Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Reply to Open Letter of 1/15/2014: Our Families Can’t Wait At

 Engraved on the Statue of Liberty:
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free. “
– Emma Lazarus, American poet, 1883

Dear Friends,

I’m writing as an ally deeply concerned about the situation of immigrant families, and about the direction the immigrant rights movement has taken since the Senate passed its “Comprehensive Immigration Reform” Bill S.744.

The status quo for immigrant communities remains unbearable. You ask, “How many more will it take before we stop this? How many more families will be torn apart? How many more children traumatized?” You demand a reassessment of the goals and measures of the immigrant rights movement.

Nothing is more important. Can we take one more step back and look at what immigrant communities and their friends really need, and how to get there? I believe the Senate Bill S. 744 is a hurtful and dangerous piece of legislation, and its passage would harm immigrant families in profound ways that would take decades to reverse.

My sense is that what people need is

1.     a stop to deportations. An immediate deportation moratorium.
2.     a stop to “immigration detention” – no prison for people not accused or convicted of a violent crime. Closing of “detention centers” and their elimination from the federal budget.
3.     the ability to work and to travel – “blue cards” with a right to work for any employer, and to freely leave and return to the United States, along the lines of the agricultural workers’ legalization proposal, but as indefinite immigration status and without penalties for unemployment or for prior immigration violations.
4.     the right to stay at home - policy reorientations so that livelihoods and personal safety in immigrants’ places of origin are no longer devastated by policies of the U.S. government.

To get there is obviously a hard road with many steps, and the steps proposed by NDLON at are a perfect start. Just how hard that road is, can be gauged by the similar road for black people in this country, discussed for example here To achieve these steps will take a reevaluation of our arguments. A focus on the right to stay at home will be necessary: a spotlight must be maintained on the reasons why so many people, including unaccompanied children are coming/fleeing to this country undocumented every day. If this fundamental issue is not addressed, discussions of “border security” or of a “cutoff date” for applying for legalized status, are pointless.

Some thoughts about people’s need for a right to stay at home:

- “Free trade” agreements have destroyed the livelihoods of tens of millions of people and made lives impossible for poor families in member countries. In rural Guatemala, 80% of children are chronically malnourished. This means 80% of children there have been starved to the point where their brain development can never catch up to normal. (see for example
Do not expand the “free trade” regime to Asian countries through TPP (see; Renegotiate NAFTA and CAFTA-DR to protect small farmers, workers, and the health of the environment in all member countries including the United States.

-  Violence supported by the United States government over decades, has made life too dangerous in many countries from which undocumented people come. Military expenditures in most countries receiving U.S. military aid were and are used against poor people inside these countries, not to defend against outside attackers. See for example In addition, guns flow from official use to criminal ex- or current soldiers and police and from them to simple criminals. Whoever cannot afford private guards and razor-wire topped walls lives in permanent fear for their life.
As a start, provide people who feel threatened in countries where military and police officials were trained in the “School of the Americas” with asylum in the United States, so that average people can protect themselves.

- The violent drug trade, which makes life impossible in many countries of origin of undocumented people, is driven by the money made at every level. This drug trade is indirectly supported by the Department of Justice’s decision not to prosecute the largest money launderers, which are banks on Wall Street and in London, for example HSBC bank. (See; ) The billions of dollars of drug profits flowing to these banks are guaranteed by the “War on Drugs.”
Declare an end to the “War on Drugs” and prosecute the largest as well as the smallest money launderers.

Until we are all free, we are none of us free. – Emma Lazarus, American poet

S.744 or similar legislation would not free immigrant families from the pervasive fear of being torn apart. S.744 was always intended to leave out millions of undocumented people and persecute them yet more harshly. As Arturo Carmona, Executive Director of, said, “even the Congressional Budget Office have reported that it is quite probable that less than half of the estimated 11 million undocumented would qualify for the RPI permit, which doesn’t even constitute legalization or a path to citizenship, and the remainder would be deported according to S.744,”

S.744 would divide immigrant communities deeply, between those with “RPI” (“Registered Provisional Immigrant”) status (but in constant danger of losing it) and those without it – because they were unemployed for more than 60 days, because they returned after being deported, because they earn less than 125% of the poverty line, because they have any kind of conviction, or simply because they do not have the money to apply.

This is not Republicans versus Democrats. At the federal level it is Democrats who are driving the violence against immigrant families. It is President Obama who requested in his budget proposal for this year, that 30,000 immigrant prison “beds” must be kept filled by ICE. Representatives Foster and Deutch wrote a letter to the President, signed by 63 more congressmen and –women, asking him to remove this budget item. The President did not remove it. A mandate to fill immigrant prisons every night with 34,000 people is now again part of the federal budget.

With over 400 people dying at the border last year, and S.744 providing a ten-fold scale-up of border militarization, how can immigrant advocates support S.744?

As long as immigrant advocates focus on party politics and not on basic human rights and needs of immigrant families, enormous energies will be not only wasted, but applied to promote deeply harmful goals. For example, Fast4Families was a strong action whose fundamentally flawed demand was that the House take up S.744. This was an action where amazing, sincere and deeply committed people became political props for Democrats including President Obama.

If the House fulfills the demand of Fast4Families and passes S.744 in some form, deaths on the border will skyrocket, prisons for immigrants in which people are raped and driven to mental breakdown will be enshrined as “reform,” and deportations of 5 million people will have the stamp of approval of immigrant advocates. Fear in immigrant communities will metastasize.

Law professor Elizabeth Keyes writes: “Reform that excludes millions creates significant new problems for those left out, the ‘super undocumented,’ whose vulnerability to discrimination and exploitation will far exceed the already tremendous vulnerability of today’s undocumented population because they will be seen as even more culpable for their own lack of status. I fear that being undocumented the day after immigration reform will make being undocumented today look good by comparison.” (2014,  Race and Immigration Reform, Then and Now. At Citizenship is not the issue. Turning millions of our friends and family members into the “super undocumented” is.

Let’s let go of “Comprehensive Immigration Reform.” In its “best” form, S. 744, it  would bring uncertain and unstable benefits to some, and enshrine still worse persecution for all others.

Let’s focus on specifics as NDLON recommends, and discuss what measures immigrant families truly require now to flourish. Demands for reform have to start with the basic needs of immigrant families, and with the simple human needs of people throughout our hemispheres.


Thursday, January 23, 2014

 Cross-cultural coffee - a genius idea by the International Irish Immigrant Center

Giving of ourselves is what will finally make us whole.

 By Miryam Wiley ( written in May 2011)

That’s what I thought last Wednesday, as I took part in the Cross Cultural coffee, which gathered some 15 people at the Brazilian Women’s Group.

As part of BWG board, I have often said that we need to have more informal gatherings to attract the community. I guess other people were thinking similar thoughts. These coffees were created by the Irish International Immigration Center to encourage conversations among different groups that wouldn’t otherwise be talking.

I came across a paper explaining the objectives of the gathering and made a quiet judgment that it might have been better if advertised in the community, so people could talk about feeling different, maybe experiencing prejudice. I was afraid it would become a board members’ conversation with other leaders and made my judgment as the uninformed person that I was.

Then Wednesday came. The cheerful atmosphere at BWG’s office pleased me and everyone. As more people arrived and the small circle of chairs got bigger, I realized the community was, indeed, invited and attending.

As Jeff Stone opened the discussion, introducing himself as a board member of the Irish Immigrant Center, he said he would ask a few questions and encouraged everyone to participate. He also warned about our collective interest in giving everyone a chance. Lovers of talking, like myself, should refrain from too many turns. Quiet observers should be encouraged to speak. In my opinion, he excelled at moderating.

It was convenient that he could count on the help of Filipe Zamborlini, of MIRA Coalition, an enthusiastic organizer.  Smart and definitely an extrovert, Filipe is a talented interpreter and did a good job of keeping the conversation clear for those who are more comfortable listening to Portuguese, but also those who needed it translated into English. We all jumped in and helped at times, or told our stories in one language, then the other. Soon enough the group was very comfortable and willing to participate.

But who cares who we are and what we like about our original cultures? 

Apparently we all do and the Irish International Immigrant Center does. I would use IIC  or IIIC if these letters read more like what they mean, but I look at the initials and think “two c“ or “ three  c” first. (Our minds are resistant. Not all names lend themselves to good abbreviations :)

 Back to the coffee...The abundance of Latin souls gave rise to the information that we all  seem to love anyone’s open spirit. That came from Brazilians and also from MIRA’s Christina Aguillera, who hails from Venezuela. And certainly from the locals and the Irish.  But out of that very notion that we are comfortable with each other and friendly in ways that are so welcome, also came criticism that some of us may not have become educated about the loudness of our conversations. Or the political correctness of our comments.

Some of us are bothered by that, really bothered.  “ People haven’t yet understood that they don’t need to wait for someone else to educate them about better manners,”  said Ruth Alves, one of the coordinators of the Vida Verde co-op.

Indeed, several of us found ourselves realizing how loudness is common among many Brazilians and I shared  my mother’s experience back home, in Brazil. She has to endure the loudness of the Athletic club across the street, where “ improvements”  include louder and louder outdoor  sound equipment and lately, stadium lights for night swimming at a pool very close  to many homes. Bizarre! ( And awful!)

Several of us are annoyed by stereotypes: Brazilian women as curvaceous, lrish men as alcoholics. But we were able to realize that those who bring up those stereotypes are often trying to make a connection.  Or sometimes, there is a reality no one wishes to admit: “ There were 12 pubs in a stretch of one kilometer back where my family lives in Northern Ireland,” said Ronnie Millar, the deputy director of the Irish Center. 

The fact that Brazilians are supportive of each other in the community came up several times and many are thankful for it. “Sometimes I learn about a computer course, or an English class in the community,”  said Nalva. “To know that people will share what they know makes me happy.”

But there are those who spread misinformation, making the work of Roseclay Martins a bit harder at times:  I help people get information about what they need at the Brazilian Consulate,”  said Rose, who works for the St. Anthony’s Catholic parish in Allston “ At times, as I am telling them what they have asked, they say I am wrong because someone else told them differently. I may tell them to go back to that person to get what they need, then.”

When Jeff switched the conversation to religious beliefs, Lucimara Rodrigues said that Brazil is still mostly Catholic and that her mother said that if you ask a dog about his religion, he might bark: “Catholic.”  While that prompted some laughter, that was not the experience of another woman ( whose name I never learned) who recalled her daughters graduation from  medical school, in Brazil, in a ceremony that included not only Catholic priests, but pastors from different faiths as well as Buddhist monks, spiritualists, and even representatives of Umbanda and Candomble --  African traditions brought to Brazil by slaves and still very present in the lives of many.

Heloísa, BWG executive director, shared that she has seen people from Brazil mention their experience with two or three different traditions at the same time:  “ Someone could be Catholic and go to a Candomble or Umbanda ceremony,”  she said. “Brazilians are comfortable with that.”

As we mentioned our own experiences  of Brazil projecting them into the whole country, I confessed to my disbelief when, one day, after being in this country for several years, I realized that when I said the expression “ In Brazil,”  the picture I had in my mind was the dining room table at my mother’s house!!
In a large and extremely diverse country such as ours, we are not likely to be able to respond to “ how Brazil is,”  other than our own personal experience and the stereotypes perpetuated by the media.

But indeed, the gathering proved to us that we all do have something in common: our serious interest in being in community, whether American born, Irish born, Brazilian born  or born anywhere else.

“There was nothing lost in translation,”  said Millar. “When the baby ( Gigi) fell, we all looked at the same place and we all wanted to make sure she was fine, but we didn’t need to say anything.”

Anne Auerbach, former employment coach for the Walshvisa Program of the Irish Immigrant Center, shared her enthusiasm for the friendly conversation:

“ I was so impressed with how open everybody was,”  Anne said. “ It was amazing to hear the stories people had to tell.”

“We really need to be better integrated with other groups of people,”  said Lucimara. “ I really liked to meet the nice people that joined us.”

At the end I shared that I was reminded of what author Rachel Naomi Remen calls “ to listen generously,”  something I heard when she was interviewed by NPR’s Krista Tippet, in her show On Being (which airs on  WBUR Sundays at 7AM ) 

Nothing seemed contrived, as we truly spoke from our hearts and showed our interest in each other’s stories. That was, indeed, a way to start a conversation, something that could bring us together and encourage others to start the same, away from technology, away from censorship and most of all, very close to our human experience.

I feel completely whole for having given a large part of myself at this coffee gathering.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Hoje, 28 de agosto, teve uma marcha em Boston em comemoração aos 50 anos do famoso discurso “Eu tenho um sonho” de Martin Luther King . Na marcha hoje em Boston estavam negros, brancos, homens, mulheres, pessoas de diferentes religiões, enfim todos aqueles que sonham por um mundo mais justo.

Eu sou organizadora dos trabalhadores no Grupo Mulher Brasileira e todos os dias vejo trabalhadores relatando as injustiças que passam no trabalho. São histórias comoventes, mas o que mais sensibiliza é a contínua luta desses trabalhadores. Mas é assim,  passo a passo, nessas lutas do dia a dia,  é que se contrói um mundo melhor. 

Para todos os trabalhadores, segue uma frase de Martin Luther King:
“Injustice anywhere is threat to justice everywhere”

A injustiça em qualquer lugar é ameaça à justiça em todo lugar”
Tenham todos uma ótima semana!

Telma Leitao
Worker’s Rights Organizer
Brazilian Women's Group

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Senado aprova reforma imigratória. E agora?

O Senado federal aprovou hoje, 26 de junho, o projeto de reforma imigratória por 68 votos contra 32. Quatorze republicanos votaram a favor. Agora o próximo passo é a Câmara Federal onde a maioria republicana, inclusive o líder John A. Boehner, não está propensa a aprovar o projeto do Senado ou um outro que não considerem bem mais restrito.
O projeto-de-lei aprovado no Senado hoje prevê um longo período para a legalização, 13 anos para a cidadania e pelo menos três níveis para imigrantes ajustar o status imigratório. “O momento é histórico. Desde 1996 que não temos um projeto que ofereça uma caminho para a legalização dos 11 milhões de imigrantes que vivem nos Estados Unidos à margem da sociedade”, disse Heloisa Maria Galvão, diretora-executiva do Grupo Mulher Brasileira. “Nós temos de nos preparar para a longa batalha na Câmara Federal. Lá os debates serão bem mais acirrados e as tentativas de endurecimento ilimitadas”.
Heloisa ressaltou também a importância da decisão da Suprema Corte dos Estados Unidos, dia 25 último, ao rejeitar a definição de casamento do Ato de Defesa do Casamento (entre um homem e uma mulher). A partir de agora, casais do mesmo sexo têm os mesmos direitos dos casais heterossexuais, inclusive podendo patrocinar seus maridos e esposas para efeito de status imigratório.
“A semana é história por dois motivos”, repetiu Heloisa, lembrando que a medida inicialmente contida no projeto de

reforma imigratória, foi retirada por imposição dos republicanos radicais.  “A decisão da Suprema Corte corrige uma injustiça e, melhor ainda, muitas famílias do mesmo sexo vão poder se legalizar sem depender dos políticos”.
O Grupo Mulher Brasileira está atento ao que acontece e na liderança do movimento pela reforma, continuou Heloisa, porque faz parte de várias coalizões que lutam pelos direitos dos imigrantes. “A atual linguagem da lei nos preocupa muito porque se for votada como está vai beneficiar alguns apenas e vai criar um estado militar contra os imigrantes. Mas o momento é de trabalhar juntos com todos os grupos e a comunidade precisa entender o que se passa e precisa se levantar para garantir uma lei justa e abrangente”.
O Grupo Mulher Brasileira já féz uma reunião comunitária sobre a proposta de reforma imigratória aprovada no Senado e fará outra dia 16 próximo para os trabalhadores que fazem parte do seu Comitê de Trabalhadores. A advogada Hannah Krispim vai participar do próximo “Estação Mulher” neste sábado, dia 29. O programa do GMB vai ao ar das 11 às 12 horas todos os sábados pela 1300 AM.