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

From the Restore Fairness blog-

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Weekly Diaspora: AZ Lawmakers Try to Ban Undocumented Children from Public School

by Catherine A. Traywick, Media Consortium blogger

Arizona lawmakers are considering two bills that would block undocumented immigrants’ access to education to an even greater degree than current state law.

SB 1611 — sponsored by state Senate President Russell Pearce (R) — bans undocumented students from enrolling in Kindergarten through 12th grade and attending community college. It also requires schools to notify law enforcement agencies if parents are unable to submit proof that their child is a citizen or legal resident. The other bill, SB 1407, requires schools to submit data on the number of enrolled undocumented and authorized immigrants alike, under threat of funding loss.

Given the state legislature’s persistently anti-immigrant stance on public education, these new laws are plainly part of a larger strategy. The state was the first to pass a law prohibiting students from receiving public funding for education, including merit-based scholarships, and last year welcomed two new laws banning ethnic studies and equal opportunity programs. The measures being considered now would work in tandem with those other laws to categorically deprive undocumented students of an education, while subjecting even authorized immigrants to greater scrutiny than before.

Challenging Plyler v. Doe

New America Media’s Valeria Fernandez reports that the proposed measures are an attempt on the part of lawmakers to spur a challenge to the Supreme Court’s 1982 decision in Plyler v. Doe. The landmark ruling determined that children, regardless of citizenship, have a constitutionally guaranteed right to public education.

Anti-immigrant politicos have long taken issue with the decision, arguing that the public education of undocumented immigrants is an undue economic burden to the state. But many educators take the opposing view. As one Phoenix high school principal told New America Media, such hostile measures have already cost him 100 students, which means fewer financial resources for the school as funding is determined by the number of students enrolled. Other critics contend that failing to educate these students “would create an underclass and harm the state’s long-term interests.”

Public education undermined by older, white electorate

But, as Harold Meyerson notes at The American Prospect, the unfortunate fate of Arizona’s immigrant population is compounded by the fact that, while only 42 percent of Arizonans under 18 are white, 83 percent of Arizonans over 65 are white. As he states, the educational opportunities of a rapidly growing population of racially diverse youth are being determined — or undermined — by a class of much older, white Americans.

As racial demographics across the United States are shifting in much the same way as in Arizona, the political power dynamic could change accordingly. But until then, state lawmakers in Arizona are taking drastic measures to ensure that the state’s growing majority of Latinos — and especially immigrants — are deprived of the educational opportunities that would enable them eventually to shift the political status quo.

Labor groups jump into the fray

Perhaps that’s why organizations representing sectors besides education are now getting behind educational equality measures. As Seth Sandronsky reports for Working In These Times, prominent labor organizations including the AFL-CIO and the southern Arizona-based Pima Area Labor Federation (PALF) have recently announced their opposition to Arizona’s ethnic studies ban, and their support of the Tucson Unified School District’s Mexican American Studies program, which is allegedly in violation of the ban.

In an interview with Sandronsky, Rebekah Friend, the secretary-treasurer for the Arizona AFL-CIO, illuminates the links between educational equality, labor rights and civil society:

HB 2281 (the ethnic studies ban) in Arizona is part of a bigger, repressive attempt nationwide to control parts of the population, from women’s health care to workers’ and immigrants’ rights. … It’s a mindset to cleanse out ethnic studies, unions, and all social spending generally that we in unions and others have fought for, like the eight-hour working day, child labor laws and social security, and won.

California and Connecticut to pass their own DREAM ACT?

Meanwhile, as Arizona youth and their allies continue the fight for education, two other states are pushing the envelope on educational equality for undocumented students. Connecticut and California have both considered passing their own versions of the DREAM ACT. While the original DREAM ACT, which died in the Senate last November, would have created a path to legalization for certain undocumented youth who committed to attending college, these new bills are less sweeping, if similarly progressive, in scope.

Melinda Tuhus of the Public News Service reports that Connecticut’s DREAM ACT “would allow undocumented high school graduates to pay in-state tuition at Connecticut’s public colleges, if they graduate after four years of high school.” And in California, the legislature’s Higher Education committee has already moved forward with its own mini DREAM ACT, which “would allow undocumented immigrants who graduate from a California high school to qualify for college scholarships and financial aid,” according to New America Media/La Opinion.

The measure builds on a California Supreme Court ruling last November, which upheld the state’s decision to allow undocumented students to pay in-state tuition at public colleges.  Both states’ measures run counter to the growing national trend of denying in-state benefits and public funding to undocumented students — a retrogressive movement that began with the passage of Arizona’s pernicious 2005 law, Prop 300.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about immigration by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Diaspora for a complete list of articles on immigration issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, and health care issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Pulse. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

Weekly Diaspora: Arizona Pushing Undocumented to Surrounding States

By Catherine A. Traywick, Media Consortium blogger

Stricter immigration enforcement and reduced economic opportunities in Arizona has pushed many undocumented immigrants out of the state to look for work.

While restrictionist lawmakers, whose stated objective over the last year has been to drive attrition through enforcement, are satisfied, it’s not exactly the outcome they’ve been waiting for. Rather than return to their home countries, most immigrants are instead relocating to surrounding states — a trend that’s prompting legislators in other states to approach immigration reform in radically different ways.

Oklahoma Absorbs Arizona Emigrants

Oklahama is experiencing a considerable influx of undocumented immigrants fleeing Arizona,according to Kari Lydersen at Working In These Times. The rising immigrant population has created friction among residents, some of whom believe that undocumented migrants are taking jobs away from Oklahomans. In response, state lawmakers have introduced a bill known as “Arizona Plus,” which incorporates many of Arizona’s more controversial laws, in an effort to expel immigrants in much the same way that Arizona’s existing immigrations laws attempt to do. Lydersen explains:

State Senator Ralph Shortey (R) and Shannon Clark, a Tulsa police officer in charge of enforcing the city’s 287(g) immigration program, said workers including masons and tile workers have been greatly affected by the influx of immigrant workers from Arizona. Employers and civil rights leaders have decried the proposed Arizona Plus measure and other recently introduced anti-immigrant laws, saying that immigrants provide a crucial part of the state’s workforce, especially in areas with otherwise aging and declining populations.

There remains disagreement about the actual economic impacts of unauthorized immigration. As state Senator Andrew Rice (D) told Lydersen, many of Oklahoma’s incoming immigrants are assuming low-wage jobs that citizens are not even bothering to apply for.

Immigrants are an economic boon

Of course, numerous studies demonstrate that immigration actually bolsters economies rather than depressing them, effectively driving wages up and creating opportunities for American workers to move into more highly skilled fields, as Mikhail Zinshteyn of Campus Progress explains:

A study co-authored by George Borjas…shows without new waves of immigration, legal or otherwise, there would be far fewer businesses operating today because of an inadequate labor market. His partner on the paper, Lawrence F. Katz, co-authoredanother study that showed income inequality in the bottom half of the economic ladder has not increased since the 1980s—meaning the huge spike in undocumented immigrants since 1990 has had no statistical effect on the economic fortunes of the Americans they allegedly affect.

Facts notwithstanding, pitting undocumented laborers against low-income American workers is a time-tested tactic of anti-immigrant politicos. It’s effective too, even though — as Zinshteyn notes — many of its proponents also support myriad other policies that directly hurt low-income American laborers.

Utah proposes guest worker program for undocumented migrants

Meanwhile Utah’s legislature is proposing to handle unauthorized immigration rather differently. New America Media reports that state lawmakers passed a bill last week that seeks to legalize and integrate undocumented laborers into the state’s workforce. The measure would create two-year work visas for undocumented Mexican immigrants without a criminal record and their families, for fees ranging from $1,000-$2,500. Lawmakers hope to demonstrate that Utah, which is home to 110,000 undocumented immigrants, is a safer place for migrants than Arizona.

Immigrant rights advocates are not as enthusiastic, however. Colorlines.com’s Julianne Hing notesthat the Utah legislature also passed enforcement and employer sanctions measures last week, which — while less draconian than Arizona’s — nevertheless do their part to marginalize and oppress undocumented immigrants. Hing adds:

[Activists] argue that the benefits of the guest worker program will not be enough to mitigate the harm of harsh enforcement measures that will almost certainly lead to more exploitation and deportation.

Regardless, many others are lauding Utah’s efforts to implement some kind of reform that legalizes undocumented immigrants living in the United States — particularly as Congress has yet to move forward with any attempt at comprehensive immigration reform.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about immigration bymembers of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Diaspora for a complete list of articles on immigration issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, and health care issues, check out The AuditThe Mulch, and The Pulse<. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

Weekly Diaspora: Arizona Pushing Undocumented to Surrounding States

By Catherine A. Traywick, Media Consortium blogger

Stricter immigration enforcement and reduced economic opportunities in Arizona has pushed many undocumented immigrants out of the state to look for work.

While restrictionist lawmakers, whose stated objective over the last year has been to drive attrition through enforcement, are satisfied, it’s not exactly the outcome they’ve been waiting for. Rather than return to their home countries, most immigrants are instead relocating to surrounding states — a trend that’s prompting legislators in other states to approach immigration reform in radically different ways.

Oklahoma Absorbs Arizona Emigrants

Oklahama is experiencing a considerable influx of undocumented immigrants fleeing Arizona,according to Kari Lydersen at Working In These Times. The rising immigrant population has created friction among residents, some of whom believe that undocumented migrants are taking jobs away from Oklahomans. In response, state lawmakers have introduced a bill known as “Arizona Plus,” which incorporates many of Arizona’s more controversial laws, in an effort to expel immigrants in much the same way that Arizona’s existing immigrations laws attempt to do. Lydersen explains:

State Senator Ralph Shortey (R) and Shannon Clark, a Tulsa police officer in charge of enforcing the city’s 287(g) immigration program, said workers including masons and tile workers have been greatly affected by the influx of immigrant workers from Arizona. Employers and civil rights leaders have decried the proposed Arizona Plus measure and other recently introduced anti-immigrant laws, saying that immigrants provide a crucial part of the state’s workforce, especially in areas with otherwise aging and declining populations.

There remains disagreement about the actual economic impacts of unauthorized immigration. As state Senator Andrew Rice (D) told Lydersen, many of Oklahoma’s incoming immigrants are assuming low-wage jobs that citizens are not even bothering to apply for.

Immigrants are an economic boon

Of course, numerous studies demonstrate that immigration actually bolsters economies rather than depressing them, effectively driving wages up and creating opportunities for American workers to move into more highly skilled fields, as Mikhail Zinshteyn of Campus Progress explains:

A study co-authored by George Borjas…shows without new waves of immigration, legal or otherwise, there would be far fewer businesses operating today because of an inadequate labor market. His partner on the paper, Lawrence F. Katz, co-authoredanother study that showed income inequality in the bottom half of the economic ladder has not increased since the 1980s—meaning the huge spike in undocumented immigrants since 1990 has had no statistical effect on the economic fortunes of the Americans they allegedly affect.

Facts notwithstanding, pitting undocumented laborers against low-income American workers is a time-tested tactic of anti-immigrant politicos. It’s effective too, even though — as Zinshteyn notes — many of its proponents also support myriad other policies that directly hurt low-income American laborers.

Utah proposes guest worker program for undocumented migrants

Meanwhile Utah’s legislature is proposing to handle unauthorized immigration rather differently. New America Media reports that state lawmakers passed a bill last week that seeks to legalize and integrate undocumented laborers into the state’s workforce. The measure would create two-year work visas for undocumented Mexican immigrants without a criminal record and their families, for fees ranging from $1,000-$2,500. Lawmakers hope to demonstrate that Utah, which is home to 110,000 undocumented immigrants, is a safer place for migrants than Arizona.

Immigrant rights advocates are not as enthusiastic, however. Colorlines.com’s Julianne Hing notesthat the Utah legislature also passed enforcement and employer sanctions measures last week, which — while less draconian than Arizona’s — nevertheless do their part to marginalize and oppress undocumented immigrants. Hing adds:

[Activists] argue that the benefits of the guest worker program will not be enough to mitigate the harm of harsh enforcement measures that will almost certainly lead to more exploitation and deportation.

Regardless, many others are lauding Utah’s efforts to implement some kind of reform that legalizes undocumented immigrants living in the United States — particularly as Congress has yet to move forward with any attempt at comprehensive immigration reform.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about immigration bymembers of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Diaspora for a complete list of articles on immigration issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, and health care issues, check out The AuditThe Mulch, and The Pulse<. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

Weekly Diaspora: Sweeping AZ Immigration Bills Target Undocumented Children

 

By Catherine A. Traywick, Media Consortium blogger

The Arizona state Senate moved forward with two controversial measures this week that threaten to marginalize undocumented youth to an unprecedented degree.

An anti-birthright citizenship bill, which initially failed to muster the votes necessary to proceed, was finally approved Tuesday after Senate President Russell Pearce (R) shrewdly reassigned it to a “friendlier” committee. SB 1309 is now headed to the Rules Committee, where it is, again, expected to pass. The bill seeks to deny automatic citizenship to the U.S.-born children of undocumented persons—an effort that, if successful, would effectively create a self-perpetuating underclass of stateless children.

Proponents argue that the bill would discourage unauthorized immigration by taking away a chief incentive, but the measure has more ominous implications. It would render generations of U.S.-born undocumented children vulnerable to a variety of discriminations—their rights to education, employment and a breadth of social services repeatedly contested, if not altogether denied.

Arizona Senate to vote on sweeping omnibus immigration bill

And, as if the prospect of that future isn’t bleak enough, the Arizona state Senate is considering another bill that would, essentially, force similar outcomes on undocumented youth living in Arizona today. Valeria Fernández at New American Media reports that the measure would, among other provisions, “ban undocumented students from accessing higher education; require proof of legal status to attend K-12 schools; and require hospitals to inquire about the immigration status of their patients.”

Like SB 1309, the success of Pearce’s omnibus bill is the product of some artful maneuvering on the part of the senate president. After watching several of his party’s anti-immigration measures flounder in recent weeks, Pearce devised the omnibus bill—hobbling it together over the weekend from the tattered remains of several failed immigration measures. He introduced it Monday, tardily and to the surprise of his fellow senators, according to Colorlines.com’s Julianne Hing. The Senate Appropriations Committee passed the bill on Wednesday—though not without considerable debate and dissent—and it is already headed to the floor for a vote.

Notwithstanding the measure’s swift progress, many opponents believe Pearce’s legislative chicanery is a sign of weakness. Hing writes:

Immigrant rights activists say the maneuver is proof of Pearce’s desperation. “It is clear he does not have the votes to do what he wanted the way he wanted,” said Alfredo Gutierrez, a former state senator who heads the immigrant rights group Somos America. “Pearce has clearly staked his reputation on the 14th amendment bills, but now he’s found himself on the defensive. […] It’s proof that we’re being effective,” Gutierrez said.

Both SB 1309, the citizenship bill, and SB 1622, the omnibus measure, tread dangerously close to unconstitutionality. While the former attempts to reinterpret the 14th Amendment’s Citizenship Clause—which has, for 130 years, guaranteed the right to citizenship at birth—the latter threatens to violate its Equal Protection Clause—which, as upheld by the Supreme Court in Plyler v. Doe, grants all children the right to a public education. As such, the bills would likely face myriad legal challenges if passed, much the same as SB 1070.

While the bills are shocking in their breadth and pernicious in their potential for marginalizing scores of unauthorized immigrants, even under current law undocumented youth must contend with a number of barriers to education, employment and stability.

Undocumented college graduates mired in immigration limbo

As Liane Membis notes at Campus Progress, countless undocumented students graduate from college straddled with debt, burdened by the constant threat of deportation, and unable to obtain gainful—or even legal employment—due to their immigration status. Membis relates the story of Teresa Serrano, an accomplished, civically minded, 2010 Yale University graduate whose undocumented status now inhibits her from pursuing her chosen career:

“What I felt on graduation day was different—something more severe,” she said. “I had spent the past four years at this elite institution, compartmentalizing a painful truth, and I knew that when I graduated I would be confronted with my harsh reality yet again.” […] She left New Haven and returned to her home in Texas. Now her daily routine consists of nine-to-five job shifts at fast food restaurants and laundromats, the advantages of her Yale degree negated by her undocumented status.

The DREAM Act, a federal bill that would have created a path to legalization for certain undocumented college students, could have changed Serrano’s life. But after its defeat last November, and given the high improbability that any sort of comprehensive immigration reform will progress this year, her career ambitions are necessarily eclipsed by the simple goal of remaining in the United States.

Undocumented LGBT youth bear double burden

Still other undocumented youth fare worse—among them, a growing population of homeless LGBT immigrants. At Feet in 2 Worlds, Von Diaz reports that roughly half of New York City’s homeless youth identifies as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender while 15 percent were born outside of the United States. Moreover, between 10 and 20 percent of residents at two homeless shelters in 2010 were LGBT immigrants. Many of them were turned out onto the streets by intolerant families and must now routinely contend with threats and vulnerabilities owing to their youth, sexual identities, and undocumented status.

Juan Valdez, a 21-year-old gay immigrant from the Dominican Republic, tells his story below:

<p>[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bejJqEK_wiY[/youtube]</p>

Note that the future imagined by Pearce and his anti-immigrant cohorts is one in which the daily injustices endured by Teresa Serrano and Juan Valdez are not only the norm, but evidence of a job well done.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about immigration by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Diaspora for a complete list of articles on immigration issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, and health care issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Pulse. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

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