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NEW FILM: The Call – A choice no woman should face

Sonia has worked so hard for this: a healthy family and a normal life in an average American town. But on a night that should have been like any other, she is forced to make an impossible choice that could shatter her family’s dreams forever.

 Keep your daughter safe — or keep your family together? 

What call would you make?

In our powerful new short film inspired by a true story, Sonia’s crisis shows why we must all support the human rights of immigrant women today. This video is the centerpiece of Breakthrough’s #ImHere campaign, an urgent and innovative call to action for the rights of immigrant women in the United States. More about #ImHere after the jump.

Produced in collaboration with over 30 partner organizations, the multi-award-winning People’s Television and starring distinguished actors from stage and screen, “The Call” is inspired by the real experiences of the brave women and families we’ve encountered in our work. “Sonia” is fictional, but her emotional story is not. No mother should have to face the choice she does. With your help, no mother will.

Please watch and share this film to say: #ImHere to put the rights of women like Sonia on the national agenda. Are you?

Tweet the filmKeep your daughter safe or your family together: what call would you make? Watch and share http://ow.ly/e4jGH #ImHereIVote @Breakthrough

Share on Facebook: Watch #ImHere: THE CALL, a short film about a choice no woman should have to face. http://ow.ly/e4jGH

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Give me the DREAM Act in the lame duck session, says Obama

After a year of unfulfilled hopes and promises of immigration reform, it might finally be time for dreams to come true.

Delivering on the promise he made during his hard-fought re-election campaign, Senate Majority leader Harry Reid announced on Wednesday that he will bring the DREAM Act up for vote (as a stand-alone measure) during the final days of the 111th Congress. While this is not the first time that Sen. Reid has made such an commitment, this time the announcement comes with the added backing of President Obama. Obama has always been a supporter of the DREAM Act, but has never publicly or actively worked on pushing for it to be passed. This is why it came as a surprise when he told Democrats on Tuesday that he wanted the DREAM Act passed during the lame duck session of Congress, as a “down payment” on more comprehensive immigration reform.

This announcement came on the heels of a meeting between President Obama and leaders of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, including Sen. Harry Reid, Rep. Nydia Velazquez, New Jersey Sen. Robert Menendez and Illinois Rep. Luis Gutierrez, that took place on the morning of Tuesday, November 16th. Gutierrez, who had been in favor of a more comprehensive immigration reform bill up until this point, said that the meeting was both positive and productive-

Passage of the DREAM Act is achievable right now. With the White House, Majority Leader Harry Reid, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and every Democratic Leader in the House and Senate pulling in the same direction, we can pass the DREAM Act before the end of the 111th Congress.

The White House released a statement with the outcomes of the meeting-

The President and the CHC leaders believe that, before adjourning, Congress should approve the DREAM Act. This legislation has traditionally enjoyed support from Democratic and Republican lawmakers and would give young people who were brought as minors to the United States by their parents the opportunity to earn their citizenship by pursuing a college degree or through military service.

In a noticeable departure from the Obama administration’s previous non-committal stance on immigration reform, the President put forth a commitment to work “hand in glove” to make sure the bill is passed, including a promise to pick up the phone and urge Senators to vote on the bill. At the end of the day on Tuesday, Congresswoman Nydia Velasquez announced that Speaker Nancy Pelosi had tentatively set November 29th as the date that the DREAM Act would be voted on.

If passed, the DREAM Act would provide a path to citizenship for approximately 2 million undocumented youth who were brought to the U.S. when they were very young, provided that they go through college or participate in military service. However, in order to prevent another filibuster, at least two Republican Senators would have to support the DREAM Act, something that might prove to be a uphill task given the number of Republicans who have turned their back on it over the past year.

This is the closest that the bill has come to being introduced. It is important that Congress hears from all of us who support the DREAM Act as intrinsic to the future of the country. Send a fax telling your Members of Congress to support the DREAM Act!

Stay tuned for more details!

Photo courtesy of Associated Press Photos

Will immigration reform pass this year? Olympic medalist hopes so.

It took courage for 18-year old Olympian bronze medalist Simon Cho to relate the inspirational story of his life as an immigrant in America. Born in Seoul, Simon came to the U.S. with his family at the age of four as an undocumented immigrant. Aspiring to give their children the American Dream, Simon’s parents worked tirelessly, day and night, to ensure that their children got the opportunities they deserved. While Simon’s parents worked hard in their seafood shop 365 days of the year, Simon devoted most of his time to speed skating, a sport he was exceptionally good at. Realizing their son’s talent, Simon’s parents sold their shop and everything they had in order to afford his full-time training with the Olympic team in Salt Lake City. Now a U.S. citizen (due to more relaxed immigration regulations at the time), Simon tried for and made the U.S. Olympic speed skating team as one its youngest athletes, returning from this year’s Vancouver games with a bronze medal for the U.S.

Like Simon, thousands of immigrant youth have the potential to realize the American Dream and make their country pride. Unfortunately, many of them never get the chance to do so, and instead, live in fear despite having lived in America most of their lives. 21-year old Jessica Colotl, a student of Political Science and French at Kennesaw State University in Georgia, is a case in point. A bright, diligent young woman, Jessica worked nights in order to pay her tuition and hopes to continue her education and become a lawyer after graduating in the fall. Sounds like someone you know?

A few days ago, as Jessica pulled into her University parking lot, a campus police officer pulled her over saying she was “impeding the flow of traffic.” She was honest about not having a license and being undocumented, and was immediately detained in Cobb Country, in accordance with their 287(g) program that gives local police the power to enforce federal domain immigration law. An immigration judge denied her bond and ordered that she be deported in 30 days. Is she a danger to society? No. Is she draining the resources of the State? No. Is she a hard-working young student who pays taxes and contributes to the economy and the state. Yes. As you read this, Jessica is sitting behind bars in a detention center in Gadsden, Alabama, awaiting deportation to Mexico, a country she hasn’t lived in for over ten years, a country she barely remembers.

Our country’s immigration system is broken and in dire need of reform so that instead of facing the unjust circumstances that Jessica finds herself in, more people can work towards its collective good, the way Olympian Simon Cho is doing. Yesterday, Senate Democrats Harry Reid, Charles Schumer, Richard Durbin, Dianne Feinstein and Robert Menendez introduced a conceptual framework for immigration reform in the hopes of getting immigration reform passed in 2010.

The enforcement heavy proposal calls for enhanced border security and stronger enforcement, continuing with the current 287(g) programs, and leaving in a biometric Social Security card that will serve as an employment verification card. The new legislative framework also includes provisions for more green cards for highly-skilled immigrants and a detailed process for the legalization of undocumented immigrants that would require them to get extensive background checks, pay fines, be fluent in English and undergo a long waiting period before they achieve complete legalization. Additionally, the framework aims to include much-needed pieces like the DREAM Act, AgJOBS and provisions for same sex partner immigration.

Since its introduction yesterday, the proposal has garnered mixed reactions across the board. While advocacy groups are relieved at a concrete plan to register undocumented immigrants and begin the process of legalization, as well as the proposal’s focus on family-based immigration, its prioritization on enforcement and border security has created discomfort. Groups have condemned the bill for calling for increasing border security and enforcement without undertaking any positive provisions. AILA has critiqued Schumer’s new proposal for the increased detention recommendations that do little to rectify all that is wrong with the existing detention and deportation system. The American Civil Liberties Union is deeply dissatisfied with the inclusion of the Biometric ID card program “Believe,” which they predict will be extremely expensive and inefficient, while “usher(ing) government into the very center of our lives.”

As debate over the proposal continues, one thing everyone agrees on is that we need to fix our broken immigration system. Tomorrow, 80 cities around the country will bring in May Day with rallies, protests and marches demanding just and humane immigration that supports civil rights and family values. Find a march near you and be one step closer to fixing the broken immigration system.

UPDATE: Good news! On the occasion on Cinco de Mayo, Jessica Colotl was released from the Etowah County Detention Center and is now back at home with her mother. At the moment, it seems like ICE has granted her “deferred action,” which means that work remains in the courts before a real victory for Jessica’s freedom is won. But we know that all the phone calls, letters and support paid off, so we need to make sure that we keep the pressure on ICE to ensure that cases like hers receive the right kind of attention and justice and due process is restored to the system!

Photo courtesy of www.globalimmigrationcounsel.com

POLL: Do you support the provisions of the new immigration proposal?

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A story a day should keep enforcement at bay

Never underestimate the power of storytelling. No matter what the cause, it’s always the individual stories that resonate deeply changing our most deeply held notions. And it’s these personal stories that shed light on how broken the immigration system really is, giving us deep insights into the immigrant experience.

Vozmob or “Mobile Voices” is an open-source platform that gives immigrant day laborers in L.A. access to the digital sphere by letting them use cellphones and MMS technology to create photographic, narrative slide-shows as a way to share stories about their lives and communities. In “Working Hands,” a seamstress uses photographs to illustrate the painstakingly detailed and skillful work done by immigrant workers across Los Angeles. The images tell the story of personal dignity and pride in the work done by hundreds of people across the nation.

Vozmob harnesses the power of personal stories to change the way immigrant communities are perceived. In an early Vozmob workshop, a Google search for the phrase “day laborer” revealed a disturbing stereotype, that many crimes are committed by illegal aliens who work as day laborers. By allowing immigrant workers to share their lives, both within their community and outside, the project launched by USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and the Institute of Popular Education of Southern California is changing these false perceptions.

The power of storytelling has been embraced as dramatically by the DREAM Act movement, a movement led by undocumented youth to claim their right to live freely. A moving narrative by Matias Ramos, an immigrant rights advocate since high school describes what he went through while facing deportation. An excerpt from Chapter 1, “The Deported”-

Rush hour traffic in Downtown Minneapolis, and it’s snowing again. I look out the blurry window and can barely see the faces of the people in the van next to ours. I know for a fact, however, that nobody in that packed freeway can see me or any of the other six illegal immigrants on our way to be deported from the United States. The two ICE agents sitting in the front live in a different world, their radio muting any sounds from us: the illegals in the back. An unmarked van, owned by the Department of Homeland Security, is taking us to a county jail in Albert Lea, Minnesota, near the border with Iowa. There, we will wait for our deportation date when the paperwork clears….I try to get my mind somewhere else by going back to the church songs we sang as kids…

In Chapter 2, “We don’t have papers,”, Matias candidly writes about his lack of papers, and his involvement with the DREAM Act movement-

Way before being trapped in a van in Minneapolis, and because my papers expired, I started working for immigration reform in the United States. I work on immigration because I don’t have papers. There are a lot of people like me. They should really be doing something else, but they work on immigration. They have degrees in engineering, political science, and education. They have acting careers and business plans on hold – while they work on immigration…I did not go back to Argentina in 2008 because we had just helped Obama win and because we were going to work hard to pass the DREAM Act in the first 100 days.  The DREAM Act is an old but little-known proposal to start reforming immigration like you would start rescuing a sinking ship: with the kids…

Some days it is hard to be optimistic. But it’s stories like these, from the hundreds of day laborers whose work goes unnoticed on a daily basis and brave activists like Matias, that power the movement. So don’t stop reading, watching, learning, sharing and telling stories. And whatever you do, don’t stop dreaming.

Photo courtesy of vozmob.net

Obama meets senators on immigration as undocumented dreamers come out of the shadows

My name is Nico and I’m undocumented. I’m coming out of the shadows because I am no longer afraid. I came to this country in 1992, following my mother to the land where the bread that would feed her children was. I have recently lost my mother to cancer, undoubtedly from the chemical factory she worked at most of her life. She was unable to demand better health and safety conditions due to her “status.” But she kept on working for me and the rest of my family. She worked everyday in fear not knowing if “la migra” would come and take her away from us. Now she is buried in the land of freedom, the land where she’s considered a criminal. I’m standing up today for her, myself, and the millions of families like ours.

Nico was just one of dozens of undocumented youth who took the decision to take to the streets and “come out” of their undocumented status in mobilizations across the country yesterday. “Coming Out of the Shadows Week” is an initiative of Dream Activist and the Chicago-based Immigrant Youth Justice League which  which will culminate in the nation-wide “March for America”. Inspired by gay rights activism, the initiative empowers undocumented youth who are tired of being persecuted by the system to stand up and break the silence about their status.

Its kick off began yesterday in Chicago when eight undocumented youth surrounded by a thousand supporters holding signs saying “Undocumented and Unafraid” gathered outside Senator Richard Durbin’s office to ensure the introduction of the bipartisan immigration reform bill in the Senate. 26 year old University of Illinois student Tania Unzueta, one of the founders of the Immigrant Youth Justice League, was one of the eight.

Like thousands of others, Tania was brought to the U.S. on a tourist visa by her parents at the age of 10, who stayed on with the hope of a better future. Despite being captain of the swim team, Tania has always had to keep her status a secret and make up stories to justify not having a driver’s license and not being able to travel out of the country with her swim team. Tired and frustrated of being trapped in a scenario that she had no hand in creating, she has taken steps to become active in the movement for the passage of the Dream Act. Speaking about “Coming Out” as a radical and extremely personal act, she said,

It’s scary on one hand, but it’s also liberating. I feel like I’ve been hiding for so long…There’s a sense of urgency. We’re angry. We’re frustrated. We thought this would be a good strategy to get our community mobilized.

Every year, about 65,000 undocumented immigrants graduate from U.S. high schools and live in constant fear of being kicked out of college, losing their scholarships, and not being able to apply for jobs. Research indicates that there are currently 3.2 million undocumented young adults living in a state of limbo whose status prevents them from using their education to become fully contributing members of society. First introduced by Senator Richard Durbin and Representative Howard Burmen, the provisions of the Dream Act allows undocumented youth to be eligible for a conditional path to citizenship. If you are an undocumented youth and need help to come out, here’s some great advice on why and how to do so. To get you started, here’s Gabriel’s brave coming out story.

The pressure mounting on Congress seems to be yielding some results. Three grassroots meetings are slated for today, ones that we hope will lead to concrete action. At 1 pm, grassroots leaders will meet with senior White House staff. This will be followed by a much publicized meeting between President Obama and Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) (who are working on a bipartisan immigration reform bill), seen as a move to insert immigration back onto a congressional agenda. And finally, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus is also meeting with the President today to discuss health care and immigration.

Should we be holding our breaths?

POLL: Will Obama's meeting today with Sen. Schumer and Sen. Graham yield concrete action on immigration?

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Obama, pay attention to immigration reform as day 14 of immigration fast leads 3 fasters to ER

At a packed church in New York city on a cold wintry afternoon, hundreds of supporters shouted Si Se Puede! Yes we can! as New York’s immigrant communities, labor unions, faith leaders, business owners, elected officials and allies came together in solidarity with hundreds of groups across the country, renewing the call for 2010 to be THE YEAR to achieve just and humane immigration reform.

The rally comes together as actions across the country, from fasts to walks to civil disobedience acts, create mounting pressure for human rights and justice in the immigration system.

Fast for Our Families (Homestead, FL)

Since New Year’s Day, half a dozen immigrant rights activists, community leaders and affected family members have initiated an indefinite fast, vowing to take only liquids, until President Obama and the Administration agree to suspend the deportation of immigrants with American families until Congress acts to fix the broken immigration system. Today, on day 14, three fasters have been rushed to the emergency room after experiencing serious health concerns. Here’s an excerpt from their blog,

The doctor is here. Three fasters are going to the hospital. Francisco may have had a heart attack – the after symptoms point that way. He needs tests. He quietly asked me if he could come back to the fast after they do the tests. “I won’t let them give me food and I can come back, right?” It broke my heart.

Jonathan says he feels fine but the doctor insists that he go to the hospital as well. He has shortness of breath and an issue with his electrolytes that could point to something more serious. He’s determined to come back.

The doctor is recommending that Jenny and Ana go to the hospital as well. Jenny’s pulse and blood pressure are very low. Ana’s sugar is dangerously low. They pressure the doctor. “It’s my baby. It’s my life. You have to understand,” Jenny is declaring. I have tears in my eyes. The fast could cost her life and leaving her children could cost her life. How does one even begin to fathom that choice? How does it even come to that?

Send a letter to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano demanding a stop to separation of families.

Campaign to free Jean Montrevil from immigration custody and stop his deportation (New York, NY)

Jean Montrevil, an activist, leader and family man is currently in immigration custody, awaiting deportation to Haiti, for a crime he committed 20 years ago for which he paid his time. Today’s rally outside Varick Detention Center showed a growing amount of support and anger at Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s unjust actions.

Send an email to Department of Homeland Security urging for his immediate release.

Trail of Dreams (Miami to Washington, D.C.)

On January 1, 2010, a group of brave and passionate students from Florida’s Students Working for Equal Rights (SWER) embarked on a 4-month long journey from Miami’s Freedom Tower to the United States Capitol in Washington D.C., where they will join with thousands in a mass rally demanding urgently needed changes to immigration laws and policies on May 1st, 2010.

Find out how you can help and support the Trail of Dreams.

National Day of Action Against Sheriff Arpaio – Saturday, January 16th (Phoenix, AZ)

Join NDLON, Puente, and other immigrants’ rights groups in denouncing egregious abuses perpetrated against immigrants and people of color by Sheriff Joe Arpaio and demanding an end to 287(g), Secure Communities, and other forms of local police collaboration with immigration authorities that severely undermine public safety and the community’s trust to report crimes to police. Just today, an advertisement appears in today’s edition of The Arizona Republic newspaper where sixty black leaders have come together to condemn Sheriff Arpaio.

Here’s more info on how you can support the movement against Arpaio.

In the midst of the demand for reform, we wish to remember those in Haiti and offer our support and prayers for them.

UPDATE: “On this day, January 17, we have decided to end our fast. After watching the suffering of our Haitian brothers and sisters, and seeing the determination of the Department of Homeland Security to ignore the voices of immigrant families fighting to stay together, we must continue our struggle in a different way, but the Fast for Our Families will not end.”

UPDATE: As of January 25th, 2009, Jean Montrevil was released from detention. The fight continues to end the threat of deportation, but he is back home with his family and community members in New York City.