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