What We Do for Love/Lo Que Hacemos por Amor

Photo: Favianna Rodriguez

On the first day of this year, January 1st, 2010 both young and seasoned immigrant rights leaders in Florida have strategically and provocatively escalated our efforts, including a risky 1,500 mile walk and a life-threatening, INDEFINITE fast. While we endeavor arduously for just and humane immigration reform, we urge the administration to do what it can, NOW, to stop the separation of American families, including halting the deportation of young people.

Fasters include several mothers who will do anything to be with their children, a Puerto Rican man, member of the Miami Workers Center whose wife risks deportation, a Haitian mother, client of Haitian Women of Miami, now shackled with an ankle bracelet, and a female professional truckdriver, the initiator of the fast, who lost her business and her livelihood for her family. Their respective statements will be released within days.

Please help spread the word–and consider skipping a meal and donating that money to support the Fast or Trail!

Below is a statement from one of the fasters, many of you know him, a thoughtful person, grandson of Jewish immigrants, highly respected for his integrity, who has more than 35 years in the social justice and labor movements. Jon, who is over 50 years old, explains why he took on this life-threatening fast after growing weary of the daily, desperate calls of the members of his organization, We Count!

“My name is Jonathan Fried, and I am participating in Fast for Our Families. I am writing this in the evening of Day 2 of the fast. Five of us are fasting indefinitely, as long as it takes; our target is President Obama and our goal is to get him to use the legal authority he has, now, without Congress, to suspend the detention and deportation of immigrants with American families, those who have US citizen children and/or spouses. This is a message to my brothers and sisters in struggle in the immigrant rights movement, and with a special shout out to the members of the National Day Laborers Organizing Network around the country and of the Florida Immigrant Coalition around the state. Thanks to those of you who have sent messages of support. And I know that not everyone knows about the Fast yet, or understands what we are doing.

This decision to fast was not taken lightly. I was tired of getting phone calls from a mother, a father, a brother, a sister saying that their loved ones, their family, was taken away by ICE. Having no response to the question of what to do with their kids. I felt we had two options when it kept on happening. Try to help whatever we could, but accept that ICE was going to continue breaking apart families, one by one or develop a community response and fight back. To be clear, this tactic was not initiated by me, but by our members. I felt, however, that my participation, as an organizer and leader in the community, would strengthen it by bringing to bear the weight of my relationships. Putting my body on the line along with the others, in order to maximize the reach we could have.

For a number of years the noose has been tightening around the neck of immigrant communities. Yet never have things been worse than under the Obama Administration. He is escalating and systematizing the policies of attrition followed under the previous administration, trying to make life so miserable for immigrants that they leave. Increasing local law enforcement’s role in the deportation system; continuing 287g, including with vile racist sheriffs like Joe Arpaio, and expanding Secure Communities, under which persons are deported for the crime of being poor, brown and undocumented, all under the false guise of combating crime; increasing the rate of detentions and deportations of immigrants, using a vast system of government and private prisons, and even secret sub-offices; violent early morning raids on homes; worst of all, is the separating parents from their children.

I understand the political calculation: Show we’re tough on immigrants, and prove to the public that the administration is deserving of comprehensive immigration reform. First, there’s no guarantee that it’s going to get us there. Second, if it does, this strategy does guarantee that it will get us a mean-spirited, punitive immigration reform that will exclude thousands of undocumented persons and ensure further institutionalization of a repressive system that takes away all our rights.

Most urgently, the cost is too high. Now. It’s too painful. It’s too horrific. My friends and neighbors shouldn’t be collateral damage in a political scheme. Parents and youth ripped from their families is not an acceptable cost. Thousands of people marked and tracked with electronic shackles, living in fear of being taken away from their loved ones every time they report to ICE or its private contractors, is not an acceptable cost. Young people being deported to homelands they hardly remember is not an acceptable cost.

It is time to say to President Obama: This is on your watch.

This is our response – the fasters, the organizations involved in the Fast. Tomorrow day laborers will be joining us in a solidarity fast. Solidarity fasts are under way in New York and New Hampshire, and others will be occurring here in the coming days. Four young people are walking from Miami to Washington, DC to call for a stop to the separation of families and suspension of deportation of DREAMers in the Trail of DREAMs. Our compañer@s in Maricopa County and NDLON are organizing a demonstration on January 16 against Arpaio and the administration’s continued collaboration with him and his racist attacks on immigrants.

We are asking for solidarity fasts. This is the time. Let’s light a spark in this movement. Enough is enough!”

Jonathan Fried
WeCount!
Fast for Our Families
www.fastforfamilies.org
fastforfamilies@gmail.com

Jonathan Fried, grandson of Jewish immigrants, is originally from Swampscott, MA, and graduated from Friends World College (now Long Island University). He has lived in the former Yugoslavia and Guatemala and speaks Spanish fluently. For the last 35 years, 25 of them in South Florida, Jon has worked and participated in solidarity, community, immigrant and labor struggles with diverse organizations including the American Friends Service Committee, the AFL-CIO Organizing Institute, UNITE/SEIU, the Center for Labor Studies at Florida International University, Florida Foster Care Review Project, Human Services Coalition and We Care. He is currently the founding Executive Director of WeCount!, a grassroots membership organization, with centers in Homestead and Cutler Bay, Florida, that fights for immigrant, worker and youth rights.

The FAST FOUR OUR FAMILIES AND THE TRAIL OF DREAMS is initially being led and supported by members of the The Florida Immigrant Coalition, including: We Count!, South Florida Interfaith Worker Justice, Students Working for Equal Rights (10 SWER chapters statewide), Haitian-American Youth of Tomorrow (HAYOT), Centro de Orientacion del Inmigrante (CODI), Farmworker Association of Florida, Palm Beach Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (and its member groups), Haitian Women of Miami, Latinamerican Coalition of the Treasure Coast, Voices for Justice, Sueno Americano, Miami Workers Center and others.

Haitians Impatient with Obama Over TPS

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Making Our Voices Heard at the Fountainbleau Hotel in Miami Beach

by Francesca Guerrier & Kim Ives

Some 50 Haitians and their supporters held a spirited demonstration in front of the Fontainebleau Hotel in Miami Beach on Monday, Oct. 26 to demand that President Obama immediately grant Temporary Protected Status or TPS to some 35,000 undocumented Haitians currently in the US.

Obama was at the hotel for a fundraiser for Democratic Florida congressmen Alcee Hastings and Kendrick Meek, who is running for senator.

The demonstration was organized by the Haitian American Grassroots Coalition, Institute of Justice and Democracy (IJDH), Florida Immigrant Coalition (FLIC) and Free Haiti Now, all groups which had been expecting Obama to reverse the Bush administration’s denial of TPS to Haitians last December.

“We are all frustrated that more than nine months after President Obama’s inauguration Haitians still don’t have TPS despite the incredibly broad editorial and political support for it, including from the three South Florida Republicans in the US House of Representatives,” said Steve Forester, an immigration lawyer and long-time TPS advocate who presently represents the IJDH in Florida. “And we are doubly surprised that we have not yet gotten a response to our request to at least give people the dignity of the right to work while the administration continues, month after month, to review the propriety of granting TPS, which to us and every objective observer is a no-brainer, based on the four hurricanes and storms that hit Haiti in a one-month period a year ago.”

TPS, which briefly can be granted by executive order to undocumented immigrants in the U.S. who are temporarily unable to return to their nation because of a natural disaster, armed conflict, or other extraordinary circumstances. Since it was established in 1990, TPS has been granted to immigrants from Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, Burundi, Somalia, Montserrat, Sierra Leone, Sudan and Liberia.

Since January, many demonstrations demanding TPS for Haitians have been held in Florida and other states. Over 300 people from Florida and the Northeast traveled by bus to Washington, DC to demonstrate in front of the White House on Jun. 3, and many more turned out for a second demonstration there on Sep. 16.

On Sep. 18, Free Haiti Now, FLIC and Haitian Women in Miami (FANM) held a vigil at Virginia Key Beach on Key Biscayne to call for TPS and to pay respect to the many Haitian refugees who have died at sea. Performing at the protest were Miami artists DJ Khaled, Mecca aka Grimo, and Grindmode. Other celebrities also supported the action and the TPS call including M1 from Dead Prez, Black Dada, Ace Hood, NBA superstar Hudonis Haslem, and three artists from the group Poe Boy: Billy Blue, Brisco and Flo Rida.

“We need the administration to grant TPS or at least, while they are considering it, to grant work permits on a case by case basis to TPS-deserving non-criminal Haitians who desperately need work permits, drivers licenses and the ability to feed their families, pay electricity bills, and send remittances to Haiti which can support up to ten times that number, thereby increasing Haiti’s security and our own,” Forester said.

On Oct. 26, the demonstrators were restricted to a sidewalk across Collins Avenue from the Fontainebleau. The area was heavily guarded by U.S. Secret Service, Miami Beach police and private security guards. The police harassed demonstrators who sought to take pictures of the protest from the street.

Further down the sidewalk, a group of about 100 anti-immigrant “teabaggers” protested Obama’s presence in Miami with absurd signs like “Go back to Kenya” and “Go back to Indonesia” and “Obama = Comunism.” (sic)

Among those who came out to the TPS demonstration were a few Central American farmworkers from Homestead, about 25 Haitians from West Palm Beach, and FLIC staff members.

In March, former Haitian-American unionist Patrick Gaspard, now Obama’s Director for Political Affairs, traveled to Miami to soothe and reassure Haitian leaders that the administration would soon act on TPS. The reprieve he brokered has now expired.

“As far as we are concerned, regarding Haiti, the Obama administration is maintaining the same status quo as the Bush immigration policy,” Haitian-American Grassroots Coalition president Jean-Robert Lafortune told the Miami Herald.

All articles copyrighted Haiti Liberte. REPRINTS ENCOURAGED.
Please credit Haiti Liberte.

Reflections on My Journey, by Juan Rodriguez of SWER

I was six years old, the first time I ever boarded a plane, not even able to say goodbye to three of my sisters in Colombia. I still remember that mix of nervousness and excitement as I felt myself lifted into the sky for the first time–never realizing that it would be one of the most symbolic flights of my existence. My father was taking me to “America,” a magical word for me at that age which I correlated with Mickey Mouse and enchanted castles. Little did I know that America would become my new home, refuge, and eventually, a fundamental part of my identity.

My plane landed in Miami International Airport in the summer of 1996. That was when my father told me that we would never return to Colombia. I bowed my head and accepted the destiny that had been chosen for me. What else was I supposed to think at that time? Your dad is your dad and I respected him, trusting that he would continue to guide me and look out for my best interests. He wanted a better life for his kids. He dreamed of the day that I could go off to college, become a professional, and pay for his retirement, just like practically any other father does. I took his words to heart that day and certainly didn’t know if I ever would get to go back to Colombia at all and see my sisters again.

It took at least six years for anyone in my family to finally be granted any official legal status in this country. I remember how we spent so many years with “pending cases,” which I started thinking of as “spending cases” due to the thousands and thousands of dollars that were lost every year on various lawyers and paperwork processes that seemed to have no end. Not everybody was lucky. After six years, though some of my family found the relief of being able to stay, the majority of them were denied and eventually forced to leave. Year by year I saw my family breaking down, from a cohesive whole that practically had Thanksgiving every other weekend, to scattered pieces divided by broken immigration laws that showed no justice or mercy to anyone regardless of their character or merit. I had infant cousins (American citizens) that I had to hug goodbye at the Miami airport because their parents were not granted any relief to stay. I, on the other hand, found myself in an irresolvable limbo due to the fact that I had been brought to the U.S. as a minor but became an adult without having secured any form of status.

I still wonder how it is that a person can just wake up one morning “UNDOCUMENTED”–-treated as if one came down with some sort of plague or genetic mutation that needed to be exterminated. I still haven’t been able to figure out at which point of my high school career I went from being the honors student and member of so many extra-curricular clubs and the school swim and track teams to being “an illegal.” Seeing it happen every day, even now, to people who arbitrarily do or don’t receive a letter in the mail with a little torch on it from the Department of Homeland Security…I continue to remain baffled. How is it possible that the country I grew to love so much could continuously create members of a lesser social class simply for lack of a plastic card or a nine digit number?

Why shouldn’t I have been allowed to work after high school? Everyone else I grew up with was given the opportunity, and why if I WANTED to willingly enter the workforce, did I have to be rejected? Why was I also denied from even getting a state-issued identification card, if the problem was me being undocumented?

It was a miracle, the day my stepmother petitioned for me to get my papers. Seeing how thousands of my friends had no citizen relatives, I understood the astounding privilege that I had in being helped this way. My stepmother saved me…and had it not been for this one loving deed, I would have been another of the 65,000 American high school graduates getting deported on an annual basis.

Yes, I do identify as an American. Going back to Colombia for the first time made it even more clear to me that I don’t remember my own country at all. I wouldn’t have any idea how to get around the cities I can barely pronounce properly, let alone figure out any way to survive or provide for myself. No, this IS my country, and I can tell you thousands of stories of the childhood experiences I had in practically every street and avenue of Hollywood, Florida; in Plantation; in Miami.

I choose to return because I needed to understand exactly what it was that I left behind, acknowledge my connection to that culture, and hopefully reconnect with siblings I have had no contact with in more than 14 years.

Before I got on the plane to go back, I got a call from my grandfather. He said, “Please hug my niece and nephew for me. Hug them very tight because I can’t any longer.” It wasn’t right for my grandfather to have his niece and nephew taken away. It wasn’t right for my cousins be taken away from the love of their grandfather. I find it inhumane how so many families are split apart.

I got to spend a couple of days with my cousins and my sisters. I kissed their little heads and told them that I love them with every fiber of my being. I got to tell my sisters in person that they are the most beautiful women in the world. I feel so lucky. I understood that I was the only one in my family that could go back to Colombia without being punished in some way by the U.S. immigration system. It was hard for me not to be afraid during my flight there, out of my lifelong panic that the U.S. might not let me come back.

Now I am back–continuing my work on the path to liberation for the millions of other immigrants who are still suffering in this country; striving to fulfill a dream; and struggling to make ends meet in difficult circumstances.

I landed in Miami International Airport again, and this time I came wearing my “UNDOCUMENTED: Students Working for Equal Rights” shirt, prepared to keep building a movement that has become a huge part of my life’s calling. We HAVE to pass the DREAM Act. We have to secure just and humane immigration reform for all students, workers and families. We must stay strong.

So Close to Our DREAM…and Still Fighting Deportations Case by Case

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Today, as DREAMers take part in more than 125 actions across the country–including more than 15 in Florida–one DREAMer could be deported in the next day.

Please check our Citizen Orange’s post about Jorge Alonso, and TAKE ACTION ASAP!

Another DREAMer is victorious!!!

tahaTaha Mowla, an 18-year-old graduate of Dickinson High school in New Jersey, who has lived in the U.S. for the past 16 years, was set for deportation because his lawyer missed a filing date on his application for permanent residency when he was a minor.

His pending deportation set for July 29th to Bangladesh was brought to a end when Taha was granted deferred action by the Department of Homeland Security, thanks to tremendous efforts from fellow DREAMers, SEIU and Dreamactivist.org.

Supporters of Taha’s deportation termination signed petitions, co-signed Senator Menedez’s letter on Taha’s behalf, called DHS’s Secretary Janet Napolitano and urged her to defer action on Taha’s deportation, called New Jersey Senators Menedez, Lautenberg, and Congressman Sires to sign a private bill on Taha’s behalf, as well as join Taha’s Facebook Group.

Their selfless efforts made a huge difference in Taha’s life.

“I am overwhelmed with the kindness of the Department of Homeland Security and the support of Senator Menendez and hundreds of grassroots activists whose efforts have changed my life forever,” said Taha. “Today, instead of packing my bags to be taken off to a country I do not know, I am rejoicing with friends and family over the life I am blessed to live and the achievements I am sure to accomplish in this country that I love.”

Taha’s victory has made headlines throughout the nation and inspired others to fight for their rights to remain in the U.S. Sadly there are millions of other

DREAMers who are still at risk for deportation.

Both Taha and Walter, who were granted deferred action by DHS, will be working with DREAM activists and grassroots organizations to provide the same assistance they were given to other DREAMers who are bombarded with difficulties in pursuit of a better life and education.

It is up to all DREAMers and supporters to take action and help us pass the DREAM Act in order to prevent situations like these and provide better education for all DREAMers! Si se puede!

Victory! Justice For A Hardworking DREAMer!

walterlara Last Wednesday, July 1st, Walter Lara held a press conference in Washington D.C. hoping to persuade Janet Napolitano, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, to stop his pending deportation.

Thanks to SWER, SEIU, First Focus, and FLIC’s much appreciated efforts—including planning a fast for Walter’s cause—Florida Democrat Sen. Bill Nelson asked a top Homeland Security official to postpone Lara’s deportation because “he has earned the chance to live and work here and call America home.” Rep. Corrine Brown (D-FL) and Rep. Kendrick Meek (D-FL) introduced a private bill for the same thing. On July 2nd,  The Department of Homeland Security moved to defer Walter Lara’s scheduled deportation that was set for July 6th, 2009 to July 3rd, 2010—providing him with a one year stay in the U.S. “As I look to celebrate Independence Day with family and friends this weekend, I have once again seen what makes America the best country in the world. Americans are fair, just, and kind” Walter said.

At this point, Lara is allowed to apply for a job legally. Unfortunately he cannot apply for citizenship. Although his case has been deferred, he may be deported at any time. “Walter Lara’s deferred action is a major step towards the passage of the DREAM Act and a symbol for youth power in Miami. As we celebrate this victory, we must remember that are 2 million students in the USA who are going through a very similar situation,” said SWER’s Felipe Matos. Hopefully the DREAM Act will be passed in the next year so that undocumented students like Walter can have hope for brighter futures.

Sen. Nelson Speaks Up for Walter and the DREAM Act!

billnelsonSen. Nelson rallies against student’s deportation

Please check out the link above–the DREAM Act has amazing support from our elected officials here in Florida because our youth-led movement has shown the validity and urgency of giving undocumented students a chance to stay in the U.S. and continue contributing their skills to our communities.

As Sen. Nelson stated, “Lara ‘has earned the chance to live and work here and call America home.’ Thank you, Sen. Nelson, for standing up for what the promise of America was always supposed to mean!

Miami City Commission Urges President Obama To Grant Temporary Protected Status To Haitians In The United States

Excellent news–hopefully more cities throughout Florida and the nation will pass similar resolutions!

http://www.sflcn.com/story.php?id=6535

MIAMI – City of Miami Commission Chairman Joe Sanchez, backed unanimously by the City of Miami Commission, passed a resolution Thursday, June 11, 2009, urging President Barrack Obama to grant temporary protected status (TPS) to Haitians in the United States.

“We are urgently calling on President Obama to do the right thing,” Sanchez said.

TPS suspends the deportation of undocumented Haitians already in the U.S. and allows the granting of work permits that can last up to 18 months.

“As a proud member of Miami’s Haitian community, and an advocate for the humanitarian treatment of all people, I am pleased that Chairman Sanchez and the City Commission is poised to set an example for the rest of the country to follow,” said Francesca Menes of the Florida Immigrant Coalition. Menes added, “Haiti has been devastated–environmentally and economically–and Temporary Protected Status would help Haitians here and abroad.”

Haitian workers in the United States support relatives back home with remittances to Haiti from the United States estimated to be more than $1 billion.

tps

“Hurricane season is upon us and the nation of Haiti has barely recovered from last season’s devastating storms. It is imperative that we grant temporary protected status to Haitians in the U.S., so their work here can help fuel the rebuilding back home,” Sanchez said.