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‘Undocumented and unafraid’

The Immigrant Youth Justice League will hold its second Coming Out Day, and for the first time undocumented high school students will join college students in telling their stories publicly, Thurday, March 10 at 3 p.m. at Daley Plaza, Washington and Clark.

In the year since the first “coming out” action, when eight Chicago area youth spoke out, immigration reform and the DREAM Act have failed in Congress, Arizona has passed a “papers please” law targetting immigrants, and the Obama administration has continued to step up deportations.  Throughout, undocumented youth were in the thick of things, lobbying Congress and sitting in at congressional offices in Washington and around the country.

The biggest impact of their public advocacy may have been on the undocumented community itself, which saw young people who were “willing to take action in the face of fear,” said Tania Unzueta of IYJL.  She was arrested last July in civil disobedience in Washington.

She tells of speaking in classrooms about coming out,.”There are always a couple students who come up afterwards and say ‘thank you, I’m undocumented and I’ve never had a conversation with anyone about it – could we sit and talk?'”

For others, “we hope we’ve highlighted the contractions of immigration policy – that there are a lot of young people, students with good grades, you listen to our stories and we’re like everyone else, we’re looking to make a contribution.

“At the same time the government considers us criminals, some people don’t want us to be here, and we don’t have access to the same resources other people do.”

Regardless of the action or inaction of politicians, undocumented youth are going to claim the right to tell their stories – in the hopes of putting a human face on the immigration crisis, Unzueta said.

In the coming week undocumented youth will be publicly declaring their status in New York, Texas, California, Georgia, and other states, according to IYJL.

Domestic violence victims being deported

Victims of domestic violence are being detained and deported when they contact local law enforcement to report abuses, according to a new report released here by the Latino Union of Chicago.

It’s happening under the so-called “Secure Communities” program, which coordinates local police agencies with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.  ICE claims the program targets individuals convicted of violent crimes, but critics have charged that many others are caught up in it.  According to the report from Latino Union and the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, women are being fingerprinted and detained when they go to police to report crimes.

“Secure Communities is a direct attack on immigrant women, families, and victims of domestic violence,” said Gladys Zarate, a founder of Weaving Dreams, a domestic workers collective.

“As we honor contributions of the women’s movement on International Women’s Day, we demand that Illinois take immediate steps to protect women and families by opting out of this voluntary program,” she said.

Fifty thousand new citizens

Braving the elements, more than 300 immigrants are expected Saturday at the 1,000th citizenship workshop sponsored by the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights under the state’s New Americans Initiative.

Recognizing the milestone, Governor Quinn will join in, assisting a legal permanent resident in filling out a citizenship application and witnessing a U.S. citizenship oath ceremony.

The workshop takes place from 9 a.m. to noon — with Quinn expected at 11:30 a.m. and the oath ceremony set for noon – on Saturday, February 5, at the Arturo Velasquez Instititute, 2800 S. Western.

His participation will make Quinn one of over 13,000 Illinois residents who have volunteered nearly 125,000 hours for outreach, legal services, tutoring in English and preparation for the citizenship test, said Catherine Salgado of ICIRR.

Since its launch in 2005 the NAI program has directly assisted nearly 50,000 Illinois residents in becoming citizens and provided citizenship information in 23 languages to 425,000 residents.  The program is a partnership between the state and ICIRR, working with dozens of community, ethnic and social service groups.

Of the state’s 1.8 million immigrants, 783,000 are naturalized citizens and 340,000 are currently eligible to apply for citizenship, Salgado said.  In addition to voting rights and the ability to travel without time limits, citizens earn more, she said, with median income increasing by 55 percent when a person becomes a citizen.

Quinn will speak following the citizenship ceremony, and ICIRR will unveil a statewide agenda calling for support for immigrant and refugee services and English education programs.

The agenda also calls for fair implementation of health care reform; state legislation limiting dragnet deportation programs; and an Illinois DREAM Act to provide private scholarship funds and legal driving certificates to undocumented youth who stay in school or pursue military service.

A new Neighbor-to-Neighbor volunteer campaign is planned to recruit native-born and naturalized citizens in 50 communities to tutor children and help immigrants learn English and gain citizenship, Salgado said.

Obama could stop deportations, DODT discharges

While it’s true that comprehensive immigration reform will now require Republican votes, Representative Luis Guiterrez says that President Obama could “stop deportation and the destruction of our families” with an executive order, Media Consortium reports.

So far the Obama administration has stepped up efforts to deport immigrants under draconian laws, but over-reliance on local law enforcement has led immigration courts to reject an increasing number of deportation cases, according to the report.

Meanwhile Achy Obejas reports the suggestion of Joe Manchin, West Virginia’s new senator – especially interesting coming from the only Democrat to oppose repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell.

Said Manchin: “Some believe that President Obama, as Commander-in-Chief, if he so chooses, has the authority to suspend discharges under DADT, if he deems it a matter of national security. If this is correct, and the President was to make such an order, while I may disagree with it, I would respect his authority as President to do so.”

Day laborers mark Human Rights Day

Day laborers will host their supporters, including elected officials and allies from labor, faith, and community organizations, at a celebration on International Human Rights Day marking the tenth anniversary of the Latino Union – and the release of a new report on “excluded workers.”

The tenth anniversary fundraiser takes place tonight, Friday, December 10, from 7 to 10 p.m. at the National Museum of Mexican Art, 1852 W. 19th Street.

Latino Union organizes low-income immigrant workers, including day laborers in communities like Pilsen and Albany Park.

The unemployment crisis has exacerbated longstanding problems including wage theft and unsafe working conditions and “forced us to find new solutions,” said Jose Luis Guillardo, a Latino Union leader.

“We are very fortunate to have such a strong network of people that believe in workers rights as human rights,” said Patricio Ordonez, a day laborer who coordinates the Albany Park Worker Center.  “This is the product of ten years of organizing.”

The new report (pdf) comes from the Excluded Workers Congress, which the Latino Union helped found in June.  The group brings together organizations working across the nation with workers excluded from legal protections for organizing and collective bargaining, as well as minimum wage and health and safety standards.

That includes millions of workers, according to the report, including 1.5 million farmworkers, 2 million domestic workers, and 3 million tipped workers.  The report describes conditions, provides individual stories, and relates successful organizing campaigns in nine sectors, including day laborers, guest workers, workfare workers, taxi drivers, restaurant workers, and the formerly incarcerated.

The exclusion of sectors of the workforce from labor rights has its roots in slavery and racism, the report argues.  And it denies workers rights guaranteed under the UN Declaration of Human Rights, including “the most basic right: the right to organize.”

EWC is backing legislation that would bar employers from using immigration enforcement to undercut organizing efforts, and calling for a minimum wage that keeps pace with inflation.

U.S. Palestinian conference spotlights alternative voices

Perspectives often neglected in media coverage of Israel-Palestine peace talks — and concerns about attacks on civil liberties here — will be highlighted at a national conference of Palestinian Americans this weekend in the Chicago area, which is home to the largest Palestinian population in the nation.

Haneen Zoabi

The Second Popular Palestine Conference, sponsored by the U.S. Palestinian Community Network, opens Friday night at the Westin Chicago Northwest in Itasca with a performance by world-renowned oud master and composer Marcel Khalife.

Keynote speakers (Saturday evening) include Haneen Zoabi, an Arab member of the Israeli Knesset, and Attalah Hanna, the Greek Orthodox Archbishop of Jerusalem.

Zoabi, the first woman elected to the Knesset on an Arab party list, was on the ship that was was attacked by Israeli forces in May while carrying humanitarian aid and challenging the blockade of Gaza.

(In reports today, Israeli police denied charges that Zoabi was deliberately targeted with rubber bullets during a counterdemonstration against a march by rightwing settlers on the West Bank on Wednesday.)

Journalist Ghassan Ben Jiddo will host a live broadcast of Al Jazeera’s “Hiwar Mufta” (“Open Dialogue”) program from the conference Saturday at 5:45 p.m.

USPCN has called the Palestinian Authority leadership unrepresentative and criticized it for abandoning demands for a “right to return” for Palestinian refugees.

Noting that PA leaders’ electoral terms expired last year, local activist Hatem Abudayyeh said “the Palestinian Authority does not represent us” with a strategy of “negotiating for little, disconnected pieces of the West Bank.”  While the PLO once included a broad range of Palestinian organizations, the PA “now represents a tiny sector of a tiny part of the West Bank,” said Adubayyeh, a national committee member of USPCN.

He said this weekend’s conference will have participation from “all sectors of Palestinian society.”  A 2008 national conference in Chicago by the same group drew 1,000 participants.

A number of workshops and assemblies will address issues of civil liberties and political and personal attacks on Muslims and Arabs – including an FBI raid in September that targeted Abudayyeh and other local solidarity activists.

Local attorneys Jim Fennerty, Ora Schub, and Stan Willis will join local human rights activist Alejando Molina in a workshop on the raids on Saturday afternoon.

Abudayyeh, who is executive director of the Arab American Action Network here, called the raids “a continuation of three decades of a policy of repression against people who do work challenging U.S. policy on Palestine, Iraq, or other issues affecting the Arab and Muslim world.”

The U.S. Attorney withdrew subpoenas against 14 activists after they refused to testify.  Supporters are calling on the Obama administration and the U.S. Attorney to drop the investigation, which has been characterized as an attack on dissent.

DREAM activists on trial

Eight young immigrant activists were convicted on Friday of unlawful entry after sitting in at Senate offices in July to press for passage of the DREAM Act.  The eight represented themselves in an October 1 trial in D.C. Superior Court  – and offered testimony under oath about their undocumented status.

The eight — including Tania Unzueta, Reyna Wences, and Nicolas Gonzales from the Chicago area – were given unsupervised probation for a year by a judge who expressed admiration for their activism, a supporter said.

The young people sat in at the offices of Senator John McCain and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid on July 20, calling on them to champion the DREAM Act.  All eight would be eligible for legal status under the bill, which would give the opportunity to earn conditional permanent residency to young people who entered the country as minors and have completed two years of college or military service.

Prosecutors offered a plea agreement under which charges would be suspended and the defendants would be banned from Capitol Hill for up to a year, said Adam Kuranishi, and organizer with the Immigrant Youth Justice League.

The defendants turned down the offer in the expectation that the DREAM Act will be considered as a stand-alone bill in the lame duck session following the November election.  “They decided they couldn’t afford to not lobby” for the bill in coming weeks, Kuranishi said.

Last month the defense authorization bill, with amendments lined up to enact the DREAM Act and repeal “don’t ask don’t tell,” was prevented from coming to a vote in the Senate.  The DREAM Act may stand a better chance on its own after the November election, Kuranishi said.

At the trial, the eight activists gave testimony explaining their decision to risk deportation in order to fight for passage of the bill.  In the last year, undocumented youth have gone public to talk about their status and about the fear that keeps many immigrants silent when their rights are violated.

DREAM Act students to speak

Tania Unzeuta and other Chicago-area undocumented youth who were arrested last week in civil disobedience at the U.S. Capitol building, demanding action on the DREAM Act, will speak about the action, their experiences, and what’s next for the immigrant rights movement, at a press conference at 10:30 a.m., Tuesday, July 27, at Plaza Tenochtitlan (18th, Loomis, and Blue Island.)

The protest was the second time undocumented youth have risked deportation to pressure legislators – focusing on DREAM Act supporters – to move the bill.

More on Tania here; more on last week’s action – including the reaction of Senator Richard Durbin, chief sponsor of the DREAM Act – here; also see coverage at Chicanisima.

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