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Give me the DREAM Act in the lame duck session, says Obama

After a year of unfulfilled hopes and promises of immigration reform, it might finally be time for dreams to come true.

Delivering on the promise he made during his hard-fought re-election campaign, Senate Majority leader Harry Reid announced on Wednesday that he will bring the DREAM Act up for vote (as a stand-alone measure) during the final days of the 111th Congress. While this is not the first time that Sen. Reid has made such an commitment, this time the announcement comes with the added backing of President Obama. Obama has always been a supporter of the DREAM Act, but has never publicly or actively worked on pushing for it to be passed. This is why it came as a surprise when he told Democrats on Tuesday that he wanted the DREAM Act passed during the lame duck session of Congress, as a “down payment” on more comprehensive immigration reform.

This announcement came on the heels of a meeting between President Obama and leaders of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, including Sen. Harry Reid, Rep. Nydia Velazquez, New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez and Illinois Rep. Luis Gutierrez, that took place on the morning of Tuesday, November 16th. Gutierrez, who had been in favor of a more comprehensive immigration reform bill up until this point, said that the meeting was both positive and productive-

Passage of the DREAM Act is achievable right now. With the White House, Majority Leader Harry Reid, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and every Democratic Leader in the House and Senate pulling in the same direction, we can pass the DREAM Act before the end of the 111th Congress.

The White House released a statement with the outcomes of the meeting-

The President and the CHC leaders believe that, before adjourning, Congress should approve the DREAM Act. This legislation has traditionally enjoyed support from Democratic and Republican lawmakers and would give young people who were brought as minors to the United States by their parents the opportunity to earn their citizenship by pursuing a college degree or through military service.

In a noticeable departure from the Obama administration’s previous non-committal stance on immigration reform, the President put forth a commitment to work “hand in glove” to make sure the bill is passed, including a promise to pick up the phone and urge Senators to vote on the bill. At the end of the day on Tuesday, Congresswoman Nydia Velasquez announced that Speaker Nancy Pelosi had tentatively set November 29th as the date that the DREAM Act would be voted on.

If passed, the DREAM Act would provide a path to citizenship for approximately 2 million undocumented youth who were brought to the U.S. when they were very young, provided that they go through college or participate in military service. However, in order to prevent another filibuster, at least two Republican Senators would have to support the DREAM Act, something that might prove to be a uphill task given the number of Republicans who have turned their back on it over the past year.

This is the closest that the bill has come to being introduced. It is important that Congress hears from all of us who support the DREAM Act as intrinsic to the future of the country. Send a fax telling your Members of Congress to support the DREAM Act!

Stay tuned for more details!

Photo courtesy of Associated Press Photos

This Memorial Day join Kayne West and thousands of others to protest unjust Arizona law

Leave it to four students to stand as role models of determination against unjust laws such as Arizona’s anti-immigrant law, SB1070. Gaby, Felipe, Juan and Carlos walked 1500 miles from Miami to Washington D.C. over four months, to draw attention to the plight of the thousands of undocumented students around the country who, despite having lived here most of their lives, are unable to contribute and follow their dreams because of a broken immigration system. Walking through some of the most conservative states in the country, the Trail of Dreams students collected signatures from 50,000 people, demanding humane and just immigration reform. Despite their efforts, matters went from bad to worse as Arizona passed the controversial anti-immigrant law, SB1070. Rather than be discouraged, the Dreamers have set off once again walking from Scottsdale to Phoenix to join the National Day of Action against SB1070 on Saturday, May 29th.

In the five weeks since Gov. Brewer signed off on SB1070, legislators in 10 other states around the country are pushing for similar bills, even as immigrant rights advocates and human rights activists around the world have condemned the law that criminalizes undocumented immigrants and allows local police to question anyone who they think looks “reasonably suspicious” of being undocumented, effectively mandating racial profiling and creating fear and distrust within communities. While there has been great national and international pressure against the law and the human rights crisis that will occur if SB1070 is implemented, the vigils, rallies, boycotts, fasts and acts of civil disobedience have been met with inaction on the part of President Obama and his administration, who, besides initially denouncing the law, have done nothing to halt its progress.

Tomorrow, on May 29th, tens of thousands of people from Arizona and around the country will take part in over 60 actions of protest and civil disobedience to send a clear message to the federal government that unjust laws like SB1070 cannot exist in light of of fundamental human rights and the tenets of the Constitution. The National Day of Action against the draconian Arizona law will culminate in a huge protest march at the State Capitol in Phoenix, Arizona with thousands of students, teachers, workers, families, immigrant and indigenous people participating.

THE ASKS: The National Day of Action demands that President Obama wakes up on the right side of history this May 29th and takes  a decision to-

- Reassert the federal government’s exclusive control over immigration law by making clear that state and local police do not have the inherent authority to enforce immigration law. Arizona’s law is a result of the federal government’s failure to maintain control of immigration enforcement and its inaction regarding elimination of all forms of racial profiling.

- Immediately suspend and terminate all police-ICE partnerships, including 287(g) agreements and Secure Communities which have actively transferred federal immigration authority to the states, setting the stage for laws like SB 1070 to pass.

-Direct the Department of Homeland Security to refuse to take custody of anyone charged with violating provisions of SB 1070.

A culmination of all the diverse acts of resistance that have been taking place already, tomorrow’s Phoenix protests will also be echoed in all corners of the country in cities like Washington D.C., New York, Chicago, San Francisco and many places in between. Those who cannot make it to Phoenix can take part in a virtual march to demand intervention and express their outrage at the President’s inaction on SB1070 and comprehensive immigration reform.

Leading the way, a diverse group of artists and musicians have announced a boycott of all performances in Arizona until the new law is revoked. In a campaign called the Sound Strike, organized by Zack de la Rocha, the lead singer of Rage Against the Machine, artists like Massive Attack, Michael Moore, Kanye West, Sonic Youth, Joe Satriani, Tenacious D and Los Tigres De Norte have taken a stand against the law and called on their fans to sign a petition demanding an end to the draconian law. De La Rocha’s initiating words -

Fans of our music, our stories, our films and our words can be pulled over and harassed every day because they are brown or black, or for the way they speak, or for the music they listen to. Some of us grew up dealing with racial profiling, but this law (SB 1070) takes it to a whole new low.

So on this Memorial Day Weekend, get yourself to Phoenix at your “disobedient ” best, and join in this massive mobilization for human rights and reform. If you can’t be there, show your support wherever you are. Inspired to do something now? Send a letter to President Obama telling him just how high the stakes are, and demanding that the federal Government restore fairness NOW.

Photo courtesy of altoarizona.com

Federal government may not co-operate with Arizona immigration law

Immigration has and always should be a federal issue. So even if Arizona has decided to pass an anti-immigrant law that will inevitably lead to racial profiling, the federal government still has the power to do the right thing. And that’s what seems to be happening, as the head of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) John Morton expressed skepticism about SB1070, stating that ICE would not “necessarily” process undocumented immigrants referred to them by Arizona. Like President Obama’s denunciation from a few weeks ago, Morton believes that “the Arizona law, or laws like it, are not the solution”, favoring a comprehensive federal approach rather than disparate state laws to address our broken immigration system.

But while John Morton’s criticism of Arizona’s draconian enforcement measure is encouraging, his desire for increased enforcement is not. ICE is planning to step up immigration enforcement in a number of states by expanding collaborations between federal and local law enforcement through programs like 287(g) and the Secure Communities. With a record high number of deportations carried out in 2009, and a 40% increase from that in 2010, a “sharp increase” in deportations of immigrants is predicted for the end of this year.

So what Morton is not addressing is that the very same programs that are being expanded have paved the way for bills such as SB1070, by sending a signal that collaborations between local police and federal immigration is encouraged, even though these lead to racial profiling and loss of trust from communities. Take the case of Eduardo Caraballo, a Puerto Rico born Chicago resident who was arrested in connection with a stolen car last week. He maintains his innocence with regard to the car, but while that was being investigated, his real nightmare began. After his mother posted bail on Friday, Eduardo, a U.S. citizen, was told that he was being turned over to Immigrations and Customs enforcement who were detaining him on the suspicion that he was undocumented. Eduardo says he repeatedly told the officers that he was born in Puerto Rico and an American citizen.

I’m pretty sure they know that Puerto Ricans are citizens, but just because of the way I look – I have Mexican features – they pretty much assumed that my papers were fake. They were making me feel like I can’t voice my opinion or I can’t even speak for myself to let them know that I am a citizen.

The officers interrogated him about Puerto Rico but since he had moved to mainland U.S.A. when he was 8 months old, he was unable to answer them. Even after his mother presented the officers with his birth certificate and state I.D., the officers maintained that he was facing deportation. It was only after his mother contacted Congressman Gutierrez in desperation, that Eduardo was released. Rep. Gutierrez, of Puerto Rican descent himself and a big advocate for immigration reform, said that the situation is going from bad to worse. He saw Eduardo’s case in Chicago  to be emblematic of everything that would go wrong if Arizona’s anti-immigrant law was to be implemented. 

In Arizona, they want everybody to be able to prove they’re legally in the country. They want everybody to prove that they’re an American citizen. Here we had an American citizen, that the federal government… could not determine, for more than three days, his status as an American citizen. It’s very, very, very dangerous ground to tread.

While Caraballo is considering legal action, Rep. Gutierrez is hoping that this outrageous incident will  demonstrate the risk involved in the local police enforcing immigration law, and open the eyes of Congress and the White house to the dangers of racial profiling.

The urgent need for a reversal of Arizona’s law and a broader immigration reform bill has led to a series of protests around the country. 37 people, including City Council and State Assembly members, were arrested yesterday in New York city, a second in a series of planned civil disobedience actions to put pressure on the Obama administration to put a stop to SB1070,  curb detentions and deportations that separate families and enact humane immigration reform. Organizers say that they will continue resisting until their demands are met.

And on May 29th, civil rights groups and immigrant activists are organizing a massive rally against Arizona’s SB1070 law. The boycott against Arizona has been put on hold for the weekend as thousands of protesters are expected to arrive from across the country to join in a march of defiance against the state. In addition to over 50,000 people, the rally will include speeches by the DREAM Act students, Rep. Gutierrez, representatives from the government of Mexico City and members of a number of indigenous communities. With marchers refusing to carry IDs, the goal is to terminate all ICE-local police initiatives and put an end to SB1070.

Video courtesy of nbc.com

POLL: Do you agree with John Morton's view of SB1070?

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Civil disobedience, courage and determination mark May Day rallies in 70 cities

Fueled by anger over Arizona’s harsh new immigration law, more than 200,000 people gathered in 70 cities across the country on May 1st to put pressure on Congress and the Obama administration to act on their long-overdue promise of an immigration overhaul. While people were gearing up to rally for reform across the country, law makers in Arizona decided to re-write one of the more controversial provisions of SB1070 to counteract accusations of racial profiling. While the amendment HB2162 clearly demarcates that police cannot use race and ethnicity to determine whom to question about their immigration status, opponents of the law called the repeal an insufficient “cosmetic” change that does not address the way it offends the civil liberties of the people of Arizona.

Turnout for May Day rallies outdid all expectations with numbers in Los Angeles, Washington D.C., Dallas, New York, Milwaukee, Chicago, Denver, San Francisco and other cities, numbering in the tens of thousands. In Los Angeles, a 100,000 workers, students, activists and families marched through downtown L.A. to City Hall, waving American flags and signs protesting the Arizona law, the largest turnout for a May Day rally since 2006. Marchers included people like Yobani Velasquez, a 32-year-old Guatemala native and U.S. legal resident, who was motivated to head the rally in Los Angeles out of his distaste for SB1070 which he called “racist” and “unfair.”

In Washington D.C., 35 people were arrested at the rally for picketing on the sidewalk of the White House in an act of civil disobedience. Amongst those arrested were the leaders of the national immigration movement including Congressman Luis Gutierrez, Ali Noorani, Chair of Reform Immigration for America, Deepak Bhargava, Executive Director of the Center for Community Change, and Gustavo Torres, Executive Director of CASA de Maryland. The leaders were wearing T-shirts that said “arrest me, not my friends,” and were taken away peacefully after refusing to leave the gate of the White House, with signs that protested the government’s inaction and lack of support for the immigrant community. Speaking at a rally in Lafayette square before the act of civil disobedience, Rep. Gutierrez hearkened back to the civil rights movement of the 1960s saying,

There are moments in which you say, ‘We will escalate this struggle…Today they will put handcuffs on us. But one day we will be free at last in the country we love.’

These arrests were representative of the strength and determination of tens of thousands of people, from labor, civil rights, immigrant rights groups as well as thousands of families that turned out to demonstrate for just and humane reform.

One of the highlights of the D.C. chapter of the May 1st rally were the courageous Trail of Dreams walkers who arrived in the nation’s capital last week after walking 1500 miles over four months, through some of the most conservative states in the country. The four young students, Gaby, Juan, Felipe and Carlos began their journey in Miami, Florida on January 1st, 2010, determined to draw attention to the plight of all the young, undocumented immigrants in this country who, despite having lived here for most of their lives, are unable to live out their dreams because of a broken immigration system. During their journey, they made numerous stops in towns along the way, telling their personal stories and raising awareness about the need for the DREAM Act, legislation that would enable young people who were brought to America, to lawfully live in the U.S. They finally reached D.C. last Wednesday, armed with 30,000 signatures on a petition to tell President Obama to help others like them. Despite their arduous journey, and having their laptops and phones that had been their main contact with the world stolen on arrival in Washington D.C., they joined in the May 1st rallies, unshaken in their determination.

As we wait for what unfolds with the immigration proposal introduced last week, we hope that this is the year for just and humane immigration reform.

Photo courtesy of Michael Ainsworth.

SNL takes on SB1070. Urgency for reform more than ever.

When Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update (at 27 minutes) made fun of Arizona’s new law, it sounds closer to the truth than ever.

This week Arizona signed the toughest illegal immigration law in the country, which would allow the police to demand identification papers from anyone they suspect is in the country illegally. I know there are some people in Arizona worried that Obama is acting like Hitler, but can we all agree that there’s nothing more Nazi than saying, `Show me your papers? There’s never been a WWII movie that didn’t include the line, “Show me your papers”. It’s their catchphrase… So heads up Arizona, that’s fascism. I know, I know, it’s a dry fascism, but it’s still fascism.

Immigration has finally made headline news. Unfortunately it took Arizona to pass a law like SB1070 that effectively mandates racial profiling for the nation to take notice of the mess that the immigration system is in. While mainstream news outlets featured the harsh anti-immigrant bill and its implications on their weekend programming, outraged immigrant rights organizations have upped the ante on mobilizing for comprehensive immigration reform.

As Governor Jan Brewer signed SB1070 into law last Friday, thousands of protesters were gathered outside Arizona’s Capitol building in Phoenix, kneeling in prayer and silent protest against the bill. Even after a week of tireless vigils, rallies, petitions and letters urging Governor Brewer to veto the bill, protesters did not give up, mobilizing large-scale rallies in Arizona and around the country through the weekend. It started with Rep. Raul Grijalva calling for an economic boycott of Arizona as a consequence of SB1070, a move which led to the closure of his Tucson and Yuma offices after receiving threats of violence.

I am asking national organizations across this country, civic, religious, of color, unions, women’s organizations, not to have their conferences and conventions in this state, until we rectify this law.

In a massive rally outside the Arizona State Capitol over the weekend, leaders and civil rights activists addressed thousands of protesters about the necessary steps that must be taken to oppose SB1070 on the grounds that it is a direct affront to the civil rights of the people of Arizona. Rep. Raul Grijalva continued his calls for an economic boycott, calling on the Obama administration to oppose the new law by refusing to cooperate with local law enforcement in Arizona saying -

We’re going to overturn this unjust and racist law, and then we’re going to overturn the power structure that created this unjust, racist law.

Rep. Luis Gutierrez denounced the Obama administration’s inaction on immigration reform and the federal 287(g) program which he held responsible for setting a precedent for Sen. Russell Pearce’s SB1070 law.

Let me just say, every time the federal government said that you can carry out a 287(g) extension, you gave Arizona an excuse to do 1070…Now it is time to say no more excuses, no more enforcement-only actions. It is time to bring about comprehensive immigration reform once and for all.

In New York, Reverend Al Sharpton referred back to the civil rights movement, saying he would organize “freedom walkers” to challenge the Arizona bill.

We will go to Arizona when this bill goes into effect and walk the streets with people who refuse to give identification and force arrest.

President Obama seems to be feeling the pressure, speaking on the pledging his commitment to enlist bipartisan support for reform and seeing its lack as a key reason for the Arizona bill-

Our failure to act responsibly at the federal level will only open the door to irresponsibility by others.  And that includes, for example, the recent efforts in Arizona, which threatened to undermine basic notions of fairness that we cherish as Americans… if we continue to fail to act at a federal level, we will continue to see misguided efforts opening up around the country.

DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano followed suit denouncing the bill on the grounds that-

The Arizona immigration law will likely hinder federal law enforcement from carrying out its priorities of detaining and removing dangerous criminal aliens. With the strong support of state and local law enforcement, I vetoed several similar pieces of legislation as Governor of Arizona because they would have diverted critical law enforcement resources from the most serious threats to public safety and undermined the vital trust between local jurisdictions and the communities they serve.

We can only hope that horrific as it is, the anti-immigrant bill has raised the urgency for immigration reform. This pressure will culminate on May 1st when immigrant rights organizations convene rallies in many parts of the country to drive home the urgent need for just and humane immigration reform.

If you are outraged at SB1070 and its overt violation of human rights, write to Governor Brewer and tell her what you think.

Photo courtesy of Saturday Night Live.

Condemnation of Arizona’s anti-immigrant bill goes national

Tonight, Arizona’s future hangs in the balance as Arizona Governor Jan Brewer decides whether to sign SB 1070, one of the harshest anti-immigrant bills in recent memory, into law. The bill will be forwarded to the Governor’s desk this evening and could ostensibly be signed into law by midnight tonight.

Ironically titled the “Safe Neighborhoods Bill”, the bill makes it mandatory for state and local police to stop anyone based on a “reasonable suspicion” of being undocumented, effectively mandating racial profiling and creating panic across communities. Immigration law is within the domain of the federal government, not local police, but the bill is egregious even in its application of due process, allowing for the arrest of people without a warrant including day laborers and those who hire them. It also makes it mandatory for local towns and cities to share information with the Department of Homeland Security and any citizen can press charges against local administrations who they believe are not be enforcing the law.

If passed into law SB 1070 will have enormous repercussions on the United States. Already, a senator in Ohio is looking for a co-sponsor to introduce a similar bill, and similar movements are expected across many states. Condemnation of the bill has reached massive proportions and a cohesive movement of immigration groups, agriculture, labor, police foundations and civil rights groups is emerging.

It started with Congressman Luis Gutierrez  calling on President Obama denouncing the Obama administration’s silence on the bill. Condemning deportations that have reached 1000 a day, half of which are originating in Ohio, he said-

Giving police such a broad mandate to arrest and book people “suspected” of looking a certain way isn’t just an invitation to racial profiling, it’s like waving a green flag and saying “gentlemen start your engines”… If we allow police-state tactics in Arizona to continue, the level of basic community security will erode and civil unrest could escalate. The President must act now to diffuse the Arizona panic and take control of a deteriorating situation that could become a national crisis.

The media reacted almost immediately. In a heated exchange with Fox’s Bill O’Reilly, Alfredo Gutierrez, editor of the La Frontera Times, criticized the SB 1070 bill for taking immigration law enforcement away from the federal Government, referring to it as a “civil libertarian’s nightmare…You don’t have to throw out civil liberties because you have a major issue.”

Vigils, rallies and press conferences against the bill are reaching a fevered pitch. Advocacy groups across the country, such as Amnesty International, Reform Immigration For America, NDLON, and the National Immigration Forum are joining groups in Arizona including the Border Action Network, the Puente Movement and Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in denouncing the bill. A group of people are fasting until the bill is vetoed. PSA’s and two hotlines have been introduced to educate people about the bill and dispel some of the fear and panic created by its introduction in communities. The National Day Laborers Organizing Network (NDLON) is organizing a press conference outside the Department of Homeland Security HQ in D.C. to call on Assistant Secretary John Morton to denounce the bill, coming on the heels of demands by civil rights groups to end the 287(g) and other programs that mandate local and state police to enforce federal immigration law. The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund (MALDEF) is taking legal action against the bill if signed into law, arguing that it violates due process and Supreme Court precedents, urging Governor Brewer to recognize that-

… This law is an open invitation to racial discrimination, community discord, and naked clash between state and federal government. The law’s constitutional flaws will inevitably attract costly legal challenges, to the detriment of all Arizona.

Take urgent action today and ensure that Gov. Brewer vetoes SB 1070.

Photo courtesy of www.altoarizona.com

POLL: Do you think Governor Brewer should veto SB 1070?

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200,000 people marched for America this weekend. Now it’s your turn….

Do you know what it feels like to be a part of a 200,000 person-strong protest? In a word- amazing. But why scrimp on words when describing the largest demonstration for immigration reform since 2006!

On Sunday March 21st we joined tens of thousands of people from every corner of the country as they came together in Washington D.C. to demand humane immigration reform NOW. With thousands of workers, faith based groups, young people, LGBT folks and African-Americans demonstrating, the atmosphere on the National Mall was electric. Once we finished taking in the sheer magnitude of the sea of people that stretched across five blocks of the Mall, we held our signs up high and joined in the innovative and energetic rallying. It was difficult to not be distracted by the variety of colorful banners, signs, puppets and slogans that people creatively designed, and we were inspired by chants of “Sí Se Puede”, “No Human Being is Illegal,” and “Change Takes Courage.” The most prominent colors of the day were red, white and blue as demonstrators proudly waved American flags as they marched for justice.

Drawing on the history of the civil rights movement, Reverend Jesse Jackson was one of the enigmatic speakers who spoke of immigration as a civil rights issue that impacted all Americans. Other speakers included Rep. Luis Gutierrez, the leader of the movement for immigration reform, whose speech mirrored the spirit of urgency palpable in the crowd.

We’ve been patient long enough. We’ve listened quietly. We’ve asked politely. We’ve turned the other cheek so many times our heads are spinning…It’s time to let immigrants come out of the shadows into the light and for America to embrace them and protect them.

Cardinal Roger Mahony from L.A. made a touching and inspirational speech reminding us of the pain visited upon immigrant families impacted by the broken immigration system.

Consider what happened to little Gabby, a U.S. citizen whose father was taken from their home at 5 a.m. when she was nine. Now 14, instead of playing with her friends she takes care of her baby brothers while her mother tries to make ends meet. Gabby prays that Congress and the President enact immigration reform, so that she can once again feel the warmth of her father’s embrace and never again have nightmares that she will be left alone.

The surprise highlight of the “all star” line-up was President Obama’s video speech that was projected on giant screens to the vast crowd.

If we work together, across ethnic, state and party lines, we can build a future worthy of our history as a nation of immigrants and a nation of laws…I have always pledged to be your partner as we work to fix our broken immigration system, and that’s a commitment that I reaffirm today.

As health care reform passed by evening, the time for talk seemed likely over. Sunday showed us that the lack of forward movement on reform and the unending enforcement actions targeting innocent workers and families would be tolerated no further. The next day, we joined a national action organized by FIRM at the Republican National Committee offices to call for stronger support and leadership for immigration reform from Republican leaders. As we picketed outside, organizers marched into the RNC office and demanded a meeting with RNC Chair Michael Steele, who had rejected an earlier request. The strategic sit-in action met with success as a meeting was fixed for March 31st.

There will be a lot of hard work in the upcoming weeks. For now, we need you to send a free fax and tell your Members of Congress that if they “don’t choose courage over hate, we’ll elect people who will.” And keep tuned for our video of this momentous event.

POLL: Will the March for America motivate Congress to pass immigration reform this year?

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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

POLL: Do you think President Obama's meetings on immigration reform will help move the bill forward?

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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 RaceWire.org

Progressive bloggers and advocates set the stage for immigration reform in 2010

Next Up, Comprehensive Immigration Reform “Not the usual suspects-” This is how Nico Pitney, National Editor for the Huffington Post and moderator on a panel discussion about the prospect of immigration reform, introduced his fellow panelists. Organized by the Center for American Progress, Netroots Nation, and America’s Voice, the panel featured some of the leading voices for comprehensive and just immigration reform, including Markos Zúñiga, founder and editor of Daily Kos, Andrea Nill, immigration blogger for Think Progress, and María Elena Durazo from the AFL-CIO.

Using the context of Rep. Luis Gutierrez‘s progressive CIR ASAP immigration reform bill introduced in mid December, the recent election of Sen. Scott Brown in Massachusetts (and the obvious question of how this will affect the progressive agenda including immigration reform), President Obama’s campaign promise to address immigration reform with his election, a lively discussion ensued on what makes the present time ripe for the passage of immigration reform legislation. Unlike the harsh and divisive debates of failed reform in 2007, the overall outlook amongst the panelists was positive, as they approached the topic from the point of view of electoral vote politics, the economy, and the labor movement.

Using Rep. Gutierrez’s bill as a solid base, Andrea Nill began by clarifying the fundamentals of Comprehensive Immigration Reform which would include,

An earned path to legalization for undocumented immigrants, including registering with the government, a background check, paying taxes, and ensuring their integration into society.

Creating flexible channels for the future legal flow of immigration which could adjust itself to the ebb and flow of the economy.

Smart enforcement policies including moving resources away from spending money trying to detain and deport immigrants and “chasing busboys and nannies through the desert” into addressing problems such as drug and human trafficking at the border.

Markos Zuniga made the distinction between the political climate around immigration in 2007 and now by talking about today’s polls that show 66% of voters (an equal percentage of Democrats and Republicans) support reform making it a truly bipartisan issue. With Latino groups reaching a plurality in 2050 and Asian and other minority communities growing rapidly, the co-relation between electoral votes and reform is clear. For many Republicans, falling back onto nativist rhetoric and hate-mongering like in 2007, could mean a significant loss in votes from Latino and other immigrant communities.”President Bush won 40% of the immigrant vote in 2004, John McCain only got 28% in 2008, so the long term health of republican party is in jeopardy if they can’t appeal to immigration groups.”

Andrea Nill added that while there are three groups largely responsible for the nativist rhetoric – FAIR, NumbersUSA and the Center for Immigration Studies, there is also division between the anti-immigration movement, including within the Republican party between moderates willing to engage with immigration reform, and hardliners such as  Rep. Joe Wilson and Rep. Brian Bilbray and other members of the House Immigration Reform Caucas.

Speaking on behalf of  the labor movement, Maria Durazo said there is high expectations from the administration and Congress to deliver on its promise of reform.”These are people who harvests our crops, build our buildings and work in our restaurant…they do services for us but then when we need to respond to their need to bring them out of the shadows we call them names – law breakers, illegals…we want to make sure any immigration legislation has protections for workers, both native born and undocumented immigrants who will come out of the shadows – because we will all lose if we don’t work together.”

In terms of Sen. Scott Brown’s recent victory, the panelists felt that it has little effect since immigration reform has and always will be a bipartisan issue. But on a larger scale, the election felt emblematic of the waning of Democrat popularity due to their lack of engagement with many issues, including immigration, and while voters are looking for the ‘hope’ and ‘change’ that they were promised, immigration reform is an opportunity for both Democrats and Republicans to work together towards a viable solution.

But there is also an economic argument for reform. According to a recent Center for American progress report, immigration reform will be crucial for the economy, with mass deportation causing a loss of $2.6 trillion as opposed to a growth of approximately $1.5 trillion over a ten-year period if reform passes. And since the economy, like healthcare,  is a foremost priority of the Obama administration, this is an opportunity to address both issues simultaneously.

The panelists were unanimous on the fact that the present situation is highly favorable towards immigration reform and highlighted the expanse, width and strength of the present coalitions, which today include faith-based groups, LGBT groups, ethnic groups, immigrant rights advocates and immigrant communities in general.

Looking ahead, while Rep. Gutierrez‘s progressive immigration bill which has 90 co-sponsors would serve as the progressive conscience, everyone is waiting for the bill that Sen. Charles Schumer is working on with Sen. Lindsey Graham is introducing for debate in the Senate. It will then move to the House where it will be written by Rep. Zoe Lofgren.

The penultimate point of the discussion centered around ensuring that the mainstream media begin to report on the issue and mobilize around reform. Maria Elena pointed out the importance of providing people with honest information about the implications of enforcement actions such as raids and detention to families and the economy. Markos Zuniga pointed out that Latino and Asian communities are virtually invisible to the mainstream media, thus removing one side of the immigration story. Stressing the importance of building a pro-immigration story into the media narrative, the speakers highlighted the essential role of online journalism, blogging and networking in building knowledge and momentum for the movement.