Monday, April 25, 2011

Help new citizens register to vote in Philadelphia

The Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizenship Coalition is launching its Get Out The Vote campaign for the 2011 Primary Election. On May 17, voters in Philadelphia will go to the polls to vote for City Council members as well as other municipal officials. With 5 open seats on City Council, this will be a historically competitive and important primary.

Through its ongoing effort to register new citizens to vote at their naturalization ceremonies, PICC has registered over 4,000 immigrant voters in the city of Philadelphia alone. In the next month, PICC volunteers will call these voters to encourage them to learn more about the candidates and to go to the polls on May 17.

Consider volunteering for one of the phonebanking sessions listed below. All phonebanks will take place at 2100 Arch Street, Philadelphia. Training and a script will be provided. To sign up please contact Rebecca Hufstader at

Tuesday, May 10, 6-8 p.m.

Sunday, May 15, 3-5 p.m.

Monday, May 16, 6-8 p.m.

Immigrant youth leadership training offered

The New Jersey Dream Act Coalition will be hosting its first immigrant youth leadership training workshop. In an effort to empower students throughout the state, NJDAC is actively working to connect with immigrant youth regardless of status. The workshop is intended to encourage and give participants the necessary tools to become more active in their communities, as well as at the state and federal level. Click here for online registration.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

You better get born someplace else

Pennsylvania's HB 474 was sent on to the State Government committee in March. It would authorize " the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to join the Interstate Compact on Birth Certificates Issued to Aliens Not Subject to United States Jurisdiction; providing for the form of the compact; and imposing additional powers and duties on the Governor, the Secretary of the Commonwealth and the Compact."

The Interstate Compact seeks to deny privileges of U.S. citizenship to the U.S.‐born children of unauthorized immigrants. Because citizenship is within the purview of the federal government, and not the states, the proponents hope that doing so will ultimately trigger a Supreme Court review of the 14th Amendment.

The U. S. conference of Catholic Bishops opposes the repeal of birthright citizenship.

They state, through their
Justice for Immigrants campaign, that: "were birthright citizenship repealed, unauthorized immigration would not be significantly deterred. Instead, the numbers of unauthorized immigrants in the United States would increase dramatically – from the current 11 million to anywhere from 16 to 24 million or more – and there would be thousands of U.S.‐born children who would be rendered stateless – without citizenship – and unauthorized in the United States. These children – who have done nothing wrong by being born in the United States to unauthorized immigrant parents – would be punished by relegating them to second or third‐class members of U.S. society. And, it would place an undue burden on all Americans, eliminating easy proof of citizenship status through birth certificates, and replacing it with an onerous process of having to trace one’s family heritage and produce documentation of blood relations." (Emphasis is mine.)

Sponsors of HB 474 are: Reps. Scott Boyd, Paul Clymer, Jim Cox, Tom Creighton, Matt Gabler, Richard Geist, Adam Harris, Rob Kauffman, Jerry Knowles, Daryl Metcalfe, Ron Miller, Thomas Murt, Bernie O'Neill, Jeffrey Pyle, Kathy Rapp, Todd Rock, Curt Schroder and RoseMarie Swanger. (Cox, Gabler, Kauffman, Knowles and Metcalfe are all members of the State Government committee.)

Please contact them and oppose the Compact or any other measures to repeal birthright citizenship.
I've been thinking a lot about the way we will accept a person's labor without valuing or accepting the person doing the work. It seems to me that this really the heart of the desire to repeal birthright citizenship -- now, and back when the citizenship clause of the 14th Amendment reversed Dred Scott v. Sandford (the 1857 decision in which the Supreme Court held that U.S.‐born persons of African descent were not citizens, thereby denying citizenship to slaves and freemen).

And because I've been thinking about this, I've been running into all manner of art that speaks to some aspect of "you can till my fields (wash my laundry, tend my lawn, cook my food) but you can't be born here or think to belong."

So, here is one, "Moving On Song: Go, Move, Shift," performed by Chris Wood, Karine Polwart and the MacColl brothers (my thanks to
Terri Windling's the Drawing Board blog for introducing me to it). Written to reflect the treatment of Roma (Gypsies) and Travellers in Great Britain and Europe, it's words are distressingly apt to our discussions of birthright citizenship: "The work’s all done, it’s time that you were moving on … now you better get born someplace else."

Send me your links to poems, stories, music, visual art, etc. that speak in a special way to the efforts to repeal birthright citizenship or other issues surrounding the current immigration debate -- if I like them, I'll post them.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Brave dreams: An interview with María Marroquín

Update: According to the Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizenship Coalition, María and the six other undocumented students arrested in Georgia on April 5 have been released. "ICE agents interviewed the students, but ultimately declined to get involved," said the e-mail release PICC sent out April 8.

When María Marroquín first came to the United States at the age of 13, she thought she’d be seeing Mickey Mouse. She was excited and anticipating her first visit to Disneyworld.

That’s what she told the Transportation Security Officer at Miami International Airport who asked which tourist sites she and her family planned to visit during their visit from Lima, Peru. And, in fact, she stayed long enough in Miami to see palm trees for the first time, to swelter in the near tropical heat she had never experienced before and to notice “how clean a
nd beautiful” the streets of this American city were.

Her family did eventually board a bus but it didn’t take them anywhere near the Orlando resort. Instead, it deposited them in New Jersey and into a life María didn’t expect.

is — the life a regular American teenager. Except for one thing. They were undocumented.

María’s father had a job lin
ed up already — doing laundry and cleaning at a hotel. It was very different than the work he had done in Lima. The family owned a restaurant there — a going venture for 10 years — and María’s father drove a taxicab at night to make ends meet. But he came to realize that without radically changing the family’s economic circumstances María and her two siblings wouldn’t graduate from high school.

The fact that work as a cabbie during the night shift was becoming increasingly dangerous helped to finalize the decision to come to the United States on visas — which the family overstayed.
They moved to Pennsylvania not long after their initial foray north. María was enrolled in a high school in Cheltenham.

“I didn’t realize what being undocumented would mean,” María said. “None of my friends knew. I felt really isolated (and) like I couldn’t trust anyone. I thought they wouldn’t understand if I told them about my status. I felt embarrassed and ashamed.”

María’s parents took English as a Second Language classes, they paid taxes, they enrolled their three children in school, and took them with them to Spanish-language Masses — especially the ones at St. William Parish in Philadelphia, at which the community of Philadelphia-area Peruvian immigrants celebrate feast days together.
María’s mother started working as a nanny, and the family settled into building their lives.

They consulted with lawyers early on to see if there was a way to legalize their status, but it proved a fruitless pursuit. After that, María and her siblings stopped talking to each other about their irregular status. They lived with it, in silence.
Even so, she credits her family and her faith with getting her through .

She lived, María said, scared.

Her junior year in high school was marked by depression. She never knew what to answer when her friends asked her why she didn’t drive or have a driver’s license, or why she couldn’t participate in the many activities that seemed so normal to her peers. Nothing that required a social security number or government I.D. was open to her.

“It was so difficult,” she said. “And I knew I couldn’t build my life on lies. I don’t blame (my parents) for bringing me here. I don’t know what I’d be doing if I were in Peru. They wanted us to have a future.

"They are just regular people who work hard and want to take care of their children.”

In 2004 she graduated from high school and enrolled in Montgomery County Community College. She attended part-time, paying international student tuition rates — much higher than in-state or out-of-state ones — out of pocket. No financial aid was available to her. Then, like now, she earned money by babysitting and at odd jobs, and put it all toward her tuition.

It took María five years to get her associate’s degree while she worked and saved money and took what courses she could. She maintained a 3.98 GPA, and majored in social science. She’d like to continue on to get a four-year-degree — she’d be the first person in her family attain that — and to some day go to law school.

But no matter how hard she works and what she accomplishes academically, María knows the future she faces is limited by her undocumented status.

“I consider myself an American,” she said. “Everything I know — all my friends, my ideals — come from this country. I want to make my life here.”

María had hopes that the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act (DREAM Act) — bipartisan legislation that would have made an estimated 65,000 young people eligible for permanent legal status upon completion of two years of college or two years of honorable service in the military — would pass in Congress. That dream was dashed in December of 2010, when the Senate rejected the bill.

The DREAM Act would have not only given María an eventual path to legalization, but would have made it possible for her to continue her education at an in-state tuition rate.

“My parents sacrificed everything for me to be able to continue with my education,” María said. “To know I couldn’t felt like I was letting them down.”

And, she had tired of hiding.

March 19th she and six other undocumented youths “came out of the shadows” and told their stories at a rally at of Philadelphia’s Independence Mall.

“We decided to share our stories,” she said. “All we want is to continue our education. We want to do the right thing, we want to contribute. This is the only country we know and we consider it home, and we wanted to put a face to the immigration issue.”

“I know that there were undocumented youth listening” in the crowd of 150 people that gathered, she said. “I wanted to talk to those (in the crowd) who feel as alone as I had.

"A state DREAM Act bill would be great — then (young people) could afford to go to college and not be dropping out of high school.”

The crowd at the rally, mostly high school and college age people, according to María, were receptive. “They give me hope,” she said.

Her advocacy for a pathway to legalization for immigrant youth (she is the co-founder of DreamActivist Pennsylvania and has been supported by many people — the representatives from Catholic organizations who have stood by her at press conferences, her Filipino boyfriend (who is also undocumented) and her siblings.

María’s sister, 21, dreams of becoming a pediatrician; her brother, 20, a Navy SEAL. Both are experiencing the same frustrations María has, and the same thwarted desire to give back to the nation they love.

Her parents, though proud of their eldest daughter, are scared for her, she said.

And now they must be panicked.

Yesterday (April 5) María was one of seven young people who delivered a petition to the president of Georgia State University asking him to keep the institution's doors open to undocumented students — something GSU is slated to stop doing as of the fall semester.

The seven proceeded to engage in civil disobedience — including marching through the campus and disrupting traffic.
An hour later, according to the Dream is Coming web site which is tracking their tweets all seven were arrested and placed in an Atlanta jail.

It is quite possible, maybe even likely given the jail's alleged working relationship with
Immigration and Customs Enforcement, they will be turned over to ICE.

“(Deportation) is always in the back of your mind,” María said during our interview March 24. “But this is something that is much bigger than myself. Our cause is just and it is right. That’s enough for me.”

A Philadelphia vigil for María Marroquín and the other six undocumented youths who participated in the civil disobedience at GSU will be held tomorrow (April 7) at 5 p.m. at Senator Toomey’s office at 1628 JFK Blvd. in Philadelphia.

Photos of the March 19th rally courtesy of María Marroquín.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Guest blog: Proposed Pa. budget cuts would hurt services to Latinos

My name is Theresa Conejo and I am president of the Latino Leadership Alliance of Bucks County.The Alliance is a non profit 501(c)3, community service agency located in Bristol Boro. It was established 1993 by a group of dedicated activists who recognized the language and cultural barriers encountered by Latinos when trying to obtain needed information, programs and educational services, as they struggled for advancement and empowerment.

Our mission is to is to provide culturally sensitive and bilingual services to the Latino families in Bucks County. Our services include the development and implementation of programs that address those of preventative health, education, and social issues identified by our Latino residents as critical to their future and the future of their children. All our activities promote responsible social behaviors, educational success, and self-sufficiency.

As you may have seen from the 2010 Census results, the Hispanic/Latino population is the fastest-growing minority group in the state.The Latino population grew by 82.6 percent between 2000 and 2010, an increase of 325,572 people. Latinos now account for 5.7 percent of the state’s population. Here in Bucks County, the population has doubled, with Bristol having the largest concentration of Latinos.

Our agency provides bilingual assistance to the growing Latino population, helps them with the necessary life skills they need to be self sufficient and to be able provide for themselves and their families. We offer a variety of programs: English classes, citizenship classes, computer classes, after school program and summer camp for working parents,bilingual health workshops and health fairs, courses on handling your finances, home ownership, starting your own business,obtaining employment and much more. We have a Mother's Club, Senior Citizen Bingo Club, teen dance and the Fit Kids Coalition that is addressing the problem of childhood obesity.

Our case managers are available daily to help clients with such things as information dissemination on affordable housing and shelter placement, help with filling out forms and paperwork for school,employment, medical forms, makes appointments for our non-English-speaking clients and seniors.We guide families to the proper agency that can assist them with their needs.We also are the sole, primary resource agency for all other agencies, government offices and businesses in Bucks County on issues concerning Latinos.

Our agency relies heavily on HSDF Funding to provide these services. Now with the proposed budget cuts and elimination of HSDF Funds, will will not be able to provide these services and may even have to close our doors. Last year we served 2,140 case management clients, the year prior we served 3,040.With the current economic climate we expect to see an even higher total this year. All the more reason why HSDF funding needs to be continued. Our families and children depend greatly on these services, their lives are at stake if this funding ceases.

Latino Alliance is also home to a Head Start program.The proposed spending plan preserves state resources for pre-K, Head Start and child care, but cuts the funding for full-day kindergarten through the elimination of the Accountability Block Grant.We are deeply concerned that many of our Head Start students will not be able to benefit from full-day kindergarten programs when they leave our pre-K. Like pre-K , full-day kindergarten is a proven investment. Pennsylvania school districts with full-day kindergarten demonstrate a greater rate of improvement in reading achievement than districts with part-day programs. Research also indicates that children who attend full-day kindergarten experience fewer grade retentions, require less remediation and make more successful transitions to first grade.

So ask you to help me by calling or writing our elected officials to find a way to provide funds to allow HSDF to continue to help agencies like mine and other similar agencies in Bucks County and Pa. to continue with their successful, proven programs.

Theresa Conejo is a registered nurse and resident of Bensalem, Pa.