you’re invited.

PS- The town halls are being hosted in both English and Spanish. To look for a party for a Spanish-language call, click here.

Photo courtesy of

Have we taken the first step toward immigration reform?

4009782434_0a1273591bBuses, vans and cars carrying more than 3,000 activists from at least 17 states descended on Washington D.C. to call for immigration reform, cheering when Rep. Luis Gutierrez’s (D-IL) introduced his blueprint for reform that will form the basis of an immigration reform bill to be introduced in November.

As Rep. Luis Gutierrez said, “We need a bill that says if you come here to hurt our communities, we will not support you; but if you are here to work hard and to make a better life for your family, you will have the opportunity to earn your citizenship. We need a law that says it is un-American for a mother to be torn from her child, and it is unacceptable to undermine our workforce by driving the most vulnerable among us further into the shadows.”

The blueprint is an exciting step forward to bring reform that respects due process and fairness – calling on workable solutions that will take the American people forward and hold true to our values as a nation. Its highlights include a pathway to legalization for undocumented workers, effective border enforcement, a need to ensure future flows of workers

, and family unity as a cornerstone of the immigration system. It also talks of the need for smart and humane interior enforcement stating, “Inside the country, my plan will promote fair immigration proceedings, humane treatment of immigration detainees and policies that respect the tenets of community policing.”

This is a key point for the Restore Fairness campaign, which calls for immigration reform legislation that must address due process failures embodied in current immigration law, including ending the prolonged detention of people who pose no risk or danger, creating legally enforceable standards for detention, and restoring discretion so immigration judges can consider individual circumstances when rendering deportation decisions. Although we are heartened to see the administration move forward with detention reform, a recent interview on NPR with the assistant secretary for Immigration and Customs Enforcement in the Department of Homeland Security, John Morton reveals that “this reform effort is not about whether or not we detain people; it’s about how we detain them,” thus not fundamentally addressing the heightened enforcement tactics that have led to an overburdened system in the first place.

60% of detainees are now arriving from state and local enforcement programs that enforce immigration law, but most of these detainees are low level offenders or have no crime, very unlike the main aim of the programs which are to catch serious and violent offenders. That’s why any immigration reform must include an end to raids and legislation that gives state and local authorities a role in enforcing federal civil immigration laws – a policy which has been ineffective, led to racial and ethnic profiling and created an environment of fear that discourages immigrant communities from cooperating with the police.

These are tough challenges and need collective support so we can celebrate the fair and diverse land of opportunity that America is.

Image courtesy of

Summer’s over but immigration’s heating up….

It’s not surprising that President Obama’s speech was interrupted by the now infamous phrase ‘You Lie!’, snapping immigration back into the limelight and wreaking havoc in the already contentious issue of health care. As advocates both for and against the issue begin arguing, we have heard from President Obama that even though he does not support insuring the undocumented, “I also don’t simply believe we can ignore the fact that our immigration system is broken.” Meanwhile things are heating up with Rep. Gutierrez announcing that he would introduce immigration reform legislation as soon as this Fall.

Restore Fairness strongly supports reform that respects fairness and due process for everyone. The campaign has been gaining some great support but we need more of you to join hands with us and spread the word like our friends below.

We are being featured on The Extraordinaries, one of the hottest new community engagement tools using an iPhone app (other platforms soon).

Meanwhile The Immigrant Daily Blog and Bender’s Immigration bulletin have featured the campaign.

Join the movement. Its only going to get bigger and better.