Human rights commission urges U.S. government to stop deportations to Haiti

From the Restore Fairness blog-

Today, in response to an emergency petition filed on January 6, 2011 by six rights groups, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) took a rare step and urged the U.S. government to cease deportations to Haiti immediately for persons with serious illnesses or U.S. family ties. The action follows the first reported death of  Wildrick Guerrier, deported by the U.S. since removals resumed on January 20, 2011.

In its decision, the IACHR expressed concern that “detention centers in Haiti are overcrowded, and the lack of drinking water and adequate sanitation or toilets could facilitate the transmission of cholera, tuberculosis, and other diseases. The deceased, Wildrick Guerrier, 34, who was deported in the last two weeks, exhibited cholera-like symptoms but is believed to have received no medical treatment while in a Haitian police station cell in the midst of a cholera epidemic. A second deported person was reportedly exhibiting cholera-like symptoms and released without medical attention. The IACHR also expressed their apprehension over the deportation of people with immediate family members, even children, in the United States, and of those who did not have any family members in Haiti.

Michelle Karshan, Executive Director of Alternative Chance, a re-entry program for criminal deportees in Haiti, responded:

The IACHR has rightly and courageously come through on the side of life, family and human rights. By resuming the suspension of deportations to Haiti for now, the U.S. can truly demonstrate its commitment to aiding Haiti through this difficult period towards real reconstruction.

Sunita Patel, a Staff Attorney at the Center for Constitutional Rights had a strong message for the Obama administration-

We implore the U.S. Government to follow the IACHR’s instructions…Stop the deportations to stop the deaths. The Obama administration should live up to its promise to abide by human rights obligations and protect the right to life of Haitians in the United States.

The emergency petition, submitted by the University of Miami School of Law Human Rights and Immigration Clinics, the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center (FIAC), the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), Alternative Chance and the Loyola Law Clinic and Center for Social Justice, argued that deporting people at this moment to Haiti, which is still reeling from the devastating January 2010 earthquake and burdened with a massive cholera epidemic, political unrest and street violence, will result in serious human rights violations, including deprivations of the rights to life, family and due process, and freedom from cruel or unusual punishment.

Deportations from the U.S. to Haiti had been halted on humanitarian grounds since the January 12, 2010 earthquake devastated Haiti. Advocates and community members were shocked when, on December 9, 2010, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) unexpectedly announced that it was lifting the ban on deportations to Haiti for individuals with criminal records and would resume deportations in January 2011, just one year after the earthquake. On January 20, 2011, the U.S. resumed deportations to Haiti, deporting an estimated 27 people of Haitian origin, several of whom had not set foot in Haiti since they were young children.

Tell Secretary Napolitano and the Obama Administration that now is not the time to deport Haitians to Haiti. Take action now and urge the Obama administration to take into account the circumstances in Haiti and ensure due process and human rights for all.

Photo courtest of miamiherald.com

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Delayed Justice for Guatemalan mother Encarnacion Bail Romero

From the Restore Fairness blog-

Guest blogger: Michelle Brané, Director, Detention and Asylum Program,Women’s Refugee Commission

In 2007, Encarnación Bail Romero, a young woman from Guatemala, was arrested and detained during an immigration raid at the Missouri poultry processing plant where she worked. The fact that Encarnación was a mother with a baby at home did not matter. She was detained without the opportunity to make care arrangements for her son, Carlos—a U.S. citizen—who was just six months old. While in detention, Encarnación was not allowed to participate in her custody case and consequently, her parental rights were terminated. Carlos was adopted by a couple soon after.

This week, the Missouri Supreme Court decided to send Encarnación Bail Romero’s case back to the lower court for yet another hearing. When I heard this, I couldn’t help but welcome the news with mixed feelings. The fact that the court acknowledged that proper procedures were not followed is a relief; however, the court’s failure to reunite a mother and son and delay justice is a travesty. Encarnación’s son has been with his adoptive parents for over two years now, and has come to know them as his only parents. The more time that is spent in this limbo with a mother separated from her child the more harm is done.

I first met Encarnación in 2009, several years after she was arrested during an immigration raid at the poultry processing plant where she worked. Carlos—a U.S. citizen—was just six months old at the time of the raid. When I spoke with Encarnación I was struck most by not only her heartache, but also the incredible strength she has carried in her fight to reunite with her son. As a mother of two young children myself, hearing stories like Encarnación’s makes my heart stop. What would it feel like to not know if my children were safe, to have them think that I did not want them because I was locked in detention and unable to care for them?

Encarnación told me that while she was in detention, Carlos had a series of caretakers. He was first at her brother’s home and then with her sister before being cared for by a local couple who offered to babysit. She was approached and asked to allow her son to be adopted but she refused, asking instead that her son be placed in foster care until she could care for him herself.

Encarnación was then swept up in a series of events that ultimately led to the unjust termination of her parental rights. She was given information about her custody case in English—a language she does not understand. Her lawyer was hired by her son’s future adoptive parents, demonstrating a clear conflict of interest. And, despite Encarnación’s clear desire to be reunited with her son, a court found her to have abandoned him. Her parental rights were terminated, and Carlos was adopted. Encarnación’s case is complicated, involving the failures of multiple systems, but had Encarnación’s right to due process been upheld, none of this would have happened. She would have been able to present her case in court, and Carlos would still be with her.

Perhaps the greatest tragedy in this story is that many other families are suffering this same fate—a fate that could be avoided. Both Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and family courts have the legal obligation to ensure detainees are able to participate in all aspects of their custody and immigration cases. ICE has the authority to release parents from detention so that they can continue to care for their children while undergoing immigration proceedings. And should the outcome of their immigration case order them deported, mothers and fathers have the right—and must be given the opportunity—to either take their children with them or leave them behind in a safe situation.

Releasing parents from detention does not mean weakening immigration enforcement or letting undocumented migrants go free. Parents in immigration custody have an incentive to appear for their hearings and comply with court orders, simply because they do not want to lose their families. And for those who need some sort of supervision, ICE has access to cost-effective alternatives to traditional immigration detention that can be used to ensure parents appear at custody proceedings. It is critical that these alternatives be used in order to protect children from becoming unnecessary collateral damage.

Five million children in the United States have at least one undocumented parent and three million of these children are U.S. citizens. ICE’s failure to utilize these options has the potential to create a generation of lost children who are needlessly denied a relationship with their detained or deported parents. These children are far more likely to live in poverty, struggle in school and face unemployment and homelessness.

The court in Encarnación’s case has recognized the damage done by failing to uphold the 14th amendment, the constitutional right that ensures all persons—including undocumented immigrants—are entitled to due process and equal protection under the law. Encarnación’s case has shown that where due process rights are denied, families suffer. As a nation that prides itself on valuing the sanctity of family unity, we must uphold our commitment to the bond between parent and child, regardless of immigration status.

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Comments on Breakthrough’s I AM THIS LAND give great insight and hope for the future

From the Restore Fairness blog-

Thank you for all your amazing submissions to the I AM THIS LAND contest. The contest is now officially closed for entries but stay tuned as winners will be announced on Feb 1!

While the videos themselves were overwhelming and impressive, we were also amazed at all the viewers who posted engaging and insightful comments. From looking at the production value of entries to discussions on diversity and the editorial content of the submissions, I AM THIS LAND’s comments section is informative, inspiring and encouraging. They are as important as the videos submitted! As one mentioned:

“If we believe the aphorism that “two heads are better than one,” then a multitude of traditions, values, and ideas can only be a tremendous resource as we face the challenges and opportunities of this century.”

Viewers suggested looking beyond the physical appearance of a person, beyond their clothes, the color of their skin and their accents. Many discussed how perceptions are formed, the way we quickly form an idea based on preconceived notions.

“If each one of us were to trade places with another race, culture for a period of time, this world would be more understanding to each other.”

Many left personal anecdotes and stories, and had a platform to express their own emotions. The attempt by some of the filmmakers to break away from the stereotypical portrayal of certain communities and issues of sexuality was applauded by others.

"At first I had tears in my eyes – “Gay, straight, crooked” – but then it was hard not to laugh “Eyes like Bobby” etc. I’m stunned – such a simple, loving, hysterical coming out should be had by any and all who want one. This message will help to make it so. I’m sure of it. Bravo!"

We are proud to have hosted I AM THIS LAND hope these conversations can continue. Check out all entries and feel free to continue write to us with comments and feedback.

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Harsh SB1070 copycat laws on the horizon in 2011

From the Restore Fairness blog-

Following the tragic shooting in Arizona, there has been a call for greater civility and tolerance in the political and public spheres with the hope that a more reasonable path would be favored by all. However, news of  numerous states introducing legislation similar to Arizona’s harsh, anti-immigrant law, SB1070, doesn’t bode well for the new year.

On Tuesday, Mississippi passed and signed  into law SB 2179, a copy cat SB 1070 legislation that allows local law enforcement officers in Mississippi to demand proof of citizenship from drivers whom they have pulled over for traffic violations.

From the Clarion Ledger-

The bill would authorize local law enforcement officers to check a person’s immigration status if “reasonable suspicion” exists that the person may be in the country illegally during any “lawful stop, detention or arrest.

The bill’s chief backer is Sen. Joey Fillingane, a Republican in a chamber that is predominantly Democrat. Reports by the Clarion-Ledger indicate that Fillingane considers SB 2179 an improvement on SB 1070 because, according to him, SB 2179 only allows officers to inquire about a person’s citizenship status as part of a secondary search, once they have already been stopped for a different, ‘primary’ offense, such as a traffic violation. The issue remains, however, that a significant percentage of racial profiling takes place when people are stopped for minor traffic violations, during stops that are at the officer’s discretion, often without accountability on the part of the officer. Further, in addition to the ways in which this law can lead to racial profiling, it is important to note that the legislation will also cost the state additional costs of housing, transportation, and hiring experts.

Following in the footsteps of Mississippi, states like Florida, Iowa, Oregon, Nevada, Georgia, Tennessee and Kentucky are all contemplating Arizona-style immigration laws, with conservative legislatures and governors responding to the lack of federal action on immigration by taking immigration enforcement into their own hands. There are also concerns in Oklahoma, Nebraska and New Mexico, all of which are slated to usher in anti-immigration legislation.

In Virginia a group of House Republicans recently announced plans to put forward at least sixteen bills aimed at undocumented immigrants including bills that would ensure that children without documentation could not attend public schools and colleges. Del. L. Scott Lingamfelter, who is taking the lead on these bills said that state action was called for in such areas where the federal government had “completely failed.” The bills that they unveiled on Tuesday included legislation that would require authorities to check the immigration status of anyone “taken into custody,” and to ensure that the check would apply even to those who were arrested and released on bail or bond before being taken to jail. Virginia already denies driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants and all taxpayer-paid services except those expressly required by law such as education and emergency medical care. The  laws proposed by this group seek to challenge even those by denying public education to children who are undocumented.

When questioned by the Washington Post, David B. Albo said that while this package of anti-immigrant bills was motivated by Arizona’s SB1070 law introduced in 2010, they were of the opinion that the laws they propose were moderate in comparison to SB1070 and hence had a chance at passing where SB1070 did not.

A consideration for lawmakers on laws similar to SB1070 are the costs involved. For example, the Senate Bill 6, Kentucky’s Arizona copy cat law, is estimated to cost the state $40 million a year in expenses.

According to the Lexington Herald Leader:

…..A 2008 study estimated that, if Kentucky successfully removed all of its undocumented immigrants, it would lose $1.7 billion in economic activity, $756.8 million in gross state product, and approximately 12,059 jobs. Meanwhile, Arizona’s Hotel and Lodging Association reported a combined loss of $15 million in lodging revenue due to meeting cancellations just four months after its immigration bill’s passage due to an economic boycott that was waged against the state.

Skeptics of Arizona style immigration laws are also looking at the issue purely from the point of view of business and how such laws are detrimental for the economic prosperity of the state in question. Lawmakers opposing the bills argue that states proposing such legislation are being “fiscally irresponsible.“For example, in just four months after passing SB 1070, Arizona lost an estimated $141 million in visitor spending.

While debates around the politics, efficacy, economics and constitutionality of laws such as SB 1070 continue to rage, it is easy to forget that eventually it is individuals and their families that are most adversely affected by these laws. As more states think of taking immigration enforcement into their own hands, it is important to keep in mind that when we deny due process to some and compromise their civil liberties, we compromise the human rights of all.

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This MLK Day, Arizona moves forward

From the Restore Fairness blog-

In the aftermath of the shootings in Tucson, debates are raging over hate-filled rhetoric in the political sphere. According to Daniel Hernandez, the brave volunteer in Gabriel Zimmerman’s office who helped his boss amidst all the chaos-

“I think a lot of people are realizing that the political discourse has, for years, become completely destructive and more about tearing the other people apart instead of trying to work together to build up the nation and the state.”

Political analysts suggest that, while there are no obvious motives for the attack, the current theme in politics recently might easily give more people like Jared Lee Loughner the inspiration to resort to violence. Others are arguing for stricter gun control, an issue that has picked up momentum since the recent shootings.

As we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day on the 17th of this month, we need to take a minute to sit back and introspect on why we have become a nation whose politics are filled with spewing hatred and fear. Taking a cue from Martin Luther King’s own life, struggles and politics, it is time to look forward and strive for a public discourse that is open and civil. President Obama, in his memorial address at Tucson, has also called for an end to the constant barrage of accusations and hatred against each other by all political actors-

…at a time when we are far too eager to lay the blame for all that ails the world at the feet of those who think differently than we do – it’s important for us to pause for a moment and make sure that we are talking with each other in a way that heals, not a way that wounds.

Instead of starting a blame game, which inevitably leads to more word wars, why not celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day this year with a renewed fervor for civility? In an effort to counter the hatred on the political arena in the country, people have called for organized movements to bring back civility in political and public discourse. The Anti Defamation League has launched ‘Restore Civility,’ a call for a more respectful political debate. Another project to follow is the “History of Hate, Future of Progress” Story Collection Project, started by Alto Arizona, asking people to uncover stories of intolerance, hate speech and violent rhetoric in their own community.

In addition to remembering those we have lost, there is lots to do this Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Celebrate the spirit and courage of the man who continued in his struggles without resorting to political hatred, rancor or anger, despite facing stiff opposition along the way.

Besides the annual MLK Day parades in almost every major city in the country, here is a list of events you can attend to show your support for a more “civilized” public sphere!

Arizona
Those living in the metro Phoenix area can celebrate Martin Luther King and the diversity that is this country by attending the Celebration Festival at the Mesa Arts Center. Come for live entertainment, food booths, medical screenings, a job fair and vendors.

New York
Lets teach our children tolerance, respect and an understanding of diversity and equality. Raising Citizens is a weekend-long Martin Luther King, Jr. Festival at the Children’s Museum. Kids experience discussions of Dr. King’s life and teachings, craft projects, and performances by the world-famous Harlem Gospel Choir.

Washington DC
Student sit-ins, roundtable discussions, drama, and music- at The National Museum of American History’s Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday Family Festival you can be part of an inspirational tribute to the life and work of Dr King.

Los Angeles
Cheer on young volunteers as the City Year Corps Volunteers head to Thomas Edison Middle School to give the school a makeover on Jan. 17. From 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., volunteers will paint rooms, a mural, and landscape, and beautify the campus.

Boston
Boston is celebrating Martin Luther King by hosting a free tribute concert at Faneuil Hall Boston. Join the Boston Mayor’s Office of Arts, Tourism & Special Events, the Museum of African American History and the Boston Youth Symphony Orchestras (BYSO) in remembering a great man, and listen to poet and activist Nikki Giovanni who will deliver the keynote speech.

Chicago
Northwestern’s Chicago Campus will be hosting Eboo Patel, founder and president of the Interfaith Youth Core, for a talk on spiritual symbols and frames of reference for unity in light of what Dr King thought about pluralism.

As Jon Stewart aptly put it:

Wouldn’t it be a shame if we didn’t take this opportunity, and the loss of these incredible people, and the pain that their loved ones are going through right now, wouldn’t it be a shame if we didn’t take that moment to make sure that the world that we are creating now, that will ultimately be shattered again by a moment of lunacy, wouldn’t it be a shame if that world wasn’t better than the one we’d previously lost?

Lets hope for a better tomorrow.

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How is 2011 faring so far? Ethnic studies and the 14th amendment

From the Restore Fairness blog-

At this moment it is very hard to focus on anything but the tragic incident that marked the beginning of this year when a man in Tucson, Arizona opened fire on a public meeting killing 6 people and gravely injuring 14 others last Saturday. While this tragedy cannot be undone, there are a number of issues around which we can hope for some positive developments in 2011.

In Arizona, the first week of 2011 saw all classes in the Tucson Unified School District’s Mexican-American ethnic studies program being declared illegal by the State of Arizona, in accordance with a state law came into effect on January 1st. Tom Horne, Arizona’s newly elected Attorney General, declared the program illegal on account of it allegedly teaching Latino students that are being mistreated, and encouraging the students to become activists for their race. In the capacity of State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Horne had written the law challenging the ethnic studies program last year. The bill, HB 2291, was passed by the State Legislature in April and signed into law by Gov. Jan Brewer in May of 2010. Defending his latest action deeming that the Tucson district’s Mexican-American program was not in compliance with state standards, (while allowing similar programs for black, Asian and Native America students to continue) Horne said that “They teach kids that they are oppressed, that the United States is dominated by a white, racist, imperialist power structure that wants to oppress them.” Under the law, Tucson would stand to lose 10 percent of its state education funds if the classes are not discontinued, amounts to nearly $15 million.

According to Augustine F. Romero, director of student equity in Tucson schools, the debate over the ethnic studies program demonstrates the strong anti-Latino sentiment in the state, and highlights the pressing need for such programs to continue to exist, giving the students a chance to be proud of their heritage. Mr. Romero posed the question in an interview with the New York Times-

Who are the true Americans here — those embracing our inalienable rights or those trying to diminish them?

In an even deeper affront to inalienable American values, on January 5th, a coalition of legislators from over 14 states announced a plan to join together in a state compact and deny citizenship rights to the children of undocumented immigrants. The compact, clearly motivated by anti-immigrant feeling, is designed to challenge the 14th amendment to the U.S. constitution which states that those born in the United States will be considered U.S. citizens, irrespective of race, class or creed. This was closely matched by Rep. Steve King’s introduction of legislation H.R. 140 before the new session of Congress, aimed to take away the citizenship of children born in the U.S. to parents who were undocumented.

The state compact is being led by Senator Russell Pearce of Arizona, the state Senator best known for introducing the controversial and harsh anti-immigrant law, SB1070 in 2010. The legislators that introduced the plan unveiled a plan that seeks to take birthright citizenship, which is a Federal issue, into state hands by establishing state citizenship laws that deny citizenship rights to those born to parents who are undocumented, and then developing a compact between the various states by which the laws are upheld in all those states. The group claims that their model state legislation aims to halt the “misapplication of the 14th amendment,” which they say is sapping taxpayers funds and attracting further immigration to the U.S. Ultimately, the goal of the coordinated state-level strategy is to force the Supreme Court to take up the issue.

The plan is a joint effort of anti-immigration legislators like Russell Pearce and Kansas Secretary of State-elect Kris Kobach, and State Legislators for Legal Immigration, an anti-immigration group of lawmakers which had representatives from Alabama, Arizona, Delaware, Idaho, Indiana, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Texas and Utah. Senator Pearce told the Washington Times-

I’m not stopping until the problem is solved, and clearly the problem is not solved. The cost is destroying this country, and it can no longer be ignored…The 14th Amendment was never intended to be applied to illegal aliens. They [the sponsors] specifically said it didn’t apply to foreigners or aliens. That amendment belongs to the African-Americans of this country. It’s their amendment.

Critics are suggesting that in fact, the proposal is completely unconstitutional and deliberately misunderstands the 14th amendment. By suggesting a two-tiered system of citizenship by which those who are born to parents who are undocumented receive different birth certificates than those who are born in the U.S. to parents who are legal residents, the compact goes against the fundamental values of the constitution. Elizabeth Wydra, writing for Politico, sums it up clearly-

The 14th Amendment, which was drafted and ratified against a backdrop of prejudice against newly freed slaves and various immigrant communities, was added to the Constitution to place the question of who should be a citizen beyond the politics and prejudices of the day. The big idea behind the 14th Amendment is that all people are born equal, and, if born in the United States, are born equal citizens — regardless of color, creed or social status. It is no exaggeration to say that the 14th Amendment is the constitutional embodiment of the Declaration of Independence and lays the foundation for the American Dream. Because of the 14th Amendment, all American citizens are equal and equally American. Whether one’s parents were rich or poor, saint or sinner, an American child will be judged by his or her own deeds.

As long as the Federal government avoids enacting a comprehensive reform of the existing immigration system and dealing with an issue that is in their jurisdiction, restrictionists will continue to introduce laws that threaten the fabric of the United States. At the start of this year, as we hope that Rep. Giffords recovers her health, we must recall the values of equality, dignity and respect that are intrinsic to the strength of this country and remember that when we deny human rights to some, we jeopardize the rights of all.

Photo courtesy of colorlines.com

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State must enact anti-racial profiling laws

From the Restore Fairness blog-

Guest blogger: Azadeh Shahshahani from the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia

When I testified before the Special Joint Committee on Immigration Reform, a committee of 14 Republicans convened to draft legislative proposals for the upcoming legislative session, I reminded them about the continued obligation of Georgia under international human rights law to protect and preserve the human dignity of all people regardless of immigration status.

As documented by the ACLU of Georgia, racial profiling and other human rights violations against immigrants or those perceived to be noncitizens continue in Georgia. In Gwinnett County, many Latinos have been stopped without reasonable suspicion or probable cause by the police in their cars or on the street.

Juan Vasquez, a legal permanent resident who lives in Sugar Hill, reports having been stopped and harassed by police on multiple occasions for no apparent reason. On one occasion, rather than tell Vasquez why he was pulled over, the officers screamed at him for asking questions before releasing him without any citation. Vasquez now avoids certain areas of Sugar Hill where he has come to expect harassment by the police.

Prompt action by the state is necessary to combat racial and ethnic profiling in Gwinnett and Georgia. The Legislature should pass anti-racial profiling legislation to give law enforcement agencies, policymakers and the public the tools necessary to identify and address the problem of racial profiling in the state. Data collection about traffic stops is an important supervisory tool. You can’t manage what you don’t measure. Annual training for law enforcement regarding racial profiling will also help ensure that stops and arrests are undertaken in a fair manner.

The Georgia Legislature should also carefully consider all the proposed bills in the upcoming session to ensure that they are consistent with the Constitution and our international human rights obligations, as reaffirmed by both Republican and Democratic administrations. In February 2008, the Bush administration told the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination that “United States is in profound agreement with the committee that every state must be vigilant in protecting the rights that noncitizens in its territory enjoy, regardless of their immigration status, as a matter of applicable domestic and international law.”

Last month, the U.N. Human Rights Council (HRC) issued a set of recommendations for the U.S. to bring its policies and practices in line with international standards. The recommendations are the result of the first-ever participation by the U.S. in the Universal Periodic Review process, which involves a thorough assessment of a nation’s human rights record. State and local laws, such as Arizona’s SB 1070, that aim to regulate immigration and lead to racial profiling were examined and decried by the Human Rights Council.

One of the recommendations issued by HRC was for the United States to end racial and ethnic profiling by law enforcement, especially with respect to immigration. Harold Koh, the U.S. State Department legal adviser, stated in response to this recommendation that “we will leave no stone unturned in our effort to eliminate racial profiling in law enforcement.”

Georgia legislators should be wary of any measure similar to Arizona’s racial profiling law that would encourage law enforcement to stop people on the street based on how they look, rather than based on individualized suspicion or evidence of criminal activity.

Laws that promise to turn the state into “show me your papers” territory would violate the Constitution and human rights commitments and tarnish Georgia’s reputation as a state welcoming to new immigrants.

Photo courtesy of epier.com

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Bloodshed in Arizona turns spotlight on political landscape of anger and hate

From the Restore Fairness blog-

As Democratic Representative Gabrielle Giffords of Arizona battles for her life after an assassination attempt, the nation is trying to grapple with the violent tragedy that took the lives of 6 and wounded 14 people on Saturday morning, casting a dark shadow on the start of this year. On the morning of January 8th, while U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was meeting with constituents at a ‘Congress on Your Corner’ event at a local shopping center in Tuscon, a gunman opened fire on the gathering. Within seconds, Congresswoman Giffords was shot in the head at point blank range, along with 19 others including Christina Green, a 9-year old girl, Phyllis Schneck, a grandmother from New Jersey and 76-year old Dorwan Stoddard, who lived a mile from the grocery store.

A suspect was apprehended at the scene after two men pinned him to the ground and waited for the police to arrive. The suspect, 22-year old Jared Lee Loughner, has been charged with five federal counts on Sunday, including the attempted assassination of a Member of Congress, and the killing and attempted killings of four other government employees including John M. Roll, the chief federal judge in Arizona, who was killed, Gabriel Zimmerman, a Congressional aide, who was also killed, and Pamela Simon and Ron Barber, Congressional aides who were wounded. Mr. Loughner could face the death penalty if convicted.

Investigators found evidence at Jared Loughner’s residence in Southern Arizona to show that he had planned the attack on Gabrielle Giffords, including an envelope on which the words “I planned ahead,” “My assassination” and “Giffords” were written. In addition to a website linked to his name which contains anti-government writings, Mr. Loughner’s motives for committing the crime remain unclear. In spite of indications that Mr. Loughner is mentally ill, the tragic incident has quickly focused attention on the degree to which a political climate increasingly characterized by hate, fear and vitriolic rhetoric might be complicit in leading to a tragedy of this nature.

In a New York Times editorial written after the Arizona shootings, Paul Krugman refers to an internal report brought out by the Department of Homeland Security in April 2009 that warned of the violence that could accompany the growth of extremist rhetoric that was apparent in the political landscape. The last few years have also seen a growth in the numbers of threats against government officials. In 2010, following the health-care overhaul, Capitol Security officials had said that threats of violence against Congress officials, including death threats, harassment and vandalism, had tripled from the previous year. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, a strong and vocal supporter of heath-care reform had her district office door smashed with a bullet following the health-care vote. Judge John Roll, who was killed on Saturday, had received thousands of threatening messages and phone calls after he had allowed undocumented immigrants to proceed with a case in which a rancher had assaulted 16 Mexicans who had crossed through his land.

While it would be misguided to directly attribute the Loughner’s violent actions to the surge of inflammatory language characterizing politics and media, it is important to understand that there are real consequences to framing political discourse through violent rhetoric. The extent to which hateful and angry rhetoric has made its way into mainstream politics was evident in 2010, during the debate around Arizona’s harsh anti-immigrant law, SB1070, and during the 2010 mid-term elections, where campaign ads openly promoted hate and divisive sentiments. In March 2010, former Alaska governor Sarah Palin announced a target list of Congressional candidates to be defeated in the 2010 midterm election. Launched through her personal profile on Facebook, Palin’s “Don’t get Demoralized. Get Organized. Take Back the 20” campaign was symbolized by a map of the country which had crosshairs over the districts represented by candidates that she wanted defeated. Ms. Giffords, who was among the candidates marked on this map, had expressed her concern about it at the time-

We’re on Sarah Palin’s targeted list. But the thing is the way that she has it depicted has the cross hairs of a gun sight over our district. When people do that, they’ve got to realize there’s consequences to that.

At a press conference about the shootings on Saturday, Pima County Sheriff Clarence W. Dupnik spoke about the “vitriol” that characterized political discourse. Saying that it was time for the country to do a little “soul-searching” he said-

The anger, the hatred, the bigotry that goes on in this country is getting to be outrageous. And unfortunately, Arizona, I think, has become sort of the capital. We have become the mecca for prejudice and bigotry.

There is never an explanation for senseless acts of violence such as this that take the lives of innocent people. While Saturday’s shooting can be seen as an isolated action of a mentally ill individual, it can also be seen as emblematic of a political landscape that is angry, divisive, intolerant and eliminationist. Can this tragic incident become the pivotal turning point towards a more humane and peaceful political discourse?

Photo courtesy of examiner.com

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Looking forward to 11, we hope 2010 goes out with a bang (and a DREAM)!

From the Restore Fairness blog-

In this past year we witnessed many negative events: An all-time record number of deportations with over 400,000 men, women and children deported, most of whom were not guilty of crimes; reports of medical negligence, sexual assault and the denial of due process in detention centers; unfulfilled promises of immigration reform masked by the threat of raids; the introduction of harsh anti-immigrant legislation such as SB1070, mandating racial profiling and fueling anti-immigrant sentiment around the country; the expansion of partnerships between Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and local police with the introduction of programs such as Secure Communities; the “anchor-baby” bill; the list goes on and on.

From anti-immigrant actions and racial profiling to bullying and homophobia; from fear mongering to the extreme, divisive rhetoric of the mid-term elections, it is difficult to look back at 2010 and feel hopeful. In the midst of this, however, it is important to note that these events engendered unprecedented activism, and the mobilization and coming together of diverse communities, resulting in a number of victories in the name of restoring dignity, justice and equality. The rigorous debate over Arizona’s controversial SB1070 law resulted in sports men and women, musicians, artists, politicians, faith leaders, business owners, young people, as well as the Department of Justice and President Obama, taking a stand against a law that was unjust and offensive, and finally deemed unconstitutional. The March for America in Washington D.C. on March 21st saw 200,000 people, workers, LGBT groups, faith-based groups, etc., come out in support of comprehensive immigration reform, and even without the passage of CIR, the momentum built during that time was palpable for months after. Most recently, following a rally against Secure Communities in New York City, a judge ordered ICE to be transparent and release documents related to Secure Communities and the ability for localities to opt-out of the program.

And two weeks before the end of the year, we are just hours away from a Senate vote on the DREAM Act, a legislation that would provide a path to citizenship for young people that came to the U.S. as children, have completed high-school, and want to pursue college or military service. Every year, around 65,000 young, undocumented boys and girls- including honor rolls students and star athletes- graduate high school and then find themselves high and dry, without the chance to pursue their careers. A number of them, like Eric Balderas, find themselves facing deportation with the chance of being sent back to a country they are supposed to call ‘home’ but have no memory of. For David Cho, a senior honors student at UCLA who can’t count on entertaining job offers the way that his friends are, there are not a lot of options. So instead of young, able, bright people like David and Eric following their careers, pursuing their dreams, giving back to the country by supporting the economy and making the most out of the taxpayers money that has paid for the k-12 education, they are busy mobilizing support to ensure that the Senate passes the DREAM Act tomorrow morning.

Since Sen. Reid announced that he would be holding true to his campaign promise and bringing the DREAM Act up for a vote in the Senate as a stand-alone measure, the DREAMers and all the activists who support the passage of the DREAM Act have been working extremely hard to put pressure on Senators to pass the bill. As it stands, the Senate will vote on the version of the bill that that was passed in the House last week, by around 10am tomorrow. In addition to the DREAMers themselves, who have come out of the shadows to tell their individual stories and have mobilized unprecedented support for the movement, the Latino community is seeing this as a pivotal moment. Speaking to the New York Times, Janet Murguía, president of the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) said-

This will be a watershed vote that Latinos will not forget. There is nowhere left to hide, in the minds of Latino voters. There will be members who choose to stand for innocent children and members who do not. This vote will be an indication of who stands for our families and our communities.

As we get closer to the vote, an increasing number of people are speaking up, urging Senators to vote in favor of the bill. Representatives from the Department of Defense, heads of educational institutions, religious leaders, heads of labor organizations and workers unions, officials from the Department of Homeland Security, and hundreds of others have spoken up in support of the bill and why it is crucial to the integrity and prosperity of the country. President Obama himself made calls to Democrat and Republican senators to garner support for the bill.

Currently, the legislation needs 60 Senate votes in order to be end debate, at which point the House-approved version of the bill will be finally voted on, on Sunday. If passed, it will go directly to President Obama for a signature.The momentum that has brought the movement to this point (since the DREAM Act was first introduced almost a decade ago) is solely the result of intense grassroots activism on the part of students. DREAMers and DREAMActivists have worked tirelessly, putting themselves on the line by coming out as undocumented and basically pushing this piece of legislation forward with their cross-country walks, vigils, hunger strikes and their storming of Capitol Hill online and off. But they can’t do it alone. So on the eve of this historic vote, and the eve of the New Year, call your Senators right now and tell them to vote YES on the DREAM Act.

What better way to conclude 2010 than by ensuring that the hard work and courage of the DREAMERs pays off and the DREAM Act passes in the Senate tomorrow morning, less than two weeks before the end of this year.

Pick up the phone, write a letter, and make a wish for the New Year. See you then!

Photo courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

Go to restorefairness.org

 

 

 

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.

Learn. Share. Act. Go to restorefairness.org

 

 

 

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