Monday, March 24, 2008

A Face for Change: Luissana Santibanez

Meet Luissana Santibanez (24), an immigrant rights advocate in Austin, Texas. The Open Society Institute recently named her one of the 2008 Soros Justice Fellows among 18 criminal justice advocates. Santibanez plans to build a Texas-based network of former immigrant detainees and raise support for policies to protect their rights (Austin American-Statesman).

"Our goal is providing support and amplifying the voices of former detainees and their families in the broader immigration debate," said Santibanez. "We believe there hasn't been enough attention given to immigration detention."

"Luissana always brings a fresh opinion to our program and we work closely with her on local issues dealing with immigration including the Hutto Detention Center," said AFSC Austin Program Coordinator Josefina Castillo. Santibanez became an AFSC partner through the Texas-based human rights organization Colectivo Flatlander and joined the AFSC Area Program Committee last year.

Photo: Luissana Santibanez (left) works with colleagues during a Colectivo Flatlander "Life with Dignity Workshop" (Taller Vida Digna) (photo courtesy of Josefina Castillo).

An Advocate's Personal Story

Santibanez's commitment draws from her personal experience. She cares for three siblings, all U.S. citizens, while studying at the University of Texas. Her mother, Sergia Santibanez was deported last year. "I am forced to raise my siblings without the love and guidance of the one person we need most in our lives," she said.

"Luissana's case is the perfect example of the harsh impacts of the 1996 immigration law," explained Paromita Shah, associate director of the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild. "It never gave her mother her day in court," said Shah. >To learn more about her case click here.

Support Luissana's Work for Immigrant Rights

To learn how you can support Luissana's work for immigrants' rights in Austin please contact AFSC Austin Program Director Josefina Castillo at

Photo: Luissana brought presents and holiday cheer to children detained in the Hutto Detention Center last December.

Take Action to Stop the Detention of Children and Families

Luissana's future work will draw attention to the difficult reality of immigrants who have been detained. Despite the attention drawn to the increased number of raids and deportations, the most recent Congressional proposal is a disturbing repeat of failed policies.

The SAVE Act (H.R. 4088), also known as the Schuler-Tancredo bill, now under consideration in Congress increases the imprisonment of children and families. The bill would create a family detention space modeled after the infamous Hutto Detention Center in Texas.

This facility houses 400 detainees. Half of these are children who are part of refugee families seeking political asylum after fleeing persecution in their home countries.

Meanwhile the bill fails to address concerns about the treatment of those who are already in detention. On March 11, members of Congress filed a "discharge petition," which would force the House to vote on this flawed bill without review by a committee.

Call your Representative today; contact the Capitol Switchboard at (202) 225-2141.

Ask your Representative's office to:

  • Oppose the SAVE Act (H.R. 4088) discharge petition. Please do not let our taxpayer dollars fund the imprisonment of children and their families.

  • We need evenhanded and humane solutions, not impractical and unreasonable policies.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Immigration and Community Values

Alternative media is reaching out to engage youth and the rest of the nation in voicing their support for values, which respect the individual, honor the principles of inclusion and promote unity. The Movement Vision Lab Video Contest is just one of these recent efforts.

The Movement Vision Lab is holding a national contest to engage the public in voicing their thoughts about immigration and promoting dialogue between immigrants and non-immigrant communities.

Cast Your Vote

Watch the finalists' videos by clicking here. Post a comment stating which video you like most and why. The comment period lasts two weeks. Vote for the video that you think best tells America that, immigrants and citizens alike, we're all in it together!

Preview a Video on Raids

The finalist featured below focuses on the reality of raids. The video includes media coverage of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) workplace raid in Van Nuys, California last month.

Monday, March 17, 2008

"Undocumented Irish Are Not So Lucky"

"Today's undocumented Irish are not so lucky," Emmy Award-winning actress Fionnula Flanagan said at this year's St. Patrick's event honoring the Top 100 Irish Americans. Flanagan knows how easily a person can fall out of status from her experience as an undocumented immigrant in the United States. (Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform). Flanagan called on Irish Americans to contact their legislators and support immigration reform.

Irish Share Struggle with Recent Immigrants

Flanagan recognized the shared struggle for fair immigration policies. "Over the years, when asked, I have lent my name and whatever support I could to a variety of organizations in southern California which have championed sanctuary and the rights of immigrants who come largely from Central America. Their struggle is not easy and the bias against them is horrendous," she said.

"We must not turn our backs on people because it is not fashionable to support them. We must not forget those who are less fortunate than ourselves," said Flanagan.

"Newcomers should be welcomed and embraced by our community, not pushed to the fringes. Ask the Irish about that one," wrote Sister Susan Lena Deevy, Executive Director of the Irish Immigration Center in the Boston Herald.

Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform Meets with White House

According to the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform, there are an estimated 50,000 undocumented Irish immigrants in the United States. Representatives of the group recently met with top-level White House advisors to press for action on immigration policies.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Will You Join the March for Fair Laws?

by Sara Ibrahim and Daniela Martinez Moreno,
AFSC Special Projects Policy Fellow

A Call to Put Faith before Fear

This Palm Sunday neighbors and clergy members began an annual week-long Pilgrimage for Justice and Peace in North Carolina in Representative Heath Schuler's (D-NC) home district. These residents believe that Representative Schuler's bill, the SAVE Act (H.R. 4088), fails to represent their faith values.

The SAVE Act "would force all workers, including citizens, to prove they have a right to earn a living - bad idea compounded by the notoriously bad state of federal government records," according to the New York Times. This week's march calls on Schuler and other North Carolina leaders to take an alternative approach, which welcomes immigrants, changes immigration policies and respects family unity.

House Members Try to Force Vote on Bad Bill

The timing of the Pilgrimage coincides with a move by members of Congress to march forward on this bad bill. On March 11, House members led by Representative Thelma Drake (R-VA) began circulating a discharge petition that would force the SAVE Act out of committee and onto the House floor for a vote if signed by 218 members.

How You Can March in Solidarity

You can take the lead of our friends in North Carolina by taking action. "The Pilgrimage is an annual tradition here in North Carolina during Holy Week as a way to 'live out our faith' and express solidarity with immigrant families," said Antonio Vasquez of AFSC Charlotte.

Take a Minute to Stop H.R. 4088

Call your Representative's office today at (202) 225 - 3141 (Capitol Switchboard). Ask your Representative to oppose the SAVE Act discharge petition. > Click here for the Action Alert.

Please take a minute to log your call by visiting the AFSC webpage and entering your zip code.

Support the Pilgrimage for Justice and Peace

For more information on the Pilgrimage for Justice and Peace in North Carolina led by the Carolina Interfaith Taskforce on Central America and supported by AFSC contact Antonio Vasquez at (704) 568 - 3602 or > Click here for the Pilgrimage schedule.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

"SAVE" Immigration Bill Repeat of Past Disappointments

The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), which advocates for constructive and humane immigration policies, considers the Secure America through Verification and Enforcement Act (SAVE) another disappointment because it is grounded in political posturing and rehashes ill-conceived, punitive positions from previous Congressional debates.

"The SAVE Act puts our civil liberties and the privacy of all workers at risk," says Esther Nieves, director of Project Voice, AFSC's national immigrants' rights program. "Political expediency and partisan tactics seem to be the order of the day. It is critical that the public contact legislators and advocate for more evenhanded and sensible policies."

The Service Committee monitors Congressional discussions and finds the SAVE Act to be unworkable, specifically because it steps up the militarization of the U.S.-Mexico border, enacts an impractical national employment verification program, and blurs the line between local police and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers. It is particularly unfortunate that this bill has support in Congress given the anti-immigrant rhetoric of this election year.

AFSC has issued a national action alert and regional AFSC offices have taken local actions urging the public to press for a bipartisan dialogue leading to achievable immigration legislation. The Service Committee continues to call for feasible solutions that include a path to lawful permanent residency, fair labor laws and policies that keep families together.

The American Friends Service Committee supports the rights and dignity of all people, regardless of their immigration status. Project Voice, the AFSC immigrants' rights initiative, works to uplift migrant voices and strengthen efforts of migrant-led organizations to set an agenda for fair and humane national public policies. AFSC has 90 years experience working with immigrants and refugees and presently works with immigrants in 18 communities in fourteen states and in 22 countries around the world.

>Take Action

Monday, March 10, 2008

Disturbing Pattern of ICE Raids Questioned by Leaders

by Daniela Martinez Moreno
AFSC Special Projects Policy Fellow

On February 25, a labor-union commission held its first hearing to review the raids that ICE conducted on December 12, 2006 in six Swift meat-processing plants throughout the country. The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) formed the commission to examine the policies and practices used by Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE) during work-site enforcement operations. According to the Washington Post, the ICE raids at the Swift plants raised due process and constitutional rights concerns.

The commission will draft a report based on hearings that it will hold throughout the country and distribute the report's findings to elected leaders and the public. The report will also include policy action recommendations.

Swift Plant Employee Testifies at Congressional Hearing

The UFCW-held meeting mirrors a February 13th House Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security and International Law Subcommittee hearing that raised serious concerns regarding the detention and deportation of individuals who are arbitrarily swept up in ICE worksite and home raids. Michael Graves, member of the UFCW International Union and a Swift plant employee in Marshalltown (Iowa) was one of the seven witnesses at the hearing.

Mr. Graves gave a chilling account of his experience the day ICE raided Marshalltown's Swift plant. He recounted how he and hundreds of his co-workers were detained for 8 hours without food or water. In addition, they were not given the opportunity to contact their families, union representatives or lawyers.

According to Mr. Graves, "No one in this country, regardless of their status, should be treated the way we were treated at the Marshalltown Swift plant or any of the Swift plants. Working is not a crime, and workers do not leave their constitutional rights at the plant gate."

Witnesses Reveal Harsh Reality Behind Raids, Detentions and Deportations

Other witnesses at the February 13th hearing represented a broad spectrum of organizations, including some involved in lawsuits regarding the deportation of U.S. citizens. Their statements shed light on how U.S. citizens, such as Mr. Graves, are apprehended in worksite raids and sometimes even deported.

Mistakes have increased as state and local prisons with limited or little experience in complex immigration matters screen individuals apprehended in ICE raids, according to Rachel E. Rosenbloom, a Human Rights Fellow at the Boston College Center for Human Rights and International Justice. "[W]ith increasing cooperation between local and state law enforcement agencies and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the review of an individual's immigration status is now frequently made by law enforcement officers with minimal training in immigration law," she said.

Congressional Leaders Raise Serious Concerns Regarding Racial Profiling

Throughout the hearing, there were significant discrepancies between the testimony of Gary Mead, Deputy Director at ICE's Office of Detention and Removal Operations, and the remarks made by both members of Congress and other key witnesses. Representative Luis V. Gutierrez (D-IL) countered Mr. Mead's assertion that the agency does not target individuals based on nationality.

Representative Gutierrez noted the raid of a public mall in Chicago's Little Village community area. According to Congressman Gutierrez, the ICE official who oversaw the raid "went with the U.S. attorney standing next to her and said, 'We were determined to walk into this mall and detain every Hispanic male between the ages of 18 and 45.'" Representative Keith Ellison (D-MN) also raised concerns that Latinos have been a principal target of ICE raids over the last twelve months.

Organizations and Congress Members Insist on Answers

In order to ensure that due process, and the civil rights of immigrant and non-immigrant workers are duly protected, the UFCW, civil rights groups and Congressional leaders have pledged to continue to challenge ICE and pressure for institutional accountability and transparency. This includes making sure that the wrongful deportation of a U.S. citizen or a lawful permanent resident does not occur.

Representative Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), chair of the House Immigration Subcommittee, explained that on June 26, 2007, she forwarded a letter to ICE for answers on the case of Pedro Guzman, a U.S. citizen from Los Angeles who was deported to Mexico in May 2007. According to Representative Lofgren, she received a "perfunctory response more than a month later with no answers, and at best an apathetic attitude towards protecting U.S. citizens from deportation."