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Weekly Diaspora: Rallying the grassroots

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Ed. Note: After a brief hiatus, the Diaspora is back! We’re very excited to have Erin Rosa on board for this project. Please stay tuned for the latest developments around immigration reform every Thursday morning.

Fed up with Congress and frustrated with President Barack Obama’s brief mention of immigration reform in the State of the Union address, immigrant rights supporters are now organizing around the clock to push legislators to move on reform in 2010. It will not be an easy feat.

Congress is already bogged down with health care reform and a lingering economic crisis. While Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) has proposed a bill in the House of Representatives to provide a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States, immigration reform could be doomed for 2010 if it’s not introduced in the Senate by this Spring. Otherwise, it’s very unlikely that Congress will get around to debating the issue by the end of the year.

Aware of these bitter facts—and even more cognizant of the human rights abuses that will continue so long as the status quo is maintained—reform proponents are gearing up for a number of key battles to improve the immigration system.

La marcha

Born from dissatisfaction with Congress and Obama’s inability to deliver reform, organizers from around the country are preparing to march on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. On March 21, the first day of Spring. The objective is to draw tens of thousands of immigrant rights supporters to Capitol Hill. As New America Media reports, March for America “will be a test of immigrant advocates’ organizing capacity and their increasing use of technology to stoke a popular groundswell on immigration.”

The march, which is organized by the Reform Immigration For America coalition, will also “bring together advocates focused on different parts of the immigration policy agenda,” including supporters of agricultural labor, better immigrant detention standards, and the DREAM Act, federal legislation that provide a pathway to citizenship for certain immigrants who entered the United States before the age of 16.

While mainstream media coverage of the march has been relatively quiet, with many English-language outlets ignoring it completely, the organizing behind the scenes has been even more hush hush. This is a massive grassroots effort to raise public awareness around the country. Members from hundreds of state immigration groups are attending churches, making phone calls, knocking on doors, and organizing caravans to get people to Washington in March. Even mainstream Spanish-language outlets have gotten involved and encouraged their audiences to contact the Reform Immigration For America campaign for all the latest information.

Perhaps most refreshing is that unlike the immigration reform fight in 2007, which was plagued by a number of organizational hurdles, national immigration organizations in Washington have reached out to grassroots groups across the nation for the march. As Bill Chandler, an executive director for the Mississippi Immigrant’s Rights Alliance, told the National Radio Project recently, “The grassroots groups were left out of the discussion [in 2007] and what we’re trying to do is make sure that doesn’t happen again.”

Speed bumps on the Trail of Dreams

While organizers are preparing for his month’s march, four young students are continuing a 1,500 mile trek on foot, dubbed the “Trail of Dreams,” in support of the DREAM Act. The students, three of whom are undocumented immigrants, started their journey on Jan 1. in Miami and are currently hiking through Georgia on their way to Washington, where they are expected to arrive in May. Along the way, they are educating people about how the DREAM Act would help kids like them.

Under current law, some of the walkers still face deportation, even though they were only children when their parents brought them into the United States. While the four students have encountered a lot of support from the communities that they’ve visited, they’ve also come across some ugly opposition. As AlterNet notes, a recent Ku Klux Klan rally in Georgia “was timed to occur when the Trail of Dreams walkers were passing through the area,” and there was a “a stark difference between the messages of the two groups: one for tolerance and human rights, the other for hatred and racism.

Immigration Detention Abuses Continue

The Varick Federal Detention Facility, a privately-run immigration prison in New York city that was overseen by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency, is closing and relocating approximately 250 of its inmates to a New Jersey lockup. As RaceWire reports, the move is “partially because of public pressure” since “Varick has a well-documented track record of detainee abuse and fatal medical negligence,” but “shutting down one facility doesn’t address the broader system.”

When immigration officials granted a media tour to The Nation shortly before the prison closed, reporter Jackie Stevens described the scene inside: “The dorms are packed with rows of narrow beds, fifty in all; the law library has dated resources; there is no privacy; and there is no natural light, ever.”

On top of that, even “the agents hosting the tour seemed embarrassed and emphasized the upcoming transfer as we looked through a long hall window at men slouching, feet on the floor, using their beds as backless chairs.” Varick is just one of many immigration detention facilities with documented abuses, and while the Department of Homeland Security, the agency that ultimately controls ICE,  has promised to reform the system, they have still refused to introduce any legally-binding regulations for detainee treatment.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about immigration by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Diaspora for a complete list of articles on immigration issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, and health care issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Pulse . This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

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