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New video! Mallika Dutt says that the “war on women is bigger than you think”

As the Supreme Court considers key elements of Arizona’s SB 1070 law, which legalizes racial profiling of and blatant discrimination against immigrant communities and people of color, stories from around the country show that this and other laws like it, such as Alabama’s H.B. 56. are causing intense damage to families, communities and economies, with devastating consequences for immigrant women.

These laws leave parents unable to protect their children. They force women to choose between the threat of an abusive husband and the threat of deportation if they call the police. They send pregnant mothers to give birth in shackles with federal agents by their side.

As part of a delegation to Birmingham, Alabama with the We Belong Together campaign, Breakthrough president Mallika Dutt connects the dots between Arizona’s SB 1070 law, copycat state laws that followed it in states such as Georgia and Alabama, and the “war on women.” The war on immigrants and the escalating “war on women” are part of one sweeping crusade against the fundamental rights of all women living in the United States, documented and otherwise.

So as the Supreme Court hears this challenge, it’s time for us to protect the true American values of diversity and democracy, dignity and respect. It’s time for those of us outraged by women’s human rights violations across borders and oceans to support women’s human rights at home. We’re here to stand up for the rights of all women in the United States. Are you?

Tweet this: I’m here to support the human rights of all women in the United States. Are you?http://ow.ly/avYBw #immigration #waronwomen

The War on Immigrant Women: Part of the Sweeping Crusade Against the Fundamental Rights of All Women

By Breakthrough President Mallika Dutt. (Crossposted from RH Reality Check.)

Araceli doesn’t go out alone anymore. She is frightened of ongoing harassment by local police, whom she used to trust to protect her. Trini drops her two children off at school every morning unsure if she will be there at pickup time. Other mothers in her communities have, after all, been “disappeared,” taken from their homes, and families, without warning or trace.

Think this is happening in Kabul? Juarez?

Actually, it’s happening in Alabama and many other parts of our country.

Today, the escalating “war on women” has — rightly — sparked widespread outrage and urgent action to protect women’s human rights in the United States. But the also-ongoing “war on immigrants” is not merely a coincidental crisis. Both are elements of a sweeping crusade against the fundamental rights of women living in the U.S., documented and otherwise.

The current attacks on women’s health, sexuality, and self-determination — in states, in GOP debates, on the airwaves, and beyond — is appalling enough. But it’s only part of the story. The war on women is even more than an assault on the most basic and personal choices in our lives, even more than an assault on our right to determine if, when and under what circumstances to become mothers. It is also an attack on our essential right to mother — to raise healthy, safe children in healthy, safe families. And on that front, it is immigrant women and women of color who suffer the most.

Laws such as Alabama’s HB 56 and federal enforcement measures such as 287g have injected fear and anguish into even the most routine aspects of many women’s daily lives: going to work or taking kids to school, or seeing the doctor. HB 56 gives police officers sweeping authority to question and detain anyone they suspect of being undocumented, with snap judgments based on skin color — that is, blatant racial profiling — accepted as an “utterly fair” method of determining who to accost. It also requires school administrators to track the immigration status of their students. It is shocking in its singularity of purpose: to make everyday life so intolerable for undocumented immigrants to the United States. that they will, indeed, “self-deport.” And already, the consequences for immigrant families have been unspeakably high.

These are families like that of Jocelyn, a fourteen-year-old girl who was sent to live with relatives when it became too dangerous for her mother and father to stay in Alabama. Jocelyn is not alone: a growing number of parents are giving power of attorney over their children to friends, neighbors and employers — even landlords and other near-strangers because the threat of deportation and indefinite detention is just too real. Immigrants in detention are often denied the right to make arrangements for their children or attend family court hearings. Others have been stripped of their parental rights entirely. The Applied Research Center estimates that deportation of parents have left five thousand children currently in foster care.

All this in a climate where worship of “family values” — that is, in reality, certain value placed on certain families — has reached near maniacal proportions. Ask Maria about how this country really values women, babies and families, and she will tell you how harassment by ICE agents — who refused to leave her hospital bedside — nearly led to dangerous labor complications. Ask Juana about giving birth to her son in shackles. Ask Tere about “family values,” and she will tell you how she risked everything to bring her son to the U.S. for life-saving heart surgery. Today, the danger is on our soil: she is so afraid of being picked up and detained that she has stopped taking her son to the medical appointments his condition requires.

The current war on women is in many ways an unprecedented crisis. But it’s also an unprecedented opportunity for action. I have been deeply moved, inspired and challenged by the actions of women who have refused to be collateral in a culture war, women who are demanding their fundamental humanity above all else. It’s time to use that power to make it absolutely clear that this war on women is a war on all women.

Many activists and advocates have long fought for the women’s rights movement to include immigrants and the immigrant rights movement to include women. And right now, we have the attention of the 24-hour news cycle, the pundits, the politicians, the millions of people in this country who value families and fairness — and who are now seeing the true colors of those who do not.

As the Supreme Court gets ready to hear a challenge to these egregious immigration laws, it’s time for those of us outraged by women’s human rights violations across borders and oceans to step up for all women’s human rights at home. It’s time to stop fighting battles in isolation. It’s time to stand together to win this war once and for all.

Follow Mallika Dutt on Twitter, @mallikadutt

Photo courtesy of webelongtogether.org

An ongoing battle to ensure due process and keep families together

Last Friday, Emily Guzman spoke at a vigil outside the Stewart Detention Center in Southwest Georgia where her husband, Pedro Guzman, has been held for over a year. Pedro was brought by his mother from Guatemala to the United States at the age of 8, and they stayed on after being denied asylum. He was arrested a year ago after his mother was denied a request to stay on in the country legally. Despite being married to an American, he has been kept in detention while fighting his case, with limited access to medical care and to visits with his mother, his wife and his four-year-old son, Logan. His wife Emily, who is an American citizen, spoke about the traumatic experience that her family has been through while Pedro has been fighting deportation from prison-

I never knew that the immigration system in the United States was so outrageously flawed until I began to experience it through my husband, Pedro is one of the very few fighting his case in immigration detention. It is a daily emotional fight for him to continue without his freedom.

Pedro’s story is just one of the myriad of reasons why human rights organizations and supporters marched to the Stewart Detention Center last Friday. The groups, including the Georgia Detention Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Georgia, were seeking to draw attention to the “traumatic effects” that detention has on immigrant families. The marchers carried lists with the names of over 110 people who have died in immigration detention since 2003, including 39-year-old Roberto Martinez-Medina and 50-year-old Pedro Gumayagay who were detained at Stewart. This protest followed the release of a report by the Georgia Detention Center about the lack of transparency, accountability and due process at the Stewart Detention Center, which, as one of the largest (and most remote) detention centers in the country, has a vast list of human rights violations including lack of waiting periods of 65 days for cases to be heard, lack adequate medical care, and the imposition of solitary confinement without a hearing.

In addition to calling for the release of Pedro and the closure of the detention center in favor of alternatives to detention that are cheaper and more humane, the groups also aimed to highlight the “collusion between government officials and for-profit corporations to place profits and politics over people.” The overt connections between the massive expansion of the detention system and the direct profit made by private prison companies such as the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA, which runs the Stewart Detention Center) were thrown into the spotlight when National Public Radio (NPR) did a story exposing the ties between CCA and the SB1070 immigration law in Arizona.

8 of the protesters, including Emily Guzman’s mother, Pamela Alberda, were arrested as they crossed over a ‘Do Not Enter’ tape at the entrance to the detention center. They were released on bond later the same day. Speaking about the impending protest and vigil, an ICE spokesperson said-

ICE fully respects the rights of all people to voice their opinion without interference. We recognize that our nation’s broken immigration system requires serious solutions, and we fully support comprehensive immigration reform efforts.

It is a relief to know that in the midst of this glaring lack of due process and fairness, a modicum of justice also exists. In what is a significant victory for immigrant rights activists, the Supreme Court of Georgia ruled yesterday that all defendants with limited English proficiency have a right to an interpreter for criminal trials. Speaking about the action taken by the ACLU of Georgia and the Legal Aid Society-Employment Law Center on the issue, Azadeh Shahshahani, Director of the National Security/Immigrants’ Rights Project at the ACLU of Georgia said that the court ruling upheld a basic tenet of the U.S. Constitution-

The court acknowledged that we don’t have two systems of justice in this country – one for English-speakers and another for everyone else. The constitutional guarantee of due process applies to everyone in this country, not just fluent English-speakers.

In keeping with the spirit of the Constitution practiced by the Georgia Supreme Court, let us hope that these same principles are upheld in all aspects of life, ensuring that everyone is treated equally with respect to dignity, justice, due process and fairness.

Photo courtesy of Jim Toren

Department of Justice vs. Arizona

In the short time since Arizona passed SB 1070 into law, it has become one of the strongest and most controversial symbols of our nation’s debate on immigration. SB 1070 requires the police to stop anyone that has a “reasonable suspicion” of being undocumented but once enacted, it is believed that may well lead to unconstitutional racial profiling and a breakdown of trust between police and the communities they protect. But SB 1070 is also emblematic of the frustration that many have with our broken immigration system, a sign that states have decided to take immigration into their own hands as Congress remains in a deadlock over immigration reform. The latest catalyst for this debate -  a lawsuit filed by the Department of Justice brought against the state of Arizona and SB1070 on July 6th, 2010.

Analysis over the implications of the lawsuit are rife in the media. Many are looking at the lawsuit and its potential for setting a new precedent with regards to the tussle between the federal government and state laws around immigration. Previous precedent shows a tendency for federal courts to side with the federal government on cases when states and cities pass laws that conflict with federal immigration law. An article in the Wall Street Journal traces this precedent back to laws in the 1880s aimed at limiting Chinese immigration. While the dispute could go either way, some analysts hold that that the federal court could only block sections of the law, while allowing some others to be enforced.

By bringing a lawsuit against the state of Arizona, the Obama administration (via the Justice Department) has taken a strong stand against the law. But an article in the Washington Post discusses further implications of this stand. The article quotes the Democratic strategist who spoke about the implications of the lawsuit for the Democrat party -

There is probably some short term pain politically given how popular the law is…But considering the demographic changes the country is undergoing, long term, there is a lot of upside in advocating for Latinos and comprehensive immigration reform.

While the Obama administration is advocating for comprehensive immigration reform, the Democrat party has continued to play safe so as not to alienate the large electoral base that supports the Arizona law and other enforcement heavy approaches to immigration. On the other hand, many Republicans, who support the law and an enforcement heavy approach, continue to emphasize a secure border-then reform approach, a rhetoric that leads to little progress on the issue. Republicans such as Senator John McCain,who previously argued for comprehensive reform, have abandoned their support of an immigration overhaul in the face of resentment and anger from within the party as well as from anti-immigrant groups such as the Tea Party Movement.

In the midst of all these actions are ordinary people suffering disruptions to their everyday lives on account of an immigration system that remains unjust and broken.

Photo courtesy of americasvoiceonline.org

Landmark Supreme Court ruling gives due process to immigrants facing deportation

Martin Escobar was a lawful permanent resident who had lived in the United States for 30 years. He lived in Chicago, working for a tree care company and supporting his wife, four children and grandchildren, putting them through school and college. In the 1990′s, he plead guilty to two drug possession convictions, but never served any time in jail for these minor misdemeanors. 8 years later, an immigration judge ordered him deported on the basis on these convictions. Their family has been divided since then as Escobar and his wife left for Mexico, leaving their children behind in the U.S.

Due to immigration laws laid down in 1996, Escobar’s very minor drug offenses amounted to an “aggravated felony,” forcing the judge to deport him without being able to consider the individual circumstances of the case. Under harsh immigration laws passed in 1996, a whole range of convictions constitute “aggravated felonies” which trigger automatic deportation, but as in Escobar’s case, many of these convictions are neither aggravated nor felonies. Worse, the laws eliminated important legal rights that previously enabled an immigration judge to look at individual circumstances of each case, including the type of convictions, their history and family ties and how long ago the conviction occurred, thereby denying due process and fairness to hundreds and thousands of people deported for life for convictions ranging from shoplifting to possession of small amounts of marijuana.

In a landmark decision this Monday, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that immigrants who are here legally in the United States cannot be automatically deported for minor drug offenses, and therefore can have an immigration judge look at their circumstances before being sentenced to permanent exile. The ruling comes in response to Jose Angel Carachuri-Rosendo’s case, a permanent resident of the United States who had lived here since he was 5. In 2004, Jose faced mandatory deportation for carrying a single Xanax tablet without prescription. Although it was a minor offense, being his second one, it counted as an “aggravated felony” and caused him to face deportation.

Writing about his case, Justice Stevens wrote-

(a) 10-day sentence for the unauthorized possession of a trivial amount of a prescription drug is at odds with the ordinary meaning of aggravated felony…Carachuri-Rosendo, and others in his position, may now seek cancellation of removal and thereby avoid the harsh consequence of mandatory removal. (But) any relief he may obtain depends upon the discretion of the attorney general.

Speaking about the ruling, Chuck Roth, director of litigation for Heartland Alliance’s National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) said-

The Supreme Court’s decision is a commonsense interpretation of the law that protects fundamental fairness for immigrants. All drug offenses subject a person to potential deportation, but this decision gives our clients a chance to fight their cases, to prove that they are rehabilitated and that their presence here is a net benefit to the country and to their families.

This ruling will impact the lives of many legal residents like Escobar, who have been labeled as “aggravated felons” and separated from their lives and families for minor offenses. It is a positive step toward fixing our country’s unfair immigration laws, and reinforces the importance of a fair day in court. Tearing families apart by deporting people who are not threats to our communities is deeply unfair and this ruling remedies this to some extent.

Speaking from Morelos, Mexico, about 100 miles south of Mexico City, Martin Escobar told Deportation Nation that “It would make me happy if I could return to Chicago. All my family is in the United States. They were born there, and now the only person who is here is myself.”

The Carachuri-Rosendo case is the most recent in a number of challenges to the harsh 1996 amendments and given that the rate of deportations is at its highest ever, it goes some way in restoring some degree of due process and fairness to the system.

Photo courtesy of immigrationimpact.com

Supreme Court Gives Immigrants New Rights

Guest Blogger: Seth Freed Wessler reposted from RaceWire blog

The Supreme Court today granted immigrants facing detention new rights and protections. The ruling in Padilla vs. Kentucky now requires defense attorneys to accurately advise their non-citizen clients of the potential immigration consequences of pleading guilty to a crime.

Under current law, deportation is the mandatory result of many criminal convictions, including minor ones like marijuana possession or shoplifting. Unknowingly, many immigrants, even Green Card holders, initiate their own deportation when they plea guilty in an attempt to secure a minimum punishment. Immigration and Customs Enforcement announced it is well on it’s way to deporting a record 150,000 people because of such convictions.

As things stand, American law does not consider deportation to be a punishment, but rather a civil sanction. Because of this, criminal procedural protections like due process and protections against double jeopardy are not relevant to deportation.

While today’s decision will do nothing to challenge this – the court is far too conservative for a ruling of that kind – “the decision,” says Bill Hing, an immigration law professor at UC Davis, “may have a very big impact.”

That’s because most criminal convictions come as the result of a plea bargain. According to Hing, “80 to 90 percent of criminal cases result in a plea bargain and that means that it’s probably the case that 80 to 90 percent of people who are deported because of crimes probably also resulted from a plea bargain.” Now, all immigrants who enter plea agreements must be aware of the full range of possible consequences.

As of today, says Hing, “what an immigration lawyer will do when someone comes in the door is ask about how the plea was arrived at.”

The Supreme Court decision extends the sixth amendment right to council to immigrants facing criminal charges. “The severity of deportation – the equivalent of banishment or exile,” writes Justice John Stevens in the court’s opinion, “only underscores how critical it is for counsel to inform her noncitizen client that he faces a risk of deportation.”

Michelle Fei, Co-Director of the Immigrant Defense Project, explains, “even though most immigrants’ primary concern is their ability to stay in the U.S., they often plead guilty, unaware that the result would be permanent exile from their families and communities.” The Padilla decision will change this.

“What the court got right today is that deportation is such a dire consequence that more protections are really necessary,” says Fei.

Photo courtesy of dbking.