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Migrant Rights

Reflections of Activistas

Excerpted here are the voices of young activistas who redefine what it means to be part of the new majority as women of color.

We Are the Ones We’ve Been Waiting For
Activistas from the New Majority
By Christine Joy Ferrer

At the Empowering Women of Color conference in March this year, I was moved to hear Grace Lee Boggs, in an open dialogue with Angela Davis, say that we must re-imagine everything; change how we think, what we do, to re-invent our society and institutions in order for revolution to happen. And as I listened to female MC and rapper Rocky Rivera give short glimpses into the revolutionary lives of three iconic women activists—Gabriela Silang, Dolores Huerta, and Angela Davis—in the 16 bars of “Heart,” I wondered who would be our next movement builders.

According to a report from United for a Fair Economy—“State of the Dream 2012, the Emerging Majority”—by the year 2030, a majority of U.S. residents under 18 will be youth of color. By 2042, blacks, Latinos, Asians, Native Americans, Pacific Islanders, and other non-whites will collectively comprise a majority of the U.S. population. But numbers alone are not enough to shift the political and economic landscape if income and wealth remain overwhelmingly in the hands of a small group of whites. Although there have been many social and economic gains made for all races since the Civil Rights Movement, people of color continue to be left behind. The stark disparities that exist today in wealth, income, education, employment, poverty, incarceration, and health are the remnants of hundreds of years of racial oppression. To create a new world, we must sever the connection between race and poverty.

Excerpted here are the voices of young activistas who redefine what it means to be part of the new majority as women of color. They have chosen to confront the challenges plaguing their communities and build to eradicate institutionalized confines, while engaging in the struggle for social, economic and environmental justice. In their fight for liberation, they embody that famous quote from African American poet June Jordan: “We are the ones we have been waiting for.”

Black-Brown Strategy Beats the South's Anti-Immigrant Wave

By David Bacon

In April 2012, an anti-immigrant bill similar to the ones passed in Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina legislatures was stopped cold in Mississippi—contrary to all expectations.

Tea Party Republicans, confident of rolling over any opposition, had enlisted Kansas Secretary of State and co-author of Arizona’s SB 1070 Kris Kobach, to push the bill with Mississippi state Representative Becky Currie, who introduced it. The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which designs and introduces similar bills across the country, also had its agents on site in Jackson. The timing could not have been better. In November 2011, Republicans took control of the state House of Representatives for the first time since Reconstruction, making Mississippi one of the last Southern states to give up Democratic control of the legislature—a final triumph for the Nixon/Reagan Southern Strategy. But these were not just any Republicans. When Governor Haley Barbour, now ironically considered a “moderate Republican,” stepped down, voters replaced him with Phil Bryant, a rabid anti-immigrant whose venom rivals that of Lou Dobbs. And yet, the seemingly inevitable did not happen.

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Viridiana Martinez

North Carolina Dream Team
By Christine Joy Ferrer
Click to Listen to the Podcast

Viridiana Martinez, 25—undocumented, unafraid and unashamed. Martinez is co-founder of the North Carolina Dream Team and a young community organizer and activist for immigrant rights. She only discovered her illegal status after graduating from high school. Born in Mexico and raised in a little town in North Carolina called Sanford, she has lived in the United States since the age of seven, when her parents immigrated. The NC DREAM Team is an organization composed of undocumented immigrant youth and allies, dedicated to the creation of a sustainable, community-led immigrant rights movement in North Carolina and to helping undocumented youth recognize their individual and collective power to activate their communities. 

Christine Joy Ferrer: What was it like growing up as a young, undocumented Latina in the South and how has your identity influenced your work?

Immigration and Mass Incarceration

In July 2011, Representative Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) was arrested during a demonstration in Washington, DC, to protest President Obama’s refusal to use his executive powers to halt deportations of the undocumented. Gutierrez’ arrest came only two days after Obama had addressed a conference of the National Council of La Raza, reminding attendees that he was bound to “uphold the laws on the books,” conveniently forgetting the history of the civil rights struggle that had made his presidency possible.

With over 392,000 deportations in 2010, more than in any of the Bush years, many activists fear a repeat of the notorious “Repatriation” campaign of the 1930s and the infamous Operation Wetback of 1954, both of which resulted in the deportation of hundreds of thousands of Latinos. But a few things are different this time around.

Redistricting 2011: Latinos Want Stronger Voice Based on Numbers

Latinos throughout the nation eagerly anticipated the 2011 redistricting cycle. Aware that their numbers had increased dramatically during the last decade, they hoped that redistricting would provide a crucial opportunity to ensure fairer representation for them and give them a stronger voice in the nation’s democracy.

The release of 2010 Census data not only confirmed the increase in Latino population since 2000, it also revealed that Latinos had fueled overall population growth in many states. Gains in Congressional seats owing to reapportionment could be directly linked to gains in the Latino population. Even among states that did not gain seats, the Latino explosion either helped retain existing seats or prevented greater losses. (See Table 1).

Voter Rights Act Invoked to Ensure Fairness
The Latino community approached the 2011 redistricting fully aware that they may need to enforce compliance with one of the nation’s most powerful protections against discriminatory electoral practices, i.e. the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA), enacted by Congress during the civil rights era. Initially, the Act primarily protected African Americans from discrimination in voting, forbidding such practices as literacy requirements and poll taxes. Section 2 of the VRA, however, protects underrepresented populations from discriminatory voting and election practices nationwide. And Section 5 mandates that states with a history of discrimination against underrepresented groups submit their redistricting plans to either the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) or a federal district court for “preclearance.” The DOJ or the courts can block the redistricting if it diminishes electoral opportunities for underrepresented voters
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Undocumented Immigrants Stand up to Chipotle

The hands of Juan Jimenez, an immigrant farm worker. ©1999 David Bacon

In December 2010, 600 workers at the Chipotle fast food chain in Minnesota were fired. Their crime? Working. In the past two years, thousands of others have been fired for the same offense: 2000 women at a sewing factory in Los Angeles, 500 apple pickers in eastern Washington, and several hundred janitors in Minnesota and California, to name just a few instances. Every one of them is a victim of the Obama administration’s “softer” immigration enforcement strategy.

The logic is brutal: Make it impossible for the 12 million undocumented U.S. residents to earn a living and send money to their families, and they will deport themselves. What’s more, their families will not be tempted to join them in the U.S. because they will not get jobs.

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Federal Raids Against Immigrants on the Rise

By David Bacon

While the criminalization of undocumented people in Arizona continues to draw headlines, the actual punishment of workers because of their immigration status has become an increasingly bitter fact of life across the country. The number of workplace raids carried out by the Obama administration is staggering. Tens, maybe even hundreds of thousands of workers have been fired for not having papers. According to public records obtained by Syracuse University, the latest available data from the Justice Department show that criminal immigration enforcement by the two largest investigative agencies within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has increased to levels comparable to the highest seen during the Bush Administration.[1]

In a recent action the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) pressured one of San Francisco’s major building service companies, ABM, into firing hundreds of its own workers. Some 475 janitors have been told that unless they can show legal immigration status, they will lose their jobs in the near future.

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