About Sarah Burns

Sarah Burns is the former Government Relations Director at Amnesty International USA.
Author RSS Feed

An (Im)perfect DREAM





All of your calls, visits and support have worked! Thank you so much for all your hard work over the past few weeks. We are almost there- We now need to make one final push to make sure this important piece of legislation passes in the Senate as well.

This morning the Senate voted to table consideration of their own bill in order to take up the House version. We need you more than ever to urge your Senators to “Pass the DREAM Act”!

We can make history! Reach your Senators by dialing: 866-996-5161



The day is almost upon us. Thousands of students, families and activists across the country have been waiting nine years for the passage of The Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, a bill that would help thousands of committed students and military officers legalize their status.

In the last few weeks calls for the introduction and passage of such legislation have reached a fever pitch with endorsements from the White House, the DOD, and DHS among others. Last week Senator Durbin (D-IL) introduced S. 3992 and a House companion bill is expected any day.

However, for many DREAM supporters the release of the long-awaited Senate bill last week dampened the spirits of some and outraged others.  

Amnesty International has historically supported the DREAM Act because it provided access to the exercise of significant human rights including the right to education, the right to family life and unity, and due process instead of deportation.  While the introduction of S. 3992 was encouraging, we’re concerned that the over-burdensome framework, including harsh grounds of inadmissibility and deportability undermine the human rights the Dream Act has historically been introduced to remedy.


FEMA's Formaldehyde Trailers Are Back…

The New York Times reported yesterday that the formaldehyde-tainted trailers provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to people who had lost their homes in the wake of Hurricane Katrina are getting a second life. This time around, the trailers are being used as housing for workers cleaning up the growing BP oil spill in the Gulf Coast.

Many families displaced by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 were initially housed in 120,000 trailers issued by FEMA. As Amnesty reported in Un-Natural Disaster: Human Rights in the Gulf Coast, several residents soon began complaining about respiratory problems and burning eyes, noses and throats. The trailers were found to have had such high levels of formaldehyde that the government banned them from being used as long-term housing. But what was the government going to do with thousands of contaminated trailers that cost $130 million every year to maintain? Auction them off to the general public, of course.

The trailers—resold from $2,500 and up at auctions in 2006—were bought by individuals and companies, including contracting firms now involved in the oil spill cleanup. Although FEMA placed restrictions on the use of the trailers as housing and required that subsequent owners be informed that the trailers are not intended for housing, cleanup workers are reportedly living in the trailers unaware of the health risks they face. This disturbing news comes on the heels of reports that hundreds of complaints have already been filed by cleanup crew members with poison control centers after exposure not only to the oil, but to the fumes from the burning of the oil, and to the chemicals in the dispersants.

The individuals working tirelessly to clean up the oil spill in the Gulf have a right to housing that is safe and habitable, to protection from conditions that are hazardous to their health, and to complete and accurate information about the environment in which they are living and working. The oil spill already poses a threat to human rights particularly in those communities of the Gulf region that are still struggling to recover from severe hurricane damage, a threat that is now compounded by the resurrection of FEMA’s formaldehyde trailers. Surely the least we can do is protect the rights of those who are working to protect our own environmental human rights. A sign of how seriously the Government wants to avoid any more fallout from an already disastrous situation? By Thursday night Congress had already called for an official investigation into the use of the condemned trailers.

New Bill Could Help Families Torn Apart by Immigrant Detention

Some good news on the immigrant rights front: Recently Senator Al Franken (D-MN) along with Senators Kohl, Menendez, Klobuchar, Feingold, Durbin and Feinstein introduced S.3522 the Humane Enforcement and Legal Protections for Separated Children Act, or the “HELP Separated Children Act.” This bill would implement critically needed reforms to protect children impacted by immigration enforcement.

In the past several years Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has detained hundreds of thousands of people, many of whom have U.S. citizen children. Parents who are detained are separated from their children, sometimes permanently, breaking up the family structure. This legislation would help to minimize the traumatic effect that immigration enforcement situations have on children by giving parents the opportunity to make appropriate childcare arrangements, reducing the likelihood that children will unnecessarily be placed into the foster care system.

Amnesty International has long called for safe, thoughtful and humane immigration reform.  Part of this reform should include a move away from mandatory detention to community based alternatives to detention (if detention is required at all) for those who do not pose a flight risk (i.e. those with strong ties to the community, those with local families).  If release is contraindicated,  secure alternatives to detention should be considered in all cases involving pregnant women, sick seniors and nursing mothers.

Amnesty International has joined a broad coalition of human rights organizations in support of this legislation to reduce the devastating human rights impact of our nation’s immigration system on children. We have heard in recent weeks many brave voices speak up publicly about their own experiences of family separation. In Washington this has included a Senate briefing Amnesty co-hosted with the American Friends Service Committee where immigrant families and separated children filled the room to stand together in support and tell their stories of broken families struggling to survive without a mother or father. On the House side 10 year old Katherine Figueroa testified before a teary crowd about the fear she lives in after watching both parents being taken away and detained for three months (see video below).

In the wake of Arizona law SB1070, it is even more important that meaningful immigration reforms that respect the rights of all people are enacted.

Now it is time to hear YOUR voice. Take action to help support this critical legislation by calling your Senators U.S. (Capitol Switchboard 202-224-3121) and asking them to keep families together by cosponsoring the HELP Separated Children Act.