Saturday, March 3, 2007

Letter to an Immigration Judge
February 14, 2007

An Open Letter to an Immigration Judge
By Margot Pepper (02-23-07)

To: The Honorable Immigration Judge,

I’m a 2nd-grade Two-Way Spanish Immersion (TWI) teacher at Rosa Parks school in Berkeley. Today is Valentine’s Day. It was my last day with one of my top students, Gerardo Espinoza. His father received an order of deportation and is moving the family to Mexico to comply with the law. Gerardo is a stunning seven-year old, with unusually wide, round brown eyes, a cute little nose, full lips and round pale baby cheeks—the kind of child that Japanese anime depict. He’s wedded to his knit cap. The behavior of Gerardo and his brother Felipe, whom I taught nearly a decade ago, has been an example to everyone, including myself. They are both reasons why I love my job. Whenever I had difficult students, I’d seat them in a group with Gerardo or Felipe for a month and their behavior would improve tremendously. I attribute the brothers’ outstanding comportment in large part to their close-knit family, especially the loving care of their mother, Norma, who spends every lunch time with Gerardo.

Honorable Sir, I do not understand why Gerardo and José are being denied their rights as U.S. citizens to an education and parents, both; why, under the law, they are forced to choose. My colleagues and I envisioned their winning scholarships at U.C. Berkeley, eventually lifting them up to the middle class. Like their children, their parents are also model—I’d like to say citizens—but they’ve been denied this. Your honor is probably aware that their former attorney, Walter Pineda, was exposed on the news for defrauding immigrants and aiding in their deportation. He was disbarred on Nov. 1, 2006, State Bar No. 97293.

Felipe Espinoza Senior has lived in the United States for 20 years. His wife Norma has lived here for 14. Felipe Sr. has worked five to six days a week in jobs from Skates by the Bay to a steel mill in Oakland. Today, when he dropped by for Gerardo’s farewell Valentine party, in which the other students read him their going away valentines, I commented that I hadn’t seen him since Felipe Jr.’s conference a decade ago. Felipe Senior still looked about the same: like a well-groomed, dignified banker or professional. “I’ve been working,” he said, which I knew was an understatement. He is the sole provider for a family of five, six if we include his former exorbitant lawyer, Pineda.

Felipe Senior has always done everything by the book. He has always paid his taxes, car registration and insurance. He followed the letter of the law to apply for citizenship. And this, your honor is what I don’t understand. According to the SF Weekly (”The Asylum Trap” by Eliza Strickland, May 10, 2006,) immigrants are more likely to slip through the eye of a needle than they are to receive asylum or residency. Only 34 asylum applications were granted to Mexican immigrants nationwide. San Francisco Attorney Enrique Ramirez observes that immigrants can also apply for residency through work visas or petitions by family members who are residents. Mr. Espinoza was misled by Pineda, apparently like countless others, into falling for the “the ten-year pardon,” or cancellation of removal, though as you know less than 4,000 of these cases have been granted each year. Now I ask you, what is the goal of a system which punishes the vast majority of those who follow the letter of the law and which rewards those who manage to keep their identities off the books?

The Espinozas met two of the three requirements needed for Mr. Espinoza’s cancellation of removal to Mexico:

1.) 10 years of continuous presence in the U.S. and 2.) proof of “good moral character” including a clean police record. But Pineda didn’t bother to convince the judge that Felipe Espinoza ‘s deportation would cause 3.) “exceptional and extremely unusual hardship" to a spouse, parent, or child who is either a U.S. citizen or a permanent resident—namely Gerardo and his other son José.

Immigrations lawyers have since informed me that Mr. Espinoza likely lost his appeal because Immigration judges believe Gerardo’s rights as a citizen are not being violated since he is free to stay in the country himself--in foster care. (His mother has never worked and his father would be unable to support them from Mexico.) The lawyers tell me that no immigration judge would recognize tearing a child away from his parents and placing him or her in foster care as an “exceptional and extremely unusual hardship.” Dear Honorable Sir, have you and your colleagues really become so hardened? Is the reason that you believe such a trauma is not “unusual” because you have caused such horrendous circumstances to become the norm among this population, rather than the exception?

If so, dear Honorable Immigration Judge, my question to you is, how can I go on teaching about equal rights and freedom of speech and all the things our constitution is supposed to defend, and that the very name of our school is supposed to represent, when the father of my students is deported simply because his skin is darker? Both my Latino and white students are U.S. citizens. So how do I explain to the class that one has the right to a family in the United States and the other citizens do not? Do you think they’ll understand why Felipe and Gerardo’s parents cannot gain citizenship in a country in which they’ve lived for 20 years and in which their children were born, yet it is all right for U.S. citizens to buy up all the beach front property in the Espinozas’ motherland? Do you think such an incident is going to convince my students and their families that the United States is the compassionate model of democracy for the rest of the world?

Dear Honorable Judge, I ask you, what are you and your colleagues doing to shatter or foment these dreams and ideals?

The last time I saw Gerardo, I asked him to let me make a video so I could remember him. He stands below the letters that read Rosa Parks School and recites by heart our Rosa Parks School pledge, which he and I still believe:

“To this day, I believe, we are here on this planet earth to live, grow up and do what we can to make this world a better place for ALL people to enjoy freedom.”

I’d like to conclude with a poem Gerardo wrote for his parents for their Christmas present:


Oh Mamá and Papá,
Without you,
I’d never be able to
cook or eat your enchiladas again;
we wouldn’t play “trains” together anymore,
or go to the park
without you.

Without you,
I wouldn’t be able to have any fun;
I wouldn’t be able to feel even the breeze anymore,
or love;
I wouldn’t have anyone to play with
Without you.

Without you, I’d be as lonely as a baby abandoned
and left to cry alone in a house,
As sad as a little bird
that can no longer sing.

Margot Pepper is a journalist and author whose work has been published internationally by the Utne Reader, the San Francisco Bay Guardian, City Lights, Monthly Review, Hampton Brown and others. Her memoir, Through the Wall: A Year in Havana, was a top nomination for the 2006 American Book Award.


March 3, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)

One Farmer on Immigration Reform

David Mas Masumoto, an organic farmer in Fresno and author of the beautifully writen book Epitaph for a Peach: Four Seasons on My Family Farm (1996), has an interesting take on immigration reform.  Matsumoto cautions that growers should not just see immigration reform as a way of getting access to labor.  Rather, new workers will make demands on growers to recognize worker rights.  Click here for his op/ed in the LA Times


March 3, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Friday, March 2, 2007

More on "Pesos Accepted Here"

KCET’s Life & Times Blog fosters a venue where people can express their views and engage in a dynamic and educated discussion about provocative issues of the day going on in Southern California. There is an entry on a story we did a while back on "Pesos Accepted Here" story (click here).


March 2, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Humanitarian Crisis At The Border

In New Estimates Of Deaths Among Unauthorized Immigrants, Raquel Rubio-Goldsmith on (here), et al. summarizes a new study on border deaths in Arizona.  For almost a decade now, there has been an unprecedented increase in the number of deaths each year among unauthorized border-crossers in the deserts and mountains of southern Arizona. According to Rubio-Goldsmith, the official statistics compiled by the U.S. Border Patrol consistently undercount the actual number of deaths in Arizona and elsewhere along the U.S.-Mexico border. But various academic and government studies estimate that the bodies of between 2,000 and 3,000 men, women, and children have been found along the entire southwest border since 1995, including at least 1,000 in the inhospitable terrain of southern Arizona. Experts, including the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), now explain this crisis as a direct consequence of U.S. immigration-control policies instituted in the mid-1990s.

The Binational Migration Institute (BMI) of the University of Arizona’s Mexican American Studies and Research Center has undertaken a unique and scientifically rigorous study of all unauthorized border-crosser (UBC) deaths examined by the Pima County Medical Examiner’s Office (PCMEO) from 1990-2005. [Click the link above for a link to this study).  Because the PCMEO has handled approximately 90 percent of all UBC recovered bodies in the U.S. Border Patrol’s Tucson Sector, an analysis of such deaths serves as an accurate reflection of the major characteristics of all known unauthorized border-crosser deaths that have occurred in this sector since 1990.


March 2, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (2) | TrackBack (0)

Clinical Professor Position

The Washington College of Law, American University, is seeking applications for a Visiting Professor in the Immigrants’ Rights Section of its International Human Rights Law Clinic for academic year 2007-08. Casework includes litigation in immigration court and the federal and state courts in Washington D.C. and Maryland, as well as legislative and policy advocacy projects. The Visiting Professor will supervise the fieldwork of eight students, co-teach a weekly seminar and case rounds, and engage in course planning and preparation with three other faculty members in the International Human Rights Clinic. She may also teach an additional course outside of the clinical curriculum. Applications consisting of a curriculum vitae and cover letter should be emailed to Professor Padideh Ala’i, Chair, Faculty Appointments Committee,, with a copy to Professor Binny Miller, Director of the Clinical Program,


March 2, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

UW Immigration Law Clinic Makes a Comeback

Dan Kowalski reports that:

In my latest issue of the NWIRP [Northwest Immigrant Rights Project] newsletter, the Immigrant Advocate, I was pleased to learn of the return of the Immigration Clinic at the UW [University of Washington] School of law, with my friend Lourdes Fuentes as Director:

Welcome back UW!


March 2, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Latin American Migrant Summit

The Americas is a hemisphere of migrants. Virtually all countries in the Americas experience some form of migration. As migration has increased dramatically in the past two decades, so have migrant organizations begun to form in many countries. These organizations take many forms, but they share a concern with building healthy communities, both in their adopted countries, and in their places of origin.

Over the past 18 months, a group of migrant leaders from organizations whose members emigrated from the Americas have been meeting to develop a space for information-sharing and joint strategy setting for Latino and Caribbean migrant leaders. The goal of this initiative is to position organized groups of Latin American immigrants as protagonists in the development of healthy communities, both in destination countries and in countries of origin.

Migrant leaders will use the Summit as a space to learn from each other about the many different forms of Latino and Caribbean migrant organizing taking place in the Americas and Europe. Groups will share learning about different approaches to decision-making and base-building, as well as fundraising and other institutional development strategies. The Summit will also give migrant-led groups the opportunity to deepen their understanding of the various policy spaces where decisions are made that affect migrants and their families, both at the national level and multi-lateral venues. An important objective of the Summit will be to amplify and exchange lessons learned about collective remittances and the possibility of making such social investments a more effective tool for supporting equitable and sustainable local development

The Summit will take place in the city of Morelia, Michoacán in Mexico from May 10-13.

Click here for registration information.


March 2, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

LA Times Editorial On Colorado Laws

IN THE 2004 SATIRICAL film "A Day Without a Mexican," California wakes up to discover that its Latinos have mysteriously vanished, and a society deeply reliant on migrant labor starts to crumble. Life is imitating art in Colorado. After passing what might be the nation's toughest anti-immigrant laws, the state is having its beleaguered day with fewer immigrants.

With no one left to pick them, crops are rotting in the fields, and the construction industry and other businesses that rely on low-skilled labor are experiencing a worker shortage. The situation is so bad for the state's growers that officials plan to send prison inmates out to harvest crops. How very 19th century.

Immigrants are fleeing Colorado because of harsh laws passed during a special session of the Legislature last summer that require state identification for government services and allow police to check suspects' immigration status. The ID laws have raised the ire even of many native-born people, who complain about hassles for those trying to get a driver's license.

If chasing away immigrants has caused problems in Colorado, imagine the economic chaos it would bring to California, where immigrants make up about a third of the workforce and the agriculture industry dwarfs Colorado's. The Rocky Mountain blues are also demonstrating that, contrary to nativist rhetoric, there really are jobs that Americans won't do. In Pueblo, Colo., desperate farmers are offering up to $9.60 an hour for pickers — well in excess of the federal minimum wage of $5.15 an hour and more than they have paid migrants in the past — but there are few takers. Click  here for the rest of the editorial.


March 2, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)

New International Law Blog

Click here to check out the fascinating IntLaw Grrls blog, which offers some new thoughtful voices on international law (including that it exists and is binding on the United States).  My colleague Diane Amann set this blog up a few weeks ago.


March 2, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Business Week on Immigration Reform

Business Week (Feb. 27) (click here) has an interesting article on "Fresh Ideas for the Immigration Debate"  by Peter Elstrom.  A number of immigration experts weigh in on immigration reform.

Here are a few suggestions in the article that rand true for me:

Everyone likes to talk about the wall between the U.S. and Mexico. Anti-immigration politicians love to show how tough they're getting on illegals. Pro-immigrant forces use it to prove they take concerns over illegal immigration seriously. But what does all the talk about the wall accomplish? Nothing, argues Tamar Jacoby, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, along with plenty of others outside of politics. Why? It is expensive and it doesn't work. (emphasis added).


One fresh idea has been around for a while, but it seems to keep getting lost in the heated debate. Advocates on both sides say they want to lower the debate's volume, so they have a genuine chance to debate the issues and perhaps reach a resolution. That was a point Bush raised last May when he gave a prime-time address on immigration . . . . "America needs to conduct this debate on immigration in a reasoned and respectful tone," he said at the time. "Feelings run deep on this issue—and as we work it out, all of us need to keep some things in mind. We cannot build a unified country by inciting people to anger, or playing on anyone's fears, or exploiting the issue of immigration for political gain. We must always remember that real lives will be affected by our debates and decisions, and that every human being has dignity and value no matter what their citizenship papers say."  (emphasis added).


I must say that I agree wholeheartedly with the President on this point.


March 2, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (3) | TrackBack (0)

Thursday, March 1, 2007

Immigration Reform Still Going Nowhere

Rachel Swarns story in today's NYTimes begins:

Two senior Bush administration officials vowed on Wednesday to work with Congress to ensure passage of immigration legislation this year but publicly distanced themselves from proposals that would place most illegal immigrants on a path to citizenship.

DHS Secretary Chertoff and Commerce Secretary Carlos Gutierrez support plans to legalize the status of millions of undocumented noncitizens, but do not support putting them on a path to citizenship.

The little rift highlights the fact that there are many possible policy options between criminalizing all undocumented migrants on one hand and providing broad access to a path to citizenship on the other.  Not that any of this matters, since Congress does not seem prepared to find a point around which to coalesce.


March 1, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

A Public Service Announcement from the UC Hastings Center for Gender and Refugee Studies

From the UC Hastings Center for Gender and Refugee Studies website (here):

Help Protect Refugee Women! "Li" is a young woman who fled China after her parents paid off their debts by selling her to an abusive man. Li objected to this arrangement, but was unable to break off the marriage or to pay back the money. Li fled to the U.S. and sought asylum, but the immigration agency rejected her claim and ordered her deported back to China, asserting that her plight was just a "personal problem." Last year a federal Court of Appeal found Li eligible for asylum, recognizing that young Chinese women sold into marriage, where such sales are valid and enforceable by the government, should qualify as refugees. Now, the Department of Justice (DOJ) is considering reversing this decision, claiming that hundreds of millions of women in arranged marriages will seek asylum in the U.S. - a totally unfounded claim which has been refuted again and again. The DOJ is currently deciding whether to ask the US Supreme Court to intervene and order Li deported back to her persecutor in China. Please TAKE ACTION: click here now to contact Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, and urge him to uphold the decision that human beings cannot be bought and sold, and that forced marriage is a valid basis for granting asylum. Tell the Department of Justice not to seek Supreme Court reversal of the Second Circuit's decision in Li's case.


March 1, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)

Gutatemalan Asylum Fact Sheet

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has issued a fact sheet (here) on Guatemalan asylum applicants in the context of the ABC settlement agreement and Section 203 of the Nicaraguan Adjustment and Central American Relief Act.


March 1, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Watch Out Immigrant Sponsors!

The Connecticut Department of Social Services is suing about 300 sponsors of immigrants who received public support. A provision in the 1996 federal Welfare Reform Act makes sponsors legally liable for any public assistance immigrants receive.  Click here for a news story on the efforts to go after sponsors.


March 1, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Oklahoma Enters Anti-Immigrant Act

Legislation billed as the nation's toughest on undocumented immigrants was approved by an Oklahoma state House committee Wednesday, as supporters seek to halt public benefits for foreigners without documents.

The House Judiciary and Public Safety Committee voted 14-3 to send the bill to the floor of the Republican-controlled House, where its author, Rep. Randy Terrill, predicted it would pass.

"It indicates it has strong and bipartisan support," Terrill said of the committee vote.

The Oklahoma House in the past has supported undocumented immigration restrictions, but the Senate had been more reluctant when it was under Democratic leadership. However, the Senate is now evenly divided along party lines, although several immigration measures have died there this year. Gov. Brad Henry generally signs bills that have bipartisan support.

The measure would limit state driver's licenses and identity cards to citizens and legal immigrants. It would require state and local agencies to verify the citizenship and immigration status of applicants for state or local benefits. It also would require public employers to confirm the status of new workers with an electronic employment verification system.

The bill would also repeal a 2003 Oklahoma law that made undocumented immigrants eligible for state-supported scholarships and allowed them to pay in-state tuition to attend public colleges and universities. Click here.


March 1, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

No Harm, No Foul? Anti-Hmong Comments Set Off a Law School

The law school dean at the University of Wisconsin at Madison sent an e-mail message to students and faculty members last week apologizing for the hurt caused by a professor's anti-Hmong comments during a class lecture, while also saying that no harm had been intended by them.   For details, click here.


March 1, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (1)

Unanticipated Consequences Chapter 1001: Return of the Chain Gang?

An article by Nicholas Riccardi in the L.A. Times (Mar. 1) reports the following::

Ever since passing what its Legislature promoted as the nation's toughest laws against illegal immigration last summer, Colorado has struggled with a labor shortage as migrants fled the state. This week, officials announced a novel solution: Use convicts as farmworkers. The Department of Corrections hopes to launch a pilot program this month — thought to be the first of its kind — that would contract with more than a dozen farms to provide inmates who will pick melons, onions and peppers. Crops were left to spoil in the fields after the passage of legislation that required state identification to get government services and allowed police to check suspects' immigration status.

Is this what the Colorado Legislature was thinking when it passed the immigration measure?  To protect jobs for prison inmates?


March 1, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (4) | TrackBack (0)


Representatives Lincoln Diaz-Balart (R-FL), Howard Berman (D-CA) and Roybal-Allard (D-CA) have announced that they will introduce the DREAM Act of 2007. In the Senate, Richard Durbin (D-IL) has announced that he will also do so within days, along with Senators Chuck Hagel (R-NE) and Richard Lugar (R-IN). The DREAM Act is bipartisan legislation that provides a path to legal residency for individuals who were brought to the U.S. years ago as undocumented immigrant children but who have since grown up here, stayed in school, and kept out of trouble.


March 1, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Mexico's Treatment of Migrants Questioned

Mexico's head of migration on Tuesday pledged to improve the agency's detention centers in response to criticism that Mexico fails to give Central American immigrants the same respect it demands for its own citizens in the United States.

Cecilia Romero Castillo, who said many of Mexico's 48 detention centers lack adequate personnel, supplies, medical care and social services, announced a plan to install doctor's offices in 16 centers, upgrade facilities and improve staff training.

Romero also said the agency will no longer use jails as detention centers and will fire any supervisor found violating the rules.

The Mexican government has acknowledged that many officials are bribed by human smugglers. Migrants face abuse from corrupt police as well as violent gangs who wait on the southern border to rob and assault them.

The government-funded National Human Rights Commission, U.N. human rights officials and other non-governmental organizations say they have documented abuses. Click here.


February 28, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (1) | TrackBack (0)

National Conference on Race

March 22-24, 2007

FACING RACE, the national conference hosted by the Applied Research Center and The Center for Humanities at CUNY Graduate Center, is only three weeks away.

Are you ready?

Activists, organizers, journalists, and policy researches from across the country are preparing to pack their bags and join us to explore new strategies for advancing racial justice.

Don't be left out!

We're bringing the best speakers from across the nation to deliver innovative, interactive presentations on the issues you care about. At FACING RACE you'll find inspiration, unique resources and experts in your field at a diverse pool of policy, media and organizing workshops:

When Disaster Strikes...Communities of Color and the Next Katrina

The Price of the Ticket -  Opportunities and Challenges for Immigrant Rights Advocates

Closing the Gap - Solutions to Race-Based Health Disparities

I Love New York - A Roundtable on Communities of Color and the Future of NYC.

Raise a Ruckus - Election Protection in 2008

Race to the Middle Class? Report on the Racial Wealth Divide

White Rappers and Black Presidents - Race and Representation in Popular Media.

Playing the Race Card? How to Tell Your Story in the Media.

Reporting at the Color Line - The Future of Journalism and it's impact on Race Coverage

Vote with Your Feet -  Mobilizing Communities of Color to Elect the Next President.

Community Organizing to Advance Racial Justice

Join us for these and many, many more!


Sponsored by the Applied Research Center and The Center for Humanities at CUNY Graduate Center

March 22-24, 2007

City University of New York
Center for Humanities, Graduate Center
365 Fifth Avenue
New York City

*Discounts available for Groups of 10 or more.

Visit or call 212-513-7925.


February 28, 2007 | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)