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Undocumented Immigrants Plan Protests at the Democratic National Convention

CHARLOTTE, North Carolina - Maricruz Ramirez never thought she would cross the country telling the world that she is undocumented, but when she was invited to join the UndocuBus with 30 others, she didn’t blink.

“I wanted to do this for my children,” she said. “I want a better future for them”.

Ramirez arrived in Charlotte a few days before the National Democratic Convention (DNC) where her group, the self-identified “undocumented delegation,” will engage in protests calling for immigration reform.

Their journey was intended to highlight the situation faced by undocumented immigrants across the country as they get behind the wheel to drive and risk being pulled over by the police, asked for documents and turned over to U.S. immigration agents.

The group has denounced the Obama administration for the record number of deportations in recent years, often targeting undocumented workers without criminal records.

They are especially critical of the administration’s push for agreements known as 287(g), used to deputize local police to perform the duties of immigration agents during patrols, and of Secure Communities, a related program that allows local police to check a person’s immigration status on a federal database.

“We want these programs to stop,” said Miguel Guerra, another one of the riders who began the trip in Phoenix, Arizona. Guerra, the father of three children was arrested in an act of civil disobedience in Phoenix before the journey began, but was later released.

The UndocuBus left Arizona on July 29th to mark the 2-year-anniversary of the state’s SB 1070. In it’s June 25th ruling the U.S. Supreme Court struck down three parts of SB 1070, allowing one portion to stand.  That section makes it mandatory for police in Arizona to inquire about a person’s immigration status when the police have reasonable suspicion that the person is in the country illegally. SB 1070 has inspired similar laws in other states including Georgia and Alabama, where the bus made stops en route to Charlotte.

It’s been a “liberating” experience for Ramirez, after a journey that took her through 10 different states and 16 cities where she heard stories and saw the tears of other women enduring her same struggle.

“We’ve helped many others to stand up and not be afraid,” said Ramirez.

She believes the first step to bringing about change for undocumented immigrants is for immigrants to step out of the shadows and tell their stories.

“We don’t come here to live for free. We contribute. We pay taxes,” she said.

Upon arriving in Charlotte on Saturday the UndocuBus delegation went to Central Siloe Church where they heard the story of Isaide Serrano. The young mother awaits an immigration judge’s decision on whether she’ll be allowed to stay in the country.

Serrano is now seven months pregnant and has five other children who were born in the U.S. She was pulled over by a police officer while driving back from the grocery store two years ago, for having her high beams on. When the officer realized that she didn’t have a valid driver’s license he took her into custody.

That encounter led her to a county jail that had a 287(g) program in place where Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) put a hold on her and began deportation proceedings.

“I’m pleading not to be separated from my children,” said Serrano. “They have all their lives here”.

José Malgandi, an undocumented immigrant from El Salvador also rode in the bus. He doesn’t trust what Republicans or Democrats would do to address the issue of immigration.

At Republican National Convention the party released its platform that calls for the creation of,  ”humane procedures to encourage illegal aliens to return home voluntarily, while enforcing the law against those who overstay their visas.”  The GOP platform also expresses support for states that pass their own immigration laws like Arizona.

Malgandi said Republicans have used undocumented immigrants as a scapegoat, while the Obama administration hasn’t kept the promise of approving some form of immigration reform, focusing instead on deportations.

“We are going to demand to him (Obama) to not put immigration in an irrelevant place on the agenda,” he said.

For immigrants like Ramirez, the administration’s recent deferred action policy that would benefit children like hers who were brought into the country illegally, is not enough.

“What Obama offered is not a solution,” she said.  She added she hopes that if re-elected, the president will support legislation like the DREAM Act, that would allow undocumented children that were raised in the United States to legalize their status.

Fi2W is supported by the New York Community Trust and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation with additional support from the Ralph E. Odgen Foundation and the Sirus Fund. Image courtesy of flickr

Valeria Fernández is an independent journalist in Phoenix, Arizona. She worked for La Voz newspaper for the last six years covering the immigration beat and she is a guest contributor on Race Wire. Valeria was born and raised in Montevideo, Uruguay, and moved to the United States in 1999.

Despite Display of Diversity, GOP Actions and Words Send Hostile Message to Immigrants

The Republican Party is trying hard to appear diverse, inclusive, and welcoming. While they can’t do much about the optics of a convention packed with white people, they can control who gets the podium.

Have a look at the list of convention speakers. You have a large number of Latinos, including Ted Cruz, Texas U.S. Senate nominee, Susana Martinez, New Mexico Governor, and of course, GOP darling Marco Rubio, U.S. Senator from Florida. You even have some Asians, with appearances by Nikki Haley, Governor of South Carolina, and Ishwar Singh, president of the Sikh Society of Central Florida.

GOP leaders recognize that our country is fast becoming a majority minority nation and they need to appeal to people of color, especially growing immigrant communities which will decide the outcome, if not of this year’s elections, certainly of the 2016 race and beyond.

Republicans need to understand that most of us can see through this manufactured and condescending visual. The rabid anti-immigrant rhetoric of the GOP presidential primaries is still steaming fresh in our minds. Rubio himself admitted to George Stephanopoulos that he agreed with Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa when he said “you can’t just trot out a brown face or a Spanish surname and expect people are going to vote for your party or your candidate.”

“Policies matter and, look, the Republican Party does have a challenge,” Rubio said.

The platform they proudly present at the convention is not exactly endearing to us either. While Rep. Marsha Blackburn, co-chair of the Platform Committee, boasts that the platform “represents the inclusiveness of our party and reaffirms the idea that we are the ‘Big Tent Party,’” many of us see it as the exact opposite, as proof of their propensity to exclude.

The GOP platform pushes for reduction in federal spending, particularly social safety net programs. It advocates for a tax code that shamelessly favors the wealthy. It continues the Republican assault on labor unions. It declares an end to “Obamacare.” It spells out an immigration policy that focuses mainly on law enforcement and opposes any form of reprieve for undocumented immigrants.

The thing is, communities of color which are mostly middle and lower income Americans, rely on safety net programs they pay for with their taxes. These are families and individuals who will not benefit from tax breaks for wealthy Americans who do not need preferential treatment. Labor unions protect the interests of all working Americans. The president’s health care reform law has already benefited millions who would otherwise not have adequate care or any healthcare at all. Are Republicans really so tone deaf to what truly matters to immigrants, their children, and communities?

Shenanigans during the convention are also indicative of the climate that greets people of color when they step into Republican spaces. A couple of attendees threw nuts at an African American camerawoman, explaining “This is how we feed animals.” As Zoraida Fonalledas, chair of the Committee on Permanent Organization, started to speak in her accented English, some in thecrowd started chanting “U.S.A.! U.S.A.!” The attendees who assaulted the camerawomen were promptly ejected and RNC chairman Reince Priebus did call for order and respect for Fonalledas, but none of the bigwigs has come forward to challenge fringe elements in their midst.

On the contrary, Mitt Romney pandered to birthers and nativists in the GOP ranks when he declared “no one’s ever asked to see my birth certificate” while campaigning in Michigan last week.

Eric Liu, former speechwriter and deputy domestic policy adviser for President Clinton and a fellow with the Center for Social Cohesion at Arizona State University, writes:

Romney’s implicit pledge of allegiance to the birther movement is as revealing of his character as anything else in his campaign of half-deliberate opacity. He appears to lack a core capacity for empathy. He literally cannot see himself as someone not white, as someone accented or a newcomer … Romney may yet win in November. But he and this whole odious line of attack are on the losing side of history. The tide of demographics is irresistible, and soon enough it’ll sweep up his birth certificate and mine into a new notion of who is truly from this country.

Jeb Bush, who has been admonishing his party to ease up on its hardline immigration stance, told The Hill that inclusive language and policies are important symbols which reflect sensitivity for the concerns of communities of color. He also warned that if immigrant communities do not feel welcome, “we’re going to lose elections.” “That’s not opinion — that’s math,” he said.

Bush’s calculations are spot on. No matter how hard the Republican Party tries, most of us do not feel welcome. Both their words and actions belie their protestations of diversity and inclusivity.

You can follow Erwin de Leon on Twitter or read his blog.

Fi2W is supported by the New York Community Trust and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation with additional support from the Ralph E. Odgen Foundation and the Sirus Fund. Image courtesy of flickr.

Erwin de Leon is a Policy Researcher and writer based in Washington, DC. He writes on immigration, LGBT, and nonprofit issues. You can follow him on Twitter at @ErwindeLeon.

Podcast: Can the GOP Convince Enough Hispanic Voters to Help Elect Mitt Romney?


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Republicans say they are aiming for 38 percent of the Latino vote in the presidential election. Mitt Romney is currently polling below 30 percent among Latinos. What can the GOP do to improve these numbers?

We called up Valeria Fernandez, a freelance journalist and filmmaker based in Phoenix, and Pilar Marrerosenior political writer for La Opinión to give us some analysis from the Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida.

Going into the convention there was a lot of buzz about the strong anti-immigration language in the party platform, but according to Marrero, when she arrived in Tampa at the start of this week, the platform was nowhere to be found. What was leaked was so badly received that the full text was not released.

Marrero says the Romney campaign is trying to step back from the message of “self deportation” that it offered in the primaries. Romney is now talking about a proposal to add a temporary workers’ program, visas for families of green card holders and adjustments for undocumented immigrants who have served in the military. Marrero adds that Romney wants to position himself as having a more humane approach to immigration, but these measures aren’t really being advertised to non-Latino voters.

Fernandez has been seeking out Florida Latino Republicans. A major difference she has found between them and Latino Republicans in her home state of Arizona is that the Floridians largely support the DREAM Act and other attempts at reform while their counterparts in Arizona oppose anything they see as “amnesty” for undocumented immigrants and are largely behind anti-immigrant legislation like SB1070. But she says, the Floridians are distrustful of President Obama after he failed to fulfill his promise of comprehensive immigration reform, and believe Romney will be more moderate on immigration after he’s elected.

Polls show that the economy is the top concern for Latino voters. But Marrero says 68 percent of Latinos blame former President George Bush for the poor economy, and have not heard Romney’s economic message. One reason might be that Romney’s outreach to Latino voters is heavily concentrated in the battleground state of Florida with comparatively little activity elsewhere.

With Texas US Senate candidate Ted Cruz, Florida Congressman Marco Rubio and Puerto Rico Governor Luis Fortuño speaking during the convention, many have observed that Republicans are pushing hard to represent the Latino side of their party. But Marrero thinks those three will have a hard time connecting with the majority of American Latinos who are of Mexican origin. The key, she says, is the tone the GOP uses in its outreach to Latinos. Former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, she says, argued this before the convention: “We can’t tell people to join our cause if they don’t feel welcome,” she quoted Bush as saying.

Fi2W is supported by the New York Community Trust and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation with additional support from the Ralph E. Odgen Foundation and the Sirus Fund. Image courtesy of flickr

Ted Cruz Brings His Conservative Message to the Republican National Convention

The Republicans kicked off their national convention in Tampa on Tuesday with a program starring a line-up of GOP all-stars. They also carted out many of their Latino headliners. Nevada Governor Brian Sandoval and First Lady of Puerto Rico Luce Fortuño had their chance to speak before what looked on TV to be a blindingly white audience. But the real Latino standout was Texas U.S. Senate candidate Ted Cruz.

The Texas delegates, dressed in bar-b-que outfits- Texas flag shirts and cowboy hats – cheered him on. The audience repeatedly jumped to their feet to applaud Cruz during his 12-minute speech. As I watched it I kept thinking, “Why do they keep applauding? He’s not saying anything and what he does say makes no sense!”

I’ve written before about the many things that Cruz, a fellow Cuban-Texan from a conservative family, and I have in common. Our backgrounds aside, I can honestly say that Cruz and I agree on almost nothing. Cruz is a tea party favorite for his extreme rhetoric that includes abolishing the IRS and the education, commerce, and energy departments. But he didn’t come right out and say all of that crazy stuff in his speech. That would have alienated the less extreme members of the GOP. Now is a time to watch what you say.

Speakers at the convention kept repeating the same information:  “Obama put us 16 trillion dollars in debt, 23 million people unemployed,” and keywords like “We Built It”, “freedom, liberty, free market, grass roots,” and “We the People”. Cruz hit all of the talking points and quoted famous lines like, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down that wall!” and Martin Luther King Jr’s line that men should be judged, “not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” It’s the equivalent of a band that only plays their greatest hits, only Cruz is playing other people’s songs. Of course the delegates cheered: Reagan’s Berlin Wall quote is the Freebird of Republican rhetoric.

Cruz even spoke in Spanish. He told the story of his father’s immigration to the United States after being imprisoned under the Batista regime in Cuba. He said of his father, “No tenia nada, pero tenia Corazon (he had nothing, but he had heart)” in the thickest gringo accent you ever heard to limited applause. This was a calculated move to prove his Latino cred, and what good is a token Latino if he isn’t “Latino enough”?

Through the haze of tired rhetoric and familiar quotes, he said something that caught my attention, “Unfortunately, President Obama’s campaign is trying to divide America. To separate us into groups. Telling seniors that Medicare will be taken away. Telling Hispanics that we’re not welcome here.”

¿Que?

Let’s put aside for a second that the Republican party platform calls for overhauling Medicare so that seniors would have to buy private insurance with some government assistance. But Obama is telling Hispanics that we aren’t welcome?

Wasn’t it vice presidential nominee Paul Ryan who described arresting and deporting undocumented workers with the fishing term “catch and release”? Cruz supports Ryan even though he is in favor of throwing out so-called “anchor babies”? Cruz repeatedly talked about how much he loves the Constitution, but I guess he forgot that the 14th Amendment provides equal protection under the law to all citizens. Since “anchor babies” are born here, they too are citizens, Ted.

Or perhaps it slipped his mind that he opposes any form of amnesty, including the DREAM Act or the president’s immigration reprieve. Cruz also favors the building of a border wall as well as the terrifying phrase “boots on the ground” along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Mitt Romney is hoping that during the fall campaign Latinos will forget all of the anti-immigration rhetoric he used during the primaries and concentrate on how badly the economy has hurt Latinos. Cruz touched on this when he said that there were 2.3 million Latino small business owners being hurt because Obama had “declared war on small business”. He didn’t go into how exactly the president was doing this. Latinos count the economy as their top concern, which isn’t to say that immigration isn’t a close second for most of them.

Latinos won’t soon forget that Cruz, a son of immigrants that grew up in a state with a huge Latino population, has sided with a party whose platform opposes their very presence in this country. How can you trust a man who turns his back on his own people? Cruz repeatedly talks about how his father achieved the American dream by coming to the U.S. and going to school in order to make something of himself. Why then does he oppose today’s Latino youth from doing the same?

Fi2W is supported by the New York Community Trust and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation with additional support from the Ralph E. Odgen Foundation and the Sirus Fund. Image courtesy of flickr.  

Jack Tomas is a writer, filmmaker, and editor working in New York. He’s originally from Houston, TX where he earned a BA in Theater and Communication from The University of St. Thomas. Later, he received an MA in Media Studies at The New School. Jack has worked several years as a professional filmmaker and his films have appeared in several film festivals including the Cannes Film Festival, The LA Comedy Shorts Festival, and The New York Independent Film Festival. He has also worked as a professional blogger since 2009 writing for Guanabee.com, Tuvez.com, Egotastic.com, and Directorslive.com. He lives in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn with his wife Marybec and two cats.

Understanding Ted Cruz – A Fellow Cuban-Texan Explains the Rising GOP Star

Last month, former Texas Solicitor General Ted Cruz beat out Lt. Governor David Dewhurst in a runoff election for the Republican nomination to run for Kay Bailey Hutchinson’s Senate seat.

It was a big upset: Republican rock stars from Governor Rick Perry to Mike Huckabee endorsed Dewhurst. Cruz, however, was backed by some of the state’s more hardcore tea partiers, (I know, more hardcore than Perry?).  Much like fellow Cubano Marco Rubio, Cruz’s strong opposition to anything smelling of political moderation has led to endorsements from the likes of Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck. Though I am a liberal Democrat and opposed to everything he stands for, I can’t help feel a certain kinship to Cruz, a fellow Cuban-Texan.

Let me explain. Though some of the facts about his family history have been questioned, his “When we came from Cuba” stories are similar to my own. Like Cruz’s family, my grandparents were strong supporters of Castro during the revolution against dictator Fulgencio Batista. Cruz says his dad Rafael, “was a guerilla, throwing Molotov cocktails and blowing up buildings.” Batista later tortured him. My uncle Pedgie was a guerilla fighter under Che Guevara and was murdered in cold blood by Batista’s thugs. Unlike my family, Cruz’s father fled before the triumph of the revolution in 1959. Lucky him.

Rafael Cruz came to Austin in 1957 with only $100 sewn in his underwear. The story reminds me of my grandfather leaving Cuba in 1969 with his medical diploma cut into small pieces and sewn in his boxer shorts. Except for a brief stint in Canada where Ted was born, the Cruzes settled in Texas rather than the Cuban exile mecca of South Florida.

The Lone Star State is also where my grandparents landed. Despite their first house being five blocks away from the Ku Klux Klan’s east Texas headquarters, they felt welcome. My grandfather described how he and his Cuban friends were the only Latinos in the Houston suburb of Pasadena where they settled.

Why would hardcore Texas conservatives welcome immigrant Latinos like my family and the Cruzes?

The answer is similar ideologies. Our families were both cartoonishly anti-Communist. Their disillusionment with Castro led them to react against anything  even remotely progressive.

During the revolution, Castro promised to establish a democratic republic with free elections modeled on the American system. That sounded pretty good to the 98 percent of Cubans that supported him, including my family and probably the Cruz family too. Pretty quickly after his victory it became apparent that he was allying himself with the Soviet Union and was setting up a Communist dictatorship. For a lot of Cubans not only was this an ideological betrayal but a personal one. My grandmother fell into a deep depression when her friend General Huber Matos was imprisoned and he revealed to her that Castro was a Communist. It was like a break-up for a lot of them, and often just like in a break-up you hate the “other woman.” For many Cubans Communism was the other woman.

I suspect that in the Cruz household, as in my own house growing up, the words “Democrat” and “Communist” were synonymous. My grandmother had a picture of Ronald Reagan next to a picture of Jesus by the family Bible. True story.

Like a lot of old-school Cubans, they blamed the Democratic Party for the failures of the Bay of Pigs invasion which led to my grandfather’s imprisonment by Castro for his involvement. My grandparents also thought that Democrats wanted to have too much of a hand in their lives.

My abuelo lived through 3 dictatorships in his lifetime (Machado, Batista, and Castro) only to come to the U.S. in time for Watergate. He simply didn’t trust governments and wanted to have as little interaction with them as possible. He always told me that all politicians, even guys like Reagan, were all “hijo de puta mentirosos (son of a bitch liars).” In ultra-conservative Texas circles, these ideas are as ingrained in the culture as bar-b-que and cowboys.

Today I am considered a heretic in my “Cu-Tex” family. My cousins mostly still think the way we were brought up to think. I simply cannot discuss politics with most of my older relatives. They tell me they’re glad my grandparents didn’t live to see what I’ve become.

When I look at Ted Cruz, I reflect on how easily I could have been him ideologically. If I hadn’t drifted to the left in my teenage years, perhaps like Cruz, I too would want to abolish the commerce, education, energy, and TSA departments as well as the IRS. Maybe I would also say things like, “I’ll throw my body in front of a train to stop anything short of its complete and total repeal” in reference to “Obamacare.”

Maybe if I had read more Ayn Rand?

There but for the grace of God go I, my friends.

Fi2W is supported by the New York Community Trust and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation with additional support from the Ralph E. Odgen Foundation and the Sirus Fund. Image courtesy of flickr.

Jack Tomas is a writer, filmmaker, and editor working in New York. He’s originally from Houston, TX where he earned a BA in Theater and Communication from The University of St. Thomas. Later, he received an MA in Media Studies at The New School. Jack has worked several years as a professional filmmaker and his films have appeared in several film festivals including the Cannes Film Festival, The LA Comedy Shorts Festival, and The New York Independent Film Festival. He has also worked as a professional blogger since 2009 writing for Guanabee.com, Tuvez.com, Egotastic.com, and Directorslive.com. He lives in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn with his wife Marybec and two cats.

Will Latinos Play A Key Role in the 2012 Presidential Election?

Will the economy or immigration drive Latino votes? Is Ted Cruz the new face of American politics? In this podcast episode, Fi2W executive producer John Rudolph interviews senior analyst Sylvia Manzano from the polling firm Latino Decisions for a midsummer snapshot of Hispanic voters.

Subscribe to the podcast on iTunes or Podbean

In 2008 Latino voters played a pivotal role in sending Barack Obama to the White House. But this year things could be different; the economy is still in recovery and the president has not kept his pledge to bring about significant immigration reform.

Pollster Sylvia Manzano says the margin of support for Obama will be similar to 2008: 70-72 percent of Latinos say they would vote for Obama versus 20-22 percent for Mitt Romney. The big difference will be turnout. The lack of immigration reform and record numbers of deportations of undocumented immigrants under President Obama has meant Latinos are less enthusiastic about his candidacy than they were four years ago. However, enthusiasm has increased this summer since the announcement of the deferred action program and the Supreme Court’s decision striking down major portions of Arizona’s immigration law known as SB 1070.

The number one issue for Latinos is the economy says Manzano, which sounds good for Romney, except she points out that Latinos are much more likely to support Democratic strategies, like raising taxes on the wealthy, government investment and increased spending. There’s not much support among Latinos for Republican prescriptions including tax cuts and cuts in social services.

Latino Decisions has identified five states where Latino voters could be the deciding factor in the presidential contest.  They are Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Nevada and Virginia.

According to Manzano, Texas, a state not on the list, represents the future of American politics. She focuses on two rising stars – Republican Ted Cruz who is running for the U.S. Senate in Texas and Julian Castro the young mayor of San Antonio who will give the keynote address at this year’s Democratic convention. This is about national demography says Manzano: more Latinos means more Latinos in both parties.

Manzano argues that the growing Latino electorate in Texas means we’re likely to see the emergence of a more moderate Republican party rather than a quick shift to electing Democrats. She says this is like New Mexico where Latinos tend to vote for moderate Democrats or liberal Republicans. She says Arizona, another state with a growing number of Hispanic voters, is more likely to follow California and turn blue over time.

For more analysis from Sylvia Manzano, make sure to check out the Latino Decisions Blog.

Fi2W is supported by the New York Community Trust and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation with additional support from the Ralph E. Odgen Foundation and the Sirus Fund. Image courtesy of Flickr

Crowds of DREAMers – Undocumented Immigrant Youth – Get Legal Counseling as We Ask “What’s Next

Undocumented youth seeking legal advice. (Photo: Aaron Leaf)

The basement of St. Mary’s Church on Manhattan’s Lower East Side resembled a makeshift Department of Motor Vehicles office Wednesday, as undocumented immigrant youth waited in long lines to consult with lawyers about their deferred action applications.

In fact, the DMV is where many of the applicants planned to go once their applications are approved, a driver’s license being one of the perks of finally having legal status.

On the first day that U.S. Immigration and Citizenship Services accepted applications for deferred action, 22 year old undocumented immigrant Eduardo Resendiz was among those seeking advice.  He told Fi2W that while he’s happy with the opportunities the program will give him, especially the right to work legally, he’s not “completely satisfied.”

Eduardo Resendiz (Photo: Aaron Leaf)

Resendiz, who immigrated to the U.S. from Mexico, said he will continue to advocate for a solution not just for students but for entire undocumented families.

“Like many undocumented immigrants, I consider this my homeland,” he said, “and I believe only the DREAM Actwill give us the sense that we are truly Americans.

Resendiz pointed out that even if his application is accepted, the rest of his family—living here since 2005—will remain undocumented including his 14-year-old sister and his parents who, as he put it, “continue to live in the shadows”

Sara Martinez, who came to the U.S. from Mexico as a baby, is planning to apply for deferred action but hasn’t managed to get documents together that prove she has been living here for five consecutive years. She has been organizing workshops across New York city as part of theNew York State Youth Leadership Council and is busy strategizing with other activists ways to keep the momentum going.

Sara Martinez (Photo: Aaron Leaf)

“Deferred action is not the same as the DREAM Act. We have to educate our communities about the risk involved in signing that application,” she said. Martinez sees deferred action as just a step toward passing the federal DREAM Act and also a New York state DREAM Act that would make undocumented students eligible for student loans.

Organized by the New York Immigration Coalition, the legal clinic at St. Mary’s had dozens of volunteer attorneys sitting in long rows meeting with applicants and going through their forms and documents.

Jacki Esposito, the director of immigration advocacy with the NYIC, is one of the organizers of the clinics. Although currently she is concentrating on helping people through the deferred action process, she thinks the next step is clear.

Deferred action, said Esposito, is a major victory that “builds momentum and mobilizes immigrant youth in a new way.” But it’s bittersweet: “Many DREAMer’s parents still live in fear.”

According to Esposito, the next phase will be to activate all the new members of the DREAM Act movement, youth who’ve become politically active for the first time through this process and feel empowered to take the change even further.

“It’s no question that the president’s announcement was a response to two years of advocacy,” said Esposito. “They know how hard they worked,” she said referring to the DREAMers, “and they won.”

New York wasn’t the only place where legal clinics were drawing crowds. A deferred action workshop in Chicago expected to help 1,500 undocumented youth with their applications ended up drawing an estimated crowd of 50,000. Many were turned away.

US Senator Dick Durbin, one of the original authors of the DREAM Act, was one of the hosts of the event. When Fi2W asked for his opinion on what should happen next, his staff pointed us to a speech he gave last month to the Center for American Progress.

Durbin believes that deferred action, far from being a permanent solution, is an important step toward, as he puts it, “sensible immigration reform.” He said deferred action “will forever change the debate.” His theory is that as the American public interacts with many of the beneficiaries of the program, they will see the contributions they’re making and be open to greater reform.

Feet in 2 Worlds is supported by the New York Community Trust and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation with additional support from the Ralph E. Odgen Foundation and the Sirus Fund. 

Aaron Leaf is a freelance writer and editor who has reported on human rights issues from Zambia, Liberia, Canada and Peru. He is a graduate of Ryerson University and the former editor of Ricepaper, a journal of Asian Canadian arts and culture.

Gearing Up for Deferred Action

Beginning Wednesday, as many as 1.76 million young undocumented immigrants can apply for the reprieve President Obama announced in June, a program the government calls “deferred action for childhood arrivals.” Those who qualify will be considered on a case-by-case basis and, if approved, will be able to apply to stay and work in this country legally for up to two years. The application will cost $465 and require several background checks along with extensive financial, medical, education, and other records.

Requests for deferred action will be processed if the applicant is an unauthorized immigrant under the age of 31; came to the United States before her 16th birthday; has continuously resided in the country for five years; is currently in school, has graduated from high school or received GED equivalency, or is an honorably discharged veteran; has not been convicted of a felony or a significant misdemeanor; and is determined not to be a threat to national security or public safety.

Additional details will be released on Wednesday. In the meantime, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has provided a hotline and answers to frequently asked questions on its website.

Many young immigrants welcome the opportunity to come out of the shadows and work or go to college.

Claudia Jimenez, a 19 year old Venezuelan native who has been in the U.S. since she was eight years old, shared her enthusiasm with the New York Times. Since graduating from high school last year, she has not been able to work or attend college. “Now I have something,” she said. “I can actually do something with my life. Before it was like my life was on pause.”

But others are wary. Time magazine features Karla Zapata who, while ecstatic over the prospect of getting a work permit, expressed her fears.

After years of living in the shadows, Zapata and her friends aren’t convinced it’s a good idea to give their personal information to the government when there are no guarantees that President Obama’s new program for young immigrants will last and no promise they’ll be accepted into it in the first place. Some see that ambiguity as an invitation for possible deportation.

Groups have rallied to support young immigrants like Jimenez and Zapata who hope to begin the process of legalizing their status (the program is not an amnesty and does not provide a path to citizenship).

The New York Daily News reports:

United We Dream, a network of youth-led organizations across the country, launched a national campaign with its partners last week, to offer assistance to as many of the hundreds of thousands of Dreamers eligible to take advantage of the program … The campaign, titled We Own the DREAM/¡Unete Al Sueño!, hopes to guarantee that there is a national and local infrastructure to support Dreamers who are eligible for this opportunity to remain in the United States to complete their education and contribute to the economy.

Key partners in this infrastructure include the National Immigration Law Center (NILC), the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc. (CLINIC), Immigration Advocates Network (IAN), and the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild (NLG-NIP).

Young people who apply for deferred action will need all the help they can get to navigate what’s likely to be a cumbersome and confusing process. Since the president’s announcement, immigrant advocates have warned about unscrupulous attorneys, notarios(public notaries) and “immigration consultants” who are out to fleece desperate immigrants and their families.

At the end of the day the deferred action program is only a temporary reprieve. Only comprehensive immigration reform through legislation will once and for all address the issue of unauthorized immigration as well as other shortcomings of our immigration system.

As November fast approaches, it is crucial to know where the presidential candidates stand on all of this. We know that President Obama supports DREAMers. What about Governor Romney?

In reaction to the administration’s June announcement, he said “I think the action that the president took today makes it more difficult to reach that long-term solution because an executive order of course is just a short-term matter … It could be reversed by subsequent presidents.” He may have been referring to himself after infamously declaring during the Republican primaries that he thought the DREAM Act is a mistake and he would veto it.

You can follow Erwin de Leon on Twitter or read his blog. Image courtesy of flickr

Fi2W is supported by the New York Community Trust and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation with additional support from the Ralph E. Odgen Foundation and the Sirus Fund.

Erwin de Leon is a Policy Researcher and writer based in Washington, DC. He writes on immigration, LGBT, and nonprofit issues. You can follow him on Twitter at @ErwindeLeon.

Romney-Ryan Ticket Bad for Immigrants


by Erwin de Leon

Rep. Paul Ryan, Mitt Romney’s chosen running mate, shares a hardline stance on immigration with the former Massachusetts governor. A Romney-Ryan administration would not be as friendly to immigrants as the current occupant of the White House.

On his Congressional website, the Republican vice presidential candidate promises to continue advocating for “common sense reforms to our broken [immigration] system.” His notion of reform focuses on strict border control and law enforcement, even though our borders are more secure than ever, immigration from Mexico has slowed down, and the Obama administration has deported a record number of unauthorized immigrants. He hedges on the DREAM Act, stating that he “understands the points DREAM ACT supporters have raised,” but the stark fact is that he voted against it in 2010.

OnTheIssues.org, a nonprofit and nonpartisan organization which provides information on candidates, gives a good indication where Ryan stands on immigration. In 2006, he voted in favor or building a fence along the Mexican border and on preventing tipping off Mexicans about the Minuteman Project.

We will certainly learn more in the coming days where the Wisconsin congressman stands on immigration and other issues that matter to voters. But make no mistake: Romney picked Ryan because of pressure from conservatives. The GOP ticket now solidly sits on the far right on nearly all issues. In short, Romney and Ryan in the White House would be bad news not only for immigrants, but for seniors, women, LGBTs, and middle class Americans as well.

You can follow Erwin de Leon on Twitter or read his blog.

 

Fi2W is supported by the New York Community Trust and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation with additional support from the Ralph E. Odgen Foundation and the Sirus Fund.

A Latino Running Mate Won’t Win Romney ‘The Latino Vote’

It looks like Mitt Romney is going to announce his vice presidential running mate well before the Republican convention gets underway in Tampa at the end of August. Many people speculate that Romney will choose a Latino. The question is: Who would it be and will it make a difference to Latino voters?

Romney is a tough sell to most Latinos. During the primaries, the GOP candidates seemed to be competing to out-anti-illegal-immigrant each other. Romney came on pretty strong in his support for strict enforcement of immigration laws, even urging undocumented immigrants to “self deport” themselves. But in the general election he’s hoping Latinos will forget all of that and focus on the economy. Fat chance.

What Romney fails to accept is that while Latinos are as concerned with unemployment and the recession as anyone else, immigration is still a huge issue for them. Romney’s standing with Latinos became even more problematic after President Obama announced a new policy that will help undocumented college kids stay in the country legally, a move incredibly well received by the Latino community.

The name most often mentioned as a Latino VP pick is Marco Rubio. The young Cuban-American senator from Florida is popular among Tea Partiers and conservatives. Rubio is probably the best known Republican Latino politician out there right now. He’s practically a household name and his nomination would lock up the Cuban-American vote for Romney. But Romney already has their support, so why work hard on a sure thing? Cuban-Americans aren’t that concerned with immigration policy, as their path to citizenship is totally different from that of other Latinos. Rubio is a strident opponent of unauthorized immigration, which is a big turn off for most Latinos other than Cubans. It’s doubtful that nominating Rubio would change many people’s vote. Political commentators are starting to agree with me, even conservative ones like Fox News’ Sean Hannity.

Another possibility is Puerto Rico Governor Luis Fortuño. He was an early supporter of Romney during the primaries. Fortuño has strong conservative economic credentials and is an outspoken proponent of having Puerto Rico join the Union as the 51st state.

Picking Fortuño would be a way for Romney to try to attract Puerto Rican votes, especially in the crucial swing state of Florida. But historically, Puerto Ricans have voted Democratic.  It would be a stretch for Romney to change this precedent.

It’s doubtful that picking Fortuño would be enough of an incentive for the majority of Puerto Ricans to vote Republican. While they may be glad that a Boricua is on the ballot, many still disagree with conservative Republican policies. Also, Fortuño’s pro-statehood stance isn’t very popular among Puerto Ricans on or off the island. Four times in recent years Puerto Ricans have voted to maintain the status quo and not join the Union.

New Mexico governor Susana Martinez is another possible candidate for VPOTUS. She’s not as well known as Rubio or Fortuño, but the benefit of Martinez is that she’s a double threat: a woman and a Latina. The thinking goes that she could attract both female and Latino voters because of her ancestry and gender.

The problem with Martinez is that she is a controversial figure. She admitted that her grandparents came to New Mexico as undocumented workers, which was not popular among anti-illegal immigration conservatives. She tried to win them over by passing a law making it nearly impossible for undocumented workers to obtain driver’s licenses in her state, but that wasn’t popular with Latinos. Martinez, unlike Rubio and Fortuño, has experience with the plight of the undocumented in her own family and yet is actively working to make things harder on recent immigrants.  Would Romney risk alienating his conservative base for a nominee that many Latinos see as a traitor?

So while it’s conceivable that Romney will pick a Latino as his running mate,  it probably won’t happen simply because it won’t make a big enough difference for the Republican ticket.  Yes, it’s true that the Latino vote could be a deciding factor in a number of key states and the GOP needs to find a way to capture that vote. But will Latinos who support the rights of undocumented workers—and in many instances have undocumented family members—vote for a candidate just because the person running with him has a Spanish last name?  Probably not.  If Republicans really want to win over Latino voters they need to do more than rely on symbolism that the GOP is their amigo.

Fi2W is supported by the New York Community Trust and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation with additional support from the Ralph E. Odgen Foundation and the Sirus Fund. Image courtesy of flickr

Jack Tomas is a writer, filmmaker, and editor working in New York. He’s originally from Houston, TX where he earned a BA in Theater and Communication from The University of St. Thomas. Later, he received an MA in Media Studies at The New School. Jack has worked several years as a professional filmmaker and his films have appeared in several film festivals including the Cannes Film Festival, The LA Comedy Shorts Festival, and The New York Independent Film Festival. He has also worked as a professional blogger since 2009 writing for Guanabee.com, Tuvez.com, Egotastic.com, and Directorslive.com. He lives in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn with his wife Marybec and two cats.

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