Friday, October 23, 2009

Senate Leader Presented Policy Recommendations

This past Tuesday (October 20), a broad delegation comprised of representatives from civil liberties, human rights and immigrant rights advocacy organizations met with Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY), Chair of the Senate Immigration Subcommittee. Several organizations including AFSC and the Rights Working Group worked to invite partners throughout the nation to join as signatories to the letter's concerns and recommendations.

The 17-member delegation delivered the letter signed by more than 300 organizations. Outlined in the letter were specific areas of concern, and the urging that future national U.S. immigration and border policy be carried out in a manner that is respectful of individuals’ constitutional rights and due process.

Senator Schumer has previously issued public comments about the need to reform and repair the present immigration system. Signatories of the letter were encouraged that Senator Schumer acknowledged that the current system is not working. Indeed, enforcement-only policies have done nothing to resolve the administrative, legal and procedural problems with the outdated and broken immigration system.

Delegates asked Senator Schumer to incorporate important principles that safeguard constitutional rights and due process of individuals who are detained. The delegation also called on the Senator to ensure that family reunification is one of the fundamental components of future policy. Key concerns discussesd during the meeting included:

* Enforceable Detention Standards
* Secure, Community-Based Alternatives to Detention
* Fair Day in Court
* Access to Counsel
* Review of Federal Enforcement of Immigration Laws
* Civil Rights
* Responsible and Accountable Border Policy

"There are serious concerns over racial profiling when state and local law enforcement agents are deputized to enforce civil immigration law. Any immigration reform bill should restrict immigration enforcement to the federal government,” said Margaret Huang, Executive Director of Rights Working Group.

"Too much is at stake for the nation. No one benefits from the bleak situation we now have before us. Families continue to be separated and detention is only a temporary escape valve that does not solve the structural flaws of the current immigration system. None of this is humane, practical or realistic. We believe that principled and sensible policy can be developed," added Esther Nieves director of American Friends Service Committee's Project Voice, a national immigrant and refugee rights initiative.

Afterwards, the delegation also met with the Senator's immigration policy staff.

# # #

The American Friends Service Committee is a Quaker organization that includes people of various faiths who are committed to social justice, peace and humanitarian service. Its work is based on the belief in the worth of every person and faith in the power of love to overcome violence and injustice.

Formed in the aftermath of 9/11, the Rights Working Group is a coalition of more than 250 community-based grassroots groups and national organizations working to restore civil liberties and human rights protections for all people living in the U.S.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Spinning Out of Control: Tangle of Local Agreements Dodge Immigration Coherence

"The 287(g) program is not a fundamental solution nor does it ensure community safety. It’s not just the cost factor, but the constitutional and civil liberties factors that must be subject to general public scrutiny.” Christian Ramirez, AFSC staff

State and local enforcement agencies have increasingly come under fire for cooperation agreements with federal agencies, and specifically, agreements in which local officers act as federal immigration agents. A routine traffic stop becomes the moment when a driver is questioned and subsequently asked to show proof of permanent residency or “legal” immigration status.

Known as the “287(g)” program, the initiative is a troubling remnant of the Bush era. The program has raised legal hackles and warranted concerns about racial profiling, civil liberties and public safety. AFSC has been at the forefront of the many faith-based voices calling for an end to this controversial and ill-conceived program. Over the past years, federal officials have tossed a financial carrot by using the program to provide support to cash-strapped municipalities and states.

Named for the section of the federal provision, 287(g) allows for federal agencies (e.g., US Immigration and Customs Enforcement) to train and deputize local officers who can then enforce immigration laws. The program, however, has instilled fear and tension in immigrant communities and led to ongoing concerns about public safety and overall community security.

This past summer AFSC joined more than 500 organizations in an open letter, which called on President Obama to end the program. Early last week the U.S. Congressional Hispanic Caucus also blasted the program calling on the President to terminate the 287(g) program. According to the Caucus, “... [T]he “misuse of the 287(g) program by its current participants has rendered it ineffective and dangerous to community safety.”

Initial support for the program has waned as state leaders realize that comprehensive national policy (rather than a piecemeal approach) is needed to repair the out-of-order immigration system. Concerns have been expressed about due process, legal liabilities, cost-effectiveness and the program’s efficiency.

Indeed, Massachusetts and Florida enforcement agencies have cancelled their agreements while others are debating if to accept – or reject – their agreement with federal officials. Amy Gottlieb, an attorney and AFSC staff member concludes, “The entire immigration law needs to be revamped so that we're not stuck in this system of arresting, detaining and deporting people without giving them meaningful access to a due process or real legal status."

ADD YOUR VOICE: Call for an end to the 287(g) program!
  • Contact the White House switchboard at 202-456-1414 or 202-456-1111.
  • Send the President an e-mail: www.whitehouse.gov/CONTACT/
  • Contact members of your Congressional delegation. Call your Senator at 202-224-3121 and your Representative at 202-225-3121.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

From the Heartland of America: Iowa's Immigration Reality

Note: AFSC's Central Regional News and Views newsletter (Fall 2009) features an insightful look at immigration in the Hawkeye State. The writer, Sandra Sanchez is AFSC's program director in Iowa. The program provides referral support, legal assistance, human rights training and other services to immigrants and their families. We are grateful for the permission granted to share her community-grounded analysis with our readers.


Iowa - Editor's Note: One of the things we notice in our peace and justice work is that many people who generally share AFSC’s views on most issues still have concerns regarding the economic impact of immigration. As part of a broader interview available at www.afsc.org/iowa, Sandra Sanchez speaks to concerns that immigrants are “taking away” from taxpayers and hurting the economy. (Photograph: Sandra Sanchez - [extreme right] and community members at AFSC "Know Your Rights training - credit: G. Camacho)

Immigrants are not receiving benefits from other taxpayers, even though they should because they are taxpayers too. I’ve heard allies and supporters say, “Yes, we support immigrant rights, but can we afford it when the economy is so bad?”

To answer this very simply, I would say that all people are consumers and producers. Immigrants are consumers and producers too. And since we are in a recession right now, you need people spending. Immigrants spend money, and they spend it now. Immigrants are also very hard working. In many cases, they’re in their most productive years. Therefore, they are mostly contributing to this economy.

Finally, typically immigrants have not been part of the formal financial system, meaning their savings were not lost. They were not investing in the stock market. They have savings to spend. Where do we want them to spend this money? Here, or somewhere else?

More importantly, in terms of production and consumption, immigrants are very active. Why get rid of them? Too many people believe the anti-immigrant rhetoric. But the fact remains that immigrants are paying taxes. There’s more than $560 billion in the Earnings Suspense File of the Social Security Administration, most of which is believed to be contributions of undocumented workers to this system alone.

Do we really want to stop that? People are afraid that if we give legal status to these undocumented workers who have been contributing to Social Security and who cannot claim one penny out of it, then immigrants will claim those benefits. But the truth is that they can’t. If they get a legal status, eventually they will be able to claim benefits, but only from the time of their legal status onward.

So immigrants represent a win-win to this country. We are winning in the sense that they have contributed already as taxpayers, they have contributed to the economy as workers, and they have contributed to the economy as consumers. Do we want to lose that? No.

I truly believe that if undocumented immigrants are given the opportunity to regularize their status, they will be able to buy homes and more cars. They will be able to send their children to institutions of higher learning. And that will definitely be a plus to the economy. It will help us turn around this recession faster than if we don’t.

Sandra Sanchez is a member of AFSC's Project Voice Network, a national grouping of AFSC staff who work in partnership with communities throughout the United States. Project Voice advocates for the fair inclusion and respect for the human rights of immigrant and refugee communities. You can contact Sandra Sanchez at SSanchez@afsc.org and Jody Mashek at JMashek@afsc.org. AFSC Iowa’s phone is 515-274- 4851.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

A Place of Calm & Centeredness


“You may think this doesn’t affect you. But it does. Look around you at who is present here tonight. THIS is our city, our state, our community." - AFSC organizer Lori Fernald Khamala

Unlike the joint session of Congress last week, no one shouted or waved signs at the town hall hosted by the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) in Greensboro, North Carolina. People spoke about immigration without using dehumanizing language or accusing one another of not telling the truth.

How did it happen? Read more and find out ...

More than 300 people attended AFSC Greensboro's immigration Town Hall including, Tony Caravano, a representative from Senator Kay Hagan's (D-NC) office. Prior to the event, Khamala received a phone call threatening that two busloads of anti-immigrant protesters would be in attendance, but it did not materialize.

Mr. Caravano and other attendees heard the story of Sandra, a woman waiting to be reunited with her husband, the story of an ESL teacher who described the daily encounters and challenges faced by US citizen children like "Lucia" a young girl whose parents were dragged from their home in the night and deported, and Luis, who struggles to help fellow students stay in school. (Photo: Tony Caravano of Senator Kay Hagan's Office meets local students).

"Is it incompetence or ill will that is keeping him from us?" asked 12-year-old Fernando Hernandez, as he translated for his mother, Sandra. "How can it take six months to review a marriage license?" (Greensboro News and Record). (Photo:Sandra Hernandez and her son Fernando speak about the wait to reunite with her husband due to the immigration backlog).

The crowd also heard from a Gerald Chapman, an immigration lawyer and economist Andrew Brod, Director for the Center for Business and Economic Research at UNC, debunking classic myths held about immigrants.

Senator Hagan to Consider Speakers in Forming Policy

"Planners of this event have been told that Senator Hagan is still forming her opinion on immigration issues," Lori Fernald Khamala of AFSC Greensboro told the crowd. "And so we wanted to share with her - and with all of you - the stories of people affected by our broken immigration system to help better understand these issues and help form the Senator’s opinion."

"These are not isolated incidents. These are the stories immigrants are experiencing every day here in Greensboro, across our state and across the country," she said.

Mr. Caravano, received AFSC's principles for humane immigration policy, A New Path, because change cannot wait until next year or even next month. It is already overdue. This reform must protect the wages, health and safety of ALL workers in our country. This reform must prioritize keeping families together.

Mr. Caravano took a few questions, but reiterated that,"The main reason that Sen. Hagan has asked me to be here today was to listen." Reading a statement from Senator Hagan, Caravano said that the Senator would consider the speakers’ accounts in a "comprehensive immigration reform" package to be written as early as this month. (Greensboro News and Record)

“The reform should cut back on waste, duplication and needless delays by reducing backlogs and streamlining the application process,” Caravano said. “We could provide incentives for individuals and companies to follow rules by restoring common sense in the current system.” (Greensboro News and Record).

Taking Account for Immigration Policy Change

“You may think this doesn’t affect you. But it does,” said Khamala at the close of the town hall.

“Look around you at who is present here tonight. THIS is our city, our state, our community. We are called to love our neighbor, and who are your neighbors? We are different races and colors. We are different ethnicities and nationalities. We speak different languages, but we are all one community. We have an opportunity to move forward with practical solutions that represent the best of who we are...

In the spirit of community, I now invite you to greet your neighbor, ask their name and wish them a good night. But first, in the manner of Quakers, let us spend a few moments in silence, reflecting on what we have heard this evening, and collecting your Spirit to leave this gathering in a place of calm and centeredness. So, take a deep breath, give thanks for this space, and center yourself in silence.

Thank you Friends. Go in Peace."

(Photos: Above - Dr. Michael Palmer, an ESL instructor, shares stories of his students' struggles. Right - AFSC NC organizer Lori Fernald Khamala with local students; All photo credits: AFSC NC)

Slideshow: You can see photos from the event by clicking here.

AFSC NC: To learn more about or contact AFSC Greensboro visit www.afsc.org/greensboro.

Myth & Facts: Read more by downloading AFSC's brochure on separating facts from fiction about immigrants in the US. Click here to download.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Farmworkers and the California Veto

It is unacceptable but it happened again. SB789, a measure sponsored by the United Farm Workers and introduced by state Senate President Pro Tem, Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) was vetoed by Governor Schwarzenegger. The bill was a renewed attempt to allow farm workers to join a union and to be part of a collective bargaining process. The Governor disagreed and decided that the privacy of the farmworkers was more critical than the option to join a union. Labor-laws violations in the fields have been widely studied and continue to be rampant.

The Governor’s veto comes at a time when the work conditions of those in the fields continue to suffer, and where the daily life of workers and their families are rift with tensions about work mobility, labor standards and their future in the United States.

Dependent on this labor to stock the nation with fresh fruits, leafy lettuces and colorful vegetables, this physically back-breaking work is ignored by employers, contractors and legislators. Consumers also enjoy the fruits and vegetables of this labor but opt to eat and enjoy rather than to worry about how their succulent salad made it to the table.

Without advocates, potential union representation and the monitoring of wage and labor standards, those in the field – men, women and youth – they will continue to suffer under the hot, blazing California sun and other harsh work and environmental conditions. In the past years, media coverage has pointed to some of those who have died in the sweltering sun and the terrible conditions under which farm worker families live.

In the meantime, farm workers are consistently side-stepped in the search for a genuine remedy to their awful plight and to their tenuous immigration status. Why not? They are expendable, sometimes transient and often abused. Who else would work under these harsh and inhumane conditions -- where you may be sick, but you have to work; you may be injured, but you have to work; or where your wages may be stolen (or shortchanged), but you still have to work! It is because of this uncertainty that farm workers need representation and an organized vehicle that can support their labor rights and their basic human rights, not to mention fair treatment at the hands of employers, contractors and sub-contractors.

A report issued this past week points to the egregious work violations taking place in the nation’s labor market. Titled, Confronting the Gloves-Off Economy: America's Broken Labor Standards and How to Fix Them, this comprehensive report identifies the ‘gloves-off practices,’ the workers who are affected by them, and the strategies needed for monitoring workplace standards.

In the meantime, sweatshop standards and dehumanizing labor conditions, are but two of the bitter realities many workers tolerate while we sit to enjoy delectable salads or fruits that were cultivated or picked by these same workers. And thousands of farm workers and their families continue to toil away hoping that they too can one day enjoy the fruits of their labor. Terrible flavor, isn't it?

To learn more about the work conditions of workers in the United States and AFSC’s recommendations for labor rights and protections read: A New Path: Toward Humane Immigration Policy at http://www/afsc/org.

To read Confronting the Gloves-Economy: America’s Broken Labor Standards and How to Fix Them, visit http://nelp.org

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Communities Lead While Leaders Retreat

Recent news coverage has indicated that immigration will not be on the legislative or White House agenda for yet another year. What gives? After so much promise and the sense that change was around the corner, advocates and communities have confronted renewed delays, back-pedaling and verbal calisthenics to stall a substantive legislative discussion and policy solutions. Avoidance seems to have become the ongoing bug of choice in the nation’s capitol.

Despite the ongoing impasse, the collective spirit of the nation's immigrant communities has not diminished. Indeed, trainings, workshops, Know Your Rights and organizing sessions have continued as have vigils, public actions, letter-writing and telephone-tree efforts to reach out to legislators and policy leaders to urge their leadership in changing the current stalemate. (Photo: AFSC New England "Know Your Rights" training in Boston - 2007/photo courtesy of G. Camacho).

How many more immigrants will be attacked, killed, vilified or deported before humane policy emerges from the White House and the halls of Congress? How many more families will be separated due to their multi-immigration status in the US? Surely, our nation’s leaders can do much better to honor the founding principles, and the basic and inherent dignity of all.

Not too long ago while meeting with the Presidents of Canada and Mexico, President Obama indicated his administration’s commitment to repair the current immigration system. But like leaves flying and spinning into the wind, there's been lots of spinning and words on the issue but still, far from substantive action. In the meantime, immigrant communities and non-immigrant immigrant allies have been pressing forward, meeting, holding discussions, organizing and working with each other to change the current policy and political impasse.

AFSC has joined more than 500 organizations calling for an end to several past punitive and enforcement actions that have now been continued by the Obama administration. In addition, immigrant and non-immigrant communities have been conveying a unified message that the continued delay of immigration reform is the wrong way to proceed.

Unfortunately, punitive programs such as 287(g) – a program that enables local police to act as immigration agents – has continued to receive support and the Department of Homeland Security has in fact, expanded the program. This has taken place despite the fact that the program has fostered fear in immigrant communities, led to racial profiling and abuses.

It is imperative that Congressional leaders and the White House moved toward a process that begins to address the current and broken down immigration system. Delays, half-baked promises and stalling will do nothing to change the reality the nation confronts. Increased detentions, deportations and family separation are not long-term solutions to the existing national and global economic, social and political realities.

But the stalling tide can be changed. In fact, hearing from their constituents can move the nation's leaders to make this a 'front and center' issue. It is not lost to elected officials or the White House when community members call to urge movement forward on key policies.

Now you can
join AFSC and many other faith, labor and community organizations in calling for humane immigration policy. Urge Congress not to dither. Urge President Obama to move with deliberate speed! It is time for forward-thinking and humane immigration policies.

§ Contact the White House general switchboard: 202-456-1414 or leave your message for President Obama at 202-456-1111. A quick e-mail will also help! Send to: www.whitehouse.gov/CONTACT/

§ Contact members of your Congressional delegation and urge them to lead in efforts that repair the current immigration system.

· To contact your Senator: 202-224-3121
· To contact your Representative: 202-225-3121

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Seeing the Divine in Every Life: AFSC Statement on Immigrant Detention


Since 1917 the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) has served as a non-governmental organization, grounded in the principles and testimonies of the Society of Friends (Quakers). The Quaker vision of justice is grounded in a core belief that “there is that of God in everyone” and the Biblical call to welcome the stranger.

Our vision, as it applies to immigration, draws on years of experience in international human rights work and with immigrant communities worldwide. Human migration is a global phenomenon driven by political, social and economic considerations that demand not just our attention, but our humanity and compassion. We are all God’s people, no matter our circumstances.

And so we react with dismay to the increasing criminalization of individuals with tenuous legal status in the United States. In particular, we see the increasing overuse and abuse of detention as a demonstrably failed policy and practice. The U.S. government’s punitive focus on arrest, detention and deportation diverts attention from more compelling human, civil and labor rights issues and from the complex causes of immigration. This punitive focus, in its harsh and capricious application, shatters families and stokes fear in communities; creates incentives for individuals and businesses to profit by the incarceration of others; and shames our highest ideals as Americans and our deepest convictions as Quakers.

We envision an immigration policy free of imprisonment, a policy that offers humane treatment to asylum seekers, refugees, and economic migrants, and that provides for legal status for undocumented immigrants. We call for the end to the misguided and profoundly unjust policy of detention in our immigration system.

Approved by the American Friends Service Committee
Board Executive Committee
2009

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Time to End the "Nation of Detention" Era

AFSC's immigrant and refugee rights network has consistently sought to challenge the growth of the nation's detention industrial complex, which in the last decade has grown at an unprecedented level. Board members, staff, and community members have worked to draw public attention to the abusive conditions and violations that have occurred in detention centers.

This past June AFSC's Board of Directors issued a statement which in part read, "The increased criminalization of immigrants and non-immigrants -- particularly those who have not been able to adjust their immigration status in the United States is a disturbing trend that does not bode well for a nation committed to the civil rights of every person."

The increased overuse and abuse of detention is a demonstrably failed policy and practice that has led to human rights abuses, caused millions of dollars to taxpayers, and led to the incarceration of men, women and children (e.g., Hutto Detention Center). Little reform has taken place despite several detailed reports pointing to the poor conditions of the “holding” quarters, lack of timely medical attention or humane treatment of detainees, and the deplorable physical conditions found in these detention facilities.

Yet another troubling aspect of the existing detention chaos circle, is the anguish and family hardship caused by the geographic separation of a detainee who is often sent far away from family members, thus making it difficult for them to visit or provide emotional support. Still another challenge is legal representation for someone who has been moved from one state to another.

AFSC’s immigrant and refugee rights work draws on decades of domestic and international human rights work, and the fundamental Quaker core belief that “there is that of God in everyone.” Human migration is a global phenomenon driven by political, social and economic considerations that demand not just our attention, but our humanity and compassion.

The punitive focus on arrest, detention and deportation diverts attention from more compelling human, civil and labor rights issues and from the complex causes of immigration. This punitive focus, in its harsh and capricious application, shatters families and stokes fear in communities; creates incentives for others to profit by the incarceration of others; and shames the nation’s highest ideals of justice and freedom.

AFSC envisions an immigration policy free of imprisonment, a policy that offers humane treatment to asylum seekers, refugees, and economic migrants, and that provides for legal status for undocumented immigrants. AFSC continues to call for the end to this misguided and profoundly unjust policy of detention in our immigration system.

The time is long overdue for the nation's leaders to make fundamental and structural policy changes to current immigration policies, while also doing away with the deplorable detention system, and protecting the basic universal rights and dignity of immigrants and refugees.
LEARN more about the detention issue, visit these websites or contact these organizations:

ACT to end detention and abuse:

1. Contact the White House and urge President Obama to support policies that ensure that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) enacts enforceable and humane standards for the treatment of immigrant detainees. Call the White House general switchboard: 202-456-1414 or express your concern contact 202-456-1111 or to send an e-mail message go to: www.whitehouse.gov/CONTACT/

2. Contact your state's Congressional leaders and urge them to support Senators Robert Menendez of New Jersey and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York bills to force DHS to implement legally enforceable rules and policies. Call the Congressional switchboard:

  • To contact your Senator: 202-224-3121
  • To contact your Representative: 202-225-3121

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

You're Invited to a Summer BBQ!

American Friends Service Committee
New York Metropolitan Regional Office
Summer BBQ Fundraiser

Gregory's Woods
at Warinanco Park
Roselle, NJ

Sunday August 2, 2009
1-5 pm

Come out to enjoy good food and nature (yes, we will be grilling by a lake!), meet new friends, learn AFSC's work, all for a good cause!

Ticket: $25 for individual, $50 for a family (Max number is 4).

Volunteers, donations, and advance tickets, call 973-643-1924 or email: ccwang@afsc.org.

How to get to Warinanco Park, Roselle, NJ:
NJ transit bus #62 from Newark/Perth Amboy, #112 from New York. Check schedule: www.njtransit.com
Car pool available at AFSC office at 89 Market St. Newark from 11am to 12pm.

Check out our programs: www.afsc.org/nymetro/

Monday, July 27, 2009

Biometric Data on All Workers Proposed

by Lindsey Daniel, AFSC Policy Intern

In a Senate hearing last week, Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Congressman Luis Gutierrez (D-IL), both leaders on immigration in the House and Senate, stated that an employment verification system including a biometric identifier, such as fingerprints, is a key to any broad immigration bill. "Only by creating a biometric-based federal employment verification system will both employers and employees have the peace of mind that all employment relationships are both lawful and proper," said Schumer.

Currently an electronic employment verification system called, E-Verify, is used by the government determine the eligibility of workers in America for employers who chose to voluntarily use the system. The government recently announced that it will require federal contractors to use E-Verify.

Failure to Fix E-Verify Errors Raises Concern

Senator Russ Feingold (D-IL) expressed concern for the expansion of E-Verify without trying to fix the system. He cited reports showing that roughly 600,000 workers, mostly U.S. citizens, would be deemed ineligible under mandatory electronic employment verification. "Workers must be given a simple, straightforward means to appeal any data errors," said Feingold.

You can watch the hearing webcast by visiting the hearing webpage.

Social Security Administration Testifies on E-Verify's Impact

The current E-Verify system requires the Social Security Administration (SSA) to verify that a newly hired employee's Social Security Number, name and date of birth match the SSA records. For employees claiming United States citizenship, SSA also confirms citizenship status. "The SSN card was never intended, and does not serve, as a personal identification document," said David Rust of the SSA in a House hearing on E-Verify last week.

In almost every situation, SSA must conduct a face-to-face interview if an employee contests a mismatch of their SSN or citizenship information, explained Rust. This is time SSA employees cannot use to assist applicants for a Social Security benefit, according to Rust.

To watch the hearing webcast and view witness statements, click here.

Mandatory E-Verify Affects Every Single Worker

A mandatory electronic employment verification system - and all the errors that come with it — does not just affect immigrants; it will apply to every single worker in this country — U.S. citizens and immigrants alike, emphasizes Tyler Moran of the National Immigration Law Center (Immigration Impact).

"In most cases, employers aren't likely to wait out the red tape to re-verify a worker - employers will fire first and only the most well connected workers will be able to ask questions later. This will further jeopardize economic recovery by expanding job loss, undermining employer confidence and thrusting millions of hardworking, legal families into a web of uncertainty," said Anna Burger of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).

Learn more

A community survey of 400 immigrant workers conducted by the American Service Committee’s (AFSC) Arizona program reveals the impacts of mandatory E-Verify in Arizona:

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Interfaith Unity Platform on Immigration


More than 500 faith-based organizations and leaders have recently signed a letter calling on the White House and the U.S. Congress to take action on humane immigration reform. The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) is one of the signers of the letter. A summarized version of the letter follows:

"We call for immigration reform because each day in our congregations, service programs, health-care facilities, and schools we witness the human consequences of a broken and outdated system. We see the exploitation of undocumented workers and the plight of separated families, as well as the escalation of community fear due to indiscriminate raids and local police acting as federal immigration agents. Humane immigration reform would help put an end to this suffering, which offends the dignity of all human beings. We call on the new Administration and 111th Congress to commit to:

Uphold family unity as a priority of all immigration policies - Recognizing the importance of families to the creation of healthy individuals and strong communities, we call on the new Administration and Congress to 1) expeditiously reunite immigrant families separated due to lengthy visa backlogs; 2) revise family preference categories and per-country caps to prioritize family unity; and 3) remove bars to reentry and adjustment of status for individuals seeking to reunite with their family members. Attempts to devalue the family, such as denying birthright citizenship to the children of immigrants or placing family-based and employment-based visa applicants in competition with each other on a point-based or other system, must be rejected in order to maintain and promote family unity.

Create a process for undocumented immigrants to adjust their immigration status and allow for eventual citizenship - Enact immigration reform that allows undocumented immigrants and their families to earn lawful permanent residency upon the satisfaction of reasonable criteria, with a pathway to citizenship. Communities and congregations around the country are prepared to provide legal services to those eligible, as people of faith are committed to an effective and humane system that keeps families together and values the dignity of our friends and neighbors.

Protect workers and provide efficient channels of entry for new migrant workers - We call for an expansion of legal avenues for workers who seek to migrate to the United States to work in a safe, legal, and orderly manner. Their rights must be fully protected, including the ability to bring their families with them, travel as needed, change their place of employment, and apply for lawful permanent residency and eventually citizenship.

Facilitate immigrant integration - Many immigrants desire to naturalize but lack the necessary tools. The U.S. immigration system should empower them to this end by providing financial support to state and local governments and community organizations that offer language and civics education, outreach, and naturalization application assistance. Citizenship should be made more affordable by reducing naturalization fees and making fee waivers more easily accessible.

Faith based organizations and congregations around the country will continue to assist in integration efforts by providing social services and helping immigrants learn English, find jobs, and thrive in the United States.

Restore due process protections and reform detention policies - Immigration policies should respect human rights and ensure due process for all persons. We have witnessed how indiscriminate immigration raids have caused trauma and hardship for thousands of individuals. Such raids separate families, destroy communities, and threaten the basic rights of immigrants and U.S. citizens alike. The suffering caused by the increase and severity of Immigration and Customs Enforcement raids in homes and workplaces underscores the problems with current U.S. immigration policies and the urgent need for reform.

We urge the new Administration and Congress to reduce the use of detention for immigrants and improve detention conditions by enacting clear, enforceable reforms that include rigorous medical treatment standards and increased access to pastoral care, legal counsel and legal orientation programs.

Align the enforcement of immigration laws with humanitarian values - For the past 20 years, the federal government has dramatically increased fence construction, border patrol presence, and the deportation of immigrants, which have proven ineffective at decreasing undocumented immigration. During this time, we have witnessed the desecration of sacred sites and the violation of environmental and religious freedom laws, as well as the unnecessary suffering of community members whose loved ones have suffered or died seeking entry into the United States. Currently, vast resources are being used for fence construction and the mass arrests, detention, and deportation of immigrants who contribute to the U.S. economy and culture.

All immigration laws must respect the dignity of all persons, prioritize the cohesiveness of families and communities, recognize the economic contributions of immigrants, and uphold our moral obligations to provide refuge and welcome the stranger.

Immigration: A matter of human rights - As people of faith, we call attention to the moral dimensions of public policy and recommend reforms that uphold the God-given dignity and rights of every person, each of whom are made in the image of God. We are dedicated to immigration reform because we value family unity, justice, equity, compassion, love, and the humane treatment of all persons. It is our collective prayer that the new Administration and 111th Congress enact just immigration reform based on these tenets."

Join Your Voice to the thousands calling for humane action:

Join local efforts to support humane immigration reform. Visit AFSC's website for program sites, background information and materials you can share with your congregation or community. Visit: www. http://www.afsc.org/ImmigrantsRights/

Contact Pesident Obama and urge him to exert leadership on this pressing issue. Write him at: http://www.whitehouse.gov/contact/

For a complete copy of the Interfaith Immigration Coalition's letter, visit: http://www.interfaithimmigration.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/01/interfaith-immigration-platform-009.pdffsc.org

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Breaking Bread and Barriers

Take Action this Summer!

Join faith communities throughout the country for the Interfaith Immigration Coalition's Month of Action for Immigration Reform. Your faith community can choose to host a prayer vigil, plan a Neighbor to Neighbor in-district meeting, or collaborate with other congregations and host a Breaking Bread and Barriers potluck/town hall event.

Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) recently announced to the Associated Press that he expects to have an immigration bill ready introduce by Labor day this year - which makes August - September an important time to be in touch with your Members of Congress, and even invite them to an event in your community.

Congress takes a recess during the month of August, so your representatives will be away from their D.C. offices and possibly spending a lot of time in their home states. Start planning your event now, and invite your Members of Congress to participate as soon as possible.

As talks begin in the Capitol and the White House, AFSC staff across the country are working toward humane immigration policies. In a News and Record article this month, Lori Fernald Khamala of AFSC Greensboro encouraged leaders to work with President Obama to create policy that unifies families, protects workers’ rights, and sets a clear pathway to citizenship. "It is a moral issue, but a moral issue is not incompatible with good laws," she said.

Below are all the materials you need to plan any of these events – just add your creativity and determination!

View the IIC Summer Schedule

View the IIC Organizing Guide

List your event the IIC calendar

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

An Arresting Dilemma That Doesn’t Make Sense

“The police chiefs here, having spent most of their careers in cities with large immigrant communities, said it would be impossible to send the nation’s 10 million to 15 million illegal residents home. They criticized last year’s roundups... at workplaces, and the federal 287(g) program that has given at least 63 police departments a role in deporting... immigrants.” (New York Times, 7/1/09)

It is not a message from “pro-immigrant” groups, or others pigeonholed as the “open borders” crowd. In fact, the recent message is coming from local police officials: an association that brings together the police chiefs of major urban centers. In early July the Major Cities Chiefs Association met to discuss public and community safety issues. A key discussion point was the nation's current immigration policies.

Troubled by what they believe is the wrong use of critical human and limited financial resources, the police chiefs called on legislators to take action on national immigration policy. They expressed their concern with the continued use of the federal 287(g) program, which allows local police members to question and detain anyone they suspect may be an undocumented immigrant.
This program has led to complaints of racial profiling, and compounded an already precarious relationship between local community members, immigrants ("documented" and otherwise) undocumented) and police officers. Indeed, the 287(g) initiative has disrupted the fabric of trust that communities have been trying to establish with local police departments.

At the gathering police chiefs reiterated what many already suspected: putting police officers to enforce federal immigration laws does not build dialogue between community members and police officials; in fact, this action strains financial and human resources, and does nothing to resolve the current immigration dilemma. In addition, the 287(g) program diminishes, in effect, the critical role community residents can play in creating safe, healthy and vibrant communities.

"It is troubling to see that already stretched financial resources are being used by local police departments to enforce federal immigration policy,” notes Gabriela Flora, AFSC Denver staff. “People in general, are often apprehensive about approaching police officials if they have witnessed a crime, or have been the victim of a crime. There is a better way of making sure that we have safe communities for everyone. I think this is the common denominator -- whether you are an immigrant or non-immigrant -- you want to live in a safe community. This is what is important to everyone and should be the key factor to consider," she concluded.

WHAT YOU CAN DO: ACT NOW!
Contact the Department of Homeland Security:

Operator Number: 202-282-8000 or Comment Line: 202-282-8495
Leave a Message for Secretary Napolitano urging her to:
  • Refocus 287(g) funds to promote greater community participation in community safety.
  • Target funds to support community safety efforts so that everyone – immigrants and non-immigrants can be involved in the creation of safe, vibrant and healthy neighborhoods.

Friday, July 10, 2009

North Carolina Youth Rally for Equal Education Access: Yazmin’s Story

"My name is Yazmin, I am a student at Guilford College and this summer I've been working at the American Friends Service Committee. AFSC is committed to college access for immigrant students, but as a pacifist organization, AFSC is deeply concerned with the inclusion of military service in the proposed DREAM Act, and the exclusion of community service as an alternative for youth to consider. As a college student, and as a person who is interest in contributing to my community's betterment, I urge Congressional representatives to reinstate the community service provision. (Photo: Greensboro, NC youth rally for equal education access and for community service option in the DREAM Act – Courtesy of Lori Fernald Khamala).

Growing up, I knew I wanted to be "someone," I often heard from my family that if I wanted to have a better future I had to stay in school, and do my best to be able to go to college. At the age of 13, life circumstances brought me to the United States from Mexico. I thought I could accomplish everything I dreamed of because I was in the United States of America!

In high school I worked hard to adjust to the new culture, to learn the language, and get good grades. I always kept in mind what my family often said "Ech├índole ganas se sale Adelante.” (Put your energy into it, and you’ll go far!). However, when I started high school I stared hearing people telling me, “Why are you trying so hard? You won’t be able to go to college, you are an immigrant.” Some of my friends became discouraged; many of them dropped out of high school, others married and so on. I felt that I could not give up.

My faith helped me to continue trying and believing in myself. Finally, I met a friend who inspired me to continue with my educational journey. He was a great model and life example. I applied and was accepted at Guilford College. Getting in was not easy, staying has been even more challenging. But I know that at the end I'll be able to look back and see that all the sacrifices, worries, and stress hat come with being a Latina immigrant in college. I am gaining the skills and experience that will help me to serve and help my community.

AFSC wants every student to have the opportunity to further their education, but many will still find great financial and other barriers. While I have always supported the DREAM Act, it is important that community service be part of this proposed legislation.

As it is now written, the DREAM Act will lead many young people to think that military service is the only option that can help them secure permanent residency. However, previous versions of the DREAM Act included a community and volunteerism service component. National service is one way that we can all contribute to our communities.

I see the benefits of the DREAM Act for my friends, my community and for me. Community service means a lot to me because it is part of how we can support and help each other especially when we are far from our country, family and culture. A service component in the DREAM Act will help the development of a strong nation. I urge legislators to support the DREAM Act and to restore the volunteer and service component now. Thank you.”


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To learn more about the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act (The "DREAM Act") and AFSC's analysis, please contact Sara Ibrahim at sibrahim@afsc.org

Additional sources:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/DREAM_Act

http://www.nilc.org/immlawpolicy/DREAM/index.htm

Thursday, July 02, 2009

Dream an Equal Education

Everyone has the right to education. Education should be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations...” - Article 26, Universal Declaration of Human Rights

As a non-violent, faith-based organization, AFSC reiterates grave concern with the inclusion of military service in the proposed Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act (DREAM Act) and the exclusion of community service as viable alternative for youth to consider. AFSC has long been an active faith-based voice on issues of race, gender, disability, religion, national origin or legal status. AFSC supports equal access to educational opportunities that augment workforce skills and the nation's future viability.

Civic Engagement Benefits the Common Good

AFSC calls for the inclusion of a community service and volunteerism component to the DREAM Act. Communities throughout the nation are challenged by economic crises and other critical issues such as a shortage in teachers for classrooms, the elimination of basic services and reduced operating budgets. The DREAM Act could provide a viable opportunity for volunteerism and innovative civic engagement opportunity that helps strengthen and sustain rural and urban neighborhoods.

Recent calls by local and national leaders have encouraged young people to become engaged and active participants in community service endeavors. Indeed, the recent passage of the Serve America Act offers a remarkable opportunity to engage all youth. Re-incorporating a community service component to the DREAM Act lends itself to this reality and to participation in local or national civic service that build neighborhoods, support families, and create a strong national human infrastructure. This can be an innovative alternative which fosters goodwill, positive self-esteem and a sense that one is part of a broader community effort!

What AFSC Supports: Education is a Basic Human Right

  • AFSC supports the provisions in the DREAM Act that provide a path to permanent residency to undocumented immigrant students and lifts penalties on states that provide undocumented immigrant students with in-state tuition. AFSC does not support policy or legislation inviting immigrant students – or any student – to join the armed forces. AFSC vehemently rejects a military service component which serves as a de facto military draft for undocumented youth.
  • We believe that immigrant youth should be able to qualify for the benefits of the DREAM Act (instate tuition, a path to permanent residency, and eventual citizenship if they so desire) by performing community volunteerism that encourages community service as a career choice and volunteerism as a starting point for future and ongoing civic participation.
  • The 2009 Serve America Act could be an important path for immigrant youth to contribute to the nation's human infrastructure, and in turn, an opportunity for future generations to be equal participants in the betterment of the nation.

Education is a human right and yet immigrant students in the nation’s academic learning system confront systemic, structural and institutional barriers that impact their academic achievement and their ability to attend institutions of higher learning. Social, class, race, ethnicity and disability are several of these key issues and underlying inequalities. Studies have shown that for every immigrant student who attends a two or four year college, twenty will not be able to do so.

AFSC deplores the use of a poverty draft and its inclusion in all legislation that addresses the ability of immigrant youth to receive equal educational access. It is also highly probable that immigrant youth may be lured into enlisting in the US military with the notion that they only have to serve two years in the military. The DREAM Act currently specifies two years as the minimum amount of time needed to be eligible for legal permanent resident status, but the bill does not articulate that everyone who enlists in the military is obligated to serve eight years.[1]

Dream to Serve: Make Service Opportunities Available to All Youth

Given the intention of Congress to use the DREAM Act to increase military recruitment numbers, the potential for abuse and misuse of the law in order to fraudulently recruit undocumented immigrant youth is of grave concern. Recent studies show how important information is omitted, misleading information is providedand how potential recruits are deceived in order to convince them to sign the enlistment agreement.

Senator Richard (Dick) Durbin, the key sponsor of the bill, has noted, "...[T]he DREAM Act creates a strong incentive for military service. And many DREAM Act kids come from a demographic group that is already predisposed towards military service." A 2004 survey by the Rand Corporation found that 45 percent of Hispanic males and 31 percent of Hispanic females between ages 16 and 21 were very likely to serve in the Armed Forces, compared to 24 percent of White men and 10 percent of White women.”[2] Furthermore, Lt. Colonel Margaret Stock of the U.S. Army Reserve and a participant in the drafting of the bill has observed, “The DREAM Act promises to enlarge dramatically the pool of highly qualified recruits for the U.S. Armed Forces." [3]

The option of community and national service and restoring provisions for federal grant eligibility (including Pell Grants) benefit the nation while providing motivated immigrant youth a viable alternative for civic participation. This is also a way through which youth can live out their values, physical and spiritual energy, and contribute to the nation's greater good. This is especially important at a time when the nation’s executive and legislative leaders have called for public engagement by affirming and supporting the 2009 Serve America Act.

Bridging the Serve America Act with the DREAM Act is a mutually beneficial and more comprehensive way to ensure that immigrant youth can serve the nation without having to do so by serving in the armed forces.

___________

For information on the Serve America Act of 2009 go to: http://www/nationalservice.gov

[1] Armed Forces of the United States, Enlistment/Reenlistment Document, Section C.10.a. available at http://www.dtic.mil/whs/directives/infomgt/forms/eforms/dd0004.pdf.
[2] Senator Dick Durbin, Floor Statement: DREAM Act as an Amendment to the Defense Authorization Bill, July 13, 2007.
[3] Margaret D. Stock, “The DREAM Act: Tapping an Overlooked Pool of Homegrown Talent to Meet Military Enlistment Needs,” Bender’s Immigration Bulletin, January 15, 2006.

Friday, June 26, 2009

How Immigration Detention Harms Women

by Lindsey Daniel, AFSC Policy Intern

Everyday there are more than 33,400 immigrants detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in over 500 facilities across the United States according to the Women's Refugee Commission. About 10% of these detainees are women – up 3% from last year.

On Wednesday the National Coalition for Immigrant Women’s Rights, Human Rights Watch, the Women’s Refugee Commission, and the American Civil Liberties Union in cooperation with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, the Congressional Black Caucus, and the Congressional Progressive Caucus hosted a briefing on the treatment of women in immigration detention facilities.

“Had I not experienced a year in immigration detention, I would never have believed that such inhumanity existed,” said Marlene Jaggernauth, a single parent who was separated from her four children.

Although there are mental and physical healthcare standards for detainees, they are hardly ever met. While the standards cover emergency medical needs, they often exclude special needs of women, including gynecological exams, assistance to victims of sexual assault, and pre- and post-natal care.

Kathleen Baldoni, a former nurse at an immigration detention center in Texas, described the healthcare system as “an afterthought for the facility and for ICE. [The] care is task-oriented, not patient-oriented.” Baldoni's employer fired her for speaking at the briefing (Nursing Link). She showed “tremendous courage in coming forward,” said Meghan Rhoad of Human Rights Watch.

Bill Seeks Accountability for Inhumane Detention Conditions

At the briefing, Congresswoman Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA), Congressman Michael Honda (D-CA), and Congresswoman Lynn Woolsey (D-CA) all publicly announced their support of a new policy for immigration detention centers. Representative Roybal-Allard described her bill to amend these flaws in ICE detention practices.

The Immigration Oversight and Fairness Act (H.R. 1215) will strengthen accountability and oversight of the immigration detention structure by regulating higher standards of care in immigration detention centers in the areas of medical treatment, sexual abuse, the use of force, access to telephones and legal materials, and procedures for detainee grievances.

AFSC is committed to promoting an improved and humane immigration policy for the United States. AFSC’s staff team in Newark, New Jersey provide Know Your Rights presentations in detention centers throughout the state, and provide legal representation and referrals to detained immigrants facing deportation. For more information on AFSC’s policy recommendations on detention click here to read A New Path Toward Humane Immigration Policy.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Confusing Immigration and National Security

Note: Prepared by AFSC's Newark Immigrant Rights Program

Our shift from a welcoming posture to one that equates immigrants with crime and terrorism stems from a place of fear and uncertainty. This tension and the impression that we need to protect ourselves from immigrants has been the placement of all immigration agencies within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

Within this context, myths abound. The focus has been one of building fences and jails, increasing the number of people who are detained and now form part of the profitable 'human warehousing industrial complex.' Too often, facts are ignored, and feeding the fear frenzy has become a disturbing national pastime. Defining factors such as the reasons for migration are also ignored. Survival, political oppression and the search for freedom, economic hardship, family love and reunification are some of the factors that are altogether side stepped.

Locked up, Locked out: The Detention Industrial Complex - The US has dramatically increased the jailing of immigrants to fight global terrorism. This poorly thought out strategy has seen a rise in the detention of immigrants with an Arab or South Asian background or surname. Vincent Cannistraro, former head of counterterrorism at the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), argues, "[T]he detention of thousands of Middle Eastern and South Asian nationals after September 11 risked ‘alienating’ the very people on whom law enforcement depends for leads.” (12/19/02, The Nation). Indeed, immigrants -- whether they have adjusted their status or remain in an undocumented situation -- will be less likely to report crimes that occured in their communities if they cannot trust law enforcement agencies.

The Border Gets Militarized - Border security accounts for most parts of “national security;” this new action has also led to the militarization of the nation's southern border. The increased presence of the Border Patrol, expanded fences, lights and high-end integrated technology by now dot the southern border at an enormous cost to taxpayers. In addition, the militarization process has also disrupted the region's enviornment and the quality of life of border communities.

Code Language that Separates - Code words such as 'alien,' 'illegal,' and others are used to dehumanize the other. In the current political lexicon, an 'alien' is seen as the other -- is not entitled to receive any public assistance outside of emergency relief. Increasingly, we see the efforts to deny access to housing, social services, health care and other components of the nation's social safety net. Indeed, some wish to change the Constitution's 14th Amendment (citizenship to those born on US soil). Stripping a person of their basic human dignity and of their respect is at the core of language that feeds on stereotypes, misguided policies and ignorance.

It's Not Just the Economy - In fact, studies show that undocumented immigrants contribute more to the economy than they actually take back, through paying various taxes (property, sales, and often income). Most undocumented immigrants are unwilling to accept any form of public assistance as they fear it will impact their ability to obtain lawful residence status later and expose them to the authorities. Many would rather go without service than to threaten the future possibility of adjusting their immigration status and that of their spouse or children. Even if (and when) long-time permanent residents qualify for some benefits, studies have shown that they often underutilize public benefits and assistance. (For specific benefit or statistics, check out information from the Center for Budget and Policy Priority or Urban Institute websites listed below).

Did You Know?

“… the estimated seven million or so illegal immigrant workers in the United States are now providing the [social security] system with a subsidy of as much as $7 billion a year.” (April 5 2005, New York Times)

“..the Social Security Administration reports that it holds $420 billion from the earning of immigrants who are not in a position to claim benefits.” (Fact sheet from National Council of La Raza in 2006)

“The 1996 welfare bill eliminated food stamp eligibility for most legal immigrant noncitizens (other than refugees). … According to USDA more than 4 million Latinos who are eligible for food stamps are missing out on benefits. Only half of Latinos who are eligible for food stamps participate in the program, and among eligible non-citizens the share that participate is even smaller (42 percent).” (Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, 2007)

“… illegal immigrants are in the same situation as millions of Americans who have no health insurance, although undocumented people tend to be more reluctant to use public health services than uninsured Americans.” (Julia Preston, May 2007, NY Times)

____________

Learn the FACTS on immigrants, social security and public benefits, visit:

AFSC - http://www.afsc.org/ImmigrantsRights/ht/a/GetDocumentAction/i/72496

AFSC - Newark, NJ Immigrant Rights Program - 973-643-1924 http://www.afsc.org/nymetro/ht/d/sp/i/68515/pid/68515

Budget and Policy Priority - http://www.cbpp.org/

Urban Institute - http://www.urbaninstitute.org/

National Immigration Law Center - http://www.nilc.org/

Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights, - http://energyofanation.org/

Friday, June 19, 2009

Humane Action Prevails: Temporary Parole Reunites Minors with Parents

“No matter where you stand on the immigration debate in this country, children should be free to go to school without the fear of being deported. We are pleased with the decision of the federal government to allow these three students to come back home - it is a step in the right direction.”
AFSC San Diego press release

Nearly a month ago the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) launched a controversial immigration raid in San Diego’s Old Town Trolley stations. The mid-May operation was led by the U.S. Border Patrol and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). The “trolley raid” led to the apprehension of 21 persons, including three teenagers who were on their way to school.

Local response included a swift and united condemnation of the "trolley raids" and calls for DHS to be held publicly accountable for these actions. The strong outcry included the voices of educators, parents, community advocacy organizations, faith and other local leaders. Early this week, DHS officials announced that the 3 high school students who were apprehended in the raid were granted humanitarian visas and expected to reunite with their families. The three will appear before an immigration judge at a later date.

In the meantime, AFSC and other community partners are urging law enforcement officials to ensure the protection and the human rights of minors. Indeed, this case is an opportunity for immigration authorities to review and improve the policies dictating how children and teen-agers should be treated and questioned for immigration purposes.

According to Pedro Rios, director of AFSC’s San Diego office, “The humanitarian parole offered to the three minors detained in a DHS operation is a positive step forward in acknowledging that egregious missteps took place in their initial detention on May 20. This is an opportunity for both the US and Mexican governments to re-evaluate the regulations dictating how minors should be treated, and to ensure that physical and mental integrity remain a priority in any contact minors have with federal immigration agents.”

AFSC's San Diego office and program sites throughout the nation will continue to work with families and advocates to improve policies addressing the detention of minors. For further information, please contact AFSC’s San Diego staff at 619-233-4114 or visit http://www.afsc.org/ImmigrantsRights/ht/a/GetDocumentAction/i/74624 to read A New Path Toward Humane Immigration Policy.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

A Flicker of Fairness

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) recently announced a two-year, temporary policy freeze that impacts the widows and widowers of U.S citizens. The interpretation of the existing federal immigration directive has meant that spouses of deceased U.S.-born citizens have been routinely denied the opportunity to stay in their new country; most of them face deportation.

This recent reprieve allows for the opportunity to pursue permanent residency even if the primary petitioner has passed away. According to DHS Secretary Napolitano, “Granting deferred action to the widows and widowers of U.S. citizens who otherwise would have been denied the right to remain in the United States allows these individuals and their children an opportunity to stay in the country that has become their home while their legal status is resolved."

This temporary shift helps alleviate some of the fear and uncertainty faced by widows or widowers who formed families, remained in the U.S., and created a new life but continue to be trapped by their uncertain future. While a hopeful first step, this latest action remains a limited solution that should be abandoned when Congress develops substantive and humane changes to the existing immigration system.

For now, this needed policy change portends a better tomorrow for those who have already lost too much in the process of making the U.S. their new home.

For more information visit: www.dhs.gov/ynews/releases/pr_1244578412501.shtm

Thursday, June 04, 2009

AFSC Supports Uniting American Families

"No American should have to choose between country and loved ones," said Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) at a hearing this week on the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA). Senator Leahy introduced UAFA earlier this year, which would allow same-sex permanent partners of United States citizens and lawful permanent residents to obtain lawful permanent resident status in the same manner as spouses of citizens and lawful permanent residents. The bill would also penalize immigration fraud in connection with permanent partnerships.

Progress of Immigration Laws

The bill "would assist about 36,000 same-sex couples nationwide," according to the New York Times. Testimony by Christopher Nugent of the American Bar Association stated that as many as 19 other nations extend this right to bi-national, same-sex couples. Senator Leahy noted that government policy should encourage these relationships instead of trying to hold onto antiquated policy.

The majority of the Senators at the hearing, including Senators Leahy, Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Arlen Specter (D-PA) spoke in favor of UAFA. Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) opposed the bill, stating that allowing same-sex couples to have the same immigration legal rights as traditional man/woman couples creates a new definition of marriage.

AFSC Joins Other Voices in Support of UAFA

The American Friends Service Committee submitted hearing testimony to Congress in support of UAFA. "We add our voice with many others in support of the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA) which will improve current immigration policies that protect equally the basic human rights of every immigrant person and immigrant families," said AFSC. The bill is "a critical piece and compelling change to existing policy is the elimination of discrimination in immigration law against same-sex, permanent partners," AFSC stated.

As the debate on immigration policy unfolds, AFSC and its partners will work to ensure that legislative and policy actions are constructive, humane and respect the basic dignity of every person. Finally, supporting families so that they remain intact, decreasing a 5.8 million family immigration backlog and reducing the years of waiting can be the beginning of a process that repairs the gaps in the nation’s immigration system. UAFA is a pivotal step in this direction.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Two More Days to Call - Act Now

HAITI ACTION ALERT - Humanity for Haiti

Only 2 more days to urge President Obama to grant Temporary Protected Status for Haitians in the U.S.

Call the White House Comment Line Today:

1-800-906-5989

If you haven’t done so already, please ACT NOW!

Please be patient and wait to speak to an operator. Call after 9:00 a.m. (EST) and as early as possible after that to ensure that you are able to speak directly to a White House operator.

Please share this alert with friends, colleagues and other groups that can join AFSC in this essential effort.

Our goal is 1000+ calls and we are now at 500 calls that have been answered by a White House operator.

Here’s why this is important and why your call is critical:
  • Temporary Protected Status (TPS) is the most immediate form of humanitarian assistance the United States government can provide.
  • The U.S. government has granted TPS to nationals from other countries that face significant hardship and suffering. Storms and hurricanes in Haiti have left scores of people dead, an estimated one million families and children homeless, and destroyed local crops needed for food.
  • Presently 70% of the Haitian people are unemployed, while still others wait for relief and assistance. Deporting Haitians in the United States by not granting TPS aggravates the island's political, economic, social, and humanitarian crisis.
Read More: NY Daily News Mentions AFSC's Call to Action

With deepest appreciation,

American Friends Service Committee and
Cosponsors: Black Alliance for Just Immigration, Florida Immigrant Coalition, Haitian Women of Miami, Inc., Latin American and Caribbean Community Center.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Human Rights Activist Never Gave Up on Justice for Borderland Region

“The Creator’s finger touched him, and he slept.”
(Alfred, Lord Tennyson)

Roberto Martinez (72), a lifelong civil and human rights advocate and past director of AFSC’s San Diego-based, US-Mexico Border Program passed away this past Wednesday surrounded by his immediate family and friends. A fifth-generation Chicano, Roberto worked to end the blatant discrimination and racial intolerance he witnessed and that he also challenged. His grandfather was a farm worker who settled in Carlsbad, California in 1915 after leaving Texas.

He became an advocate for immigrant communities and dedicated his life to challenge law enforcement abuse, racial profiling and violations committed against border residents and communities. He also experienced harassment, was apprehended various times in the 50s, and was once scheduled to be deported until U.S. border officers realized that he had difficulties speaking Spanish.

From 1983 until 2001, when he retired, Roberto served as director of the US-Mexico Border Program. During his tenure he developed methods for documenting human rights violations and reached out to churches, local residents and community partners to challenge the abuses taking place along the border.

Roberto was creative in his use of the media to bring attention to increased anti-immigrant actions, vigilantism and shootings occurring at the border. He became part of groups that challenged Operation Gatekeeper, a federal program that tightened the rim of security in the border area but also led to more deaths as undocumented workers sought to seek other ways of crossing the border.

Active in highlighting the plight of border residents, he also sought opportunities to bring together communities throughout California, to mentor young people, and to engage them in human rights work. He found time to support or help start groups such as the Ecumenical Migrant Outreach Project, an effort founded after several Latino men were beaten by high school students in the North County’s Rancho Penasquitos community.

“Roberto was a model leader, who often risked his personal safety and never lost his sense of integrity and hope. He had a quiet dignity that belied his willingness to confront hatred and to challenge abuses that occurred in the border communities,” observed Christian Ramirez, AFSC’s national base building coordinator for Project Voice, AFSC's immigrant and refugee rights initiative.

An organizer and passionate thinker at heart, Roberto participated in countless national and international forums and panel presentations. He also appeared before the U.S. Congress and spoke on Border Patrol violence and the ongoing militarization of the region. His modesty, low-key but firm approach, and his humble spirit revealed his approach to conflict. Indeed, upon learning of his passing, a former adversary commented that, "Roberto was always a gentleman. He will be missed."

Never one to seek recognition for his work, his efforts however, were recognized by other institutions and he humbly accepted these awards on behalf of his community and his work partners. Among these awards were the International Human Rights Monitor by Human Rights Watch for his pioneering human rights border advocacy; the Ohtli Award presented by the Mexican government (this award is the highest honor granted to a non-Mexican national for their service to Mexicans abroad); and the Quetzalcoatl Award presented by the Mexican National Commission for Human Rights.

Before closing his eyes one final time Roberto requested that those attending his mass and service wear white (his favorite color), to remember immigrants who have died crossing the border, and the historic marches throughout the country urging justice for immigrants.

Roberto is survived by his wife (Yolanda), nine children, 23 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. To make a contribution or to send your sympathy wishes to the family please direct your correspondence to: Ms. Y. Martinez c/o AFSC - PO Box 126147, San Diego CA 92112.

For additional reading on Roberto Martinez visit: