China Admits: Still Long Way to Go on Human Rights, But…

July 16th, 2011

CHINA Flag -2011China’s defense of its human rights record has long centered on its success at lifting millions of people out of poverty, by providing food, clothing, housing and economic growth for Chinese citizens. They’ve always claimed these as the most relevant measurements for developing countries like itself.

This month, Wang Chen, head of the State Council Information Office, said in a speech published in the English-language China Daily on July 13, that China still has “a long way to go” before its citizens can enjoy full human rights. While admitting problems and challenges, the overall report adopts a positive tone. China plans to draft a new Human Rights Action Plan for 2012 – 2015.

While human rights criticism continues from the USA and other countries, only a retrospective look, at some future date, will be able to ascertain if some significant human rights improvements have yet occurred, or are on the horizon.

However, for now we can only try to provide perspective on what is involved in creating a society that honors ‘human rights’. While, admittedly, comparisons are always ‘risky’, five things should be noted:
1) Nobody has yet explained or provided an example of ‘development’ that does not involve some form of oppression and slavery for any society – since ancient times up until the present.
2) The Chinese have enough people to not have to enslave others outside their borders, while getting dirty and terrible work to be performed.
3) The USA was not a bastion of ‘human rights’ or ‘civil rights’ until the 1970’s, or 195 years after it began – else there would have been no need for a ‘civil/human rights movement’ to give rights to more than 50 million-plus people (African-Americans who led most of the fight for human-rights, plus all the other groups that have benefited – women, Hispanics, Asians, Jews, etc). Human rights efforts that had begun near the founding dates of the country, never gained momentum until the 1945-1965 period, but had little effect until the 1970’s.
4) Each step along the way to ‘human rights’ in the USA, even for the white majority, has been on a road that involved fights, murders, and other pitched battles. In other words, not a peaceful path with everyone holding hands and singing in harmony.
5) Even today, some human rights battles still continue in the USA.

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Moving Forward on Illegal Immigration: The Four Classes

July 9th, 2011

Serious discussion about Citizenship and Illegal residency must be narrowed down into at least four sub-areas of discussion to arrive at a humane solution.

Disparaging the motivations of people who raise questions about Caution-Illegalsimmigrant status will not accomplish anything. There are various motivations at work and not a single one. The fact that the immigration laws have not been previously adhered to, or selectively enforced, does not mean that such a sorry state-of-affairs should be allowed to continue indefinitely.

All Countries and all Peoples have laws and regulations about who may, or may not, reside in their territories. This has always been the case, since time immortal. Tribes and Clans had territories and recognized boundaries that they defended. The ancient societies of Egypt, Timbuktu, Kush, Greece, China, and Native America, etc, all have had similar rules that they sought to enforce.

I Demand to Live in USAArguments about how everyone in the USA is an ‘illegal immigrant’ because the Native Americans were here first, are totally absurd, since we would be forced to recognize: 1) that the Native Americans were several different nations – each with their own laws about residency – and not one singular, unified nation; 2) there cannot be a ‘turning-back-the-clock’ to fix the death and destruction that was visited upon them in North, South and Central America; 3) that under this argument, most Latin Americans would be ‘illegal’ even in the countries from which they seek to gain entry to the USA since the Native American populations of those Latin American countries were similarly destroyed and the current populations, by and large, have no claim to those Latin American lands either. In other words – under this argument, Mexicans would be illegal in Mexico.

Traveling this path in an argument is a sign of silliness and desperation. One would be forced to empty-out the entire Americas, sending everyone who is not Native American, back to Europe, Africa and Asia – perhaps leaving behind only those who could demonstrate a genetic mixed-connection to Native tribes.

Let us deal with today and recognize that one cannot reside in Mexico, Canada, anywhere inWhat Dont You Understand Europe, Africa, Asia or Latin America without permission of the governing authorities and the peoples who inhabit those countries. Therefore, why do some people think that illegally residing in the USA should be a ‘right’ without consequences?

What are the four sub-areas of consideration regarding the Immigration debate?

1) Children born in the USA from Illegal Immigrants and those brought into the USA as children by their parents, who entered illegally – yet they know no other country other than the USA.

2) Immigrant workers who perform a useful function in American society, doing the work like immigrants before them, (and slaves before either of them) which is back-breaking and often monotonous, that average Americans do not want to perform.

3) Immigrant workers who have jobs that should go to citizens, but are instead occupied by non-citizen, illegal immigrants. This is often aided and abetted by employers who chose to hire illegal immigrants because those illegal immigrants are not able to fight for citizen rights and are therefore compliant and easily abused.

4) immigrants who are allowed entry because of a promise to employ citizens. They need to be closely observed to assure that they’re fulfilling this obligation.

There are those who would argue that Americans should work-for-less-money in order to be more competitive with foreigners in the USA or abroad, however this is a fallacious argument. Following this logic, one would have to engage in a constantly downward competition wherein each person claims to be willing to work for less money than the person next to them. How then, would an American compete against a person who makes only $200 per year?

The Dream Act was originally proposed to address the first sub-area: the children born in the USA or brought into the USA by illegal immigrants. If they have no criminal backgrounds, and have been dutiful adherents of the laws of the USA, then they should be allowed to apply for citizenship. Such citizenship cannot be granted automatically, since they would need to be investigated and made to comply with some requirements (various ones are proposed) to make-up for their unintentional, yet deliberate violation of immigration laws. They would not be able to petition for Parents or other relatives, first until they’re ‘recognized’ adults, and then perhaps for a specific period of time. This proposed remedy is to fix something over which the youngsters exercised no control and could therefore be seen as innocent victims. It is a compassionate and humane solution.

Immigrant workers who work at hard and unpopular occupations should be allowed continuous and regular entry into the country to perform those jobs, until someone can demonstrate that Americans wish to perform those jobs – which is unlikely. Such entry would not necessarily be a ‘right’ to citizenship, and might require a special-category, or expansion of existing categories for temporary workers, between the current statuses of citizen and permanent-resident, because they would not be permanent but periodic. For the sake of the ‘soul’ of the country, they should not be abused and mistreated but recognized as performing a useful and respected task.

Those illegal immigrants who work in ‘higher level’ – not the hard and unpopular – occupations, should not be allowed to work. The Illegals vs US-Blacksunaddressed aspect of this is that approximately 50-percent of illegal immigration is composed of people who enter the USA legally, and then simply overstay their visas. This group, no matter how poor they may be relative to Americans, nevertheless has the money and wherewithal to board an airplane (or other transport) and legally enter via an official port-of-entry. Some of these people are lured here under false pretentions or with assurances that they can become ‘lost’ in the mass of citizens and remain undetected. Large numbers of illegal Europeans and Asians fall into this category, as do smaller numbers of African and Caribbean peoples.

One can make an argument that immigrants should be encouraged to fulfill those ‘higher-level’ occupations for which there are a shortage of trained Americans – usually thought of as the Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) positions for which few Americans pursue studies. If this strategy is to be pursued then it should be undertaken in tandem with efforts to get legal citizens to pursue the STEM subjects, making the importation of immigrants a temporary stop-gap measure.

Technological improvements have made it ever easier to track and verify Immigrants, if one wanted to. The institution of an E-Verify system, if properly administrated, makes a great contribution to this effort. Such a system needs to be regularly safe-guarded and reviewed for accuracy to avoid problems. When and if such problems occur this will undoubtedly be used to argue against its existence, but that would be a case of the proverbial ‘throwing the baby out with the bath water’ – rather than fixing it.

As for those already in the USA, a limited round-up would seem to be inevitable. Deportation In ActionThis would not be popular and cause many alarming headlines, but, not everyone would want to be ‘registered’, because they would not fit the ‘safe’ categories mentioned above – thus requiring their deportation.

It would be wonderful if people didn’t need to come to the USA to seek low-level employment, but this would be true only if their own country provided opportunities for self-sustaining work. Yet it cannot be the responsibility of the USA to fix other people’s countries, even if there are efforts to help. Such tasks would be too broad for any one country to undertake and the solutions would take many years, perhaps decades, or centuries, to have effect.

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Undocumented, Unafraid: The Atlanta Six

June 29th, 2011

Undocumented Unafraid Capitol

Yesterday, on June 28th, six young high school and college students held a press conference inside the Georgia State Capitol and were later arrested outside in an act of civil disobedience. This was the second action of this kind in Atlanta since April 2011. The youth were protesting the passage of Georgia House Bill 87 (HB87) and were there to send a message to other undocumented youth.

Nataly Ibarra, a 16-year old high school student testifies: “We are doing this because we want other undocumented youth to realize they need to be unafraid- unafraid of the politicians, of the police, of anyone who tells them they deserve fewer rights than anyone else. We will no longer remain in the shadows.”

The event drew several hundred community supporters and featured speakers from the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights, Concerned Black Clergy of Metropolitan Atlanta, and the Georgia Undocumented Youth Alliance, and former members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.

Undocumented Unafraid 1

Undocumented Unafraid

Undocumented Unafraid

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Risking Deportation to Support a Dream

June 27th, 2011

Jose-Antonio-VargasPulitzer Prize Columnist, Jose Antonia Vargas, has decided to make himself a ‘poster boy’ for those illegal immigrants who exemplify the good reasons for passing the so-called “Dream Act” through the American Congress. He set-off a small news tsunami by exposing himself as an illegal immigrant and speaking-out for passage of the legislation.

It is too soon to know what effect his self-exposure will have on the legislation and upon his personal life. Vargas risks imprisonment and deportation by his confession. The people who assisted him, and have decided to also be exposed as helping him, risk similar possible repercussions for their actions. While admittedly an act of bravery, the reactions to his confessions have been wide and various, often dependent upon perceptions that are not specific to him.

Vargas came to the USA the way that fifty-percent of illegal immigrants do, by airplane, from the Philippines when he was 12 years old. He doesn’t explain the legal status he had for this trip, but it had to involve a legitimate USA visa, which guaranteed entry. He was accompanied by a ‘coyote’ to whom his mother delivered him in Manila, and who, in turn, delivered him to his grandparents in Mountain View, California. .Vargas at 12years oldVargas would not only have no idea of what type of visa he had, nor if that visa was correctly applied for, since he would not become aware of his illegal status until he was sixteen (16) years old, and applied for a Drivers License. At the Motor Vehicles Bureau he would ‘discover’ that his Permanent Residence (Green) Card was a fake, when the License clerk proclaimed it was fake and told him to leave and not come back. That clerk could have had him arrested, on the spot, but chose not to do so. Instead he returned home to confront his grandfather about this ‘discovery’, which resulted in the revelation that would burden him from that time forward – that he was an illegal immigrant.

This was a stunning discovery for him. From that time onward he had to learn to avoid too much attention, at the same time satisfy his intellectual curiosity and interests in doing well. His grandparents preferred that he keep his head low and only strive to work at some, more-or-less, menial job that would bring little attention to him. Instead he found that he excelled at writing and developed into an award-winning, Pulitzer Prize, Journalist. Each step along the way he had moments of great anxiety and stress, for fear of being discovered as an ‘illegal’. At several strategic moments he had assistance from USA citizens – school teachers, counselors, co-workers, etc, some of whom have also come forward to admit their help – to help him keep his secret.

There are those who criticize his appearance on the ‘immigration stage’ as an attempt to claim a special status for himself because of his accomplishments. They state that he should not be afforded any special consideration because of what he has achieved. This position misses the foundation of his argument, whether or not one agrees with it. Vargas defends people, like himself, who came to the USA as children, who by definition had no control over their illegal entry, and have known no other home, other than the USA. Dream Act GraduationHe argues that his achievements have been made as ‘an American’, which should not afford him special status, but instead indicate the possibilities of what those, like himself, can contribute to the only country that they have ever known – when given the opportunity to do so.

The ‘Dream Act’ – actually has stringent requirements for those who would be accepted in the USA. It would not apply to others who decide to now enter in hopes of qualifying. It does not allow for repatriation of relatives, including parents. It only has applicability to those who have been in the USA since childhood, for a certain number of years.

Meanwhile, Vargas has made two potential errors in his argument – things that can be misunderstood and misinterpreted by other Americans. One is that, on national television (ABC-TV) he spoke of ‘going home’ when he plans to return to the Philippines for the first time in eighteen years. For many Americans, without contact with people from foreign countries, he could be seen as foregoing his claim to being ‘American’ by claiming some other place as ‘home’. In fact, America is his home and the Philippines is his country of origin, but this type of dialog is often stated this way among immigrants, legal or otherwise. It has a nostalgic feeling and would still be reflective of memories, in this instance, gathered up until the age of 12.

The other error was that his mother, in comments about his public pronouncements, told a NY Times reporter that Vargas had obtained a Philippine passport PI-Passportas a hedge against being deported and becoming a man-without-a-country. Yet to many Americans this would seem to be a confirmation that he doesn’t truly believe that he is an American, despite his protestations, and few USA-PassportAmericans know much about passports, nationality, and the concept of dual-citizenship.

We know that children forced to depart the USA, the only home that they’ve ever known, would not be “happy campers” in their new homeland and feel that they had been done a great ‘injustice’. This would not be very good for the USA in either a diplomatic or political-economic sense.

Are we going to round-up everyone – think millions of people – and deport them? Not really.
Can the USA prevent employers from hiring illegal immigrants? Maybe, but the other lesson of Vargas’ story is how he was able to create false documentation as part of his maneuvering through the system.
The unanswered part of the story is that American employers have proven that they often prefer to hire people who have little or no rights, and are therefore totally compliant and fearful – and easy to take advantage of.

Jose Antonio Vargas has attached his ‘name’ to a cause without a certain ending. It is a risky venture to undertake. Time will tell if he has made a wise decision.

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Seven Undocumented Students Arrested in Atlanta

April 7th, 2011

On Tuesday, April 5th, 2011, seven undocumented students risked prison and deportation to protest recent laws passed to ban undocumented students from attending college. The students engaged in non-violent civil disobedience and sat defiantly in the middle of Courtland Street in downtown Atlanta. As dozens of police arrived on the scene and approached the seated students with handcuffs, the students and their supporters chanted “Education, Not Deportation!”

Starting this fall, undocumented students cannot attend Georgia State University, the University of Georgia, Georgia Tech, Medical College of Georgia, or Georgia College and State University. Coincidentally, these are the same southern universities which banned African Americans from attending college more than fifty years ago. The seven students are a part of a national movement seeking to pass the DREAM Act (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act). The DREAM Act was first introduced to Congress in 2001, but has yet to pass successfully into law. The DREAM Act would apply to persons who (1) enter the country before the age of sixteen, (2) graduate high school or obtain a GED, (3) have good moral character, and (4) have at least five years of continuous presence in the US.

Before their act of civil disobedience, the students shared their stories. Georgina Perez, 21, shared that she has been in the US since she was three years old. “I am doing this for my friends who are in the same situation and also for my mother who did everything she could to give me a better life and to have an education.  We are being denied an education and criminalized for wanting an education!” Perez was the first to be arrested.

David Ramirez, who arrived in the US when he was one year old, declared: “If you are undocumented, don’t be afraid to defend your dignity.  If you are an ally, don’t be afraid to be an advocate.  We need to come out of the shadows and show the State of Georgia we are not afraid.”

The video, Estudiantes Arrestados Durante Protesta en Atlanta (Students Arrested During Protest in Atlanta) produced by Mundo Hispanico, documents the testimonies and arrests of these students. Dayanna Rebolledo, in the moments before she was taken to the Atlanta City jail, speaking in Spanish, said: “They can’t make us feel like we are criminals or that we are anything less than human beings.”

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100 Years Later: The Triangle Factory Fire

March 25th, 2011

Near the end of the work day on March 25, 1911, a fire broke out at the factory of the Triangle Waist Company in New York City. 146  immigrant workers, the majority of which were young women, lost their lives. This tragic loss of human life is remembered as one of the pivotal moments in U.S. labor history, as it highlighted the inhumane and unsafe working conditions in which industrial workers could be subjected. Moreover, the incident served as a catalyst for transformations in New York’s labor code and the adoption of fire workplace safety standards around the country.

Commemorations are taking place today in New York City, and a comprehensive learning guide that sheds light on the story of the fire, the victims, the following legal reforms, and the legacy of the Triangle Factory incident is available at Cornell University’s Triangle Factory Fire website.

triangle factory fire

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Roses of Shame: Valentine’s Day and Fair Trade

February 10th, 2011

In a great article highlighted by GOOD, we as consumers are made aware of the human rights abuses faced by farm workers in the flower industry, including sexual harassment, poverty wages, and poor workplace safety standards. As many of us contemplate which bouquet will best express our  love to our sweetheart this Valentine’s Day, we must also be conscious of issues of justice for the people who pick our flowers. Justice, as Cornel West brilliantly defines it, is “what love looks like in public.”

Unfortunately, popular floral internet companies such as 1-800-Flowers or FDT do not yet implement fair trade principles in their supply chain to ensure accountability for the human rights of floral farm workers. However, some smaller companies such as World Flowers or Inbloom Group offer fair trade certified bouquets. When we ensure that the flowers we give, the tomatoes we eat, and the sweatshirts we wear are produced with respect for the health and welfare of human beings, we can see more clearly what love really looks like in public…

Photo by L.E. Soltis

Photo by L.E. Soltis

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All Eyes on Egypt

January 28th, 2011

After watching weeks of protests in Jordan, the collapse of the Tunisian government, and mass rallies for democratic reforms in Yemen, all eyes are now on Egypt, as the most populous country in the Arab world erupts in an unprecedented wave of civil disobedience. For four days, hundreds of thousands of Egyptians have flooded streets throughout the country, calling for the ouster of president Hosni Mubarak and demanding an end to government corruption, economic inequalities, and authoritarian rule. Many of these brave protesters include young men and women who, as one Cairo professor describes, feel that “they may actually be able to determine their own destinies” for the first time in their lives. Solidarity actions are being organized around the world in support of the Egyptian protestors.

In response to increasingly violent protests, the Egyptian government deployed its state army to confront the civilian uprising. Independent human rights observers have counted more than 1,200 protestors who have been detained, and the government has cut off all access to the internet as well as cell phone transmissions in some areas. Yet, despite the chaos, it has also been reported via live news streaming that protesters have formed a massive human shield to protect the Egyptian Museum, the most extensive collection of Egyptian artifacts and mummies in the world.

While these protests undoubtedly represent a growing tide of mobilizations for democracy and economic reforms in North Africa and the Middle East, in the case of Egypt, it is still unclear if President Mubarak will respond with further repression, if he will institute reforms as recommended by the United States, or if there will be a President Mubarak at all.

Ben Curtis AP Photo

Ben Curtis AP Photo

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Haiti: One Year Later

January 10th, 2011

Peacekeeping - MINUSTAHOn January 12, 2010 a devastating earthquake killed approximately 300,000 people and left nearly two million homeless in Haiti. One year later, more than one million people are still living in appalling conditions in “temporary” tent cities in the capital city and surrounding areas. A report released this week by Oxfam reveals that less than 45 percent of the $2.1 billion pledged for Haiti’s reconstruction has been disbursed. In addition, “less than 5 percent of the rubble has been cleared, only 15 percent of the temporary housing that is needed has been built and relatively few permanent water and sanitation facilities have been constructed.” Adding to Haiti’s misery is the recent cholera epidemic that so far has killed nearly 3,500 people. The all-too-common tent cities are particularly dangerous for women, where gender-based violence and sexual assaults are on the rise. This short video by Amnesty International highlights the dangers women face and emphasizes that “feeling safe from sexual violence is a basic human right.”

Meanwhile, this week in the United States, six civil and human rights groups filed an emergency petition with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), to halt the roundups, detention, and imminent deportations of hundreds of Haitian nationals by the U.S. government. Deportations from the U.S. to Haiti have been stayed on humanitarian grounds since last year, however on December 9, 2010 the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) unexpectedly announced that it would resume deportations this month. A year after one of the most devastating humanitarian crises in history, Haitians continue to struggle to have their basic human rights met.

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UN Secretary General Discusses Role of UN in the New Year

January 6th, 2011

On New Year’s Eve, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon wrote an editorial in the Sydney Morning Herald outlining what he sees as the role of the UN in the upcoming year, contending that “more is being asked of the United Nations by more people in more places.” He also highlights the need to refocus on the Millennium Development Goals, which is a blueprint of strategies for nations and civil society organizations in an effort to eliminate extreme poverty around the world.

In reflecting on the state of the world in 2011, it is important to critically think about how human rights strategies intersect with issues of poverty and development. Consider Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that “everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services.” What similarities and differences do you see between the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Millennium Development Goals? Why are issues of health and poverty not discussed as human rights issues in the United States? Should they be?


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