Friday, February 29, 2008

Action Alert: STOP the SAVE Act Today

After last year's heated immigration debate that failed to produce new immigration laws, many in Congress are trying to pass enforcement-only measures that will make life worse for immigrant families and all U.S. workers.

The latest is the so-called SAVE (Secure America Through Verification and Enforcement) Act, currently being considered in the House of Representatives.

Please call your Representative today to stop the SAVE Act (H.R. 4088) a deportation-only immigration proposal.

Find your representative's number, find talking points for your call, and tell us about your call on our web site or call the Capitol switchboard at 202-224-3121.

Ask to be connected to your representative's office and tell them:

Please say NO to H.R. 4088! I oppose the SAVE Act. I want humane immigration reform that protects our rights. The SAVE Act (H.R. 4088):

  • Hurts every U.S. worker by using a faulty verification system for all workers, without safeguarding their labor rights and privacy.

  • Increases imprisonment of children by expanding family detention space without addressing concern about the way the government treats those who are already detained, including children and their families.
  • Wastes taxpayer dollars by putting resources toward ineffective border fencing without addressing the root causes of migration.
At a time when our nation's economy is frail and weakened, we urge you to support immigration policies which that stop the wasteful spending of taxpayer dollars, produce humane and sensible solutions, and keep immigrant families together.

Please share this alert with friends, colleagues, and your community networks. Have them call today.

In the past year, we have produced thousands of calls and emails promoting a more humane and fair immigration policy. Thank you all for your ongoing support.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Stepping Forward for Children's Health

March Celebrates Rule to Protect Schools from Pesticides

Martin Cuevas of AFSC's Farm Labor Program, Proyecto Campesino, (pictured above) participates in a historic quarter mile march in Plainview, CA on February 20th. Photo Credit: John Tipton, Noticiero Semanal.

The march commemorated a new regulation enacted this year in Tulare County. The rule prohibits aerial spraying of pesticides within a quarter mile of residential areas, occupied labor camps, or schools in session within 24 hours of the pesticide application (Fresno Bee). Participants included local residents and advocacy organizations including AFSC, the Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment and Californians for Pesticide Reform (The Portville Recorder).

"Pesticide exposure affects learning," said AFSC Proyecto Campesino Program Coordinator Graciela Martinez. Pesticide drift caused over one-third of pesticide-related illnesses at California schools between 1996 to 2005, according to an Associated Press report. The report found 590 pesticide-related illnesses at schools within those years.

Participants in the march walked a quarter mile to demonstrate how far the spraying should occur from schools. No federal law exists to ban pesticide spraying near schools. Advocacy organizations in California are lobbying for state-wide laws.

Organizers March Onward to Safeguard Children

"There is still a lot of work to be done," said Martinez. "One of the next steps is to attempt to keep schools from being built in ag-surrounded areas," she said.

AFSC Proyecto Campesino and its allies in the San Joaquin Valley area plan to work next on ground application of pesticides. State law still allows ground-based spraying of pesticides in residential areas and around schools (Fresno Bee).

To learn more about AFSC Proyecto Campesino click here.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Mount Rainier Strives to Find Voice in Immigration Debate

by Daniela Martinez Moreno
AFSC Special Projects Policy Fellow

Mount Rainier, a city of 9,000 in Prince George's County, Maryland, did not pass Ordinance 2-2008 during a scheduled vote on February 19 after council members Alta Morton, Bryan Knedler and Mayor Malinda Miles voted to table the ordinance indefinitely. Council member Jimmy Tarlau, who supports the ordinance, explains that "after receiving a good many e-mails and listening to the public comment, I believe our community is divided on this issue so there is in fact no mandate on how to vote."

The ordinance, proposed by Mount Rainier City Council Member Pedro Briones, reaffirms the city's tradition of respecting the human rights and dignity of all residents and establishes city policy regarding federal immigration laws. The legislation would also prohibit "any agent officer, employee, contractor or subcontractor of the City" from assisting the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) or the Bureau of Immigration and Custom's Enforcement (ICE) in "any investigation or arrest of any persons based solely on their immigration status."

Ordinance Draws Support During Public Hearing

Ordinance 2-2008 received sound support from community members during a February 12 public hearing at Mount Rainier City Hall. One community member said he was "proud of Mount Rainier for considering adopting this ordinance." Another resident affirmed that "this ordinance is in standing with who we are at Mount Rainier."

The hearing also drew the attention of a number of elected officials, state groups and individuals from outside the area. Maryland State Delegate Victor Ramirez (D-Prince George's County) and Prince George Councilman Will Campos encouraged Mount Rainier officials to approve the ordinance and to take a stance against the anti-immigrant rhetoric. American University law professor Jayesh Rathod suggested that, from a legal perspective, Mount Rainier should pass the ordinance because it could protect documented immigrants as well as undocumented immigrants.

Absence of Federal Legislation a Persistent Community Concern

At the same time, a number of community members opposed the idea of the Mt. Rainier City Council tackling the issue of immigration. One community member argued during the hearing that the City Council should not address an issue that she considers strictly federal. Another resident said that "it is not the right time to pass this resolution" and suggested the need for an on-going dialogue between the community members before such an ordinance is considered.

Community Hopes to Reflect on Valuable Lessons and Move Forward

Despite the Council's decision to table Ordinance 2-2008, Councilman Tarlau found the experience educational. Though he recognizes that the community is divided on the issue and that immigration laws are a federal issue, he believes that "how we deal with diversity in our community is definitely a local issue."

"I firmly believe that passing an ordinance that states that we will not ask questions about people's immigration status puts us on record that we think the immigration laws in this country are broken and that we are a community that welcomes immigrants into a community," said Councilman Tarlau. "At the end of the day we all want to work together to improve our City and I will continue to work hard to do that."

You can join the many voices that support Mount Rainier's effort to uphold the inherent value and dignity of every member of its community:

Contact Council members Pedro Briones and Jimmy Tarlau and thank them for supporting the human rights and dignity of all Mount Rainier residents regardless of their immigration status:

- Pedro Briones: 301-277-1833
- Jimmy Tarlau: 301-335-6099

Friday, February 01, 2008

Changes to Border Fence Language Debated As Property Owners Oppose Intrusion

by Daniela Martinez Moreno
AFSC Special Projects Policy Fellow

Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison's (R-TX) amendment to the Fiscal Year 2008 Omnibus Appropriations bill (H.R. 2764) signed into law last month caused a flurry of action in the House of Representatives. Provisions in Hutchison's amendment:

- Require the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to "consult with the Secretary of the Interior, the Secretary of Agriculture, States, local government, Indian tribes, and property owners in the United States to minimize the impact on the environment, culture, commerce, and quality of life for the communities and residents located near the sites" of fence construction;

- Mandate the construction of 700 miles of fence along the U.S.-Mexico border, out of which 370 miles must be completed by the end of 2008; and,

- Provide the Secretary of Homeland Security discretion to determine whether or not the placement of fencing along an international border of the United States is "the most appropriate means to achieve and maintain operational control over the international border at such location".

According to the Senator, her amendment takes a positive step towards construction of the border fence by requiring consultation with landowners and local elected officials, many of whom feel ignored by the federal government as it continues to plan the building of 130 miles of fencing in Texas (Houston Chronicle).

In addition, the Senator claims that all eight Senators representing the four border states - Senators John Cornyn (R-TX), Jon Kyl (R-AZ), John McCain (R-AZ), Pete Domenici (R-NM), Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA) - are co-sponsors of the amendment's border-fence language.

A number of border fence proponents in Congress criticized Hutchison's amendment for changing the Secure Fence Act of 2006, which mandates the construction of 700 miles of double-layered, reinforced border fencing. However, Senator Hutchison asserts that her amendment is not about whether or not the fence will be constructed, but when and how it will be constructed.

House Members Target Hutchison Amendment

In response to Senator Hutchison's amendment, three members of the House of Representatives introduced border-enforcement bills that modify or repeal certain sections of the amendment.

On January 15, Representative Jim Marshall (D-GA) introduced the Immigration Law Corrections Act of 2008 (H.R. 4960). This bill strikes a paragraph in the Hutchison amendment, which gives the Secretary of Homeland Security discretion regarding border fence placement.

The following day, Representatives Walter Jones (R-NC) and Peter King (R-NY), the original sponsor of the Secure Fence Act of 2006, introduced the "Fence by Date Certain Act" (H.R. 4987). Representative Jones argued that Hutchison's amendment weakens the Secure Fence Act of 2006 (H.R. 6061) by stripping its requirement that the fencing be double-layered at specific areas of the border, and completed by certain dates. His bill requires 700 miles of double-layered fencing to be constructed by June 30, 2009.

On January 23, Representative Duncan Hunter (R-CA), author of the Secure Fence Act of 2006 fencing provisions, introduced the "Reinstatement of the Secure Fence Act of 2008" (H.R. 5124). Representative Hunter's bill strips the provision in Senator Hutchison's amendment that requires the Department of Homeland Security to consult with the local government, Indian tribes, and U.S. property owners. In addition, the proposed legislation mandates the construction of at least 700 miles of double-layered border fencing in locations determined by the Secretary of DHS within 6 months of the bill's enactment.

Representative Hunter inaccurately claims that "consultation" language could open fence construction to many challenges. The language in the Hutchison amendment does not require that DHS abide by decisions of the consultation.

Hutchison Amendment Does Little for Locals Protesting Border Fence

Regardless of Hutchison's amendment, the failure of a recent lawsuit involving DHS fence construction indicates that local community efforts to stop construction of the fence face an uphill struggle. On January 30, the Justice Department sued six Texas property owners in Cameron County who refused to grant DHS access to their land for border fence surveying (Houston Chronicle). Their collective action came in defiance of Brownsville Federal District Court Judge Andrew Hanen's rule on January 29 requiring that the property owners allow DHS officials access to their land.

Border town community members and local officials alike continue to be frustrated by DHS attempts to disrupt their way of life by imposing the construction of a fence. Whether double-layered or not, building a fence at the border has never proven to be a long-term, practical solution to the immigration dilemma. Once again, local property owners and border communities are receiving the brunt end of the deal as their quality of life is disturbed and altered.