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Another Holiday in Exile

Guest blogger: Nicole Salgado

Querétaro, Mexico, October 18, 2011. You know the year-end holidays are approaching when the stores starting filling with decorations. From here on in it’ll be an endless blur of pumpkins, tinsel, and Santas from Halloween to New Years. Except I’ll also find candy skulls and praying Virgin Marys. And I won’t be sharing a table spread with turkey with my family. This is because I’ll be spending my fifth holiday season in Querétaro, Mexico, where in addition to the popular U.S. holidays, they also celebrate Día de los Muertos and Our Lady of Guadalupe Day.

When I met my husband in the San Francisco Bay Area in 2001, my life changed forever. At the time, he was an undocumented immigrant from Mexico, and because of him I learned how much the rules had changed since the days when my own ancestors came to America from Mexico and Germany. Because he’d left and come back more than once and stayed to work for longer than a year, my husband had what is considered the permanent bar, leaving us limited options to make things right with his immigration record. Although we wanted to stay in the Bay Area because we had good jobs and a fulfilling life, we lived in fear that our lives would be turned upside down by an unexpected deportation. Our only option for his adjustment of status was to leave the U.S. and apply for a waiver in 10 years, from Mexico.

I finally made the difficult decision to leave the U.S. with my husband and move to his home state of Querétaro, Mexico in 2006. We have no guarantee we will ever be able to return to the U.S. together. We used all our savings to build a house here, and good-paying jobs in our fields are hard to come by. Underemployment for the last 5 years has left us struggling economically. Despite all this, we did not want to put our dreams of getting on with our lives or starting a family on hold indefinitely. We had a daughter last year and she is a blessing.

We are currently halfway through our waiting period. Visits with family and friends from the States are rare. I’d like to spend the holidays with family, but I cannot afford to travel very often. Even if I could, my husband, her father, cannot join us. Luckily, my parents will visit this Christmas. But my husband hasn’t seen my nearly 90-year old grandmother since we were married in 2004, or my brother since we left the U.S. Although my daughter and I have become dual citizens, it’s uncertain whether her father will ever become a welcome member of American society, I am not sure how I will explain that to her someday. My family and I have suffered in the wake of this situation. As a result of legal technicalities, I struggle with stress-related disorders and the task of redefining myself professionally and culturally.

After several years of relative isolation from the online and social activist community, I have decided to make our story public, and am co-authoring the book Amor and Exile with journalist Nathaniel Hoffman (amorandexile.com). Despite coming face to face with plenty of anti-immigrant sentiment, I have also been heartened by all the support growing from people who recognize the need for true fairness, justice, and equality. Many other brave people, who’ve had to make choices like me, decided that love and integrity are more important than their own personal comfort level. I hope people and governments worldwide will come together and make the changes necessary so that families can reunite to celebrate the holidays in peace and joy.

Spread the word and stop the hate in Alabama: Helplines and stories from the ground

Despite the Federal court of appeals blocking some provisions of Alabama’s HB 56 anti-immigrant law, including the one that stated that all schools had to check the immigration status of incoming students, stories of children, workers and families being impacted by the repercussions of the law continue to flood the internet. The law, which supporters and proponents say is “going according to plan,” has succeeded in creating a climate of fear and persecution similar to one that existed during the Jim Crow era in the South.

Scott Douglas, III, Executive Director of Greater Birmingham Ministries said that Alabama’s new anti-immigration law worked to “put families on the run and divide them” and was “one of Alabama’s worst times since Jim Crow.”

 When Politico spoke to Alabama Republican Mo Brooks about what they referred to as the “unintended consequences” of the law, such as the fact that on October 7th, 2300 children were missing from Alabama schools, he responded saying-

Those are the intended consequences of Alabama’s legislation with respect to illegal aliens. We don’t have the money in America to keep paying for the education of everybody else’s children from around the world. We simply don’t have the financial resources to do that. Second, with respect to illegal aliens who are now leaving jobs in Alabama, that’s exactly what we want.

Here are some stories of the direct impact (‘intended consequences’) of HB 56 in Alabama that have come up during the last two weeks while the law has been in effect.

From America’s Voice-

- The Birmingham News reported that one school called all their Hispanic students into the cafeteria and asked them to publicly announce their own, and their parents’ immigration status

- “One young father from Ensenada, Baja California, Mexico told me, through tears, that his 12-year-old son, who is undocumented, has always been an honor student who recently won a school trip to go to the Space Museum in Huntsville. He didn’t go, because he was afraid the police would detain him. ‘We don’t have much time to think it over … maybe we can get our affairs in order here in two or three weeks and see what our options are, maybe moving to another state, or straight to Mexico,’ the father said. (Reported by Maribel Hastings)

- “Some families don’t dare to leave the house, even to get basic items like food. The church deacon said that he knew people who had gone days without leaving to buy groceries; he had offered to bring them food himself.” (Reported by Pili Tobar)

From a Facebook page called ‘Personal stories of HB 56 in Alabama-’

- “A white friend was pulled over by a police officer in Ozark yesterday. Confused by what documentation he needed, the officer radioed back to ask dispatch. Dispatch answered, “Does the person speak Spanish? If not, just get their driver’s license.”

- “A 4 year old child being served by Children’s Rehab Services in Montgomery missed three appointments in the last couple of weeks. The child has several health issues for which she needs consistent care. The interpreter working on her case went to look for the family at the apartment complex where they live; a neighbor told her that the family had left, along with most of the other Hispanic families there.”

From a Facebook page called Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice-

- “It’s really sad I couldn’t buy any fruits and vegetables last night when I went grocery shopping because everything was rotten.”

From the ACLU of Alabama’s Facebook page-

- “Third generation farmer Brian Cash watched 85% of his workforce disappear in one day as workers fled the state in fear of harassment and discrimination since Alabama’s HB56 immigration law went into effect.”

Here are some hotline numbers for people in Alabama to report civil and human rights violations as a result of HB 56, and reach out for help and assistance:

- An important number for all people in the Hispanic community in Alabama affected by the new anti-immigrant law, HB56: 1-800-982-1620

- From the Southern Poverty Law Center: “We’re gathering stories as well. Please pass along our hotline number: 1-800-982-1620. So far we’ve received more than 2,200 calls from people who have been affected by HB56.”

For updates on local protests, please check the Facebook pages mentioned above as well as ones called ‘Veto HB56 Alabama Immigration Law- Estoy Contra la Ley HB56‘ and ‘Alabama Against the HB 56.’

HB 56 has triggered widespread fear among Alabama’s immigrant communities and set off nothing short of a humanitarian crisis. We need to stand in solidarity with the people of Alabama because when we deny human rights to some we put everyone’s rights at risk.

We will continue to update you as the news happens. We also need your voice in this conversation. Please follow us on Twitter and Facebook and share your news, views and stories about HB 56 with us.

Share this image widely!

Photo courtesy of guardian.co.uk

Today’s the day to take a stand against immigrant detention: Watch films on PBS and CNBS

The government is denying due process and fairness in our communities by detaining immigrants who pose no danger and are not a flight risk to the community in inhumane and unregulated detention centers. In the last two years, we have seen more people detained by the ever-expanding, profit-making detention system that ever before, followed by the deportation of a record 1 million people. Moreover, the stories of people who suffer physical and sexual assault, medical negligence, and even death in detention continue to abound.

Tonight, mainstream television will showcase two different investigative exposés of the flagrant violation of human rights that is taking place through the criminalization of immigrant communities, the prison industry and mass immigration detention and deportation system in the U.S.

- Lost in Detention, will air on PBS’s ‘Frontline’ at 9pm EST tonight (check local listings).

In partnership with American University’s Investigative Reporting Workshop, Frontline correspondent Maria Hinojosa takes a penetrating look at Obama’s vastly expanded immigration net, explores the controversial Secure Communities enforcement program and goes inside the hidden world of immigration detention. This feature length documentary uncovers some of the most controversial aspects of the detention system under the Obama administration, looking at police involvement in deportations, as well as abuses and deaths in detention centers. Speaking to Colorlines about the documentary, Maria Hinojosa said- “I would just hope that maybe this documentary helps people engage with their neighbors and their friends. Maybe we can just have this conversation.” Speaking about the abuses in detention she said-

As a journalist, I’m concerned about this. As an American, I’m concerned about this. Because we believe that there’s some kind of legal recourse that we all have, because we have basic rights in our country. Now all of a sudden, you’re encountering a population that’s being told, “Actually you don’t have any legal recourse.” If abuses happen, well, if the abused is an immigrant then they just deport that person and the abuse case goes away.

Join NDLON and the Detention Watch Network for an twitter chat during documentary with the hashtag #altopolimigra. Watch the trailer and tune in for the entire film tonight-

Watch Lost in Detention Preview on PBS. See more from FRONTLINE.

- Billions Behind Bars: Inside America’s Prison Industry, which is a CNBC original documentary series about the profits and inner workings of the multi-billion dollar corrections industry , will air on CNBC starting tonight, for a week.

With more than 2.3 million people locked up, the U.S. has the highest incarceration rate in the world. One out of 100 American adults is behind bars – while a stunning one out of 32 is on probation, parole or in prison. This reliance on mass incarceration has created a thriving prison economy. The states and the federal government together spend roughly $74 billion a year on corrections, and nearly 800,000 people work in the industry.

Also today, the Detention Watch Network launched a national campaign, ‘Dignity not Detention,’ calling for an end to mandatory detention laws, which are significantly responsible for the explosion of the detention system. A wide range of faith, immigrant rights, and community-based organizations joined Detention Watch Network to call on Congress and the Obama Administration to:

  • Repeal all laws mandating the detention of non-citizens.
  • Put an end to all policies and programs that use the criminal justice system to target people for detention and deportation.
  • Bring the U.S. into compliance with its obligations under international human rights law, which prohibits arbitrary detention.
Watch the video, End Mandatory Detention and endorse the campaign here- 

Alabama HB 56 update: The good, the bad and the ugly

The good news-

On Friday, a federal appeals court temporarily blocked enforcement of certain parts of Alabama’s HB 56, one of the harshest anti-immigrant bills in U.S. history. This decision came as a result of a request from the U.S. Justice department, along with immigrant rights groups such as the National Immigrant Law Center, ACLU of Alabama and the Southern Poverty Law Center, that the law be put on hold until questions pertaining to its constitutionality can be addressed, something that may take several months.

Some of the provisions that were blocked, as summed up by CNN:

- Section 28, requiring state officials to check the immigration status of students in public schools

- Section 10,”willful failure to complete or carry an alien registration card” a misdemeanor for immigrants

And now some more bad news-

While the parts of the law that were blocked were ones that have already caused widespread panic and damage to families and children across the state of Alabama, many other provisions that are equally contested and just as harmful to communities around the state are being enforced. From CNN:

- Section 12, that requires that police during “lawful” stops or arrests “attempt to determine the immigration status of a person who they suspect is an unauthorized alien of this country.” That provision is similar to other laws aiming to crack down on illegal immigration passed by other state legislatures over the past year (such as Arizona’s SB 1070).

- One that bars state courts from enforcing contracts involving undocumented immigrants, if the hiring party had a “direct or constructive” knowledge that the person was in the country unlawfully.

- Section 30, that makes it a felony for illegal immigrants to enter into a “business transaction” in Alabama, including applying for a driver’s license or a business license.

The danger and severity of the 3 provisions mentioned above cannot be stressed enough. Speaking during a call about the humanitarian crisis in Alabama, Reverend Angie Wright of Greater Birmingham Ministries explained that “The parts that are still in effect and are of most concern are the racial profiling aspects of the law, which is causing tremendous fear and terror in the immigrant communities.” From an America’s Voice blog which mentioned Rev. Wright’s opinions-

She noted that in Alabama, it is now a Class C felony for any undocumented immigrant to do business or have any kind of contract with state government, meaning that undocumented immigrants can now face up to 10 years in prison or $15,000 in fines for applying for a car tag or water service.

If anti-immigrant laws such as HB 56 continue to be enforced, the fear and hysteria that are spreading through Alabama’s immigrant communities will be in other parts of the country in no time. We need to ensure that we stand in solidarity with the people of Alabama and ensure that their voices are heard and their rights are upheld. When we deny human rights to some people, we put all everyone’s rights at risk.

Photo courtesy of blog.al.com

 

 

 

Alabama’s Watergate

If you needed additional proof that Alabama is in the midst of a humanitarian crisis, look no further. With a population of only 693, the ironically named township of Allgood, Alabama managed to send shockwaves through the international community this weekend, using a provision of HB 56 to deny clean water and proper sanitation to residents lacking state identification.

Allgood’s “papers for water” policy is a draconian interpretation of Section 30 of the controversial law, which deems it illegal for an individual lacking proof of citizenship to enter into any “business transaction” with the “state or a political subdivision of the state.” With many families already confined to their homes for fear of deportation, the loss of clean water and sanitation could be catastrophic.

And the impact of such a measure is not limited to undocumented households alone. The amended terms of access are also likely to impact poor, elderly and minority citizens, who are less likely to have photo identification and proof of citizenship. This level of disenfranchisement is a haunting reminder of Alabama’s troubled history during the civil rights era – one the state is coming dangerously close to repeating.

HB 56 is already considered to be the most draconian piece of anti-immigrant legislation in the country, but the most recent development in Allgood is a graphic reminder that immigrant rights are human rights, and denying fairness to some puts all of our freedoms at risk.

Stand in solidarity with the people of Alabama and spread the word – take action to restore fairness now.

Photo courtesy of thinkprogress.org

Stories from the ground: Life after Alabama’s anti-immigrant law for an American family named Gonzales

Crossposted from the American Civil Liberties Union-

Cineo Gonzales is a married father of two who has lived in Birmingham for more than 10 years. He chose to live in Alabama because he wanted a safe community in which to raise his 6-year-old daughter and 4-year-old son. A lawfully present immigrant, Gonzales works as a taxi driver.

Before the enactment of H.B. 56, Gonzales mostly drove people between their homes and the airport. Since the law took effect on Sept. 28, families who are fleeing the state in fear of H.B. 56 have been asking him to drive them as far as New York and Indiana. These families have no other choice but to flee by car, because air and rail travel identification requirements might ensnare undocumented families with law enforcement. Gonzales likened these out-of-state trips to the Underground Railroad, saying many families are heading north because there’s more acceptance of immigrants there.

Gonzales told me one family called him at 2 a.m. asking him to pick them up from the side of the road. Carrying only two suitcases and plastic garbage bags filled with belongings, the father wanted to leave immediately because he feared he was being followed by police. Enforcement of the law has led to this kind of widespread paranoia and panic. One woman in Russellville told me that she feels like she’s being watched every time she walks down the street or goes into the grocery store. She feels her lawful presence is constantly questioned by those around her.

Shortly after the law went into effect, Gonzales’s daughter and another Latino student in her 1st grade class were singled out by the school as targets of the new law. In front of the entire class, they were handed know-your-rights documents to give to their parents. In other classes, Latino children were pulled out of class and given the document. This kind of racial profiling is rampant throughout the Alabama school system.

The next day, when Gonzales asked a school official why his daughter was given the paper, she explained they were giving it to “all children who aren’t from here.”

Mr. Gonzales’s daughter was born in Alabama. When I visited the family, the first question she asked me was, “Are you an Auburn or a “Bama fan?” (asking my preference of college football teams). She loves to play soccer, is a star student and can’t wait to be a Good Witch for Halloween.

Photos courtesy of aclu.org

Sen. Cardin introduces bill to ban racial profiling (which would prohibit provisions of Alabama’s HB 56 from being enforced)

Guest Blogger: Tong Lee, Director of Membership Services for the Rights Working Group

On Thursday, Oct. 6, 2011, Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) introduced the End Racial Profiling Act (ERPA) of 2011.  If passed, the bill would prohibit the use of profiling based on race, religion, ethnicity and national origin by any federal, state, local or Indian tribal law enforcement agency. This is a significant step forward in over a decade since the NAACP, ACLU, their allies, and affected community members have advocated endlessly for the bill’s introduction and passage.  With this introduction, it is now critical for the Senate to pass the bill.  Email your Senator and tell them to pass the End Racial Profiling Act.

There are many positive provisions in the bill.  The bill would also institute mandatory training on profiling for law enforcement agents; require data collection and monitoring; create privacy protections for individuals whose data is collected; implement substantive procedures for responding to profiling complaints and a private right of action for victims of profiling.

Far too often, communities of color know first-hand the experience of being racially profiled by law enforcement agencies. If the bill passes, it could have a significant impact on communities. The bill is intended to prohibit:

  • Stops and frisks by local law enforcement based on ethnicity;
  • Surveillance by law enforcement agencies of specific neighborhoods and communities, like the recent discovery of the New York Police Department’s monitoring of Muslim neighborhoods in New York after the 9/11 attacks; and
  • States from enacting laws requiring residents to show proof of immigration status, such as Alabama’s H.B. 56, Georgia’s H.B. 56 and Arizona’s S.B. 1070.

With the bill’s introduction, we now need the Senate to pass it.  Contact your Senators and tell them to co-sponsor the End Racial Profiling Act.  The following Senators have co-sponsored the bill: Sen. Richard Blumenthal, (D-CT), Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand (D-NY), Sen. John F. Kerry (D-MA), Sen. Frank R. Lautenberg (D-NJ), Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI), Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski (D-MD) and Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI).

 

No HB 56: Human Rights for AL(L)

Why are some Alabama parents pulling their children out of school? Why are some Alabama workers afraid to show up to their jobs? Why are some Alabama families fleeing the state altogether?

Because last week Alabama began to enforce one of the harshest immigration laws in U.S. history. HB 56 requires local and state law enforcement to check the status of any person of whom they have “reasonable suspicion” of being undocumented, ostensibly encouraging racial profiling. The law also requires schools to check the immigration status of all new students.

Please share this image far and wide: via Twitter, make it your Facebook profile photo, and more!

HB 56 has triggered widespread fear among Alabama’s immigrant communities and set off nothing short of a humanitarian crisis. We need to stand in solidarity with the people of Alabama because when we deny human rights to some we put everyone’s rights at risk.

We will continue to update you as the news happens. We also need your voice in this conversation. Please follow us on Twitter and Facebook and share your news, views and stories about HB 56 with us.

The fight for fairness: never off-duty

Last night, while much of the U.S. — and the world — kept vigil over the fate of Troy Davis, Ishita and I co-hosted a screening of  “Checkpoint Nation? Building Community Across Borders,” Breakthrough’s latest video depicting the reality of post-9/11 racial profiling. The video (shot by Ishita and me) comes of out of a Border Solidarity Tour that was held this August in Tucson, Arizona by Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM)VAMOS Unidos, and Coalicion de Derechos Humanos. The 100+ community members in the audience gathered to learn about our trip to the Arizona border wall, and discuss what they should do with the information the delegation learned while crossing the border. While the sound of numerous languages filled the room — Urdu, Bengali, Hindi, English, Spanish, and more — every one there shared one goal: uniting in solidarity for immigrant justice. And at the end of the evening, the community took this collective vow: that laws and policies that grants rights to some at the expense of others will not be accepted. Reform for some is reform for none.

When Ishita and I walked out of the screening — onto a side street and into the rain — we were sure we’d never find a cab. But out of nowhere we spotted an off-duty taxi, and ran after it — only to find that the driver was Osman Chowdhury, a member of DRUM. Osman had spoken at the meeting about his struggle being the same as the Mexican migrant’s struggle, underscoring that everyone must know what is happening at the American border. Osman kindly drove us all the way to Brooklyn before he started his 11 pm shift, with his meter off. He refused to let us pay him a dime.

An hour later, as I was still processing the night’s events, my girlfriend lit a candle for Troy Davis, who had been executed by the state of Georgia moments before. After hours of debate, the Supreme Court chose not to act on a petition to stay the execution; a man, most likely innocent, was put to death by his government. A global network of organizers who started fighting for Troy weeks, months, and years ago describe his execution as an “international symbol of the battle over the death penalty and racial imbalance in the justice system.” They are speaking out, not compromising — like the members of DRUM and VAMOS. And our cab driver, so generous in both thought and deed.

Troy Davis remains in the forefront of my mind today, as he seems to for many of my friends and colleagues. But when I think of him today, I will also think of Osman. Of those of us that keep working for equality every day, speaking out in the face of injustice. Because we all deserve dignity, equality, and justice. And when you deny due process to one of us, you deny it for all of us.

“I want to thank all of you for your efforts and dedication to Human Rights and Human Kindness, in the past year I have experienced such emotion, joy, sadness and never ending faith.” -Troy Davis, 1968-2011.

Reflecting on our loss and reclaiming our rights- new report and video on racial profiling post 9/11

From the Rights Working Group-

Last week, the Rights Working Group released a new report, Reclaiming Our Rights: Reflections on Racial Profiling in a Post-9/11 America at a press conference. The report offers a variety of perspectives on the expansion of racial profiling in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks and how the federal government’s increased powers of surveillance, detention and access to private information impacted people of Arab, Muslim, Middle Eastern, and South Asian descent along with migrants and people thought to be migrants.  The report also discusses how the issue of racial profiling – a longtime problem in black, Native American and Latino communities – became more widespread and far-reaching after 9/11 and how the broad congressional support for passing the End Racial Profiling Act (ERPA) in the summer of 2001 diminished. The report makes recommendations to the Obama Administration, the Department of Justice, Department of Homeland Security, and Congress – among them is passage of ERPA – that would seek to not only prohibit racial profiling but provide greater oversight of law enforcement with regard to civil rights protections. [Read Report Here]

As a complimentary multimedia piece to the report, Breakthrough and Rights Working Group released Checkpoint Nation?  Building Community Across Borders last week. Filmed in Arizona, the documentary is about racial profiling, multiracial solidarity, and immigration enforcement at the border.

Early one morning, Maria—then nine months pregnant—and her family were stopped by the police for no discernible reason. A special breakfast outing became a nightmare—and at one of the most intimate moments of her life, Maria found a team of immigration agents—not her husband—by her side.

Maria’s chilling story is the centerpiece of “Checkpoint Nation?” a documentary that depicts the reality of post-9/11 racial profiling — as mandated by laws such as SB 1070 in Arizona, which are now being imitated and implemented nationwide — along with the new and strengthening alliances of diverse groups committed to racial justice.

Set in the U.S./Mexico border area near Tucson, Arizona, a region that sees more and more migrant deaths every year, the video explores the idea that the way to move forward is to find connections and build coalitions among between diverse groups of allies — including Muslim-, South Asian-, African-, and Latino-Americans; civil rights lawyers and media activists — that have identified with each other’s histories and united in the common goals of justice, equality, and respect for all.

Ten years after 9/11, there is an urgent need to pass federal legislation to ban all forms of racial profiling, and to end programs and policies that result in racial profiling.  If you haven’t already, sign the petition to tell President Obama that it is time to end racial profiling.  [Sign the Petition Here]

Here’s what you can do to join the chorus calling for an end to racial profiling: