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The Fight For Migrant Rights

The Fight For Migrant RightsWelcome back to Fast Forum!  We pick a hot topic and ask 3 – 6 organizers from across the country to weigh in. Our hope is to draw out new ideas and to encourage new voices to take a stab at the freshest challenges facing our community. This month we asked B Loewe, Communications Director from the National Day Labor Organizing Network, to reach out to organizers in the migrants rights movement to comment ont he state of the movement in light of recent legislative victories and defeats.


The Fight For Migrant Rights

-Voces de la Frontera – Milwaukee, WI

Immigrant rights organizations like ours have united in an unprecedented manner with labor unions, education unions, and other groups in opposition to the recent attacks on all public workers in Wisconsin.

Currently, we are strategizing against an Arizona-style anti-immigrant bill, AB-173, which Wisconsin law enforcement officers to confirm the immigration status of anyone charged with a crime or civil violation (which can include violations as small as jaywalking) if there is “reasonable suspicion”.  Voces and our allies have been mobilizing against this since last fall, when it was first announced.  AB-173 is now headed to the Homeland Security Committee.  We now need national support in continuing to fight it.  For more info on how to help, visit

In addition, state budget signed by Governor Scott Walker has just eliminated in-state tuition for undocumented students- a victory that had been hard-won in 2009. Although it was claimed to be done as a means to reduce spending, the amount of undocumented students that applied for in-state tuition was so few that its’ financial impact was irrelevant in the budget.

What are the factors that have lead to the situation you are in in your state?

The Republican majority that took over both Wisconsin’s House and Senate has created a political environment which has made it acceptable to make grievous offenses against immigrants and workers across the state.  The economic situation of Wisconsin has provided these officials and lawmakers such as Governor Scott Walker a convenient excuse to use immigrants as scapegoats, as is the case with the elimination of in-state tuition for undocumented students.

What are the next steps for organizing in your state for migrant rights? What strategies and tactics are you excited by and seeing success with?

The recent budget signed by the governor, which targets not only immigrant students, but all of the middle and working class, has brought unprecedented alliances between various groups including immigrants and Latino workers, and students and organized labor.

This collaboration could not be more visible than in this year’s May Day march, which had a theme of “Solidarity for Immigrant and Worker Rights’ which drew nearly 100,000 people and including National AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka.

Prior to the state budget being passed, we organized a non-violent civil disobedience action at the Joint Finance Committee meeting on education, in an effort to stall the vote which would remove in-state tuition for undocumented students.  Community leaders from around the state participated, including members of the school board, the faith community, and public teachers.  The action drew attention to the need for those opposed to the budget to escalate strategies to defend immigrant and worker rights.



Right to Remain: Congress of Day Laborers fight back in New Orleans

The Fight For Migrant Rights

- Congress of Day Laborers

Immigrants in New Orleans are living in a state of siege. On day labor corners, immigration agents are arriving camouflaged as contractors to pick up undocumented immigrants and fill quotas. At worksites, police and immigrants agents are collaborating to resolve labor disputes on behalf of employers, criminalizing the very workers who courageously come forward to report violations of labor law. On the streets, traffic tickets, broken tail-lights and just being Latino lead to detention and deportation. In the apartment complexes, where immigrant families live with the constant precipice of eviction, law enforcement agents have conducted home invasions, pulling residents out of beds and showers in violation of their constitutional rights.

 In all of these ways, the criminal justice system’s anti-immigrant strategy denies the community access to justice, humiliates the community’s efforts to gain dignity, and severely destabilizes all efforts to put down roots and achieve economic and cultural permanence. Incarceration directly removes immigrant community leaders from their communities in the United States and chills actions by threatening retaliatory arrests and deportations against immigrant leadership. The de-humanizing identity assigned by the criminal justice system impedes immigrant communities’ ability to even search for and build power. And as the immigrant community is pushed farther and farther into isolation and hiding, the criminal justice system further compounds their cumulative disadvantage by separating them from democratic institutions which should help build community and power—schools, community organizations, etc. In effect, the immigrant community is sentenced to remain temporary, unstable and in crisis.

In New Orleans, Louisiana, the fight against the criminal justice system is the Congress of Day Laborer’s fight for the Right to Remain in a city they now call home. As a membership organization, in deep alliance with the African American community, the Congress of Day Laborers is organizing for “the right to remain” in New Orleans, the right to hold control over their political future in Louisiana, and their right not to be defined by their relationship to the criminal justice system. In a state where the criminal justice system has historically driven the political economy of race and the politics of marginalization, the Congress of Day Laborers is a vehicle for the immigrant community to turn the tide on immigration enforcement so that it can expand democracy and live out its dreams.

In order to do this, the Congress of Day Laborers has built grassroots immigrant leadership, strong campaigns, a social movement around the issues of anti-immigrant enforcement and the attacks of the criminal justice system. In the future we hope to create permanent progressive infrastructure for immigrants, so that immigrants can build the institutional power necessary to change the political conditions that allow the criminal justice system to flourish.



The Fight For Migrant Rights


- Cesar Lopez, Tierra y Libertad Organization

The passage of SB1070 in Arizona 2010 was a jolt to many in the migrant and social justice movements. In Arizona we see SB1070 as a mass statewide institutionalization of the already existing local/federal laws and culture of hate and greed that has led us to 1070. This legislation has led to mass mobilizations and deep organizing strategy evaluation state and nationwide. This evaluation has led to tough truths on what effective organizing is and has recharged the grassroots to work on rebuilding the social justice movement through deep sustained base-building work in Arizona and throughout the country. The last decades focus of the Migrant Rights movement on solutions coming from Washington, DC have have not only been ineffective, they have moved the people’s movement further from justice and taken away the voice of the grassroots migrants fighting for dignity and equality.

In 2011, Arizona has seen a large flow of continuing hate legislation. Every year and legislative session we see our communities come under attack by a higher intensity war of attrition. Attacks to further restrict the movement of migrants and make life impossible to live. This year we saw bills targeting the prohibition of emergency services for migrants by hospitals and clinic staff, bills that would require teachers and school principals to report migrant children and their families and the building hate in 2011 around another 2010 law HB2287 that aims to shut out cultural and ethnic education for Arizona children in all schools. Also, for more than a decade the Southern Arizona desert has been a graveyard for our migrant brothers and sisters walking into this country in harsh summer and winter climates. Their is a continued build up of militarization through checkpoints, 287G and local related laws, greedy privatized prisons for migrants, a massive border patrol and military presence, a rebuilding by the Obama administration of the border wall, and the existence of paramilitary organizations/anti-migrant militias all of which threaten the peace and fragile social fabric of border communities as well the violation of the sovereignty of the Tohono O’odham Nation people. On the border we see as a result of programs like the federal Secure Communities the mass deportation of migrants from around the country. Here we see the next phase of family separation that leaves our communities in desperation.

How does this culture of hate and destructful legislation exist. The polarization of Arizona communities has been building for decades. There are many factors that have led us to where we are. Over the past several decades conservative voters and activists from other parts of the country have migrated to Arizona in droves. This has led to a voting base that is active and makes and environment where hate and this type of legislation are a part of everyday life. As a result of this we see that Arizona is the first state to ban drivers licenses for migrants in the nineties. Another factor is the federal government’s continued focus on the criminalization of migrants. This has been a strong factor that has led to the culture of hate to build in Arizona. The criminalization of migrants at the federal level is has given permission for this to exist in Arizona.

Arizona 2011 is not all hate bad policy. We have also been called into action to rebuild our social justice movement using effective grassroots organizing. The community resistance to HB2281 from teachers, youth and elders has been strong and inspiring in Arizona and the country. The statewide We Will Not Comply with SB1070 July and August actions are still talked about and evaluated in our communities. Many groups have strengthened their focus to organizing that empowers migrants to raise their voice and be the leaders of this movement. To empower migrants to be go beyond mobilization and into deep organizing of the Barrios to build power from the ground up. This organizing has looked like deep organizing in the Barrio to build Barrio Defense Comites. Their is lots of beautiful organizing work continuing and being born all over Arizona. TYLO in Southside Tucson is working on building two sustained Barrio Comites as well as incorporating youth, education, organizing capacity building and food and economic sustainability as part of our Comite work. Through grassroots organizing we empower migrants to recognize their role and responsibility as leaders and we are rebuilding not only the migrant and social justice movement, but weaving stronger together the fragile social fabric that keeps our Barrios together.

Many sectors are seen working together, figuring our growing pains and collaborations and building to launch effective campaigns. The strength of the migrant justice movement has propelled many other sectors into action, rebuilding and reorganization. The diferent secotrs of the social justice movement realize that we are in together in the same fight and that we must be realistic about where our movement is at and where it can be. All of us together can build a social justice movement that will fight and dare to win!

Come visit us and other organizations in Tucson, AZ. Share with us your skills and capacity and learn about our work. Keep your hearts, ears and eyes open for news from organizing for justice in Geogia and the kickoff of Georgia Human Rights Summer.

Check out this article:

Nos vemos en los Barrios! cesar lopez is a community organizer with Tierra Y Libertad Organization in the Southside hoods of Tucson, AZ.



The Fight For Migrant Rights- Casa de Maryland

The fight for us in MD within the migrant rights movement is similar to that of the entire nation… we are pushing back on hostile enforcement policies that are separating countless families and threatening to devastate our communities.  In the face of this, our organization in partnership with our community and local other organizations decided to push forward with a piece of pro-immigration legislation in the shape of an in-state tuition bill (SB167) or the “MD DREAM Act”.

After having experienced the disappointing failure of the Federal DREAM Act, due to political games and lack of courage on the part of elected officials, we continued the fight to provide better access to higher education to students regardless of immigration status in Maryland. We recognized that through local tangible victories we can to strengthen our communities and mobilize countless youth in our state for any future revolutionary movements.

The factors that led to the need for such a laws are blatantly obvious. This can be seen in the disparity in the quality of primary education (K-12) and the available access to higher education among communities of color, immigrant communities in particular, from county to county. This was caused by the increasing attacks on precious resources for students from non-English speaking communities in our public schools and an prevalence of anti-immigrant rhetoric and lawsuits against institutions that support the higher education of low income immigrant students.

Recognizing that the national dialogue on immigration related issues have turned so sour, our youth needed and wanted to prove that not all states are like Arizona and Georgia. We wanted to prove that there is still hope and that this country is still a place where people can dream. We knew that if Maryland became the 10th state to stand up for fair access to higher education, we would show the country and the world that equality is not something that you beg for it is something that is deserved and demanded. Here in Maryland we are proving that Arizona and Georgia are wrong; our communities are hardworking, intelligent, and that deserve and demand equality and justice.

We WON! Maryland indeed became the 10th state to pass an in-state tuition law and send a clear message across the nation that we embrace equality for our immigrant families and their children.

It was a hard fight that lasted over 10 years!

Our victory was described by political analysts and journalists as an amazing combination and balance of legislative strategy and grassroots organizing (first time students had such a visible presence and involvement which directly affected legislators).

Undocumented students from across Maryland took the risk and spoke about their stories and became protagonists of their own struggle!

Through this process students not only empowered themselves, but also politically transformed themselves into a strong united voice. This gives them the chance to begin identifying other areas in their lives they wanted to change; like fighting “Secure Communities” which in our state, under the guise of gang prevention is targeting our youth.

Unfortunately, the fight for just laws are never easy, and it has now been made harder through the launching of a referendum initiative lead by some of the most hateful, racist, extremist anti-immigrant (right wing) groups, and legislative leaders of Maryland residents. They are attempting to undermine the democratic legislative process that rightfully expressed the will of our citizens by bringing the law to a ballot vote. It is sad to say that the Maryland Board of Elections recently certified the necessary signatures to move the Maryland DREAM Act ever closer to a ballot.

Thursday, June 30th marked the beginning of our efforts to launch a massive education campaign to dispel the lies and misinformation being spread about the MD DREAM Act.

We are increasing our media communication and our voter registration so we can continue to defend and fight for our students and our community.

I’m excited about new and creative ways we can educate our communities and Maryland’s registered voters about this issue (street theaters, youth PSA’s, etc). I’m excited to see how we make connections between the varieties of issues arising in our state; I’m excited to see students bridging the gap on the immigrants’ rights movement and collectively fight for human rights under a broad umbrella and not as a single issue. I’m excited to witness the breaking of chains of guilt, fear, and shame attached to one’s immigration status that weigh students down and discourage them from reaching their potential.

In summary I’m looking forward to taking it to the streets!



The Fight For Migrant Rights-Kentucky Jobs with Justice

Where is the fight for migrant justice in your state?

The fight in Kentucky includes building a movement that is multiethnic, multigenerational, multilingual, multiracial and fully inclusive of the broad spectrum of immigrants in Kentucky.  It is a fight that calls us to bring together the traditional civil rights movements and the new wave of social justice activism that is mutually respectful and beneficial.  Geographically and geopolitically, the fight for migrant justice in our state has to reach across political boundaries, it has to reach across the rural and urban expanse and it has to reach across mountains and rivers.  Hopefully, we can connect to groups in the southeast that are doing some good work around bridging the urban/rural divide.

What are the factors that have lead to the situation you are in your state?

In Kentucky, some of the factors that have gotten us to the point of being much more intentional in our work around comprehensive and progressive immigration reform are the changing demographics in our state, the legislative attacks on immigrants and the economic impact of the migrant population.  Louisville, Kentucky has been a federal destination city for immigrants and refugees for nearly 40 years.  With both the 2000 and 2010 Census, our entire state has seen a growth (in some places more than 100%) in immigrant populations in our state which means that there is a visible change in the political and social fabric of Kentucky.

And like many states in the South, Kentucky succumbed to the growing tide of legislative attacks against immigrants by introducing an Arizona copycat bill during our general assembly in January.  The bill passed the Senate, but because we responded quickly and have a strong history of community organizing in some of our larger cities, we were able to defeat the legislation in our house of representatives.  We defeated the bill because we were able to highlight the economic impact from the fiscal note to the fact that many of the employees in our horse industry are migrants – an industry that would crumble if we were not able to host the Kentucky Derby.

What are the next steps for organizing in your state for migrant rights?

Our next steps include continuing to build a strong state network that is ready to halt attempts to legislate hate against immigrants when our general assembly reconvenes in January 2012, supporting the Kentucky DREAM Coalition and being in solidarity with other states in the southeast so that the organizing moves beyond our state borders and becomes a coordinated and strategic regional fight.

Besides creating a toolkit on building strong statewide immigration movements, we are partnering with SEIRN to support direct action in our region as it relates to immigrant rights, being more intentional in engaging with young people in this work, lifting up the work of the “People, Not Profiles” campaign to push back against Secure Communities (Lexington has already signed an agreement) and we are researching and assessing curriculum of “Freedom Institute” models already in place in KY to use as a way to develop the next generation of social justice activists.

We are helping to get the word out about the candlelight vigils in Alabama to oppose HB56 and we are sending a crew to Georgia to fight back against HB87.  At Kentucky Jobs with Justice we believe in being there for someone else’s fight as well as our own – it’s about solidarity.

What strategies and tactics are you excited by and seeing success with?

It is exciting to see traditional civil rights groups in Alabama speaking with such strength in opposition to that states Arizona copycat.  We are excited that the South East Immigrant Rights Network is rebuilding and reengaging groups in the region.  And we are moved by the undocumented youth across the country who are undocumented and unafraid and who are leading their own efforts to pass the DREAM Act.



The Fight For Migrant RightsGeorgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights

Where is the fight for migrant justice in your state?

Georgia has witnessed the impact of what happens when local police get empowered with immigration laws since 2007. That year four counties got 287(g) agreements that let them act as ICE agents.  The racial profiling has been endless and devastating.  We just won a case after several years in the courts of a young Latino man who was riding his bike in Cobb county.  Police stopped and asked him for his driver’s license and beat him, breaking his nose and eye socket.  We have a class action suit of many people who have faced similar treatment by prejudiced police who can chase Latinos with the blessing of the federal government.

Those conditions are rapidly expanding with the spread of the “Secure Communities” program and the state legislation, HB 87.  However, the movement has been emboldened as well. With a decade of the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights work, communities across the state have formed comites populares for the defense of their rights and organizing to protect them.

What are the factors that have lead to the situation you are in your state?

The newest phase of the immigrant community began arriving in 1996 when the boosters of the Olympics sent a call out for workers to complete construction of all the facilities.  Word was passed along that those who arrived to build would have no worries about immigration enforcement during the construction period. Thousands arrived and after the Olympics were completed moved into agriculture, textile, poultry, and residential construction industries.

However in 2001, the attack on the twin towers transformed the image of immigrants into a national threat once again.  With that as a pretext we began witnessing a new right-wing anti-immigrant movement that quickly moved legislation. In 2002, one couldn’t get a driver’s license without a social security number any more. But Georgia’s immigrant history can be divided before and after 2006 when SB 529 and other bills passed barring students from in-state tuition, introducing e-verify, ending access to English language programs for the undocumented and more.

Yet that same year, the national immigration debate gave new life to the immigrant rights movement that we see today.

What are the next steps for organizing in your state for migrant rights? What strategies and tactics are you excited by and seeing success with?

The passage of HB 87 has created a window where every day people are awakened and activated.  Therefore reinforcing base-level organizing so that the comites populares are self-sufficient with consciousness, skills, and strategy is the highest priority.  25,000 people attended the July 2nd march in downtown Atlanta from all over Georgia and the region.  We are running community leadership skills to support those people in continuing the work in their own neighborhoods and becoming their own leaders.

We will continue mobilizing and creating public demonstrations of our strength and our vision for an inclusive Georgia instead of one that criminalizes.

Finally, we’re organizing the business community into “buyspots” or tiendas del pueblo that pledge to visibly oppose HB 87, refuse to donate to those who voted for it, and pledge to support the movement.  More than 200 of those stores closed on our Day Without Immigrants the first day HB 87 went into effect.



The Fight For Migrant Rights

- Tania Unzueta, Immigrant Youth Justice League, Chicago, IL.

Where is the fight for migrant justice in your state?

I’m answering these questions thinking about my experience and the work I do with the IYJL. Over the last 6 months our focus has been on building a strong base of undocumented youth and allies who are informed, empowered, and organized. Our work includes education, outreach, and mobilization that addresses the need for our communities to know about immigration policy that affects them, be connected to resources, and know that they have a right to organize.

We are also focusing on local legislation that can help improve the lives of immigrant communities. The IL Dream Act, for example, passed both houses and is to be signed by the Governor at the end of July. The bill makes institutional changes that open up opportunities for undocumented students in the state, but it will also be important to watch how the legislation is enacted. Issues to watch will include whether undocumented students are included in the ‘Dream Commission’, and some of the specific qualifications for who gets access to the resources this bill provides.

Additionally, we know that many of our peers and our family members continue to be deported. At a national level undocumented youth are well organized, and have been able to pressure the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) into deferring dozens of deportation cases through public campaigns. But just last week my sister was talking about visiting a young person in deportation proceedings, who having a criminal background had little chance of a pardon from an immigration judge, and whose case would have been hard to fight publicly. Even after the IL governor Patt Quinn has refused to collaborate with Secure Communities programs, our work in the immigrant community tells us that undocumented families, workers, and students are still finding their way to the deportation lists. Every time we win the case of an undocumented young person, our community knows that there are hundreds of others being deported and criminalized. So we continue to organize small, individual campaigns with limited resources (most of us are volunteers and undocumented), while advocating for a repeal of Secure Communities and an end to deportations by the Obama administration.

What are the factors that have lead to the situation you are in in your state?

The lack of immigrant rights legislation at a federal level has led local communities and legislators attempting to address the issue through policy and mobilization. In Illinois, specifically Chicago, we are approaching this with a long history of immigrant rights activism, both at the grassroots and at the grass-tops. In experience, Illinois began to distinguish itself from the rest of the country in 2006, when we held one of the first mass immigrant rights marches on March 10th. The work that IYJL has done over the last year and a half, from organizing the “National Coming Out of the Shadows” to our participation in various civil disobediences, stands on the shoulders this kind of local and national social justice organizing.

A bit more recently we have also been good at creating alliances across movements. Last year when the national movement was split between supporting Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR) and the Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act we were able to work with groups on both sides of the issues towards a common goal (for the most part). Today we continue this collaboration, most recently focusing this strength in addressing secure communities and the IL Dream Act. Another important example has been the work done by LGBTQ organizations, which have attempted to address issues of queer immigration at least since 2006. Although there is a lot of work to be done against homophobia and xenophobia in the immigrant and LGBTQ communities respectively we continue to see strong, formal alliances between the groups, and projects that are attempting to address the issue, where none existed before.

Lastly, undocumented youth all over the country have shown amazing strength, intelligence and conviction in the fight for immigrant rights, but I wanted to give a special shout out to those in Illinois. Over the last two years we have organized at least 4 public “Coming Out of the Shadows” rallies in the city and suburbs, where 8-10 young people tell their stories at each event. This year states like Georgia, Indiana, and Oregon are having their first ‘coming out’ events, some modeled after the work we have done here, and others escalating into civil disobedience. On this point, it is worth mentioning that in the last year 11 undocumented youth from Illinois have participated actions of civil disobedience in Arizona, Washington D.C., and Georgia. I think we get bragging rights for the state with the most undocumented youth who have gotten arrested for immigrant rights.

What are the next steps for organizing in your state for migrant rights? What strategies and tactics are you excited by and seeing success with?

I believe that in order for social change to happen we need to have a multiplicity of tactics, all supporting each other, but I want to say a few words about the strategy of ‘coming out’. To ‘come out of the shadows’ has come to mean an organized and targeted strategy of telling our stories as undocumented people and allies, to advance the fight for immigrant rights. Ever since that Spring in 2010 we have attempted to push the boundaries of what it means to belong in the Untied States, and to call this country our home – as a juxtaposition to the way the government criminalizes us and our families. The arrests and civil disobediences are part of that, but it is important to say that ‘coming out’ also has a powerful personal effect (Coming Out: A How To Guide). For me being able to say that I’m undocumented out loud, and being able to chose the risks that I take in regards to my life and my status, has been an incredibly empowering experience. Since I came out, I have seen hundreds of other young people find their voice, and begin to come to terms with their experience. It is important to say that it is a risky tactic to take on, and one that only undocumented people can chose for themselves- informed, supported, and organized, but with no pressure from others either way. And for me the best chance we have to fight for our rights as immigrant youth is when we are out, and are able to say that we are undocumented, unafraid, and unapologetic about the pursuit of our rights.

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