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If you missed Restore Fairness’ latest video on racial profiling, here’s your chance

This Sunday, October, 24th, Breakthrough‘s Multimedia Manager, Madhuri Mohindar, will present the Restore Fairness campaign’s immigration work at Union Docs in Brooklyn, New York on a panel titled, “Global Perspectives in Digital Media.” The panel will look at the ways in which digital technology and emerging platforms have opened up new ways of reflecting life around the world; technologies that have changed not only the medium, but also revolutionized the message and the ways in which it is received and acted upon. The panel, curated by Union Docs and Mandy Rose, will also feature producers from Video Nation (BBC 2)WSJ.comGlobal Lives, and Metropolis (VPRO).

In addition to discussing Breakthrough’s popular video game, ICED- I Can End Deportation, which was the first 3D video game on immigration and immigrant rights, Madhuri will screen a clip from our Restore Fairness campaign’s new documentary, “Face the Truth: Racial Profiling Across America,” produced in partnership with the Rights Working Group. Using powerful personal stories, this documentary showcases the devastating impact of racial profiling on communities around our country, including the African American, Latino, Arab, Muslim and South Asian communities. Besides compelling personal stories, the documentary features interviews with notable law enforcement and civil society leaders, all of whom decry racial and religious profiling as a pervasive problem that is not only humiliating and degrading for the people subjected to it, but one that is unconstitutional, ineffective as a law enforcement practice, and ultimately damaging to community security.

Take a look at Kurdish American Karwan Abdul Kader’s moving story in Face the Truth: Racial Profiling Across America-

Face the Truth: Racial Profiling Across America from Breakthrough on Vimeo.

Before you head to Union Docs, take a look at how the “Face the Truth: Racial Profiling Across America” documentary has been making waves across the blogosphere. Last week it was featured on Jack and Jill Politics, a popular blog that deals race and politics, in an article addressing Bill O’Reilly’s bigoted comments about American Muslims and the building of a mosque near the 9/11 site in downtown Manhattan. Most recently, the widely-read blog, Racialicious, also wrote about the documentary and urged people to watch it.

If you want to hear about how Breakthrough uses popular culture tools and digital media to build human rights culture, head over to Union Docs this Sunday, October 24, 2010. The panel runs from 7:30 – 10:00 pm, and is being held at  322 Union Avenue, Brooklyn, NY. For more information on the event, click here.

Photo courtesy of uniondocs.org

Ground zero and the mosque — does the court of law have it right?

Welcoming a new mosque near the site of 9/11 attacks is seen by those opposed to it as a symbol of terrorist victory and a weak U.S. On the other hand, supporters see the openness and tolerance of this act as a powerful bridge to interfaith interaction and peace. But, plain and simply, to the court of law religious tolerance isn’t up for debate.

This week  New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission faced a lawsuit after they refused to give the building that will be the future home of the new mosque historical landmark status, on the basis that status should be given because the the building stood strong during the 9/11 attacks. Approved plans to tear down this building and build an Islamic mosque in its place led Republicans and the nation’s most prominent Jewish civil rights group Anti-Defamation League to join the American Center for Law and Justice in a heated battle against the decision to let Cordoba Initiative undergo its $100 million project to build the mosque. While the controversy over the measures of historical significance for this landmark made its way to courts, the bigger controversy underlying this court case did not. Before the court hearing Wednesday, Elisabeth de Bourbon, a spokeswoman for the Landmarks Preservation Commission, said,

What we’re looking at is whether the building has the architectural and historic significance to the city of New York to merit landmark designation.

In other words, its members were not asked to consider the planned use of the structure or site.

Despite the institutional refusal to debate over patriotic legacy v. religious tolerance, citizens continue to argue about whether or not the decision was un-American. For example, the Wall Street Journal published a letter to Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf (city panelist who appeased to the building of the mosque). He wrote:

While we continue to stand with you and your right to proceed with this project, we see no reason why it must necessarily be located so close to the site of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Those attacks, as you well know, were committed in the name of Islam… We applaud and thank every Muslim throughout the world who has rejected and denounced this association. But the fact remains that in the minds of many who are swayed by the most radical interpretations of Islam, the Cordoba House will not be seen as a center for peace and reconciliation. It will rather be celebrated as a Muslim monument erected on the site of a great Muslim ‘military’ victory — a milestone on the path of the further spread of Islam throughout the world.

While the legacy of the September 11 attacks remains in the heart of America, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick points out that

The sooner we separate the peaceful teaching of Islam from the behavior of terrorists, the better for all of us.

Patrick is the state’s first sitting Governor to visit a mosque.

If the U.S. were to single out one faith from New York’s greater cultural melting pot, it would be promoting intolerance and hatred.

Republicans say the mosque does a dishonor to the 3,000 lives lost by the Islamic terrorists in 2001’s Sept 11 attacks. However, the citizenry debate bottles down to a clash of religions, as evident when C. Lee Hanson, whose son, daughter-in-law, and grandchild died on the United Airlines flight 175, said,

I think it’s a tragedy for the United States. It’s another sign of weakness that we’d allow a victory mosque to be built next to what most of us is holy ground.

NY Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a Republican-turned-Independent, said Tuesday,

The World Trade Center site will forever hold a special place in our city, in our hearts. But we would be untrue to the best part of ourselves, and who we are as New Yorkers and Americans, if we said no to a mosque in lower Manhattan.

Developers say the mosque will serve as a hub for interfaith interaction, as well as a place for Muslims to bridge some of their faith’s own schisms.

Oz Sultan, spokesman for the planned Islamic center, said,

We want to create a model that shows the world that you can develop moderate Muslim communities. We would admonish people to, at least, give us a fair shake.

The court hearing did not include a debate on the legacy of 9/11 v. religious tolerance because any debate of the sort would, without a doubt, lose to the constitutional right of the freedom to practice one’s religion as well as the division between Church and State. Republicans who filed technical legal suit for landmark measures did so because they knew they needed a legitimate reason to reach court.

After the board’s unanimous vote, its chairman, Robert B. Tierney, said the structure, which previously home to a Burlington Coat Factory, “does not rise to the level of an individual landmark.”

This is just one opinion. What are your thoughts?

Photo courtesy of Jason Benjamin Paz on www.blogspot.com

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

Detention reforms a welcome relief…lots more to be done

Rep. Zoe Lofgren on Immigration Detention from Breakthrough on Vimeo.

A slew of newspaper articles greeted us this morning with the Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) plans to reform the immigration detention system. The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, the BBC and the Associated Press vied for attention with headlines that held much hope – U.S. to Revise Detention Standards, U.S. to Cut Immigration Detention, and my favorite, Ideas for Immigrant Detention Include Converting Hotels and Building Models.

So what did these ambitious plans contain? At a cost of $1.7 billion a year, the detention system is a vast network of federally run detention centers and about 300 state and county jails that detain 32,000 detainees every night or 370,000 in the year. But all these facts and figures don’t tell the real stories – of detainees transferred far from families and lawyers, of denied phone calls and visits, of 94 deaths – many questionable, and of the physical and verbal abuse that surfaces time and time again.

The reforms have emerged out of a comprehensive review conducted by Dora Schriro, the former ICE Office of Detention Policy and Planning Director, and focus on greater federal oversight, special attention to detainee medical care, and a desire to treat different types of detainees according to the level of ‘risk’ they present. As Secretary Napolitano herself pointed out, “we are taking a non system and making it into a system that will allow enforcement of our immigration laws but will also convince the American people that we are abiding by conditions of safety and security in the most cost effctive way possible.”

So proposals include presenting Congress with a plan for alternatives to detention to in the fall, placing detainees in alternative models of detention including converted hotels, nursing homes and other residential facilities, centralizing management of the detention system, and increasing oversight at facilities. Some will take more time than others, such as the implementation of an online system for families and lawyers to locate detainees or developing newer centers.

For years, advocates have been speaking of the need to distinguish between detainees, and to stop detaining those that are neither a flight risk, nor a danger to the community. We have been calling for better medical care and stopping the for profit detention system without legally enforceable standards. It’s good to see some steps in the right direction.

But there will continue to be problems. For one,  what happens to those in detention already. The NYT cites an example of a woman who needs urgent medical care in the Glades County Detention Center and has been struggling to get medical help since the last 5 months. Secondly, while we welcome the promise of alternatives to detention, we hope that this includes community based alternatives, and not all invasive models such as ankle bracelets. And thirdly, we still want to see legally enforceable standards in place, so those that default on their responsibility can be held accountable.

As a NYT editorial says,

“The Obama administration… is pushing back with an effort to be sane and proportionate. If the reforms announced on Tuesday work half as well as promised, the country will be closer to a detention system it does not have to be ashamed of.”