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Vulnerable communities react to Arizona’s new law

Last Thursday, 10 year old Katherine Figueroa sat in a room in a Capitol Hill building in Washington DC telling Members of Congress about her personal encounter with immigration enforcement. Fighting back the tears, the young girl pleaded to the Democratic Members of Congress who were assembled, “Please tell President Obama to stop putting parents in jail, all they want is a better life for their kids.”She told the story of how her aunt took her in after her parents were arrested by Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s deputies. “I would also have bad dreams where the Arpaio deputies would take my aunt, her family and me to jail,” Katherine said. This brings to mind the poignant question from a second grader that caught the First Lady Michelle Obama off guard last month, with her honest fear for her family momentarily forcing the issue out of the political realm and into reality.

Katherine’s testimony was part of an ad-hoc Congressional hearing that took place in a packed committee room on Capital Hill and was attended by Democratic Members of Congress. One of the witnesses, Silvia Rodriguez, thanked Colorado Democrat Jared Polis for referring to her as an “American,” saying that it was one of the first times she had ever been called one. Her testimony and obvious pain brought tears to Rep. Polis’ eyes.

The event, a forum for Members of Congress to hear the stories of  women and children who were directly affected by Arizona’s harsh anti-immigrant law, SB1070, had been organized by Arizona Democratic Rep. Raul Grijalva and a number of labor and civil rights organizations such as the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, the National Domestic Worker Alliance, the AFL-CIO, the Family Values at Work Consortium and Jobs with Justice. The aim of the hearing was to illustrate the direct impact that extreme immigration enforcement measures such as SB1070 have on women and children, who are the most vulnerable members of immigrant populations, to demonstrate the extremely urgent need for a comprehensive overhaul of existing immigration laws, and to pressure the Obama administration and Congress to prevent the implementation of SB1070. Silvia Rodriguez, the witness mentioned earlier, appealed directly to President Obama at the end of her testimony. She said,

The only time that I felt to be the slightest happy, or accepted or proud by this country was when President Obama won his presidency. For him to not step up and fulfill his promises, really, really breaks a lot of hearts.

President Obama’s campaign promise of immigration reform fade from memory as such legislation looks less and less probable in this election year. Unless blocked by any of the five legal challenges that have been filed since Gov. Brewer signed the bill in to law on April 23rd, SB1070 is scheduled to take effect on July 29th. In addition to the horrific stories presented by the women at the June 10th hearing, community groups such as Puente, working on the ground in Arizona, have reported a massive increase in incidents of racial discrimination since the law was signed. While race has always been directly linked to immigration law, measures such as SB1070 have spurred on more instances of discrimination such as the case of a blood bank in Arizona refusing to take the blood of people who only speak Spanish.

Opposition to the tough measure has been coming from all sides, and most minority groups and communities of color worry that they will be targeted by its harsh clauses that allow police to stop and question people based on the degree to which they appear “reasonably suspicious” of being undocumented. Most recently, the country’s largest Native American reservation, the Navajo National Council, voted to officially oppose Arizona’s new enforcement measure during a special session convened for this purpose. Council Delegate Kee Allen Begay sponsored the measure which he thinks will definitely be used to harass Native Americans, specially given the strong resemblance between the Hispanic communities and Native Americans.

As opposition to the law grows, so does copy-cat legislation in other states across the country. On Saturday, Texas Republicans voted for a law that would require police officers to immediately check the immigration status of people arrested on suspicion of a crime, even before their culpability on the crime has been proven.  It is imperative that the Federal government wakes up to the large-scale detrimental effects that a laws like Arizona’s SB1070 will have on communities, on state unity, and on the economy.

Photo courtesy of csmonitor.com

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

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.