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Nine DREAMers Detained in Eloy, Arizona

12:34 pm in Uncategorized by Marybeth Onyeukwu

The DREAMers, now known as the Dream 9, who openly presented themselves at the Nogales port of entry as an act of civil disobedience.

On Monday July 22nd, nine DREAMers, six of whom had been previously deported or had been forced to leave the United States, presented themselves at the Nogales [AZ] port of entry demanding to re-enter the United States on humanitarian parole. Three of the participants had returned to Mexico just a week prior as an act of solidarity with the 1.7 million people deported by the Obama administration.

Many have asked why would undocumented immigrants put themselves at such great risk? What is the point of needlessly exposing themselves to border patrol? On what grounds can they claim humanitarian parole? In the first “Bring Them Home” video released by the National Immigrant Youth Alliance (NIYA) Lizbeth Mateo, an undocumented immigration activist, brilliantly explains, “Many of you might think I’m crazy for doing this, but I think it’s crazier that I have not seen my family in 15 years.”

As an undocumented immigrant, I could not agree more. I have not seen members of my family in 25 years. I have no memory of my extended family and no idea what some of my aunties, uncles and cousins look like. I cannot speak the only language that ties me to my grandmother. Pieces of my history, my culture, my heritage have been completely taken away from me and I will never get them back. Quite frankly, the situation has become so desperate and so dire that only drastic action can begin to shift the conversation on immigration reform back to where it needs to be.

None of the immigration reform bills in their current forms truly addresses family separation. In fact, the Senate bill for immigration reform (S.744) prioritizes “high-skilled” visas over family reunification and includes a “border surge” amendment that will militarize the U.S-Mexico border in unprecedented ways. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) says this bill will make the border the “most militarized border since the Berlin Wall.” Most importantly, S.744 does not include provisions that will allow those who left the United States out of a sense fear to return. After living under Arizona’s anti-immigrant law SB 1070, Adriana Gil Diaz decided to leave country just months before Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) was announced by President Obama. By crossing back into the United States, these nine DREAMers have chosen to confront federal laws head-on by openly defying immigration policy.

Upon entry into the United States, the nine DREAMers, now known as the Dream 9, were placed into Florence Detention Center and later moved to Eloy Detention Center. The Dream 9 have already begun to uncover stories of people being detained for years. One 60 year old woman from the Dominican Republic has been detained in Eloy for the last two years. Another detainee has told stories of people either dying from incorrect medication or committing suicide out of a sense of hopelessness. Once the Dream 9 began to gather these stories, their phone access was restricted by officials.  Immediately, the nine DREAMers went on a hunger strike, demanding phone access to be fully restored. In an act of retaliation, six of the Dream 9 were placed into solitary confinement, further exposing them to the extreme punitive practices used within the immigration detention system. It is heart wrenching to think that Lizbeth, an amazing friend who has taken me under her wing for the last year, is in solitary confinement for no other reason than daring and choosing to be free, for saying “enough!” to immigration laws that attempt to dictate how much of her human dignity she is allowed.

Fortunately, support for the Dream 9 is growing. A congressional letter led by Representative Mike Honda (D-CA) and signed by 34 members of Congress has been sent to President Obama urging the release of all members of the Dream 9. It reads:

Our broken immigration policy has separated millions of families, like the families of Lizbeth and Adriana. We have faith that our immigration system can be reformed to respect the humanity and dignity of immigrant families, and we believe that returning these courageous young people to their homes is an important first step that we can take today.

I am humbled by each and every one of these activists. It takes monumental courage to stand up to a government that wants to strip our community of every bit of its humanity, to a Congress that can only think of our existence as a commodity to be sold to the highest bidder, to an administration that tokenizes DREAMers in one instance, but deports and separates families in the next.  Most importantly, it takes an incredible faith to place yourself into the belly of the beast trusting that the community will get you out of one of the worst and most notorious detention centers in the country. Join me in calling the Obama administration to release the Dream 9 today immediately.

#BringThemHome: Undocumented Organizers Leave the United States and Plan to Return in an Act of Civil Disobedience

10:23 am in Uncategorized by Marybeth Onyeukwu

In the first of a series of videos to be released by the National Immigrant Youth Alliance (NIYA), Lizbeth Mateo, an undocumented organizer from California, reveals she has left the United States to see her family in Oaxaca, Mexico. It is the first time she has seen her family in over 15 years.  Lizbeth and other organizers will return at a border crossing next week to protest the United States’ inhumane immigration laws and the Obama administration’s massive deportation machine that separates families. From the press release:

Leaders of the undocumented youth movement in the United States have crossed the border into Mexico, and plan to turn themselves in alongside ‘DREAMers’ who left the United States at a border crossing next week. With applications for legal status in hand, they will demand to be allowed to return home to the United States.

Leaders currently in Mexico include Lizbeth Mateo of Los Angeles, CA and Lulu Martinez of Chicago, IL. Both have been living in the United States since before the age of 16, making them eligible for the DREAM Act and deferred action. “Last year they went after my uncle and he was deported, said Mateo. “What our family went through is what millions have gone through and it needs to stop. This administration needs to know we won’t wait for congress to do the right thing.”

Today as Congress grapples with what to do with the 11 million undocumented people living in the United States, 1,100 people will be deported, 1,100 families will be separated and 1,100 dreams will be shattered. These youth leaders have decided that their families and communities cannot wait for Congress to act. In four days a real debate on immigration reform will begin.

My Interview With BET

9:42 am in Uncategorized by Marybeth Onyeukwu

Recently, I was asked to share my story as an undocumented immigrant with Black Entertainment Television (BET). It was a great opportunity to offer my perspective as a black immigrant and to highlight immigration as not just a Latino issue, but rather as an issue that affects many different people. It’s a human rights cause that deserves more of a nuanced and reflective discussion.

(click through for video, it is autoplay)

Senate Judiciary Committee Highlights the Critical Problem of Reducing Family Based Immigration

11:05 am in Uncategorized by Marybeth Onyeukwu

Senator Mazie Hirono

Senator Mazie Hirono (D-HI)

In response to reports that the Gang of 8, a bipartisan group of senators working on immigration reform, could possibly eliminate family categories for adult married children and siblings of US citizens (F3 and F4 categories respectively) in exchange for more skilled labor, the Senate Judiciary Committee heard testimony to discuss the potential consequences of such legislation. Senator Mazie Hirono (D-HI) chaired the proceedings and offered some important insight during her opening remarks.

It’s from my own experience as an immigrant that I believe immigration reform should make the family immigration system stronger, not weaker.  And we should not ignore the challenges immigrant women face.

Oftentimes women and children are overlooked in the overall immigration conversation when  they should be given special attention. Women and children make up nearly two thirds of immigrants. Furthermore, less than one third of employment-based visas are granted to women as principal green card holders, resulting in women relying heavily on the family-based system to gain entry into the country. As immigrant women are increasingly becoming the heads of households it is paramount to recognize the unique obstacles these women face as they attempt to navigate the labyrinth that is our immigration system. Any legislation that reduces family-based immigration will leave out a large segment of the immigrant community.

When discussing the impact of immigration backlogs, Senator Al Franken (D-MN) makes a very good observation:

Don’t these backlogs incentivize illegal immigration? If you’re overseas and have no prospect of seeing your parents for over 20 years… I would like to think that my kids will do everything they could to be with me.

Contrary to the rhetoric that immigration reform only encourages illegal immigration forced migration, it is actually the outdated and restrictionist immigration law that helps fuel it. When family members are faced with the possibility of waiting decades before being reunited, many will naturally choose to be with family. In essence, eliminating entire categories will do nothing to decrease the current 4.3 million family members waiting in line for green cards. If anything, it will only exacerbate the issue. We could possibly find ourselves in a worse situation years from now. As Mee Muoa notes, President and Executive Director of the Asian American Justice Center,  even “skilled” labor have family members. It is preposterous to think that a strong family network for immigrants will not provide value to this country’s best interest.

Glenn Beck Is Not Impressed With WWE’s “Miscasting” of Tea Partiers

12:24 pm in Uncategorized by Marybeth Onyeukwu

It appears that the World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) has ruffled a few feathers with its new character Zeb Colter. Zeb Colter is a Tea Party inspired Vietnam veteran, terrified of the changing demographics of America, who manages wrestler Jack Swagger. The xenophobic manager often charges “real Americans” to get rid of “whoever wants to cross our borders” illegally and cites Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and Alex Jones as fans. The caricature of Tea Partiers did not sit well with Glenn Beck, who had this to offer in response,

The WWE now has put a new character out that is demonizing the TEA Party,” says Beck. I’m sick and tired of being miscast. I am sick and tired of it. It is lazy at best. And I certainly am not going to give any more time or my money to any organization that is miscasting, is making it harder for me and my family to stand up for what I believe in. You’re mocking me for standing up for the Constitution of the United States of America? You’re mocking me for standing up for law and order? Equal justice under the law? Equal justice. I’ve been that my whole life.

Of course, the WWE’s never one to miss out on a golden opportunity, challenged the radio show host to appear on its taping of “Monday Night Raw.” Watch at mark 1:40 as Wayne breaks character to explain the concept of satire.

Nevertheless, Glenn Beck refused the offer by stating, “Unfortunately I am currently booked doing anything else.” On April 7th the WWE will host Wrestlemania 29 at the MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. where Jack Swagger will square off against Alberto del Rio for the World Heavyweight Championship.

Will Comprehensive Immigration Reform Bring an End to Operation Streamline?

6:40 pm in Uncategorized by Marybeth Onyeukwu

The Detention Watch Network is launching a campaign urging Congress to bring an end to Operation Streamline.  Started in 2005 under the Bush administration, Operation Streamline funnels migrants that cross the border into the criminal justice system to be prosecuted for immigration related “crimes.” Those apprehended at the border for the first time are prosecuted for the misdemeanor offense of unauthorized entry punishable up to 6 months in prison and those re-entering the country after a prior deportation order are prosecuted for felony re-entry punishable up to 20 years in prison.

According to the Detention Watch Network:

In 2011, unauthorized entry and re-entry were the two most prosecuted crimes in the federal judicial system – more than murder, robbery or financial fraud. These prosecutions are fueling the explosive growth in numbers of Latinos in prison. Latinos now make up more than 50 percent of all those sentenced to federal prison despite making up only 16 percent of the US population.

The federal government has spent an estimated $5.5 billion incarcerating undocumented immigrants in the criminal justice system for unauthorized entry and re-entry since 2005, above and beyond the $2 billion per year it has spent on the civil immigration detention system. Much of the aforementioned $5.5 billion has been channeled to private prison corporations to confine people in “CAR” prisons with deplorable conditions for merely trying to reunite with their families.

Last night, the President delivered his State of the Union address where he gave immigration reform a grand total of 210 words. Of course, a number of DREAMers were invited attend. As for the speech itself, there were the usual talking points of border security and earned citizenship, all of which was nothing more than a dog and pony show created to distract from the real  issues plaguing our immigration system. There is real human suffering happening right now as we speak, most of which can be alleviated by simply suspending punitive enforcement policies such as Operation Streamline. If Congress or the President wants to have any credibility regarding immigration reform then they need to start shifting the narrative towards ending the criminalization of immigrants.

The Congressional Black Caucus Lends Its Voice to the Immigration Debate

10:38 am in Uncategorized by Marybeth Onyeukwu

Sheila Jackson Lee

Sheila Jackson Lee: “The Congressional Black Caucus will be pivotal” in immigration reform.

On February 4, the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) held its first meeting on comprehensive immigration reform. Representative Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX) made critical points in the meeting that are oftentimes missing from the debate.

On these points about the issue of where we can come together and where there are distinctions is to raise the factor of how serious and difficult this process may be, the Congressional Black Caucus will be pivotal in its role. One, because it is the conscience of this Congress. Two, because we have the uncanny ability of seeing from a broader perspective with what we have gone through in our lifetime, what our communities go through. We’ve seen discrimination and we are sympathetic and sensitive to how we can help others.

The support from the CBC should not surprise anyone. More African Americans who voted in the last presidential election support a process for legalizing undocumented immigrants than Latino voters do. In a November Gallup Exit poll, 81% of African Americans support immigration reform compared to 77% of Latino voters. An interesting piece of information that is constantly overlooked by the media and especially by our politicians.

In a press release, Caucus Chair Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH) outlined key concerns for comprehensive immigration reform:

  • Advancing legislation and policies that lead to comprehensive immigration reform.
  • Providing a voice for undocumented immigrants of African descent within the comprehensive immigration reform debate.
  • Addressing issues of mass detention and unjust criminality of immigrant populations.
  • Ensuring policies that are aimed at improving conditions within low-income and vulnerable communities are not averted by comprehensive immigration reform legislation.

The most striking piece is the issue of mass detention. Oftentimes, under the guise of the “rule of law” immigrants are racially profiled, unconstitutionally placed in detention centers for extended periods of time and denied access to legal counsel. While private prison corporations are allowed to profit from human suffering, many families are unjustly separated in the meantime. Rarely if ever do we hear these issues addressed. Instead, we hear the same predictable rhetoric that places emphasis creating a “pathway to citizenship” for undocumented immigrants in exchange for increased funding for border security. It will be interesting to see what level of involvement the CBC will have in the next few weeks on immigration reform. It will be even more interesting to see if the CBC can garner enough attention to these critical issues that have beleaguered the immigrant community for far too long.

Read the rest of this entry →

“Gang of 8″ Proposal on Immigration is a Major Disappointment

3:12 pm in Uncategorized by Marybeth Onyeukwu

In an weak attempt to preempt the President’s proposal on immigration tomorrow, Washington’s “Gang of 8” held a press conference to unveil their bipartisan proposal for immigration reform. The “Gang of 8″ includes Senators John McCain (R-AZ), Marco Rubio (R-FL), Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Robert Flake (R-AZ), Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Michel Bennet (D-CO).

As Jon Walker outlines, the framework includes four key principles:

  • create of “tough but fair” pathway to legalization, that is contingent upon securing the border; children brought to the United States at a young age and agricultural workers would go through a separate and expedited process
  • implement an employment verification system that will prove potential employees are indeed eligible to work in the United States
  • reform the immigration system to encourage the retention of highly skilled workers
  • streamline the process to allow low skilled workers to come in order to meet critical labor demands

Upon closer examination, this enforcement heavy framework provides little -if any- relief for undocumented immigrants. If this is the initial starting point for immigration reform that then we are in serious trouble. The Daily Caller is applauding this framework for its conservatism.

Like its predecessor, Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 (IIRIA) the latest blueprint for Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR) will ultimately expand detentions, deportations and the usage of drones along the U.S -Mexico border. That’s right. Drones.

Additionally, our legislation will increase the number of unmanned aerial vehicles and surveillance equipment, improve radio interoperability and increase the number of agents at and between ports of entry. The purpose is to substantially lower the number of successful illegal border crossings while continuing to facilitate commerce.

That’s just the enforcement piece. The actual “pathway to citizenship” is rife with multiple stipulations that are punitive and will put millions of people in limbo for a number of years. The most abhorrent piece is the creation of “border  commission” that will decide the right time to grant permanent residency for the millions of undocumented immigrants in the country. In other words, governors from border states (read: Governor Jan Brewer) will get to decide when the border has been sufficiently secured and thus decide the best time to issue green cards. And even at that point, permanent residency will not be granted until every person that is currently “in line” has received his or her green cards. Right now, the longest wait for a family sponsored visa is for a brother or sister of U.S citizen. Suppose that individual is from the Philippines. The wait would be twenty three years. Twenty three years. It will be a quarter of a century before anyone gets a green card.

Members of Congress made it very clear that an attempt by the President to introduce his own legislation will “poison the well.” Well, it is obvious that is exactly what Obama will have to do to counter this asinine proposal from the Senate. However, if this press conference is any indication, this proposal has the full backing of the White House. Again, we are in serious trouble and we will have to seriously re-think our strategies for the upcoming debate on immigration reform.

We can do better than Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR) – much better

12:56 pm in Uncategorized by Marybeth Onyeukwu

Last night, the home of Erika Andiola, prominent leader in the migrant justice movement, was raided by Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE). Her mother,  Maria Arreola and brother Heriberto Andiola Arreola were taken away. Fortunately, both Erika’s mom and brother were released this morning. Erika is known for fearlessly confronting Arizona’s SB1070 during its inception and has since then led multiple campaigns for immigrant rights.  Not only I am inspired by her activism, but I understand all too well to the fear of being separated from my family for no other reason than lacking documentation.

I am hoping that Erika’s case will finally raise the awareness that is needed to confront this administration’s inhumane deportation policies. The Obama administration has deported more immigrants than any other U.S. president in history. Just this past year alone, this administration has deported 409,849 individuals, setting a new record for deportations.  With all this talk about CIR, it is my hope that we abandon this “politics of respectability” approach to immigration. Instead of critiquing, challenging and dismantling a system that has created division there are those of us striving desperately join its ranks. Everytime we cling to this narrative of who is worthy of legalization we are giving legitimacy to a system that  relies heavily on the injustices of other people. By doing so, entire communities are rendered invisible. We become complicit in our own oppression.

Roberto Lovato says it best:

The terrifying raid of the Andiola family that we heard about and witnessed recently should give us reason to actually read what Obama and his immigration allies are pushing when they say “Comprehensive Immigration Reform” (CIR). Read for yourself how they are proposing legislation that looks like this most recent CIR proposal in 2010, legislation that prioritizes and expands raids, imprisonment, deportation terror like that experienced by the Andiola.Check out the legislation. It’s there for you to read, as is the tragic lie these “leaders” are perpetrating against us all. “Comprehensive Immigration Reform means legalizing ,at best, about 3-5 million (NOT 11-12 million) undocumented people in exchange for condemning non-eligible current immigrants and all future undocumented to the kind of terror Erika Andiola and her family experienced last night. About 80-90% of CIR is about more enforcement and punishment and only 10-20% about citizenship. Please read the laws (or the analysis) before joining those asking you to mouth that fatal phrase: “Comprehensive Immigration Reform.”

Yes, Erika. It can happen to any of us. None of us are safe. Let this be an awakening for all those in the “movement.”

Enough Is Enough: Occupy Sandy and Pursuing Environmental Justice in Our Most Vulnerable Communites

11:11 am in Uncategorized by Marybeth Onyeukwu

Supplies piled on tables at an Occupy Sandy center.

Supplies piled on tables at an Occupy Sandy center

Marybeth Onyeukwu works for FDL and went to New York to coordinate with OccupySandy organizers.  This is her report.

Admittedly, before heading to New York to learn about the OccupySandy relief effort, I did not fully appreciate or understand the Occupy Movement as a whole. All I could glean from the mainstream media coverage on Occupy Wall Street (OWS) it was a movement demanding accountability of the one percent – that small elite of society that controls about half of the nation’s wealth through extortionate and insidious means. I was intrigued to hear the same movement responsible for leading the battle cry against a plutocratic society has now become one of the key players in Hurricane Sandy recovery efforts.

Once I arrived at St. Jacobi Evangelical Lutheran Church, I was immediately thrown into the operation. My first stop was orientation where I was able to get a general understanding of the logistics behind Occupy Sandy. St. Jacobi serves as one of the two major distribution centers that receive donations that will immediately go out to the recovery sites most affected by Hurricane Sandy.

From the time I arrived to the time I left there was a constant stream of supplies and volunteers circulating through the distribution center. After spending some time helping unload donations, I began to hear the frustrations and outrage over the lack of government support. Residents are still without electricity, heat or running water -three weeks after Hurricane Sandy ravaged the northeastern coast. Juan Guzman, community member and volunteer, is the most vocal critic of the city’s poor handling of the situation.

Where is FEMA? Where is the Red Cross? Nowhere. I strongly believe in the power of the people because there is no red tape attached there. The government -there’s always red tape. So the process is always slower.

I have only one question. Why? Why is the process always slower? Why do our systems fail to respond in times of dire emergency? It is morally reprehensible that residents are left stranded by a government mandated to serve its people.

Eventually, I was able to make it to Far Rockaway Queens. Almost immediately, the devastation begins to engulf you. The streets are filled with debris. Piles of sand stand at least six feet tall. Homes are destroyed. Police help to direct traffic. People wrap around a local community center and food trucks to receive hot meals. Ocean Bay apartments are being powered by generators. You can see where the flood waters reached – about five feet above the ground.  We arrive at a church, St. Gertrude’s on Beach 38th street – a recovery center where residents receive much needed aid. I was able to speak with one of the onsite coordinators, Diana, who recounts for me the story of a man who lost everything he owned in the flood waters. To listen to the heartbreak is almost unbearable.

Occupy Sandy Relief banner hangs over relief supplies.

Occupy Sandy St. Jacobi Relief Center

Unfortunately, disasters like Hurricane Sandy make glaringly obvious the income inequalities that exist within cities. As a member of low-income community in Washington DC known as East of the River, I know of all too well the feeling of abandonment. Washington DC is one of the wealthier cities in the nation. The median household income in the district is $100,000, while at the same time 1 in 5 children live below the poverty line;, almost double that of the national average. It is a forgotten community within arguably the most important city in the world. A place where thousands of interns, activists and organizers come to “change the world,” but almost none are aware of the gross disparities happening right in the nation’s capital.

Businesses are given free reign to pursue the Almighty Dollar without any regard of the communities they affect.  The juxtaposition of wealth and poverty in DC is tragic, but  unfortunately an accepted reality by those gripped in the tentacles of an oppressive system. Likewise, on a macro level, it is this same philosophy of reckless disaster capitalism that has culminated in Hurricane Sandy. As corporations are given free reign to burn fossil fuels that release toxic carbon emissions in the air system, with little to no regulation, our planet’s temperature continues to rise causing sea levels to surge. As sea levels increase, we will continue to witness extreme and dangerous weather patterns including catastrophic hurricanes such as Sandy.

As someone who is tired of seeing my city and other cities around the country bear the grunt of inhumane business practices, I say it is time for Occupy volunteers to start using their resources and expertise to stop dangerous environmental policies that ultimately end up devastating our communities. We have the unique opportunity to pressure officials to enact stronger environmental policy that will protect the planet, and subsequently, future generations. Now is the time to do it, while the public interest is high and while the effort has the people power to do it.  Let’s be honest.  It will take more than an ad hoc coalition of various organizations to complete the task of restoration.  I echo the sentiments of Juan Carlos, St. Jacobi’s community center director:

We are letting them off the hook, by doing the work they are supposed to do.

Yes, we are letting our elected officials off the hook. We must demand our representatives start doing their jobs. It is not enough to make statements of commitment. We need action. We need long-term solutions that will finally address the issues of environmental justice, especially the most important issue of our generation -climate change. Our planet is undergoing a severe crisis that unfortunately leaves our most vulnerable communities to suffer the consequences of an irresponsible and exploitative business model.

It has been 3 weeks since I have visited Far Rockaway Queens and not much has changed. Families are still without electricity, heat or running water.  In fact, the situation has only worsened. People are living in mold infested homes with no other choice but to use ovens for warmth. Very few have the option of retreating to a relative or friend’s home. Soon these homes will be condemned and many will face the threat of homelessness.  To add insult to injury, Mayor Bloomberg’s office has ordered the 489 Midland recovery hub in Staten Island to stop its operation. One word: Abominable. It’s almost as if he is waiting for the media to stop paying attention then bulldoze these communities in order for vulture capitalists to begin “reconstruction” efforts that ultimately end up displacing thousands of people.  Again, enough is enough. It is time for us to make our voices heard.

All photos by Marybeth Onyeukwu.