Monthly Archives: March 2010

More Unnecessary English-Only Laws: Tennessee Edition

Yesterday, Prerna wrote about the passage of a bill requiring all Georgia driver’s license exams to be given in English. Well, Tennessee is getting in on the action too, with double the trouble: one proposed bill would give employers the right to insist that their workers speak only English, the other would require English-only driver’s license exams.

As the Tennessean states: “The former is unnecessary, the latter potentially harmful.” First off, in yet another sign that our nation’s lawmakers just have too much time on their hands, a federal law already exists securing the right to mandate English-only communication when necessary, “which suggests this simply is a maneuver to ingratiate the bill’s backers to their voting base.” Yay for nativist, racist political manipulations! I’m unsurprised that a similar (rejected) measure last year was primarily funded by Pro-English, an anti-immigrant organization in the John Tanton Network.

Now, the driver’s license bill: time and again, the state Department of Safety has testify there’s no data to support the suggestion that people who don’t speak English are worse drivers or cause more accidents. On the other hand, the consequence of the bill could be more people driving without licenses or instruction, which is a road danger. But this is my favorite argument: Sen. Delores Gresham claims, “This bill embraces everyone. It says, ‘Come, be like us. Speak English.'” I think she forgot the “or else” on the end of that statement.

Stephen Fotopulos, executive director of the Tennessee Immigrant & Refugee Rights Coalition, says that immigrants don’t need this extra (punitive) encouragement: English classes are already overflowing, with long waiting lists. He also asks: “If a newly settled refugee cannot get a driver’s license, how is she going to drive to her English classes?”

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Download Free Music to End Relationship Violence

You get free music AND raise money to end relationship violence? Win-win!

Macy’s and Alfani have partnered with the Family Violence Prevention Fund’s RESPECT! Campaign to work against relationship violence. Download Ne-Yo’s new song “Heroes” for FREE off Macy’s website, and they’ll donate $1 to the RESPECT! Campaign. So let’s get this straight: all you have to do is click a button, and you get a hot new song, plus you raise money to stop domestic abuse? That’s music to my ears.

The Family Violence Prevention Fund (FVPF) has a positive record of working to protect women. The FVPF helped develop the landmark 1994 Violence Against Women Act, and was instrumental in the International Violence Against Women Act currently before Congress. They’ll put Macy’s and Alfani’s money to good use in promoting healthy relationships and working against abuse. Kudos to the store and clothing brand for picking such a great target for their extra dough.

Even better, “Heroes” is actually a dance-worthy tune, so you can really boogie down to ending relationship violence. On the downside, there’s only ONE DAY LEFT to help somebody who needs a hero in their life by downloading the song today. As of my writing, there have been 35,681 total downloads — which translates into $35,681 for education about healthy relationships. Make sure you download the song before it’s too late, then suggest it to all your friends. Seriously, who doesn’t want free music that fights relationship violence?

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Immigrants Released After Lengthy Illegal Detentions

Elliot Grenade and Alexander Alli are lawful permanent residents who got into trouble with the law. While this means deportation, in rare circumstances an immigrant can successfully argue “extreme hardship” and get a visa waiver. While awaiting there chance to argue their case, the two immigrants have been detained for 2.5 and 1.5 years, respectively, without being given a bond hearing to determine whether they are eligible for release on bail.

This is the status quo for most immigrant detainees: even though they aren’t being held for violent crimes or pose a risk to the community, they are frequently denied the right to post bail and be released pending a decision on their deportation — a right we respect for people accused of real crimes. It’s part of the guilty-until-proven-innocent mindset of the detention system, which has severe backlogs that can lead to the incarceration of an immigrant for two-and-half years or more.

Well, the American Civil Liberties Union has had enough, which is why they represented Grenada and Alli in order to challenge the legality of an indefinite detention without a bond hearing. When a judge ruled in their favor, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement didn’t even bother with a bond hearing. Nope: they just released the two men. If it was that easy, kind of makes you wonder why they weren’t given a bond hearing in the first place? Makes you wonder who profits from unjust detention on the taxpayer’s dime (*cough* private detention centers).

Farrin Anello, an attorney with the ACLU Immigrants’ Rights Project, commented that the release of Alli and Grendade “confirms that the lengthy imprisonment they suffered was entirely unnecessary in light of the facts of their individual cases. … Many others like them continue to be deprived of their liberty for months or years in immigration detention even though no judge has ever considered whether their detention is necessary.” The ACLU is appealing a ruling that they cannot bring a class action suit to challenge detention without a hearing on behalf of all the immigrants who suffer from this unjust system.

Photo credit: Ken_Mayer

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The Philippines Defies Catholic Church, Hands Out Condoms to Stop HIV/AIDS

Flowers, chocolates, and condoms: all three were distributed on Valentine’s Day in the Philippines this year, and while they might all help you get lucky, only one of the three will prevent the transmission of HIV/AIDS.

“Take care always, my Valentine,” a program by the Philippines’ Department of Health, was geared toward addressing increasing rates of HIV/AIDS by handing out free condoms, and marks a shift in tactics. This move defied official government policy and bishops in the heavily Catholic country, leading the Catholic Bishops Conference to demand the resignation of Health Secretary Esperanza Cabral. Thinking maybe the bishops just felt left out, activist delivered a couple baskets of condoms to their doorstep, asking them to bless the rubbers. The bishops didn’t seem to appreciate the gift.

The World Health Organization is giving the thumbs up to the Department of Health, stating that “Countries that have implemented robust 100 percent condom-use programs have been able to contain their fast-growing HIV epidemics first, and reverse the trend within a relatively short period of time.” While condoms have an 85-95% effectiveness rate in preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS under normal use (in the lab, they work almost 100% of the time), the Catholic Church insists that sexually transmitted disease can only be fought through abstinence and strict monogamy in marriage. But since they practically control the country already and still can’t keep people adhering to those rules, it’s time to make sure that, as long as people are having sex, it’s safe sex.

On the downside, the condoms were only distributed to adults: teens received information on HIV/AIDS and lollipops. Okay, the info is good, but lollipops? Unless they’re condom lollipops, they’re not going to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS, and probably won’t keep youth from having sex either. Well, I guess you can’t expect too much at once from a country were abortion is criminalized. One Valentine’s Day at a time.

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Deported Over a Couple of Joints?

Calling all stoners: Did you know that smoking a couple of joints can get an immigrant deported?

In immigration law, joint #1 + joint #2 = drug trafficking. Yes, in the infinite wisdom of the United States government, two minor drug possession charges makes you a drug trafficker, an “aggravated felony” that results in the deportation of a legal resident immigrant. Silly me — here I thought you had to actually commit a serious crime to be hit with a felony and determined a drug trafficker who needs to be deported for the safety of the country, not do something that carries the penalty of a mere $100 fine.

You can just be a 20-something-year-old training to be a nurse, while taking care of your U.S. citizen sister who has a brain disorder and supporting your single mother — like Jerry Lemaine. (I like him already for defying gender stereotypes by studying to be a nurse.) What’s extra special about Lemaine’s situation is that his first charge for marijuana possession, which occurred when he was a teenager, was dismissed, yet Texas still insists on viewing that as a conviction. But when Lemaine’s lawyer went to get his juvenile record cleared, the New York court said, well that’s silly, and wouldn’t do it — because the conviction doesn’t exist, it can’t be erased. Bit of a Catch-22, eh?

By the way, Lemaine is actually one of the lucky ones, because he was able to get a lawyer who could help him argue that two joints does not a drug trafficker make. Most immigrants are detained and deported without access to legal counsel, a travesty of justice. (Speaking of travesty of justice, we won’t even start talking about how U.S. drug laws disproportionately impact people of color.)

On the not-so-lucky side, however, while he has recently been released under supervision while his case is pending, he’s already spent three years of his young life in detention, and 10 months of that in solitary isolation — mainly for his own protection, since the Karnes County Correctional Center tosses immigration detainees in with federal prisoners, and he said that, as the only black detainee in his dorm, he was vulnerable to attacks. All this for an offense that doesn’t even carry a prison sentence.

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Talk Show Hosts Fight Female Genital Mutilation

This just in: watching talk shows can be good for girls’ and women’s health.

Well, if the talk show is sending the right messages, that is. And in Egypt, the message is coming through loud and clear: stop mutilating your daughters.

Female genital mutilation (FGM) is a common practice in many countries, including Egypt. It has no demonstrated medical benefits and actually poses a serious health risk to girls, who can contract serious infections or become infertile; it can also cause difficultly in giving birth or lead to newborn deaths, according to the World Health Organization. Oh — and it HURTS. Yet it’s such a deeply ingrained cultural practice, that efforts to stop the cutting haven’t made much of a dent in the practice.

Well, if it’s the culture that needs to change, talk shows seem like they would be a great venue, right? A loosening of restrictions on independent media has provided the freedom to have frank discussions about FGM and its problems. Since literacy can be a major obstacle in raising awareness about harmful practices in communities where many people, especially the women, might not have much of an education, the medium of television is a great new tool. Talk show hosts’ willingness to spotlight the issue on T.V. is working to overcome taboos related to challenging FGM, and can reach women in conservative locales and let them know that, actually, they have options to protect their daughters.

While FGM remains a major problem in Egypt and elsewhere, it’s awesome to know that talk shows aren’t just a guilty pleasure — they can be a venue for enacting real change.

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Youth Facing Deportation Was Brought to U.S. to Escape Death Threat

As I reported this weekend, Julio Cesar Martinez-Burgos is facing automatic deportation for missing an immigration hearing when he was only a seven-year-old child. For this, Immigration and Customs Enforcement have deemed him a “fugitive” and are working to get him deported back to Honduras, where he will be homeless.

Diana Burgos, Julio’s mother, says that she fled Honduras to escape a death threat against herself and, she feared, her young children. The man had a record of domestic violence against his wife, and when she left him, he came after Burgos, who had been a close friend of his victim. Martinez’s lawyer, Rachel Newton, states that the fleeing mother hadn’t properly understood the immigration system or been able to consult with a lawyer, and that officials “mishandled” her case, which resulted in the missing hearing date that is getting Julio deported.

One of the faults of U.S. immigration system is that it is too rigid in dealing with immigrants who might be fleeing violence or death threats in their own countries, and arrive in this country stressed, exhausted, and bewildered. Our inhumane detention system treats refugees and asylum seekers as criminals rather than victims. Martinez had a legitimate reason to seek protection in America. At a rally to support Julio, one of his classmates argued: “She saved their lives at the cost of entering in violation of U.S. immigration laws, but it was a risk worth taking. Because she did so, she and her children are alive today.” What loving mother wouldn’t do the same?

And even regardless of his mother’s role in the botched immigration hearing, Julio himself, as a small child, had no say and can hold no blame in the matter. ICE has the authority to take these circumstances into account, recognize that he is not a fugitive, and issue a stay of removal, so that Julio can continue his education and not suffer the unnecessary hardship of deportation to a strange land where he has no way of providing for himself. Sign this petition to tell ICE not to deport Julio, and if you can, please go the snail mail route and send a letter of support to his lawyer: Rachel Newton, 1012 S. 4th St., Louisville, KY 40203.

Photo credit: DREAMActivist

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Quotas or No Quotas? ICE and Deporting “Criminal” Immigrants

On Saturday, the Washington Post reported on a memo obtained with the help of the Center for Investigative Reporting outlining Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s use of quotas in detaining and deporting immigrants.

President Barack Obama and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano have claimed that immigration enforcement will focus on undocumented immigrants with criminal records who may be dangerous — exactly who I want law enforcement keeping an extra close eye out for. Yet the memo, from James M. Chaparro, head of ICE detention and removal operations, calls for agents to meet quotas for non-criminal immigrants. The expanded focus and quotas were to address a slowing number of removals (despite a record number of deportations over the last year).

Joan Friedland of the National Immigration Law Center points out that these quotas create a disincentive for tracking down hard-to-catch dangerous criminals, pushing agents to go after the easy pickings.

In response, ICE Assistant Secretary John Morton sent out a statement saying that he did not authorize that memo and ICE is “strongly committed to carrying out our priorities to remove serious criminal offenders first and we definitively do not set quotas.” Well, if this is the case, you might want to do some internal cleaning house, since clearly the guy who runs thing with detention and removal didn’t get that memo.

How’s the whole targeting-dangerous-criminals thing going anyway? A recent UNC Chapel Hill study found that the North Carolina 287(g) program, under which local law enforcement helps the feds do their job, had failed in its stated objective of removing violent criminals: a mere 13.3% of those flagged for deportation had committed felonies, and nearly a third had only committed traffic violations.

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No Health Care for Wanted Pregnancies, No Abortions for Unwanted Ones

In Nebraska, if you don’t want to be pregnant, anti-choice lawmakers will do their best to force you to act as an incubator. But if you do want to give birth, then they couldn’t care less if your newborn baby dies due to their laws.

As I wrote on Immigrant Rights earlier this month, a proposed bill would have continued the state’s long-standing practice of providing prenatal care for low-income women. But Gov. Dave Heineman’s threatened veto killed the pro-life legislation because he was bothered by the fact that poor undocumented immigrant women would also receive health care under this bill — even though it’s the U.S. citizen baby who will eventually be born that is most harmed by the denial of prenatal care. A shocking 4% of newborns whose mothers did not receive prenatal care will die before their first birthday.

Meanwhile, another recently proposed bill would require proof that women seeking an abortion are physically and mentally sound enough to received an abortion. Really? We don’t go around requiring women to prove they’re physically and mentally stable enough to bring a new life into this world, but we’re going to impose unconstitutionally vague, impossible to comply with extra restrictions if they don’t want that responsibility? As a hint, not only do doctors generally try to do what’s healthy for their patients, but being pregnant and giving birth is a way bigger physical strain and health risk than an abortion procedure, and in many cases probably a bigger mental health issue as well.

Guess it just goes to show again that, for the anti-choice camp, they only “babies” that matter are the unborn. Seems a lot more like controlling a woman’s body than being “pro-life.”

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10 Years in Jail for Playing With a Toy Gun?

Does 10 years in jail for playing with a toy gun seem like overkill? Apparently Oklahoma lawmakers don’t think so.

HB 3341 would hit undocumented immigrants with up to $5000 in fines and 10 years in jail for possession of, not just a gun, but any toy or imitation pistol. Marisa Treviño points out at Latina Lista that “because no age limit is set, the technicality exists that an undocumented child found with a toy gun would be charged as a felon.” Oklahoma is also considering a law requiring schools to report on undocumented immigrant students.

I’m fine with making carrying guns — real ones — illegal for everybody. I’m not even a huge fan of cops and robbers games. But, seriously, 10 years in jail for playing with a toy gun? Even the pacifist in me can’t find fault with children spraying their peers on a hot summer day. Yet Republican State Rep. Mike Christian, who authored the bill, justifies the measure thus: “Under current law, convicted felons caught with guns face these same charges. Why would we treat illegal aliens differently?”

How about the fact that crossing the border illegally is only a misdemeanor, and overstaying a visa nothing more than an administrative violation, and the reason you wouldn’t want serious criminals convicted of felonies is that they are serious criminals convicted of felonies? Or that a law addressing only convicted felons doesn’t need age limitations to avoid criminalizing children? Or that supporters’ argument that the law is to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous criminal gangs doesn’t hold water, since current state law already restricts felons, and in any case, undocumented and legal resident immigrants convicted of felonies get deported under federal law after serving their sentences?

This is just another excuse to attack and strike fear into hard-working immigrants and their families, paint them as criminals in people’s minds, while offering no actual protections to public safety. And as immigration is a federal issue, which Democratic State Sen. Richard Lerblance indicates, anti-immigrant state laws like this one just waste law enforcement’s time and wind up in court — “And there’s no telling how many hundreds of thousands of dollars it will cost to litigate it.”

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