A reminder of the responsibility of the state to guarantee rights and dignity to all people

Since his inauguration, Donald Trump has stepped up the offensive against the dignity and rights of immigrants, particularly undocumented immigrants who are caught in the web of ever harsher immigration laws. Candidate Trump pledged to deport 3 million undocumented immigrants, and let’s not forget that under President Obama, 2.4 million undocumented immigrants were deported. Attorney General Jeff Session, whose racist stands are no secret, has engaged in a trial of strength with the people who believe that respect for rights and dignity of all people is the responsibility of the state.  All of these policies aim at marketing a more xenophobic vision of the society that pits the “elected citizens” against the most vulnerable members of this society.

Patrick Young, an attorney for the Central American Refugee Center, CARECEN, in Hempstead and Brentwood, Long Island, New York presents the possible responses to the collusion between ICE and the police in making arrests and then deporting undocumented immigrants.

He also expounds on the impact on the immigrant community.

Finally, we asked him what were the main issues that immigrant women face in these particular times in the United States.

This continues our series of interviews with Patrick Young. You can read and hear the earlier interviews here and here. Along with being an attorney for Central American Refugee Center, CARECEN, Patrick is also an immigration law professor at Hofstra University, co-director of the Law School’s Immigration Clinic, a policy analyst for New York State Immigration Action Fund, and a writer for Long Island Wins, a website geared toward Long Island immigration communities.

 

(Photo Credit: Long Island Wins)

No safe status for immigrants and refugees

Patrick Young is an attorney for the Central American Refugee Center, CARECEN, in Hempstead and Brentwood, Long Island, New York. We asked Patrick Young, “What are the options for organizations, such as CARECEN, to act in protecting the people who are under threat of deportation?”

In addition, deportation is also a threat to people living legally in the United States under the Temporary Protection Status, TPS, as this program is up for renewal. The latter is decided by the President only. The production of temporary status is certainly problematic in making the fate of people at the mercy of one “man” such as the president of the United States. We discussed the issue of TPS with Patrick Young as well.

This continues our series of interviews with Patrick Young. Along with being an attorney for Central American Refugee Center, CARECEN), Patrick is also an immigration law professor at Hofstra University, co-director of the Law School’s Immigration Clinic, a policy analyst for New York State Immigration Action Fund, and a writer for Long Island Wins, a website geared toward Long Island immigration community.

We talked with Patrick Young about the increasingly alarming issue of deportation for many living in the United States.

(Photo Credit: Long Island Wins) (Interview by authors)

Responding to the first President of the United States elected on an anti-immigrant platform

 

Patrick Young marches with CARECEN

Patrick Young is an attorney for the Central American Refugee Center (CARECEN), located in Hempstead and Brentwood, Long Island, New York. He is an immigration law professor at Hofstra University, co-director of the Law School’s Immigration Clinic, a policy analyst for New York State Immigration Action Fund, and a writer for Long Island Wins, a website geared toward Long Island immigrant communities.

CARECEN is working with immigrants, offering them legal assistance with TPS, DACA, application for green cards and renewal and adjustment of status, as well as other kinds of legal advocacy, citizenship classes, and English language instruction.

Immigration is a vexed issue in the United States, heightened by an election marked by racism and political alliances. In 1948, President Truman signed the Displaced Persons Act, which included many restrictions. This was the first attempt toward a standard refugee entry policy. 1967 saw the UN Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees. The US signed the protocol and passed enabling legislation in 1980, but it was not enforced until 10 years later. The selection of refugees was arbitrary. People coming from the Eastern Bloc, for example, would be protected, whereas people coming from Haiti, El Salvador and Honduras would not.

The following series of interviews draws attention to many aspects of immigration under the current president who is the first president elected on an anti-immigrant platform.

 

(Photo Credit: Long Island Wins) (Interview by authors)

Daphne Banai: “From an oppressed people we’ve turned into an oppressive people”

The MachsomWatch is a group of Israeli women volunteers who oppose the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands as well as the denial of Palestinian rights. They are women taking notes, documenting all the actions that eliminate the humanity of the Palestinians, and advocating for them, calling politicians for support. With their eyes and their voices, they reshape the checkpoints; they show the soldiers the compassion they have lost. The checkpoints are part of the surveillance of a system of separation based on militaristic power.

These women are transnational from within. Their connection with the people who are isolated by a system of separation is the gist of their action. They demand explanation from the blind “kids” (soldiers) who humiliate Palestinians who are just returning home or going to their fields. The Machsom Watch women create a free space that the militaristic state cannot see since the goal is to close up all spaces. But their very presence at the checkpoints forces the Netanyahu government to “see” them; the resisters are acting in the face of oppressive rule, despite their physical vulnerability.

The reality of the checkpoints (Machsom) and the occupation appeared to Daphne Banai, an activist of MachsomWatch, as an impossibility for her enjoyment of life. 70% of the checkpoints are deep inside the territories and so are materially violent disruptors of everyday life. Meanwhile, the justification given to the Israeli public for the presence of checkpoints is precisely to avoid disruption of life because of terrorist attacks.

Daphne Banai explains that when her daughter could have lost her life because of a terrorist attack, she realized that she was on the same side as the Palestinians. All kind of mythologies have created this impossibility to receive the other. Daphne talks about her own mother, a far-right woman who never saw the other side of the story: “She never talked to an Arab person. At her funeral, there were many of my Arab friends.”

Daphne Banai sees the absurdity of the situation for Palestinian refugees to live sometimes just a mile away from their original village. She recalls the time she encountered an old man returning to his home in Palestine from Jordan with a big suitcase. She and her friend offered to drive him to his village, but a curfew had just been established that the old man was unaware of. They arrived at another checkpoint, where despite the old man having all his papers in order, the soldier didn’t want to let him through. They could see his house from the checkpoint. The two women argued with the soldiers for hours, she said. Daphne remembers the conversation, particularly the soldier’s response that he was following orders and he would shoot her if those were the orders. The old man was 80 and that night she was invited to her uncle’s 80th birthday. The old man was now crying; he had no place to spend the night. They managed to go to another village, explained to a family the situation and dropped him off for the night. Then she drove to her uncle’s birthday party and couldn’t stop thinking about the old man crying. The checkpoints are not there for protection; they are there to assert a position of domination guarded by dehumanized robot-type soldiers.

Women’s bodies at the checkpoints brings up layers of meanings, such as the domination over them, their surveillance, and the violence done to them. Their exposure to the ammunition targeting them accentuates the vulnerability of the Palestinian women and children who are humiliated and violated daily. MachsomWatch defies the sexual and economic exploitation that is the basis of surveillance, as it challenges the formation of memorial historical righteousness that make the ethical relation between the self and the other an impossible story. As historian Shlomo Sand asserts, no history is superior to another.

 

(Photo Credit 1: Palestine Primer) (Photo Credit 2:  Flickr / Michael Rose)

From Mumbai to Paris and Beyond: Transnational Solidarity In the Face of Violence

The following conversation took place right after we received news of the Paris attacks. We were in Milwaukee at the National Women’s Studies Association conference, where we were presenting on a panel on the invisibility of mothers in the U.S. and in India, made more so by social policies, particularly pregnant women in U.S. prisons who are shackled during pregnancy and labor. When the horrific news reached us, taking time out of the conference to respond to each other was the only way we knew to attend to our emotions and thoughts.

B: Yesterday, the news came. Something happened in Paris, the city I know well and where many of my relatives and friends live. The first pop-up news stated, “40 killed.” What? And then there was an avalanche of dreadful messages from friends and family. Then began the task of looking for everyone there. Pramila, with whom I presented that afternoon in Milwaukee, was with me and I clung to her to stay afloat.

P: My heart was in my mouth when I heard of the attacks when we finished our panel on the invisibility of women.  Over the next two hours, we got the news in dribs and drabs on CNN. My feeling of tragedy was overwhelming, especially because my friend Brigitte lives near Paris and visits there often, and it only happened she was currently in the U.S. and presenting at our panel. What were the chances that she and her family were not at that particular site of one of the attacks? What are the chances that any one of us is at the wrong place at the wrong time? But even as I think this way, I am already guilty of surviving. I am also witnessing another kind of suffering that is unfolding before my eyes—the sorrow of the witnesses.

B: Yes, the link to precarity struck me as well. My thoughts went to the family from Syria I met on the train to Thessaloniki. They left Syria to go on this very dangerous journey, crossed the Mediterranean Sea on a flimsy boat, scared. They were abandoned and ended up in the water, from where they were rescued. Yesterday in Paris, people stepped on pools of blood as they ran for their lives. It was difficult to locate friends and family certainly and my heart was pounding at times, but I felt that we had an urge for human connection, for solidarity. We wandered in the hotel and met our friend Sherry who hadn’t heard the news. We told her. Her first words were “Bush and his team opened a Pandora’s box!”

P: I, too, am thinking about how precarious our lives have become, even more so after the U.S. invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan. Daesh is no accident—it is the horrific outcome of a violent situation created by the invasion of Iraq under the false rhetoric of bringing freedom to the Iraqi people. The irony of this is not lost as we witness not simply the hardship brought about by the violence witnessed everyday by the Iraqis—a violence that was perpetuated by the U.S. presence and now by Daesh; the spreading of this violence into France that upholds liberty, equality, fraternity in its social policies and its political philosophy.  So it is not surprising that President Hollande’s first word after the shock of the attacks last night was “Compassion.”  Not revenge, not an eye-for-an-eye argument. Because the way out of the revenge equation is more liberty, compassion, empathy toward the marginalized—values that are anathema to fundamentalism everywhere. Because fundamentalism thrives on divisiveness, subjugation and fear.

B: The work of compassion was expressed by one of my interviewees in the documentary “What Do You Mean Shackled?” That is one of the values that we share and forget about so quickly when profit and money animate the elite and put us at risk of violence. Compassion and solidarity work together. Shackling pregnant women is simply horrific, as it was horrific to enslave people from another continent. But we continue to talk about “our values.” What and where are they? This morning, besides the probably necessary forceful responses, everybody in France is talking about the values of compassion and solidarity. How can we reinforce these values in actions instead of acting in opposition to them?

This morning in Paris, people were hugging and kissing each other. My friend there told me how they want to take care of each other, atheists, Muslims, Jews, Christians simply because they are human beings and nothing else.

P: I am recalling the terrorist attacks that happen in cities like Mumbai, the most recent being in 2008. Although the terrorists from Pakistan claimed responsibility, the Indian government followed the legal steps to achieve justice, instead of launching attacks on Pakistan, for it knew that violence only begets more violence. Remarkably, each time a riot happens, the plural citizenry of Mumbai stick with each other, offering support and solidarity. So it is only solidarity that can be the single most effective strategy against violence.

Words of sympathy from strangers…so simple, so natural.

This morning as we were having breakfast in the hotel, the waiter brought us the bill and on it he had written, “Our heartfelt sympathy for the French people.” This simple gesture brought tears to our eyes. Brigitte said, “We need to treasure these moments…such as the moment of solidarity I experienced with the Syrian refugees and the Greek women on the train to Thessaloniki.”

Solidarity and compassion are the only antidote to violence and hatred.

And one must go on. That sense of carrying on with our purpose is best expressed in  W.H. Auden’s “Musée des Beaux Arts”. The opening line goes, “About suffering they were never wrong.” In the poem, Auden describes the fall of Icarus from the sky into the water; the ships and people keep going on despite the suffering of the fallen boy. One can read the poem as people turning away from the suffering person. They see what happens; they absorb it; and they continue with their task. I want to add a few lines to this poem, depicting the folks on the shore turning toward each other and extending a comforting hand, rather than remaining isolated. Being isolated when suffering unfolds around you diminishes the spirit. What is spectacularly humane is for people to turn toward each other to offer comfort.

B: I watched on French TV the reaction of people in the iconic Place de la République. Some targeted Muslim people to give them kisses and hugs and to tell them thank you. One man said that he was appalled by the distortion of his faith and asserted that he felt more like a citizen. Certainly, people are looking for a common humanity.

Some people and the French press examined how Daesh came to be.

In the name of which god did the U.S. invade a country, with oil in its soil, so far away a country named Iraq?

In the name of which god did they incarcerate so many in jails like Abu Ghraib and carry their violence with them?

They instilled the indistinguishable sense of injustice, detained the innocent with the angry. They tortured, pronouncing that it was fair to torture bodies from another place.

They believe in this competition for violence; competition–another word that negates solidarity and compassion, the basis of justice.

We are listening to countless stories of violence perpetrated in the name of which god? Stories of violence on farmers, women, and the ones who live and enjoy life in Paris.

This violence comes from nearby and far away–this is what deterritorialization of mode of production has produced. It comes from greed, from controlling faith, from competition. I think of your words about Mumbai as a place of laicity; I think of Paris as a place of laicity, a place for resistance maybe. I remember the French President saying no to war in 2001, no to the invasion of Iraq…Will he be remembered for saying the words of the people who never want war?

P: Yesterday I heard from a friend who said she was so disturbed by the Paris attacks that she wanted to reach out to her friends and embrace them. I was touched. In the same email, she said that only one religion is responsible for creating so much bloodshed. I want to tell those who are blaming the Muslim faith, we need to look at the set of circumstances that produced the current violence in Europe.  We need to see the chain of events, beginning with the first Gulf War, then the attack on Iraq as retaliation for the 9/11 attacks, the massive breakdown of infrastructure in Iraq, its repercussions across the region, the vacuum of power that was filled with a government that was divided across sectarian lines, the daily carnage in Iraq, unemployment, loss of hope for young people facing a bleak future.  The ousted government of Saddam Hussein became the Islamic State. Their establishment is not based on religion—it is based on an ideology of violence in order to build territory and acquire totalitarian power. William McCants, author of Isis Apocalypse, says the Islamic State’s territory is shrinking and they are losing much of their money in undertaking organized violence. At the same time, places that are unstable will become the breeding grounds for ISIS recruits and for the establishment of their government. So what can we do to counter this maddening expansion of Islamic State members in our midst?

B: Additionally, the South, where Iraq and Syria are, has been affected by climate change generated in the North. The discriminatory system of the current economic system is also at work. Maybe that is the biggest hidden issue in the invasion of Iraq, the destabilization of the region, and as a result, the building of Daesh with the role of war capability as a rationale. Deleuze and Guattari said fascism requires a war machine. Fascism formed in the Western countries and it imposed a world war on populations in the Pacific Ocean and in Africa and many other places. Maybe the greatest threat for humanity is our divisiveness. We should not lower our guard as many forces would like to use these events to threaten the social and civil cohesiveness that is more than ever needed.

Solidarity and compassion should be viewed as crucial components for organizing, if we want to counter the maddening expansion of the Islamic State power and the maddening often concealed violence of the neoliberal order. Both require resistance.

 

 

(Photo Credit 1: Oliver Hardcore /  The Guardian)(Photo Credit 2: Enzo Dkndt / The Guardian

Women Writers Speak and Write Despite Calls for their Death or Exile

Last month, Sabeen Mahmud was shot dead in Karachi after she gave a talk for the second part of a conference on Human Rights in Balochistan that she had organized at her T2F, a bookstore and café. Sharmila Seyyid is living in a safehouse in South India, far away from her home in Sri Lanka, hounded by fundamentalist mullahs in both countries for some of her innocuous statements in a BBC interview. These are women who are speaking openly about the rights of people around them so that men and women might treat each other with respect and dignity. Both created safe places where the imagination could reign freely without fear. Sabeen created T2F (The Second Floor) as “an inclusive space where different kinds of people can be comfortable,” a place where arts, culture and dialogue could live freely.

In the last two decades the South Asian women writers who have received vituperative harassment have included Arundhati Roy, Kutti Revathi, Bama, Sukirtharani, and others we know little about. An Indian woman writer and journalist, married to an Afghan citizen was murdered a couple of years back. Despite threats, many women writers have bravely persisted. Kutti Revathi received hate mail, but has continued to write poetry. Bama and Sukirtharani in Tamil Nadu have persisted despite protests about their feminism. Women before them have been exiled for their seemingly rational views on religion and women’s right to be free of violence: Taslima Nasrin still remains exiled from Bangladesh and lives in Germany.

We continue to hear of women’s writing that is questioned, hated, banned, and sometimes, the authors harassed and exiled.

Why do fundamentalists fear women’s writing? Why is there increasing violence against women writers? What are they speaking about that so threatens religious fundamentalists? Fundamentalists believe in the need to keep society’s patriarchal structure intact, and so women are kept in their place within expected traditional roles, without rights to their minds or bodies. If they thought or spoke independently, it would disrupt the status quo and bring uncertainty to the roles of men and women in society and disrupt men’s dominant place in all branches of society—politics, law, religion, and family. Sabeen and her organization T2F supported the cause of an independent Balochistan. She invited Mama Qadeer, the separatist activist, and other panelists for her last series of two conferences entitled “ Unsilencing Balochistan.”

The Pakistani secret services have been accused of being responsible for the disappearance and execution of many activists in Balochistan who were working on restoring justice. Sabeen Mahmud was one of the rare women who had the courage to stand up against this injustice.

Sharmila questioned the system of purdah and freely wrote about rights of sex workers. Kutti Revathi writes uninhibitedly about woman’s bodies. Nasrin is openly atheist and argues for women’s freedom from male oppression within Islam. Bama questions caste and male oppression. Roy argues openly for Adivasi people’s right to live without being murdered by the Indian government. Soni Sori, an Adivasi teacher and organizer, has been tortured under police custody. Why? Because she advocates for minimum wages and for Adivasi women’s rights. Why do the police want her in jail? “[Because] she has taken on powerful companies that want the Adivasis’ land, and the Chhattisgarh government that supports these companies. She has taken on the police for their illegal activities”.

Fundamentalists deliberately refuse to acknowledge the tradition of female outspokenness that is part of literary, artistic, and faith traditions. If they are not literate or educated in history and the arts, perhaps their ignorance plays a role in this blind acceptance of a conventional gender division. Worse yet, government support of neoliberal agendas makes officials the henchmen of corporations, colluding with fundamentalist ideology. Sabeen Mahmud was assassinated at the time China put $46 billion on the table to sign a strategic agreement with Pakistan, creating an energy corridor through Balochistan to the Arabian Sea at the deepwater Port Gwadar, Pakistan.

Neoliberalism and fundamentalism see women’s silence as important to the sovereignty of corporations and organized/structural religion. The woman who talks, questions, imagines, writes, wonders is a nightmare for fundamentalism and neoliberalism. So the only thing that can be done to stop this thinking humanistic female machine is to kill or exile her. But as we see in so many examples around us, women writers, artists, filmmakers continue to do what they think they have to do, because there is no other way they know how to live meaningfully. Death threats cannot stop them from saying what they need to say. They must be heard and read beyond borders!

 

(Photo Credits: tribune.com.pk)

For Nigeria and the World, an Anniversary and Much, Much More

A year ago 276 high school girl students were kidnapped from Chibok boarding secondary school located in the state of Borno in the north east of Nigeria. One year later, clearly the national response and global response has been ineffective and disappointing since 219 girls are still missing.

The response from the former President Goodluck Jonathan was slow. Emmanuel Ogebe, a human rights lawyer, showed that the authorities’ apathy was obvious. He interviewed the population and the girls who escaped three months after the kidnapping, and reported that no police or other forms of inquiry had taken place.

Meanwhile, the insecurity is real and affects everyday life in Borno, straining means of subsistence and the region’s social balance. There is massive displacement of the population with 1.5 million forced out of their homes among whom 70% are women and children.

Since the beginning of 2014, over 2000 women and girls were killed in Nigeria.

Although the #BringBackOurGirls campaign got international attention with celebrities involved, a code of silence still sticks to the regular violence against women and youngsters in this part of the world.

While the killings in Paris were shocking and created the movements we know, the killing of 2000 people in Baga, Nigeria did not receive that same attention. BringBackOurGirls along with many activists have not given up. Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani Nobel Peace Prize Winner who defends school education for girls, has declared, “In my opinion, Nigerian leaders and the international community have not done enough to help us.”

When women are taken hostages and utilized in a military way, whose patriarchal interest does it serve?

Should we question the lack of clear engagement of some leaders in the region of Lake Chad where important reserves of oil have been found? This oil reserve is shared by Niger, Nigeria and Chad.

Chad’s president, Idriss Deby Itno, has played a very obscure role, sometimes supporting efforts to control Boko Haram and sometimes retreating from the coalition. He also trapped the Nigerian president into a deal to get back the girls, last September, and then nothing happened. Boko Haram’s chief has been seen in armored vehicles made in Israel and used by the Chadian army. The French government has supported Deby, and French companies have also had important interests in the region. Nigerian leaders claim Chad is exploiting Nigerian oil using new drilling methods, while Nigeria is destabilized by Boko Haram’s assaults. The Chadian opposition organization, Mouvement du trois fevrier M3F, sees Deby as a pyromaniac fireman, spreading fire to better control oil exploitation in this area, thus expanding his political and economic control in the region, having already extended his stranglehold on the Central African Republic. Corporations from abroad enjoy a piece of the pie. Boko Haram’s thuggery is aided and abetted by this collusion by governments and corporate interests. And the victims are the school girls, who are still unaccounted for, and the terrorized population.

The questions surrounding the girls’ kidnapping and disappearance are a reminder that women’s lives are subjugated to the interest of a market system that knows no limits in using manipulation and spreading violence.

The exploitation of Nigeria’s oil reserves has a long history. Three decades ago, activists and writers tried to defend the precious Ogoni lands from being exploited by Shell Oil Company. The Nigerian government colluded with Shell Oil, which in turn was strongly supported by both the U.K. and the U.S. Nigeria tamped down the protests by executing the activists, despite international protests. Ken Saro-Wiwa, whose death, he himself predicts in his writing, clearly articulated and challenged the neoliberal corporate and political interests at the expense of the Ogonis. Today his words ring truer than ever as we see the brutal murder of women that mask the transnational neoliberal corporate and political greed to increase the oil fortunes of the one percent.

In this context, Boko Haram’s members maybe viewed as modern mercenaries. Their main targets are women, and to complete their grip on the populations they also target schools, with 900 schools burned in northern Nigeria and some 176 teachers killed. They seek to normalize violence and vulnerability. But resistance continues to be organized and women’s rights organizations have engaged in making these crimes visible. Resistance movements are not giving in. On March 14, one year after the abduction of the girls, a Global School March was organized worldwide. Women are demanding the newly elected Nigerian president Muhammadu Buhari who will start his mandate on May 29th to fulfill his promise and to step up the process to save these young women. The movement goes further and demands global protection of women and girls to teach and attend school and to enforce protection of rights. This is a global threat against women and against humanity, which is not poverty driven but driven by vested interests that impoverish and manipulate populations.

We cannot stop marching.

In Pramila Venkateswaran’s “When they Hang a Poet,” poet – activist Ken Saro-Wiwa protests neoliberal exploitation of the Ogonis, and is killed by the Nigerian government. But his words live on, and the protests continue. Try as they might, government and corporations will fail to snuff out the voices raised to preserve democracy free of violence 

When they Hang A Poet…
For Ken Saro-Wiwa

You spoke of a green earth—your dream
a filament of the earth’s desire.
You wrote of Africa pillaging
herself, a prostitute “choosing”
her destiny. I see your blood
in my quiet hands, in the hands
of my country, in the hands
of every human being caught
in the clamor of living,
in the hands of corporate souls
on whom desire sticks like sin;
in the hands of your land, your sentence
is as extraordinary as a poet’s nightmare.

They hanged Saro-wiwa: syllables shock the air
as leaves weep on the cold, cold dirt.
But your words spread like a rain-storm filling
decrepit croplands of the Ogoni.

(published in The Kerf, 1997)

 

 

(Photo Credit: bellanaija.com) (Illustration credits: KR Magazine)