Looking forward to 11, we hope 2010 goes out with a bang (and a DREAM)!

From the Restore Fairness blog-

In this past year we witnessed many negative events: An all-time record number of deportations with over 400,000 men, women and children deported, most of whom were not guilty of crimes; reports of medical negligence, sexual assault and the denial of due process in detention centers; unfulfilled promises of immigration reform masked by the threat of raids; the introduction of harsh anti-immigrant legislation such as SB1070, mandating racial profiling and fueling anti-immigrant sentiment around the country; the expansion of partnerships between Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and local police with the introduction of programs such as Secure Communities; the “anchor-baby” bill; the list goes on and on.

From anti-immigrant actions and racial profiling to bullying and homophobia; from fear mongering to the extreme, divisive rhetoric of the mid-term elections, it is difficult to look back at 2010 and feel hopeful. In the midst of this, however, it is important to note that these events engendered unprecedented activism, and the mobilization and coming together of diverse communities, resulting in a number of victories in the name of restoring dignity, justice and equality. The rigorous debate over Arizona’s controversial SB1070 law resulted in sports men and women, musicians, artists, politicians, faith leaders, business owners, young people, as well as the Department of Justice and President Obama, taking a stand against a law that was unjust and offensive, and finally deemed unconstitutional. The March for America in Washington D.C. on March 21st saw 200,000 people, workers, LGBT groups, faith-based groups, etc., come out in support of comprehensive immigration reform, and even without the passage of CIR, the momentum built during that time was palpable for months after. Most recently, following a rally against Secure Communities in New York City, a judge ordered ICE to be transparent and release documents related to Secure Communities and the ability for localities to opt-out of the program.

And two weeks before the end of the year, we are just hours away from a Senate vote on the DREAM Act, a legislation that would provide a path to citizenship for young people that came to the U.S. as children, have completed high-school, and want to pursue college or military service. Every year, around 65,000 young, undocumented boys and girls- including honor rolls students and star athletes- graduate high school and then find themselves high and dry, without the chance to pursue their careers. A number of them, like Eric Balderas, find themselves facing deportation with the chance of being sent back to a country they are supposed to call ‘home’ but have no memory of. For David Cho, a senior honors student at UCLA who can’t count on entertaining job offers the way that his friends are, there are not a lot of options. So instead of young, able, bright people like David and Eric following their careers, pursuing their dreams, giving back to the country by supporting the economy and making the most out of the taxpayers money that has paid for the k-12 education, they are busy mobilizing support to ensure that the Senate passes the DREAM Act tomorrow morning.

Since Sen. Reid announced that he would be holding true to his campaign promise and bringing the DREAM Act up for a vote in the Senate as a stand-alone measure, the DREAMers and all the activists who support the passage of the DREAM Act have been working extremely hard to put pressure on Senators to pass the bill. As it stands, the Senate will vote on the version of the bill that that was passed in the House last week, by around 10am tomorrow. In addition to the DREAMers themselves, who have come out of the shadows to tell their individual stories and have mobilized unprecedented support for the movement, the Latino community is seeing this as a pivotal moment. Speaking to the New York Times, Janet Murguía, president of the National Council of La Raza (NCLR) said-

This will be a watershed vote that Latinos will not forget. There is nowhere left to hide, in the minds of Latino voters. There will be members who choose to stand for innocent children and members who do not. This vote will be an indication of who stands for our families and our communities.

As we get closer to the vote, an increasing number of people are speaking up, urging Senators to vote in favor of the bill. Representatives from the Department of Defense, heads of educational institutions, religious leaders, heads of labor organizations and workers unions, officials from the Department of Homeland Security, and hundreds of others have spoken up in support of the bill and why it is crucial to the integrity and prosperity of the country. President Obama himself made calls to Democrat and Republican senators to garner support for the bill.

Currently, the legislation needs 60 Senate votes in order to be end debate, at which point the House-approved version of the bill will be finally voted on, on Sunday. If passed, it will go directly to President Obama for a signature.The momentum that has brought the movement to this point (since the DREAM Act was first introduced almost a decade ago) is solely the result of intense grassroots activism on the part of students. DREAMers and DREAMActivists have worked tirelessly, putting themselves on the line by coming out as undocumented and basically pushing this piece of legislation forward with their cross-country walks, vigils, hunger strikes and their storming of Capitol Hill online and off. But they can’t do it alone. So on the eve of this historic vote, and the eve of the New Year, call your Senators right now and tell them to vote YES on the DREAM Act.

What better way to conclude 2010 than by ensuring that the hard work and courage of the DREAMERs pays off and the DREAM Act passes in the Senate tomorrow morning, less than two weeks before the end of this year.

Pick up the phone, write a letter, and make a wish for the New Year. See you then!

Photo courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

Go to restorefairness.org




ICE Deports Non-Spanish Speaking American Citizen to Mexico

From the Restore Fairness blog-

Guest blogger: Sam Ritchie from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)

How does a U.S. citizen who has never been to Mexico, speaks no Spanish and shares no Mexican heritage end up being deported there, spending the next four months living on the streets and in the shelters and prisons of Mexico, Honduras, Nicaragua and Guatemala? It's just the latest instance of blatant disregard for the rights and well being of people with mental disabilities by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Mark Lyttle's brush with immigration officials began when he was about to be released from a North Carolina jail where he was serving a short sentence for touching a worker's backside in a halfway house that serves individuals with mental disabilities. Even though they had plenty of evidence that he was a U.S. citizen — including his Social Security number and the names of his parents — corrections officials turned him over to ICE as an undocumented immigrant whose country of birth was Mexico. (Mark is actually of Puerto Rican descent, but I guess when the government is trying to kick a Latino guy out of the country, the easiest place to send him is Mexico.)

ICE held Mark for six weeks, and though they knew about his history of mental illness and noted that he didn't understand the investigation into his immigration status, they provided no legal assistance in either his interrogation or court appearance and eventually deported him to Mexico. Penniless and unable to speak the language, he was sent by Mexican officials to Honduras, where he was imprisoned and threatened by prison guards. Honduran officials sent him to Guatemala, where he eventually made his way to the U.S. Embassy.

Within a day, embassy officials were able to contact one of Mark's brothers on the military base where he was serving and issue Mark a passport. His brother wired him money and Mark was soon on a flight to Atlanta. But adding insult to injury, upon seeing his history of ICE investigations, immigration officials in Atlanta held and questioned him for several hours before letting him go.

On October 13th, the ACLU and our affiliates in Georgia and North Carolina have filed lawsuits on Mark's behalf, but the question on my mind is "how could this have happened?" The answer, as reported by the ACLU and Human Rights Watch in a report issued this July, is that both ICE and the Department of Justice (DOJ) have failed to implement meaningful safeguards for people with mental disabilities facing possible deportation from the United States. The system fails to even live up to basic standards of the American justice system, such as the right to appointed counsel for people who must defend against deportation even when their mental disabilities make it practically impossible to understand what "deportation" means. As immigration attorney Megan Bremer has noted:

Due process is part of judicial integrity. It's a basic principle that this country has decided to prioritize. It's one of our greatest exports — we send people all over the world to talk about rule of law and how to reform judicial systems but we're not doing it here in our fastest growing judicial system [the immigration courts].

The result is that people like Mark who have a right to remain in the United States can be deported because they never get a fair chance to present their cases.

Azadeh Shahshahani, director of the National Security/Immigrants' Rights Project of the ACLU of Georgia, told the Inter Press Service News Agency-

Mark's case is a tragedy that serves to underscore the deep systemic injustices that continue to plague our government's system of detention and deportation...Mark is just one of thousands of people in this country who have been victimised by a single-minded focus on detention and deportation without the kind of individualised determinations that are the essence of due proces.

Mark's story is a wake-up call. We hope that ICE and DOJ will implement reforms designed to protect the rights of people with mental disabilities now, before they accidentally put another citizen through the ordeal they caused for Mark Lyttle.

Learn. Share. Act. Go to restorefairness.org




Former Gitmo Prisoner's Case Comes Down to What He Knew and When He Knew It


Lawyers made opening statements Tuesday as the trial began in earnest for the first former Guantanamo detainee transferred to U.S. soil. While the government portrayed the slight, baby-faced 36-year-old as a vicious al Qaeda murderer who helped plan two US embassy bombings that killed 224 people, the defense told a very different story. Although not contesting much of the evidence the government plans to present --- about the bombings themselves, its destructiveness and their innocent victims -- defense lawyers argue that Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani was a hapless young Tanzanian duped into helping his powerful childhood friends who, unbeknownst to him, were al Qaeda killers.

What's most surprising about the case is that, based on the government's opening arguments, it's not clear whether prosecutors have any direct evidence establishing that Ghailani intended to hurt anyone, or even knew that the items he purchased in Tanzania were going to be used as a bomb. That knowledge is a critical element of the charges against him -- particularly the multiple murder charges.

There's more...

Obama DOJ On The Wrong Side Of Don't Ask, Don't Tell

"You don't need to be straight to fight and die for your country. You just need to shoot straight."

-1964 Republican presidential nominee & U.S. Senator Barry Goldwater

In what world would Republicans have a better gay rights record than that of a so-called progressive, Democratic presidential administration?

We are living in that world, 2010 America, and a GOP-allied group paid more than lip-service to the nation's gay community as the Democratic administration of President Barack Obama hemmed and hawed their way around an important GLBT issue.

Six years after first taking legal action to overturn the discriminatory "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" military policy, the Log Cabin Republicans won a victory for gay Americans everywhere. United States District Court Judge Virginia A. Phillips ruled that "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" is unconstitutional.

There's more...

Advocates Baffled By DOJ Approval of Controversial Voter Verification Law

A two-year battle in the courts concluded this week when the Department of Justice approved Georgia’s controversial voter verification system that was originally struck down in 2009 as inaccurate, unreliable, and worst of all, discriminatory against people of color and naturalized citizens.  The decision leaves voting rights advocates dismayed as to why the DOJ would allow the state to implement this arguably overzealous and potentially disenfranchising procedure.

“Systematic Purging” of Voters in 2008 Without Preclearance

The story of Georgia’s “citizen-check” procedure goes back to October 2008, when the state was sued by voting rights groups who claimed the procedure not only violated the Voting Rights Act, but inappropriately amounted to a systematic purging of voters just before the presidential election.

Due to its history of Jim Crow-era discriminatory voting practices, Georgia is one of 10 states required to seek federal approval or “preclearance” under the Voting Rights Act before changing election rules. In 2009, the DOJ refused to grant preclearance to Georgia’s flawed system of matching Social Security and driver’s license numbers that erroneously flagged thousands of otherwise eligible voters as “potential non-citizens.”

Typographical errors and an outdated driver’s license database were named the primary causes of systematic failure, though the DOJ further criticized the time-sensitive hurdles that “potential non-citizens” had to go through in order to prove their eligibility to vote. The DOJ also noted the system’s discriminatory impact on a disproportionate number of African American, Latino, and Asian American citizens.

In June, Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp sued the DOJ to grant the state preclearance for the "citizen checking" procedure, citing partisan politics as the reason the system was shut down, despite the fact that the Bush Administration’s DOJ was first to question the system in 2008.

Why Did the DOJ Approve a System that Exceeds Federal Law?

Under the Help America Vote Act, states are required to verify voter identity by checking voter registration information against Social Security and driver’s license databases.  But, as Bush’s DOJ determined in 2008, HAVA only requires states to verify a voter’s identity, not his or her citizenship.

The approval of a law that not only exceeds HAVA, but, in its former version, had a discriminatory impact on voters, “came as something of a shock," said Laughlin McDonald, the voting rights project director for the American Civil Liberties Union in a recent Atlanta Journal Constitution report.

The original procedure applied to all first-time voter registration applicants and anyone who made a change on his or her driver's license, including a name change through marriage or moving. The approved system now "includes all first-time voter registration applicants, including those who register by mail or in person at their county registrar. It does not, however include voters already registered who make changes to their information."

"It was the pool that changed," Kemp’s spokesperson, Matt Carrothers told the AJC. "Again, the process that has been granted preclearance by the DOJ is actually broader than that that was denied previously."

McDonald speculates that the DOJ precleared the Georgia system “to avoid a worse fate in court,” The AJC reports.

“The state's lawsuit said if the court found its system allowable under the Voting Rights Act, that it should also rule all of Section 5 unconstitutional. The Obama administration probably didn't want to take the chance of that happening, he said.”

Though the true reasons why the DOJ precleared this law are unknown, ultimately, the Georgia decision exemplifies how the specter of voter fraud only continues to encourage the erosion of voting rights through overextending measures. Looking at Georgia’s history in election policies, including a long fight to implement photo voter ID, the state shows no sympathy for the potentially discriminatory impact of its laws on its voters. Time will tell if the new version of the “citizen-check” procedure will provide evidence needed to challenge this pervasive misconception.  And with the approaching election, that time may be very soon.


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