Adventures of a Forced Migrant Contact Me
First India, and now Nigeria.
Albeit, the situation in Nigeria is far worse.
Nigerian President, Goodluck Jonathan, signed into law a draconian anti-gay bill. Same sex relationships were already illegal in Nigeria but under the new law, anyone who enters into a same-sex marriage or partnership may be jailed for up to 14 years. The new law also bans people who register, operate or participate in gay clubs, societies or organizations, or who publicly show that they are in a same-sex relationship.
In less than a week, dozens of people have been rounded up, arrested, and questioned under the new anti-gay law. 11 Muslim men in Nigeria also face a possible death sentence. More disturbing reports are trickling out. Amnesty International, and many other countries have called for the government to halt the homophobic witch-hunt. Some are also exploring withholding foreign aid to Nigeria.
Withholding aid is not particularly helpful in such a situation. Nigeria’s LGBT community needs all the help it can get in order to work to change attitudes or escape the situation in their home country, if that is what they want to do.
There are reports of some people escaping persecution by obtaining false documents or visas to travel to the U.S. or another country (though they must reveal their true identity and apply for asylum at the port of entry), but it is unclear who and how this underground railroad is organized. Also, I am not sure if asylum seekers who make it to the U.S. only to be locked up in detention for months, sometimes years, as arriving aliens, are better off here or there. It’s like being stuck between a rock and a hard place. Perhaps they are better off finding another country.
While the law spells terror for Nigerians, it is a blessing in disguise for many LGBT Nigerians already in the U.S., who can now seek asylum, withholding, or reopen their failed asylum claims. If you have gay friends and family members from Nigeria, do let them know to consult an immigration attorney for help in seeking asylum from Nigeria.
Please note: Nothing in this post denotes legal advice or is offered in substitution of advice from a lawyer. Success is not guaranteed in every case, and results often vary.
I am cross-posting this letter, which was initiated by DRM Action Coalition, and signed by over 80 immigrant youth leaders. You can probably still sign on here in solidarity.
Open Letter to the Immigrant Rights Movement: Our Families Can’t Wait
Dear Friends and Allies in the Immigrant Rights Movement,
We are writing this letter to open a dialogue about the direction and strategy of the immigration reform campaign in the New Year. For us, this is not a question of ideology, but our own and our families’ lives. We hope that this letter will agitate your thinking and that we can move together in a new direction in 2014.
First, we want to recognize the collective work of our movement last year. From lobbying members of Congress, to infiltrating detention centers, to stopping individual deportations, we have each done our part to make this movement stronger and to advance the rights of the immigrant community. We want to thank you, every person and organization, that has dedicated themselves to this cause.
Despite all the hard work that we did last year, we cannot ignore that we did not win a legislative policy change. In the same year we lived through close to 370,000 undocumented immigrants being deported by the Obama administration. We saw toddlers carry signs asking for their parents to be released from detention; we saw families taken in the middle of the night after a simple knock at the door; we saw ICE taking parents while working, and then labeling them as felons. Their only crime was to work to provide food for their family. As leaders, we need to have the humility to reassess our strategy and make changes when something is not working.
How did we get to this point where we haven’t passed immigration reform? Entering 2013, we felt confident. We were all on a high from the 2012 elections. We were sure that the Tea Party’s defeats, including Mitt Romney’s loss due to his “self deportation” stance, would finally move the Republican Party to act on immigration legislation. Like you, we, DREAMers, undocumented youth-led and parent-led organizations, remember feeling confident that we could achieve immigration reform with a path to citizenship for all eleven million undocumented immigrants.
While the Senate immigration bill was not perfect, we were hopeful that its passage meant we were halfway there and that a bipartisan deal was taking shape in Congress. The logic at the time was that passing the Senate Bill would increase momentum to pass it in the House. This, however, did not happen.
Looking for a way to keep the pressure, a number of organizations asked Democrat leadership to introduce H.R. 15 in the House with the hopes that it would pressure Speaker Boehner to allow a vote or introduce his own legislation. While we thank these organizations for doing what they thought was right at the time, unfortunately, it was a miscalculation. Speaker Boehner refused to bring the Senate bill to the floor, and no Republican had the courage to introduce their own bills. Despite all of our efforts, we didn’t have the power to get the Speaker to bring up the Senate bill.
Democrat leadership, meanwhile, has established hard lines like “citizenship or nothing,” making it politically impossible for both parties to come to the table on a real solution. Blaming Republicans for killing CIR became good propaganda for the Democratic Party, and alienated the few Republicans who were interested in moving legislation forward.
At the end of the year, as Congressmen went home for recess, we were left with nothing for our families. What could we tell the people in deportation who kept calling us, even on Christmas Eve? Tens of thousands of parents across the country spent their Christmas behind bars in cold jail cells in detention centers, the hopes of immigration reform fading from their hearts. Tens of thousands of peoples tried to make the best of Christmas, but couldn’t really smile because a loved one was missing. People like the Zuniga family, whose son Joel was deported. Joel’s mom Marypaz said the food didn’t taste the same and she didn’t feel like putting up Christmas lights this year. People like Naira, who’s husband Ardany was deported in the middle of the night the week before Christmas. While a group of us held vigil outside of Florence detention center, ICE snuck Ardany out the back to deport him. Naira was left with her 2 year old son and newborn daughter, fighting back the tears so that the children could enjoy Christmas morning.
Lupita Arreola, Erika’s mother, Mario Montoya, Reyna’s father, Mario Andrade and Hareth’s father are all still in deportation proceedings. How many more will it take before we stop this? How many more families will be torn apart? How many more children traumatized?
We don’t know what’s going to happen in 2014, but we know that the status quo is unbearable. We cannot stand by and watch another 2 million people get deported while we try to pass an ideal immigration reform.
As people who are directly affected, we ask you to revisit your strategy:
1. Focus on a practical legislative solution for immediate relief for families, even if it doesn’t include a special path to citizenship. Our families and communities need relief now, not ideological hard lines.2. Allow bills that are already amenable to citizenship for Dreamers and legalization for parents without blocking existing citizenship channels. We will not accept a proposal that blocks, bans or bars citizenship.3. Use our power and political capital to call on Democrats and the President to expand administrative relief and stop unjust deportations. NDLON has already laid out what this could look like http://goo.gl/DZjaeN4. Focus on advancing substantive policy this year, not on advancing the electoral efforts of the Democratic Party. Let go of HR 15 and SB 744 and focus on winnable pieces of legislation in the House. No, we will not take ‘just anything.’ We want to see the Republicans proposals on the table and then we will decide if its good for our community or not.
As undocumented advocates, we do want citizenship rights. We believe that this is our country, and our family’s home. We do want to be able to vote and voice our opinions. We cannot, however, wait for that to happen while our families are being persecuted. Walking away with nothing is not an option for us; “citizenship-or-nothing” is not an option. We can’t ask our communities to wait for “citizenship” while we see our mothers, our fathers and our children being taken from our homes by immigration. We can’t wait while we see our families being taken into detention centers for months and even years while our children are being traumatized.
Through this letter we are asking that you stand with us. Fight with us for immediate relief for our families. Let’s together hold President Obama accountable for every deported parent. Let’s find a way to work with both parties to find an immediate solution, even if it’s a solution that doesn’t include a “special” pathway to citizenship.
Together lets achieve a level of peace for our families and our communities, a peace that will allow us to live free from persecution, that will allow us to live, work, travel like a human being. We want our mothers to see their parents, to be able to hug them and not arrive to visit their grave. We want to be able to drive without the panic of seeing a police officer in our rearview mirror. We want to be able to live knowing that we will come home and see our children at the end of the day.
Once we achieve this level of relief/stability, there is no question that we will keep fighting for more- for what rightly belongs to our families. Our families are not conformist. Our mothers crossed borders, risked their lives for something better. We need to survive but will never settle, we will always fight for the betterment of our families.
This week, Jose Patino of “The Dream is Now” fame wrote great article on “What the undocumented community needs out of immigration reform” which raised a lot of eyebrows. Friend of this blog, Cesar Vargas, Founder of DRM Action, reiterated that undocumented youth leaders are loyal to their communities, and not beholden to either party. Around the same time, the National Immigration Law Center released an excellent report, outlining how the President can use his executive powers to stop deportations.
After having a public fallout with certain undocumented leaders, Rep. Luis Gutierrez, one of the strongest advocates for immigration reform, has actually adopted their views on deportation. In a Fusion interview, he states:
“Democrats think all they need to do is to simply blame Republicans. You know what? We control the White House and we control the deportation apparatus,” he said. “We have a responsibility to act.”
Certainly, we can do more. While we await immigration reform, Santiago Leco’s recent infiltration of El Paso Detention Center, combined with a Fusion investigation, has revealed that ICE had detained at least 13 pregnant women, contrary to its own policy:
The agency’s policy says that detaining pregnant or nursing women is low on their priority list. The directive states that resources should be spent on locking up people whose cases are top priority, like those who have formerly broken immigration laws, are threats to public safety, or have been convicted of crimes.
Similarly, contrary to its own policy, the U.S. continues to detain asylum seekers, even after they have been granted credible fear.This week, a law firm contacted me about helping out with one of their clients who is currently detained in Georgia after fleeing Honduras for his life. Homeland Security agents detained Mr. Paz and his wife after they crossed the Texan border in late October 2013. The two fled Honduras after being threatened by the gang members who killed two of their adult children in 2013. Mr. Paz, who is 60 years old, applied for asylum and passed the credible fear interview, but the Department of Homeland Security is refusing to release him from custody. Instead, they have him locked up at Stewart Detention Facility in Lumpkin, Georgia, hundreds of miles away from his family. Please sign his petition here.
The U.S. isn’t the only country dealing with immigration issues. Thousands of African refugees to Israel joined in a peaceful protest this week against Israel’s denial of their refugee status and their continued detention. The New Yorker has more background on this issue.
A very dear friend of this blog, Attorney Madeline Stano, showed up in federal court this week to prevent discriminatory pesticide practices that allow predominantly Latino children to be exposed to high levels of harmful chemicals in California. Thanks Stano!
The polar votex came for me so I am back in the Bay Area, California. On that note, the EBIYC – East Bay Immigrant Youth Coalition is now accepting scholarship applications. The due date is Monday, February 17. So check it out!
Photo Credit: greensefa
On April 24th a nine-story garment factory in the outskirts of Dhaka, Bangladesh collapsed. It is estimated that over 6,000 people worked in the building and as of today, the death toll is at 1,129. Approximately 2,500 injured people were rescued from the building. Brands and companies producing their clothing in the building included Benetton, Wal-Mart, Gap, JCPenney, and H&M, among others. It is considered to be the deadliest garment-factory accident in history, as well as the deadliest accidental structural failure in modern human history
Friend of this blog, Taz Ahmed, in collaboration with South Asian artists from across the country, put this wonderful album together, as a benefit for the orphans of the garment factory workers. Notable names include Red Baraat, Vijay Iyer, Mandeep Sethi, and another friend, Shahid Buttar, who is incidentally a great musician while also being the Executive Director of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee.
Taz writes on her blog:
For the past month I have been working day and night on my latest project – because ever since I saw images of Rana Plaza collapsed and all those people and
garment piled in rubble, I couldn’t help but think about how my garment industry owning Bangladeshi family may have been connected. And by default, how I as a Bangladeshi-American was connected. Sure, the family there was not directly connected, but they were part of the Bangladeshi garment industry complex that was feeding into the consumerism complex in the US that I as an activist was often fighting against. I knew I couldn’t save the people in Bangladesh directly, but I could do what I could from here. So I produced an album, with the help of one of my favorite musicians who executive produced & co-curated: Brooklyn Shanti
Way to go Taz.
The album is only $15, which is probably less than the t-shirt you own from Bangladesh.
Check it out here.
Sheth, who describes himself as religious, said he, and his mother, find peace with his sexual orientation in the context of Hinduism. He says the god Shiva embodies a balance of male and female energy, even if he is physically depicted as a male.
“I found that the idea of a soul in Hinduism is not gendered,” he said.
The District is a miserable and lonely place to be for Diwali unless you are an undergrad at GW or American, and even then people are generally clueless when you try to talk to them about this major festival that is celebrated by more than a billion people in the world. That said, a Happy Diwali to all my South Asian friends and a very Happy New Year.
I took up writing for the Nota Bene, which is The George Washington University Law School newspaper, so check it out. The most recent piece is about the D.C. Mayor playing both sides of the immigration debate by banning public safety officials from asking for immigration status but still cooperating with federal immigration officials to deport non-criminals. Most people don’t know that the District does participate in the (In)Secure Communities program, which I’ve written about extensively on this blog.
Some immigrant rights groups are actually doing real work in Alabama (as opposed to the C-3s building their email lists from this crisis). Mohammad found a 17 year old Dreamer at the Jefferson County Jail, who is likely to be handed over to ICE for deportation. Tell ICE not to detain him here. We are also trying to get a large contingent of undocumented youth organizers to go down to Alabama from November 11 (a day after my own immigration court hearing in San Francisco) to document abuses, empower immigrant communities to fight back and work on changing things in Alabama so we need all the financial support we can get from supporters.
Movie recommendation: Aarakshan, a Prakash Jha movie that is a riveting socio-political commentary on the increased privatization of education and how it interacts with the caste reservation quota system in India. Aarakshan falls in line with my own philosophy regarding education and affirmative action: if there aren’t enough seats in a classroom, bring in another seat, build yet another classroom, and more schools till every student can have equal and free access to an education.
Looking for a Halloween costume? Don’t dress up as a member of a minority group.