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Bloodshed in Arizona turns spotlight on political landscape of anger and hate

As Democratic Representative Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona battles for her life after an assassination attempt, the nation is trying to grapple with the violent tragedy that took the lives of 6 and wounded 14 people on Saturday morning, casting a dark shadow on the start of this year. On the morning of January 8th, while U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was meeting with constituents at a ‘Congress on Your Corner’ event at a local shopping center in Tuscon, a gunman opened fire on the gathering. Within seconds, Congresswoman Giffords was shot in the head at point blank range, along with 19 others including Christina Green, a 9-year old girl, Phyllis Schneck, a grandmother from New Jersey and 76-year old Dorwan Stoddard, who lived a mile from the grocery store.

A suspect was apprehended at the scene after two men pinned him to the ground and waited for the police to arrive. The suspect, 22-year old Jared Lee Loughner, has been charged with five federal counts on Sunday, including the attempted assassination of a Member of Congress, and the killing and attempted killings of four other government employees including John M. Roll, the chief federal judge in Arizona, who was killed, Gabriel Zimmerman, a Congressional aide, who was also killed, and Pamela Simon and Ron Barber, Congressional aides who were wounded. Mr. Loughner could face the death penalty if convicted.

Investigators found evidence at Jared Loughner’s residence in Southern Arizona to show that he had planned the attack on Gabrielle Giffords, including an envelope on which the words “I planned ahead,” “My assassination” and “Giffords” were written. In addition to a website linked to his name which contains anti-government writings, Mr. Loughner’s motives for committing the crime remain unclear. In spite of indications that Mr. Loughner is mentally ill, the tragic incident has quickly focused attention on the degree to which a political climate increasingly characterized by hate, fear and vitriolic rhetoric might be complicit in leading to a tragedy of this nature.

In a New York Times editorial written after the Arizona shootings, Paul Krugman refers to an internal report brought out by the Department of Homeland Security in April 2009 that warned of the violence that could accompany the growth of extremist rhetoric that was apparent in the political landscape. The last few years have also seen a growth in the numbers of threats against government officials. In 2010, following the health-care overhaul, Capitol Security officials had said that threats of violence against Congress officials, including death threats, harassment and vandalism, had tripled from the previous year. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, a strong and vocal supporter of heath-care reform had her district office door smashed with a bullet following the health-care vote. Judge John Roll, who was killed on Saturday, had received thousands of threatening messages and phone calls after he had allowed undocumented immigrants to proceed with a case in which a rancher had assaulted 16 Mexicans who had crossed through his land.

While it would be misguided to directly attribute the Loughner’s violent actions to the surge of inflammatory language characterizing politics and media, it is important to understand that there are real consequences to framing political discourse through violent rhetoric. The extent to which hateful and angry rhetoric has made its way into mainstream politics was evident in 2010, during the debate around Arizona’s harsh anti-immigrant law, SB1070, and during the 2010 mid-term elections, where campaign ads openly promoted hate and divisive sentiments. In March 2010, former Alaska governor Sarah Palin announced a target list of Congressional candidates to be defeated in the 2010 midterm election. Launched through her personal profile on Facebook, Palin’s “Don’t get Demoralized. Get Organized. Take Back the 20” campaign was symbolized by a map of the country which had crosshairs over the districts represented by candidates that she wanted defeated. Ms. Giffords, who was among the candidates marked on this map, had expressed her concern about it at the time-

We’re on Sarah Palin’s targeted list. But the thing is the way that she has it depicted has the cross hairs of a gun sight over our district. When people do that, they’ve got to realize there’s consequences to that.

At a press conference about the shootings on Saturday, Pima County Sheriff Clarence W. Dupnik spoke about the “vitriol” that characterized political discourse. Saying that it was time for the country to do a little “soul-searching” he said-

The anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous. And unfortunately, Arizona, I think, has become sort of the capital. We have become the mecca for prejudice and bigotry.

There is never an explanation for senseless acts of violence such as this that take the lives of innocent people. While Saturday’s shooting can be seen as an isolated action of a mentally ill individual, it can also be seen as emblematic of a political landscape that is angry, divisive, intolerant and eliminationist. Can this tragic incident become the pivotal turning point towards a more humane and peaceful political discourse?

Photo courtesy of examiner.com

Napolitano, Obama, and the Congressional budget favor the DREAM becoming a reality

Almost a decade after it was first introduced, the DREAM Act, a bill that, if passed, would give young undocumented adults who came to the U.S. as children and have lived here for an extended period of time and fulfilled certain criteria, a chance towards citizenship, is in the running to be passed once again.

In an effort to bring the DREAM Act up for a vote before the Senate while the Democrats still have a majority, Senate Majority leader Harry Reid and Majority Whip Richard Durbin filed a new version of the DREAM (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) Act late night on Tuesday, November 30th. This new version of the DREAM Act, S.3992, contains revisions to some key points that immigration restrictionists have had issue with in the past, in the hope that the revised version will address these issues and win the support of moderate lawmakers from both parties. An article in the Politico outlines some of these changes-

The latest version…would bar illegal immigrants from receiving in-state college tuition; drops the age of eligibility to 29 from 34; would not grant permanent legal status to anyone for at least 10 years; would restrict eligibility for those who commit certain misdemeanor crimes; and would limit individuals from being able to sponsor family members for U.S. citizenship, among other changes.

While there has been a mixed response to this conservative version of the DREAM Act, it is clear that the major compromises it offers are designed to win the 60 votes necessary to get it passed when it comes up for a vote. According to Jenny Werwa, the outreach and communications manager with the American Immigration Lawyers Association, the passage of this particular iteration of the DREAM Act bill would be a political “win” for immigrants rights advocates-

If they’ve put together this to create a new version, they must think they are going to get votes out of it. So for me, I’m optimistic about that, in terms of politically pushing the ball forward.

Since the first signs began to emerge that Sen. Reid would make good on his election campaign promise to introduce the DREAM Act before the end of the lame-duck session of Congress, a wide variety of people have spoken out in the support of the DREAM Act.

The first major move of support came from the White House, when President Obama, who has always been a supporter of the DREAM Act but has never publicly committed his support, told Democrats that he wanted it approved before the end of the 111th session of Congress. Moreover, he put forth a commitment to work “hand in glove” to ensure that the bill is passed, including a promise to call Senators himself, urging them to vote to pass the bill. Following this important avowal of support, the Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan has also been advocating for the passage of the DREAM Act in a number of public appearances. Speaking to the New York Times last Monday, Mr. Duncan said-

I think we are fundamentally wrong on this as a nation. (Undocumented students) have played by all the rules, gone to school, worked hard, full attendance. Then they graduate and the doors of opportunity basically slam shut.

Hundreds of educational institutions and educators from around the country think that the thousands of young adults who were brought here as children, and have been through the school system and want to make something of their lives should be given a chance. They too have extended their support of the DREAM Act.

An extremely important public statement in favor of the DREAM Act came from DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano who said that the implementation of the DREAM Act would actually help the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) enforce immigration law more effectively. Speaking on Thursday at a conference call with the White House, Napolitano urged Republican lawmakers to see the DREAM Act as a complement to enforcement rather than an “amnesty” bill for undocumented immigrants. Emphasizing the DREAM Act’s relationship to smart enforcement, she said-

From where I sit I think it’s important to point out that it fits into a larger strategy of immigration enforcement and complements the Department of Homeland Security plan to prioritize enforcement resources to remove dangerous criminal aliens from the country…The DREAM Act is one thing that Congress can do right now to help the Department of Homeland Security do its job of enforcing immigration laws in the way that makes the most sense for public safety for our national security.

In addition to the thousands of advocates and young people who have taken part in rallies, sit-ins, protests and hunger strikes in all corners of the country, hoping to urge Members of Congress to vote in support of the bill, inter-faiths religious leaders have also raised their voices in support of all the young people who stand to benefit from the DREAM. On Tuesday, leaders from the Jewish, Islamic and Christian faiths banded together for a coordinated day of action, calling on Congressional leaders to pass the DREAM Act.

An important point in favor of the DREAM Act came from the Congressional Budget Office who released the long-awaited cost estimate of S. 3992, the latest version of the DREAM Act. Their findings showed that putting thousands of well educated, young, undocumented immigrants on the path to legalization would reduce the deficit by $1.4 billion over ten years.

Despite the numerous factions and argument in support of the DREAM Act, and the fact that a recent poll conducted throughout the country by First Focus found that 70% of adults were in favor of passing the bill, a number of Republican lawmakers are reluctant to get behind it. Although the DREAM Act has always enjoyed an element of bipartisan support, even those Republicans who supported the DREAM Act in previous years, have now rescinded their support. Jon Kyl (Arizona), John Cornyn (Texas), Bob Bennett (Utah), Sam Brownback (Kansas), Susan Collins (Maine), Kay Bailey Hutchison (Texas), and John McCain (Arizona) are some of the Republican Members of Congress who supported the DREAM Act in the past.

The DREAM Act might come up for a vote early next week, and with it, the lives and dreams of about 2.1 million young people in the United States could change for the better. Take action NOW by calling your Members of Congress and urging them to vote for the DREAM!

Photo courtesy of nytimes.com

New challenges and new hopes- immigrant voters hold their own in the elections

As election fever passes and the nation takes stock, one thing becomes clear – even as Republicans have taken control of the House and Democrats remain strong in the Senate, no one can afford to ignore the immigrant voter.

This election wasn’t about immigration – much of it was dominated by the issue of jobs and the economy. But the issue of immigration, even if it wasn’t front and center, did play a crucial role in winning Senate seats. In California, Meg Whitman’s strong anti-immigrant stance yielded no results, while in Colorado, Senator Michael Bennet received support from Latino voters, and in Nevada, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s positive stance on immigration brought in Latino voters who formed 16% of the entire electorate. In an analysis on the Washington Independent-

“Harry Reid beat out Sharron Angle (R), who ran a campaign that relied heavily on anti-illegal immigration rhetoric, and immigration hawk Tom Tancredo lost the race for Colorado governor… Angle claimed Reid supported a number of policies to help illegal immigrants and seemed to be attempting to capitalize on ethnic fears in ads that showed angry-looking Latino men set to dramatic, if untrue, statements. Tancredo also campaigned largely on immigration policy… Republican Meg Whitman lost to Democrat Jerry Brown. Whitman tried to reach out to Latino voters after her primary, but was hindered by allegations of mistreatment and illegal employment by an undocumented maid who worked for her for almost a decade.”

In a poll conducted by Latino Decisions with the support of National Council of La Raza, SEIU, and America’s Voice, among Latino voters in 8 states, they found that when asked whether the issue of immigration was an important factor in their decision to vote and in their choice of candidate, 60% of Latinos said it was either “the most important” issue or “one of the most important” issues, staying ahead of other important issues like education, taxes, and housing. In Nevada and Arizona, two of the states with the most polarizing immigration debates going on at the moment, sentiments were even stronger. 69% of Latino voters in both Arizona and Nevada said the immigration issue was one of the most important factors in their decision to vote, and who to vote for.  In Arizona, 40% said immigration was the single most important issue in their voting decisions, and 38% in Nevada said the same. Moreover, a high percentage of Latino voters said that their decisions to vote and who to vote for were also motivated by divisive immigration debates, and especially by anti-immigrant and anti-Latino sentiment expressed in the electoral campaigns of candidates like Sharron Angle and Tom Tancredo.

The election results, particularly the Republican take over of the House, will have deep consequences for the future of immigration policy. With Lamar Smith, R-Texas slated to become chairman of the House Judiciary Committee overseeing all immigration issues, and Steve King, R-Iowa heading the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security, and International Law, pressure for “increased border security and enforcement actions targeted at undocumented immigrants in the workplace” will increase. Mr. Smith’s track history around the issue of immigration over the past few years does not yield a pretty picture, with him supporting Arizona-Style Immigration Enforcement, measures to ending birthright citizenship and a push for mandatory E-Verify regulations. And judging by last weeks request by seven Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee asking Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to “detail exactly how much funding” would be needed to “ensure that enforcement of the law occurs consistently for every illegal alien encountered and apprehended”, a strong pushback from Republicans in both the House and Senate would not be surprising.

But instead of running away from ugly bills, we need to confront them. Because looking at 2012, it is clear that no one, Republicans or Democrats, will be able to win an election without the strength of the immigrant voter, and particularly the Latino voter supporting them. Be it in California, Texas, New York, New Jersey, Nevada, this election has shown that in races with the Latino and immigrant vote, one can create victory and show strength.

It’s time to listen and stay fixed on the goal with a clear, progressive call for change that respects due process and fairness for all.

Photo courtesy of www.fronteras.org

Jury Rules Immigrant’s Murder a Hate Crime, Even as Vicious Ads Continue to Stoke Racial Tensions

Guest Blogger: Jackie Mahendra from America’s Voice.

While the mainstream media has been largely absent, Latina Lista has been busy covering the dramatic trial of the two men charged with the hate crime killing of immigrant Luis Ramirez in Shenandoah, Pa. It turns out the 2008 murder was, indeed, a hate crime.

A federal grand jury has convicted the two Pennsylvania men, in a verdict that many argue was long overdue.

On July 14, 2008, Ramirez was beaten to death by a group of teenagers who yelled racial epithets throughout the killing.  A retired Philadelphia police officer said she heard one of the defendants yell to Mr. Ramirez’s friends, “Tell your [expletive] Mexican friends to get the [expletive] out of Shenandoah or you’ll be [expletive] laying next to him.”  Defendants were reported to have yelled, “Go back to Mexico” as they beat him to death.

Despite the evidence, an all-white jury found two of the defendants “not guilty” of third-degree murder and ethnic intimidation last year, to cheers in the courtroom and the astonishment of the Latino community.  The Federal government took up the case and finally justice was served.

Yet, two years after Ramirez’ gruesome murder, we continue to see egregious examples of race-baiting and immigrant bashing for political gain. This campaign season, a number of candidates are running race-baiting campaign ads that demonize immigrants. They use extreme, anti-immigrant rhetoric instead of offering real solutions to our immigration crisis.  Republican Senate candidates David Vitter (R-LA) and Sharron Angle of Nevada are both running anti-immigrant ads that paint Latinos as dangerous criminals, freeloaders, and the enemies of “real” Americans.

The FBI reports that hate crimes against Latinos rose 32% between 2003 and 2008 (the last year for which data is available), and groups such as the Southern Poverty Law Center have documented a correlation between anti-immigrant rhetoric and anti-Latino violence.

According to Lynn Tramonte, Deputy Director of America’s Voice:

Hateful campaign ads and rhetoric that demonize immigrants have no place in America today.  It’s as if some politicians think there is no cost for immigrant-bashing.  Well they are wrong.  This type of rhetoric creates a climate where violent crimes are committed against human beings simply because of the color of their skin.  Yesterday’s verdict in the Luis Ramirez murder is just, but it’s not nearly enough.  Politicians and pundits must stop using immigrants as scapegoats and instead use their microphones to spread a message of tolerance, humanity, and the need for common sense immigration reform.

In light of this tragic case, we believe it’s time for politicians and pundits to end the hateful rhetoric and immigrant bashing that has created a hostile climate for Latinos and encouraged hate crimes like the murder of Mr. Ramirez. Luis Ramirez lost his life because of the unaccountable, incendiary, and out-of-control immigration debate in this country.

Politicians who stoke racial fears and hatred need to realize that their rhetoric has severe — but not unforeseen– consequences.

The ruling on Luis Ramirez’ murder should serve as a wake-up call to those who refuse to end the politics of division and fear.

Photo courtesy of americasvoiceonline.org

As the specter of SB1070 haunts Nebraska, the case for dropping the I-word becomes stronger

This summer, while the nation was in the throes of the debate around Arizona’s harsh immigration law SB1070, the small town of Fremont, Nebraska, decided to take immigration law into its own hands,  passing a law banning landlords and employers from renting and hiring people without adequate documentation.

It’s a precursor to the the anti-immigration dialogue running through the state of Nebraska, despite bring sparsely populated, enjoying relative economic stability, and not being positioned on the border. Dave Heineman, currently in the running for a second term as Governor of Nebraska, has been pushing for stricter immigration laws since he first ran for Governor four years ago. After an unexpected victory the first time around, the Republican Governor has made his opposition to immigration the central issue of his second campaign. Poised for re-election, he recently announced that a law closely modeled on Arizona’s SB1070 would be the first item on his agenda, were he to be elected as Governor again.

Following the support he received from Nebraskans over the Fremont law, and the sharp increase in his popularity ratings following his focus on immigration, Heineman is determined to push for a law that makes it easier for local law enforcement to arrest undocumented immigrants. He told the New York Times about his commitment to the issue-

I’m very adamant about this — the federal government has failed to solve the immigration issue…Next January I believe in every state in America there will be an Arizona-type law introduced.

Ironically, it was after two Republican officials – Chuck Hagel and Mike Johannes – worked to ensure that Federal authorities did not impede the hiring of undocumented people in Nebraska ten years ago that the state saw a rapid influx of foreign born residents, most of whom came to find work in the numerous meat-packing plants across the state. Although the state’s immigrant population grew by 40% since 2000, it was only after Heineman became Governor in 2005 that the negative discourse around immigrants began to gather momentum. In addition to the Fremont law, Heineman has been pushing to revoke in-state tuition rates for those college students who grew up in Nebraska but are undocumented. He been successful in his efforts to end prenatal support for pregnant women who do not possess adequate documentation, as well as put in a system of mandatory checks that ensures against benefits for those who might be undocumented.

While human rights groups, politicians, lawyers, and the Presidential administration itself, not to mention thousands of activists, athletes, artists, and individuals around the country worked hard to prove that laws such as SB1070 are unconstitutional, inhumane, and detrimental to the overall stability and success of the country, there are still people such as Governor Heineman who think otherwise.

It is important that we put an end to divisive politics and favor respect and human rights for all. The Applied Research Center is countering anti-immigrant discourse through Drop the I-Word, a national public education campaign focused on eradicating the racial slur “illegals” from media use and public discourse. The ‘I-word’ is a damaging term that divides and dehumanizes communities and is used to discriminate against immigrants and people of color. It is shorthand for “illegal alien,” “illegal immigrant” and other racially charged terms. The campaign redefines how we treat each other through a cross-generational, multiracial initiative aimed at raising the commitment to human rights, dignity and racial justice for all people.

It’s time to Drop the I-Word as a designation for our neighbors, children and families. Are you listening, Nebraska?

Republicans, baseball players and the Terminator against Arizona’s new law

A New York Times /CBS News poll shows that about 60% of the country supports SB1070, Arizona’s new anti-immigrant law, despite it’s harsh provisions that inevitably lead to racial profiling and transform Arizona into something of a police state where everyone has to carry their papers around with them at all times to prove their status. But the same poll also revealed a large majority of people in favor of a comprehensive overhaul of immigration. The fact is SB1070 that puts the federal issue of immigration enforcement into the hands of local law enforcement is not the solution to the country’s broken immigration system, and a whole range of leaders, lawmakers, activists, law enforcement officers and Members of Congress are speaking out loudly against it.

This starts with a number of Republican voices uncomfortable with the law. Former Republican Rep. Bob Barr wrote a strong piece in the Atlanta Journal Constitution in which he opposed SB1070 for exercising state police control over an exclusively federal function – protecting our borders and enforcing immigration law. In addition to calling the law troubling because of the “vagueness and breadth” of its provisions, Mr. Barr criticizes it for being “in conflict with traditional notions that the police are not permitted to stop and detain individuals based on mere suspicion.”

Another Republican voice against the Arizona law was that of Florida’s Rep. Connie Mack who thinks that the bill has echoes of Nazi Germany’s Gestapo. He disregarded what is often stated by proponents of the law as an excuse – the Center’s inaction on immigration reform, and said-

This law of “frontier justice”…is reminiscent of a time during World War II when the Gestapo in Germany stopped people on the street and asked for their papers without probable cause. It shouldn’t be against the law to not have proof of citizenship on you…This is not the America I grew up in and believe in, and it’s not the America I want my children to grow up in…Instead of enacting laws that trample on our freedoms, we should be seeking more ways to create opportunities for immigrants to come to our nation legally and be productive citizens.

And last week, on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno,” California’s Gov. Arnold Schwarznegger spoke out against SB1070. Calling the Congress and White House’s inaction on tackling the issue of immigration “irresponsible,” he called Arizona’s anti-immigrant law “a mess” and said that it was something he “would never do.”

In addition to lawmakers, some of the loudest objections to the law have come from police officers around the country who feel that in addition to inevitably leading to racial profiling, SB1070 takes away the trust that the community has in local law enforcement and divert resources away from focusing on serious crime, making their jobs of enforcing the law much harder.

Opposition also comes from the baseball community which has been buzzing about Arizona. At a game in Wrigley Field with the Chicago Cubs, the Arizona Diamondbacks faced a lot of opposition from the crowd for the immigration law, with fans yelling “Boycott Arizona!” A day later, the Major League Baseball (MLB) Association issued a statement condemning the law, and Rep. Jose Serrano of New York wrote a letter to the baseball commissioner Bud Selig urging him to change the location for the 2011 All-Star game, currently scheduled to be held in Phoenix, as a way of sending a strong message to Arizona lawmakers that the baseball community is against the law.

30% of baseball players are Latino, and with 140 young Latino baseball players scheduled to arrive in Arizona for the Arizona Rookie League in June, MLB officials are concerned. Apparently Arizona is not new to being boycotted by sports teams. In 1993, when Arizona refused to honor the Federal holiday of Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, the NFL pulled the Super Bowl. Twice burned, maybe the lawmakers need to learn that diverse as this nation’s sports teams are, they won’t tolerate laws that disrespect the diversity and freedom that is integral to this country.

Two-time All Star Adrian Gonzalez, one of the biggest names in baseball, has said that he will not play in 2011′s All Star game as long as SB1070 is in effect. Since then more and more MLB players have come out against SB1070, calling it “racist stuff,” “immoral” and a violation of human rights. Actions include signing a petition to the MLB Commissions Selig asking him to boycott Arizona!

This length and breadth of voices against SB1070 is testament to the long list of reasons that the law should not be implemented.

Photo courtesy of nytimes.com

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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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Take action to protect Haitians in the U.S. who have no place to safely return

-1On January 12th, 2010, the already impoverished Haitian capital, Port-au-Prince, was hit by an earthquake that measured 7.0 on the Richter scale. Frighteningly, that is all that is quantifiable about the disaster at the moment, with thousands trapped under rubble and the scale of destruction to lives and infrastructure yet unknown.

So how much more devastation does the nation of Haiti need to go through before the U.S. administration is convinced that the country is not equipped to cope with the thousands of Haitians who are currently facing deportation back to Haiti?

Between August and September of 2008 Haiti was hit with four tropical cyclones (Fay, Gustav, Hanna and Ike) which killed 800 people, displaced many thousands, and destroyed the economy of the country. Directly following those disasters the Bush administration faced pressure to grant Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to Haitians living in the U.S., a temporary amnesty, given in 18-month increments to immigrants stranded in the U.S.

The Secretary of Homeland Security may designate a foreign country for TPS due to conditions in the country that temporarily prevent the country’s nationals from returning safely, or in certain circumstances, where the country is unable to handle the return of its nationals adequately…Ongoing armed conflict (such as civil war); An environmental disaster (such as earthquake or hurricane); Other extraordinary and temporary conditions.

But not only did the Bush administration fail to include Haiti within the nations whose citizens are granted TPS (namely Sudan, Somalia, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua), but soon after the Obama administration called for the deportation of 30,000 Haitians that President Bush had ordered. Unable to copy with the influx of so many deportees, the Haitian government ceased issuing travel documents for them, resulting in hundreds of deportees being held in detention centers even after they were flown back to Haiti.

At the time in March 2009, many  expressed outrage at the administration’s treatment of Haitian immigrants and demanded TPS for Haitians in the U.S. based on the horrific “conditions on the ground” in Haiti,

Gonaives, Haiti’s third largest city, is uninhabitable; most of the nation’s livestock, food crops, farm tools and seeds destroyed; irrigation systems demolished; collapsed buildings throughout the country; 800,000 people left homeless and more than 800 dead. USAID estimates that 2.3 million Haitians now face “food insecurity,” reeling from prices 40 percent higher than in January.

One year and another natural disaster later, the pressure to grant TPS to undocumented Haitians in the U.S. has reached its peak. On Wednesday, three Republican Member of Congress, Reps. Lincoln Diaz-Balart and Mario Diaz-Balart, and Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen wrote a joint letter to President Obama calling for immediate granting of TPS to Haitian nationals. Democrat Alcee Hastings added his name to the appeal, stating it was “not only immoral, but irresponsible” to not allow Haitians to remain in the U.S. Additionally, New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand addressed a letter to the President saying,

Now is certainly not the time to deport Haitians into an overly burdened country…Haiti clearly meets the criteria for TPS designation and extending it would be one way to help address this catastrophe, as well as alleviate additional burdens on American assistance workers.

Yesterday, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano temporarily halted deportations to Haiti, and today Secretary of State Hillary Clinton indicated they may be moving towards TPS for Haitians. As it stands, those Haitians already in detention, such as Haitian activist Jean Montrevil, will continue to remain detained.

In their appeal to Obama, a number of immigrant advocacy organizations such as National Immigration Forum expressed their relief at the U.S. government’s support for Haiti but asked for more long term revisions of the immigration policy,

We find some consolation that the Administration is acting quickly to mobilize relief efforts to Haiti. We support the latest Immigration and Customs Enforcement announcement that it is halting all deportations of Haitian immigrants for the time being, in light of the devastation caused by yesterday’s earthquake…These are the right immediate initial responses. But as part of its long term relief effort, the Administration must grant Temporary Protected Status (TPS) to Haitian immigrants who are now in the U.S.

Granting Haitian nationals TPS would release those in detention centers, unite them with their families, allow them to live and work legally in the U.S., and contribute to the economy in the U.S. and recovery of Haiti. It would also help undocumented Haitians across the U.S. Overall it would impact 125,000 Haitians.

When President Obama said, “You will have a friend and partner in the people of the United States today, and going forward,” we certainly hope that support extends itself to aiding those Haitians who are here.

We urge you to sign a petition, sign a letter to Obama and join a facebook group in support of TPS. And if you are looking for a reliable way to contribute to the earthquake, donate here.