Monday, September 10, 2007

Tongue to Tongue

Building Coalitions and Movement

This weekend, Friday, Sept 7 - 9, 2007, was the Tongue to Tongue Conference ( in Los Angeles, California. The conference was held at the Gay and Lesbian Center, called The Village, in West Hollywood.

I went to the trans history workshop, a useful backgrounder on the elite establishments vision of tranny hirstory, a medicalized view of "gender dystopia." We heard stories of tranny and queer folks, gender benders, and I wished we had shared stories of Mu Lan, of the Spanish daughter of an African mother who had a wife and children and was persecuted in the Spanish Inquisition for her gender bending, and of la tranny who was one of the instigators of Stonewall. That the trannies were the ones leading that charge.

The LGBTQI Immigration Workshop was moderated by Liliana Perez, who is queer liaison for the Fabian Nuñez, and the presenters were
  • Fran Hutchings, Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA)
  • Xiomara Corpeño, also from CHIRLA,
  • myself, Diana Pei Wu, from the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, and
  • Jasmyne Cannick, a blogger, and now a community liaison for newly elected Congressional Representative Laura Richardson
I appreciated the efforts of our moderator and participants to model good behavior and comments, and trying to say something useful about LGBTQI movements and LGBTQI immigrants, as well as about the IRR movement in general.

We didnt' really talk about the situation of queer immigrants and refugees.

I mentioned our work on LGBTQI rights and Immigrant Rights, and our work trying to link movmeents.

Many of the people in the room worked on interesting stuff. service providers as well as organizers.

In retrospect we could have spent more time on the stories of LGBTQ migrants and refugees,
and not been derailed by one person trying to be the wedge, represent all African Americans, and at the same time tell the immigrant and refugee rights movement what we should be doing to include more black folk. and she didn't even do anything to find out what we do, and obviously who had no clue as to what else is going on in places where people take the time to create the space to know each other, and to knwo what we do, who we are.

Classic interventions:
  • we are not all immigrants. but most of us do have stories of forced migration, displacement, and movement and migration in our stories.
  • the immigrations system is not broken. it is racist. it works exactly the way it has been designed to work, since the chinese exclusion act of 1882 through the border security acts etc of the present day.
  • human rights not economic or political pragmatism
  • broad movements for racial, economic and social justice
  • there is good legislation out there that adheres to our values and principles.
classic comment: can't do it all in a 1.5 h conversation, especially one we don't control and don't even have a chance to frame..

if it had been me, i would have highlted the case of Ms. Arellano who just passed in LA and the case of the trans sister who is suing CDC for neglecting her repeated requests for safety from being raped by the man who was her cellmate, and the cases of the people in our BRIDGE curriculum.

it felt like mostly LA-heads but a lot of folks from the Bay too. yay.

Highlander Center, and Asheville, NC

this past labor day, i spent with generations of organizers and activists at the Highlander Research and Education Center's 75th Anniversary in New Market, TN.

We celebrated 75 years of organizing with poor white folk in rural Appalachia, black folk throughout the South, and more recently, with some Latino leaders in the rural South, using tools of cultural organizing, participatory research, popular education, grounded in local and regional history and culture - that is, invested in a sense of place. and working to ensure that language and culture are shared, and are not barriers to communication.

We are blessed.

So much music, a depth of relationship between music and performance and organizing and people's hearts, a body-knowledge of when which songs mights be appropriate. And new songs from old ones, playful floreos on lyrics and melodies and layers of harmony.

it's been years since i've been to the appalachian mountains, these rolling hills, their layers of blues and greens and purples.

tents, fans, ribs, song.

slave songs, dulcimer songs, banjo and bluegrass songs. freedom songs. jazz and spoken words as song. worksongs. love to the movement songs.

i met a woman with whom i shared the ribbon dance. and i treasure our meeting, watching the shared beauty of that silk ribbon moving in air. i appreciated that she saw the power of it,

and thanks to monica for showing us a little bit of the knoxville that she loves - the yummy sangria place, and Calhoun's, the BBQ place on the river near the boardwalk. flying out of knowville, i stopped at a little nature center called Ijams (pronounced I-yam, like ayam, chicken in bahasa indonesia-melayu). walked along the river, it's big and flat. i forgot how big the water is here ...

it is 1.5 h from knoxville to asheville, nc.

asheville, nc, is a little center for yippie's, new restaurants, all the trappings of fancy city living.

we are in the blue ridge, in the great smoky mountain range, this is cherokee land, where we shared cornmeal and milky way stories, and the stories of how the turkey vulture flew up over the soft earth when the turtle came out of the water, and in the wingbeats of the vulture flying north, drew up the earth into the ranges of mountains that run from what is now georgia through upstate new york.

it is a place of big rocks and broad rivers.

an old-new place for latinos and other immigrants and refugees, from south africa and mali, mexico and honduras, vietnam, and colombia.

our companeras in asheville. are doing amazing work.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

The Hunger and Urgency of the Movement's Moment

There is a hunger in our movement for discussing the state of the movement, and future directions. Every session that I've attended today that had part of its focus as immigrant rights also wanted to focus on national strategy, especially now given that the Senate Bill, is as far as we can see, dead.

There was the first press conference this morning from 9:30 am - 10:00 am at the Immigrant Rights tent.

The first workshop I went to was hosted by the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, and facilitated by Cathi Tactaquin from NNIRR and Hamid Khan from South Asian Network. The second one was one facilitated by Susan Williams and Monica Hernandez of the Highlander Research and Education Center.

What I captured from the conversations that people wanted to call out and lift up in terms of strategy were the following:
  1. calling out the DC groups - their lack of accountability to grassroots groups, to groups outside of DC.
  2. more education -- both internally in our own communities, and between communities (race, gender, nation, sexuality, documentation status and others) about the different lived experiences
  3. more media work that supports the effort at internal education - this means for us, doing work in immigrant communities through youth and ethnic media. For white folks, it means not shying away from the discussion on racism, and learning to listen in a deep way.
  4. to stand in meaningful solidarity with each other
  5. healing work for the hurt and trauma and fear of those affected -- detainess, former detainees, their families & communities
  6. education -- the link to colonialism -- if there's one thing we learned from all the struggles to decolonize, ongoing and past, it's that we can't play by their rules.
  7. doing anti-oppression work -- one woman brought up that she entered the work on immigration through work against domestic violence with women on the border, calling attention to the many ways that violence manifests, and the different ways that we are made vulnerable.
anyway, that's what i can think of right now.

come visit us at the Immigrant Rights Tent!

the march

what a
relief to walk out of the MARTA station at 2:30 yesterday in the afternoon, in the sweltering heat, and hear and see this from the inside of the train station!

Faces of the Immigrant Rights Caucus

how do we do the things we do? and why?

I think the way we do things reflects a lot about our real beliefs and values. Not just the values in terms of words, but because the way we do things is what has been made real and visceral, made it into the body and the heart, beyond the intellect.

and so that's why I appreciate the way we opened up the orientation, a chance for all of us to meet new people in the Caucus, a space for people to congregate, to leave things, to express a visual solidarity.

It is one of the strengths, the power, and a product of a lot of love, many years of trust building, that these are leaders who are here to serve -- that reflect, that listen to the shared analyses and help encapsulate them. Listening to the same conversation in many places is helping us to consolidate, to bring together this analysis. So even tho the workshops are supposed to be different, sometimes they are similar. These are the wan hua (10,000 flowers) blossoming. Conversations, sparks, moments.

And that we were able to embody our movement -- the diversity of race, sexual orientation, gender presentation, and also, to bring with us as many parts of our whole selves as possible into the space - art, song, movement, visuals. I hope it's a piece that we can bring into being continuously in our work.

It's why I do popular education, but really, why that philosophy of wholeness, I attempt to bring into most everything I do. Organizing, political work, and even some times recreational activities -- transforming the spaces in which we live, work, play, sing, and love each other.

That's a vision I learned in part from the environmental justice movement, and from the many different kinds of feminist and womanist movements.

Other key elements of this work together, through which we enact the better world we dream, are dialogue, and collaboration.

As some of the folks I've been talking to about popular education have reminded me, just acknowledging our problems together are basic ingredients of transformational organizing. That it breaks the isolation of a problem and helps us realize the collective and systemic nature of oppression.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The Wasatch Range or Knowing Our Place

Immigrant rights in flight and on the road from Oakland to the U.S. Social Forum in Atlanta

by arnoldo garcía

I asked him if he knew the name of the mountain range visible in the distance, as our jet-plane sauntered along towards the runway. He said, “No; I’m not from here.” He smiled a sheepish smile adding in self-defense, “But I do come here once a week.” Our plane turned into the headwinds, gained enough speed and lifted up gracefully towards the east, grazing the mountain range without a name with the tip of its wing. I am coming from Oakland to Atlanta through Salt Lake City, where I will learn the names of the original peoples, the natural world and her landscapes, her languages.

Oakland is a city of migrants. I came to Oakland, too, from a long tradition of migrants.

On the way to the Oakland airport, we drove by new corridor of housing, commercial and semi-industrial development that’s been underway for more than a decade. Gentrification, in a word. These new developments are the surface of the root causes of displacement. East Oaklanders – mainly of color, working class – are having to move far away to afford rent and also find work. And who’s replacing them? Mainly white but professionals moving into the inner city to save the environment, to live the neighborhood where they plan on living in walkable neighborhoods, with local shops and neighbors. Capitalist stability trades human lives for the center.

As the plane reached higher and higher altitudes, the quilt of cities and agriculture fields below, the quilt sewn by working class hands emerged in all its beauty, in full, wide angle. The curvature of the earth is the best place to put your hands – where humanity has held onto, cradled its head to sleep secure in the cosmos, on her shoulder. I remembered or realized that the migrant knows her place, where she’s from, where’s she’s going, and where she’s at.

When you look closely, migration is the human way of life, the human story of life and its deepest struggles and dreams. When we migrate, we dream of return, of home because we are not welcomed where we now call home. Migration is local, regional, national, trans-territorial, international; yet the impacts are always in my neighborhood and in my community, wherever I come from and go to.

Root causes, different yet the same everywhere

We say that the root causes of migration are political and economic instability and conflict. Instability is stability for some communities. In East and West Oakland, there is a lot of political and economic instability for those who live there now. Those moving in are working towards stability; this means some of their poorer, working class neighbors will have to move or choose to live in increasingly stressful situations.

My African American neighbors eventually sold their home to a young white couple with a growing family. The housing price boom was good to both of them. But did they want to leave? The last straw was when their son was killed by the violence that plagues young men of color wherever they live.

One night a bunch of Oakland police raided their home in the middle of the night. Our dog, who usually barks at anything that makes noise or passes by the house only, growled this time. She too was very scared of the police in riot gear, the heavily armed men in black, appearing as menacing shadows in the night to arrest a young black man for violating his parole.

My neighborhood in east Oakland has gone from majority African American, Latino, Asian and some whites to majority Latino, Asian, African American with a growing number of whites – more than I have seen in the last 20 years.

This is one of the faces of metropolitics – managing growth, smart growth the government declares it, at regional metropolitan levels. The metropolitics of smart growth is about dispersing poverty throughout a region, among other things. It turned out that the majority of under-utilized and abandoned commercial, industrial and housing districts were where majority communities of color live: East Oakland, the Fruitvale (also known as Jingl-Town), West Oakland, China Town. Or San Francisco's Bay View Hunter's Point, which had the highest percentage of home ownership of any other district in The City.

Smart growth turned out to be the same old growth that led to our segregation and abandonment. That is, this time dispersing, displacing the poor from the urban center to the suburbs, where the jobs they can do are located and leaving our neighborhoods, corner grocery stores and other community amenities behind. Wherever people of color go they still have a hard time affording the rent and other amenities.

Smart growth believes that the poor will benefit from living in the midst of stable working people, middle and upper classes. It means making it safe for the stable working people, the middle class, to move into the city, abandoned by capital and community over the years, now revitalizing, thriving with transit villages and downtown housing, cinemas, boutiques, microbreweries, fancy cocktail bars and transportation. And that the middle and upper class will be good for the inner city, because suburbanization will recede, saving the environment, bring investment into the inner city – but for who? Instead of smart growth, just growth, healthy growth, jobs, homes, services, schools, clinics, hospitals, bowling alleys, art galleries, neighborhoods where we live, work, study, worship, play.

In easterly Oakland, the new housing, condos, expresso café shops, tequila bars, the beautiful placita, a growing diversity of clothing and other stores and restaurants that provide amenities are popping up – but they’re not for the people who have lived here for generations and are now disappearing.

The expensive but tasty coffees and pastries, the wi-fi hot spots, the occasional boutiques, the new houses, even the old houses, are not for us, not for day laborers, not for the young black and brown men and women, the perennially unemployed who are forced to hustle, sell drugs or sex for the cheapest price. Not for domestic workers, not for the transnational mothers cleaning homes and taking care of someone else’s children while his and hers languish alone in apartment buildings, on street corners or exist in a neighborhood in another country.

Working class immigrants and people of color, the working poor and their families, double up and triple up, to afford rent and food. Sometimes unscrupulously, neighbors call in the inspectors to force renters to move out for housing code violations or for illicit going on’s next door, the plight of the poor or working poor, who face homelessness. In the suburbs, it’s not much different. In addition to doubling up, they also rent converted garages and work two, three jobs or make the long drive back to Oakland or San Francisco to work for minimum wage jobs to survive far away from their old homes.

“Where do the people go?”

In NNIRR’s documentary, Uprooted: Refugees from the Global Economy, Francisco Herrera sings the blues in English and Spanish, asking “Where will the people go? A donde vamos?” when they are forced to abandon their homelands, their communities, their neighbors and family. They go where they can survive, which usually means where their families can be together. Because only together, where everyone works even two or three jobs, can families survive. Family reunification means emotional and economic stability. Without comprehensive stability, migration usually enters into the picture. Migration is not just about crossing international borders. It’s also crossing metropolitan borders, defined by city, district and regional borders.

Day laborers, immigrant workers, are working at landscaping, janitorial, day-wall construction, washing dishes in the back rooms of restaurants, cooking, cleaning tables and houses, making rooms up at hotels, sweeping sidewalks, cleaning up floods at people’s homes. They are street-vendors and pushcart workers selling ice cream, tasty local fast-food from taco-trucks and mini- kitchens on wheels. They are almost former migrant farmworkers who are leaving the fields forever, if they’re lucky, and try surviving in the city.

Why do they move into the inner city, where life is hard, unstable, filled with risks and empty of sufficient and needed services, such as health care, social services, decent schools, safe neighborhoods free of police and passer-by violence? Why do they leave the intimacy of their lands and communities, where they are different, where they are vulnerable?

The short answer is the same reason workers and middle class people become international migrants – to go to where their national and regional investments and resources have been abducted to. They are involuntarily displaced and forced to choose where they will survive. Not all become international migrants; some become regional migrants, commuters finding work close by in their metropolitan regional economy. Some move away to other regions, some of them into international regions, transterritorial regions straddled by global cities separated by geography, united by migrants and capital mobility.

The New Urban Regime?

Saskia Sassen, the renoun radical urban planner, in her theoretical work calls this state of affairs the new “urban regime,” a new relationship between high-skilled, high wage workers and white collar professionals who can afford to pay and need the services of low-wage, lower skilled workers, usually but not exclusively immigrants. The new urban regime is also about global cities that share a transterritorial and transnational economy. The urban regime is also one way of describing the relationship between international migrants and the local and regional economies.

Migrants serve and provide services that otherwise metro-communities could not have or afford to have without the infusion of low-skilled, lower waged workers who also serve national poor and working class people and the upper and middle classes. Yes, the poor among the poor, the working class among the working class also needs the migrant laborer to survive. Competition at the bottom is fueled by those at the top who bid and underbid for the services of the working poor, the undocumented and documented, the citizen and non-citizen who live day to day, week to week, stabilizing the regional and national economies, the neighborhoods.

This is the deep demographic shift, the demographic revolution, taking place in the U.S., casued basically by neoliberal policies and social, political and economic restructuring where services, investments, jobs, capital, infrastructure and the labor power and skills needed follow suit.

Immigrants open cuisine restaurants, dry-cleaning shops, offer domestic and childcare services, high-end tailor stores, clean yards and create dream landscaping yards; drive taxis and bicycles transporting people and business deals downtown. They are paid survival wages. They revitalize the inner city. This is the U.S. version of “three for one” remittances programs, when foreign governments at the federal, state and local levels match one dollar each for every dollar a migrant sends to their home community. Three for one is actually six for one – their remittances that aren’t sent abroad play the same dynamic, development role in revitalizing urban and suburban centers.

When immigrants do this, especially undocumented immigrants, they are forced to leave a gaping hole back home. The situation back home is also a victim of this “new urban regime.” If the local or regional economy does not serve this relationship between high-skilled/high waged labor and low-skilled, lower waged workers, it too is abandoned as its industries and workers are forced to leave.

The businessman commuter flies in and out of cities – maybe through no fault of his own – doesn’t know where he is from, where he is at or where he is going. He doesn’t know the names of mountain ranges and landscapes, made by human labor, that he is flying over. He says he comes here once a week, has never learned the names of the places or their languages. He’s a local of the sky, where you can see everything but are are from nowhere.

This is the first time I fly into Salt Lake City and rush from one plane to the next, like a true commuter, with no time to look around, drink coffee, talk a bit with someone who knows where she’s at, knows the names of the mountains and who the Ute were, how the Wasatch got their names, maybe.

I want to know what languages she speaks, why her dust is so salty, ancient sea, oldest ancestor, elder sister whose mountain range acts as a couple of hands that cup to hold the moving sea of the last terrestial big bang. What are her names and why have they been changed? What are our names and why have they been changed? What have we lost and what have we gained in this latest terrestial big bang known as globalization, neoliberal capital development, structural adjustment that de-adjusts our communities, destabilizes us for generations?

This is why we're going to Atlanta, to think out loud and in private about as many problems and solutions as possible, together. Immigrant rights are none other than plain old rights, human rights, for everyone. We are all immigrants, todos somos inmigrantes. Well, many of us are and many believe they're not. And that's the root of the problem.

In-Flight Observation

I am watching the movie on the plane “Breach – based on a true story.” Isn’t all art, cinema, movies, film, poetry, fiction, non-fiction, analyses, narratives, history, political struggles and organizing, community stories, our daily bread and tortillas all based on true stories? That is the true story of the human imagination, human migrations.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Its Here! The First U.S. Social Forum

by Colin Rajah

Its been a long time coming – more than 3 years since the April 2004 meeting in Washington DC that launched the United States Social Forum (USSF) process! NNIRR has been at the heart of that process, even before that historic meeting in DC, in consultation meetings with the World Social Forum (WSF) International Council in Miami back in November 2003. From the Central and Executive Committees, to the Timeline and Site Selection Committee (when all those existed!), NNIRR and a core group of committed grassroots organizations started paving the way to the USSF with little more than a vision and some hope.

As one of the very first members of the National Planning Committee (NPC), Program Work Group co-chair, and Immigrant Rights Plenary co-chair, the process has already enabled us to build new relationships, enhance existing ones, create new understandings within and between movements, and allowed us to envision a stronger and more united social and economic justice movement in the U.S.

Immigrant Communities Leadership and Participation in the USSF

NNIRR has focused on ensuring that immigrant rights communities and organizations have had a central role in organizing the USSF, and that immigrant rights-related issues are sufficiently represented throughout the USSF program. This has led to over 25 NNIRR member organizations and more than 200 individuals from those organizations participating in the USSF. Alongside a number of those organizations, we also drafted security considerations for immigrant participants and their allies and a checklist for travel plans (see and

Immigrant Rights Plenary

NNIRR’s participation in the NPC has also indirectly resulted in Immigrant Rights being established as one of the six USSF-organized evening plenaries at the Civic Center, scheduled for Friday (June 29th) at 8:00pm following the Indigenous Voices plenary. Moderated by NNIRR Director, Cathi Tactaquin, the panelists represent a broad cross-section of the sectors within the Immigrant Rights movement from various regions around the country, and promise to engage in exciting debate and dialogue on where the movement is at, where it can and should go, and what its relationship is to other social and economic justice movements in the U.S. For more details about the plenary, visit:

Immigrant Rights Caucus & Tent

NNIRR has also initiated an Immigrant Rights Caucus and an Immigrant Rights Tent at the USSF. The Caucus will launch their participation in the USSF with an orientation and march preparation on Wednesday (June 27th) at the Immigrant Rights Tent, where we will also depart for the opening march together. The Caucus is also having dinner checkins at the tent from 5:30 – 6:00pm on Thursday, Friday and Saturday (June 28th, 29th & 30th) before departing together to the evening plenaries each evening. Communications for the Caucus will be done primarily through the Caucus' wiki: All immigrant rights organizations are invited to participate in any of these Caucus events. Other events, workshops and meetings are also being held at the Immigrant Rights Tent and a full schedule of these will be posted on the wiki and at the tent.


In addition to all these, NNIRR is also lead organizing the following workshops:

  • Trade & Migration: Exploring the Intersections of Trade & Immigration Policies from Community Perspectives
  • The Battle for Immigrant Rights and the 2008 Elections
  • Linking Communities to Stop Border Militarization and Interior Raids/Deportations: A National Community Dialogue

And NNIRR is involved in co-organizing and/or participating in the following workshops:

  • Approaches to Organizing on Trade
  • Countering the Bilateral Free Trade Agreement
  • Immigrant Rights Messaging
  • Bringing the Immigrant Rights and LGBTST Movements Home

This very first USSF promises to be an important catalyst for social and economic justice in the U.S. Coming on the heels of historic immigrant community mobilizations around the country over the last year, it is also a critical opportunity for us to take stock of where our movement is positioned within the larger context, and how we can and should be more attentive to and engaging with other movements.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Notes from the 1st Southeast Regional Immigrant and Refugee Rights Training Institute!

Tuesday, May 29 -- a long flight to RDU (Raleigh Durham International) from Oakland, leaving early morning, over packing for two weeks away. ... looking forward to NOT living my nightmares about the upcoming gathering. Chapel Hill seems so much smaller than I remember it, and less glamorous ... the 15-501 is the same highway I remember from my days in Durham, and Durham, must have grown, but somewhere else ....

Central to the theme of IRRTI and popular education in general is the concept of opening space for dialogue. So much of the "technology" of popular education is embodied in the way that facilitators open space for participants, as well as wroking to ensure that the full complement of people that arrive are the ones who need to be in the conversation. So far, we have always been challenged to be able to bring all our people fully into the space, and partially that is because of all the real kinds of diversity and experience that is embodied in the rooms. We were lucky that the beautiful space at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill was made available to us. The energy of the space - open, light, color - I think helped reinforce the kind of energy we wanted and needed.

Wednesday, May 30 -- spent all night uploading documents to Kinko's for the participant packets, and revisiting the rooming list. Visited mary&parrish events LLC. The hotel is full, and we started sending people to the other hotel. Man, are we really paying for all this?! Phone calls all day. The Highlander crew arrives this afternoon. Yeah! The workshops are great, getting worked out, and Chris Z. arrived in time to hang out and drink beers with FF and MH and me ... good times ....

Thursday, May 31 -- Facilitator briefing, site tour. The facilitator and volunteer briefing ended up happening BY THE POOL! who says we don't roll in style? People arriving all day. An orientation to the South and to the shared goals of the IRRTI in the region. Long nights with all the different facilitation crews for the different workshops we're all working on ....

Friday, June 1! -- Opening Day! Chris Z's new name is Kinko's Guy. Our opening combines the IRRTI tradition of taking full time to get to know each other, of setting up the space for multilingual settings -- the skits really helped to reinforce the space --

Leah and Monica's South / mapping exercise is a great way to help build collective education and knowledge on the diversity of the South, the regional geography in relation to space and natural resources use, very important in a military-ag-prison-industrial complex economy that shapes social and economic, geographiocal and political, and some times cultural, relationships. ....

Here's some of what we brought with us to IRRTI .... to Chapel Hill ....

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Overview of Senate Bill 1348

Overview of the Senate Proposal
Border Security and Immigration Reform Act of 2007 – S. 1348

Provisions in the Senate bill for legalization and a guestworker program would not launch until a number of conditions were met for greater enforcement mechanisms and practices – the “trigger” process demanded by legislators who believe in an “enforcement first” approach to immigration reform. Although Congress has speculated that the specific triggers could be met in 18 months, there is no set deadline by which these triggers must be met in order for these other provisions to launch. The lengthy bill includes many provisions, with the main components summarized here:


• Immigrants unlawfully present in the U.S. prior to Jan. 1, 2007 could apply for a “Z” visa within the first year of the program, and must be currently employed, pass a background check and meet other conditions.
• Applicants would need to pay a $1,500 fee, a $1,000 fine, and $500 state fees (payable in installments), and be currently employed. The total cost for a family of 4 could be as much as $9,000 for the initial application process.
• If approved, would be given temporary probationary status with permission to work until the “triggers” are met.
• After the triggers are met, the Z visa is issued for 4 years, and is renewable indefinitely every 4 years provided the applicant remains fully employed, shows progress in learning English and civics, pays more fines and fees, and meets other conditions. Z visa holders would receive work authorization and could travel and change jobs.
• The head of household has 8 years to return to the country of origin – “touchback” – and apply at the U.S. consulate there for legal permanent residency. However, this application can only be filed during a five-year period after the “backlog” of pending visa applications filed prior to May 2005, has been cleared. The application will be considered under the new merit system, and again, the applicant must pay a $4,000 fine, filing fees, and all back taxes, have remained continuously employed, and have met other requirements. (There are many estimates that the waiting period would be 8-13 years for decision on an LPR application, with only 87,000 visas available per year).

While many undocumented immigrants and their families could benefit from this provision, it is a long and complicated process during which immigrants could lose their status, not be able to bear the financial costs, and become even more vulnerable to workplace exploitation for fear of losing their jobs during this probationary status. Because children and spouses not with their family breadwinner as of January 1, 2007, would be ineligible for the temporary status, the program would perpetuate the separation of families.


• The proposal would make a major shift in immigration, by establishing a merit-based point system (education, language, job skills, family ties) for eligibility for legal permanent residency, replacing the current system based on family reunification.
• Automatic family reunification (not subject to new point system) would be limited to spouses and minor children of U.S. citizens.
• Applications from children over 21 years of age, for brothers and sisters and parents would be considered under the new point system.
• There would be an annual cap of 40,000 visas for parents of U.S. citizens, and a cap of 87,000 for spouses and minor children of legal permanent residents.
• Family applications filed before May 2005 (approximately 4 million families) would be exempt from point system; however, those who filed after this date would lose their place in line and need to re-apply under the new point system.
• The program would aim to clear the backlog of pending applications within eight years.

The introduction of the merit-based point system de-values family reunification as a core principle in U.S. immigration policy and would favor English-speaking, highly skilled and educated immigrants who are perceived to better “fit” into U.S. economic needs. At the same time, the limits placed on some categories will continue to increase backlogs and fuel the predicament of those who will migrate without the benefit of legal documents in order to reunite with their family members.


• As amended, the bill would provide for 200,000 “Y” visas each year, a number which could be adjusted every 6 months based on market fluctuations.
• Participants could include spouses and minor children if they could prove they had health insurance coverage and their wages would be 150% above poverty guidelines.
• Applicant must be matched with “willing” employer, using the labor certification process. Employers may use labor contractors and recruiters.
• The program would provide 2-year visas, renewable 2 more times; however, if the worker is accompanied by dependents they would only receive a single 2-year, renewable once. Family may only remain during one of those 2-year periods.
• The worker would need to return to his/her home country for 1 year between each renewal. If the worker failed to leave on time he/she would be permanently barred from any future immigration benefit.
• There is no eligibility for legal permanent residency. While working in the program, “exceptionally skilled” immigrants could earn points toward a limited number of point-based green cards.
• The program would only come into effect after the triggers are met.
• The bill largely includes the provisions of the AgJOBS bill; it sets different eligibility standards for legal permanent residency and which is not subject to the trigger mechanism.

The expansion of the temporary worker program undermines labor right immigration update to reviews for all workers, native or foreign born – designating a secondary tier of workers without the same rights as other workers. It disrespects the principle of family unity and perpetuates the system of disposable immigrant labor.


• Increases in immigration enforcement must be made and certified by the Secretary of Homeland Security before the legalization and temporary worker programs would launch – a period projected to be about 18 months (although there is no legally mandated timetable). These triggers include:
o The hiring of 20,000 Border Patrol agents;
o The construction of 370 mile fencing and 300 miles of vehicle barriers, increased high-tech surveillance and detection equipment along the U.S.-Mexico border;
o As amended, the DHS would certify that the U.S had “operational control” of the border as a trigger condition;
o Increased capacity to detain up to 31,500 persons a day on an annual basis;
o The nationwide electronic employee verification system is in place and being utilized.

• The bill also strengthens employer sanctions, increasing fines and penalties against employers who hire the undocumented.
• The proposal expands the list of document-related crimes and penalties, and makes document violations a deportable offense.
• The legislation further undermines due process, access to the courts, and expands the aggravated felony category.
• The proposal supports the indefinite detention of noncitizens with final orders of deportation.
• The bill expands the definition of a “gang” and involvement in a long list of offenses (including past affiliations) that would make association with such a “gang” involved in such offenses a basis for deportation.

The substantial enforcement provisions of this bill, largely promoted as the “first steps” in immigration reform, continue the pattern of linking immigration services and enforcement to national security. S. 1348 would invest huge financial resources towards tough-sounding and expedient programs to “deal with the illegal immigration problem.” However, in 20 years of implementation, the employer sanctions program, a central provision of the sweeping 1986 immigration bill (IRCA), has had no impact on its stated purpose of reducing undocumented immigration. The employee verification system, already proven to be error-prone and unreliable, would strengthen employer leverage over immigrant workers, increase discrimination and continue criminalizing of undocumented workers. Likewise, the heightened militarization of the border would increase rights violations in border communities, and contribute to the steady rise in migrant deaths.

Other enforcement-related provisions also have serious negative impacts. For example, applicants for the Z visa program could risk deportation if they were found to be using false documents and their applications were denied – which would deter and prevent many from applying to the program.

(Thanks to Board member Susan Alva with the Migration and Policy Resource Center for her summary of the legislation, incorporated here.)

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Statement of the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights On May 1, 2007 - International Workers Day

Statement of the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights

On May 1, 2007 - International Workers Day

Fair & Just Legalization with Equality, Justice & Liberty

For all immigrant and native-born workers, families and communities

Stop the Raids and Deportations

End Migrant Deaths at the Border

Uphold Our Human, Civil, Labor and Economic Rights

Millions of working class people, lead by immigrant workers, families and communities, are filling the streets of the United States and the world on May 1, International Workers Day, celebrated in almost every country of the industrialized world.

Today, in addition to demanding living wages and an eight-hour day, immigrant workers, along with their partners and allies, are demanding for an end to all immigration raids, detentions and deportations. Immigration raids and deportations shatter families, traumatize communities and result in gross violations of our labor, civil and human rights.

Since the historic May 1, 2006, millions of voices more today are again calling fair and just legalization that protects everyone's civil, social and labor rights with liberty, equality and justice.

The May 1 marches in the U.S. continue in the fine tradition of International Workers' Day, which began in the United States after years of workers' demanding and organizing for an eight-hour workday, living wages and other improvements for the working class. The original movement was also led by immigrant workers and culminated in a nationwide strike on May 1, 1886, where Chicago was at the epicenter of the demand for an eight-hour day. On May 4, 1886, at a rally held in the Haymarket Square in Chicago to protest a police attack on strikers, police surrounded the workers' protest. A bomb exploded, killing one police and wounding others. Then, police opened fire against the peaceful assembly and killed many workers. The repression did not stop. The police went on the offensive and went into Chicago working class neighborhoods, breaking into homes, arresting and hurting more leaders, attempting to intimidate and break the movement's will to win.

Today, the immigrant rights movement stands together with all workers, their families and communities, calling for legalization that does not violate labor rights, that does not divide and destroy families and communities, and helps end the exploitation of all workers.

Legalization and Workers' Rights

One-hundred and twenty-one years later, immigrant workers are again at the forefront demanding just wages, health, education, social services, housing, safety, democracy, freedom from fear, for peace, an end to racial, ethnic, nationality and religious discrimination, and a new relationship between citizens and non-citizens, immigrants and non-immigrants, foreign-born and native-born workers.

Millions of voices today are demanding an end to the immigration raids, economic exploitation and other human rights abuses and violations perpetrated against millions of documented and undocumented workers. This includes:

  • Foreign- and native-born workers and people of color, who call for end to all discrimination and exploitation in the workplace and demand living wages and safe working conditions;
  • Indigenous peoples who have been forced into migration because they have lost their lands and had their communities shattered by "free" trade;
  • Day laborers, domestic workers, farm-workers, janitors, truck-drivers, street vendors, local community-owned stores, day care workers, nannies, youth, students and others who are subjected to violence and harassment for seeking employment and education;
  • LGBTQ people whose families are kept apart and harassed and oppressed because of their sexual orientation and gender identities;
  • The unemployed; those jailed and imprisoned;
  • The hundreds of thousands of families broken apart by deportations and the disappearance of their loved ones at the border; and the thousands of migrant dead recovered and thousands more disappeared at the border and in the interior as a result of exploitation and oppression.

All permitted by the U.S. government, whose unjust immigration laws, policies, practices and services and enforcement are the root cause and fuel the anti-immigrant climate, police and hate violence, making immigrants even more vulnerable to violations and abuse.

Immigration laws and proposals have become the pretext and cover for some of the worst anti-worker laws and attacks, where other workers, immigrants, are being scapegoated for the ills impacting U.S. workers, especially workers of color. Immigrants, especially the undocumented and immigrants of color, are blamed for the impoverishment and exploitation of people of color, for the lack of economic opportunities for African Americans, and for the deterioration of schools, services and the violence and conflicts that pervade working class communities.

While the official laws, policies and practices of the U.S. government that promote and defend privatization and cutbacks, including elimination, of education, health and social services, the bloated and growing war and military budget, corporate tax breaks and subsidies, tax exemptions and tax-free rides for the rich and filthy rich, are all left of the hook, blameless.

At the same time, immigration services and enforcement are further cemented to the politics and policies of national security and the "war on terrorism." The pending proposals in Congress continue offering more militarization of border and immigration control, qualitatively increasing the number of interior and border immigration police, building more prison bed space exclusively for immigrants and bracero-style guest worker programs and meager legalization that includes stiff fines with a maze of rules and obstacles that will make it nearly impossible for anyone, except for a small fraction, to qualify.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE, the interior immigration police, under the Department of Homeland Security) is carrying our brutal raids, trampling the due process rights of immigrants and U.S. citizens, traumatizing families and shattering communities, workplaces and neighborhoods. Thousands are being deported from interior cities and the border, suffering whole scale violation of their rights.

The ICE raids are calculated political attacks meant to terrorize and intimidate immigrants, especially the undocumented, from asserting their rights. The Department of Homeland Security promotes more enforcement and guest worker programs as the solution, never mind the immense backlog and demand for family reunification.

At the U.S.-Mexico border, official national security policies and border control strategies force migrants to risk their lives if they cross unauthorized. Hundreds of thousands are deported with little or no regard for their rights. Since this "prevention through deterrence" strategy was extended to the entire border beginning in 1994, some 5,000 migrant dead have been recovered; countless more are missing or disappeared in the desert and mountainous regions of Arizona,where over half of all the migrant deaths occur. Border Patrol violence and violations of the rights of migrants, communities, Indigenous peoples and workers at the border are rampant.

What We Want: Fair and Just Immigration Reform

Fair and just immigration reform means:

  • Genuine legalization and opportunities to adjust status for all undocumented immigrants, including youth and farm workers;
  • Preservation, restoration and expansion of due process rights and access to the courts;
  • No indefinite detention or expansion of mandatory detention
  • No expansion of guest worker programs
  • No more wasted resources allocated to further militarize our borders is the root cause of the crisis of human rights and lives in the border regions
  • An end to employer sanctions and electronic worker verification systems
  • The strengthening and enforcement of labor law protections for all workers, native and foreign born
  • No use of city, state, federal police and other government agencies in the enforcement of immigration laws;
  • No more criminalization of immigrants, or their service providers
  • Expansion of legal immigration opportunities, support for family reunification and immediate processing of the backlog of pending visa applications
  • Elimination of harsh obstacles to immigrating, including the HIV ban, "3 and 10 year bars," and high income requirements for immigrant sponsors.

On May Day 2007, workers on the streets and in the workplace are dreaming a different type of citizenship, one that promotes dignity, justice, liberty and protects our human, civil, and labor rights. Any legalization program must strengthen and protect our rights, ensuring that all foreign- and native-born workers and families can live, work, worship, study and play in healthy and stable community.

Network News On-Line!

Network News On-Line!

Network News is back! Long overdue, this on-line installment of Network News provides a snapshot of views and voices looking backward and forward after the unprecedented immigrant community-led mass mobilizations of 2006.

We conducted a series of interviews immigrant rights movement leaders and groups to get their take on the roots of the 2006 upsurge and mobilizations; what they believe are the key alliances to build and key issues to focus on leading up to the 2008 elections. In all, these interviews represent an opening and much needed and longer discussion of the biggest challenge facing the immigrant rights movement: The deadly mixture of a rightwing anti-immigrant/xenophobic political climate and the pact and logjam in Congress over how harsh and punitive immigration reform should be and how to we’re going to overcome them.

Other articles include a report by Alexis Mazón from the Tucson-based Coalición de Derechos Humanos on a recent tour of a Palestinian delegation to the U.S.-Mexico border, commentary and analysis by Maricela García, NNIRR board member and director of Latinos United in Chicago, on the significance of Elvira Arellano’s resistance to deportation as part of new and emerging civil disobedience action for immigrant rights.

‘Our movement needs a vision and goals that address broader social and political change’

‘Our movement needs a vision and goals that address broader social and political change’

Interview with Monami Maulik of DRUM by Arnoldo García

Monami Maulk: For years DRUM has understood that undocumented workers, in the U.S. and globally, are major forces for social change. 2006 was a culmination and realization of the power and ability of the immigrant community, chipping away at the legitimacy of U.S. government practices. Internally, there has been a huge shift in racial composition of the country; immigration is impacting race and class. There is a serious global erosion of U.S. standing in Third World, in immigrants’ home countries and in the Middle East.

Particularly, coming from South Asian and Muslim communities, 2006 became a turning point. Our communities realized: what more could the government do to them, breaking through the political fears and daily fears of working seven days a week to survive in this climate.

What are the key alliances to build in the next period?

Building inter-generational alliances and leadership, especially of immigrant youth we were either brought here or born to migrant parents. There is not enough attention paid to this and not enough credit given to the youth upsurge. High school students were outraged at Sensenbrenner, organizing the walk-outs and working with their families.

We missed the board on building alliances with African American communities. There was a big opportunity, not building in a tokenistic way, and build longstanding relations in the wake of tensions with immigrant communities. Work is needed to build dialogues and strategic alliances. While is useful to see the immigrant community upsurges as a new civil rights movement; this assumes that old civil rights movement is over or finished. We need to hone an inclusive vision and strategy with African American movements, which is also suffering setbacks of gains made thirty years ago.

We need to also change our messaging too. When we hear marchers chanting, “We are not criminals,” this makes some of our community members cringe and sends the message that “we’re one step above” African Americans, because we’re not criminals or one step above because we’re not terrorists. Muslim and South Asian immigrant community members react with serious distrust marching hand-in hand with Latino immigrants when we hear these chants; makes us feel that they believe Muslims are terrorists and makes our communities less prone to working with Latinos. This reflects that there is not a sense in Latino community about what’s happening in the Muslim world. Makes people in South Asian and Muslim communities less likely to want to connect to Latino migrants struggles at the border.

Key issues in next two-year period, 2007-2008?

We need to set policy goals that are accountable to building a movement and not the other way around. Our movement should have a vision and goals that address broader social and political change, while building strategic alliances to achieve them. So if the strategy in the next two years becomes only winning a certain type of legislation then we haven’t learned lessons – from civil rights or other movements – that we need to address and solve the root causes facing migrant communities. We need to build serious organizations where none existed before, where people have emerged as active and leaders.

Lastly, building strategic alliances across nationality, different immigrant communities, to build a movement that’s not solely a Latino immigrant rights movement but an inclusive movement, which demands racial justice and civil rights and incorporates social issues that affect all communities.

We need cross-pollenization among groups doing electoral work and those doing community organizing with larger goals of social justice. We cannot believe that only by changing Congress we can get what we want.

A key issue is shaping our demands to be accountable to what’s possible from our community and not what is possible on whatever elected official is in office. This means not trading off rights and demands is key. While developing the ability to win any decent comprehensive reform bill, some groups have gone off alone to develop legislation on their own, which is piece meal, If we continue to do that in the current climate – because we haven’t yet made an attempt to develop consensus on what communities what, building unity, which is difficult among communities that are already segmented and marginalized – this will lead to more segmentation and going off in different directions.

We need to get down to the hard business of getting to know each other, as central to developing community-based vision and strategies. Communities are not just waiting to march for policies that they have not been consulted with by policy groups.

How do we break the logjam and rollback xenophobia?

Part of the hard work of getting to know each other and the harder work of building deep alliances not just in moments of crisis with those forces, who are outside the immigrant rights movement, is taking on the media messaging against immigrants that the Bush Administration and others are using to frame issues after 9/11. It will have to be a serious and far-reaching campaign to change the public’s mind. This is not just about addressing suburbia or middle America; it means exposing in the eye of the public the root causes of why migrants are forced to be here, their role in the U.S. economy and that upholds the wealth of this society.

At the level of communities, not just migrants, for example Katrina and African Americans, with the deteriorating support for the war in Iraq, we need to radicalize the U.S. public. When society is becoming more radical in this way, it can have impact on Congress and those who are in power. This also means radicalizing people in terms of education but also in the strategies we use.

We have to be ready on a mass scale to do civil disobedience, work strikes and stoppages – exercising power unapologetically, without feeling need to paint ourselves as deserving, good immigrants.

Within our community, there never was faith and hope that there was going to be a serious legalization that would be good for us. We are still wrapped up completely in a phase of defensive battles, resisting the attacks. The long-term depends on what happens abroad, globally the war aboard, and the xenophobia at home; we are faced with the defensive battles and will have to chip away at some of the severity of immigration law enforcement.

One way immigrant rights issues can overcome the climate, where local communities can develop a sense of their power to build the future, is to chip away and demand an end to immigration-police collaboration, and expand local ordinances, get driver’s licenses. Building local victories over the “war on terror” will be key to rolling back the anti-immigrant climate during the next two years.

Monami Maulik is the director of DRUM: Desis Rising Up and Moving, based in Jackson Heights, New York. Arnoldo García is the editor of Network News and heads up NNIRR’s Immigrant Justice and Rights Program.

Reframing the Debate: From creative strategies and alliances to human rights

Reframing the Debate: From creative strategies and alliances to human rights

By Gerald Lenoir

The main catalyst for the 2006 upsurge has been the increased violations of immigrants’ civil liberties and human rights and the threat posed by pending immigration legislation, especially the infamous Sennsenbrenner bill. Successive waves of marches in the winter and spring of last year inspired immigrants and their supporters to step up the pressure.

A major task is reframing the immigrant rights debate. The rightwing has framed the issue as one of “illegal aliens” crossing our “broken borders” and taking jobs from U.S. citizens. Immigration has also become a question of “national security.” This includes reaching the ethnic media on a consistent basis, penetrating the liberal media like NPR regularly, and making inroads with a progressive analysis into the mainstream media, like the New York Times and CNN’s Lou Dobbs Report.

Progressive activists must reframe the public debate on immigration within an international human rights context. The framing and messaging must popularize the role the U.S. plays forcibly displacing migrants from their home countries through bilateral and multilateral trade agreements. In particular, the role of the North American Free Trade Agreement allowing U.S. farmers to undercut the price of basic farm commodities in Mexico, resulting in the displacement of 2.8 million rural families since 1996 must be exposed as a major cause of the stepped up migration to the United States.

Within the immigrant rights movement, a concerted effort to battle the tendency to trade legislative concessions for compromises on “border security” must be waged. The gross violations of the human rights of migrants crossing the border must be highlighted with high level and grassroots border delegations and media exposure.

Allies with the African American community and the labor movement must be carefully cultivated and the momentum gathered in 2006 must continue into 2007. Creative strategies for mass mobilizations must bring immigrant and their supporters out and also have clear messaging and focuses are important.

All of this requires a greater degree of strategic collaboration and coordination within the immigrant and refugee rights movement. We must all be prepared to work collectively to present a united front against the right wing’s regressive immigration reform.

Gerald Lenoir is the coordinator of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration. BAJI, formed in 2006, works to educate and organize support for the rights of the foreign born among African American and Black immigrant communities, engaging African Americans in a dialogue about the underlying issues of race and economic status that frame U.S. immigration policy.

Organizing Documented Immigrants to Fight for the Rights of the Undocumented

Organizing Documented Immigrants to Fight for the Rights of the Undocumented

By Gordon Mar

My comments focus on the challenges and opportunities to engage documented immigrants in this current juncture of the immigrant rights movement, which has existed in different forms since the creation of this country by brutal force and economic exploitation of immigrant labor including most extremely slaves from Africa.

I work with the Chinese Progressive Association, a membership-based multi-generational community group that empowers working class Chinese immigrants in the San Francisco Bay Area. Our core strategies are community organizing, leadership development and alliance building. Most of our members and the broader Chinese immigrant community locally are documented immigrants who came here through family based immigration. And because the brunt of the current anti-immigrant attacks are directed specifically at undocumented immigrants, Latinos, Arab and Muslim people, my organization’s constituents are not necessarily in the line of attack of anti-immigrant forces. Therefore, CPA’s organizing work is focused less on federal immigration policy issues and more on other types of broader social justice issues impacting low-income people of color such as labor rights, housing rights and environmental justice and youth leadership development.

In the recent past, though, during other periods of intense anti-immigrant sentiment, documented immigrants and Asians have been in the line of attack of racist and right wing forces. For example, in 1986 the major anti-immigrant Simpson-Mazolli Rodino legislation included provisions attacking the rights of both documented and undocumented immigrants alike. That legislation sought to eliminate the fifth preference family based immigration category, used heavily by Asian immigrants to sponsor their brothers and sisters to reunify with their family members in the U.S.

And, in 1994, the infamous Proposition 187 in California sought to restrict undocumented immigrants’ access to public benefits, which they were paying for through taxes. [Editor’s note: the federal courts ruled Prop 187 unconstitutional because immigration control is a federal matter, stopping its implementation.] Two years later, key aspects of Prop 187 were included in the 1996 federal welfare reform law, cutting off most non-citizen legal immigrants from federal safety net programs for the needy. The anti-legal immigrant welfare reform law was passed during the same session of Congress that passed the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, which gave the INS greater powers to deport both legal and undocumented immigrants, among other provisions. Then in 1998, California voters passed proposition 227, to end bilingual education in California’s public schools, impacting both documented and documented children alike.

During the 1980’s and 1990’s, CPA and our members were actively involved in these broad fight back campaigns, which brought together documented and undocumented immigrants because of the broad strokes of the attacks.

In this current moment when undocumented immigrants, Latinos and Arab and Muslim people are the ones bearing the brunt of the attacks, what are those of us who work primarily with other types of immigrants or non-immigrants to do? Obviously, it’s critical for all immigrants and people of conscience more generally to stand in firm solidarity with those whose rights are being stepped on and threatened so blatantly right now. But this is not an easy task, even for an organization like CPA that has a history of involvement in immigrant rights work. The propaganda against certain types of immigrants is generally strong and constant in the mainstream corporate media. And issues like these are intentionally used by conservative groups and organizations to drive a wedge between people of color, marginalized groups and progressives, and yes even between documented and undocumented immigrants.

So, building a broad inclusive immigrant movement that has strong alliances with other movements and sectors is a challenging task. This will require sophisticated strategies drawing on wisdom gained from the past struggles our movement has engaged in. As has been mentioned, the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (NNIRR) is in the process of developing a multi-year national campaign to take on this challenge. This is certainly an important effort we should all support and participate in.

I would like to close with a plug for one important component of the strategy to turn the tide towards a more humane and just immigration policy. Grassroots education, capacity building and organizing within immigrant communities certainly needs to be one of the foundations for this campaign and movement.

The 2006 mass immigrant rights mobilizations showed a glimpse of the potential power of our movement, but they were spontaneous and generally lacking in strategic direction. Without systematic education and community organizing and the building of strong organizations and functional movement infrastructure, this potential will dissipate and never be realized.

For CPA, systematic political education and leadership training of our members has also created a solid foundation for us to engage them in solidarity work with Latino and undocumented immigrants. CPA mobilized over 50 youth and adult members to participate in the big Spring mobilizations in San Francisco, We were one of the few sizable contingents of non-Latino immigrants.

Gordon Mar is the Co-Director of Chinese Progressive Association in San Francisco, California. This article is an edited version of his remarks as part of a plenary panel discussion held during NNIRR’s Immigrant and Refugee Rights Training Institute held last November in Oakland.

Demanding and Organizing for Our Rights and Our Communities - Initerview with Hamid Khan

Demanding and Organizing for Our Rights and Our Communities

An interview with Hamid Khan of the South Asian Network by Arnoldo García

What do you believe were the root causes of the 2006 mobilizations?

Hamid Khan: The 2006 mobilizations reflected the ongoing assault on immigrant communities, the overt racism, the enforcement issues and how people were experiencing them, with different communities experiencing them differently, and the fightback.

In the post 9/11 climate, South Asians faced harsh enforcement measures. Citizenship lost its sense of security itself and got diluted. The South Asian community was moving differently – getting a visa and passing through while other communities are crossing the border on foot. With the border fence in San Diego and going across the land, the physical aspects have gotten more difficult. The structural aspects of enforcement have made things more fearful but also communities began organizing themselves at a higher level.

At the level of the Latino community, there was a new sense of political power. There has been an emergence of Latino power, with a Latino mayor in Los Angeles and Latino officials throughout the state. The faces of power are also Latino. We have to also be wary of this, like when the Irish became white for example.

Another cause has been the overt racism and xenophobia, people saw it coming. The Minute Men were one expression of this.

The Sensenbrenner bill shouldn’t be seen as the key reason but a catalyst for the mobilizations, the criminalization piece of making the undocumented a felon, but also hitting the documented community. This also played a key role and with the racism, regardless of status, put us in the opposition. Then, over a period of time, the community came together.

This begs the question of whether the mobilizations and the community upsurge gave us any results, any hope.

While they were a huge success, it was a colossal failure on the part of the organizers themselves. What was the basis of the mobilizations [for the organizers]? It was a plea rather than a demand of “taxpaying, good immigrants” who were asking on the basis of goodness, “forgive us and let us stay.”

This also goes with the indoctrination in the broader social justice movement – of non-violence and civil disobedience – as a result, the demand was very watered down and was a plea for goodwill, instead of demanding our rights. While we can argue that that requires a long-term organizing, demanding our rights would have exposed the dominant culture of xenophobia and white supremacy.

This goes back to the logjam in Congress – being at the mercy of the lawmakers – this is where the failure of the movement lies. The slogan “Today we march…” became a plea instead of a demand for our rights.

What are the key alliances that need to be built?

To build true alliances within our communities, we need to be truthful with them and lay out the problem. The message has to be very clear and then the alliances can be built. The messages have to look at the white supremacy and then build the alliances on this basis.

Unless this is looked at, they will be very superficial alliances, looking more like the foundation world’s version of building collaboratives.

Unless out language is challenged and clear, our alliances will continue to be like they have the last thirty years.

We have a lot of work in our communities; it’s not just about education. It’s about having a deep conversation and the clear messaging we need. Our communities feel betrayed by the lack of this.

We need to continue the momentum and deepen the work for social justice, build trust, realize that we are under siege and that there’s no other way to look at it.

What are some of the key issues we need to address to build on the mobilizations of 2006?

Service is critical to build trust with our community, as a process of political education. We need to expose how racism and xenophobia works, how war and occupation can be exposed through access: why has a clinic shut down? How is money is being pilfered by war and occupation. Then we can have a discussion.

It has to be learned through their lived experiences and day-to-day life. There is tremendous opportunity to build trust through service to expose the deep inequities and injustices.

We can come up with legislative proposals; but they would be for naught if the community does not support us.

Along with the day-to-day existence, what has to be at the top of our work, what good is a green card if you can’t take your child to a health clinic and she will die?

They are the root causes of stress in our communities; we completely overlook the traumas and stress that are caused by the lack of reforms and services.

This has to be incorporated into our daily work, to build trust with communities.

It would be through the lived experiences, the denial of access to services, that you could pull in a family. This is working for us.

We can do all the analyses about Sensenbrenner, which is fine. But when you bring people without ID together, can you access health care without it? What do you mean, this is about a sick child?

What we see, speaking for myself in the immigrant rights movement, as critical as we are, is that we are also getting caught up in the traditional western way of organizing, which is highly compartmentalized. We need to look at organizing in a holistic way.

That’s how it’s worked in anti-colonial struggles all over the world. We have to be looking at the community as a whole, not just looking at it through the workers rights lens.

Class by itself, while extremely critical, becomes expediently used as an access to power. Organized labor, on top of that, is an alien concept. Trade unions, organized labor, are not a common experience for our communities, which are agricultural-based communities and not lived through the main breadwinner, but as a whole community.

Our thinking has to be changing with the changing demographics, we have to be very direct and demand that your organizing cater to this. They’re not hard communities to reach, they communities that are hardly reached. This thinking has to change has too.

Hamid Khan is the executive director of South Asian Network, based in Artesia, California.

‘We fight for what is reasonable and meaningful.’ - Interview with Isabel Garcia

‘We fight for what is reasonable and meaningful.’

Interview with Isabel Garcia, Coalicion de Derechos Humanos

By Colin Rajah, NNIRR

Movements have highs and lows – moments in history when certain energy and specific events converge and that’s what happened in 2006. Not only did marches stem from the hard work of folks working on human rights for many years, but the marches also reflect the current political conditions. In our efforts to educate our community about the situation – starting with the Minutemen mobilization in 2005 – we warned that this would have widespread ramifications. The Minutemen were received as heroes in DC, which ultimately allowed Sensenbrenner to come out with his bill. That stripped our long, hard work – but also brought out these historic marches this year.

Youth and students were a primary force of the mobilizations. They have always been at the forefront of movements, but this was different because they were not just typical activist students. They were young people who grew up in the harsh realities of the anti-immigrant climate. They were the children of the undocumented, the nieces and nephews of the undocumented, the grandchildren of the undocumented, the neighbors of undocumented. These were children who had grown up fearing la Migra [the immigration police] – seeing their mother’s fears when their father was a little late coming home from work, seeing an uncle being deported, seeing a 17-year-old brother deported for a joint of marijuana.

Youth deserve a lot of credit not only for their numbers but also why they mobilized – they didn’t just use this to get out of school. They got in the struggle because they had to live it. Bottom line is they gave the struggle another depth of experience – transformed themselves and others in our communities.

Key alliances to build

This movement cannot move forward without alliances. We have been trying to build alliances in Tucson for 30 years. First, we need to include labor because this is an economic and worker issue. Everything revolves around this. We need to make sure that labor must look at this issue as a labor issue.

We must also build alliances with African American communities – and not in a superficial or opportunistic thing. Many of us have been building those alliances. My father took me as a kid to a protest in front of a restaurant that didn’t serve African Americans. And we can’t say that they turned their backs against us. We need to make sure we solidify our alliances. We need to be cognizant of the racism in this country against African-Americans – we need to unite in a genuine way and we won’t succeed without building alliances with them.

We need to build with LGBT communities – they also face similar attacks – it’s not even subtle, they want to strip all LGBT of their rights as well.

We have to continue building with the faith-based community. A lot of our communities are faith-based. We have to tap into that – this is a result of long-term struggles.

We must fight alongside our indigenous brothers and sisters – they are treated as “indigenous aliens,” an oxymoron. The indigenous communities are treated as foreigners in their own land – we need to focus in on first Americans.

We need to build alliances with the environmentalist community – they have recognized that it’s not immigrants who are the cause of massive environmental destruction – it’s the militarization by Homeland Security on the border.

We also need to ally with groups and communities working on criminal justice – everything we do has to do with their struggle too. The policies here at the border were imported into the interior enforcement. We also have to ally with the anti-war movement – there’s the privatization of the war in Iraq because of the contracts for border security. Also, the ACLU-types that are interested in privacy issues – that comes from the border, tested out here. We need to make those alliances.

We need to articulate our vision and analyses so that they all adapt immigrant rights as part of their own agenda. Otherwise we will fail to obtain a just migration and border policy.

In making these alliances, we need to focus also on neoliberal policies as part of our educational work – how issues of the migration phenomenon are fueled by U.S. economic policies.

Key issues to focus on in 2007-2008

It is essential that we re-frame the debate so that we don’t fall into the kind of compromising that happens year after year, but especially this past year. If we look at what our “friends” brought on in 2005, it was a totally failed one – the argument that in order to get legalization, we have to allow border militarization. It’s important that we come to grips with that – some of us were more timid than others, we couldn’t denounce them. But this year we need to ask for accountability – the money they spent on extremely negotiated down position and for what? Look at what we got! We got a failed border strategy. And how can they come out against the militarization when they were in favor of criminalization, increasing border patrols etc. Our opposition to militarization, criminalization of immigrants and other enforcement strategies has to be seamless.

We fight for what is reasonable and meaningful. What are the problems brought on by U.S. border control policies? Number one is the deaths of migrants. How can all the deaths be ignored? We are asking for meaningful solutions. We need to show them that their strategy is a failed one. We can’t rely just on sound bites and talking points – we need to do hard work. If we just put money into talking points, we will fail. Funding has to support community organizing so that our communities can raise their own voices and demands. Otherwise, they can’t answer the hard questions – they get stuck because they rely on quick messages. Our job is to go deeper on profound issues and that requires organizing in communities.

We have to insist on a three-part response to migration:
1. We must look at root causes (economic policies etc.)
2. Current and past immigration laws that reflect our realities and how they have encouraged massive undocumented migration so that immigrants can be exploited for cheap labor. We need immigration policies that reflect the situation of the millions of undocumented people who are here. This includes eliminating the backlogs, allowing family unification – among other things. And,
3. We need to meaningful immigration reform. That means we need to stop enforcement now – more border patrols and increasing enforcement will not solve the problem.

How to break through Congress and rollback right-wing, xenophobic movement

Education is critical, especially on issues of race and migration. We cannot go to Congress to just lobby – we can feel good about educating one staff person. The bottom line is we cannot obtain substantial change unless we do widespread education to change the political conditions. It’s unrealistic to think that they will do what we want them to do – their constituents tell them what to do.

We have never seen so much attention on immigration – but now we see people trying to be players. But what we are looking for is to move the base. We can’t get too upset about this because in every movement in history there we’re those who really moved the base communities, and those that came in and took credit at the top.

Nowadays, I am a lot more frontal with the immigration lobbyists – you are part of the reason of why this happened. We need to hold them accountable too.

Colin Rajah directs NNIRR’s international migrant rights program. He interviewed Isabel García, co-chair of the Tucson-based Coalición de Derechos Humanos, last December. Isabel is also a member of NNIRR’s national board.