Immigrant women fight back shocking label of "welfare queens".

From Restore Fairness blog

March is the month where International Women's Day celebrates the strides women have made, in spite of all they have to endure. Like Rosa Morales, an immigrant woman who turned her life around and went from the brink of being deported, to being awarded a scholarship for her contribution to society.

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

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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Sponsor of SB1070 doesn't understand it. The Daily Show does (and doesn't like it)

From the Restore Fairness blog.

Three simple images. Dora, Eric from Chips, and a serial killer. Now guess – who looks “reasonably suspicious” of not having papers and therefore should be stopped and questioned by the Arizona police as per it’s new law, SB1070?

That’s the question Daily Show host Jon Stewart asked on the show last night, referencing the images above. Calling out the “draconian new immigration law” for being an affront to democracy by requiring people to carry their documents on them, he likened it to a time in the pre-civil rights era when newly freed black slaves were required to carry IDs. Jokes apart, the staged sketch gave us a little taste of what life could be like if SB1070 was, in fact, enforced in Arizona. It was the same question posed to Governor Jan Brewer, when signing the bill into law, to which she replied, “I don’t know what an undocumented immigrant looks like?”

Confusion around the bill is rife. In an interview on MSNBC’s Hardball with Chris Matthews, co-sponsor of the bill Senator Huppenthal agreed that it would be racial profiling were officers to check the status of someone based on “reasonable suspicion”, thereby going against the statute of the bill that he signed into law. About 8 mins. into the clip, Chris Matthews asks Senator Huppenthal -

Under the law you passed and was signed by the governor this week, can a police officer who spots a car with five or six people in it, who he thinks because of instinct, experience, whatever, evidence, whatever you use— can he stop that car and say, I think these people are here illegally, I‘m going to stop and check them?  Can he under the law do that, without any crime involved?  Can he do that?

After hedging the question, Senator Huppenthal answered-

You know, the racial profiling was illegal before this bill. It‘s illegal after it.  The bill itself makes it illegal…No, he cannot.  That would be – that would just simply be racial profiling, and that would not be permitted under the law.

Since its passage, civil rights groups, advocacy groups and President Obama have critiqued SB1070 for practically mandating racial profiling and violating fundamental notions of fairness. Clearly, when its co-sponsors cannot articulate its impact, then its effects will be even more adverse. These are already being felt on Arizona’s economy and tourism as calls for an economic boycott come to light, even as Governor Brewer continues to deny any wrongdoing. Meanwhile Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon has taken a strong opposition stand to what he considers an unconstitutional and unenforceable law, including approaching the Phoenix City Council to give their support to a lawsuit filed by the city of Phoenix to prevent the laws implementation because of its effects on civil rights and costs associated with its wrongdoings.

SB1070 is going to have ripple effects. For the state of Arizona, for its potential copycat effect across the nation, and for the ideals of equality and justice. Take action now and stop this dangerous law from being implemented.

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What does the State of the Union hold for immigration reform?

From the Restore Fairness blog-

Delivered to Congress last night, President Obama’s second State of the Union address was one that looked squarely into the future, and was charged with optimism, hope and the spirit of cooperation-

We are part of the American family. We believe that in a country where every race and faith and point of view can be found, we are still bound together as one people; that we  share common hopes and a common creed; that the dreams of a little girl in Tucson are not so different than those of our own children, and that they all deserve the chance to be fulfilled. That, too, is what sets us apart as a nation…Now, by itself, this simple recognition won’t usher in a new era of cooperation. What comes of this moment is up to us. What comes of this moment will be determined not by whether we can sit together tonight, but whether we can work together tomorrow.

These words, spoken early in the speech, did more than honor Christina Green and the other victims of the tragic shooting that took place in Tucson, Arizona on January 8th. Along with noting the empty chair in the room and saying a prayer for Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, the President said, in his opening remarks, that the tragedy in Tucson served as a reminder that we were all greater than our parties and political affiliations, and that in order to face the great challenges that lie ahead, it is important to “move forward together.” This emphasis on cooperation between the two parties was symbolized by the fact that, for the first time, Democrat and Republican members of Congress sat together at the State of the Union address, representing a show of unity for Gabrielle Giffords.

In a speech that focused on science, technology, clean energy and education, President Obama chose to avoid specifics in favor of a rhetorical approach that employed storytelling to illustrate points. In addition to invoking the repeal of the contentious “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” policy in the military, he surprised immigration and human rights advocates by spending some time on the issue of immigration reform. In the spirit of allowing everyone to shape their own destiny and contribute to the future of the country, the President expressed support for immigration reform and the enactment of the DREAM Act that would give an estimated 2 million undocumented youth who have lived in the country since they were children, and gone through the educational system, to be put on a path to citizenship. He said-

Today, there are hundreds of thousands of students excelling in our schools who are not American citizens. Some are the children of undocumented workers, who had nothing to do with the actions of their parents. They grew up as Americans and pledge allegiance to our flag, and yet live every day with the threat of deportation. Others come here from abroad to study in our colleges and universities. But as soon as they obtain advanced degrees, we send them back home to compete against us. It makes no sense…Now, I strongly believe that we should take on, once and for all, the issue of illegal immigration. I am prepared to work with Republicans and Democrats to protect our borders, enforce our laws and address the millions of undocumented workers who are now living in the shadows. I know that debate will be difficult and take time. But tonight, let’s agree to make that effort. And let’s stop expelling talented, responsible young people who can staff our research labs, start new businesses, and further enrich this nation.

The issue of immigration has always been a contentious subject; one on which lawmakers have remained extremely divided. What cannot be disputed, however, is that the current immigration system is broken and desperately needs fixing. Currently, there are approximately 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States, people who work hard to seek a better life for themselves and their children. Mostly living in the shadows, a lot of people are forced to work for minimum wage, facing inhumane conditions while being denied basic care. Following 9-11, the government’s harsh policies regarding immigrants have resulted in a denial of human rights and due process, with the government allowing raids and arrests without warrants, holding thousands in inhumane detention centers, and deporting people with a fair trial.

While it is tempting to be optimistic that Congress will heed the President’s advice, put aside their differences, and work on fixing the broken immigration system through fair and humane immigration reform, this is not the first time that President Obama has called upon lawmakers to address some of these problems. In the four times that the President has addressed Congress during his term, he has brought up the issue of immigration reform on three occasions. Further, there has never been any doubt about his support for the DREAM Act.

Due to the President’s support, and the work of Senator Harry Reid and other supporters, the DREAM Act even made it to a vote in the Senate in December of last year, only to be struck down. It is also difficult to ignore the fact that Immigrations and Customs Enforcement deported a record number of people in 2010, and put into place a high number of agreements between federal immigration and local law enforcement agencies. These agreements, like the 287g and Secure Communities program, sanction immigration enforcement at the local level without clear objectives or meaningful oversight, resulting in eroding public trust in the local police, and in racial and ethnic profiling, as well as the unlawful detention of U.S. citizens and permanent residents.

So yesterday, when the President spoke about what an uphill battle immigration reform is for Congress, immigrant rights advocates like Frank Sharry from America’s Voice could not help but wish for a more aggressive approach in which he got on the “offensive” and “challenged the Republicans on comprehensive immigration reform.”

As many states seek to introduce harsh anti-immigrant legislation that threatens the security and freedom of thousands around the country, we will wait to see whether the Congress heeds his advice, and works together towards a solution to the immigration system, it is poignant to invoke President Obama’s words-

We are the first nation to be founded for the sake of an idea – the idea that each of us deserves the chance to shape our own destiny…We do big things. From the earliest days of our founding, America has been the story of ordinary people who dare to dream. That’s how we win the future.

We need to live in a nation that ensures equal rights, justice and due process to all, irrespective of their national origin, ethnicity, race, or citizenship. We are daring to dream.

Photo courtesy of latina.com

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Two fathers face deportation and separation from their families

From the Restore Fairness blog-

Rogelio and Maribel Melgar came to the United States from Guatemala in 1999 with their family. Their son Brayan, then aged 4, had been diagnosed with throat cancer. The Melgars brought him to the U.S., legally, in the hopes of getting him the treatment that was not available in Guatemala. Their initial six-month stay was extended repeatedly as their son’s treatment required more time. The parents couldn’t bear the thought of taking him back to Guatemala to let him die or leaving him in the U.S. while they returned. On May 5, this year, after 12 years of treatment, Brayan passed away, leaving behind his devastated parents and four siblings. Following that tragedy, just over two months later, on July 11, Brayan’s father Rogelio was arrested and is now facing deportation.

The Melgar family is in a particularly complicated situation regarding their status. The parents – Rogelio and Maribel – as well as their older son Hans (16) are all undocumented. Hans is a clear candidate for the DREAM Act. The Melgars’ three youngest children – twin girls (8) and a son (4) – are U.S. citizens by birth. Because of their son Brayan’s prolonged treatment, a family sponsored the Melgars’ stay in the U.S. and arranged for a job at a restaurant for Rogelio. When the restaurant closed in 2004, Rogelio worked as a cook at a care facility until his arrest some weeks ago.

The case of the Melgar family is not unique. There have been countless families that have been fractured as a result of a broken and unfair immigration system that simply doesn’t account for the complexities in each case. The government is denying due process and fairness to communities by enforcing laws that do not allow immigration judges to rule on a case-by-case basis. Laws passed in 1996 eliminate important legal rights that previously enabled immigrants to challenge their detention and deportation. And in a post 9/11 world, these legal rights have been reduced even more dramatically, taking away immigration judges’ ability to consider the circumstances of each individual’s case, leading to mandatory detention and deportation for many.

Over 11% of the population of the U.S is foreign-born (Census Bureau PDF), with a significant number of them being undocumented. According to data released by the Pew Hispanic Center (PDF), undocumented immigrants comprise just over 4% of the adult population of the U.S., while their children make up 8% of the total newborn population and 7% of children (defined as under the age of 18) in this country. Cases of families torn apart, coupled with the numbers demonstrates the need for comprehensive immigration reform that supports basic human rights and ensures due process and fairness for all.

In the meanwhile, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) continues to maintain that the goal of the controversial Secure Communities program is to remove dangerous criminals who don’t have legal status. However, in practice, they have consistently shown otherwise. Numerous immigrants are stopped and checked on minor allegations by local enforcement authorities and their details shared with ICE’s database. This puts these immigrants, in most cases with no criminal record or with minor traffic violations, on the fast track to deportation. And in most cases, their deportation is shattering for the families involved.

Another case of this happening is the story of Salvador Licea of Texas. Licea is a father of two young girls who has lived in Texas for most of his life. He was recently pulled over for a minor traffic violation and then arrested for having an expired license. In a case of blatant racial profiling, he was then told that he was pulled over because his age and skin color matched the description of a ‘drug lord’ or ‘gang banger.’ The authorities took his fingerprints under the jurisdiction of SComm and he is now facing deportation.

Watch the video by The Nation about Licea’s story:

Separation of families is one of the most unfortunate and unjust consequences of our broken immigration system. To learn about the story of yet another family affected by this, watch our Skype interview with Tony Wasilewski, a Polish immigrant whose wife Janina was deported four years ago.

It has now become a widely known fact that the Obama administration has deported more immigrants than the Bush administration, with numbers steadily climbing each year. However, even as President Obama has redirected his immigration efforts to deporting those immigrants who are deemed dangerous and have criminal records, ICE continues to round up people on minor charges. Furthermore, many undocumented immigrants who are trying to live an honest and hardworking life in the U.S. are in complex family situations which are not helped by blanket policies from the authorities. This applies to another set of cases where immigrants are married to U.S. citizens and still face deportation under a harsh 1996 immigration law that deems such immigrants deportable.

In the case of the Melgar family, Rogelio faced a hearing on July 19 in Provo, Utah, where him and his wife met for the first time since he was arrested. In a strange turn of events, the prosecutor, Deputy Utah County Attorney Chard Grunander, admitted that the state wasn’t ready to file charges against Melgar. The judge then released Rogelio’s $5,000 bond and told him he was free to go. However, immediately following this, Rogelio was taken back to Utah County Jail and is now being kept by ICE for a federal investigation.

Rogelio’s wife, Maribel, is still grappling with multiple blows to her family. She is trying to hold on to the memories of a time when her family was together and firmly believes staying in the U.S was the right thing to do:

If we had stayed in Guatemala, my son would’ve been dead at 6 years old…But God gave us a chance to have our son for another 12 years in this country.

It is important to work together to push for comprehensive immigration reform that won’t separate such families and will ensure dignity, respect, and due process for all. Become an ally of Restore Fairness and get involvedtoday. For more information on the separation of families due to deportation and what you can do, go to familiesforfreedom.org

Photo courtesy of Families for Freedom

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