Category Archives: International Immigrant Rights

The Postville Raid: A Tale of Two Villages

The village of San Miguel Acatan, in northwest Guatemala

The village of San Miguel Acatan, in northwest Guatemala

If you haven’t already, you should check out Frontline PBS’s latest look at the impact of the Postville, Iowa immigration raid on workers from two Guatemalan villages. Watch the video here.

Guatemala is close to my heart. For two years, I worked with communities in the highlands of the Cuchamatanes mountains in northwest Guatemala. These communities, impacted by globalization, a decades-long civil war and the slow deterioration of an older way of life, are extremely transient. It was rare to meet a family without at least one (usually more) person in el norte. While I work daily to push for comprehensive immigration reform here in the United States, it is never far from my mind that there are much bigger global structures that must be re-examined if we are to combat the gaping inequities created by these structures – a task so big it makes my head spin.

For now, make sure to check out the video at Frontline. It makes my heart ache and it makes me want to go back to Guatemala, just to visit and to listen.

Today marks 60 years for the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

Sixty years ago, today, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adpoted by the United Nations. To mark the anniversary, the Human Rights organization is asking people to share the images that opened their eyes to Human Rights.

Today is relevant, because Migrant Rights are Human Rights. For more on how immigration raids violate Human Rights, check out this powerful post from kyledb at Citizen Orange.

I can easily name an image that opened my eyes to human rights.  It’s the image of Tomasa Mendez, who became a poster child for the separation of families after the New Bedford raid. 

Also, visit Immigration Impact for more on how our current immigration system violates Human Rights.

VIDEO: More Coverage from the People’s Global Action on Migration

Below is a video with more on-the-ground coverage of the PAG – from the National Immigrant and Refugee Rights YouTube channel.

The People’s Global Action on Migration, Development and Human Rights

The  Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD) is a “new initiative of the international community to address the migration and development interconnections in practical and action-oriented ways.” However, many feel that the Forum is used so that officials can make top-level decisions outside of the framework of the United Nations – without community engagement and oversight.

This year, the GMFD is being held in Manila. But, hundreds of organizations from across the globe have organized a “parallel event” called People’s Global Action on Migration, Development and Human Rights (PGA) it will be held prior to, and during the GFMD, kicking off on October 22nd and going straight through the 30th.

Advocates from the National Network of Immigrant and Refugee Rights are in Manila, joining in on the protests, marches, speakers and workshops. You can read all about their experiences at their blog, Migrant Diaries.

Also be sure to check out their YouTube channel, to see videos from the events. Below is a video of a the opening march of the PGA on October 22, in Manila.

The People’s Global Action on Migration, Development and Human Rights (PGA), reached its programmatic climax with a candle-light protest march and the global opening ceremonies this past Saturday evening, and convergence workshops, reporting, and adoption of its Joint Declaration on Sunday.

What was particularly unique and inspiring about these days, was the convergence of migrant groups with labor unions, struggling side by side together. Just like back home in the U.S., the relationship between these movements in other parts of the world and especially in Asia, have been tenuous at best, and more often, opposed. But here, we have come together in the PGA, found common ground in our principles, and have joined forces to challenge the Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD) and what it stands for.

It is exciting to see such inspiring comittment and work being dedicated to migrant rights worldwide. It helps to give me a feeling of interconnectedness and of international relevance, during this highly politically charged time in the United States. We are not only fighting for immigrants rights here, we are fighting for them everywhere. Migrant Rights are Human Rights.

International Migration: Tearing Down Walls

There is a great Op-Ed from this weekend’s Houston Chronicle discussing not only immigration in the United States, but the immigration phenomenon that is being seen across the globe.

Using the Beijing Olympics as a backdrop, the piece discusses walls (The Great Wall, the border wall and symbolic walls) and says that we should see immigration as “an opportunity, not as an obstacle”.

Here is an excerpt:

As the Olympic Games so clearly illustrated, the removal of real and imagined walls — through the spread of information and economic and political freedoms — has brought people around the world closer together than ever.

Constraining and complicating the system that allows people to move across borders — in America and elsewhere — will hurt businesses, stifle innovation and make it more likely that the United States will take a back seat to countries that embrace immigration.

The “us versus them” mindset has to be replaced by a “we” mindset.

The Irony of Immigrant Olympics

 You know, I’ve never really been a huge fan of the Olympics. I have friends who will literally glue themselves to the TV during the games and who fanatically follow the medal counts and stats, but I’ve never paid all that much attention.

I did get to attend the medal-rounds of the women’s soccer games at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996 – which as a young woman soccer player was truly an exhilirating and inspiring experience. (By the way, the U.S. Women took the gold, winning a 2-0 final against China.) And I’ve always enjoyed watching the women’s gymnastics events, which I find to be the most entertaining of the games.

But, after learning more about the political implications of hosting the Olympics and the way countries (and at times, violent regimes) use the games and the positive attention to gloss over any previous trangressions, I must admit that my zeal for the Olympics has waned since Atlanta. For more on this, you should definitely check out a recent post from Nezua at the Unapologetic Mexican – beautiful writing on an ugly subject.

But, this past weekend, I watched the opening ceremonies with a few friends over dinner and drinks, and I must admit, I was mesmerized by the visual spectacle of it all. Since then, I have tuned in for the basketball, swimming and gymnastics portions of the coverage.



However, I was really thrilled to come across Sally Kohn’s most recent op-ed at Alternet. Kohn exposes our country’s double-standard towards immigrants, which has really been highlited during the current Olympics in Beijing.

For here we are in the United States, where though the price of gas is skyrocketing, there seems to be endless fuel to feed the fires of anti-immigrant sentiment. But the Olympics are different, I guess. Is it the same with professional sports? Or the governorship of California? We don’t like immigrants in low-wage jobs that none of us citizens want to do, but we don’t mind immigrants in the exceptionally high-paying jobs that American-born citizens can only dream of?

What’s the point complaining about an undocumented Mexican making $5 an hour in a chicken processing plant, who lost two of his fingers because of unsafe conditions and labor violations? Shouldn’t we be more upset about Yao Ming making $15 million a year, plus endorsements?

Ah, but in America, we have a long and proud tradition of picking on the little guy. We also have a proud tradition of taking half-hearted moral stands. (Remember the Southern Compromise, anyone? Our continuing tolerance of segregation after abolition? Or the Bush Administration’s rejection of nation-building … ?) Why bother standing up for what’s right when we can just talk about what we know is right but then just keep doing what we’ve always done.

Of course I don’t want the anti-immigrant hate spewers to wizen up to their inconsistencies and expel the 33 immigrants on the U.S. Olympic team this year, let alone a vast number of our nation’s doctors, nurses, engineers — and one governor. But on the other hand, it would be refreshing if the anti-immigrant fanatics would just level with us — and chant “Run home immigrant” at Lopez Lomong during his 1500 meter dash, as opposed to just chanting at the far less fortunate and far more desperate undocumented migrants who are just trying to get to work to make a day’s pay. After all, factory workers and maids and farmworkers are easy targets. Let’s see the anti-immigrant folks really test their theories and tirades by attacking people Americans really care about.

The rest of the piece is equally as smart and eloquent and I encourage you to read it in full.

And yes, I will be cheering Michael Phelps on with the rest of you…

‘Laberinto de miradas’: Global Immigrant Identities

From the LA Times:

CERTAIN IMAGES of migrants almost have become clichés in our globalized world of perpetual human movement: Mexican families sloshing across the Rio Grande in the dead of night, young African men huddled over dull campfires in Spanish detainee camps.

But other, less commonplace images challenge preconceived ideas of what it means to be an “undocumented worker,” “illegal alien” or simply a person with no fixed home or identity, stranded between shifting borders.

As illustrated by “Laberinto de Miradas” (Labyrinth of Glances), a provocative photo and video exhibition that’s on display at the Cultural Center of Spain [in Mexico City] through August, immigration today wears many faces. It’s a middle-class Argentine woman, driven into exile by her country’s 2001 peso collapse. A Cuban man who bears the scars of jail time served for trying to flee to Miami. Hundreds of Brazilians of mixed ethnicities, body types and attitudes, mostly economic refugees from other parts of the country, all crammed into a ramshackle São Paulo apartment building, striving to co-exist.

“At the end of the story, all of us are immigrants,” says Federico Gama, a Mexican photographer whose work is included in the show. “All of us are in a search for something. We would like to be on another side. And also in the sense of, well, where do we belong?”

Taking an unusually expansive view of what immigration means, the show documents how practically any social unit — rich Mexican women, Spanish sunbathers, Brazilian gay-pride parade marchers, U.S. Panama Canal Zone workers — can constitute an “immigrant” culture, a community of internal exiles, within its own society.

This exhibit sounds amazing, I would love to check it out, but alas, not enough money for a quick trip to Mexico City this summer. If anybody does get a chance to see it, I’d love to hear about it! Check out the website for more information and some cool visuals [warning: its in Spanish].

Italian Army Takes to Rome’s Streets in Anti-Immigrant Fervor

Last month, I posted on the chilling story of two Gipsy (also called Roma) children who drowned on an Italian beach and the onlookers who continued to sunbathe in indifference beside the bodies.

Well, this week, the anti-Gipsy fervor in Italy has reached new heights. Troops have descended on the streets of Rome, in order to enforce the breakup of a camp of Gipsy immigrants. An article in the UK’s Telegraph newspaper provides a great analysis of the situation.

I am posting on this because it is a parallel to our own current anti-immigrant scapegoating here in the United States. This is a truly complex issue, with many sides, points and arguments. However, the bottom line here is the humanity of immigrants and the basic rights of all people.

In Italy, similarities are being drawn between Berlusconi’s new administration and Mussolini.

Mr Berlusconi declared a “Roma emergency”, produced a disputed dossier of alleged immigrant muggings, robberies and murders, and promised to dismantle illegal gipsy camps. So far 700 have been identified. Even more controversial in a nation whose Fascist rulers helped the Nazis deport Jews and gipsies during the Second World War, fingerprinting of gipsies has started, despite the European Union saying the programme encourages xenophobia, and a Roman Catholic group describing it as racist.

On the streets of northern Rome such reservations are hard to find. “All our problems come from foreigners getting drunk, smashing windows and stealing,” said Anna Maria Mercure, who at 80 is old enough to remember an earlier era of Italian discipline. “Mussolini had his positive side. The streets were safe in his day.”

We must all remember that violating basic rights is a slippery slope. For those of you who continue to shout that unauthorized immigrants have no legal rights, you are wrong, they are afforded the same basic due process of the law. If we stand by and continue to allow their rights to be eroded (and the rights of many people under our current counter-terrorism efforts – i.e. warrantless wiretapping, automatic seizure of laptops at customs, racial profiling etc), we risk the erosion of our own rights.

An injustice to one is an injustice to all. Just something to think about.

The Shame of Italy, the Shame of the United States

This past weekend, two Roma girls drowned on an Italian beach. As the Independent reports:

It was the sort of tragedy that could happen on any beach. But what happened next has stunned Italy. The bodies of the two girls were laid on the sand; their sister and cousin were taken away by the police to identify and contact the parents. Some pious soul donated a couple of towels to preserve the most basic decencies. Then beach life resumed.

The indifference was taken as shocking proof that many Italians no longer have human feelings for the Roma, even though the communities have lived side by side for generations.

“This was the other terrible thing,” says Mr Esposito, “besides the fact of the girls drowning: the normality. The way people continued to sunbathe, for three hours, just metres away from the bodies. They could have gone to a different beach. It’s not possible that you can watch two young people die then carry on as if nothing happened. It showed a terrible lack of sensitivity and respect.”

The attitudes of ordinary Italians towards the Roma, never warm, have been chilling for years, aggravated by sensational news coverage of crimes allegedly committed by Gypsies, and a widespread confusion of Roma with ordinary, non-Roma Romanians, who continue to arrive. The Berlusconi government has launched a high-profile campaign against the community, spearheaded by the programme announced by the Interior Minister, Roberto Marroni, to fingerprint the entire Roma population.

What struck me about this story, other than the shockingly callous response of the beach-goers, was that it sounds all too familiar. In our own country, we stand by as an entire population of migrants is de-humanized and criminalized. On the US-Mexican border, there have been 117 deaths so far this year. The bodies pile up, while Americans turn a blind eye.

The word “illegal” has become not an adjective for a beaureaucratic process of gaining status, but rather an entire race of people who have been deemed less than worthy of humanity, kindness and compassion.

People die and we continue to sunbathe.

Postville, Indian Guest Workers: Victims of Abuse treated like Criminals

Yesterday, New American Media posted an article that sheds some light on how the government is shifting their immigration policy towards and criminalizing immigrants.

Historically, immigrants who are victims of abuse or trafficking have been granted protective visas by the government – a policy that reflects the compassion and humanity our country was founded upon. However, amidst the current trend of fear and criminalization of immigrants, that compassion and humanity has been all but forgotten…

The article is lengthy, but well worth the read – click here to read the full post.