Wednesday, December 31, 2008

2009 - A Year for Justice - Take Action

Change is in the air.

Our president-elect rode its wave to the White House. In January, we'll welcome a new Congress and a new president who seems to share our values and priorities.

President-elect Obama has expressed a commitment to bring a new energy and spirit that imbues bipartisan collaboration; encourages ideas and policy solutions; addresses the needs of vulnerable members of our society while also helping working and middle-class families improve their economic standing. He has also promised an administration that will listen and promote transparency and the involvement of civic society.

We invite you to take a few minutes to write to President-elect Obama in your own words about the need for humane immigration policy.

Invite President-elect Obama to lead a bipartisan process for humane immigration policy and affirm the value of all family unions. Encourage him to support the quality of life for border dwellers by increasing job opportunities; investing in schools, roads, and other infrastructure; and working for a clean, healthy environment that benefits everyone.

By working together, we can bring about the change we need in immigration policy and the future vitality and viability of immigrant, non-immigrant, and refugee communities.

Thank you for joining AFSC in this call for justice and human rights.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Jingle Bells of Justice for Some Children

After some weather delays and a re-routing of his sleigh , Santa Claus stopped in to visit children at a Texas detention site. Children detained with their families at T. Don Hutto Detention Center in South Texas received presents collected in a toy drive organized by community members, New America Media reports.

Unfortunately, the injustice of detention almost stole Christmas from the children. "We only got to deliver these toys as a result of lots of litigation and many protests" said Luissana Santibanez, an immigrant rights advocate with Grassroots Leadership and one of the toy drive organizers (New America Media). She explained that the toy delivery was allowed because of the community outcry about the horrific conditions in privately-run immigration detention centers for children and families including lack of medical treatment, food with cockroaches, and deaths.

“The fact that we’re able to bring these toys to children is a huge victory.” said Santibanez. "We can’t let them be so cruel to kids; we can’t let them hide this,” she said.

Learn more: Visit to learn how you can take action.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Haiti a Case for Temporary Protected Status

Nature has not been good to the Caribbean island of Haiti. The summer and early fall storms and tropical hurricanes have left an estimated one million homeless; this includes 300,000 children who have been displaced and nearly 1,000 people who have died or are still missing. In a recent statement before the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL) observed, "...It is now more imperative than ever that the United States grant Haitian immigrants Temporary Protective Status (TPS). TPS is the least expensive, most immediate form of humanitarian assistance we can provide Haiti."

Towns have disappeared, family members search for their loved ones, and contact with those who have family members in other parts of the world – including the United States – has been difficult. The island’s most recent devastation comes at a time when Haiti continued abject poverty and a decimated social infrastructure, the ebb and flow of political unrest, and a feeble economic situation.

In the face of this reality, Haitian communities and their allies have moved forward with a call for granting Temporary Protective Status (TPS) to those who have fled the island to the U.S. and are undocumented immigrants or workers.

On October 9th a meeting took place at AFSC’s Miami office to discuss the Caribbean nation’s current conditions and future strategies. A grassroots coalition was formed to share information on how to protect and prevent raids; provide a voice to share Haiti’s current conditions; organize a plan of action; and respond to the concerns to protect the human and civil rights of the nation’s Haitian community.

Paul-Andre Mondesir, AFSC Haitian Community Advocate shares, “AFSC is part of a community coalition and meetings to map out a plan of action, and to help address the urgent needs of community members.” The renewal of TPS for nationals from several Central American and African nations torn apart by strife, war and natural disasters provides an added context for U.S. leaders to consider TPS as a humane response to Haiti’s most recent emergency. While there seems to be a temporary let-up in the detention and deportation of Haitians, there is significant concern that this will not last.

AFSC has had a long-term engagement with the people of Haiti, both in assistance with community empowerment, and development in Haitian communities, and in support of the Haitian Diaspora. This work is grounded in an institutional commitment to reconciliation and justice rooted in Quaker values and practices.

American Friends Immigrant Services (AFIS) Program in Miami will continue its work to support a humane response and to advocate for the designation of temporary protected status for Haitians presently in the United States.

For further information on how you can add your voice to the call for temporary protected status or to support the AFIS partnership with the Haitian community, contact Lucio Perez-Reynoso, director of the AFIS Miami office at or Paul-Andre Mondesir at or at 305-252-6441.

 As a first step: Contact your Congressional leader and urge support for the TPS status for Haitians, The Haitian Protection Act of 2007, H. R. 522. The bill will be reintroduced in the 111th Congress (Since the House has adjourned, this bill will need to be reintroduced in the next session which begins in January). The cosponsors of the bill are Representatives Hastings, Meek and Corrine Brown.

A Taxing Time for Chicago Cab Drivers

Cabdrivers Have Human Rights Too!

“Cabdrivers deserve a fair fare increase...”
Chicago Sun-Times Headline Commentary – 10/3/08

For months now Chicago's United Taxidrivers Community Council (UTCC) has worked to draw attention to the grim work and labor conditions of its members. AFSC’s Chicago office serves as a community ally of UTCC and provides technical assistance and support to this cab-driver led, grassroots organization. Chicago's increased cost of living, the national economic downturn and the daily and weekly expenses of driving a taxi in the city and its surrounding suburbs, have increased the financial hardship faced by the 10,000 taxi workforce.

This past April as fuel costs increased the City Council imposed a $1 gas surcharge. However, the gas surcharge was conditional, only provided temporary relief and was then passed on to passengers and customers. UTCC has noted that the gas surcharge bears no relation to a revision of current fare rates which would provide substantive economic relief. The gas surcharge was recently reduced and gradually eliminated altogether.

In early October the City Council’s Committee on Transportation and Public Way indicated its unwillingness to consider a fare increase for at least another year. UTCC has taken various steps to address this situation including sending a letter to the City Council’s Committee on Transportation and Public Way, urging for their support of a public hearing on the revision of the current fare rates.

Moreover, public opinion and increased media coverage point to support for a fare hike and solidarity with the city's taxidrivers. In a November 2008 letter to Mayor Richard M. Daley, Fayez Khozindar (UTCC board chair)wrote:

“...We have completed and we will be submitting over 1,300 signatures calling for a permanent 16% fare increase, and biennial review of the rates of fare thereafter. According to our statistics, cabdrivers are driving an average shift of 12 hours and 20 minutes, and earning a mere $5.77 an hour. Please consider that in the city of Chicago, birthplace of the 8-hour-day, many cabdrivers are working 14 hours a day.

We will do what it takes to catalyze the reforms that we need, but we wish to keep the city running smoothly. We are ready to strike, if our request for productive dialogue is not reciprocated -- but we hope that we will be offered a seat at the table, instead of being excluded from decision-making in matters that affect us, as in the past.”

UTCC also seeks a moratorium on the issuance of new city medallions, and an ongoing dialogue with the Department of Consumer Services and city officials to improve the industry’s labor conditions.

For further information on the AFSC and UTCC partnership contact Prateek Sampat at or at 312-427-2533.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Friendship Park Featured in NYT

A recent New York Times article focuses on the new fencing plans to divide Friendship Park in California. Representative Bob Filner (D-CA) has urged the Department of Homeland Security not to build the fencing in the park, the Times reports. "It’s harmful to the kind of family culture we have at the border," said Rep. Filner.

"We have a friendly country at the border. We have family ties across the border. It is one place, certainly in San Diego, where we talk about friendship at the border,” Filner said.

Please join us in reaffirming the park's mission and calling for a more sensible and humane immigration policy. Contact your Congressperson today. Urge them to "Save Friendship Park."

Thank you for your adding your voice of support for the public park and the basic rights and dignity of all.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Bringing Peace Home

When AFSC staff members in Dayton, Ohio found that their next door neighbors needed help they responded immediately. Who were their neighbors? A family originally from Burundi forced to flee their home due to conflict. This month's issue of Quaker Action focuses on AFSC's work to advocate for the rights of African refugees and bring a community together in difficult times.

Photo Credit: Kinyanjui Migwe (Community Festival for refugee families on World Refugee Day)

AFSC responds to a refugee resettlement crisis in Dayton, Ohio

by Karen Light

This past January, rumors were circulating that the boarded-up house adjacent to the AFSC-Dayton office was being occupied by immigrants. Staff, however, saw no signs of life until the beginning of spring when Migwe Kimemia, the Peace & Immigration Program Director, spotted children playing outside.

Migwe spoke with them in Swahili and learned that the rumors were true: a family of African refugees, including nine children, was, in fact, living there. The stove was broken and there was a gas leak. They were in this dangerous situation because they felt powerless and didn’t know their rights.

“It was shocking for me to discover that a government-funded refugee resettlement program can debase human rights and dignity before my own eyes!” Migwe says.

Grim circumstances

As Migwe learned more, he came to realize that this was a widespread problem. Prior to being resettled, many of these African refugees, originally from Burundi, had been raising families and growing up in Tanzanian refugee camps since 1972 where they had no access to basic education. They were then moved to Dayton where they were supposed to secure work and enroll their children in English-speaking schools upon arrival. Hundreds of other refugees from Liberia, Rwanda, and Sudan had already been resettled in Dayton by the same U.S. resettlement program.

Under the U.S. refugee resettlement policy, refugees have a mere eight months to become self-sufficient, after which all aid is withdrawn. With no skills and little guidance on how to navigate the system, these refugees find themselves dropping out of school, in homeless shelters, or under the grip of slum landlords, jobless, destitute, scared, and isolated.

AFSC-Dayton is working to change this by connecting the refugees with one another and helping them create a community.

> Read the full article in Quaker Action.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

What Financial Crisis? Not at the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration Unit

FY ’09 budget showers more funds to support an antiquated system

No deals, austerity, belt-tightening and accountability have been some of the words heard in the Congressional corridors and the White House as national leaders hear from their frustrated constituents. In the case of the Department of Homeland Security’s Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) unit, public spending doesn't appear to be a concern.

In fact, this past Tuesday Congress passed a Continuing Resolution which while keeping other government agencies in operation -- at least through March 6th -- provides the Department of Homeland Security a $39.98 billion budget for the 2009 fiscal year.

A cursory review of the Department's budget shows expenditures that continue the White House's relentless campaign of sweeping raids, detentions and deportations. The slowdown in the nation’s construction industry has had no impact on DHS. Indeed, DHS will continue its southern border buildup by constructing fences, adding personnel and the ongoing makeover of the Mexico-U.S. border into a militarized and hostile spread of land.

Moreover, in an attempt to respond to news reports, media coverage and a public outcry about the treatment and deaths of detainees while held in ICE custody, a small sliver of the bill places contractors squarely responsible if they fail to comply with the Department’s "detention standards." In this case, contractors may have their contracts canceled. Monitoring of the medical care of detainees will also be done by independent experts.

Detain and deport, a band-aid solution that won’t work

Yet, there is little – if any – interest in the promotion of fundamental policy shifts or in addressing the geopolitical and economic realities that propel a steady stream of immigration to the United States. A summary review of the DHS FY ’09 budget indicates:

  • 4,361 new hires at Customs and Border Protection
  • $775 million for border fencing
  • An increase in the ICE budget to nearly $5 billion (this is an increase of $254 million)
  • An additional 1400 detention beds

"This budget does not address the existing backlog of applicants, efforts to integrate immigrants or defend the labor rights of exploited and abused immigrant workers, instead it further criminalizes workers," concludes Gabriel Camacho, AFSC regional organizer in Boston. He has been working with communities throughout Massachusetts to train community members in what to do in case of a raid, and how to protect their constitutional and human rights.

Amy Gottlieb, director of AFSC’s Immigrant Rights Program (Newark, NJ) comments, “This windfall for the Department of Homeland Security allows ICE to send fugitive teams into immigrant neighborhoods and worksites, creating havoc in entire communities that are already living on the edge, feel the daily tension and where residents are fearful of even walking out their front door. These are communities in which children ask their parents, ‘Are we next?’ What can a parent say to a child? We don't need increased force and might."

Funds also will be used to support enforcement-only programs. Specifically, states will be provided funds for the implementation of the Real ID Act ($50 million), and the participation of local and state police in the 287(g) program ($5.4 million). Public dollars to the tune of $2.4 billion will go to the Office of Detention and Removal and the short-term approval of $100 million for the E-verify program. The E-verify program targets employers and requires them to ‘verify’ the employment documentation of their workers.

However, research has shown that the E-verify system is terribly flawed and inaccurate, and has also led to other problems, including the racial profiling of workers and other reported abuses. "Warehousing people in detention centers may be profitable for private industries but it also separates family members, disrupts the quality of life of entire communities, and the social fabric that imbues economic vitality. An outdated system requires fair and humane policy remedies, and taking corrective measures to address what is now obviously not working," concurs Gottlieb.

Spirit of Hope prevails despite spending spree and election year dance

Once again the opportunity to move toward substantive and humane immigration polices has been thwarted. It will take forceful public pressure for legislators to continue the public policy discussion, and to engage in a bipartisan effort that brings the present immigration system into the 21st century.

In spite of this climate, community-based organizations, nonprofits, non-governmental organizations, faith institutions, labor, neighborhood clubs and mutual aid societies, and grassroots leaders continue their work of supporting and training immigrant and refugee communities on constitutional rights, due process and civil liberties. Actions range from visits, calls and letters to legislators, to support and emergency assistance to families who have been impacted by raids, detention or the deportation of loved ones. In addition, several national organizations have undertaken public education campaigns to increase public awareness and challenge the anti-immigrant climate, and to mobilize for long-term, constructive and fair immigration policies.

Alice Perry, AFSC staff member in Portland, Oregon opines, “Our communities are not going to give up. Many of these men and women have sacrificed their lives to be here, to work here, to rear their children here, and to contribute what they can in their new country, now their new home. They are parents, neighbors, homeowners, taxpayers, and more. Their deep-rooted sense of justice and relentless hope continues to prevail over the hatred and disparagement they have experienced. AFSC's role is to affirm this spirit, promote dialogue, support family members and encourage humane changes to obsolete laws that no longer make sense and are impractical."

Friday, October 03, 2008

Extension of Benefits a Temporary Lifeline for Refugees

After years of public advocacy and testimonies, letter writing campaigns, and visits to elected officials, "refugees and other humanitarian immigrants" will now be able to receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits for at least two additional years.

The SSI Extension for Elderly and Disabled Refugees Act is effective October 1, 2008 and impacts humanitarian immigrants, refugees and others whose SSI was cut off or who were denied SSI due to the expiration of the allotted time period. Moreover, the law provides for a third year of benefits for humanitarian immigrants who have a naturalization application pending at the end of the two-year extension.

Humanitarian refugees include refugees, asylees, persons granted withholding of deportation or removal, Cuban and Haitian Entrants, Amerasians, and victims of trafficking in persons; they are one of the few groups eligible to receive SSI.

Ruben Chandrasekar, AFSC's Project Voice regional organizer in Baltimore shares, "I am particularly happy for the refugee families we have been supporting for the past years who had their SSI terminated but who never stopped struggling for a fair change and process.

One family member was also part of a class action that secured some relief for a group of humanitarian immigrants who were cut off from SSI while waiting for their citizenship applications to be processed. He was affected by the 7-year time limit but last year testified in DC – along with other AFSC Project Voice constituents. I had the good fortune of speaking with the family today.
They are quite happy that they will be able to avail themselves of SSI benefits which will help improve their quality of life as they settle into their new country. They are ready to continue advocacy efforts so that time limits for receiving SSI for humanitarian immigrants and refugees are eliminated."
Under a sunset provision in the new law the extensions of SSI eligibility expire in 2011. SSI is often the primary source of income for poor and low-income seniors and persons with disabilities. Congress placed time limits as an incentive to encourage humanitarian immigrants to move quickly and seek naturalization; however, the naturalization application process has experienced troubling delays and lengthy waits (years) for lawful permanent residency -- the prerequisite for the submission of a naturalization/citizenship application.

Still, advocacy groups continue to press for flexibility and consideration of extenuating factors. In a recent commentary, the National Immigration Law Center (NILC) noted, "While the new law will help many very vulnerable immigrants, advocates will continue to seek legislation that repeals the time limits altogether. Naturalization is unattainable for persons who cannot pass the citizenship test because of their age, disability or other factors. The United States has invited refugees to come, and has offered safe haven to other humanitarian immigrants. Our laws do not force indigent seniors or persons with disabilities who are citizens into destitution at the end of an arbitrary time period."

Individuals who have lost their SSI benefits due to the imposed time limits should contact the Social Security Administration beginning October 10, 2008 as they are still establishing policy guidelines for implementing the new law. Requests to extend SSI benefits can be facilitated by visiting the local SSA office or by calling 1-800-772-1213.

> Click here for a fact sheet on the SSI Extension (NILC).

AFSC will continue to work with partners in the nation's refugee community and urge legislators to rescind the current time limits and to keep in mind age, disability, the mental health and environmental factors that have impacted refugees in their journey for a safe haven and a new home.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Local Victory in Florida

By Lucio Perez-Reynozo
AFSC – Miami, Florida

In times of difficulty, in times of persecution of millions of undocumented individuals and families, a sign of relief for a few day labor workers is in place.

The City of Lake Worth (Palm Beach County, Florida) has approved a Resource Center for daily workers in spite of opposition. Read more on the city’s decision in this Palm Beach Post article.

The City of Lake Worth is a small city with a significant Maya population that has embraced the City as its own. Maya people began to settle in Lake Worth during the middle of the 1980s at the time when thousands of people fled Guatemala because of mass killings and genocide.

The people bring with them a culture that has been in existence for thousands of years, including different languages. Most of those who have settled in the city speak Kanjobal and Mam.

Hopefully, the Resource Center will be an educational center for everyone who wants to learn, including those who opposed its development.

Link: AFSC-Miami

Friday, September 12, 2008

AFSC Among Top Immigrants' Rights Blogs

The American Friend Service Committee's blog on immigrants' rights ranks #6 in About.Com's Top 10 Blogs on Immigrants Rights.

"Like the Quaker tradition as a whole, it speaks with a conviction that transcends all ephemeral partisanship with a dignified honesty that can never become irrelevant," writes Tom Head of

> Read About.Com's Top 10 Immigrants' Rights Blogs list here.

Welcome to the New Link

Thank you for your readership of AFSC's blog on immigrants rights and your patience during the website construction. Please update your bookmarks with the new link:

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

PBS Video on Border Fence

The PBS program NOW focuses on the border fence in this new video. . NOW traveled to Texas to meet families on the U.S.-Mexico border who fear losing their property, their safety, and their way of life. You can take action by sending a letter to your member of Congress to call for a more sensible, effective and humane immigration policy.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Calls for Community Understanding after Beating and Death of Local Resident

July 12 started out as a 'normal' day in Shenandoah, Pennsylvania. By the end of the day, however, Luis Ramirez (25), father of two and an undocumented immigrant had been brutally beaten and sustained head and body injuries that two days later led to his death. Ramirez worked in a local factory and also picked crops.

Shenandoah, a small hamlet of an estimated 5,600 residents is located 105 miles from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Shenandoah was once a thriving mining town.Today, however, it is a shadow of what it once was, as the mines closed and the population decreased.

Shenandoah's residents still reflect the earlier patterns of migration to the town; Greeks, Irish, Italians and Lithuanians are visible participants in the town's cultural, political and social fabric. Over the last two decades Latinos have also settled in the town.

The death of Luis Ramirez has brought to the surface some of the fear and unspoken tensions in a once-thriving town now grappling with limited economic opportunities, changing demographics, and little communication between its diverse communities.(New York Times).

Local officials have filed charges against four teenagers that include homicide, ethnic intimidation, aggravated assault and several other offenses. The FBI and the U.S. Department of Justice recently announced that they will also conduct investigations into this matter.

In the meantime, several actions have been taken to begin the healing process in Shenandoah. Recent actions included a press conference and a peaceful candlelight vigil. City leaders including the mayor attended the vigil as did many of Shenandoah's non-Latino and Latino residents. A service for healing and connecting community was held at the First United Methodist Church on August 10th. Additional actions to promote dialogue and community are also being considered.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Help Save Friendship Park

Updated August 14, 2008

As I write, a public park that represents the international friendship between the U.S. and Mexico is being divided and walled off by the Department of Homeland Security. Please join us in reaffirming the park's mission and calling for a more sensible and humane immigration policy.

For generations, friends and families from San Diego and Tijuana have gathered peacefully in Friendship Park at the edge of the Pacific Ocean. Now Border Patrol agents threaten this tradition by questioning and detaining people who visit this special public space.

The struggle to save the park is a troubling symbol of the failures in the U.S. immigration policy. The U.S. doesn't need more fences built or immigrants rounded up, detained and often summarily deported. Those punitive measures don't 'solve' our immigration concerns. Instead, what we need is a workable system that provides a fair path to permanent residency and keeps families together.

The park is not just being damaged symbolically. The extra fences being installed disrupt the quality of life of border communities and damage the delicate coastal ecosystem.

Please join us in contacting your Congressperson today. Urge them to "Save Friendship Park."

Thank you for your adding your voice of support for the public park and the basic rights and dignity of all.

AFSC Human Rights Advocate Released

At 10:00 pm on August 5th 2008 the Department of Homeland Security's U.S. Customs and Border Protection (Border Patrol) released AFSC staff member, Christian Ramirez after nearly 6 hours of unjustified detention and without any charges against him. He was told of the many people who called from throughout the country urging that Imperial Beach Border Patrol Station officials to release him. The American Friends Service Committee thanks all who supported and ensured the release of Christian Ramirez and takes this opportunity to share his letter with you:

"Dear Friends and Colleagues,

I am truly moved by the outpouring of support. Thank you so much for the many emails and calls. I am also grateful for the outstanding effort of my friends and colleagues in San Diego; without their coordination, I will still be detained.

There are many things I want to say, I was detained and then arrested for visiting a park where north meets south and the Pacific crashes against the land, a park that I have visited all of my life. I was detained and arrested for bearing witness to the ongoing destruction of that park, for a triple fence will bypass the last place where families can still come together, and see each other through the wall of death that separates our families and communities.

I was able to capture on video most of the incident. My camera, video, and cell phone were all returned. I was detained for two hours at the park and for four (under arrest) at a Border Patrol Station. I spent the four hours in a cell of about 6 feet wide by 8 feet long. I was released as a result of all of your calls.

Just last Sunday, communities from Tijuana and San Diego came together at the park for an ecumenical gathering. Hundreds of people attended on both sides of the border, including my family. On the Tijuana side, my grandmother sat on a lawn chair flanked by my aunts, uncles laughed, we smiled, we sang together and for that moment the 10 foot wall between us disappeared.

After the event ended, we said our goodbyes; I stretched my fingers through the fence and touched my grandmother's fingers, the only parts of our bodies' small enough to cross through. It was only at that moment the wall reappeared with its entire monstrosity.

This special space has been known as Friendship Park. In my mind and the mind of many here in the San Diego-Tijuana border region, a high wall or other barriers will never take our friendship away, and most certainly not our dignity.

Join us as we endeavor to ensure that Friendship Park can be a space for friendship, family gatherings and the peaceful co-existence of two communities. Greetings and again my deepest thanks to the many colleagues friends, family and faith voices who took action for my release.

Desde la herida abierta - la frontera (From the open wound - the border)

Su humilde servidor, Christian Ramirez"

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Reflections on My Trip to Postville

Guest post by Rabbi Laurie Zimmerman of Madison, Wisconsin

I was standing next to a long table full of neatly arranged trays of cookies when I felt a light tap on my shoulder. I turned around and saw a woman with white hair smiling kindly at me. Noticing my kippah she offered, "The kosher cookies are over here." After finishing our march through the tiny town of Postville, Iowa, the hospitality committee of St. Bridget's Catholic Church was waiting for us, eager to show their appreciation that we had come. (Photo Credits: Rabbi Laurie Zimmerman)

Interfaith March Joins Over 1,000 People

It was an extraordinary experience to march through Postville, a town of 2,200 people. The afternoon began with an interfaith service with hundreds of people packed into the tiny church. We read liturgy of courage, hope, and love together both in English and Spanish, and we sang a beautiful rendition of Hinei mah tov in unison - indeed, how great it was that we were all sitting there together.

We were quite a diverse group of over 1,000 people. The march, organized by Jewish Community Action of Minneapolis, Jewish Council on Urban Affairs of Chicago, and our host, St. Bridget's Catholic Church, drew a fascinating crowd. As we walked through the neighborhoods, Postville residents sat on porch stoops or lawn chairs watching us as we marched by. They seemed to be fascinated by us - after all, such a march had never happened in this town.

When we arrived at Agriprocessors, a rabbi, speaking through the loud-speaker, explained a piece of Talmud which prohibits employers from oppressing their workers. We passed a park where we heard more speeches and a poem by children. We then walked into the center of town where we were confronted by a small, angry group of counter-protestors who did not seem to be from Postville. One sign read, "Pack their sack and send them back." A line of police officers separated us.

Community Reflects on "Disaster" of Raids

I walked for some time with an older couple who lived ten miles outside of Postville. They kept repeating the word disaster - the raid was a disaster, the working conditions at the plant were a disaster, the plight of the children separated from their parents was a disaster, the deportations were a disaster. They were members of St. Bridget's. I asked what people in the church thought of all of this. They answered, "The church just doesn't like to see families separated. It's just not right."

Iowan Hospitality

A downpour interrupted the last of the speeches outside of St. Bridget's. We all piled into the church - with a spread of cookies waiting for us. Throughout the day I had wondered what the folks at St. Bridget's thought of so many Jews converging on their town. Did they understand that we also shared so many things in common? The kosher cookies seemed to say it all. I thanked one of the women on the hospitality committee. She responded, "We are so happy to have you." "But serving 1,000 people cookies?" I asked. "We're Iowans. This is what we do."


For information on the May 12 Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raid in Postville and AFSC's involvement, click here and find out how you can help.

  • To read "Interpreting after the Largest ICE Raid in US History: A Personal Account," by Erik Camayd-Freixas, Ph.D., click here (PDF, 104Kb).
  • To read an article by Sandra Sanchez of AFSC Des Moines about the ICE raid on immigrant workers in Postville, click here.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

A Divided Friendship

The Department of Homeland Security plans to erect a triple fence across Friendship Park in San Diego, California where the international boundary meets the Pacific Ocean. Friends and families from San Diego and Tijuana have gathered for generations at this historic meeting place.

In 1971 former first lady Pat Nixon, dedicated a monument to friendship in the park, which sits on the border between the US and Mexico. The first fence constructed in the park now cuts the monument in half.

Construction inside the Park begins the first week in August.

Faith Communities to Hold Gathering to Save Friendship Park

To express opposition to the proposed construction, and the increased fencing along the U.S. border overriding environmental laws, local residents will gather at Friendship Park on this coming Sunday, August 3 at 2 p.m.

All faith traditions are welcome at the interfaith gathering. Participants are invited to share in friendship, meditation, prayer and communion. For more information contact Christian Ramirez, AFSC San Diego, or the AFSC San Diego office at 619-233-4114.

The University of California San Diego Department of Communications has produced a timely video overview of the threat to Border Field State Park. To watch the video click here.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

REST IN PEACE: Farm Workers Die in Scorching Heat

State Monitoring an Urgent Need

"Last week I talked to a farm worker picking nectarines. I asked him what precautions his employer was taking, and he said that other than being told to drink water and seek shade -- if it got too hot -- there was nothing else.

There have not been employee meetings to keep reminding people of the deadly potential. Also, employees are intimidated, thinking that if they take time off to cool down they will be fired, and that's not something to look forward to..."
- Graciela Martinez -AFSC area staff (Visalia, California)

For California's farm workers, keeping track of the weather conditions and the blazing heat is increasingly a matter of daily survival. The physically grueling and backbreaking work that exposes farm workers to the unbearable heat is increasingly a matter of life -- or death.

While some media attention has been drawn to the tragedies in California, farm workers in vineyards and agricultural fields throughout the nation also face similar weather conditions.

Sadly, California is a disturbing reminder of what can happen when basic labor and worker rights are not vigorously monitored or implemented.

Since mid-May four persons have succumbed to the incessant heat and unrelenting weather conditions. In each instance s/he indicated not feeling well. In several of these deaths, body temperatures exceeded 105 degrees:

May 13: Maria Isabel Vasquez Jimenez (17), pregnant, died while laboring in Stockton area grapevines. Her core temperature was 108.

June 20: Jose Macarena Hernandez (64), died while harvesting butternut squash in Santa Maria. He died during one of the state's record-breaking heat days.

July 8: Abdon Felix Garcia (42), father of three, died after a day of labor in Arvin-based vineyards.

July 9: Ramiro Carrillo Rodriguez (48), died after a day of work in Reedley. He leaves behind two teen-agers, ages (13) and (16).

According to Graciela Martinez, "These tragic deaths can be avoided with proper information and vigilance, by working with the employers, or with the farm labor contractors to make sure rest time and water is provided at all times, especially during the hottest parts of the year."


Send the Governor an e-mail: OR

Call the Governor's office: 916-445-2841 OR

Send the Governor a fax: 916-558-3160 OR

1. Request that he act now to prevent any future deaths or tragedies.

2. Urge him to add real "muscle" to the state's heat regulations (which he signed in 2006), and make sure that there are sufficient state inspectors to monitor compliance by agricultural employers and farm labor contractors.

3. Let him know that you will continue to monitor this situation until visible improvements are made and farm worker labor rights are fully protected.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Maryland Raid Dampens Spirit of Celebration and Freedom

"When will our consciences grow so tender that we will act to prevent human misery rather than avenge it?" - Eleanor Roosevelt

The past week included parades, fireworks and picnics celebrating the values of freedom, and national pride. Families and friends held backyard cookouts, picnics, concerts, reunions and swimming pool parties. Many enjoyed the food, fireworks, laughter and mirth as they celebrated the nation's 222nd year of independence.

For some families, however, the week was riddled with fear, worry and uncertainty. On Monday, June 30, approximately 46 workers were detained in Annapolis, Maryland through a joint enforcement effort between the Anne Arundel County Police and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Detainees included 10 women.

Since the raid's occurrence AFSC's Baltimore Project Voice staff has participated in efforts undertaken with local partners such as the Maryland Raid Response Network. The Network has collected information regarding the raid and taken steps to provide support to families affected by this crisis. This effort also has included the participation of advocates, community groups and attorneys. In several cases the detained immigrant is the primary family wage earner. This means that family members (including children), will now need financial assistance or social services support to pay their rent, purchase food or secure legal representation for their loved one who has been detained.

According to Ruben Chandrasekar, AFSC's Project Voice regional organizer, "We are planning to meet with affected collect more information, offer support and connect them to lneeded resources and assistance." AFSC staff also has supported several public actions drawing attention to the raid and its impact. Local efforts have included the establishment of a hotline for affected family members and witnesses to the raid, and a July 1st press conference denouncing the raid was also held.

For more information or to support the work undertaken by AFSC's Maryland-based immigrant rights program, please contact Ruben Chandrasekar at 410-323-7262 or at

Read On: Postville, Iowa Raid Sows Fear and Uncertainty

On May 12, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), together with the U.S. Iowa Northern District Attorney, carried out the largest single-site immigration raid in U.S. history. The raid at Agriprocessors, Inc., in Postville, Iowa, resulted in the detention of 389 women, men, and minors.

AFSC and partner groups responded quickly to help detainees and their families, but fear and uncertainty continue to grip immigrants in the area. Visit the AFSC website for more information on the Iowa raid and how you can support Postville's immigrant and non-immigrant communities as they jointly respond to the raid's aftermath. Learn more about the Postville situation, visit http://www/afsc/org/central/ia/PostvilleRaid.html.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Europe's New Immigration Plan Troubles World Leaders

Brianna Almaguer Sandoval
Human Migration and Mobility/Project Voice Policy Graduate Intern

The United States has a checkered history of immigration policies which has tried to deter and subsequently led to the deportation and separation of undocumented immigrant families or workers. European countries are now beginning to experience high levels of undocumented or "irregular" immigrants and as a result have undertaken efforts to establish a European immigration system. These new policies have troubled human rights advocates and disturbed world leaders - including Latin American leaders - who have expressed their opposition, and pledge to take action if the new policies are enacted.

European Pact on Immigration and Asylum

On July 1st, French President Nicolas Sarkozy became president of the European Union (EU). President Sarkozy has made immigration one of his top priorities stating that he does not want "a closed Europe...but nor do we want a Europe that stands by powerless before the unchecked waves of immigration." The "European Pact on Immigration and Asylum" has developed principles to help the 27-nation bloc EU manage migration, fight undocumented immigration and help development in developing nations, or those from which people are leaving or traveling through to get to Europe (Agence Franc-Presse). European Union ministers met in Cannes, France on July 7 to reach an agreement on the creation of an EU-wide immigration system. President Sarkozy hopes to have a plan formally adopted in October. Most of the EU member nations have accepted the proposed pact's broad outline.

The European Commission estimates that there are between 6 and 8 million undocumented immigrants within the EU (Times of Malta). While many European countries wish to increase border security, this must be balanced with their need for skilled immigrant and seasonal workers as their populations decline, and as their aging populations leave the workforce (Gulf Times). One of the main components of the pact is that legal immigration will be organized based on a state's needs and ability to welcome people (Gulf Times). While member countries of the European Union enjoy free movement between countries in the Schengen passport-free zone, the current discussion calls for increased security on the EU's borders to the outside world. Also, refugees will increasingly be required to apply for asylum status from outside the European Union. In addition, authorities will be allowed to detain undocumented immigrants for up to 18 months and ban them from reentry for up to five years (Times of Malta).

MERCOSUR Condemns Proposed EU Immigration Pact: Latin American Presidents Speak out

On July 1, during a two-day summit in the Argentinean city of Tucuman, Presidents of the Common Market of the South (Mercosur) condemned the immigration pact of the European Union. Mercosur passed a resolution condemning the EU, "We can't be silent about this, we need to take a stand..." said Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez. Chavez also threatened to stop selling oil to European countries if they apply the law. Argentine President Cristina Fernandez said that the measure "takes us back to times of xenophobia that we thought were long behind us." Chile's President Michelle Bachelet stated, "We were very generous with the Europeans who arrived in our land in the last century, and the truth is that it is not fair for our people to get a denigrating treatment." The Mercosur condemnation is seen as a particularly bold public step due to the EU's role as the primary Mercosur funder.

Immigration Pact Seen As Inhumane

CIMADE and the Carnegie Council are two groups voicing concern over the new law. While the EU's motto is "unity in diversity" critics say that "Fortress Europe" is more appropriate. The new refugee law is of particular concern. Human rights advocates have argued that the new pact is focused on security and immigration management, rather than based on the protection of human rights and the principle of refugee protection (Carnegie Council). The Carnegie Council asserts that the asylum laws are shifting responsibility for asylum protection beyond EU borders; the results are disputes over responsibilities, the risk of refoulement, unfair procedures and the erosion of the rights of those seeking refuge.

AFSC Promotes Just and Humane Policies

"We work with all people, the poor and the materially comfortable, the disenfranchised and the powerful in pursuit of justice. We encourage collaboration in social transformation towards a society that recognizes the dignity of each person. We believe that the Spirit can move among all these groups, making great change possible. " - AFSC Mission and Values Statement -

Since its 1917 founding, AFSC has supported domestic and international immigration policies, which respect the human rights of immigrants and refugees. Indeed, AFSC's raison d'etre is in part due to the dire situation many World War I survivors and refugees found after the war.

AFSC stands in strong opposition to policies and actions which disrupt the safe migration of individuals and families who seek to live in peace, and who have universal rights to work, live, and thrive whether in their country of origin or those who have to flee elsewhere due to repression, persecution, or social, political, economic or cultural factors.

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Anti-Immigrant Group Opts for Troubling "Legal" Strategy

By Brianna Almaguer Sandoval
Human Migration and Mobility/Project Voice Policy Graduate Intern

"This is the worst it's been. There is a lot of unfriendliness and disrespect against immigrants, and a lot has been happening quiet...We need big help in this town."- Flor Gonzalez, director of Latin American Coalition (Plainfield, NJ)(New York Daily News)

Located just south of Newark, New Jersey, Plainfield is a city of an estimated 50,000 persons. Some disconcerting signs have recently surfaced in this mid-size town. It would appear that a quiet but palpable tension has been brewing in Plainfield; the tension has been focused on the town's undocumented immigrants.

This month a federal lawsuit challenging a homeowner's right to rent to undocumented immigrants was filed. This should sound familiar; similar lawsuits or municipal ordinances have also been filed in several of towns such as Hazelton (PA), Riverside (NJ), and Escondido, (CA). In Hazleton, a federal judge overturned the town's actions. So what's the twist? This time an anti-immigration legal group has used specific legislation to pursue their actions against immigrants.

The suit was brought by the Federation for American Immigration Reform's Immigration Reform Law Institute (IRLI). The latter is the legal arm of FAIR, an organization that has opposed substantive and humane immigration reform. The suit alleges that Connolly Properties, a property-management company with rental complexes in Northern New Jersey and Allentown, (Pennsylvania), has rented its units to undocumented tenants, which constitutes unlawful harboring. IRLI cites this as a criminal enterprise that encouraged immigration. (Philadelphia Inquirer)

The suit was brought on behalf of a former employee and two tenants. According to Mike Hethmon, a lawyer for IRLI the tenants claim that the buildings they were steered into renting were occupied by undocumented immigrants who were too afraid about their immigration status to complain about the poor housing conditions. Furthermore, Hethmon said that the group decided to take on the case as part of its "attrition through enforcement" strategy or the pushing of undocumented immigrants to leave the country by making it more difficult to live in the U.S.

A Troubling Tactic to Target Undocumented Immigrants

The Immigration Reform Law Institute has opted to use the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO) to target undocumented immigrants. Originally, the law was designed to prosecute organized crime and alleged criminal syndicates. RICO was expanded in 1996 to include immigration related provisions; under RICO the violation of certain provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) meets the definition of racketeering activity.

Anti-Immigration's Golden Tool

Plainfield City Council President Harold Gibson said "I think that the people in Plainfield, in terms of the City Council and the general population...frown on illegal immigration...However, my position is that I don't think we should set ourselves up as an immigration authority in terms of people who come from other countries and work here to better themselves and help their families." (Philadelphia Inquirer)

The suit comes at a time where Plainfield's immigrant community members have suffered from a recent rise in beatings and robberies, police ticketing of day laborers, and raids by federal immigration officials.

Now lawyers who are using RICO in immigration cases argue that RICO should be more broadly interpreted to include those who hire or rent to undocumented immigrants. Donald W. Benson, a lawyer with Little Mendelson has been following the use of RICO in immigration cases states that, "Congress couldn't reach a consensus to reform the immigration laws, states are trying to fill the ga...and local groups are trying to work through local ordinances, so it's just part of a much bigger picture of immigration struggles in the U.S." (North New Jersey News)

AFSC Supports Justice and Dialogue in Plainfield

Backed by a 90-year history working for peace, justice and reconciliation in troubled areas of the world, American Friends Service Committee is a faith-based organization grounded in Quaker beliefs respecting the dignity and worth of every person regardless of their immigration status. AFSC's Project Voice initiative presses for comprehensive immigration reform that does not diminish the civil and human rights of immigrants, refugees or asylees and calls on Plainfield leaders, faith institutions and community residents to enter into a process of dialogue which would lead to a deeper understanding of both immigrant and non-immigrant residents and how both can work to promote harmony, positive growth, and a united future for the all the people of Plainfield..

Related Article: Escondido Housing Ban Threatens Human Rights

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

E-Verify Hits Home

by Daniela Martinez Moreno
AFSC Special Projects Fellow

Representative Maxine Waters (D-CA) expressed concerns about E-Verify: "I question all of these systems," said Representative Waters. "I question whether or not we really know whether or not there is a 0.5 percent error or a 4 percent error in the E-Verify system."

On June 10, the House Judiciary Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security, and International Law Subcommittee held a hearing on the Electronic Employment Verification System, also known as "E-Verify." The system uses information in databases maintained by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Social Security Administration (SSA) to check an individual's employment eligibility.

Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), Chair of the Immigration Subcommittee, expressed concerns about the system's faulty database and the potential effects of making E-Verify mandatory for all employers. The SSA's Office of the Inspector General reports that 4.1 percent of its records contain discrepancies related to name, date of birth, or citizenship status, with 12. 7 million of those records pertaining to individuals born in the United States.

Rep. Lofgren highlighted Traci Hong's story. Hong serves as Rep. Lofgren's Legislative Counsel. When a government agency used E-verity to check Hong's work eligibility, Hong made "six separate trips" to the personnel office and to SSA to prove that she was a naturalized U.S. citizen. Navigating the system proved difficult for Hong, an immigration lawyer. "Others might have given up," said Rep. Lofgren (USA Today).

Half a Percent Goes a Long Way

Although Representative Heath Shuler (D-NC) argued that the error rate in E-Verify is "only 0.5 percent", House members pointed out that a 4.1 percent error rate in the SSA database translates to 17.8 million errors that could affect an employee's work eligibility. Subcommittee members raised questions about Representative Shuler's legislation, the Secure America Through Verification and Enforcement Act (SAVE Act, H.R. 4088), which would mandate the use of E-Verify by all employers.

Proponents of Employment Verification at Odds

Representatives Sam Johnson (R-TX) and Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), cosponsors of the New Employee Verification Act (NEVA, H.R. 5515) were also amongst the list of witnesses questioned by House Immigration Subcommittee members. NEVA mandates the creation of a new Secure Electronic Employment Verification System (SEEVS) that would use the SSA database to verify employment eligibility for U.S. citizens or nationals, and DHS information to verify employment eligibility for non-U.S. citizens.

According to Representative Giffords, "In Arizona, E-Verify is carrying into virtually all other aspects of life. Media outlets report instances of racial profiling and discrimination on the part of employers." Arizona became the first state to mandate the use of E-Verify for all its employers.

However, Representative Maxine Waters (D-CA) expressed concerns that NEVA still mandates the use of the faulty SSA database. "I question all of these systems," said Representative Maxine Waters. "I question whether or not we really know whether or not there is a 0.5 percent error rate, or a 4 percent error rate," Rep. Waters said.

House Members Apprehensive About Potential Discrimination

Representative John Conyers (D-MI), Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, expressed concerns that "for many employers, it will be easier to just not hire employees with 'unusual' names or who appear foreign."

Members of the Immigration Subcommittee are also wary about the potential effects of E-Verify on employer discrimination. A September 2007 evaluation on E-Verify conducted by Westat, a research agency for the U.S. government, revealed that "31 percent of employers reported using E-Verify to verify employment eligibility before the employee's first day of paid work." E-Verify prohibits registered employers from using the program for pre-employment screening of job applications.

Despite Growing Concerns, Administration Moves Ahead with E-Verify

Despite discussions in Congress about the dangers of making E-Verify mandatory for all employers, on June 9 President George Bush amended Executive Order 12989 to mandate the use of the electronic employment verification system for all federal contractors. DHS has designated E-Verify as the electronic employment eligibility verification system that all federal contractors must use to comply with Executive Order 12989.

AFSC is troubled with this development and encourages the public to call for the laying down of E-verify. This proposed 'will have a negative impact on the rights of workers, and civil the liberties and labor rights of immigrants and non-immigrants alike. E-verify do not resolve the realities of a broken immigration system which has not kept pace with global changes, economic shifts or the root causes of migration.

Friday, June 20, 2008

World Refugee Day: A Global Urgency

Today the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) commemorates the eighth annual World Refugee Day. This year's events focus on four major refugee situations: Iraq, Afghanistan, Darfur and Myanmar. According to a survey released by the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, a half million Iraqis fled their country in 2007 (Associated Press).

Support Iraqi Refugees on World Refugee Day

AFSC joins the global community in calling for a humane and united response to the dire situations in these countries and in other regional pockets of the world. Join AFSC in bringing attention to the approximately 5 million Iraqis who fled the violence spurred on by war and occupation.

Please write a letter to the editors of your local newspapers drawing attention to this crisis. Below is a sample letter with tips and links on how to send that letter to the editor of your local paper.

> Is Your Newspaper Covering the Iraqi Refugee Crisis?

> Write a Letter to the Editor

To Learn More

> Volunteer to Help Refugees

> More About AFSC's Work with Iraqi Refugees

> AFSC's Living Beyond Borders Blog

World Refugee Day Events

To find a World Refugee Day event near you visit one of the following the links:

(Photo Credit: AFSC - Iraqi family)

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Guestworkers' Dream of a Better Tomorrow Becomes Exploitation Nightmare

In 2006 Vijay Kumar and Sony Suleka travelled from India to Mississippi with a promise of gainful employment and a better life by labor recruiters in return for $20,000 (Associated Press). The advertisement for welders and pipe fitters to rebuild oil rigs destroyed by Hurricane Katrina read "permanent lifetime settlement in the USA for self and family" (Washington Post). "These workers came to help rebuild the Gulf, and on arrival their nightmare began," said Representative Dennis J. Kucinich (D - OH) this week at a rally in front of the Department of Justice.

According to the facts found in the civil class action lawsuit, filed on behalf of over 500 Indian workers, Signal International, LLC, abused the H-2B visa program in a fraudulent, coercive, and threatening recruitment process that resulted in the grave mistreatment and severe exploitation of the Indian workers.

"When we complained we were told we could be deported," said Shivan Raghavan (Washington Post).

Workers Risk Safety to Bring Traffickers to Justice

In March 2008 the workers escaped from the work camps and reported themselves as survivors of human trafficking to the Department of Justice (DOJ). The workers bravely requested that DOJ investigate the actions that led to their being held in servitude. In addition, they have agreed to cooperate with a federal criminal investigation of Signal International, LLC in order to ensure that their suffering is not repeated.

"We could have disappeared, but we chose to come forward and report the company to the Department of Justice. We sacrificed our ability to work and be with our families for the sake of bringing Signal and its recruiters to justice," the workers said in a collective statement read by Sabulal Vijayan. At the rally, the workers suspended a 29-day hunger strike as they await action from the Department of Justice.

Members of Congress Request DOJ Action

Twenty members of Congress wrote a letter to DOJ requesting a grant of "continued presence" status as trafficking victims under the Trafficking Victims Projection Act (TVPA). This would allow the workers to remain safely in the U.S. without the threat of deportation while the federal government conducts a criminal trafficking investigation.

Congressional members included Senator Bernard Sanders (I-VT), Representatives Neil Abercrombie (D-HI), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Robert Brady (D-PA), John Conyers (D-MI), Gene Green (D-TX), Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), Luis V. Gutierrez (D-IL), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Mike Honda (D-CA), Dennis Kucinich (D-OH), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Jim McDermott (D-WA), Doris Matusi, James Moran (D-VA), Janice Schakowsky (D-IL), Fortney Stark (D-CA) and Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC). (Photo credits: Sara Ibrahim).

AFSC Joins in Call for Workers' Justice

AFSC stands in solidarity with those who suffer the injustice of being stripped of their fundamental rights of liberty, family, livelihood, and fairness.

To Learn More

Visit the New Orlean's Center for Racial Justice website and blog.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Detainee Deaths Push Congress to Act

Today the House Judiciary Committee Immigration Subcommittee will question the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in a hearing about problems with immigrant detainee medical care. "The Department of Homeland Security's denial and delay is leading to death and disability," House Judiciary Committee Chair John Conyers (D-MI) said. "It is time for answers, not excuses," said Conyers (Washington Post).

The hearing follows a series of news reports by the New York Times, Washington Post, 60 Minutes and PBS about immigration detention. Boubacar Bah, a 52-year old tailor from Guinea, detained at the Elizabeth Detention Center, lay unconscious for three days without any official informing his family. His story, reported in the New York Times, brought light to serious concerns about treatment in detention.

From January 2004-November 2007, 66 people died in immigration custody, according to a list obtained by the Times through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request.

Detainee Basic Medical Care Act Introduced

This month House Immigration Subcommittee Chair Zoe Lofgren (D-CA) introduced the Detainee Basic Medical Care Act (HR 5950) to require reporting of detainee deaths to the DHS and Congress and mandate standards of care. "The legislation will help guarantee that minimal standards of care are put in place," said Representative Lofgren. Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) introduced a Senate companion version of the bill (S. 3005).

"Many of those in immigration custody are there for minor violations, many for administrative and paperwork related mistakes. Their detention should not be a death sentence," Lofgren said.

AFSC and Faith-Based Partners Take Action

"Our misguided national fervor to build more jails and incarcerate more individuals, even on the basis of immigration status alone, can only lead to more tragic deaths. We are in grave danger of a nationwide lack of recognition that every individual deserves to be treated with respect. We must reverse this trend before it is too late," wrote Amy Gottlieb, program director, AFSC Immigrant Rights Program in Newark in a letter to the New York Times.

Through its provision of legal services to detainees in New Jersey, leadership development, and support for families of people in detention, AFSC's Newark office has monitored the impact of immigration detention on communities. Members of those communities are bringing their stories to legislators, increasing awareness of the physical, psychological, and social costs of unjust detention.

AFSC has signed onto a national interfaith letter urging members of Congress to support the Detainee Basic Medical Care Act. The letter states, "The faith community is concerned about the government's increasing use of immigration detention and its harmful impact upon children, families and our communities...Our diverse faith backgrounds teach us that every human being must be treated with dignity and respect."

Monday, June 02, 2008

Lost in Translation: Due Process and Constitutional Rights

"There must be amidst all the confusions of the hour a tried and undisturbed remnant of persons who will not become purveyors of coercion and violence, who are ready to stand alone...for the way of peace and love..." - Rufus Jones - (Quaker historian and theologian)

It has now been more than two weeks since the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raid in Postville, Iowa. The massive ICE operation led to the arrest and detention of 390 undocumented immigrants who were employed at a local meatpacking processing plant. But the raid's impact has been felt by both Postville's immigrant and non-immigrant communities.

National media and public attention has heightened concerns about the timing and scope of the raid; concerns about the hasty hearings that took place; the lack of access to legal counsel and due process for those who were detained; the inability of detainees to communicate with their loved ones; and other questionable and troubling ICE actions. The raid, coupled with allegations of labor law violations by the meatpacking plant created a state of chaos and confusion for Postville's immigrant workers and their families.

Aurelio Zamol, brother of one of the detainees shared, "I am willing to pay for my sister's return to Guatemala. We ask pardon to this country's highest authorities. We did not know one needed permission to come here. "

Sandra Sanchez, director of AFSC's immigrant rights program in Des Moines, Iowa asserts, "Aurelio Zamol's situation is similar to that of many detainees. They are Guatemala's indigenous Mayan communities and have limited understanding of the laws in their own country; much less of the layers of this nation's federal and state laws, and that each person has constitutional rights and fair treatment under the nation's judicial system." (Photo Credit: Sign outside of St. Bridget Church Postville, Iowa - courtesy of Sandra Sanchez).

AFSC joins its voice to the many faith-based organizations who continue to urge the White House, designated agencies and officials to immediately:

  • Adhere to policies that ensure fair treatment and respect for the constitutional rights of all detainees, this includes immediate access to legal counsel;
  • Attend to and release those who may have a medical condition or humanitarian needs;
  • Ensure that all detainees to stay in close proximity to their loved ones; and,
  • Work with Congressional leaders to find a fair and bipartisan solution which places the nation's founding principles at the core of future immigration policies and legislation.