The 4 million women you can thank for your last meal

From the Restore Fairness blog-

They’re the backbone of our food supply. Their hands sliced the chicken breast we had for lunch. Their sweat brought the fresh tomato to our plates. Their backs bent to pick the lettuce in our salads. They are America’s undocumented workers.

Every day, on farms and factories across America, millions of women work to produce billions of dollars worth of fruit and vegetables that fill our stores and kitchens and nourish our children. At least 6 out of every 10 farm workers in this country are undocumented, and almost all of them live on the fringes of society, earning below minimum wage and facing humiliation, exploitation and sexual assault from their employers on a regular basis.

According to a new report, ‘Injustice on Our Plates,’ published by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the 4.1 million undocumented women living and working in the U.S. are among the lowest paid and most vulnerable members of our society. These women form the backbone of the agricultural system in this country, looking after their families, often working weeks without getting paid, working in unsafe and unsanitary conditions, with little or no recourse to any protection against the indignities they suffer at the workplace. They live in constant fear of being discovered and sent back to their home countries, with the looming threat of being separated from their children, many of whom are American born. It is grossly unfair that while contributing as much as $1.5 billion a year to the Medicare system and $7 billion a year to the Social Security system, undocumented immigrants will never be able to collect benefits upon retirement.

The report was compiled by SPLC researchers who conducted extensive interviews with 150 women from Mexico, Guatemala and other Latin-American countries who are or have been undocumented, and are working in the food industry, picking tomatoes, apples, green beans, lettuce, etc. in places like Arkansas, California, Florida, Iowa, New York and North Carolina. From a CNN article about the report-

Regardless of what sector of the food industry these women worked in, they all reported feeling like they were seen by their employers as disposable workers with no lasting value, to be squeezed of every last drop of sweat and labor before being cast aside.

Interviewed for the report, a woman called Maria reported being paid as little as 45 cents for each 32-pound bucket that she filled with tomatoes, and said that one employer did not allow his workers to go to the bathroom during their work-shifts. Olivia, a 46-year old meatpacker who came to the U.S. from Mexico to run away from her abusive husband and build a better life for herself, told the SPLC the horrific story of how she was raped by one of her supervisors after working a 12-hour shift. When she tried to report the incident to the senior management, her complaints were met with the retort, “What is so bad about that? He left you in one piece, didn’t he?” Despite extreme medical injuries and severe emotional trauma from the attack, Olivia was too scared to report the rape to the police out of fear that her immigrant status would be found out and she would be deported. Like countless women in similar circumstances, she was bound by the desperate need to work in order to look after her daughter and her parents who depended on her, and she had no option but to continue working for the man that beat her unconscious and raped her. The new report tells us that Olivia’s story is not the anomaly, but the norm-

Undocumented immigrant women are, in most cases, virtually powerless to protect themselves against such attacks…Some feel too much shame to report harassment or sexual violence, leaving them extremely vulnerable to exploitation by male co-workers or supervisors…Their abusers use their lack of legal status against them, knowing they are not likely to report sexual harassment or even violent attacks. Because of the many obstacles arrayed against them — fear, poverty, shame, lack of access to legal resources, language barriers, immigration status and cultural pressures — few immigrant women ever come forward to speak out against the wrongs committed against them. Too often, they are forced to compromise their dignity — to endure sexual harassment and exploitation — to obtain a better life and a measure of economic security for themselves and their families.

These women are economic refugees, running away from lives beneath the poverty line, hunger and desperation in their home countries, with the hope of working hard to provide their children with basic amenities like education, health and stability. The fact that such injustice and degradation is suffered by tens of thousands of hard-working women in this country on a regular basis is horrific and shameful on a number of levels. These women, responsible for putting food on our tables, are part of a systemic malady that is only getting worse. This is indicative of the sad irony of a world where high-level trade and capital move across borders with uncanny speed and ease, lining the pockets of nations and people in power, while the hands that build these “globalized” empires are forced to remain circumscribed within their lot, regardless of how unfair a lot it might be.

Deporting all 10.8 million undocumented immigrants would cost the economy over $2.6 trillion over the next ten years, not to mention the huge human rights violations that would occur as a result. Moreover, legalizing undocumented workers would raise the U.S. gross domestic product by $1.5 trillion over a decade. The report stresses the importance of immigration reform that would address these injustices in a way that is comprehensive, while respecting fundamental American values of dignity and justice.

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New challenges and new hopes- immigrant voters hold their own in the elections

From the Restore Fairness blog-

As election fever passes and the nation takes stock, one thing becomes clear – even as Republicans have taken control of the House and Democrats remain strong in the Senate, no one can afford to ignore the immigrant voter.

This election wasn’t about immigration – much of it was dominated by the issue of jobs and the economy. But the issue of immigration, even if it wasn’t front and center, did play a crucial role in winning Senate seats. In California, Meg Whitman’s strong anti-immigrant stance yielded no results, while in Colorado, Senator Michael Bennet received support from Latino voters, and in Nevada, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s positive stance on immigration brought in Latino voters who formed 16% of the entire electorate. In an analysis on the Washington Independent-

“Harry Reid beat out Sharron Angle (R), who ran a campaign that relied heavily on anti-illegal immigration rhetoric, and immigration hawk Tom Tancredo lost the race for Colorado governor… Angle claimed Reid supported a number of policies to help illegal immigrants and seemed to be attempting to capitalize on ethnic fears in ads that showed angry-looking Latino men set to dramatic, if untrue, statements. Tancredo also campaigned largely on immigration policy… Republican Meg Whitman lost to Democrat Jerry Brown. Whitman tried to reach out to Latino voters after her primary, but was hindered by allegations of mistreatment and illegal employment by an undocumented maid who worked for her for almost a decade.”

In a poll conducted by Latino Decisions with the support of National Council of La Raza, SEIU, and America’s Voice, among Latino voters in 8 states, they found that when asked whether the issue of immigration was an important factor in their decision to vote and in their choice of candidate, 60% of Latinos said it was either “the most important” issue or “one of the most important” issues, staying ahead of other important issues like education, taxes, and housing. In Nevada and Arizona, two of the states with the most polarizing immigration debates going on at the moment, sentiments were even stronger. 69% of Latino voters in both Arizona and Nevada said the immigration issue was one of the most important factors in their decision to vote, and who to vote for.  In Arizona, 40% said immigration was the single most important issue in their voting decisions, and 38% in Nevada said the same. Moreover, a high percentage of Latino voters said that their decisions to vote and who to vote for were also motivated by divisive immigration debates, and especially by anti-immigrant and anti-Latino sentiment expressed in the electoral campaigns of candidates like Sharron Angle and Tom Tancredo.

The election results, particularly the Republican take over of the House, will have deep consequences for the future of immigration policy. With Lamar Smith, R-Texas slated to become chairman of the House Judiciary Committee overseeing all immigration issues, and Steve King, R-Iowa heading the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security, and International Law, pressure for “increased border security and enforcement actions targeted at undocumented immigrants in the workplace” will increase. Mr. Smith’s track history around the issue of immigration over the past few years does not yield a pretty picture, with him supporting Arizona-Style Immigration Enforcement, measures to ending birthright citizenship and a push for mandatory E-Verify regulations. And judging by last weeks request by seven Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee asking Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to “detail exactly how much funding” would be needed to “ensure that enforcement of the law occurs consistently for every illegal alien encountered and apprehended”, a strong pushback from Republicans in both the House and Senate would not be surprising.

But instead of running away from ugly bills, we need to confront them. Because looking at 2012, it is clear that no one, Republicans or Democrats, will be able to win an election without the strength of the immigrant voter, and particularly the Latino voter supporting them. Be it in California, Texas, New York, New Jersey, Nevada, this election has shown that in races with the Latino and immigrant vote, one can create victory and show strength.

It’s time to listen and stay fixed on the goal with a clear, progressive call for change that respects due process and fairness for all.

Photo courtesy of www.fronteras.org

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Here's a chance for us to renew our commitment to protect human rights

From the Restore Fairness blog.

This week marks the thirtieth anniversary of the monumental Refugee Protection Act of 1980 marking a historic moment which created a legal status for asylum and a formal process for the resettling of refugees from around the world, affirming that the protection of all victims of persecution is an integral part of U.S. policy. Senator Edward Kennedy, who worked tirelessly for over a decade to secure the passage of this Act ensured an impartial and consistent system of asylum and resettlement for anyone

who is unable or unwilling to return to his country of nationality because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution based on race, religion, nationality, political opinion, or membership in a particular social group.

In the thirty years since the passage of the Refugee Protection Act, the U.S. has granted asylum to over half a million people and has been responsible for the resettlement of nearly two and a half million refugees. But these successes have been undermined by national security measures post 9/11 which have practically shut the resettlement system down, leading to President Obama having to sign a Presidential Determination authorizing the admission of 80,000 refugees in 2010 because of failures in the system.

In November 2009, a Human Rights First report reported that since 2001, over 18,000 refugees have faced delays or been denied asylum because of the USA Patriot Act of 2001 and the Real ID Act of 2005 that labeled them “terrorists”. Following 9/11, these acts expanded the scope of laws defining material support to terrorist activity so that thousands of men, women and children who had faced rebel armies and fought for democracy in their countries were denied asylum even while they had fought for causes supported by the U.S.

But this isn’t the only way the system has faltered. Increasing numbers of asylum seekers are locked into detention for months, sometimes years, while pursuing their asylum case. Like Jean Pierre Kamwa, who fought for democracy in Cameroon and facing severe mental and physical abuse came to seek protection in the United States, only to be locked up for four months in a windowless detention center in New Jersey, until he was granted asylum. But Jean Pierre was lucky because he got pro-bono help from a lawyer. Many are deported because they do not have enough access to information in substandard detention centers and are unable to explain their cases to an immigration judge adequately.

That’s what makes Senator Patrick Leahy’s introduction of the Refugee Protection Act 2010 so momentous. If passed, the legislation would strengthen legal protections for those seeking asylum in the United States and ensure that more people who deserve protection can benefit from it. Co-sponsored by Senators Carl Levin, Richard Durbin and Daniel Akaka, the bill addresses flaws in the current system including ensuring a nation-wide alternatives to detention program, access to counsel, medical care and family visits while in detention. The bill also eliminates the requirement that asylum applicants file a claim within one-year of arrival in the U.S. giving more leeway to those needing protection, protects particularly vulnerable asylum seekers like the LGBT community by ensuring they can pursue a claim even where their persecution is not socially visible, and modifies the material support and terrorism bars in the law.

While the bill rallies up support to pass the Senate, the National Immigrant Justice Center and 30 nongovernmental organizations, think tanks, and academics are filing petitions with the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice requesting similar regulations allowing the release of detained asylum seekers who pose no danger to the community so that these can be implemented on an administrative level as well while the bill is being debated.

The act would go a long way to reaffirm the U.S. commitment to the U.N. Refugee convention and provide a safe haven for the persecuted so call on your senators to support it.

Learn. Share. Act. Go to restorefairness.org

 

 

 

 

Protecting Refugees: an American Commitment and Tradition

 

This week marks the 30th anniversary of the Refugee Act of 1980, a landmark piece of legislation that changed the U.S. approach to refugee protection by creating the legal status of asylum and a formal process for resettling refugees from around the world. It affirmed the U.S. commitment to providing refuge to victims of religious, political and other forms of persecution.

Every day at Human Rights First we see up close the ways in which the Refugee Act makes a difference in the lives of individual refugees. There is no more concrete reflection of the Refugee Act's achievements than seeing refugees and their families find safe haven in the United States.

Watch our video highlighting what this Act meant - including how it helped one of our clients restart his life.

While the last 30 years has seen much progress in protecting refugees fleeing persecution, we also have seen in our work at Human Rights First where the United States has at times faltered in it its commitment - interdicting Haitians at sea without adequate protection safeguards, allowing political preferences to undermine the objectivity of asylum adjudications in the 1980s, and nearly shutting down the resettlement system in the wake of the September 11 attacks.

Particularly in the last fifteen years, a barrage of new laws, policies and legal interpretations have undermined the institution of asylum in the United States and led this country to deny asylum or other protection to victims of persecution. Detention has escalated dramatically, and refugees with well founded fears of persecution are barred from asylum due to a filing deadline that limits access to asylum.

We can do better. Our history as a country of refugees, our tradition as a safe haven and beacon of hope for the persecuted, and our obligations under the UN Refugee Convention and Protocol all tell us we must do better.

Yesterday, on the anniversary of the signing of the act, Human Rights First held a symposiumbringing together policymakers and experts in U.S. refugee and asylum law to discuss how we can overcome the current challenges in the U.S. refugee resettlement and asylum systems. It was an inspiring meeting that gave me hope for future reform.

This week we have seen movement: Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Carl Levin (D-MI), Richard Durbin (D-IL), and Daniel Akaka (D-HI) have introduced the Refugee Protection Act of 2010 (S. 3113), legislation designed to strengthen America's commitment to protecting refugees by repairing many of the most severe problems in the U.S. refugee and asylum systems. Human Rights First commends these Senators for their leadership. You can demonstrate your support for their efforts here.

Millions of Americans are here today because at some point they or their parents - or grandparents - had to flee from oppression or persecution and were either granted asylum or resettled as refugees here in the United States. After reflecting on the last 30 years since this law was passed, we have a lot to be proud of, but there is still a lot of work to be done. Together, we can ensure that our nation lives up to the promise of the Refugee Act.

 

Weekly Diaspora: Protecting Haitian Refugees Through Immigration Reform

By Nezua, Media Consortium Blogger

On Tuesday, the worst earthquake in 200 years struck just off the coast of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, as The Nation reports. Bringing “catastrophic destruction” to the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere, the disaster has spurred relief efforts worldwide. Crises like this are important reminders of how the treatment and protection of refugees must be a part of immigration reform.

Temporary protected status for Haitian refugees

In September of 2009—just one year after Haiti was decimated by four successive hurricanes and tropical storms that affected at least 3 million people—New America Media (NAM) made a prescient call to halt all deportation to Haiti, and grant Haitians temporary protected status (TPS) status in the U.S. “before more Haitians die or are impacted by natural disasters.”

Andrea Nill, writing for NAM’s EthnoBlog, reminds us it was only ten months ago, in March of 2009 that the Obama administration indicated it would “continue deporting undocumented Haitians,” in spite of the critical situation on the ground. Yesterday, Nill argued that not granting Haitian refugees TPS at this point would be “inconsistent with the promises the Obama administration has already made to the people of Haiti.” Later in the day, Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Janet Napolitano responded by stating deportations to Haiti would, indeed, be temporarily halted.

[ED. NOTE: Stay tuned for more coverage of Haiti and relief efforts. The Media Consortium will release a special report compiling our member's coverage of the crisis and ways to help later today.]

Legalize the undocumented; boost the economy

It’s a fortunate confluence of circumstance, when doing the right thing could also help our faltering economy. Jorge Rivas of RaceWire highlights a new study on the beneficial economic effects of legalizing undocumented workers through comprehensive immigration reform. The study came about through a partnership between the Center for American Progress and Dr. Raul Hinojosa-Ojeda, associate professor at the University of California, Los Angeles. The research suggests that legalization would yield $1.5 trillion to the U.S. Gross Domestic Product over a 10-year period, generate billions of dollars in additional tax revenue, increase wages for all levels of workers in the U.S. (the “wage floor”) and create hundreds of thousands of jobs.

Detention center cover up continues

RaceWire also reveals new developments in the horrific tale of corrupt immigration officials “desperate to conceal” multiple incidents of abuse in Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention centers. Violations of law include “covering up evidence of gross mistreatment, undercounting the number of detention deaths, discharging patients right before they die, and major efforts to avoid scrutiny from the news media.” Reportedly, ICE has made great efforts to cover up detention conditions and cruelty. (Video below).

 

‘Draconian’ anti-immigration legislation passed in Mississippi

Rev. Jeremy Tobin of American Forum reports on a piece of “draconian” anti-immigration legislation passed in Mississippi in March of 2008. SB 2988 makes it a felony for an undocumented immigrant to work in the state. The bill includes a waivable fine for employers that cooperate with the prosecution of undocumented workers. SB 2988 oppresses immigrants and weakens the power of organized labor. According to Tobin, one frustrated legislator said that the bill was “making it a crime to work an honest job.”

Tobin calls out various organizations that backed the bill. These groups “started out anti-civil rights” and have since “reinvented themselves to be anti-immigrant rights.” He also notes that a “disturbing” number of Mississippi Democrats voted for SB 2988.

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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