Do we want a future where our religious faith makes us a target?

From our Restore Fairness blog-

The tragic events of September 11, 2001 also proved to be an unfortunate turning point in America’s socio-cultural dynamics. For a nation that’s built upon the principles of separating church and state, America’s multi-religious identity came to the forefront as specific groups, especially Muslims or Hindus and Sikhs (who were presumed to be Muslims), became the targets of mistrust and prejudice, both institutional and social. While Americans enjoy considerable religious freedom regardless of affiliation or faith, the increased polarization of the religious communities post-9/11 is a major cause for concern. This issue is addressed in Breakthrough’s multi-platform Facebook game America 2049 which, this week, takes players to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.

The future that America 2049 presents, and asks players to save, shows a country torn apart by hate and mistrust. Yet the scenario of the future isn’t too far from us today. The Gainesville Times recently published a letter to the editor that exemplified the extremities of religious and ethnic hate that exists in certain parts of the country. A reader, responding to the May 6 story of a Delta Airlines pilot refusing to fly with two Islamic imams onboard, said-

It is impossible to distinguish between Muslims who are anti-American and just waiting for a chance to do us harm, and those who are merely pursuing their religious beliefs in this country. The only way to be sure and safe is to exclude them all. Such action would not constitute bias or racism against a particular nationality just because they may be different from us, or the condemnation of a specific religion because it differs from our beliefs but the action is necessary to create conditions in which it is safe to live without a constant fear of terrorism.

Such blatant justification of Islamophobia is alarming and begs us to work towards much more comprehensive multicultural education. Such views are further bolstered with several states, such as Tennessee, looking to pass a state bill which would essentially ban the practice of Sharia law in the state. The letter received much criticism and supports the statistic put forth by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) that since 2000, the number of organized hate groups has increased by 50 percent.

America 2049 provides players with an interactive scenario where this situation — which is already all too real — gets worse in the near future. Players also learn about the strong Anti-Catholic sentiments that pervaded America in the mid-1800s. Such sentiments gave rise to a political party called The Know-Nothings - so called because members swore to deny any knowledge of the party when questioned by outsiders. The Know-Nothings exhibited an extreme disapproval of the wave of Irish and German Catholic immigrants to the U.S in the mid-1800s, often engaging in violence and pushing for stricter immigration and naturalization laws to restrict Catholic presence in the country.

In a classic case of history repeating itself — a point America 2049 aims to make - we are now witness to similar sentiments against Muslim or Arabian/South Asian immigration to the U.S. The recent uproar around the proposed construction of an Islamic Cultural Center near Ground Zero in New York City serves as an apt example of this prejudice. America 2049 aims to address such issues of mistrust and blind discrimination by challenging players to make their own choices on how to confront religious profiling by contextualizing the entire issue across history. The crucial question, therefore, is - in a country that prides itself on freedoms of many kinds, do we want a future where our faith makes us a target?

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How 'Un-American' are Peter King's Congressional Hearings?

From the Restore Fairness blog-

On Friday, March 4, two elderly Sikh men were gunned down without provocation while they were out for a casual stroll in a suburb of Sacramento. One of them, Surinder Singh (67), died immediately while his friend Gurmej Atwal (78), who was shot twice in the chest, is said to be in critical condition. The police who are investigating the attack have called on any witnessed to come forward and said that while they are still searching for evidence, there is a high probability that the there was a “hate or bias motivation for the crime.” This unfortunate attack took place just days before Rep. Peter King (R-NY) began his controversial House Homeland Security Committee hearings on the “The Extent of Radicalization” among American Muslims. With the upcoming 10th year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks and the endless spate of hate crimes against minority groups, it is difficult to ignore the implications that this Congressional hearing will have on the future of this country.

In the aftermath of 9/11,  heightened national security measures and increased suspicion of immigrant communities have placed a harsh spotlight on Muslim Americans as well as the wider South Asian and Arab American communities, deeply impacting the ways in which these communities are perceived and damaging their sense of national identity.

The first of the King hearings took place in Washington D.C. yesterday. Rep. Peter King said that he initiated these hearings in response to a string of arrests in 2010 concerning Muslim Americans who were connected to intercepted plots against American targets. In an interview with the Associated Press, King stated-

There is a real threat to the country from the Muslim community and the only way to get to the bottom of it is to investigate what is happening.

The committee yesterday heard from a panel of witnesses that argued for and against the premise of the hearings. Those who argued that the country needs to be more vigilant about the “radicalization” of the Muslim community included Dr. M Zuhdi Jasser, a doctor and Navy veteran who called on his fellow Muslims to be more outspoken against radical Islam, and Abdirizak Bihi, a Somali American activist whose nephew joined a militant group in Somalia and was subsequently killed in 2009. During the hearing, the most pointed questions against the premise came from Representatives who raised concerns over why other extremist groups – affiliated with various religions – were not even being considered by King and his committee. Speaking to the press after the hearing yesterday, King called it a success, emphasizing that the purpose was to “inform, not to inflame.”

The run-up to the hearings saw a very polarized response, with groups like Fox News expressing substantial support for them, while human rights advocates consistently condemned them. The greatest criticism of the hearings was not that extremist acts of terror pose a threat to national security and need to be investigated, but that King’s approach is biased and isolationist. The criticism holds that by scapegoating a community based on their religious affiliation, the King hearings will have widespread repercussions on how American Muslims will be perceived by the wider public. For a community that is already the subject of suspicion and profiling, the Congressional hearings, by calling for greater accountability for American Muslims above any other group, has very real implications for community identity, public perception, integration and collective healing.

One of the most vocal opponent of the hearings is the country’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a group that Peter King has accused of conspiring with radical Islamist groups. In addition to asserting their identity as a peaceful organization, CAIR said that they would have supported the hearings if they were “balanced and fair.” Also opposing King’s approach to the issue is the civil rights organization, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), that stated in their 2010 annual report on “hate and extremism” that the “radical right in America expanded explosively in 2010,” as the number of hate groups topped 1,000.

A number of critics also held that this kind of focalized criticism of a specific community could result in the loss of trust these groups have towards law enforcement agencies and the government, impeding the work of law enforcement and thus work against ensuring the safety of all communities. At the hearing, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), the first Muslim member of Congress, gave an emotional testimony about Mohammad Salman Hamdani, a NYPD cadet who was under suspicion for being involved with the attacks even as died trying to help victims on September 11, 2001. Breaking into tears, Ellison described -

After the tragedy…some people tried to smear his character … solely because of his Islamic faith. Some people spread false rumors and speculated that he was in league with the attackers because he was a Muslim. But it was only when his remains were identified that these lies were exposed. Mohammad Salman Hamdani was a fellow American who gave his life for other Americans. His life should not be identified as just a member of an ethnic group or just a member of a religion, but as an American who gave everything for his fellow Americans.

This anecdote, from an event still fresh in public memory, highlights the deeply damaging impact that continued demonization of an entire religious group can and does have on people’s lives. Moreover, by coming from an institutionalized source such as the House of Representatives (despite a marked distance by the Obama administration), the hearings put out a very strong message to the American public, and need to be understood for the authority that they wield. Even after Rep. King diluted his more aggressive original agenda, the hearings signal and amplify a deep sense of suspicion towards one group of Americans. Especially when ratified by the political leaders of the country, such trends pose a threat to the fundamental American principles of dignity and respect towards everyone. And that, perhaps, is a bigger threat to national security, especially in these testing times.

For a lighter, yet insightful take on King’s track record and alleged hypocrisy in this issue, watch Jon Stewart’s analysis of the hearings.

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Arizona, Wisconsin…Searching for freedom in a sea of hate

From the Restore Fairness blog-

Two months into the new year, it looks like the hateful and divisive rhetoric that marked 2010 is continuing to make it’s presence felt. Fueled by frustration over the economic situation, and by the changing racial and ethnic face of the country, ‘hate’ groups espousing extremist views on race, politics and culture are growing at an alarming rate. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center’s annual investigative report released on February 23rd, the number of hate groups in the country has topped 1000, more than have existed at any point in over 20 years.

A lot of the vitriol is directed at President Obama, who is often seen as a symbol of all that is “wrong” with the country. Any residue anger seems to be directed at minority groups, with a focus on the immigrant populationthat comprises a significant percentage of the country’s workforce. From previously existing mainly on the fringes of media and politics, this hate and resentment aimed at minorities has now decisively made its way into the mainstream, most visible in the political sphere in the form of countless bills that are being introduced around the country. In addition to the events currently taking place in Wisconsin, it is difficult to ignore the vast array of anti-immigrant legislation and enforcement measures that are on the cards at both the Federal and state levels.

The passage of SB1070 by Arizona’s Gov. Jan Brewer in April of last year set off a wave of harsh anti-immigrant laws that raise concerns of racial profiling and civil rights violations in various states around the country and pose a serious threat to basic American values. State legislative sessions across the country from California to Kentucky, Texas to Rhode Island have witnessed the introduction of immigration enforcement bills that have severe implications for racial profiling. On February 24th, Ohio introduced its own version of  Arizona’s SB1070 in a bill which permits local police officers to enforce federal immigration laws. A bill introduced in the Arkansas state legislature that would deny state benefits to undocumented immigrants except in emergencies was halted yesterday when a House committee voted against the bill by a small majority. On Tuesday , the Indiana Senate voted for a law to allow local police to question people stopped for infractions on their immigration status, in a bill that was similar to 2010′s SB1070.

While many states introduce harsh anti-immgrant laws, Arizona continues to stay two steps ahead of the others when it comes to advancing legislation that curtails basic rights and freedoms. The latest round of legislation that was cleared by the Appropriations Committee in the Arizona Senate on Wednesday illustrates this point best. In addition to SBs 1308 and 1309, the bills that undermine the 14th amendment’s birthright citizenship provision, was a package of immigration bills, led by Senator Russell Pearce (the author of SB1070), that curtail the rights of immigrants in the state of Arizona. These bills mandate that undocumented immigrants would be barred from receiving many public benefits, attending community collage, and be barred from driving motor vehicles and obtaining any state licenses including those required for marriage. The bills mandate that schoolchildren (k-12) would have to show proof of citizenship and run the risk of being reported to local police if there were undocumented, and that hospitals would be required to ask for proof of citizenship from patients demanding non-emergency care. Senator Russell Pearce defended his compendium of anti-immigrant legislation that he said was aimed at stopping the “invasion.” All the above laws were passed by the committee, and are now moving to the Senate floor for approval.

Alessandra Soler Meetze, executive director of the A.C.L.U. of Arizona decried the new measures as working towards a “papers please” society. Speaking to the New York Times, she said-

This bill is miles beyond S.B. 1070 in terms of its potential to roll back the rights and fundamental freedoms of both citizens and noncitizens alike…

And while the bold announcement by the Obama administration and the Department of Justice that they would no longer defend the constitutionality of the the federal Defense of Marriage Act (that bans the recognition of same-sex marriage) comes as good news, the issue of immigration is looking bleak on the Federal level as well. Since the beginning of the 112th session of Congress, the Immigration Subcommittee of the House Judiciary committee has been pushing its strategy for mass deportation, referred to as ‘Attrition Through Enforcement.’ A few weeks ago, America’s Voice released a report exposing the background and strategybehind the Immigration Subcommittee’s current policy on immigration enforcement.

The report, collated by the America’s Voice Education Fund, “uncovers the origin of “attrition through enforcement”; its radical goal to achieve the mass removal of millions of immigrants; and the impact this proposal would have on both our economy and politics.” The report details how this approach, promoted by nativist groups and anti-immigrant hard-liners such as the Center for Immigration Studies, FAIR (Federation for American Immigration Reform) and Numbers USA, is packaged as a program aiming  to create jobs for Americans, but is designed to ramp up enforcement on state and federal levels with a view to forcing the 11 million undocumented immigrants out of the country, despite the monumental cost to taxpayers and the agriculture industry. On a press call mid February, Mark Potok, Director of the Intelligence Project at theSouthern Poverty Law Center; Fernand Amandi, Managing Partner of research organization, Bendixen & Amandi International; and Frank Sharry, Executive Director of America’s Voice, discussed the strategy of mass deportation and the risks that it poses for the political future of the GOP, for the future of race relations in the U.S., and for the economy.

This long list of events, laws and movements taking place around the nation are working to thwart positive change and drastically affect the values of freedom, equality and justice that are intrinsic to the spirit of this country. At such a time it is important that we look to people that are standing up for what is right, and learn from their example. Over the last week, tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets in Wisconsin to demand that the government renew their commitment to the ‘American dream’ by valuing hard work instead of denying basic public services to those who are the most vulnerable. In a move to stand in solidarity with the people of Wisconsin and spread the “spirit of Madison” to the rest of the country, on Saturday, February 26, at noon local time, groups around the country are organizing rallies in front of every statehouse in all major cities.

Stand together to Save the American Dream. We are all Wisconsin, we are all Americans.

Photo courtesy of endoftheamericandream.com

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

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.

Two murder cases highlight senseless violence against Latinos

The trial of Minuteman border vigilante Shawna Forde, and two other individuals charged with the 2009 murder of a nine-year-old Latina girl and her father, began this week in Arivaca, Arizona. Julianne Hing at ColorLines reports that Brisenia Flores was shot twice in the head by home invaders allegedly enlisted by Forde, who is accused of sanctioning racially motivated home invasions to finance (via robbery) her border patrol activities. Flores’ parents were also shot, but her mother, Gina Gonzales, survived.

As Hing notes, Forde had strong ties with both the Tea Party movement and prominent anti-immigrant groups, including the influential conservative think-tank Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR):

Forde had a habit of ending her emails with the sign off, “Lock and Load” and had close ties with tea party groups. She was involved with the Minutemen American Defense—her supporters claim she was once a Minuteman National Director—a loose affiliation of anti-immigration border activists who took to policing the border on their own with guns and surveillance equipment. Forde has also had ties with the anti-immigrant Federation for American Immigration Reform. These groups have all been labeled hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Immigrant rights groups and Latino community advocates alike have characterized the grisly crime as part of a growing anti-immigrant hate crime epidemic plaguing many divided communities across the country.

One such community, Shenandoah, Pennsylvania, recently saw the close of another hate crime case, in which three police officers were accused of covering up the racially motivated murder of 25-year-old immigrant Luis Ramirez. As New America Media reports, a Shenandoah jury issued a split verdict against the officers who were charged with obstruction of justice, falsifying records and conspiracy for their alleged attempt to protect Ramirez’s teenage murderers. Former police Chief Matthew Nestor was found guilty on the first two counts, but found not guilty of conspiracy. Former police Lt. William Moyer was similarly found guilty of making false statements, but acquitted of all other charges, as was former police Officer Jason R. Hayes. Latino advocacy groups have characterized the officers’ actions as a stark example of politicized community leaders privileging white criminals over their Latino victims.

Death of 17-year-old farmworker brings to light workplace exploitation

As antagonistic immigration discourse and prejudicial policies foster violence, immigrant workers are increasingly susceptible to workplace exploitation. In the case of 17-year-old Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez, that exploitation proved deadly.

Change.org’s Antonio Ramirez reports that Jimenez, who was two months pregnant, died of exposure while pruning grapes on a field owned by California’s Merced Farm Labor. The company had been fined previously for violating heat regulations, but still failed to ensure that its workers received legally mandated access shade, water and breaks. Now, Merced’s owner, Maria De Los Angeles Colung, as well as its former safety coordinator, Elias Armenta, are charged with involuntary manslaughter in Jimenez’s death but, as Ramirez notes, they’ve accepted a plea bargain which would only mandate community service.

Jimenez’s preventable death highlights rampant exploitation of immigrant workers in the U.S. food industry—particularly of women. As Alternet’s Jill Richardson reports, immigrant workers are increasingly the victims of wage theft and are routinely exposed to toxic pesticides and other hazardous conditions while women workers regularly contend with a variety of workplace sexual abuse and harassment. Richardson summarizes the phenomenon thusly:

In addition to the fondling and groping the women endured on the job, women also engaged in consensual relationships with supervisors to gain “a secure place in American society, a green card, a husband — or at the very least a transfer to an easier job at the plant.” […]

And then there’s the nonconsensual stuff: A 2008 piece in High Country News revealed that farmworkers refer to one company’s field as the “field of panties” because so many women workers are raped by supervisors. And as far back as 1993, the Southern Poverty Law Center found in its own study that 90 percent of female farm workers cite sexual harassment as a serious problem.

While the sexual abuse of (largely undocumented) women farmworkers doesn’t register as a hate crime in the same way that the racially motivated murders of Luiz Ramirez and the Flores family do, the nature of their exploitation is clearly gendered and racialized. As immigration enforcement tightens, effectively pushing undocumented workers further underground while discouraging undocumented victims of violent crimes from coming forward, farmworkers will continue to be targeted for exploitation based on their gender, race and nationality—the same criteria upon which Ramirez and the Flores family were targeted for deadly violence.

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: Why Arizona’s Birthright Bill is Bad for the Economy

by Catherine A. Traywick, Media Consortium blogger

Arizona lawmakers are expected to introduce an “anchor baby” bill today that would deny birthright citizenship to the U.S.-born children of undocumented immigrants. Modeled after birthright citizenship legislation unveiled by the nativist coalition State Legislators for Legal Immigration (SLLI) earlier this month, the measure is, unabashedly, part of a larger effort on the part of SLLI to challenge existing citizenship law in the United States.

Lawmakers from Georgia, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and South Carolina have likewise committed to introducing citizenship bills at the state level, while legislators from Nebraska, Indiana, Colorado, Texas and others are determined to implement similarly controversial Arizona-style enforcement measures in their states.

In recent years, communities that implemented harsh anti-immigrant laws have experienced a number of economic and social repercussions which lawmakers continue to overlook in their determination to tighten enforcement. But as nativist policies bleed public coffers and anti-immigrant political speech incites new strains of ethnic violence, the stark consequences of such extremism are becoming harder and harder to ignore.

Devastating local economies

The legal costs of defending constitutionally questionable laws like SB 1070 ought to be obvious. Arizona, which has the rare luxury of drawing from a $3.6 million donor-endowed legal defense fund, spent upwards of $500,000 defending 1070 from legal challenges last year, and could, in the long-term, spend as much $10 million, according to New America Media’s Valeria Fernández.

Yet the think-tank Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR)—a major supporter of anti-immigrant laws like SB 1070 and birthright citizenship bills—obstinately underplays the financial fall-out of such measures. Ira Mehlman, a national spokesperson for FAIR, reportedly told New America Media that “the costs of litigations pale in comparison to the cost of communities providing healthcare, education and welfare for undocumented immigrants and their citizen children.”

Considerable evidence suggests otherwise. The Brookings Institution, the Udall Center for Public Policy and former President George W. Bush’s Council of Economic Advisors have all concluded that immigrants contribute much more to their local economies (through taxes and spending) than they take out through social services (about $800,000 more).

Now, a new report by Southern Poverty Law Center (which, incidentally, has listed FAIR as a hate group since 2007) argues that anti-immigrant laws—not immigrants—have a greater track record of depressing local economies. Gebe Martinez at Campus Progress sums up what happened to five communities “that threw anti-immigration statutes onto their books without fully considering their impact.” He writes:

  • Hazleton, Pennsylvania, the leader of the court fights for local immigration enforcement, is in the tank for at least $2.8 million with some estimates totaling $5 million as it defends its ordinance all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
  • Riverside, New Jersey suffered a local economic downturn before the city rescinded its anti-immigrant ordinance and welcomed the return of immigrants.
  • Farmers Branch, Texas, has spent nearly $4 million in legal fees and is expected to spend at least $5 million to defend its anti-immigration statute with no end in sight.
  • Prince William County, Virginia dramatically scaled back a tough immigration statute after realizing the original version would cost millions to enforce and defend in court.
  • Fremont, Nebraska, increased the city’s property tax to help pay the legal fees for its anti-immigration ordinance which it intends to defend.A

A spate of state-level birthright citizenship bills stands to be similarly costly, as the admitted goal of their sponsors is to force numerous court cases that challenge the conventional applications of the 14th amendment—legislation through litigation. But there are other expenses as well. If such legislation were to pass, government agencies would bear the incredibly costly burden of making citizenship determinations for every child born in the United States—a logistical nightmare that neither federal nor state governments are prepared to undertake.

Fueling ethnic violence

As economically devastating as these divisive measures can be, their social impact on communities is often even greater. Politicians bent on enacting anti-immigrant legislation frequently rely on hateful speech and pejorative language to foment public discontent and, in so doing, build citizen support for their measures—with tragic consequences.

Colorlines.com has repeatedly reported on the correlation between bigoted political speech, anti-immigrant legislation, and ethnic violence. Now, Mónica Novoa reports that a new study from the University of Maryland corroborates the connection. Charting the use of anti-immigrant slurs in newspapers and wire services over the last three decades, the study revealed that “a spike in usage of the dehumanizing slurs usually coincided with contentious immigration policy proposals.”

The correlation persists despite the fact that more than 15 years ago, four professional journalism associations—National Association of Hispanic Journalists, Asian American Journalists Association, Native American Journalists Association and National Association of Black Journalists—advised their members to stop using the phrase “illegal alien” on the grounds that is is “pejorative,” “grammatically incorrect and crosses the line by criminalizing the person, not the action they are purported to have committed.”

While incendiary rhetoric may be an effective way of garnering political support for controversial measures, it all too often fuels violence. Going back to New America Media, Fernández notes that this destructive cycle frequently makes for tragic consequences, as in the case of a 9-year-old girl who was allegedly murdered by members the Minuteman Project, an armed, volunteer border patrol organization. The Latino advocacy organization Cuentame, in partnership with Brave New Films, similarly emphasizes the link between hate speech and increasing incidents of hate crimes against Latinos:

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K2cFuYJwW1s[/youtube]

Anti-birthright citizenship bills would effectively create an underclass of mostly Hispanic non-citizens. It’s an almost certain catalyst for rampant and systemic anti-immigrant discrimination and ethnic violence. As the  anti-immigrant lawmakers from Arizona and elsewhere make good on their promises to push a new, more fervent, onslaught of anti-immigrant legislation in 2011, expect the financial and social costs of such extremism to rise further still.

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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