Immigrant Rights

ICE Raids Threaten Immigrant Families

This month, the Obama administration began an aggressive immigration operation targeting Central American asylum seekers for detainment and deportation. On the first weekend of the New Year, at a time when many were spending time with their loved ones for the holidays, at least 121 individuals primarily from Texas, Georgia, and North Carolina were taken into custody during a series of raids that immigration advocates are condemning as cruel and unconstitutional. Advocacy groups have received numerous reports of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials breaking down doors, deceiving immigrants into letting them enter homes without warrants, and detaining children as young as four years old.

Most of the victims of these raids have been families, often women and children, and many have recent or pending asylum claims. “Our interviews revealed that these families have bona fide asylum claims, but were deprived of a meaningful opportunity to present them at their hearings in immigration court,” Katie Shepherd, managing attorney for the CARA Project, said in a press statement. “It’s beyond shameful that these families, who risked everything to seek protection in the United States, were being forcibly returned to the violence and turmoil they fled in Central America.” Despite President Obama’s executive action on DAPA, which provides deferred action status for some undocumented immigrants and will be considered at the Supreme Court later this year, the Obama administration continues to deport the greatest number of immigrants of any president in history.  Immigrant rights advocates, including several Overbrook grantees, are challenging him to stop separating families, to do better for all immigrants and to halt this round of raids.

Repatriated families who were seeking refuge from violence may face an even greater risk to their lives than when they left, as the situation in Central America has been steadily deteriorating since 2014. These families may return to gang threats, gender violence, and other forms of persecution. For immigrant families in cities that have not been targeted by ICE raids, the fear of being next is palpable. Cities and neighborhoods with large Latino communities across the country are reporting decreased school and work attendance as immigrants try to remain indoors. Legal organizations and allied officials are encouraging immigrants continue go about daily activities, but to know their rights as these raids continue.

'We Belong Together' Delegation Visits Alabama

As part of the We Belong Together campaign, several leaders representing the immigrant rights, women’s rights and other organizations within the social justice field travelled to Alabama in solidarity with those affected by the state’s harsh anti-immigrant law, HB 56, to hear firsthand about the experience of living under this law. We Belong Together’s delegation is co-led by Overbrook grantee NAPAWF and its Executive Director Miriam Yeung and includes a team from another Overbrook grantee Breakthrough and its Executive Director, Mallika Dutt. One of the first blog posts that I wrote for Overbrook was about this law, considered by many to be the country’s harshest anti-immigrant law.The implementation of this law is separating families with detention and deportation policies; denying access to livelihoods, housing, education and health care; and depriving many Alabamans of their human rights and civil liberties.In her blog, Ms. Yeung has stated, "when you lift the veil of sexism, racism, and xenophobia, it is clear to see that when people are being denied shelter, food, education and other basic human needs, this is a humanitarian crisis and an extreme human rights concern.“Through this delegation, the group plans to expose and increase awareness of the situation facing these women and their families, as well as their leadership and resilience in responding to it.They have become engaged in this particular focus on women and children because these groups represent those most disproportionately affected by the law.

This delegation is particularly interesting because of its use of a gendered lens to look at immigrant rights issues and to incorporate leaders from many different sectors of the social justice field through a human rights framework.With human right at the heart of the initiative, these leaders have acted in solidarity as human rights defenders spreading these stories to broader audiences and laying the groundwork for future advocacy campaigns.Moving this out of a solely immigrants rights issue had already begun, but it is critical that these laws be challenged on multiple fronts and angles as seen in this initiative.

I am particularly impressed by the communication efforts being used to magnify the visibility and the articulation of the human rights crisis in Alabama.We can all remotely participate in this delegation visit by following participating activists’ tweets. Mallika Dutt, Executive Director of Breakthrough has been keeping her twitter followers up to date on the presentations and devastating stories that she has heard in Alabama.(Click here to view her twitter page.) Some examples include:

@mallikadutt: 14 year old Jocelyn alone now because parents deported. She stayed because mother has dreams for her. We are killing dreams #womentogether

@mallikadutt: Sylvia says battered women cannot seek help because both women and service provide can get arrested #womentogether

@mallikadutt: Campaign to lift up women stories to show how immigration enforcement devastating our families. #webelongtogether asks women to join fight.

The delegates have also contributed to a blog explaining their reasons for joining this delegation based on their personal, organizational, social justice and human rights-based backgrounds and perspectives.Here is Miriam Yeung’s blog post, “A Blog Carnival Celebrating Our Common Humanity: ‘We Belong Together’ Goes to Alabama!”, which also contains links to statements by all the other delegates, including Ms. Dutt’s “Why I’m Joining ‘We Belong Together’ in Alabama”. Additionally, Ms. Yeung’s post and the We Belong Together website include several stories from Alabaman women and children about the law’s impact on their families’ ability to access housing, health care, employment and schooling.In some of the cases, we hear of deportation and detention tearing families apart. These arguments from the delegates and, most importantly, hearing the stories from Alabamans themselves, are extremely powerful, so I hope that you have the time to explore them.

The Foundation is proud to support women’s groups’ leaders and their partners in Alabama for taking critical leadership roles in this fight for immigrant rights and domestic human rights.

Anti-Immigrant Law in Alabama

As one in a string of recent anti-immigrant laws in several US states, Alabama’s HB 56 has been decried as the harshest anti-immigrant law passed and enacted in our nation’s recent history. This law will increase instances of racial profiling and civil rights abuses since Alabamian law enforcement officers are required to ask anyone they suspect of being an undocumented immigrant for proof of citizenship papers. In addition, illegal immigrants cannot enter into a contract between private parties (i.e. sign a lease) or a contract between private individuals and the state (i.e. receive state-provided utilities). Legal challenges from the Department of Justice and several legal advocacy groups have led to judges’ blocking several of the law’s provisions from being enforced, including a provision that would criminalize harboring or transporting illegal immigrants.Most recently, the Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit has the section of the law that would require schools to identify and record the citizenship statuses of their K-12 students.The court has also temporarily suspended the provision that makes it a state crime for individuals to travel without documentation of citizenship. While this was a victory for many in Alabama, these provisions had already led to the detention of some immigrants and many other harsh, restrictive regulations from HB 56 continue to be implemented in the state.

After hearing accounts from advocacy and legal organizations in Alabama, we have learned of many upheavals both inside and outside of immigrant communities. For some, this law has prevented them from going to work or attending school because of the risks of travelling without papers.For others, it has even pushed their families to flee the state in the middle of the night. Additionally, the impact of this law on the state’s economy has already been felt. Farms are missing employees, many of whom are undocumented, and these jobs do not seem to have widely appealed to the Americans who were supposed to take them. Activists are fighting this law and offering services to affected populations through advocacy campaigns, grassroots organizing, public education clinics and messaging to sway public opinion with economic and civil rights based arguments.

As a Foundation concerned with human rights in the US, we urge all of our readers to learn more about HB 56, the local ramifications of its implementation and the legal battles that surround it. The ACLU, an Overbrook grantee, has described its efforts against HB 56 and its assessment of the situation in Alabama at Major news sources have also provided in-depth coverage of the progression of this discriminatory law.