N.Y. State bill and new student film aim to revive the DREAM

Last week week the U.S. Census Bureau announced that there had been an unanticipated spike in the Hispanic population of the country over the last decade. Hispanics now form the country’s second-largest group, having crossed the 50 million mark, or 16.3% of the national population. This announcement comes at a significant moment in our country as debates around the treatment of undocumented immigrants intensify. The Hispanic population now forms a much bigger portion of the electorate and, with much of the immigration debate (including the DREAM Act) focusing on this group, the need for comprehensive immigration reform is becoming even more pressing.

Also in the same week the New York State Youth Leadership Council (NYSYLC) announced the introduction of the first ever state version of the DREAM Act (S.4179), led by state senator Bill Perkins. If passed, this will be a major accomplishment for immigration reform advocates and will hopefully spark similar changes at the federal level. The N.Y. state version of the DREAM Act incorporates many of the same benefits as the federal version of the legislation that was defeated in the Senate in December of last year. According to the NYSYLC-

The benefits include access to financial aid for higher education, access to driver’s licenses, work authorization and access to health care. In order to qualify for these benefits, the young person must have arrived to the United States before the age of 16, be under the age of 35, have resided in New York State for at least two years, have obtained a high school diploma or GED equivalent from an American institution and have good moral character.

While the outcome of this bill remains to be seen, some are also skeptical of what such legislation, if passed, would actually accomplish. Steven Thrasher of the Village Voice expressed concerns that since immigration falls under federal jurisdiction, even after such legislation, New York State would have no power to halt raids by Immigrations Customs Enforcement (ICE) or to help the immigrant youth work towards U.S. citizenship. However, there is no doubt that this incarnation of the DREAM Act is a positive indication that this is a matter of national importance and that the efforts of the movement are paying off. If passed, this bill would benefit many undocumented youth such as Sonia Guinansaca, a 21-year-old young woman who is also a member of the NYSYLC. Reacting to the introduction of the state bill, Guinansaca stated-

We’re very excited, this is one of the most progressive bills particularly when we’re surrounded by failure of the federal DREAM Act and other anti-immigrant bills around the country…We’re making a statement that we are here, undocumented, unafraid, unapologetic and we’re going to work to resolve this issue. That is what this New York State campaign has meant for many of us and we’re not going to give up.

The anti-immigrant bills Guinansaca mentions are the other face of the current immigration debate around the country. While reform advocates continue to stress the urgent need for just and fair immigration reform, state legislatures around the country are vying for increased restrictions against the rights of immigrants. In addition to having adverse implications for the economic and social stability of the states in which they are enacted, these harsh anti-immigrant laws often call for state law enforcement to distinguish between people based on their appearance, a factor that goes against the constitutional fabric of the country.

A new short documentary released today by the Center for New Community explores the highly controversial SB1070 law passed in Arizona from a new angle. The poignant film, titled 'A Look Inside SB1070' (see below), follows a delegation of university students, from Washington D.C., New York, Chicago and Colorado, who visited the border regions of Arizona to learn more about the enactment of the draconian anti-immigration law. The film was screened on college campuses across the United States last week to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. For the students in the film, the experience was eye-opening and, in some cases, infuriating as they were privy to the conditions of immigrant communities along the border areas. One of the students who filmed the trip, President L. Davis, remarked-

Getting behind the camera to capture this story of the immigrant Hispanic population of Arizona and the American reaction will remain one of the greatest experiences of my life. One that I believe will help inspire another generation of freedom fighters determined to see freedom and justice prevail.

Youth-led efforts like this documentary and the New York state version of the DREAM Act signal the continued vigor with which advocates are pushing for immigration reform. The bill's fate in the N.Y. State senate is yet unknown, but supporters can sign the petition to Governor Cuomo to urge him to support S.4179. Meanwhile, films such as 'A Look Inside SB1070' will hopefully further raise awareness around the human impact of harsh anti-immigration laws such as SB1070 and help to highlight that fact that with ever-increasing immigrant populations, the call for comprehensive immigration reform simply cannot be ignored.

Watch the film 'A Look Inside SB1070' here:


Holding Arpaio Accountable

Maricopa County, Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio is known for housing inmates in tent cities in the desert and making them wear pink clothes as humiliation, but also for allegations of racial profiling and abusive treatment of Latinos, inside and outside of his jailhouse.

On September 2, 2010, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against the Sheriff’s Office, challenging Arpaio’s refusal to demonstrate that his office is complying with federal civil rights laws. Specifically, the suit alleges that the Sheriff’s Office has violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination based on race or ethnicity by institutions, like the Sheriff’s Office, that receive federal funds, and requires them to document their compliance.

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Weekly Diaspora: Has Obama Failed the Immigration Reform Movement?

by Catherine Traywick, Media Consortium blogger

After signing a controversial $600 million border security bill last week, President Barack Obama is drawing fire from immigration reform advocates and anti-immigrant conservatives alike. While the former argue that the new security measures are a step backwards for comprehensive immigration reform, the latter say the bill does too little to secure our borders.

Arizona’s SB 1070 was a challenge to the federal government’s ability to resolve the immigration issue, and the Obama administration took a strong stood against it. The border security bill is almost certainly a demonstration of the administration’s might. But for what, and at whose expense?

The further right the president moves on immigration, the more absurd the opposition’s tactics become. Anti-immigration activists are now directing their ire towards the unborn children of immigrants. Meanwhile, immigration activists in Arizona are butting heads with an increasingly vocal gang of Tea Party members and have yet to see any positive change as a result of the federal lawsuit.

Obama gets an F

At The American Prospect, Adam Serwer argues that Obama’s immigration policies have failed the reform movement, and that they have also failed to bring anti-immigrant conservatives into the fold:

…While President Obama talks like an immigration moderate, in practice his actions are those of an unapologetic immigration hawk who has tightened border security without fulfilling his promise of immigration reform. […] On matters of border security, the administration is doing just about everything a Republican might do in his place, which means that Republicans have had to go to even greater extremes just to provide an excuse for not going along.

The extremist crusade against the 14th amendment, which grants automatic citizenship to anyone born in the U.S., is just one example of the lengths to which some conservatives will go to defy an administration whose immigration policies are already remarkably conservative.

Exposing the myth of the “anchor baby”

True to form, those calling for a repeal of the 14th amendment are now outdoing one another in an effort to appear even more extremely anti-immigrant. This week’s “terror baby” threat has eclipsed last week’s “anchor baby” threat, as some conservatives claim that pregnant immigrants are not only coming to the U.S. to give birth, but to raise their American babies as terrorists.

Robin Templeton of GritTv and Seth Hoy of AlterNet jumped on the issue this week. Both argue that, in far too many cases, the citizenship of an immigrant’s children has little bearing on whether or not she stays in the country, let alone become a U.S. citizen.

Templeton drives the point home by citing the case of Fatoumata Gassama, mother of six U.S. citizens, who fled Senegal to escape genital mutilation and is now faced with deportation. If deported, Templeton writes, “She will have no choice but to return with her children…including her 4 daughters, who would almost certainly be subjected to the same torture from which their mother sought refuge in the United States.”

The “anchor baby” threat is just the latest in a long list of sensational and unfounded claims put forth to demonize immigrants. According to the anti-immigrant contingent, we are at risk of losing jobs to immigrants, losing social services to immigrants, and even being criminally victimized by immigrants. Propagating such baseless misinformation is a common tactic, as most may remember from the health care reform debates.

Checking in on Arizona

Meanwhile in the nation’s anti-immigrant epicenter, Arizona, Tea Partiers are enjoying their heyday, and immigrants’ rights activists have yet to see any positive change resulting from the federal lawsuit against SB 1070.

As Naima Ramos-Chapman reports at Colorlines, gun-toting tea party activists kicked off the week with a border rally headlined by Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who advertised some of his own immigration solutions including “a pre-emptive strike to hunt down immigrants on the Mexican side of the border.”

Arpaio’s apparent disregard for Mexico’s sovereignty notwithstanding, his anti-immigrant zeal is nothing new. As Aura Bogado reports for Mother Jones, the sheriff tormented immigrants for years before SB 1070 became a hot topic, indiscriminately rounding up people of color and jailing them under such poor conditions that many have left prison severely injured, while others have died.

On top of that, federal prosecutions of immigrants in Arizona are at a record high this year. According to Elise Foley at the Washington Independent, newly released data shows that immigration cases made up 84.5 percent of prosecutions in Arizona.

That’s good news, no doubt, to Arpaio. Maricopa county ranks among the highest in its prosecutions of non-criminal immigrants. Such findings are harder for reform advocates to swallow, particularly in light of Obama’s repeated assurances that his immigration measures primarily target criminals. The divide between Obama’s promises and the reality of the situation on the ground is glaring, and anti-immigrant forces know it.

In Arizona, for instance, both the state legislature and Governor Jan Brewer remain defiant even in the face of the federal lawsuit against SB 1070 (which itself challenged the president’s resolve on immigration reform), and have since passed or introduced other anti-immigrant bills, in addition to several currently in the works—Nicole Guidotti-Hernandez at Ms. has a good breakdown of recently passed and pending anti-immigrant legislation in Arizona.

Curbing Arizona’s reach

But while numerous states have come out in support of SB 1070, many copy-cat bills have already failed in other states. Many more are likely to meet the same end.

Suman Raghunathan at YES! Magazine suggests that states are broadly rejecting Arizona—thereby demonstrating that the intense anti-immigrant sentiment currently dominating the media belongs to only a small faction of extremists. Raghunathan furthermore argues that it is actually the anti-immigrant movement that is failing.

Given the highly-criticized events at the federal level, such as the signing of the new border security bill and the expansion of the Secure Communities program, Raghunathan’s position is optimistic, to say the least. But maybe, at this point in the game, the immigration reform camp needs a little optimism.

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.



Living Our Values

One of the themes President Obama spoke about in his speech the other night was returning to the America we grew up knowing--returning to the America which we believe in.  In addressing the nation, President Obama reminded us that "living our values doesn't make us weaker.  It makes us safer, and it makes us stronger."

With this message resonating in our ears, it's difficult to hear about what a Sheriff in Arizona has been doing recently.  Relying heavily on racial profiling, Sheriff Jeff Arpaio has been pulling over "Latino-looking" drivers have been pulled over for minor violations and asked to produce Social Security cards.  He's focused his efforts on sidewalk "crime sweeps" in low-crime neighborhoods--detaining those who cannot prove their citizenship status on spot, while ignoring the real issues our communities face.

Finally, earlier this month Sheriff Arpaio was getting ready to round up immigrant men and women and march them off to separate "tent cities" surrounded by electric fences.

Our friend's at America's Voice have a made a video detailing some of these affronts on basic human dignity.  You may view and sign a petition being sent to the Attorney General demanding an investigation of Sheriff Arpaio here.

Read more at The Opportunity Agenda's blog.

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Weekly Diaspora: DREAM Act Could be First Step to Reform


by Catherine A. Traywick, Media Consortium blogger

After months of intense debate over the Obama administration’s efforts to revamp our immigration system, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has made a decisive, though piecemeal, move on immigration reform by adding the Development, Relief and Education of Alien Minors (DREAM) Act as an amendment to the defense authorization bill.

The proposed DREAM Act would provide a path to citizenship for immigrant youth who commit to two years of military service or college. It would potentially grant legal permanent status to 825,000 young people, according to the Migration Policy Institute.

Reid’s announcement this week is just the latest example of a growing, nationwide backlash against the rising anti-immigrant sentiment in this country. As more anti-immigrant measures are blocked or reviewed by federal courts, and many others are flatly rejected by local governments, federal lawmakers and reform advocates are once again making a strong push for comprehensive immigration reform.

DREAM Act paves way for new comprehensive reform bill

As Elise Foley of the Washington Independent reports, Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Rep. Nydia Velazquez (D-NY) and Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) have all come out in favor of Reid’s decision, all while insisting that comprehensive reform is still essential. At an immigration forum attended by more than 500 reform advocates yesterday, Menendez announced plans to introduce an immigration reform bill in the Senate, while Gutierrez announced plans to ask Obama to freeze non-criminal deportations until immigration reform has passed.

Dream Act vote unites immigration reform advocates

In particular, Guttierez’s support for passing the DREAM Act independent of comprehensive reform is a change of pace. Guttierez previously stood opposed to “piecemeal” reform efforts. The DREAM Act, which has been heavily lobbied by grassroots activists and has proven much more popular than any other proposed reform bill, was a point of contention among reform activists. While prominent pro-immigrant groups called for including the DREAM Act in a comprehensive reform package, DREAM activists decided to chart their own course.

Gutierrez’s change of heart may have been prompted by widespread frustration on the part of reform advocates, who had hoped to make headway on comprehensive immigration reform as early as last year.

He’s not alone. As Julianne Hing notes at ColorLines, the Congressional Hispanic Caucus (CHC) quickly endorsed Reid’s decision, despite its past criticisms of DREAM activists’ unilateral approach. The CHC was careful to downplay the intra-movement tension that has come to define the DREAM Act, in favor of presenting a unified front on immigration reform. For DREAM activists, the endorsement is a welcome move, and gives credence to Reid’s decisive move on the bill.

For local governments, cost outweighs ideology

Meanwhile, the anti-immigrant movement is starting to lose steam, as more localities are outright rejecting popular anti-immigrant measures. They fear inviting costly lawsuits and garnering unwanted attention from the federal government. AlterNet’s Seth Hoy reports that Tomball, Texas and Fremont, Nebraska are the latest cities to opt against strict anti-immigrant enforcement ordinances. Similarly wary of attracting exorbitant lawsuits, legislators in Ohio and Idaho are feverishly revising their own, once-embraced versions of Arizona’s SB 1070.

They have cause for concern. While Arizona has managed to collect $3.6 million in donations to defend SB 1070, other state governments haven’t been so lucky. One city in Texas has already spent $3.2 million defending its three anti-immigrant ordinances.

Federal courts pull no punches on anti-immigrant laws

In another major blow to the anti-immigrant crusade, a federal appeals court blocked an infamous Hazleton, Pennsylvania law that bred copycat bills in several other states. If enforced, the law would have penalized landlords and businesses who rented to or employed undocumented immigrants.

On the same day, the Supreme Court set a date to hear the case against another Arizona law that threatens to penalize businesses for employing undocumented immigrants. The 2007 Legal Arizona Workers Act, which is based on the Hazleton law, is the first anti-immigrant measure to ever come before the Supreme Court—and with good reason, as the law continues to have a devastating impact on scores of undocumented workers.

As I note for Campus Progress, the Arizona law is one of Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s primary tools in his own crusade to rid Maricopa County of unauthorized immigrants. The law contains a provision stipulating that undocumented immigrants who obtain employment with the use of a fake ID are guilty of committing a class 4 felony which, in Arizona, means automatic jail without bail. This has contributed to Arizona’s notoriously high rate of immigration-related prosecutions and deportations.

But, if the Hazleton victory is any indication, the Supreme Court case could mean that undocumented workers in Arizona can look forward to a reprieve from Arpaio’s worksite raids sometime in the near future.

Of course, with elections coming up, immigration hawks aren’t going to give in anytime soon. Yet, with anti-immigrant legislation getting blocked left and right, and the DREAM Act gaining steam among newly-unified reform activists, one has reason to be optimistic.

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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