Nearly a decade ago, L.A. labor leader María Elena Durazo organized the Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride, a national caravan that brought immigrants and their supporters around the country to Washington, D.C., to push for immigration reform. In the ensuing years, there has been much talk but no action on extending legal protections to the country’s millions of undocumented immigrants.
All that changed yesterday, when President Barack Obama announced that he would sign an executive order granting temporary protection to as many as 5 million immigrants. Advocates were elated, while critics sharpened their knives and prepared for a PR counteroffensive.
Capital & Main spoke by phone with Ms. Durazo this morning shortly after she arrived in Las Vegas to join the President as he signs the executive order into law.
Capital & Main: What do you think of President Obama’s executive order granting temporary protection to undocumented immigrants?
Isabel Mejia was 17 years old when she arrived in the United States from El Salvador, having fled her home country for reasons even the most hardened immigration opponent might have trouble dismissing. Some local gang members had decided to conscript her as the “gang’s girlfriend” — to force her into a life of sexual slavery. At home, the situation was no better: She had been a victim of domestic sexual violence. Faced with rape, death or flight, she chose to flee.
Today, Isabel (not her real name), now 18, lives in a small apartment in Southern California with her aunt. Her respite is only temporary. After crossing over the Mexican border into Texas, she had been captured by Border Patrol agents and held in a Houston detention facility before being released into her aunt’s care. Some time in the next few months, she will go before an immigration judge and, with the assistance of a pro bono attorney,
The U.S. prison population has grown more than 700 percent between 1970 and 2009. We’re locking people up left and right, including thousands of non-violent immigrants whose only crime is crossing the border without documentation. They are now trapped in private prisons with no voice.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has just released the jaw-dropping findings of its investigation into the shadowy system of privately run Criminal Alien Requirement (CAR) prisons used to hold immigrants. Here, thousands of immigrants serve lengthy prison sentences where they are exposed to abysmal conditions.
Private prisons have a lot to gain from the incarceration of immigrants. Their business model revolves around imprisoning people for profits, siphoning tax dollars away from public goods and into shareholders’ pockets. For locked-up immigrants, however, it means being isolated from family and the outside world.
Until ACLU’s blockbuster investigation, CAR facilities have operated in the shadows,
Imagine a Mexican father telling his child that he’s leaving for America. He probably wouldn’t spend a lot of time explaining the complicated economic and political relationship between Mexico and the U.S., nor would he spend a lot of time explaining how difficult and dangerous the journey to el norte would be.
It would be a simple explanation, in all likelihood: “I have to go north to find work to earn money for my family.”
The children’s story Pancho Rabbit and the Coyote by Duncan Tonatiuh starts with a statement much like that. Like so many Mexican workers, Pancho Rabbit’s father decides go to north because of lack of work at home – “The rains did not come and the crops would not grow.”
Papá Rabbit, along with companions including Señor Ram and Señor Rooster, leave at the beginning of the story. The story is told from the point of view of Papá Rabbit’s family,