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Watch “A Better Life”- a powerful film about an undocumented family from the director of “Twilight”

From our b-listed blog-

We know you’ve been waiting for Harry Potter forever, but make sure you support the film A Better Life!

Undocumented stories are being told. Just recently, award-winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas came out of the shadows.  For years, the Dreamers – the students actively fighting for the Dream Act – have been sharing their stories.  And now,  A Better Life is bringing the story of an undocumented family to mainstream theaters.

A Better Life is a beautifully told story about an undocumented Mexican gardener named Carlos Galindo (played by Demian Bichir) who does everything that he can to give his son, Luis (played by Jose Julian) a better life.  As an undocumented immigrant living in a rough East L.A. neighborhood, Carlos tries to stay invisible and struggles to work outside of the system while simultaneously trying to keep Luis in school and away from gangs.  The film captures how being undocumented may chip away at one’s inner being. “All he does is work,” director Chris Weitz said of the character Carlos. “He is invisible — and he prefers to remain invisible. Because to raise his head is to risk getting in trouble.” (LA Times.) To see a full trailer, click here.

In an interview with director Weitz, he calls A Better Life “the “biggest movie he has ever made,” considering he has directed hits such as “The Twilight Saga: New Moon”, “About a Boy,” and “The Golden Compass.”  However, Weitz explained that the subject matter is far more important than any other he has addressed as a filmmaker.

Click here to see a full list of cities showing A Better Life.  Enter your zipcode on Fandango here, or Movietickets.com here to find showtimes near you!

Check out A Better Life’s Facebook page here.

Click here to listen to an interview with Chris Weitz and Demian Bichir on their own thoughts on the film!

Photo courtesy of IMDB

On the 235th birthday of the U.S., how do we “Define American?”

Over the last couple of weeks, developments in the immigration reform movement and the LGBTQI rights movement have opened up discussions of how one movement can learn from the other. New Yorkers celebrated the hard-won passage of the legalization of gay marriage, making the state the largest and most politically influential in the US so far to take the step forward. After the landmark passage of the law, other states (such as New Jersey and Rhode Island) are in the motion of enacting their own versions of the law.

The New York victory for the LGBTQI movement, coinciding with Pride Day and LGBT Pride Month, has sparked a discussion among the immigration reform movement over what can be learned from the successes of the other group. While the socio-political conditions of both movements are different, analysts have identified one major factor that contributed to the recent strides taken by the LGBTQI movement – making the issue personal for the legislators- that could be useful for other movements for human rights.

There are, of course, other, more obvious overlaps between the two groups as well. The recent case of Henry Velandia serves as a key example. Velandia, a Venezuelan salsa dancer, came to the US in 2002 and was legally married to his partner Josh Vandiver, a US citizen, last year in Connecticut. Velandia was then denied legal residency under the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which states that an American citizen can petition for legal residency for a spouse only if the spouse is of the opposite sex. Velandia faced deportation and only after repeated petitioning and opposition to DOMA, did the the immigration authorities cancel his deportation. Velandia and Vandiver’s lawyer, who won them the case, commented on the decision-

This action shows that the government has not only the power but the inclination to do the right thing when it comes to protecting certain vulnerable populations from deportation.

These links between the immigration and gay rights movements was also highlighted at the recent Freedom from Fear Awards that were announced on June 18 at the Netroots Nation conference in Minneapolis. One of the awards was given to Gaby Pacheco, Felipe Matos, Juan Rodriguez and Carlos Roa, the students who walked 1,500 miles from Miami to Washington, DC to move the government into passing the DREAM Act. The four students, two of whom (Matos and Rodriguez) are openly gay, went on the four month journey and garnered tremendous support – and some threats – along the way. Their campaign, called the Trail of DREAMs, caught the attention of President Obama and was also instrumental in the House of Representatives passing the DREAM Act in December 2010 before it was rejected by the Senate.

Freedom from Fear recognized several other, incredibly deserving, individuals for their dogged determination and fearlessness in working towards immigration reform, through grassroots campaigning, fighting discrimination, ending labor exploitation and much more. They also released a video showcasing all the winners from this year. One such worthy award recipient is Erika Andiola (from Phoenix, AZ). An honors student at Arizona State University, Andiola fell victim to Arizona’s draconian immigration laws when her scholarships were withdrawn because of her undocumented status. She has also been unable to find a job because of the same discrimination. Andiola joined Promise Arizona, a grassroots civic engagement group that works to train a new generation of leaders and also registers Latinos to vote. She is also campaigning for the DREAM Act, regularly approaching senior government officials to get her voice heard. Despite losing her scholarships, Andiola completed her degree and hopes to work as a school counselor one day.

The Freedom from Fear Awards give further impetus to the immigration movement, that has of late benefited from increased support and high-profile press coverage. On June 22, The New York Times published a completely unexpected confession from their Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Jose Antonio Vargas titled ‘My Life as an Undocumented Immigrant.’ The article, in which Vargas reveals his background, his unwavering American identity, and criticizes the immigration policy of the country, received widespread attention and gave the immigration reform movement its latest high-profile advocate. Vargas founded the organization, Define American, whose goal is to instigate a conversation around the many facets, including the moral questions, of the immigration debate. Vargas aims to publicize his story in the hope of encouraging the undocumented immigrants in the country to be more vocal and push legislators to pass comprehensive reform.

On June 28, the Senate held its very first hearing on the DREAM Act. In attendance were numerous DREAMers, including those who are now well known – such as Vargas – and those working tirelessly in their communities fighting to be accepted as Americans. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL), who authored the original DREAM Act, said in his opening statement-

When I look around this room, I see the future doctors, nurses, scientists, and soldiers who will make this country stronger. I ask my colleagues to consider the plight of these young people, who find themselves in a legal twilight zone through no fault of their own. They are willing to serve our country, if we would only give them a chance.

Opponents of the DREAM Act always say they sympathize with DREAM Act students. They criticize the details of the bill, but they offer no alternative. Do they want these young people to be deported to countries that they barely remember? Or to continue living in the shadows?

The following day, President Obama renewed his promise to work towards comprehensive immigration reform, commenting specifically on the flaws of E-Verify, the mandatory background checking system that is being considered. Watch his remarks here:

Soon after, hundreds of DREAMers and their allies staged a symbolic graduation ceremony on Capitol Hill for the “Deportation Class of 2011.” With the slogan ‘Education, not Deportation,’ the DREAMers called on President Obama to fulfill his promise of getting the DREAM Act passed. Several DREAMers took to the podium to voice their calls for reform. They were also joined by Vargas, who spoke of the urgency to educate ordinary Americans about the cause and to publicize it more widely (an opinion that echoes the reasons for the success of the LGBTQI movement). With a statement that essentially summarizes the undeniable importance of immigration reform to the foundations of this country, Vargas ended with-

Americans don’t hate us…They just don’t know us. We need to show them that immigration is not about us, the 11 million undocumented immigrants. It’s about us, the 300 million Americans.

Photo courtesy of change.org

It shouldn’t take a tragedy to bring people out of the shadows

UPDATE: In a happy ending to Emily Ruiz’s story, her family’s lawyer announced today that she has been flown back to the U.S. and has been reunited with her parents. Emily’s story became the focus of much public outcry and pressure from the media, which led the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) to review her case. See photos and a video of the reunion here.

In the early hours of March 12, a bus ferrying passengers from the Mohegan Sun casino in Connecticut met with a horrific accident on the I-95 expressway in the Bronx, en route to Chinatown in Manhattan. The crash killed 15 of the passengers onboard, and the driver was later accused of being unlicensed as well as falling asleep at the wheel. One of the passengers who died in the crash was Mr. Wang Jianhua, a man who had come to America to escape government persecution and pursue the American dream  for himself and for the family that he had been forced to leave behind in the Fujian province, in China.

Three years ago, Mr. Wang arrived in New York City with the aid of smugglers, having made the conscious decision to seek a better life for his wife, daughter and then unborn son. After raising $75,000 with the help of relatives and numerous creditors to pay for his passage, Mr. Wang left all that was familiar to him and began his journey to the United States. Once in New York, Mr. Wang lived in cramped conditions with several other Chinese immigrants in Chinatown, where he found a job as a delivery-man in a restaurant – a grueling job that earned him approximately $500 a week. His life comprised of work and sleep, with very little respite by way of a social life. He only communicated with his family when he could afford to, and sent home whatever was left of his salary once he was done paying rent and other expenses. In November 2008, shortly after arriving in the United States, he had filed for asylum on the grounds of being targeted by Chinese authorities for trying to have more than one child, a case that was still pending when he was killed in the crash. Following his death, Mr. Wang’s wife and two children are now bereft, in an even more dire state of poverty than they were before.

It is unfortunate that it takes a tragedy such as this to shed light on stories such as Mr.Wang’s. Today, there are millions of hard working immigrants like him in the United States, who are living under hardship, separated from their families, and striving to work towards a better life for their families. Stigma against undocumented immigrants and lack of comprehensive immigration reform negates their valuable contribution to the economy and withholds their right to be a legitimate part of the workforce, as well as their access to basic human rights and services. Moreover, instead of working towards rational and humane immigration reform, the situation the country seems to be pushing for is an enforcement heavy approach that is inefficient, inhumane, and inadequate in addressing the reality of the nearly 12 million undocumented immigrants currently living in the U.S.

The repercussions of a broken immigration system also extend to the children of undocumented immigrants, who are U.S. citizens. In what was a big relief for immigration reform lobbyists, on Thursday, March 17, the Arizona Senate rejected the latest packet of five bills that would have further curtailed the rights of immigrants in the state. The primary bill that had drawn the most opposition aimed at pushing the Supreme Court to strip citizenship rights of the children of illegal immigrants. The four other bills would have removed the rights of such immigrants from attending state universities and driving vehicles in Arizona, and required school districts and hospitals to check the legal status of students and patients. Senator Paula Aboud (D-Tucson) challenged the morality of the bills, calling them “morally reprehensible.” She further stated-

This bill would create a two-tiered system, a system of discrimination that says some children born in this country have different rights than other children born in this country…I do not believe that is the American way.

The double standard that Senator Aboud highlights is unfortunately in practice already. On March 11 (a day before the Bronx bus crash that killed Mr. Wang), immigration authorities at Dulles International Airport (Washington D.C.) deported Emily Ruiz, a 4-year-old girl who was flying back from Guatemala with her grandfather. Despite being a U.S. citizen, Emily was separated from her parents who live in New York and who are undocumented, and sent back to Guatemala. While there are conflicting reports from the immigration authorities and Emily’s family about what led to her being deported from the country of her birth, the fact remains that a 4- year old U.S. citizen was separated from her parents and denied entry into her country. The legislative action that Arizona has been attempting to take towards severely restricting the liberties and rights of immigrants will only lead to more stories such as Emily’s, and more families being separated.

The ramifications of these two events are alarming. Jeanne A. Butterfield, a former executive director of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, spoke to the New York Times-

The case is alarming because it shows what can happen once you start treating kids who are born here whose parents are undocumented with less rights than a full-blown citizen.

The rejection of the packet of anti-immigrant bills in the Arizona state senate is a small but crucial step in the right direction. Recent legislation in Utah is also a positive marker of what comprehensive immigration reform could look like. Last week, Utah ratified a set of immigration bills that provide a balance between enforcement, and developing a program that recognizes the importance of immigrants to the state economy. State Rep. Bill Wright, who authored a part of the laws, commented-

I’m of the opinion that we really don’t have the ability as a society to remove that large a portion of a segment from our society — either the cost, or just the damage it would do…A lot of these people are intertwined in our society. They have financial obligations: They have bank notes; they’ve bought houses; they contribute; they have jobs.

It remains to be seen whether the federal government will use Utah as a model for crafting their own comprehensive immigration reform legislation. Perhaps, then, people like Mr. Wang would have a more legitimate chance at working towards financial stability for their families and U.S. citizens like Emily Ruiz won’t be turned away from their own country.

Image courtesy of extras.sltrib.com

Tension mounts as Arizona’s anti-immigrant bill awaits its fate

Tension builds about the fate of SB 1070, Arizona’s harsh anti-immigrant legislation, that awaits being signed into law or being vetoed by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer today.

Advocacy groups in Arizona have mobilized to put pressure on Governor Brewer to veto the dangerous and unconstitutional bill. Last night, a group of people held an overnight vigil outside the Governor’s office. Today, a press conference will be held outside the Governor’s office where 50,000 petitions protesting the bill will be delivered. More actions drawing attention to the inhumane nature of legislation will continue through the week including rallies, prayer vigils and press conferences. Faith-based groups around the country have joined civil rights groups in condemning the bill, like Cardinal Mahony, head of L.A.’s Catholic Archdiocese, who likened the bill to techniques used by Nazis that compelled people to turn each other in.

The Arizona legislature just passed the country’s most retrogressive, mean-spirited, and useless anti-immigrant law. The tragedy of the law is its totally flawed reasoning: that immigrants come to our country to rob, plunder, and consume public resources. That is not only false, the premise is nonsense.

Meanwhile, Governor Brewer succumbed to phone calls ringing off the hook and released a non-committal statement about SB 1070, stating that she would review the legislation over the next couple of days and make an informed decision about the constitutionality of the bill based on the advice of her staff and experts. Speaking at the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce’s Black and White Ball on Saturday, she said-

In regards to Senate Bill 1070, I will tell you that I never make comment, like most governor’s throughout our country, before a bill reaches my desk. But I hear you, and I will assure you that I will do what I believe is the right thing so that everyone is treated fairly.

Amongst those who support the bill is Senator Russell Pearce, author of SB 1070, who has defended it against accusations of racial profiling saying, “That’s the biggest myth in the world…Illegal is a crime. It’s not a race.” A New York Times article that explores how he came to be the author of one of the most racist and regressive pieces of legislation in recent years talks about his own history with immigration – In 2004, his son, a Sheriff’s Deputy in Maricopa County, was shot and wounded by an undocumented immigrant, and 20 years ago, Pearce himself, also a Sheriff’s Deputy, was also shot and wounded while arresting gang members.

While it might come as a surprise to most of us that all but one Republican in the Arizona Senate supported the bill (all the Democrats opposed it), it is clear that many opinions around the bill are being shaped by upcoming election mania. Most shocking is Senator John McCain’s about turn, for someone one who supported comprehensive immigration reform with Senator Ted Kennedy four years ago, he  has  given overt support to SB 1070, which he thinks will be a “good tool” and “a very important step forward. His office later said his comments did not represent an endorsement, but did not deny his support to the bill either.

When the fate of the country rests in the hands of politicians who can only see as far as the next election, we can only hope that the courageous voices that are constantly fighting for equality, justice and human rights, are not ignored. Take action and tell Governor Brewer that vetoing SB 1070 is the only option.

Photo courtesy of nytimes.com