Racial profiling: Degrading, unconstitutinal and ineffective

From the Restore Fairness blog-

Observations by Restore Fairness’ Zebunnisa Burki:

Have you ever been told that you don’t look like an American? Have you ever been stopped and searched by police just for driving around in a neighborhood? Or felt discriminated at airports? I have. It might be difficult for most people to know what its like to feel singled out. But this is what a lot of people of African-American, Hispanic, Arab and Asian and South Asian descent face when going about their lives in the US.

Using this as the premise, Breakthrough partnered with Rights Working Group, Network of Arab-American Professionals (NAAP) and Center for Human Rights and Global Justice (CHRGJ) on Tuesday, December 7th, at the NYU School of Law, for a screening of two documentaries: Face the Truth, produced by Breakthrough and the Rights Working Group, and Americans on Hold: Profiling, Prejudice and National Security, produced by CHRGJ. The screenings were part of the Rights Working Group’s “conversations on racial profiling” and were followed by an engaging Q&A session with filmmakers and activists, Madhuri Mohindar from Breakthrough, Nadine Wahab from the Rights Working Group, and Amna Akbar from CHRGJ, NYU.

Face the Truth, produced in September 2010, narrates the story of Karwan Abdul Kader, a Kurdish immigrant, who was stopped and stripped by law enforcement officials just because he was in the wrong neighborhood and looked “different.” Through his story and those of Juana Villegas and Lena Masri, Face the Truth serves as a reminder that even the land of opportunity doesn’t always support diversity. The film also makes an honest attempt to understand the divide between immigrants and local law enforcement by interviewing police officials and civil society activists.

Americans on Hold, the second documentary that screened that evening, follows a similar structure, narrating the personal stories of Anila Ali, a Pakistani immigrant community organizer and Zuhair Mahd, a visually challenged Jordanian immigrant. The film’s focus is immigration, citizenship and race in the US, especially when looked at in light of recent counter terrorism legislation and policies.

As is well-documented, post 9/11 America saw an increase in racial profiling against people of Middle Eastern and South Asian descent, mostly due to new counter-terrorism measures. These include the now infamous FBI name check and National Security Entry-Exit Registration System, better known as NSEERS, which allows authorities to target individuals from 25 specific countries, of which almost all are Muslim.

According to Nadine Wahab, domestic law in the US is often ambiguous on racial profiling. Policies such as NSEERS, along with the TSA’s recently tightened “counter terrorism” measures; Section 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), the Secure Communities program, and the general atmosphere of racial bias by law enforcement, have led to extreme distrust among immigrant and other vulnerable/minority communities.

What is most disturbing is the encouragement and support for policies such as full body scans and pat downs by TSA, especially by mainstream media, politicians and political movements. A good example would be an editorial in the Wall Street Journal that does its best to highlight the “benefits” of TSA’s stricter security measures.

The films (and the discussion after) served as a reminder that racial profiling and bias are not the lot of any one community. This is an issue that continues to affect different communities. Black/Latino/Arab/South Asian/Asian- these targeted communities all face the same discrimination but often remain cocooned in their own niche spaces, finding it difficult to reach out to each other.

In the Q&A that followed the screening, there was a strong consensus on the need for all targeted communities to stand united and work for legislation such as End Racial Profiling Act (ERPA) and the DREAM Act. To do this, it is important to look at the “war on terror”, and the “war on drugs” through the intersectional lenses of race and class. Linda Sarsour of AACP rightly pointed out that immigrant communities that were most affected were those who were also financially less well off than others. Is the race issue then also an issue of class?

During the conversations/dialogue, there was an almost palpable sense of empowerment engendered as a result of sharing stories of racial injustice, further highlighting the need for our different communities to work together on the many unresolved issues related to immigrants’ rights and racial bias. Issues such as stop and frisk policies, class, race and national legislation dominated the discussion.

The audience, representing a number of different racial backgrounds, did not hesitate from commenting, sharing personal stories, or asking questions. The most interesting part of the evening was the personal accounts of racial profiling shared by a number of audience members. From stories of stop and frisk by police to informants tracking down and interrogating Muslim men in mosques to horrifying stories of entrapment by the FBI, the cathartic energy of the stories became apparent as time went by.

As someone who is used to the natural fear that one feels traveling in and out of the US, to me, the evening was an exercise in building confidence and hope. To see people with Hispanic, Arab Muslim, African American, and South Asian backgrounds coming together and discussing ways to collaborate on immigration and race issues with a unified voice, is an encouraging sign. It felt like the beginning of an understanding that racial prejudice and bias touches more than one community, nationality and ethnicity—the beginning of something better.

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Tell your Senators to support the DREAM Act

From the Restore Fairness blog-

In a historic bipartisan vote, the U.S House of Representatives passed the DREAM Act on December 8th, bringing the hopes of thousands of young people that have built their lives in America, one step closer to being realized. Soon the Senate will bring the House-approved version of the bill to the floor for a vote, and we need you to make sure that your Senators will vote to make the DREAM Act a reality.

If passed, legislation would provide a clear legal pathway for immigrant youth, who have been raised in the United States and who will pursue higher education or serve the United States Armed Forces, to become U.S. citizens and live the American dream.

We need to flood the Senate with phone calls and ensure that we get the 60 votes needed to pass the DREAM Act.

1.  Dial the switchboard 1-866-587-3023
2.

2. Ask the operator for a Senator from the target list

3. When the receptionist picks up leave a message urging the Senator to vote yes on the DREAM Act.

Follow up your phone call with a letter to your Senators telling them why they need to get behind the DREAM Act. Their vote could make the difference between granting or breaking the dreams of thousands. Take action now.

For the first time in history we were able to pass the DREAM Act in the House. Let’s not stop now.

Photo courtesy of dreamactivist.org

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Rally for your rights tomorrow!

From the Restore Fairness blog-

In May 2010, New York State signed onto the “Secure Communities” program in which local police send fingerprints of all arrestees to federal immigration databases, with immigrants who are found “deportable” being directly pushed into the deeply flawed detention and deportation system.

When a state signs onto the Secure Communities program, all local law enforcement in that state has to do is arrest someone on a traffic or other offense, and their fingerprints will be checked against immigration databases during booking. When the fingerprint scan gets a “hit,” immigrants can end up getting carted off by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents to an immigration detention center. If they get out on bond, ICE can take them into custody, leaving their criminal cases unresolved. It doesn’t matter if the person was innocent of a criminal charge or if the arrest was a pretext to check immigration status.

Besides eroding community trust with the police, the program has criminalized the immigration detention system with a majority of those caught identified for minor crimes or U.S. citizens. An FOI found that Secure Communities has “misidentified more than 5,800 arrested U.S. citizens as undocumented workers” since 2008. Available evidence shows little accountability and transparency, yet a whopping $200 million has been allocated to Secure Communities, with an eye toward establishing it nationwide in every jail by late 2012. In addition to adding to the financial burden of the state, this costly program will endanger our communities, encourage racial profiling and separate families.

Join us at a rally tomorrow in New York to demand that Governor Paterson terminate Secure Communities. New York State should not cooperate with immigration in denying people fairness. When we deny fairness to some, we put all of our rights at risk.

Do come and show your support.

When: Thursday, December 9, 2010, 11:00 AM
Where: In front of Governor Paterson’s Manhattan office, 633 3rd Ave (between 40th and 41st streets), New York, NY

In another update, Congress is voting on the DREAM Act today. If passed, it could positively impact the lives of 2.1 million young people in the United States.

Take action now  to help pass this act.

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Save the date! Don't miss this film screening tomorrow

From the Restore Fairness blog-

After screening at a Congressional briefing in Washington D.C., a panel on ‘Global Perspectives in Digital Media’ at Union Docs in NYC, and making waves across the blogosphere, Restore Fairness’ latest documentary, Face the Truth: Racial Profiling Across America, will be screening in New York City tomorrow, as part of a free evening of films and dialogue about race in America.

“I’ve seen a lot in my life but to be degraded…  not just stripped of my clothes, being stripped of my dignity, was what I had a problem with.”

Kurdish American Karwan Abdul Kader was stopped and stripped by local law enforcement for no reason other than driving around in the wrong neighborhood. Using powerful personal stories like Karwan’s, Face the Truth: Racial Profiling Across America showcases the devastating impact of racial profiling on communities around our country, including the African American, Latino, Arab, Muslim and South Asian communities. Besides compelling personal stories, the documentary features interviews with notable law enforcement and civil society leaders, all of whom decry racial and religious profiling as a pervasive problem that is not only humiliating and degrading for the people subjected to it, but one that is unconstitutional, ineffective as a law enforcement practice, and ultimately damaging to community security.

On Tuesday, December 7th, Face the Truth will be screening along with Americans on Hold: Profiling, Prejudice and National Security, produced by Center for Human Rights and Global Justice. Americans on Hold is a documentary that reveals the harmful effects of prejudicial and ineffective U.S. counter-terrorism and immigration policies. Through the personal stories of Anila Ali and Zuhair Mahd, and expert testimony, the film exposes discriminatory profiling at the heart of citizenship delays and border-crossing detentions and delays.

Sponsored by the Rights Working Group, Breakthrough, NAAP, and the CHRGJ at the NYU School of Law, the evening is part of the Rights Working Group Conversations on racial profiling, leading up to Human Rights Day on December 10th. The screenings will be followed by a discussion and Q & A with filmmakers and activists, Madhuri Mohindar from Breakthrough, Nadine Wahab from the Rights Working Group, and Sameer Ahmed, the Skadden Fellow at the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund.

Mark your calendars!

When: Tuesday, December 7th, 6:30-9:30pm
Where: Furman Hall, New York University, 245 Sullivan Street (corner of Sullivan and W 3rd), New York City

It is important that we work together to honor the diversity that is the strength of this nation. As long as we continue to deny equality, justice, dignity and liberty to some, we cannot guarantee human rights for anyone. Together, we can stop the erosion of our fundamental human rights.

Join the event on Facebook. We hope to see you tomorrow!

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This Thanksgiving, dream a little dream for youth around the country

From the Restore Fairness blog-

Young people like Noemi Degante and Fredd Reyes deserve the opportunity to contribute to the country they have called home for most of their lives. Instead, they will spend this Thanksgiving under arrest and in detention for demanding a chance to complete college and strive for successful careers and fulfilling lives.

After a long night of studying for an exam at Guilford Technical Community College, Fredd Reyes was rudely awakened by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials at 5am on a morning in September. He was handcuffed and taken from his home in North Carolina to the Stewart Detention Center in Lumpkin, Georgia, a place that has been the subject of recent critiques and protests for it’s inhumane immigration detention practices.

Fredd, who was brought to the U.S. from Guatemala when his parents were fleeing persecution and death threats, has spent the 22 years that he has lived in this country working hard to be a model student and create the life that his parents envisioned for him. The reasons for Fredd’s detention are the same as those holding back the 2.1 million undocumented young people around the United States who were brought here as children by their parents. For all these young people, the DREAM Act (The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act) is the only hope for the chance to make the most out of the k-12 education that they have received and follow their aspirations. If passed, the DREAM Act would make undocumented people like Fredd eligible for a green card and a path to citizenship, as long as they came to the U.S. before the age of 16 (and are below the age of 35 when the law is passed), have been in the country for more than 6 years, and once they have completed at least two years of a college degree or military service. The DREAM Act, which will be coming up for a vote in the Senate before the end of the lame duck session, has received bipartisan support a number of times in the past, but has always stopped short of being passed.

Following Senate majority leader Harry Reid’s announcement that he would reintroduce the DREAM Act in Congress after Thanksgiving, DREAM Activists around the country have upped the anti to urge Congress to work together to make sure that it is passed this time around. Two weeks ago a dozen students at the University of Texas in San Antonio began a hunger strike to urge Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, who has supported the DREAM Act in the past but refused to vote for it in September, to agree to vote for the bill when it is reintroduced in Congress. This week, another 30 students from University of Texas campuses in Austin, Dallas, Arlington, Brownsville and Edinburg, as well as the University of North Texas in Denton, joined the hunger strike to drive the message home. The strike is being led by DREAM Act NOW, a group that is part of the national coalition called United we DREAM, which brings together DREAM Activists in all the states. Lucy Martinez, who is a second year at UT San Antonio and one of the leaders of strike said that the strike is their last resort since they “have tried everything else. We have done lobbying, legislative visits, marches, sit-ins. We are tired of it.” Martinez likened the hunger strike to “what we go through in our everyday lives — starving without a future.”

Also trying to convince a Republican who has gone from supporting the DREAM Act to taking a stand against it, Noemi Degante in Arizona was arrested and charged with ‘unlawful conduct and demonstrating in a building in the Capitol complex’ after staging a sit-in outside Sen. Jon McCain’s office on November 17th. She, and five other “dreamers” had waited all day to see him, only to be denied a conversation with him he was finally spotted. When they told him that they wanted a chance to serve the country the same way that he did, he replied, “Good, go serve.” Noemi returned to waiting after that, and was arrested when she refused to leave after the office closed.

Frank Sharry, who is the Executive Director of the advocacy organization, America’s Voice, hosted a press conference on the DREAM Act on November 18th at which he stated that the majority of the lobbying efforts are currently being directed at the Republican Senators who have voted for previous versions of the DREAM Act in the past and have since reversed their positions. As the Senate vote on the DREAM Act approaches, it is imperative that Congress men and women are made aware that beyond the political realm, this bill would have a tremendous impact on the on the well-being of countless families, and on the future of this country, it’s youth and it’s economy. The national DREAM Act campaign, United we DREAM, has designated November 29th and 30th as National Dream Days of Action. So as you sit down to give thanks and enjoy your family this Thanksgiving, make sure you think of all the families that have been separated and all the young people that need the chance to dream. Pick up the phone and call your Senators to demand the DREAM Act. Happy Thanksgiving!

Watch these young dreamers and be inspired!

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