Last month, as the country celebrated Hispanic Heritage Month, the Simmons School of Social Work launched a beautiful campaign called #MoreThanALabel: Immigrant Stories campaign. The campaign –which engaged experts, activists, and members of the immigrant community– aimed to celebrate immigrant pride and to inspire awareness and action on immigration reform. I am proud to have been invited to offer my commentary, which you can read in its entirety at this link.
And don’t miss the testimony and commentary of some of the top experts in the space, including:
“We have a strange immigration policy for a country of immigrants. And it’s a policy unfit for today’s world.” ~ Mark Zuckerberg
Unfit for today’s world. The above quote pretty much sums up the reasons why we need to develop policies that address our country’s needs for labor, for competitiveness, for survival in a rapidly moving world. From a historical context that extends to the present day, the contributions of immigrants to this country are undeniable. Immigrants have been, are and will be the driving force of America. Just look at some of the latest numbers:
Immigrant-owned firms today employ 1 in 10 U.S. workers
Immigrant entrepreneurs are twice as likely to start a business as native-born citizens
Immigrants make up 28 percent of Main Street Business owners, and account for 16 percent of the labor force nationally
And that is just the economic tip of the iceberg. Immigrants’ contributions to American cuisine, arts and culture, the sciences, and every aspect of society is undeniable. Yet, instead of being celebrated, they have become some politicians’ favorite piñata: The go-to scapegoat for whatever ails the country at any given time. They’re despised, harassed, vilified; their lives torn apart. This calls for a change in the narrative: It’s time for US immigrants to harness our power, claim our stakes and take our immigrant stories on our own hands!
That’s why I simply LOVE the new Immigrant Heritage Month campaign from the folks at Welcome.us and FWD.us. With the goal of bringing together a dynamic coalition of individuals and organizations to encourage every American to tell their immigration story, the campaign examines the complexities of being an immigrant by highlighting and celebrating the diverse experiences, colors and flavors that make up the very fabric of the United States.
This Friday, I have invited some of the folks behind this exciting initiative to discuss why this is the time to celebrate our Immigrant Heritage. My guests:
We’ll discuss why this us such a timely campaign, the steps they are taking to help change the narrative about immigrants in this country, and how YOU can get involved! Watch below, or join us LIVE on G+ on Friday 6/5 at 11:30 am ET!
On Wednesday May 20, 2015, I have the honor of interviewing the son of Latino immigrants, a veteran, and a community leader, U.S. Representative Rubén Gallego from Arizona’s 7th congressional district.
In his relatively new role as a congressman, Rep. Gallego is quickly managing to make a name for himself by tackling very important yet polarizing issues like income inequality, the cost of higher education, immigration reform and campaign finance reform, veterans issues.
We will discuss his humble background, his stint at Harvard University, his service in Iraq, his political trajectory, and what he would like his legacy to be. Don’t miss his amazingly inspiring story, send him your questions, and tune in!
According to the Urban Dictionary, a Girl Boss is “THE woman who is in control. She demands respect and gets it. She runs the show.”
Why in the world there isn’t a photo of Melissa Mark-Viverito next to this description, is beyond me. The current New York City Council Speaker oozes girl-boss-ness (yep, I made that up), right down to her unconventionally cool childhood story: She credits her father, a doctor who provided services to people who couldn’t afford medical care; and her mom, a feminist, as the source of her lifelong social consciousness.
This thirst for social justice, she says, informs all her decisions when it comes to enacting policy and speaking up on issues, such as immigration. Under her leadership, for example, the city has implemented legislation that limited cooperation with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency in order to protect undocumented New Yorkers who have committed nonviolent, low level offenses from deportation. It has also secured legal representation aid for unaccompanied minors brought to the city, among many other initiatives. All because, in her words, “we believe people should have legal representation and get a fair shot.”
These initiatives are prompting other states to seek her advice as they seek solutions for similar circumstances. Her growing influence has not gone unnoticed, and is already prompting speculation about her future in politics. And while she says she’s staying put for now, she also concedes that “all options are on the table.”
From equality to the shifting Latino leadership she’s helping pioneer in New York City, to the plight of women of color in politics, Speaker Mark-Viverito shared one glorious half hour with me on her first-ever Google+ hangout, veritably handing out fierceness lessons at every turn. And she did it in the only way she knows how: “Sin pelos en la lengua” (Literal translation: With no hair in her tongue. Real translation: Like a total BOSS.)
For the full effect, you MUST watch the full video above. But, for now grab a pen and take notes. Here’s how a real Girl Boss gets the job done:
On the need for more women in politics*:
“There’s still a lot of work that need to do to create an inclusive environment in which young women would want to run, in which we are cultivating and nurturing young Latinas and women of color to consider running. We need to have government, in all aspects, to be truly reflective of the diversity that we live in this city.” [Tweet This!]
On Immigration Reform:
“I think that we have done such a disservice to this nation by not implementing comprehensive immigration reform. We’ve shortchanged the lives of many and we’re also limiting the economic potential of including […] specifically undocumented immigrants into the pool.” [Tweet This!]
“We should be aspiring to live in a society and in a city that is inclusive, that makes everyone feel welcome, regardless of your immigration status, regardless of your economic reality, regardless of the neighborhood you live in, etc.” [Tweet This!]
On Latino Leadership:
“We need to elect more Latinos to office, but it has to be the Latinos with the right kind of framework. It’s not just about being in the position to be in the position. It’s also about the values that that individual is bringing.” [Tweet This!]
On Standing Up for What You Believe:
“When you’re speaking for what’s right you should never be afraid to lift your voice. […] We need to be engaged and concerned about the what is happening in our communities. We can’t leave it or expect for others to do the work for us.” [Tweet This!]
Here’s how the conversation played out, simultaneously, on Twitter (Under hashtags #LaJefa and #GirlBoss):
* NOTE: There are 51 members in the City Council, only 15 of which are women. New York City’s population of 8.4 million people is 52.3% female and 47.7% male.
This past Thursday, in an historic move, President Obama finally took executive action that will protect up to five million people from deportation. The measure was a direct response to years of organizing and pressure from thousands of activists and community organizations who fought the good fight for years.
I will be interviewing some of these amazing warriors, as well as an immigration attorney who will be answering some of YOUR questions:
• José Díaz, Director Ejecutivo de DC Dream and FL Dream
• M. Lucero Ortiz, Esq., Attorney at Law
• Andrea Mercado, Co-Chair, We Belong Together
• Alejandra Saucedo, Founder, Dreamers Moms
• Julieta Garibay, Deputy Advocacy Director at United We Dream
For all intents and purposes, immigration reform now seems to be dead. Yet across the country, millions of activists refuse to give up the fight. Just this past weekend, hundreds of faith leaders and immigration activists converged in Washington DC to demand for President Obama to use his executive powers on the issue and to protest the last-minute votes of a Congress that, once again, decided to turn its back on the cries of this country’s undocumented immigrants.
So many questions hang in the air: Is the fight over? What options are left, if any, for a group of people whose plights for justice continue to be ignored? To answer these and more, I’ll be interviewing some of the brave souls who participated in civic actions all through the weekend, who will share what’s next on the activism front, and why they simply refuse to give up the fight for a fair and just immigration reform.
When it comes to human trafficking, our tendency is to think of it is an issue far detached from our life, something that happens to other people. Nothing can be farther from the truth: Human trafficking victims are being exploited right now in our barrios, under our own noses.
The fact that these victims often go unnoticed screams of the vital need to educate our community, not only as to how to identify a potential situation but also on how to protect our loved ones from falling prey in these situations and where to seek help.
My guests in this discussion will be two veterans in our community’s fight against this modern-day social malaise:
• Ana Isabel Vallejo, Co-Director/Attorney at VIDA Legal Assistance and former Coordinator at the Human Trafficking Academy, St. Thomas University School of Law
• Rocío Alcántar, Supervising Attorney at the National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC)
• The Impact of Trafficking in the Latino Community
• How trafficking overlaps with other issues, such as immigration
• Ways to combat it in our communities
• Resources and organizations helping to prevent it and to protect victims.
“Hispanics have become a scapegoat to our problems when, in fact, they are a driver to the economy.” ~Congressman Joe Garcia
With an all-time high approval rate on the issue, the latest in technologically-sophisticated apps and programs working to help push the issue, and passionate advocates giving their all across the country, it’s easy to get frustrated about the lack of movement on the enactment of immigration reform legislation. After all, this isn’t just a partisan, or a Latino, or any specific group’s problem. This is, in the words of Alida García, Director of Coalitions and Policy at FWD.us, “an urgent economic issue that will fix our deficit by 900 billion dollars.”
To them, frustration is an unavoidable part of being in the fight, as Jimmy Hernandez pointed out, “Regardless of the frustrations, we realize that we need to keep moving forward, we need to keep applying pressure because we need this bill passed.” This in no way means they are taking a more relaxed approach. On the contrary, Rep. Joe García pointed out the urgency of matter for him and his colleagues: “We have to solve this now, in this congress, because whatever the President does can go away after a bad election.”
The message couldn’t be any clearer: 1) We must continue pushing and holding legislators accountable, 2) We must combine efforts and creativity to bring more awareness and stakeholders to the issue; and 3) WE MUST GET OUT THE VOTE!
I’ll leave you to develop your own personal takeaway when you watch the video, but here’s mine: We have a very narrow window to get any sort of legislation on immigration, so we better step it up.
The reasons? Despite the media’s dominant narrative, the scope, reach and diversity within the movement continues to grow, a reflection of the larger shifts in population, public opinion and acceptance of immigrants across the country. Yet, they agree, immigration continues to be a heated political issue, and the cause of a real human rights crisis in this country. In the very animated conversation you can watch below, they reflect on where the movement has been and where it’s going, vow to continue fighting for the millions of people whose lives are currently affected by the inaction of politicians, and call on all of us, beyond Latinos, to continue fighting for what is right. A conversation you must watch, discuss and take to heart. Here are a few of my favorite quotes for you to share:
Ah, Immigration… Despite proven advantages to fixing it, and obvious disadvantages to keeping the system broken as it is, the fight to reform it in a just and humane way seems like the never-ending story: A labyrinth of twists, turns, inaction and the inexplicable resistance from politicians to dealing with the issue. Advocates, community and religious leaders, as well as legislators from both sides of the aisle have and continue to be up in arms demanding a solution to the human rights crisis brought about by the broken immigration system in this country. Yet, after years of marches, petitions, visits to legislators, fasts and more, we find ourselves with… NOTHING.
To discuss the current state of affairs of this very pressing issue, I have invited four leaders who have been at the forefront in pushing politicians to address it:
• Pramilah Jayapal, Co-Chair of We Belong Together, and the founder and Executive Director of OneAmerica, the largest immigrant advocacy organization in Washington state and a leading force for immigrant rights nationally
• Eliseo Medina, Labor Union activist, leader and advocate for immigration reform. He’s the current Secretary-Treasurer of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and a former board member of the United Farm Workers
• Susana Sandoval, a writer, educator, activist who works on national issues of education, economic development and immigration reform
• Gaby Pacheco, Director of the Bridge Project, DREAMer and immigrant rights leader
They came from 36 states from across the United States, from various nationalities, ethnicities, backgrounds. For 48 hours, they chose to sacrifice their daily lives: their jobs, personal needs and loved ones to spend their days in a tent, straining their bodies from vital nourishment, proper rest and indulgences. They prayed, had long discussions on community and policy issues and visited elected officials. Their personal stories were as varied as their reasons for joining the fast — some were there for a family member, some as part of sister volunteer efforts, some because they, themselves, had deportation orders to contend with and no real resources save for their faith. Yet, they all had one thing in common: A die-hard hunger for justice, for dignity, for the respect of all immigrants.
From April 7th to the 9th, 2014, I joined a group of 105 unbelievably courageous modern-day heroines on a 48 hour fast at the National Mall in Washington, DC. Our goal? To feed the courage of elected leaders to pass immigration and stop the human rights crisis caused by deportations tearing millions of families apart. This fast was the culmination of a nationwide initiative led by the organization We Belong Together, on which thousands of “solidarity fasters” across the country gave up eating for several days at a time for the past couple of months.
These hard-working, civic-minded women are living testaments of the immigrant spirit: The engine that, for centuries, has helped to build the very fabric of this country by fueling economic productivity and social progress with their very own blood, sweat, and tears. In response, America has until now decided to turn its back on millions of them, denying them and their families the dignity of proper legal status.
The fact that this issue continues to be largely ignored by elected officials goes against everything for which this country stands. It is, by and large, a very hypocritical stance for the supposed world-leading society, the one that prides itself on being the world’s arbiter of human rights. America, “land of the free”: You should be ashamed! It is time to own up to the mess that is the immigration system and find a just and humane solution that frees 11 million of your inhabitants to build a decent life next to the ones they love!
This fast may now be over, but nuestra lucha continúa (our fight continues!) We, immigrant women and lovers of justice everywhere, WILL NOT STOP until this truly becomes a country in which everyone — regardless of their race, gender, religious preferences, socioeconomic or immigration status — is given the respect human beings deserve.
Support our Fight! ¡Únete a nuestra lucha! Be on the lookout for We Belong Together’s Next Steps here, and join their efforts. In the meantime, read the Fasters’ reasons to join this movement below, and please share your own reasons to fight for immigration in the comments!
Guillermina Castellanos, Colectiva de mujeres. “I am fasting because I am hungry, but it is for JUSTICE.”
Antonia Peña, Casa de Maryland. “I am fasting because I want FREEDOM for all immigrants.”
Fabiola Bawden, Centro de igualdad y derechos; Encuentro. “I am fasting for all those who have LOST A LOVED ONE at the border and the children who may lose their parents.”
Norma Chavez Mendoza, Centro de igualdad y derechos; Encuentro. “I am fasting because I want a stop to deportations NOW.”
Yamilex Rustrian, SEIU Volunteer; DREAMER. “Estoy ayunando porque estoy cansada de ver a mis padres y 11 MILLONES de inmigrantes vivir en las sombras.”
María Ibarra, Colectiva de mujeres – Day Labor Program. I am fasting because I want for families to not be SEPARATED anymore, and for those who have been deported to come back home.”
Herminia Licona, Casa de Maryland. “I am fasting for my love of freedom and the RIGHTS of immigrant women.”
Petra Falcón, Promise Arizona. “I am fasting because all families are SACRED.”
Roxanne Atty, Institute for Policy Studies. “Estoy ayunando porque apoyo los DERECHOS HUMANOS para todos.”
Miriam Mijangos, Casa Freehold. “Estoy ayunando para que PAREN las deportaciones y aprueben ya la reforma migratoria.”
Gema Lowe, Micah Center/Michigan United. “Estoy ayunando porque las FAMILIAS están siendo separadas. ¿Te gustaría que te separen de tu familia?
María G. Delgado, Encuentro NM. “Estoy ayunando porque quiero que las familias se mantengan UNIDAS.”
Yours Truly. “Estoy ayunando porque los inmigrantes merecen ser tratados con DIGNIDAD Y RESPETO.”
María Espinosa. “Estoy ayunando porque quiero que ARREGLEN ya el sistema migratorio que no funciona.”
Eva María Torres, DREAMERS Moms. “¡Estoy ayunando porque no quiero más DEPORTACIONES!”
Herminia Servat, Casa de Maryland. “Estoy ayunando poque me frustra que no haya leyes que protejan los DERECHOS de los inmigrantes.”
Elvira Diaz, Reform Immigration/Reno, NV. “Estoy ayunando porque tengo mucha hambre de justicia. La reforma migratoria se ha retrasado demasiado y las deportaciones tienen que PARAR.”
Elisa Velazquez, Reform Immigration. “Estoy ayunando porque quiero que PAREN las deportaciones.”
Yaquelin Mela Lopez. “I am fasting for 11 million DREAMS to come true.”