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LA Immigrant Rights Activists Wrap Up 3-Week Fast to Change US Immigration Policy

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Immigration was hardly an issue in the presidential race. But immigrant rights activists have just finished a twenty-one-day “Fast for the Future” to call on President-elect Obama to change US immigration policy. We speak to two people from the immigrant rights community: Alex Sanchez of Homies Unidos and Janis Rosheuvel of Families for Freedom. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZALEZ: We turn now to immigration policy, an issue that all but disappeared during the last phase of the presidential campaign. Immigrant rights activists in Los Angeles organized a rally Wednesday, the day after the election, following a twenty-one-day “Fast for the Future.” Noting the crucial importance of the Latino vote in Obama’s victory, they called on the President-elect to stop the brutal raids by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency, or ICE.

Independent journalist Fatima Mojadiddy was at the rally and spoke to Raul Anorve from the Institute for Popular Education of Southern California.

    RAUL ANORVE: We’re asking for everybody to — for this country to be more humane, democratic. No more — we’re asking for no more raids in our communities. They’re criminalizing our youth. We want a change. And the elections yesterday gave us a little bit of hope to make that change possible.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Under the Bush administration, the country witnessed a dramatic buildup in border security and immigration enforcement. Programs initiated by the Department of Homeland Security Chief Michael Chertoff included Operation Community Shield, that targets immigrant gang members, Operation Streamline and the Secure Border Initiative. Amidst growing complaints of abuses in the system, including reports of deaths of immigrants in detention, there has also been a sharp rise in the number and scale of ICE raids in communities across the country. Over a thousand people were arrested in two of the largest single workplace raids, took place in Laurel, Mississippi and Postville, Iowa earlier this year.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined now by two guests from the immigrant rights movement.

Alex Sanchez is executive director and founding member of Homies Unidos, a gang violence prevention and intervention program with offices in Los Angeles and El Salvador. He was among the nearly 150 people who participated in the “Fast for the Future.” He joins us from Los Angeles.

And Janis Rosheuvel is the executive director of Families for Freedom, a New York-based organization fighting deportation. She joins us here in the firehouse studio.

Alex Sanchez, the last time we were talking about you, you were fighting deportation. You were in jail, and there was a nationwide movement to free you. Briefly talk about your own experience and then about this twenty-one-day fast that you participated in.

ALEX SANCHEZ: Yes, in 2000, in January, I was arrested by LAPD officers with the sole intention to deport me and not be able to testify as a key alibi of a fourteen-year-old kid that was being tried for murder as an adult. I eventually was processed into deportation proceedings, but the community was in outrage. This was during the same time of the Rampart scandal. So I was able to, with a lot of pressure from the community — and I presented a real solid case in regards if I was to be deported, I was going to be killed by death squads in El Salvador that were targeting specifically deported immigrant youth labeled as gang members or had tattoos. I was able to win my political asylum case after three years fighting it.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And, Alex, the fast going that’s been going on in Los Angeles, could you tell us who has been involved in it and why?

ALEX SANCHEZ: Well, IDEPSCA has taken a big lead, and RISE. Homies Unidos also took part. And other people, other community leaders, such as Angelica Salas from CHIRLA, and others that took part, individual students, there were elder community leaders, there were people undocumented, there were people that were documented, there were citizens. They all participated, from all realms, because it is an important issue.

We participated because we know that there’s these policies in place that have really made it difficult for individuals to present asylum cases in immigration courtrooms under the assumption that they’re deported — they’re deportable gang members, and that limits the opportunities they may have to seek a real asylum case and be heard.

So, the fast was to bring this awareness into the communities, but also to awake this giant monster that was awakened before but went back to sleep. We’re trying to wake him up and really taking it to the steps of the White House now under a new administration of Obama, in which he is committed himself to really looking out for the immigrant community. And that’s why we’re asking for the demands that we’re asking, for this new administration to actually make — help Obama be successful in legalizing our people, our immigrant people, and keeping our families together in the US.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Alex Sanchez, in Los Angeles, in your communities, the response to the election of Barack Obama? And how involved were people?

ALEX SANCHEZ: Well, people were really involved. I have a real personal story, in regards to my brother, who is at the California hospital fighting cancer. He woke up out of a surgery on Monday before the election, and he asked to go vote. Unfortunately, the doctors told me you cannot leave; if you check out, you won’t be able to check back in. So, under the pressure of my brother, that he wanted to vote, and it was his right to vote and could not be denied that right, I went around and figured out that he could actually vote. So we went to the county clerk’s office in Norwalk, were able to bring the paperwork through a process, and he was able to vote. And he voted for Obama, because he believes in this new change and how important it is for us to get involved.

So, you have a big rally around the Latino community that we’re pushing on the issue that really demonstrated that there was this unity of African American and Latino, young and old, that were interested in participating in this historical election.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Janis Rosheuvel from — executive director of Families for Freedom here in New York, I’d like ask you your expectations now with an Obama presidency? On the one hand, as a candidate, Barack Obama said he’d try to deal with comprehensive immigration reform in his first year. However, his new Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel several months ago said that that’s the third rail of American politics — immigration — and that it will have to wait, according to him, until the second term of a Democratic president.

JANIS ROSHEUVEL: Yeah, I mean, I think what we want — just echoing what Alex said, I think what we want to see from a President Obama is really a shift. You know, the Bush administration has really just tightened the enforcement noose around our communities, and what we are looking for is a shift in policy that says enforcement only cannot be the only way that immigration policy is done in this country. And we’re looking for him to really, you know, step outside of some of the more conventional ways of thinking about immigration policy, you know, that mean more border — more border — you know, the border wall, more border guards, more detention beds. We’re looking for him to really step up and say, you know, discretion should be restored to immigration judges. We’re looking for him to say — he has already said; you know, he’s made some sort of progressive-leaning statements about immigration, particularly on issues of family unity and also, you know, really calling for more just employer sanctions. But we’re really looking for him to step outside of whatever the sort of mainstream philosophies are about immigration. Particularly, I think, you know, if he’s talking about not going all the way on CIR, I don’t know, because I think a lot of —-


JANIS ROSHEUVEL: The comprehensive immigration reform that was on the table in the last few years. I think, you know, if he’s saying, “Well, we’re not going all the way on CIR” -— I think some of the CIR proposals from the last few years were really problematic in a lot of ways, and so I think it’s an opportunity for us now to really push for actual just, you know, more progressive comprehensive immigration reform.

JUAN GONZALEZ: But the main aspects now that people are feeling are these ICE raids and then the issue obviously of the wall that continues to be built along the border. So far, Obama hasn’t really said much about either of those, has he?

JANIS ROSHEUVEL: I mean, he has said that, you know, ICE raids are ineffective, but, you know, what does that mean? That means — and, you know, he’s also said, you know, he doesn’t see the value of pulling a baby out of a mother’s arms — all things that I think, in theory, are, you know, great statements. But really, policy-wise, what is he going to do? You know, does that mean — you know, it would be really amazing and wonderful if he came in and said — which I think would be a pretty easy ask, considering all of the human rights violations that have already been documented during ICE raids — if he came in and said, “Let’s do a six-month moratorium on raids. Let’s investigate ICE as an agency that really has, you know, had so much leeway and is really just so — has no accountability. Let’s investigate this institution. Why is it that this institution keeps getting funded year after year, while other institutions in the government are having to tighten their purse strings? ICE just keeps getting funded.” So I do think that he has some — he has an opportunity here.

AMY GOODMAN: Alex Sanchez, what about Operation Community Shield, which targets gang members? What do you think should happen there?

ALEX SANCHEZ: Well, I think that we see the big failure of Operation Community Shield. You know, there’s been over 10,000 people that have been arrested through this operation in our communities. What we’ve seen is that when they go after some of these assumed gang members and they don’t live there in the address that they’re going to, they arrest the family that’s in that home anyways, if they’re undocumented.

So what we’ve seen is a big failure, because now what happened is that once you started deporting individuals that were involved in illegal activities, once they went to their countries, their countries were not prepared to receive all these individuals that were criminalized on top of that. Their records were sent with them, as well, so they made them a target. These individuals rapidly got involved in the activities that were there in those countries, and that’s what we have now, a big old problem in regards of how those governments are seeking US intelligence and policies to see how to combat those gangs.

But as the result for that, there’s been many human rights violations in the prison systems in those countries, but also in the streets, when you have vigilante groups going after these individuals. It has escalated the violence and the migration of youth who feel sought after. So you have many individuals coming back up, going into Mexico, coming into the United States, fleeing persecution, because the governments are killing them. And that’s creating more violence in different areas of the United States, because people are seeking shelter, but at the same time, you can’t get a job because you’re going to get arrested. You can’t be driving, because you’re going to get stopped and you’re going to get arrested. So, many individuals just seek to see how they can make it, be part of the underground economy in the United States, which is causing a big problem. So it backfired.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And, Alex, if you had to suggest one thing that President Obama could do without the necessity of going before Congress, in an executive fashion, in terms of immigration, what would that be?

ALEX SANCHEZ: I think that we should stop this persecution of immigrants, or so-called criminal immigrants, and really start investing in trying to see how we can force, in foreign policy, those governments to make conditions better to stop the flow of so many people leaving their families behind. If they focus on foreign policy and have those governments really stabilize their economy and stabilize their way of treating the people and really create programs and incentives to have those governments really create employment for many of these people and stop the human rights violations, people will not seek to migrate and leave their families behind.

AMY GOODMAN: The massive protests that took place in May —- we just have a minute with you left, Alex Sanchez, on the satellite -— where has that movement gone, May Day?

ALEX SANCHEZ: Well, we see that it hasn’t moved forward as we want it to. It went back to sleep, as we’re saying. But through this “Fast for Our Future” and our participation in this hunger strike, we’re trying to awaken, we’re trying to get those big immigration agencies that are out there leading the immigration debate to really start looking at the local issues and what the efforts have been that have happened and had not stopped, to really take us into consideration and push our issues into a bigger policy. So we’re not stopping. This is the beginning. After the fast, we said, you know, we march, and now we vote. Well, now we voted, and we’re going to continue marching to demand that people be legalized.

AMY GOODMAN: Janis Rosheuvel, what you think needs to happen right now?

JANIS ROSHEUVEL: I mean, I think, first and foremost is what is happening in California with the fast. I think that is an amazing model for what needs to happen. We need to organize. You know, Obama said during his election night speech, this is not the change, this is the opportunity for the change. And I agree with that. I mean, I’m not a booster of his, but I agree that our responsibility is not to boost him; our responsibility is to push him; our responsibility is to organize; our responsibility is to, you know, do nonviolent, militant direct actions like the Fast for the Future, that really sort of create the space for us to actually make the change that he has talked about and that we so desperately need in our communities. So I think that’s what needs to happen.

I think also, you know, Obama talks a lot about bipartisanship and working across the aisle. And there’s really just one piece of legislation out there right now called the Child Citizen Protection Act, it’s HR 1176. It basically asks for discretion to be restored to immigration judges. It doesn’t take anybody off the deportation rolls. That’s why it’s an easy ask, and that’s why it’s something that can happen in a bipartisan way. And I think for him to — if he came out and said, “Support the CCPA,” and really —-

AMY GOODMAN: And it does…?

JANIS ROSHEUVEL: And what it does, yeah. What it does is ask for -— you know, for example, if somebody comes before an immigration judge who has US citizen children right now, an immigration judge is not able to really take that into account. An immigration judge is only able to take into account that — what is their status; do they have criminal convictions, like Alex was talking about; what kind? There’s a very narrow lens through which an immigration judge can see an individual’s entire life. This legislation basically says, if I have US citizen children, that should be something a judge should take into account before deporting me. And I think that is a really easy ask and something that, you know, he can very easily work to, you know, like bring forces together on across the aisle.

AMY GOODMAN: Janis Rosheuvel, I want to thank you for being with us, executive director of Freedom — Families for Freedom based here in New York, an organization that fights deportations. And Alex Sanchez, executive director and founding member of Homies Unidos, a gang violence prevention and intervention program with offices in Los Angeles and El Salvador.

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