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A few well-written words can convey a wealth of information, particularly when there is no lag time between when they are written and when they are read. The IPS blog gives you an opportunity to hear directly from IPS scholars and staff on ideas large and small and for us to hear back from you.

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Entries tagged "immigration"

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Why Women? Why Now? Looking at Gender and Immigration

October 17, 2011 ·

One need only consider the story of Roxana Santos  mentioned in Break the Chain’s previous blog post to understand the very real implications of strict immigration enforcement laws in this country and what that looks like for a woman.  Roxana lives in Maryland.  She is the mother of a one-year old little boy and she was scheduled to be deported to her native El Salvador at the end of last month.  Her crime?  Eating her lunch outside her place of employment. On Thursday, September 29th, one day before the scheduled deportation, Ms. Santos was granted a one year stay while allegations of discrimination and overzealous enforcement of immigration laws are investigated.

Roxana Santos and other immigrant women demand justice. She is the victim of unjust laws that are determined to deport and dehumanize women (and men) who are contributing members of our society.

The debate around immigration reform in our nation right now is centered around nativist fears, ideological differences about what an American should look like, and the idea that immigrants are “taking” jobs from U.S. citizens who have been hit hard by the recent economic recession.  Immigrants are not taking our jobs but the fear and hate speak permeates everyday discussions.  There is, however, little talk about the relationship between gender, immigration and exploitation.  Immigration is no longer a male dominated phenomenom- women comprise 49% of the world’s 214 million international migrants.  This trend has been called the “feminization of migration.”  According to statistics compiled by Reuters for International Woman’s Day 2011, of the 1.2 billion people living in poverty worldwide, 70% are women.  If opportunities do not exist for women at home, they will leave. This is a basic survival instinct that has kept our species alive since the beginning of humankind.

Although access to paid work can definitely have very positive effects on a woman’s ability to provide for her own (and her family’s) physical and psychological needs, migration in search of such employment can also have equally devastating consequences.  It is no secret that undocumented workers are particularly prone to being exploited.  

Women are subjected to being targeted in transit and when they arrive in the host country.  According to the film The Invisibles, highlighted by this year’s Letelier-Moffit Human Rights Awards international honoree Padre Pedro Pantoja, six out of ten migrant women are sexually assaulted during their journey north through Mexico.  

A lack of a support system can make a woman more vulnerable to gender-based violence and intimidation upon arrival as well.  There is a triple threat of exploitation (based on gender, race, and legal status) that today’s state based deportation-focused laws are not addressing.  Being unable to access extended family through family reunification programs also prevents some women from accessing the public work sphere.  In this scenario a mother’s only option may be domestic work. 

A gendered analysis may determine that it would be beneficial for society if the legal definition of family was widened to include parents of adult children.  If a woman’s parents had a legal remedy to migrate to be with her this could mean the difference between her being able to work to support her family or not.  This is particularly true for cultures that highly value extended family kinship and/or have no other childcare options available.  Immigrants do not want to be a burden to existing social welfare mechanisms; they simply need legal mechanisms that respect their right to migrate, work, and live the life they want to live.

We have a habit of seeing things as gender neutral.  This means that we are taught to “be objective” and analyze information from this neutral perspective.  The only problem is the “neutral” most typically refers to the White, property owning, male’s perspective.  Immigration policy and reform is a great example of an area where a gender lens needs to be applied.  According to the International Organization for Migration “women and men migrate for different reasons, use different channels, and have different experiences.”  Women will continue to migrate to ensure their livelihood and the livelihood of their families, and they face different challenges and need laws that adequately respond to these challenges. Comprehensive, gender sensitive reform is needed to halt the trend of states targeting women and families for deportation.  We cannot “add and stir” gender into immigration reform legislation post enactment; now is the time to discuss and elevate these concerns.

Celia Garcia Perez is an advocacy intern for the Break the Chain Campaign.

Belen, Posada Del Migrante (Bethlehem, the Migrant's Shelter) and the Suffering of Central American Migrants

October 3, 2011 ·

This year, the Letelier-Moffitt international award will be presented to Belén, Posada Del Migrante (Bethlehem, the Migrant's Shelter), a migrant shelter based in Saltillo, Coahuila, Mexico that provides humanitarian assistance to migrants in transit and works to protect them from kidnapping, extortion, sexual abuse, and murder. As a voice for the human rights of migrants in transit, it has courageously worked to document abuses against migrants and denounce human rights violations of migrants by Mexican officials.

But no stranger had to spend the night in the street, for my door was always open to the traveler.
Job 31, 32

Eleven Years of Violence and Persecution, Against the Odds: The blood and deaths of migrants, and the seeds of hope.

The Year 2000
Migrants prepare for an orientation at Belen, Posada del Migrante. Photo by Humanidad sin Fronteras.The Mexican city of Saltillo and its community shuddered with the arrival of the first Central American migrants. They were fleeing Hurricane Mitch, as well as the poverty and violence they endured in their countries. For this aristocratic city's conservative majority, it was a threat, an invasion of their supposed harmony and traditional peace. After this fear came criminalization, rejection, disdain, and that xenophobic question: Why couldn't they go somewhere else?

Nevertheless, the migrants, beaten men and women — who were dirty and dispossessed when they entered the city's outskirts — just said; "We're hungry and we're tired and we have been beaten!" This underscored one of the most beautiful and evangelical traditions that prevails in our community: take our bread and share it! Whenever a migrant arrives, at midnight, in the early morning, at dawn, or in the heat of the day, there will always be a group who will take him or her in, that will say: "It doesn't matter what time it is, you're going to sit down at our table, share our bread, and then go rest."

2001: The Criminalization of Aiding Migrants Sets in and the Murders Begin
Criminal charges were increasingly brought against us for aiding migrants. "Conservative Christian" groups considered it "sinful" to give the refugees shelter, because they were supposedly arriving "illegally," which made them "illegal" too. There were even people who were happy when they died, saying "they deserved it for having come here."

The wave of migration gave way to murder and spilled blood. Delmer, Alexander, and David, all Hondurans, were murdered by bullets, as they slept. Ismael Cruz was stoned to death by security guards on the train.

We were bloodstained when we retrieved the bodies, but this act planted the seeds of hope. It gave us the courage to persevere.

With the strong backing of our Bishop, Raul Vera, I organized together with three religious women the Bethlehem, the Migrant's Shelter next to the train tracks.

Frontera con Justicia y Humanidad Sin Fronteras

(These are two non-profit organizations whose names translate as "Bordering Justice" and "Humanity without Borders." They provide the migrants who have sought shelter in Saltillo with legal and counseling support.)

Obstacles and Challenges

Mariano, a migrant from Honduras, watches television at Belen, Posada del Migrante. Photo by LatinDispatch.We pushed back against the fear of migrants and the terrifying discrimination against them. It was necessary to engage the broader community in a debate over migration.

We didn't want to only focus on organizing a shelter. Instead, we addressed the overall issue of migration as a social and historical phenomenon that today runs through history, society, the fabric of society and the Church itself.

We didn't want to treat migrants simply as victims, but instead as a new kind of emerging heroes, and beacons of hope.

This is why we formed two organizations: Frontera con Justicia and Humanidad sin Fronteras to assemble a team of professionals that could offer persecuted migrants not just lodging, food, and health care, but a comprehensive package of services, including legal representation, counseling, and advocacy for laws aimed at protecting their rights.

It was a radical humanitarian endeavor. The migrants who came to our shelter would feel upon arrival that they had left the evils of persecution and aggression behind. Once they'd reached us, they could belong to a movement to build a more humane and liberating society.

The Violence Has Never Ceased

We would have loved to have seen an end to the violence. But to the contrary, it has grown and so have our enemies: organized crime, and the complicity of security forces.

The consequences have been dire: murders, kidnapping, torture, disappearances, rape, and sexual abuse, even the paradigm of anti-migrant cruelty, the massacre of 72 migrants in San Fernando, Tamaulipas in August 2010, and the discovery of 47 other clandestine mass graves with mutilated bodies.

Our Achievements

  1. More than 50,000 Central American migrants have passed through our shelter.
  2. In the 11 years of our work, we have made the broader community recognize the pain and suffering that migrants endure.
  3. We have made progress in political and legal advocacy work in favor of migrants.
  4. We have traveled abroad to connect with organizations and international bodies in the defense of migrants' rights.
  5. We have inaugurated "New Wine in New Casks" with a new Church with new liturgy and ecclesiology that has a migration perspective.
  6. We have innovated therapeutic humanitarian counseling for migrants who were tortured when they were kidnapped.

The Letelier-Moffitt Award's Significance

We would like to express our deepest gratitude to the human rights and migrant policy organizations that chose to give us this award. Criminal charges are increasingly being brought against us and we are now under attack more than ever. The levels of risk and insecurity faced by the people defending migrants' rights are the same as what the migrants themselves experience.

This is an award for courage and a just fight on behalf of people who have to migrate. We are in solidarity with these people. They are our brothers. With that in mind, we receive this award, not as bosses or experts but as fighters in the struggle for human rights.

Father Pedro Pantoja Arreola is the director of Belén, Posada Del Migrante (Bethlehem, the Migrant's Shelter) and chief adviser for two organizations that provide legal services and other forms of humanitarian support to Central American migrants, Frontera con Justicia (Bordering Justice) and Humanidad sin Fronteras (Humanity without Borders).

Emily Schwartz Greco translated this blog post, which is also available in Spanish on the Institute for Policy Studies website.

Georgia on My Mind

September 29, 2011 ·

Since the execution of Troy Davis, whose shattering story activated thousands of people across the country to speak out against a flawed justice system and the brutality of capital punishment, Georgia has been on my mind. I was born there, in a small town outside of Atlanta called Austell, and spent many summers in Newnan with my grandparents. Both sides of my family can be traced back there, some as colonists and some from the Cherokee tribe that called Georgia home. For my entire childhood, Georgia represented the soothing, simple life, the one I felt connected to in my blood. Now, as I sit in the midst of my suitcase and talking points and pack for the delegation trip to Atlanta, I am filled with so much heartache… and even shame.

I was invited to join this delegation and bear witness to the testimony of immigrant women and children because of my work with trafficked and exploited migrant women workers here in the DC area, and my connection to the anti-trafficking movement in the United States. I hope to learn more about the daily struggles of immigrant women there, to learn about what impact severe immigration enforcement has on women’s trust in the police. For survivors of trafficking and other crimes, being able to trust law enforcement is essential. As an advocate, I spend a lot of time thinking about ways to build that trust and educate law enforcement about their critical role in identifying victims in immigrant communities. I will take what I learn from the delegation and continue to build the momentum for an end to laws like HB87, helping communities understand legislative cruelty by showing them human stories, and sensitizing law enforcement to their now deeply conflicted dual mission.

So, that is why I was invited, but it’s not why I decided to go.

In my heart, I needed to come back to Georgia to confront reality, to channel theheartache I am feeling and turn it into action. I want to be proud of Georgia, I want to be proud of our country, I want to be proud of my family. The US legacy of genocide, slavery, racism, and cruelty cannot be forgotten, but I am alive now, you are alive now, we can do something now. When I go to visit my father in Lindale after the delegation trip ends, I hope I can start this dialogue about Georgia with him, and I hope my friends in the South will do the same with their families.

Originally posted at MomsRising.

Break The Chain Heads to Georgia

September 6, 2011 ·

On September 28th, I am going to be participating in a delegation of women leaders who will be traveling from all around the country to Atlanta, Georgia. This is an action borne out of one of the projects I am co-coordinating with the National Domestic Workers Alliance, the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum, the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, and several partners on the ground in Atlanta. Our goal is to continue bringing a gender lens to immigration issues.

Thousands march through the streets of Atlanta to protest draconian immigration laws. Photo by Caitie Leary.

Not only are women victims of crime and violence becoming more reluctant to call the police for help, they are also being targeted for bearing children (so-called "anchor babies") and simply working to care for their families. A recent study from the American Psychological Association showed the traumatic impact of family separation due to deportation has long-lasting and multi-faceted negative effects on children. For the last 13 years, Break the Chain Campaign has focused on the human trafficking of housekeepers and nannies, but we were compelled to enter the world of immigration advocacy because of the chilling effect on police collaboration that is the result of draconian enforcement efforts. If we cannot trust law enforcement not to deport our undocumented clients (many of whom became undocumented as a result of escaping their traffickers), how can we go to them for help? Similarly, we care about this issue as a human rights issue – we believe that every human being deserves safety, respect, and the ability to provide for basic needs for herself and her family. The erosion of human rights, and the ability to claim them, feeds human trafficking.

While the Obama administration has recently announced that deportations will be halted for many vulnerable families, we believe that the problem is larger than anything that a temporary hold or selective enforcement of deportation could fix. We need to understand the inevitable realities of immigration on one hand, and our common humanity on the other hand. It is impossible to rest until our country regards no human being as "illegal," we all love our families, work and do whatever we need to do to support them, and deserve to be treated with respect and dignity. A political border does not define our humanity.

For that reason, on September 28th, our group of high-profile women (including Betty Gorman Robinson, Laura Flanders, Ai-jen Poo, and 20 other leaders) will give witness to the testimony of women and children in the area who have been affected by anti-immigrant actions/legislation, and the following day we will hold a press conference. We anticipate follow up events (teach-ins, legislative visits, etc.) in a few cities. The event will be similar to the sharing testimony/rally event held in Arizona in the wake of SB1070, which we called “Arizona Women and Children Rise.”

If you or your friends/colleagues/allies are going to be in the Atlanta area on September 29th, please save the date and join us at the press conference. Otherwise, join Break the Chain Campaign at the IPS office in October for a follow up event (details on all events to follow in the coming weeks!)

Obama Announces Deportation Policy Reform

August 18, 2011 ·

The announcement today that the Obama administration will review the deportation cases of more than 300,000 undocumented immigrants is one positive step among many missteps in an administration that has failed to provide a coherent strategy on immigration.

On the White House blog, Director of Intergovernmental Affairs Cecilia Muñoz talks about the steps that will be taken by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to create that review committee which will review those deportation cases:

DHS, along with the Department of Justice, will be reviewing the current deportation caseload to clear out low-priority cases on a case-by-case basis and make more room to deport people who have been convicted of crimes or pose a security risk. And they will take steps to keep low-priority cases out of the deportation pipeline in the first place. 

It remains to be seen if this latest announcement is the beginning of a pivotal moment where Obama begins shifting to a more liberal immigration policy, or if months from now we see it as the only moderately positive step among many negative ones.

Throughout his time in office, Obama has let immigration policies evolve on their own, providing little input other than periodic speeches in Latino-heavy areas. By making no comment on congressional increases in enforcement-related spending, while opting to ratchet up enforcement policies that raise the number of deportations, Obama created the need for political actions like today’s.

300,000 cases is a small fraction of the entire undocumented population, and much more reform will be needed at the congressional level to move the country forward. The question is whether Obama and his administration can recognize that their actions on beefing up the "deportation pipeline" that Muñoz talks about, i.e. their support for mandatory Secure Communities, are likely to do more damage than any cosmetic reforms to the prosecutorial process can undo.

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