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Human Rights

Weekly Diaspora: Why Sexual Violence Against Latina Farmworkers is a Hate Crime

by: The Media Consortium

Tue Feb 08, 2011 at 12:38:47 PM EST

by Catherine A. Traywick, Media Consortium blogger

This week, two high-profile trials involving the racially motivated murders of Latinos in Pennsylvania and Arizona are exposing the unsettling implications of growing anti-immigrant sentiment. But while antagonistic political discourse and incendiary policy are shown to provoke ethnic violence-correlating with a 52 percent increase in hate crimes-they also indirectly drive sexual violence against immigrant women. The combination of stricter enforcement and increased cultural animosity toward immigrants renders undocumented women workers more susceptible to workplace rape and sexual exploitation-violent crimes that don't generally register as hate crimes but that nevertheless bespeak of racially charged motives.

 
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History comes alive with Immigrant Heritage Week

by: Restore Fairness

Thu Apr 15, 2010 at 16:13:21 PM EST

From the Restore Fairness blog.

What is your favorite thing about New York City? Food? Culture? The people? Its unique neighborhoods? New York may have a lot to offer but what really makes it stand out is its identity as a melting pot of cultures from around the world.

So here’s your chance to get the best out of the city’s vibrant immigrant cultures. Starting today, New Yorkers of all ages can enjoy hundreds of affordable events organized in museums, parks, restaurants, theaters and universities across the city through Immigrant Heritage Week. Begun by Mayor Bloomberg in 2004, every year the Mayor’s office for Immigrant Affairs partners with organizations across the city to host a week of general revelry across the five boroughs as a tribute to the city’s immigrants. The theme for this year is “Flavors of the World” so get your gastro-groove on and challenge your palette!

To kick off the celebrations, the Opportunity Agenda hosted a great event yesterday evening. The “Timely Conversation with Artists and Advocates” featured an incredible panel of artists and advocates who explored how integral creative expression is to celebrating diversity and highlighting a common humanity amongst people. Acclaimed director Mira Nair kicked off the event followed by Tony award winning playwright David Henry Hwang, DJ and musician Martín Perna, new media artist Favianna Rodriguez and PBS anchor Maria Hinojosa, among others.

While there are countless things on the Heritage Week calendar that are worth recommending (Dance in Sunset Park, African Folktales at NYPL, and the Cultural  Video festival in the Bronx), one of the special ones is The Maysles Institute, which is hosting  “Shall We Dance“, a program of amazing docs. In “Two Dollar Dance,” the filmmaker looks at dance clubs in Jackson Heights, Queens, where Latino immigrants meet “two-dollar ballerinas,” women who partner them for two dollars a song. One of the other featured films, “The Mist,” follows the filmmaker, Maryam Habiban, as she returns to Iran after 30-years to find that a new culture of art and ideas flourishes alongside the more fundamentalist tradition.

Check out the calendar, and get planning!

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Arizona's harsh anti-immigrant bill gives racial profiling the green light

by: Restore Fairness

Wed Apr 14, 2010 at 17:05:04 PM EST

From the Restore Fairness blog.

The passage of SB 1070 by the House of Representatives in Arizona  will have chilling repercussions if signed into law by Governor Brewer.  The bill dramatically expands police powers to stop, question and detain  individuals for not having proper identification, a move that will  instigate racial  tension and fear and driving a wedge between groups.

SB 1070 effectively makes it a crime to be undocumented in   Arizona,  and will be one of the harshest anti-immigrant legislations in the U.S. if  it becomes law. The bill passed in Arizona’s House of Representatives  and is to be combined with a similar bill that passed in the  Senate,  after which it is expected to be signed into law Governor Brewer. Senator  Russell K. Pearce (R-AZ) who introduced the bill has publicly  stated that if it passes, 10 other states will follow suit with similar  legislation.

So what’s in it? The bill requires the police to  investigate the immigration  status of every person that they come  across, whom they have “reasonable suspicion” to believe is in the  country unlawfully. This implies that everyone has to carry their papers  with  them at all times in order to avoid being stopped, arrested, and   detained, effectively fashioning Arizona into nothing short of a police  state. Currently,  police officers can only inquire about a person’s immigration status if   the person is a suspect in a crime. In addition, the bill allows anyone  to sue a local, country or state agency if they   believe that the agency is not enforcing immigration law, expressly  forbids cities from adopting “sanctuary”  policies that prevent  police from carrying out immigration  enforcement, and makes  it illegal to solicit work or hire day laborers.

While opponents of immigration have been rooting for this measure for   a long time, immigrant rights advocates have unanimously condemned the   bill as an affront on the civil liberties of the residents of Arizona.  From business groups and faith leaders to municipal governments and  police chiefs, the bill has seen increasing opposition. Even within the  police, while police  unions support the bill, the state  police chief’s association has opposed the bill,  saying that it  will hamper the trust that immigrant communities place  in the their  services. Outraged by its potential passage, groups like the ACLU,  NDLON, Bordern  Action Network and  national networks have gone into  overdrive to  protest the bill. According to Alessandra Meetze,  President of the ACLU of Arizona,

Instead of working on real solutions to  the  immigration crisis, our  legislators have devised a proposal that  is full  of  shortcuts…Contrary to what proponents of SB1070 say, the  bill does   not prohibit officers from relying on race or ethnicity in  deciding who   to investigate…A lot of U.S. citizens are going to be  swept up in the application of  this law for something as simple as  having an accent and leaving their  wallet at home.

While Senator Pearce believes the bill simply  “takes   the handcuffs off of law enforcement and lets them do their  job”, in reality, it promotes racial profiling and cements  anti-immigrant sentiment already prevalent in Arizona. The grounds of  “reasonable suspicion” on  which police officers will  investigate  people about their immigration  status will in many cases be based on  racial and ethnic grounds. One immigration group, Somos America,  likens it to the  system operating under apartheid or pre-civil rights  America  with Jim Crow laws, where people of color were disallowed from   entering “white” land, yet were exploited for their labor by  the white  population. Given Arizona’s infamous Sheriff Arpaio whose dictatorial methods  favor neighborhood sweeps, tent city detentions, and racial stops the  fear of the misuse of the bill is not far fetched.

Sign a petition to tell Governor Brewer to stand up  for Arizona and stop  signing a bill into law that will terrorize communities and create  painful divisions.

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Is the person next to you being racially profiled?

by: Restore Fairness

Tue Apr 13, 2010 at 16:54:47 PM EST

From the Restore Fairness blog.

Roxana Orellana Santos was sitting by a pond and enjoying her lunch when two officers walked over to her and asked her for identification. They immediately took her into custody, detained her, and very soon she was handed over to government agents for possible deportation. For the month and a half that Roxana then spent federal custody, she was separated from her son, who was a 1 years old. She was released after 46 days.

Immigrant advocates later filed a civil rights lawsuit on her behalf, challenging her arrest, stating that neither of the police officers who questioned Roxana Santos had any authority to arrest her based on her immigration status. As Jose Perez from LatinoJustice (a New York-based nonprofit civil rights organization) said in the Washington Post-

Since there was never any suggestion of criminal activity by Ms. Orellana Santos, her questioning and detention were clearly based on one element: her ethnic appearance…This is the essence of racial profiling.

Why did the officers walk up to Roxana on that particular day? She had no criminal record and her information was not previously in the system. It seems to add up that she was asked for her identification purely based on her ethnic appearance. Unfortunately Roxana’s story is far from unique. Racial profiling is a very real and serious problem in the United States, and its integration with immigration enforcement in the past year has increased it by horrific leaps and bounds.

Racial profiling affects members of many communities across the country, including Latinos, African Americans, Arab Americans and Native Americans. Researchers at the Center on Race, Crime and Justice recently analyzed data provided by the New York Police Department (NYPD) examining the demographic trends of their stop-and-frisk policy and found that in 2009, African Americans and Hispanics were stopped at a rate that was 9 times higher than whites, even though they account for only 27% and 24% of the population of New York City. And once stopped, they were far more likely to be frisked and faced with physical force than whites who were stopped.

Even though profiling people on the basis of their race and ethnicity is a deeply alarming trend, a recent study found that subjecting the issue to public scrutiny is one of the most effective ways to reduce racial profiling. Heightened coverage in the media has proved to reduce racial profiling practices of police officers in routine traffic stops, making it important to highlight individual stories and put pressure on the authorities to respect civil rights.

Make a difference by writing a letter to Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Assistant Secretary John Morton in ending an egregious immigration enforcement program that has led to many racial profiling and civil rights abuses. Take action now.

Photo courtesy of allpsychologycareers.com

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How many more hate crimes against immigrants will it take?

by: Restore Fairness

Mon Apr 12, 2010 at 17:12:52 PM EST

From the Restore Fairness blog.

Quintessentially ‘New York,’ Port Richmond is a diverse and vibrant neighborhood that has been home to most of Staten Island’s Latino community for many years. In incidents that often go unreported, in the past few years this neighborhood has seen more hate crimes against Latino immigrants than one can bear to count. The latest one took place early morning on April 5th when 26 year-old Mexican immigrant Rodulfo Olmedo was attacked by four young men outside his apartment. In this horrifyingly vicious assault, the attackers yelled racial slurs at him, beat him with wooden planks, metal chains and a baseball bat, and took his money, leaving him with a fractured skull.

Although Olmedo is home from the hospital and recovering from his injuries, the entire community is reeling from the psychological and emotional trauma caused by yet another episode of race-based violence in their midst. Last night, there was a combination of sadness and outrage as 150 community members gathered for a candlelight vigil outside the bakery where Olmedo was employed. Led by a local priest, they prayed for an end to the violence that has plagued the immigrant community for years. Speaking about the frequency of hate crimes in the area, Gonzalo Mercado, the director of the Center for Immigrant Families in Port Richmond, said that “the community is living in fear, because these types of situations are not new to this area.”

Rodulfo’s mother, Margarita Olmedo, said that the family is traumatized by the violent attack and is determined to make sure that it does not go unnoticed. She spoke to local press on Rodulfo’s behalf-

He’s under a lot of medication, so he’s resting sleeping…He just wants to make sure that everybody says something about it, that nobody should keep quiet. He does not want this to happen to anybody else.

The attack was captured by two surveillance cameras, and was broadcast on the local television channel (NY1). Following the broadcast the police received a tip, and, after searching their “stop-and-frisk” database, they arrested four suspects on Friday, the 9th of April.  The arrested youth face assault and hate crime charges, and if convicted, could received up to 25 years in prison. The arrest of the suspected perpetrators has given rise to a controversy around the NYPD database that contains information of all the people they stop, question or frisk on grounds of “reasonable suspicion,” as a part of their “stop-and-frisk” policy.

Begun in 2001, the database was started as a safeguard that recorded information of all police stops, thereby ensuring against racially disproportionate action on the part of the police. This case has brought to light the fact that a database that was initiated to prevent against racial profiling, is being used by the police to track down suspects, raising concerns amongst civil liberties advocates like the New York Civil Liberties Union. Speaking about the potential of the database to allow for racial profiling, Chris Dunn, associate legal director of the ACLU said-

The prospect of occasionally finding additional information about suspects already known to the police does not come close to justifying a police database of millions of innocent black and Latino New Yorkers.

While this case received coverage in the press, most of these cases go unreported. On Friday, community leaders in Staten Island gathered to tell people that the only way for concrete action towards putting an end to such violence is if people who are victims or witnesses of hate crimes come forward and report them. The “April 5 bias crime,”as the press has named it, drives home the fact that race-based violence against immigrants has seen a dangerous surge in the past few years.

As the momentum is growing towards just and humane immigration reform, it is important to keep in mind the horrific reality of individual stories like Rodulfo’s, unfolding in our own neighborhoods, right before our eyes.

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How many more hate crimes against immigrants will it take?

by: Restore Fairness

Mon Apr 12, 2010 at 17:12:26 PM EST

From the Restore Fairness blog.

Quintessentially ‘New York,’ Port Richmond is a  diverse and vibrant  neighborhood that has been home to most of Staten  Island’s Latino  community for many years. In incidents that often go  unreported, in the  past few years this neighborhood has seen more hate crimes against Latino immigrants than one can   bear to count. The latest one took place early morning on April 5th   when 26 year-old Mexican immigrant Rodulfo Olmedo was attacked by four   young men outside his apartment. In this horrifyingly vicious assault,   the attackers yelled racial slurs at him, beat him with wooden planks,   metal chains and a baseball bat, and took his money, leaving him with a   fractured skull.

Although Olmedo is home from the hospital and  recovering from his  injuries, the entire community is reeling from the  psychological and  emotional trauma caused by yet another episode of  race-based violence in  their midst. Last night, there was a combination  of sadness and outrage  as 150 community members gathered for a candlelight vigil outside the bakery where Olmedo   was employed. Led by a local priest, they prayed for an end to the   violence that has plagued the immigrant community for years. Speaking   about the frequency of hate crimes in the area, Gonzalo Mercado, the   director of the Center  for Immigrant  Families in Port Richmond, said that “the community is living in fear, because   these types of situations are  not new to this area.”

Rodulfo’s  mother, Margarita Olmedo, said that the family is  traumatized by the  violent attack and is determined to make sure that it  does not go  unnoticed. She spoke to local press on Rodulfo’s behalf-

He’s under a  lot of medication, so he’s  resting sleeping…He just wants to make sure  that everybody says  something about it, that nobody should keep quiet.  He does not want this  to happen to anybody else.

The attack was  captured by two surveillance cameras, and was broadcast on the local television channel (NY1).   Following the broadcast the police received a tip, and, after searching their “stop-and-frisk”   database, they arrested four suspects on Friday, the 9th of April.  The   arrested youth face assault and hate crime charges, and if convicted,   could received up to 25 years in prison. The arrest of the suspected   perpetrators has given rise to a controversy around the NYPD database that contains   information of all the people they stop, question or frisk on grounds    of “reasonable suspicion,” as a part of their “stop-and-frisk” policy.

 

Begun in 2001, the database was started as a   safeguard that recorded information of all police stops, thereby   ensuring against racially disproportionate action on the part of the   police. This case has brought to light the fact that a database that was   initiated to prevent against racial profiling, is being used by the   police to track down suspects, raising concerns amongst civil liberties   advocates like the New  York Civil  Liberties Union. Speaking about the potential of the  database to  allow for racial profiling, Chris Dunn, associate legal   director of the ACLU said-

The prospect of occasionally finding   additional information about suspects already known to the police does   not come close to justifying a police database of millions of innocent   black and Latino New Yorkers.

While this case received coverage  in the press, most of these cases  go unreported. On Friday, community  leaders in Staten Island gathered   to tell people that the only way for concrete action towards   putting an end to such violence is if people who are victims or   witnesses of hate crimes come forward and report them. The “April 5 bias crime,”as the press has named it,    drives home the fact that race-based violence against immigrants has    seen a dangerous surge in the past few years.

As  the momentum is growing towards just and humane   immigration reform, it is important to keep in mind the horrific reality   of individual stories like Rodulfo’s, unfolding in our own   neighborhoods, right before our eyes.

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Nationwide vigils tell immigration agencies that they are "completely out of control"

by: Restore Fairness

Fri Apr 09, 2010 at 15:18:43 PM EST

From the Restore Fairness blog.

Between the discovery of Haitian earthquake survivors in immigration detention (later released), an agency memo showing support for larger amounts of immigrant deportations, and the agency’s own admission of mismanagement, an embarrassed Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) needs to be held accountable for its actions.

While civil rights groups have continued to be critical of ICE over the past year, the first protests against their recent misadventures has been spearheaded by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). Starting yesterday, the SEIU mobilized their members to participate in vigils outside ICE offices across the country to call on the agency to bring itself back to the enforcement goals it had set at the beginning of the Obama administration last year, goals that it seems to have lost sight of.

One of the country’s largest labor unions, the SEIU held prayer vigils outside USCIS offices in Oakland and Sacramento yesterday and outside ICE headquarters in Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Jose, Boston and Minneapolis today. Speaking on behalf of thousands of workers and human rights advocates across the country, Executive Vice-President of SEIU, Eliseo Medina said-

When DHS first announced its enforcement goals – including its increased focus on worksite I9 audits – SEIU was optimistic that the Obama Administration would clean up past wrongdoings…Instead, the agency has added flames to the fire by replacing worksite raids with electronic raids. Field officers are acting like cowboys, more interested in adding scalps to their belts than targeting criminals and abusive employers, which would actually help solve our immigration problems. As a result, communities lose, businesses lose, families lose, America loses.

President Obama has expressed his commitment to the need for immigration reform saying that tearing apart families, terrorizing communities through raids, and denying due process to those detained, were all indications of a broken immigration system that needed to be fixed. With the expansion of an unsuccessful 287(g) program and an increase in deportations in the past year, it is clear the the system is failing. SEIU activists are demanding-

Rather than wasting limited funds to chase hard-working, tax-paying cleaners, home-care providers and nannies, the activists will call on President Obama and Secretary Janet Napolitano to re-focus ICE enforcement on its original goals of targeting crooked employers and criminals.

The human repercussions of political decisions made behind closed doors cannot be under estimated. If the promises that the administration made are not upheld, retaliatory actions will continue to take place across the nation.

Watch the latest video from America’s Voice, telling us how the current state of immigration is “More Rouge Than Right.”

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"(Pre)Viewing the Right-Wing Playbook on Immigration"

by: Restore Fairness

Thu Apr 08, 2010 at 16:08:41 PM EST

From the Restore Fairness blog.

As we continue to fight for immigration reform, one  thing that we can  be sure about is a right-wing attack. A preview of  this came about in  the days building up to the successful immigration march in D.C. when fringe right-wing   groups like Numbers USA, The John Tanton Network and the Tea Party Movement started pulling out all the stops to counter the building   momentum for immigration reform. Predictably, their approach mirrored   the strategies they employed a few years ago, during the last big push   for reform that took place in 2007 under former President George Bush.

 

A report by liberal advocacy group People for the American Way called “(Pre)Viewing the Right-Wing Playbook on Immigration”  has pulled from years of expertise on the right to lay out a list of   the key strategies that are traditionally employed to defeat immigration   reform, followed by tools to retaliate against these irrational and unsound attacks.

One of the  most common strategies employed by the right is an appeal  to racial  fear. This is carried out in a number of ways, including the  positing  of the “Brown” threat to a “White America,” and the outrageous   portrayal of immigrants and their supporters as invaders and enemies of   the United States. Inciting prejudice against Latinos, Rep. Tom  Tancredo  commented in November 2006-

Look at what  has happened to Miami. It  has become a Third World country…. You would  never know you’re in the  United States of America. You would certainly  say you’re in a Third  World country.

Not to be  left behind, former Presidential candidate Pat Buchanan  continued in  the vein of this fear-mongering around the “immigrant  invasion”. He wrote in 2007-

What is  happening to us? An immigrant  invasion of the United States from the  Third World, as America’s white  majority is no longer even reproducing  itself. Since Roe v. Wade,  America has aborted 45 million of her  children. And Asia, Africa and  Latin America have sent 45 million of  their children to inherit the  estate that aborted American children  never saw.

It goes without saying that claims that  America has been built by and  for White people are historically  incorrect and intensely racist. More  importantly, this country  continues to be shaped by immigrants and draws  immense political and  economic strength from its diversity.

Continuing in the vein of  racial divisiveness is the idea that  immigration rights advocates are  themselves racist, a notion that has  emerged in the post Obama election  days. While television personality  Glenn Beck has referred to  President Obama as someone who was opposed to  white people, he has  generated the idea from numerous accusations of  racism thrown at  pro-immigration advocates during the 2007 push for  reform. At that  time, the radio host Michael Savage attacked the National Council of La Raza by calling it “the Ku Klux Klan of the Hispanic   people.” He went on to say that it was “the most stone racist group I’ve   ever seen in this country”.

Portraying undocumented immigrants  as responsible for terrorism and   crime waves, as well as positing them  as “unclean” carriers of disease   and bio-terrorism is one of the  tactics that the far right has employed   on both local and national  levels during past debates around   immigration. Such as when  Lou Dobbs claimed immigrants were   causing an   epidemic of  leprosy in the country which was simply untrue. Or when   during the debates over immigration reform, Rep. Steve King, of the   House Republicans’ “Immigration Reform Caucus” extrapolated fictional   statistics claiming that 12 American citizens “die a violent   death at the hands of murderous illegal aliens each day”. If that’s so,   then why is it that the President’s  Council of Economic Advisers reports that immigrants have lower crime rates than   U.S. citizens and that immigrant men ages 18 to 40 are less likely  than  other U.S. residents to be incarcerated.

While we hope that  most of you would be taken by the impulse to laugh  off these  strategies as racist, rabble-rousing garbage, we must take  note that  such nativist fear-mongering has the power to garner  significant  support from many, especially within the current climate of  an unstable  economy. Work such as People For the American Way’s “Right Wing Watch: In Focus” series gives us the   best tool to fighting these attacks – truly understanding the reasoning   behind them, and countering them on their own territory.

Let’s  fight racism on our route to humane immigration reform!

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A story a day should keep enforcement at bay

by: Restore Fairness

Wed Apr 07, 2010 at 17:04:09 PM EST

From the Restore Fairness blog.

No matter what the cause, it’s always the individual stories that resonate deeply. These stories really shed light on how broken the immigration system really, 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.

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The Mexican version of Brown vs. Board of Education

by: Restore Fairness

Tue Apr 06, 2010 at 16:32:13 PM EST

From the Restore Fairness blog.

It was like discovering gold.

When she was in college, Sandra Mendez discovered something about her past that changed the way she looked at her parents forever. An American of Mexican-Puerto Rican descent, Sandra grew up unaware that her brave immigrant parents had been responsible for paving the path to racial desegregation in schools.

65 years ago, this month, Gonzalo and Felicitas Mendez joined four other families to fight a lawsuit against Orange County, California because their Mexican-American children were not allowed to attend white schools. They won the case, Mendez vs. Westminster, which then set the stage for the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education case of 1954. Although Sandra had not been born at the time, her elder sister Sylvia remembers it well:

I remember being in court every day. They would dress us up really nice…And I’d be there sitting very quietly, not really understanding what was going on….

It was only later that she began to understand that she would have to continue fighting even after her parents had won the case. In a conversation between Sylvia and Sandra which was recorded as a part of the StoryCorps Historias project, Sylvia describes the vivid memory of having a white boy at school tell her that she did not belong there and that “they shouldn’t have Mexicans here.” When she cried to her mother that she didn’t want to be at that school her mother would have none of it. “Don’t you realize that this is what we fought for? Of course you’re going to stay in that school and prove that you’re just as good as he is.”

The Mendez’s never really spoke about their monumental victory to anyone, so much that Sandra herself didn’t hear about it till she was in college. She came across her father’s name in a coursebook, and shocked at the coincidence, asked her mother about it. Her mother nonchalantly said, “Oh yeah, that was us. We did that”. Her reason for not mentioning it before – whenever they spoke about it they could be accused of bragging.

The Mendez’s story is like so many other moments in history that have been silenced or forgotten over the years, denying people a sense of shared heritage and community history. One of the largest oral history projects of the time, StoryCorps has launched the StoryCorps Historias, an initiative to record the diverse experiences of Latinos in the United States, capturing the stories and memories for generations to come.

While education has come a long way from 1945 when the Mendez’s won their case, and 1954 when racial segregation in schools came to an end, it is important to note that even today we face a number of problems with immigration education. Those opposed to immigration use the argument that bilingual educational programs hamper a child’s academic development, and that by allowing school children to retain their foreign language in school, the system is posing a threat to the future of English in the country. The controversial No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, which promotes English-only instruction, is based on this skepticism at bilingual learning and has resulted in the nation’s 5 million immigrant children being left behind.

In her new book, “True American: Language, Identity, and the Education of Immigrant Children”, Professor Rosemary Salomone counters these myths about bilingual education. She argues that in fact, bilingualism increases mental dexterity, creative thinking and problem solving. And as in the case of Europe, a push towards multilingualism would benefit the nation in the long run, politically, economically and socially. Isn’t it time that our lawmakers started embracing the strength of our diversity rather than burying their heads in the sand?

Photo courtesy of npr.org

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The Mexican version of Brown vs. Board of Education

by: Restore Fairness

Tue Apr 06, 2010 at 16:31:54 PM EST

From the Restore Fairness blog.

It  was like discovering gold.

 

When she was in  college, Sandra Mendez discovered something about her  past that changed  the way she looked at her parents forever. An  American of  Mexican-Puerto Rican descent, Sandra grew up unaware that  her brave  immigrant parents had been responsible for paving the path to  racial  desegregation in schools.

65 years ago, this month,  Gonzalo and  Felicitas Mendez joined four other families to fight a  lawsuit against  Orange County, California because their  Mexican-American children were  not allowed to attend white schools.  They won the case, Mendez vs. Westminster, which then set the stage for   the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education case of 1954. Although   Sandra had not been born at the time, her elder sister Sylvia  remembers it well:

I remember being in court  every day.  They would dress us up really nice…And I’d be there sitting  very  quietly, not really understanding what was going on….

It  was only later that she began to understand that she would have to   continue fighting even after her parents had won the case. In a   conversation between Sylvia and Sandra which was recorded as a part   of   the StoryCorps    Historias project, Sylvia describes the vivid memory of having a   white boy at school tell her that she did not belong there and that “they   shouldn’t have Mexicans here.” When she cried to her mother that   she didn’t want to be at that school her mother would have none of it.  “Don’t you realize that this is what we fought for? Of course you’re   going to stay in that school and prove that you’re just as good as he   is.”

The Mendez’s never really spoke about their monumental  victory to  anyone, so much that Sandra herself didn’t hear about it  till she was in  college. She came across her father’s name in a  coursebook, and shocked  at the coincidence, asked her mother about it.  Her mother nonchalantly  said, “Oh yeah, that was us. We did that”.  Her reason for not  mentioning it before – whenever they spoke about it  they could be  accused of bragging.

The Mendez’s story is like  so many other moments in history that have  been silenced or forgotten  over the years, denying people a sense of  shared heritage and community  history. One of the largest oral history  projects of the time, StoryCorps has launched the StoryCorps   Historias, an initiative to record the diverse experiences of Latinos in the United   States, capturing the stories and memories for generations to come.

While  education has come a long way from 1945 when the Mendez’s won  their  case, and 1954 when racial segregation in schools came to an end,  it is  important to note that even today we face a number of problems with immigration education.   Those opposed to immigration use the argument that bilingual educational   programs hamper a child’s academic development, and that by allowing   school children to retain their foreign language in school, the system   is posing a threat to the future of English in the country. The   controversial No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, which promotes   English-only instruction, is based on this skepticism at bilingual   learning and has resulted in the nation’s 5 million immigrant children   being left behind.

In her new book, “True  American: Language, Identity, and the Education  of Immigrant Children”,  Professor Rosemary Salomone counters these myths   about bilingual education. She argues that in fact, bilingualism   increases mental dexterity, creative thinking and problem solving. And   as in the case of Europe, a push towards multilingualism would benefit the   nation in the long run, politically, economically and socially. Isn’t it   time that our lawmakers started embracing the strength of our  diversity  rather than burying their heads in the sand?

Photo  courtesy of npr.org

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End it. Not mend it. Message to the administration over failed immigration program.

by: Restore Fairness

Mon Apr 05, 2010 at 15:41:00 PM EST

From the Restore Fairness blog.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the agency responsible for detention and deportations of immigrants, is on a roll. Haitian earthquake survivors and mentally ill detainees are amongst those locked up in inhumane detention centers. Memos leaked last week confirmed a desire for growing deportations of immigrants. And now, the government’s own agency, the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of the Inspector General delivers a scathing critique of ICE’s 287(g) program that gives local police the power to enforce immigration law.

60 police forces across the country have signed agreements with ICE that allow their local officers to detain suspected immigrants for deportation. Various reports have documented racial profiling concerns, but the government has failed to listen. Even Members of Congress and police foundations have spoken out against the program, which diverts scarce resources from the police and endangers community safety as people are afraid to report crimes.

The OIG points out serious flaws in ICE’s 287(g) program for its lack of training, oversight and transparency, and its failure to protect against racial profiling and civil rights abuses. In one example, a victim of a traffic accident who was also an immigrant was taken straight to the local jail until federal officers arrived to check his legal status. And although the program is supposed to focus on “Level 1″ offenders or those who have committed serious crimes, almost half of those reviewed had no involvement in such crimes, revealing a misdirection of resources.

The issue around a lack of supervision is grave. “In the absence of consistent supervision over immigration enforcement activities, there is no assurance that the program is achieving its goals.”This has led to severe violations, with Sheriff Arpaio type neighborhood sweeps to locate undocumented immigrants. Other horrific examples – Juana Villegas, 9 months pregnant, was detained on a minor traffic stop and remained shackled while giving birth, while Pedro Guzman, a mentally ill U.S. citizen was mistakenly deported to Mexico.

And finally, the 287(g) training of police officers is very inadequate. In one example, two officers who were enrolled in the program had been defendants in past racial profiling lawsuits, indicating a flawed selection process. The performance records of local officers are not examined properly while many officers are given only a cursory training in immigration law.

While ICE claims that the report was researched before it has made radical changes to the program, the changes that have been made are largely superficial and problems continue unchecked. Many groups consider this report a wake up call and have demanded the 287(g) program be “ended, not mended.” Take action to “Reign in the Cowboys at ICE.”

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Delaying immigration reform gets expensive

by: Restore Fairness

Mon Mar 29, 2010 at 16:46:14 PM EST

From the Restore Fairness blog.

Sirens, helicopters, immigration agents with guns  swarming into    factories and homes, this was standard game for  immigration raids during    the Bush administration. But all that was  supposed to change during    President Obama’s tenure. In a disturbing  turn of events, documents    procured by the Washington Post have exposed a senior-ranking     Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) official explicitly  stating     that even while deportation of those with  criminal charges has  risen,    the overall number of deportations is “well  below the  agency’s goal”    and what is needed is a reversal of the   downward   trend of    deportations.

Rather than reflect the plans of the  Obama  administration that is   committed to an enforcement agenda  focused on  immigrants that commit   serious crimes, the exposed ICE  memo has laid  out a plan that will -

pump up  the numbers by  increasing  detention space to hold more  illegal  immigrants while they  await  deportation proceedings; sweep  prisons and  jails to find more   candidates for deportation and offering  early release  to those  willing  to go quickly; and, most  controversially, include a  “surge”  in efforts  to catch illegal  immigrants whose only violation was  lying  on  immigration or visa  applications or reentering the United  States  after  being deported.

In keeping with this plan, ICE field  offices in  Dallas, Chicago and   Northern California have set their  agents an  incentive system that  calls  for them to process 40-60 cases  in a month  in order to earn  “excellent”  ratings. Such a policy  encourages agents  to target “easy”  cases rather  than focus on high  risk, criminal cases  that take longer  to process.

ICE  immediately distanced themselves from Chaparro’s memo.

Our    longstanding focus remains on smart, effective immigration     enforcement  that places priority first on those dangerous criminal     aliens who  present risk to the security of our communities. This focus    has yielded  real results – between FY2008 and FY2009,  criminal    deportations  increased by 19%… Significant portions of the memo cited    in The  Washington Post did not reflect our policies, was sent without    my   authorization, and has since been withdrawn and corrected.

Mixed   signals from an agency known for its harsh implementation of    detention  and deportation policies. A report published by the Center for      American Progress weighs the fiscal damage that would result from     mass deportation of all immigrants, the alternative to     comprehensive reform that is championed by immigration hardliners, and     the results should worry us all.

Based on federal spending on   border enforcement and deportation for   2008, the report estimates the   cost of detention and deportation for   10.8 million undocumented   immigrants present in the U.S. at around 200   billion dollars.  Referring  to the option of mass deportation as the   “status-quo on   steriods”, it  points to this option as a highly   irresponsible one  that would require  “$922 in new taxes for every man,   woman, and child  in this country.”  The bad news, the National   Immigration Forum puts this number on the lower side.

 

The good news. Americans aren’t  buying  this option and are demanding   immigration reform in record  numbers.  The Public    Religion  Research Institute asked American voters (predominantly    white  Evangelicals, Catholics and Mainline Protestants) what they think     about immigration reform, and found-

Two-thirds  of Americans believe in a   comprehensive approach that  offers illegal  immigrants an earned path   to citizenship. Overwhelming  majorities of  those asked believed that   immigration reform should be  guided by values  of fairness, security,   dignity and keeping families  together.

On the other side is Public Agenda,    a non partisan group that decided  to find out what immigrants think about their lives     in the United States. What did they find?

The    overwhelming  majority of immigrants say they’re happy in the  United    States, and  would  do it all over again if they could.  Immigrants “buy   in” to  American  society, for themselves and their  children. They  rate  the  United States  as an  improvement over their  birthplace in  almost  all  dimensions, and most  say they expect their  children to  remain in  this  country. A  solid majority says that  illegal  immigrants become   productive citizens and an overwhelming 84   percent  support a “guest   worker” program

So what’s next? We’ve marched. We’ve rallied. We’ve practically     shouted from  rooftops demanding immigration reform. And now it’s time     to make sure  that we get some concrete action. With the current system     broken, expensive and inefficient, and with 10.8 million people eager to     contribute to the nation’s economy and society, everyone should be  on    board for finding a sustainable, just, and humane solution to the     current immigration system. We rest our case.

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Racial profiling in Georgia a microcosm of what's happening all over the U.S.

by: Restore Fairness

Thu Mar 25, 2010 at 15:35:07 PM EST

From the Restore  Fairness blog.

As the dust settles around  the 200,000 March for America in D.C. this weekend, it is   important to remind ourselves why we need immigration reform. A new   report by the ACLU is one such reminder of racial profiling that is   alive and kicking in the United States. As one of the most   unconstitutional implications of our broken immigration system, racial profiling takes place when police stop,   interrogate, and detain people on the basis of their appearance, accent   or general perceived ethnicity, rather than on the basis of concrete   evidence of criminal activity.

Called “The Persistence of Racial Profiling in Gwinnett: Time   for Accountability, Transparency, and an End to 287(g),” the report   uses individual testimonies from the community to examine the   persistence of racial profiling in Gwinnett County, Georgia, before and   after the introduction of the 287(g) program that partners local law   enforcement with federal Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to   enforce immigration law. Dedicated to the brave undocumented students walking the Trail of Dreams who  marched into this “risky”  287(g) county, the report focuses on Sheriff  Conway known as the “Joe  Arpaio of the South”, who claimed that November 16th, 2009 or the day that   the 287(g) program officially took off in Gwinnett County “was a great   day for Gwinnett County citizens.”

Racial profiling has always  been prevalent in Gwinnett County. In a  case that took place before the  implementation of 287(g), a  woman named  Mary Babington witnessed two  police offers stop a white  Sedan and pull  out two Latino men at  gun-point, shouting at them the  entire time.  They were then cuffed and  made to lie on the ground,  shirtless. One of  the men was crying and  asked the officer for his  shirt, saying he felt  cold. The officer then  kicked him on his back and  yelled at him not to  move. Mary then heard  one ="padding-left: 30px">They  wouldn’t come out when I pulled my   gun, so I sprayed the whole can of  pepper spray. I emptied the whole   can on them…Dude, I emptied the can  in his face. I love my job.

According  to the witness, Mary, the officers did not tell the men why   they had  been stopped, and did not read the men their rights at any   point.  Finally the officers administered a breathalyzer test and gave   one of  them a ticket for driving under the influence.

The implementation  of the 287 (g) program has  only exacerbated  racial profiling. Many  people of color have been stopped, interrogated,  detained and even   abused based on minor traffic violations even though  287(g) is supposed  to be implemented to catch serious criminals. Some  were stopped  without any  probable cause and never given an explanation.

A  case in point is the testimony of Juan, a 48-year maintenance   technician who is a legal permanent resident, entitled to live and work   in the U.S. In the last year he has been stopped by local police on two   different occasions, both times without any legal basis. On the most   recent occasion, a Gwinnett police officer asked Juan to pull over as he   was driving home from work. Despite him asking the officer five times   why he was being stopped, he was given no answer. Instead the officer   continuously screamed at him for asking questions and asked him for his   driver’s license, which he handed over. Juan was eventually released   without a citation but never found out why he had been pulled over and   detained. He is now constantly worried about such an event recurring and   avoids driving in certain areas of Gwinnett County.

In a podcast interview, Azadeh   Shahshahani from the ACLU talks about the ways in which the 287(g)   program has been extremely harmful for the 70 jurisdictions in which it   operates. Local profiling has threatened public safety so that instead   of trusting the local police, people are increasingly afraid to  approach  them, creating a dangerous communication barrier between local  law  enforcement and the community. In addition to diverting resources,  the  287(g) program employs local police officers who are not trained  in  making immigration and status determinations, resulting in them   restoring to their perceived notions about people’s race, ethnicity and   accent.

While 50% of U.S. states have enacted legislation  against racial  profiling, legislation is still pending for Georgia. According   to Azadeh -

In Georgia the problem is compounded   because not only is there not any meaningful federal oversight, but   there is also no oversight at the local or county level that we have   seen…One of our main recommendations would be for law enforcement to   revert to a policy of having federal immigration laws enforced only by   federal immigration officials, and leave police to the job of protecting   our communities.

So what’s the best outcome? Lacking training and   oversight, stop 287(g) program all over the country. Document all the   stops that are being made in the name of the program to check for   patterns of racial profiling. And pass anti-racial profiling legislation   so everyone is protected.

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200,000 marched for America this weekend. Now it's your turn...

by: Restore Fairness

Tue Mar 23, 2010 at 17:13:15 PM EST

From the Restore Fairness blog.

Do you know what it feels like to be a part of a  200,000  person-strong protest? In a word- amazing. But why scrimp on  words when  describing the largest demonstration for immigration reform since 2006!

On Sunday March 21st we joined tens of thousands  of people from every  corner of the country as they came together in  Washington D.C. to  demand humane immigration reform NOW. With thousands  of workers, faith based groups, young   people, LGBT  folks and African-Americans demonstrating, the atmosphere on   the National Mall was electric. Once we finished taking in the sheer   magnitude of the sea of people that stretched across five blocks of the   Mall, we held our signs up high and joined in the innovative and   energetic rallying. It was difficult to not be distracted by the variety   of colorful banners, signs, puppets and slogans that people creatively   designed, and we were inspired by chants of “Sí Se Puede”, “No Human   Being is Illegal,” and “Change Takes Courage.” The most prominent colors   of the day were red, white and blue as demonstrators proudly waved   American flags as they marched for justice.

Drawing on the  history of the civil rights movement, Reverend Jesse  Jackson was one of  the enigmatic speakers who spoke of immigration as a  civil rights  issue that impacted all Americans. Other speakers included  Rep. Luis  Gutierrez, the leader of the movement for immigration reform,  whose speech mirrored the spirit of urgency palpable in   the crowd.

We’ve been patient long enough. We’ve  listened quietly. We’ve  asked politely. We’ve turned the other cheek so  many times our heads  are spinning…It’s time to let immigrants come out  of the shadows into  the light and for America to embrace them and  protect them.

Cardinal  Roger Mahony from L.A. made a touching and inspirational speech reminding us of the pain visited upon immigrant families impacted by the broken   immigration system.

Consider what happened to little Gabby, a   U.S. citizen whose father  was taken from their home at 5 a.m. when  she  was nine.  Now 14, instead  of playing with her friends she takes  care  of her baby brothers while  her mother tries to make ends meet.  Gabby  prays that Congress and the President enact immigration reform,   so that  she can once again feel the warmth of her father’s embrace and   never  again have nightmares that she will be left alone.

The  surprise highlight of the “all star” line-up was President Obama’s video speech that was projected   on giant screens to the vast crowd.

If we work together, across ethnic,  state  and party lines, we can build a future worthy of our history as a   nation of immigrants and a nation of laws…I have always pledged to be   your partner as we work to fix our broken immigration system, and  that’s  a commitment that I reaffirm today.

As health  care reform passed by evening, the time for talk seemed  likely over.  Sunday showed us that the lack of forward movement on  reform and the  unending enforcement actions targeting innocent workers  and families  would be tolerated no further. The next day, we joined a national action organized by FIRM at the Republican   National Committee offices to call for stronger support and leadership   for immigration reform from Republican leaders. As we picketed  outside,  organizers marched into the RNC office and demanded a meeting  with RNC  Chair Michael Steele, who had rejected an earlier request. The  strategic  sit-in action met with success as a meeting was fixed for March 31st.

There will  be a lot of hard work in the upcoming weeks. For now, we  need you to  send a free fax and tell your Members of Congress that if   they “don’t choose courage over hate, we’ll elect people who will.” And   keep tuned for our video of this momentous event.

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Here's a chance for us to renew our commitment to protect human rights

by: Restore Fairness

Thu Mar 18, 2010 at 16:40:56 PM EST

From the Restore Fairness blog.

This week marks the thirtieth anniversary of the  monumental Refugee Protection Act of 1980 marking a historic   moment which created a legal status for asylum and a formal process for   the resettling of refugees from around the world, affirming that the   protection of all victims of persecution is an integral part of U.S.   policy. Senator Edward Kennedy, who worked tirelessly for over a decade   to secure the passage of this Act ensured an impartial and consistent   system of asylum and resettlement for anyone

who is unable or unwilling to  return to  his country of nationality because of persecution or a  well-founded fear  of persecution based on race, religion, nationality,  political opinion,  or membership in a particular social group.

In  the thirty years since the passage of the Refugee Protection Act,  the  U.S. has granted asylum to over half a million people and has been responsible for   the resettlement of nearly two and a half million refugees. But these   successes have been undermined by national security measures post 9/11   which have practically shut the resettlement system down, leading to   President Obama having to sign a Presidential Determination authorizing the   admission of 80,000 refugees in 2010 because of failures in the system.

 

In November 2009, a Human Rights First report reported that since 2001,   over 18,000 refugees have faced delays or been denied asylum because  of  the USA  Patriot Act of 2001 and the Real  ID  Act of  2005 that labeled them “terrorists”. Following 9/11,  these  acts expanded the scope of laws defining material support to  terrorist  activity so that thousands of men, women and children who had  faced  rebel armies and fought for democracy in their countries were  denied  asylum even while they had fought for causes supported by the  U.S.

But this isn’t the only way the system has faltered.  Increasing  numbers of asylum seekers are locked into detention for  months,  sometimes years, while pursuing their asylum case. Like Jean Pierre Kamwa, who fought for democracy in   Cameroon and facing severe mental and physical abuse came to seek   protection in the United States, only to be locked up for four months in   a windowless detention center in New Jersey, until he was granted   asylum. But Jean Pierre was lucky because he got pro-bono help from a   lawyer. Many are deported because they do not have enough access to   information in substandard detention centers and are unable to explain   their cases to an immigration judge adequately.

That’s what makes  Senator Patrick Leahy’s introduction of the Refugee Protection Act 2010 so momentous. If   passed, the legislation would strengthen legal protections for those   seeking asylum in the United States and ensure that more people who   deserve protection can benefit from it. Co-sponsored by Senators Carl Levin, Richard Durbin and  Daniel Akaka, the  bill addresses flaws in the current system including   ensuring a nation-wide alternatives to detention program, access to   counsel, medical care and family visits while in detention. The bill   also eliminates the requirement that asylum applicants file a claim   within one-year of arrival in the U.S. giving more leeway to those   needing protection, protects particularly vulnerable asylum seekers like   the LGBT community by ensuring they can pursue a claim even where  their  persecution is not socially visible, and modifies the material  support  and terrorism bars in the law.

While the bill rallies up  support to pass the Senate, the National  Immigrant Justice Center and  30 nongovernmental organizations, think  tanks, and academics are filing petitions with the Department of Homeland   Security and the Department of Justice requesting similar regulations   allowing the release of detained asylum seekers  who  pose no danger to   the community so that these can be implemented on an administrative   level as well while the bill is being debated.

The act would go a  long way to reaffirm the U.S. commitment to the U.N. Refugee convention and provide a safe haven   for the persecuted so call on your senators to support it.

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Coming up to March 21st, raids undermine White House talk of immigration reform

by: Restore Fairness

Mon Mar 15, 2010 at 16:23:16 PM EST

From the Restore Fairness blog.

With less than a week to go, advocates across the  country are gearing  up to “March for America,” the massive mobilization for   immigration reform where 100,000 supporters are expected to descend on   the nation’s capital on March 21st. In anticipation of the march,   members of the National  Day Labor  Organizing Network (NDLON) have set off from  different  parts of the country to Washington D.C., with the aim of  building  support amongst local communities on the way and calling  attention to  the desperate need for reform of immigration laws that  tear families  apart and repress the immigrant community.

The Puente   Movement, and their “Human  Rights Caravan” of day laborers, advocates  and community members  left Phoenix on March 6th for a three-week,  awareness-raising journey  through Arizona that will culminate in  Washington D.C. on March 21st.  As part of their efforts, they have been  organizing events in small  towns and big cities to highlight the civil  and human rights crisis in  Arizona and other places where large  communities are impacted by  increased enforcement policies. On March  13th, the caravan was joined  by Rep. Luis   Gutierrez in Houston for a large rally that  called for immigration reform. On  the East Coast, several day laborers  from New York and New Jersey began a  300-mile “Walk for Human  Dignity” on Saturday, March 13th.  Inspired by the courageous “Trail of Dreams” walkers, they will be stopping at   various day labor corners, churches and worker centers on their way to   Washington D.C.

So is all this buzz around the “march” reaching  Washington D.C.? When  President Obama announced three meetings on the issue of   immigration reform last Thursday (March 11th), it seemed like the message that immigrant rights advocates across the   country were sending out was finally hitting home. After the President   had a “feisty” meeting with representatives from   immigrant rights groups on Thursday morning, Sen. Schumer and Sen. Graham  presented their legislative plans for the bill on comprehensive   immigration reform in the Oval office. The Senators requested the   President for his support in ensuring  bipartisan support for the bill,   and while the President committed his “unwavering support” to reforming   immigration laws, he gave no concrete plan of action or time-line for   moving forward. However, as summed up in a New York Times editorial about the meetings that President Obama had with immigrant    rights advocates, with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, and with Sen.    Charles Schumer and Sen. Lindsey Graham, “What we’d rather know is  when   the bill is coming, what it will look like and what he is going  to do  to  get it passed. Enough with the talk.”

In a statement released by the White House after the   meetings-

Today I met with Senators Schumer and  Graham and was pleased to  learn of their progress in forging a proposal  to fix our broken  immigration system. I look forward to reviewing their  promising  framework, and every American should applaud their efforts to  reach  across party lines…I also heard from a diverse group of grassroots   leaders from around the country about the growing coalition that is   working to build momentum for this critical issue. I am optimistic that   their efforts will contribute to a favorable climate for moving  forward.  I told both the Senators and the community leaders that my  commitment  to comprehensive immigration reform is unwavering, and that I  will  continue to be their partner in this important effort.

As indicated  by White House press secretary Robert   Gibbs, it seems that while  immigration remains an important issue for   President Obama, it is not a  priority in this election year, thereby   making the concrete action that  the Obama administration had promised   within the first year of office,  seem like a distant dream. It is clear   that the meetings were a result of the mounting pressure for action on   immigration reform from the grassroots and community level. In spite  of  the build-up towards the nation-wide mobilization on March 21st, the   outcome of the meetings, beyond a reiteration of the promise of  support,  remains unclear.

As if to highlight just how pressing  the need for reform of the  broken immigration system is, while Obama  was meeting with advocates who were frustrated with increased enforcement and   deportations under the Obama administration and anxious to enlist his   support for moving reform forward, a series of raids in Maryland led to the arrest and   detention of 29 workers. Not far from D.C. on Thursday morning,   Immigration and Customs Enforcement conducted simultaneous raids in Anne Arundel and   Baltimore counties at two restaurants, several residences and an office.   On Friday, advocates from the immigrant rights organization Casa de Maryland were back outside the White House,   but rather than meeting with the President, they had gathered to protest the raids and splitting of families as a   result of enforcement policies. Gustavo Torres, Executive Director of   Casa de Maryland denounced the raids-

Everyday,  tens of thousands of  hardworking immigrants in Maryland leave their  families to go to work,  and tonight twenty-nine of our brothers are  detained as their families  are left to grieve…This is not an acceptable  way to treat members of our  community who work hard every day to make  Maryland strong for us all.

In the face of the push for the  nation-wide push for reform, the  efforts of mobilization towards the  March for America, and the  Presidential meetings, it is not difficult  to wonder about the timing of  the ICE raids in Maryland. Either way,  the continuation of such unjust  and inhumane enforcement policies is  unacceptable. We can only hope that  the final push for support over the  next week bears fruit and the  impact of the march in Washington D.C.  is felt by everyone.

A New York Times op-ed states that the “March for America” could be the “game changer” in   the equation, so come to Washington D.C. and make it count! Like we said before, this is your march, so see   you at the National Mall in Washington D.C.!

Photo courtesy of  flickr.com/photos/americasvoice

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

by: Restore Fairness

Thu Mar 11, 2010 at 15:21:41 PM EST

From the Restore Fairness blog.

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 started, check out 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?

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Want to know what's wrong with the War on Drugs?

by: Restore Fairness

Tue Mar 09, 2010 at 12:18:52 PM EST

From the Restore Fairness blog.

It’s the first time that 1 in every 100 adult Americans is in prison, proof of an exploding prison system that states can ill afford and a movement away from rehabilitation programs. Even more disturbing are the racial disparities within the prison system. More than 60% of people in prison are racial and ethnic minorities which means 1 in every 36 Hispanic adults and 1 in every 15 black adults are in prison. How did this all happen? A change in laws and policies over the past decade have convicted more offenders, including non violent offenders, and put them away for increasingly lengthy sentences. For many, it is a system that is not providing the same returns in public safety in relation to this growth, and a rapid movement to change unfair laws has seen growing progress.

The 1980’s saw the “War on Drugs” launched in a big way. It was also the time for many federal policies that disadvantaged communities of color. One example: sentences for crack cocaine offenses (the kind found in poor Black communities) that were treated a 100 times more severely than powder cocaine offenses (the kind that dominates White communities).

Reform advocates say no other single federal policy is more responsible for gross racial disparities in the federal criminal justice system than the crack/powder sentencing disparity. Even though two-thirds of crack cocaine users are white, more than 80 percent of those convicted in federal court for crack cocaine offenses are African American.

The differences in sentencing were based on a myth that crack cocaine was more dangerous than powder cocaine and that it was instantly addictive and caused violent behavior, all of which has been disproved. What it’s actually led to is a costly system that focuses on low-level offenders and users instead of dealers and suppliers, imprisoning addicts that could benefit from rehabilitation programs. One analysis by Senator Richard Durbin, a Democrat of Illinois, estimates that an increased focus on community programs and an end to the sentencing disparity could lead to a savings of half-a-billion dollars in prison costs.

With mounting pressure on Congress to do away with legislation that has devastated communities, we are at an opportune moment to instill justice back into the system. While The House Judiciary Committee has already passed a bill that ends the sentencing disparity between crack and powder cocaine, the Senate Judiciary Committee will likely vote on a bill soon. Some Senators want to reduce the sentencing disparity instead of eliminating it but this watered-down compromise will do little to restore fairness. Let the Senators hear your voice.

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Does your race and income matter if you face the death penalty?

by: Restore Fairness

Thu Mar 04, 2010 at 17:00:35 PM EST

From the Restore Fairness blog.

It is no secret that the country’s criminal justice system has consistently proven to be biased against minority communities of color. Statistics published by the NAACP show that even amongst those found guilty of crimes, African-Americans continue to be disproportionately sentenced to life in prison, face higher drug sentences, and are executed at higher rates when compared to people of other races. Michelle Alexander speaks of a “color-coded caste  system” in The New Jim Crow that marginalized communities who encounter the criminal justice system.

Seasoned Texas attorney David R. Dow’s new book The Autobiography of an Execution provides an exploration of the death penalty, written through the eyes of a man who has spent 20 years defending over a hundred death-row inmates, most of whom died, and most of whom were guilty. As the head litigator for the Texas Defender  Service, a non profit legal aid organization in the state that boasts the highest number of executions since 1976, Dow presents a powerful argument against the death penalty system. Candidly exploring how he balances such a trying job with being a good father and husband, Dow’s extremely personal book only works to strengthen the argument that the broken criminal justice system operates on a vicious cycle based on racial and economic disparity.

In his book, Dow opposes the unequal basis on which  some criminals are sentenced to be executed while others aren’t, and deems the criminal justice system “racist, classist  (and) unprincipled.” He opposes the death penalty as a flawed and unjust facet of the criminal justice system. Based on his experience, he notes that while he believes that a majority of the clients he represented were, in fact, guilty, there was very little separating those criminals from others who were guilty of the same crime, other than “the operation of what I consider to be insidious types of prejudice.” Most unsettling is his severe mistrust of members of the justice system – police officers, prosecutors and judges – whom he believes would “violate their oaths of office” and put men and women on death row who they think “deserve to be there”.

In Dow’s exploration of the politics behind the death penalty, perhaps the most tenacious argument against it is the blatant way that the intersections of race and class influence the outcome of a criminal case. Dow says,

…if you’re going to commit murder, you want to be white, and you want to be wealthy — so that you can hire a first-class lawyer — and you want to kill a black person. And if [you are], the odds of your being sentenced to death are basically zero…It’s one thing to say that rich people should be able to drive Ferraris and poor people should have to take the bus. It’s very different to say that rich people should get treated one way by the state’s criminal-justice system and poor people should get treated another way. But that is the system that we have.


Photo courtesy of chicagotribune.com
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