Here, There and Everywhere

Archive for January, 2012

Immigrant Families Divided

From New America Media and Nation of Change.
by Marjorie Valbrun
30 January 2012

Foster Care, Uncertain Futures Loom for Thousands of Immigrant Children.

More than 5,000 children of immigrants are languishing in state foster care nationwide because their parents were living in the United States illegally and were detained or deported by federal immigration authorities.

These children can spend years in foster homes, and some are put up for adoption after termination of their parents’ custody rights. With neither state nor federal officials addressing the problem, thousands more are poised to enter the child welfare system every year.

“They can be dropped into the foster care system for an indefinite period of time,” says Wendy D. Cervantes, vice president for immigration and child rights policy at First Focus, a bipartisan advocacy organization in Washington, D.C. “This causes severe long-term consequences to a child’s development. It has a negative impact on the country as a whole and a direct impact on taxpayers. The fact that these children have parents means they shouldn’t be in the system in the first place.”

A recent report by the Applied Research Center (ARC), a national racial-justice think tank, found that when immigration enforcement methods intersect with the child welfare system, consequences for immigrant families can be devastating and long-lasting.

Jailed or deported parents are prevented from reuniting with their children, and parents held in immigration detention centers are penalized for being unable to attend hearings in family court. They are also penalized for not meeting court-ordered requirements for regaining custody of their children. The requirements are impossible to meet from jail.

In addition, detained parents often aren’t aware that they can request that their children be returned upon deportation, placed with relatives in the United States, or allowed to return to their home countries. Parents unable to speak, read or write English, let alone understand complicated legal rulings, are often uninformed of their legal rights or where their children have been sent. They often don’t have lawyers to help navigate the child welfare system.

“Immigration policies and laws are based on the assumption that families will, and should, be united, whether or not parents are deported,” the ARC report states. “Similarly, child welfare policy aims to reunify families whenever possible. In practice, however, when mothers and fathers are detained and deported and their children are relegated to foster care, family separation can last for extended periods. Too often, these children lose the opportunity to ever see their parents again when a juvenile dependency court terminates parental rights.”

Encarnación Bail, an undocumented immigrant from Guatemala, who is in a prolonged fight to regain custody of her son, has confronted many of these obstacles.

She lost custody of her infant son, Carlos, in 2008, a year and a half after she was arrested and jailed by federal immigration authorities during a raid of the poultry plant where she worked in Cassville, Missouri. Awaiting deportation, she spent two years in federal detention, first in a local county jail in Missouri and then in a federal prison in West Virginia. During her imprisonment, relatives caring for Carlos gave the baby to a local couple who were childless.

After a county court terminated Bail’s parental rights on grounds that she had abandoned the baby, the couple adopted her son.

The court sent an official letter to Bail informing her that the couple was caring for her son, but the letter never reached her and was returned unopened to the court. When a formal adoption petition did reach her, Bail was stunned. With the assistance of a prison guard and an English-speaking visitor from Guatemala, Bail wrote back that she did not want her son put up for adoption and wanted him placed in foster care until she was released. She also requested visitation with Carlos. She never received a response from the court and she was never informed about the custody hearings.

The Guatemalan government learned of her case through news reports and intervened on her behalf, prompting the American government to put the deportation order against her on hold and grant her temporary legal status allowing her to stay and work in the United States while she continues a legal battle to regain custody of Carlos.

“I’m very sad, I very much want to be reunited with him,” Bail said through her lawyer. “I suffered an injustice. I’m the mother of Carlos and I was worried for Carlos during my entire detention. I was always thinking about him and I never gave my consent for his adoption.”

The Obama administration now says it is no longer targeting immigration enforcement activities on undocumented workers, such as Bail, and is instead focused on seeking out and deporting immigrants who have committed major crimes. However, immigrant advocates say that federal immigration agents, state law enforcement agencies and local county police departments participating in federal immigration enforcement programs do not follow that policy uniformly.

In fact, the government deported more than 46,000 parents of children with U.S. citizenship in the first half of 2011, according to the ARC report.

“It’s clearly un-American to take kids away from loving families,” says Rinku Sen, president and executive director of ARC. “It should give Americans real pause about what we’re engaged in. We need to take a very hard look at these policies and practices.”

Hispanics make up the majority of undocumented immigrants in the United States and, as a result, children of color born to parents from poor countries in Latin and Central America and the Caribbean are affected disproportionally.

What’s clear, say immigrant advocates, is that racial bias toward Latinos and other people of color play a significant role in separating children from parents and relatives.

Read entire story at Nation of Change.

Nonviolent Resistance

From Inter Press Service and Nation of Change
by Karina Bockmann
26 January 2012

The Logic and Limits of Nonviolent Conflict

Today marks the one-year anniversary of the uprisings in Egypt that unseated an authoritarian regime and rekindled the spark of nonviolent resistance around the world.

The mass demonstrations that began on Jan. 25 in Cairo appeared spontaneous, ignited by the Tunisian Jasmine Revolution some weeks before. But according to Srdja Popovic, a seasoned organizer and founder of the ‘Centre for Applied NonViolent Action & Strategies’ (CANVAS) in Belgrade, that assumption is far from the truth.

A consultancy group for nonviolent resistance movements around the world, CANVAS prides itself on having trained pro-democracy activists from almost 40 countries in nonviolent techniques and strategies.

Members of Egypt’s April 6 Youth Movement, a decisive force in bringing down former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, were disciples of the organization, which has been dubbed the ‘Revolution Academy’.

In CANVAS workshops, members of April 6 became familiar with forms of peaceful protest, creative provocation measures and practical advice on how to behave in critical situations. They took classes in fundraising and recruitment and gained valuable advice on how to attract new supporters to the movement.

Coupled with the revolutionary fervor that swept across Egypt throughout 2011 and is still visible on the streets today, CANVAS’ training of key young members of the resistance bore fruits of a legendary nature.

“2011 was the worst year for the bad guys ever,” said Popovic at a discussion in Berlin entitled, ‘Democracy Promotion – Democracy Export – Regime Change?’, referring to the many pro-democracy uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East that have come to be known as the Arab Spring.

Popovic easily counts himself as one of the ‘good guys’, given that he was a driving force behind the Serbian student movement Otpor! (meaning resistance) that peacefully toppled the ‘butcher of Belgrade’ Slobodan Milosevic from power in the year 2000.

Solid Strategies

Popovic is the executive director of CANVAS and, by extension, the chief trainer at the ‘Revolution Academy’.

A veteran organizer, he inspires professionalism, assertiveness and confidence when he speaks about the techniques of “how to get rid of a dictator” and of the importance of unity, planning and nonviolent discipline as “the universal principles of success.”

Assuming that a successful pro-democracy movement needs the support of just three to eight percent of the population, the chances of overthrowing dictators anywhere in the world are quite high, Popovic said, corroborating his assertion with the results of a report explaining ‘Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict’.

Authored by Erica Chenoweth, assistant professor of government at Wesleyan University, and Maria J. Stephan, a strategic planner with the U.S. Department of State, the report analyzed 323 violent and nonviolent resistance movements from 1900 to 2006 and concluded that “major nonviolent campaigns have achieved success 53 percent of the time, compared with 26 percent for violent resistance campaigns.”

Chenoweth and Stephan examine campaigns like Gandhi’s struggle for Indian Independence from British rule in 1947, the Solidarity movement in Poland in the 1980s, the civilian-based movements in Serbia (2000), Madagascar (2002), Georgia (2003) and Ukraine (2004) as well as the ousting of foreign troops in Lebanon (2005) and the restoration of civil rule in Nepal (2006) and the Maldives (2008).

The study bolsters the ‘democracy export’ policy introduced by former U.S. president Ronald Reagan back in 1983, which is as dynamic today as it was more than two decades ago – in fact, Washington invests roughly two billion dollars a year in nonviolent global interventions, or what critics of the model call ‘hidden U.S. imperialism’.

Both authors argue that nonviolent resistance has a strategic advantage over violent resistance. Repressing peaceful protests could backfire, resulting in a breakdown of obedience among regime supporters, mobilization of the population against the regime and international condemnation or sanctions, which often serve to weaken those in power.

The authors go a step further to predict that key members of the regime – including civil servants, security forces and members of the judiciary – “are more likely to shift loyalty toward nonviolent opposition groups than toward violent opposition groups.”

When repression by state forces is directed towards nonviolent campaigns, the report estimates the rate of defection by security forces to be as high as 46 percent.

Popovic also stressed that nonviolent strategies against authoritarian rule, as well as the use of social media tools rather than weapons, are, in general, far less risky endeavors for individuals involved in the movement.

Read entire story at Nation of Change.

Religious Co-operation

From Tablet

A Bronx Tale
by Ted Regencia and Lindsay Minerva
23 January, 2012

A Bronx Tale

After the congregants of an Orthodox synagogue could no longer afford their rent, they found help in the local mosque.

Near the corner of Westchester Avenue and Pugsley Street in Parkchester, just off the elevated tracks of the No. 6 train, Yaakov Wayne Baumann stood outside a graffiti-covered storefront on a chilly Saturday morning. Suited up in a black overcoat with a matching wide-brimmed black fedora, the thickly bearded 42-year-old chatted with elderly congregants as they entered the building for Shabbat service.

The only unusual detail: This synagogue is a mosque.

Or rather, it’s housed inside a mosque. That’s right: Members of the Chabad of East Bronx, an ultra-Orthodox synagogue, worship in the Islamic Cultural Center of North America, which is home to the Al-Iman mosque.

“People have a misconception that Muslims hate Jews,” said Baumann. “But here is an example of them working with us.”

Indeed, though conventionally viewed as adversaries both here and abroad, the Jews and Muslims of the Bronx have been propelled into an unlikely bond by a demographic shift. The borough was once home to an estimated 630,000 Jews, but by 2002 that number had dropped to 45,100, according to a study by the Jewish Community Relations Council. At the same time, the Muslim population has been increasing. In Parkchester alone, there are currently five mosques, including Masjid Al-Iman.

“Nowhere in the world would Jews and Muslims be meeting under the same roof,” said Patricia Tomasulo, the Catholic Democratic precinct captain and Parkchester community organizer, who first introduced the leaders of the synagogue and mosque to each other. “It’s so unique.”

The relationship started years ago, when the Young Israel Congregation, then located on Virginia Avenue in Parkchester, was running clothing drives for needy families, according to Leon Bleckman, now 78, who was at the time the treasurer of the congregation. One of the recipients was Sheikh Moussa Drammeh, the founder of the Al-Iman Mosque, who was collecting donations for his congregants—many of whom are immigrants from Africa. The 49-year-old imam is an immigrant from Gambia in West Africa who came to the United States in 1986. After a year in Harlem, he moved to Parkchester, where he eventually founded the Muslim center and later established an Islamic grade school. Through that initial meeting, a rapport developed between the two houses of worship, and the synagogue continued to donate to the Islamic center, among other organizations.

But in 2003, after years of declining membership, Young Israel was forced to sell its building at 1375 Virginia Ave., according to a database maintained by Yeshiva University, which keeps historical records of synagogues. Before the closing, non-religious items were given away; in fact, among the beneficiaries was none other than Drammeh, who took some chairs and tables for his center.

Meanwhile, Bleckman and the remaining members moved to a nearby storefront location, renting it for $2,000 a month including utilities. With mostly elderly congregants, Young Israel struggled to survive financially and, at the end of 2007, was forced to close for good. The remaining congregants were left without a place to pray. During the synagogue’s farewell service, four young men from the Chabad Lubavitch world headquarters in Crown Heights showed up. Three months earlier, Bleckman, then chairman of the synagogue’s emergency fund, had appealed for help from the Chabad.

“The boys from the Chabad said they came to save us,” said Bleckman. “We were crying.”

At this point, Chabad took over the congregational reins from Young Israel, with members officially adopting the new name Chabad of East Bronx. Still, for the next six to seven weeks, Bleckman said they could not even hold a service because they had nowhere to hold it.

When Drammeh learned of their plight, he immediately volunteered to accommodate them at the Muslim center at 2006 Westchester Ave.—for free.

“They don’t pay anything, because these are old folks whose income are very limited now,” said Drammeh, adding that he felt it was his turn to help the people who had once helped him and his community. “Not every Muslim likes us, because not every Muslim believes that Muslims and Jews should be like this,” Drammeh said, referring to the shared space. But “there’s no reason why we should hate each other, why we cannot be families.” Drammeh in particular admires the dedication of the Chabad rabbis, who walked 15 miles from Brooklyn every Saturday to run prayer services for the small Parkchester community.

For the first six months, congregants held Friday night Sabbath services inside Drammeh’s cramped office. As more people began joining the congregation, Drammeh offered them a bigger room where they could set up a makeshift shul. (When it’s not in use, students from the Islamic school use it as their classroom.) Inside the synagogue, a worn, beige cotton curtain separates the men and women who attend the service. A solitary chandelier hangs just above the black wooden arc that holds the borrowed Torah, which is brought weekly from the Chabad headquarters. A large table covered with prayer books stands in the center, and a picture of the Lubavitcher Rebbe is displayed prominently on a nearby wall. During Shabbat, when Jewish congregants are strictly prohibited from working, they have to rely on the Muslim workers at the center or on Drammeh to do simple chores such as turning on the light and switching on the heater.

At first, it did not make sense, said Hana Kabakow, wife of Rabbi Meir Kabakow. “I was surprised,” said the 26-year-old congregant who was born and raised in Israel. “But when I came here I understood.” The Kabakows have been coming to the service from Brooklyn for the last two years.

Harriet Miller, another congregant, said she appreciated the center’s accommodating the synagogue. “They are very sweet people,” said the 79-year-old Bronx native and long-time resident of Parkchester, who added that she welcomes the new Muslim immigrants in her neighborhood: “We were not brought up to hate.”

Drammeh also understands the importance of teaching tolerance more broadly, and for turning the school—which was itself founded at the nearby St. Helena Catholic Church on, of all days, Sept. 11, 2001—into a model of sorts for religious tolerance in New York.

“We’re not as divided as the media portrays us to be,” Drammeh said. “Almost 90 percent of Jewish, Muslim, and Christian teachings are the same.”

His latest project involves introducing fifth-grade Jewish and Islamic school students to each other’s religious traditions. Other participants of the program, now in its sixth year, include the Solomon Schechter School of Manhattan, the Al Ihsan Academy of Queens, and the Kinneret Day School of Riverdale. At the end of the program, students organize an exhibit that shows family artifacts of their respective cultures and religion. The principal of the Islamic school, who is also Sheik Drammeh’s wife, said that even after the program ended, the participants became “fast friends” and would visit each other’s homes.

“They would have birthday parties together,” Shireena Drammeh said. “When someone invites you to their house, I mean, that says it all right there and then.”

Read entire story at Tablet.

Paying for Clean Economy

From Nation of Change and Yes! Magazine
25 January 2012

A Jump Start for the Clean Economy
by Maria Gallucci

A little-known source of clean energy funding could prove a crucial job-creation engine in the states, as federal support diminishes and they seek fresh growth drivers.

Every state can create clean energy funds, or CEFs, which are typically supported by a small surcharge on monthly electricity bills. So far 22 states have done so, generating $2.7 billion overall for the clean technology sector during the past decade. Most have used the money to install tens of thousands of solar panel arrays, wind turbines and biomass facilities.

But a few states have gone further by broadening investments to include technology research hubs, fledgling cleantech startups and green job training programs. The idea is to use the money, which today totals some $500 million a year, to help develop all the components of the clean economy and stimulate the creation of thousands of permanent local jobs.

The strategy is still experimental, but it could turn these CEFs into a major source of economic growth, according to new report published today by the Brookings Institution, a public policy group, and the Rockefeller Foundation, a philanthropic organization. The report outlines a four-part policy strategy for every state to adopt this “next generation” of CEF spending.

Clean Energy Funds were originally set up more than 10 years ago to help decarbonize state energy systems in the face of climate change. According to the report, the funds have already helped bring forward 72,000 renewable energy installations the country urgently needs.

But times have changed, said Mark Muro, a report co-author and director of policy for Brookings’ Metropolitan Policy Program. “Economic development has emerged as a parallel and complementary interest to carbon reduction … There’s been a sharpening concern that the country really needs to look to supporting the emergence of cutting-edge technologies” as a way to start new industries and create jobs, he told InsideClimate News.

According to the report, retooling these state-level funds “could not be timelier at this moment of federal gridlock and market uncertainty.”

Congress isn’t expected to approve new funding for green technologies in 2012 after the 2009 stimulus—which poured tens of billions of dollars into clean energy projects—dries up. And policymakers won’t likely reinstate key federal subsidies that lapsed at the end of 2011, including the Energy Department’s 1705 loan guarantee program, whose bankrolling of the now-bankrupt California solar firm Solyndra sparked a Republican-led effort to scale back President Obama’s green agenda.

“We all need to be thinking about where we are going to get policy and finance support for further economic development in clean energy,” Muro said. “As it happens, the clean energy funds are there and in a position to innovate.”

The Evolution of CEFs

The country’s first CEFs popped up in places with aggressive renewable energy goals, like California, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Other states gradually followed suit, namely in the East Coast and Midwest.

They used the cash to get more solar panels on rooftops and wind turbines in the ground, which they hoped would help make renewable electricity as cheap as coal. Affordable clean power would have another benefit: it would unleash consumer demand for solar and wind, and spur new jobs in installation, manufacturing, among other areas.

But some states saw that the high cost of renewable power generation wasn’t the only obstacle to realizing the promise of the green economy. In order to build lasting cleantech industries, they’d have to subsidize research and development for new technologies, like advanced biofuels, electric vehicles and highly efficient solar panels, and eventually build a ready workforce and supply chain for manufacturing.

And so, starting a few years ago, a handful of states began experimenting with ways to transform their CEFs by linking the money to strengths in their economies.

For New York, that has meant sending some of its CEF money into its growing number of regional clusters, where high-tech companies, universities and research institutions that have similar industry focus share expertise. In 2009, the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), which administers the state’s CEF and other clean energy programs, saw a chance for those regional clusters to help a rising crop of clean energy startups become viable companies.

The Clean Energy Business Incubator program has given $1.5 million from the CEF to each of six business incubators, which assist cleantech entrepreneurs in organizing, staffing and funding new businesses. Together, the incubators work with around 70 companies, whose products range from analytical tools that measure wind energy resources to energy management systems and mounting devices for solar photovoltatic installations. The money gets doled out over the course of four years as companies pass certain milestones, like completing a business plan or attracting private investments.

Read entire story at Nation of Change.

Year of Rebellion

Dear Gabriel,

Throughout the Middle East and North Africa, 2011 was the year a tightly wound coil was suddenly unsprung. Ordinary people flooded the streets to demand change, releasing energy and power that continues to transform the region.

Millions of people, many of them women protesting for the first time, risked their lives to publicly express a deep, burning need for change. Government forces responded with relentless brute force.

It’s not over yet. Brave individuals continue to put their safety on the line, standing against governments that respond with guns, tear gas and tanks.

Our special in-depth report “Year of Rebellion: The State of Human Rights in the Middle East and North Africa,” documents this historic, tumultuous year and issues a bold human rights agenda for change in the region. Foremost among these recommendations: stop sending weapons to governments that use them to kill and repress their own people.

I’m going to be talking a lot about weapons sales in the next few months — it’s an issue I care about, and one that has major implications for human rights.

Take Egypt. Last January, Egyptian protestors stormed Tahrir square and braved violent government crackdowns as they drove President Hosni Mubarak from power.

One year later, Egypt’s new military government continues using excessive force against protestors. Many have died. The government has even fired tear gas canisters that say “Made in the USA.”

This is unacceptable. Urge the U.S. State Department to stop authorizing the shipment of U.S.-manufactured tear gas, bullets, and other military equipment that could be used by Egypt’s military to violate human rights.

The people of Egypt have achieved momentous change, but their gains are fragile.

Your solidarity is needed still.

Demand that the State Department stop any future transfers of weapons and equipment that the Egyptian military could use to attack Egyptian protestors.

Thank you for all you do to support human rights.

In solidarity,

Sanjeev Bery
Advocacy Director, Middle East North Africa
Amnesty International USA

Sumatran Tigers Rainforest

Gabriel,

Great news. We’ve won another huge victory for Sumatran tigers and the Indonesian rainforest they call home.

Thanks to your hard work, Kroger — which was previously the largest seller of Asia Pulp & Paper (APP) consumer tissue products in the US — has put out a public statement saying it will stop sourcing from APP. We only launched this campaign in October and within five days over 50,000 people like you took action. It’s clear that Kroger got the message.

The bad news is that APP still wants to sell tissue linked to rainforest destruction here in the US. Even after losing its largest US customer, APP is still refusing to take the simple steps needed to solve this problem. And, there are still major retailers in this country selling APP products. Kmart is one of the largest.

Our campaign is clearly working. Help us keep up the momentum and tell Kmart to follow Kroger’s lead by removing APP’s tissue products from its shelves until APP cleans up its act.

Rainforest destruction wrapped up in the form of throw-away tissue products is starting to pop up all over the US. Often stores selling the products don’t even know it. Together we can change that, harnessing the power of the marketplace to save forests in Indonesia.

Now is the time to keep the pressure up. That is why it is so important that you take a minute now to tell Kmart that there shouldn’t be any space for rainforest-destroying toilet paper on its store shelves.

With only 400 Sumatran tigers left, we can’t stop now. Now is the time to re-double our efforts, stand tall, and tell retailers not to buy APP tissue products until it ends its deforestation habit for good.

For the forests,

Rolf Skar
Greenpeace Senior Forest Campaigner

P.S. If we want to get Kmart to do the right thing, we need to spread the word far and wide. After you take action, please be sure to forward this email to friends and family who you think would also like to help out. The last 400 Sumatran tigers — and their rainforest home — are depending on us.

No Parole for Children

Dear Gabriel,

Locked up for life at 16. No possibility of parole. Christi Cheramie is living a nightmare.

When Christi was 16 years old, back in 1994, she couldn’t vote, drink alcohol, serve on a jury, or buy lottery tickets. She was considered a minor — a child. But that didn’t stop the state of Louisiana from giving this 16-year-old a sentence of life without parole.

Ask Louisiana’s governor and the state Board of Pardons to grant clemency to Christi Cheramie.

Only in the U.S. — where children as young as 11 have faced life in prison — are such harsh sentences against juveniles allowed. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child prohibits life without parole for offenses committed under the age of 18. This is not about excusing or minimizing the consequences of crimes committed by children, but about recognizing that children are not yet fully responsible for their actions and have special potential for rehabilitation and change.

Christi, now 33 years old, has spent more than half of her young life in prison. She’s earned her high school equivalency diploma and an associate’s degree in Agriculture Studies, and teaches classes to her fellow inmates. A prison warden who oversaw Christi considers her a “model inmate” who has grown into a “remarkable young woman” deserving of “a second chance in society.”

But if we don’t act, a mandatory sentence of life without parole means that Christi will die in prison. A victim of sexual abuse and depression, and caught in the web of an aggressive and controlling older fiancé, Christi found herself at the grisly murder scene of her fiancé’s great aunt. She was charged with murder just for being there — even though it was her fiancé who wielded the knife.

The victim’s closest family members are sympathetic to Christi’s case. But Christi’s fate is now in the hands of Louisiana’s governor and Board of Pardons.

Our 2011 Write for Rights campaign highlighted Christi’s case, and thousands of letters have already poured into Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal’s office. Next week, the Board of Pardons will meet to decide whether or not to move forward with Christi’s clemency application — a decision that the governor can influence. We must keep the momentum going from Write for Rights — and the time to act is now!

Christi has already changed people’s lives through her work at the Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women, but she will never be able to realize her full potential — and society won’t benefit from her potential contributions — if she spends the rest of her life behind bars.

It’s time for the U.S. to join the rest of the world and end the cruel and unusual punishment of juvenile life without parole. People convicted of crimes while still children — like Christi Cheramie — should be given a chance at rehabilitation. They shouldn’t be left to grow old in a jail cell.

You can make a difference in Christi’s case. Sign our petition now calling for clemency for Christi Cheramie.

Thank You,

Michael O’Reilly
Senior Director, Individuals at Risk Campaign
Amnesty International USA

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