At the local level, Americans are demonstrating a strong commitment to advancing human rights. In recent elections, voters legalized marriage equality in nine states and passed the DREAM Act to expand educational opportunities for undocumented residents in Maryland. In addition, legislators in four states abolished the death penalty. The message to the nation’s leaders seems to be this: human rights still matter, and the task of “perfecting our union” remains incomplete.
As President Obama prepares to give his second inaugural address, he should embrace an ambitious rights agenda: enhancing our security without trampling on human rights; implementing a foreign policy that hold friends and foes alike accountable for human rights violations; and ensuring human rights for all in the United States without discrimination.
Measured against international norms and his own aspirations, President Obama’s first term record on human rights merits an “incomplete.” While he made the bold move of issuing an executive order to close Guantánamo on his second day in office, he has yet to fulfill that promise. The U.S. government’s reliance on lethal drone strikes is growing steadily, but the administration has provided no clear legal justification for the program. Congress has abrogated its responsibility to exercise meaningful oversight of this most ubiquitous element of the “global war on terror,” a paradigm which is in and of itself problematic. Although President Obama has on occasion stood up for human rights defenders abroad — in China, Iran, Russia and Libya — his administration has often muted criticism when it comes to U.S. allies, in the Middle East, Africa and Europe.
‘You may say that we are DREAMers…’ But, as the vote on Question 4 of the Maryland ballot demonstrated, we are definitely not the only ones! You helped successfully defend the Maryland DREAM Act last night as Marylanders voted 58% to 42% in favor of the act.
The Maryland DREAM Act is legislation that would afford students from Maryland, who have been state high school students, and whose parents file state taxes, the opportunity to pay in-state tuition rates for their higher education. (For more information regarding the Maryland DREAM Act, check out our Maryland DREAM Act one-pager and our infographic.
This is an important victory for the students and families who will be affected, for DREAMers across the country and for human rights supporters fighting for immigrants’ rights and the right to education. It’s important for another reason too. Ballot referendums are a critical barometer of public opinion, and an indication of how ready U.S citizens and residents are ready for political change on the issue in question. The results in Maryland are pretty clear – voters strongly support common sense measures that recognize the contributions that our talented young people, regardless of immigration status, are making to the nation.
In 1941, FDR enunciated the Four Freedoms, signalling U.S. commitment to basic rights for all. In 1948, Eleanor Roosevelt led the creation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the foundational document for human rights in the modern world. But despite these hopeful beginnings more than half a century ago, a culture of respect for human rights has not taken root here in the USA. The seeds were planted, but the soil has not been fertile.
From torture and executions to discrimination in things like education, or even marriage, the U.S., at the federal and state level, often engages in policies that are willfully contrary to human rights norms accepted (if not always practiced) in much of the rest of the world.
That’s why, in Maryland and California, it is extremely important that those of us who want to establish a real culture of human rights here in the U.S. get out and vote.
On November 6, 2012, Maryland residents will vote on a ballot initiative that will allow undocumented students who have lived in Maryland, whose parents have paid taxes in Maryland, and who meet some other conditions, to pay in-state tuition fees for their higher education.
The Maryland DREAM Act, if it is able to come into force, would enable many DREAMers to attend state universities that would otherwise be prohibitively expensive. At a time when many states in the U.S. were passing anti-immigrant legislation (adding to a climate of hostility to migrants, those perceived to be migrants, and Native Americans), Maryland passed legislation in April 2011 that realized the right to equal access to education for a significant number of students.
Now, the Maryland Dream Act is in jeopardy. Let’s defend the right to education, and the Maryland DREAM Act! On November 6th, Vote ‘Yes!’ on Question 4 on the ballot. Help spread the word by sharing this graphic widely:
Immigrant students demonstrate for an end to deportations on June 15, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)
“They are Americans in their hearts, in their minds, in every single way but one: on paper,” President Obama stated today, in confirming that an order had been issued permitting some 800,000 DREAMers to remain in the country without fear of deportation and enabling them to seek employment. The President went on:
“Effective immediately, the Department of Homeland Security is taking steps to lift the shadow of deportation from these young people.”
This week’s TIME Magazine hits the newsstands today, taking us inside the lives of our fellow community members who happen to be undocumented immigrants.
In his “Not Legal Not Leaving” article, author Jose Antonio Vargas writes about how many undocumented individuals feel American. Like Vargas — an undocumented immigrant himself — these individuals may live an ostensibly American life. Yet these individuals all face the constant threat of deportation and other realities of a life lived with a sword of Damocles hanging over their heads.
Nineteen year old Luisa Argueta can’t imagine a life anywhere else but in the United States. She grew up in California after her mother Brenda, fleeing persecution in Guatemala, escaped there when Luisa was just 4 months old
On September 12th, Luisa and her mother were “ordered to report” for deportation to Guatemala after an immigration judge denied their asylum application. Just days before they had to start packing, the Department of Homeland Security granted a temporary respite until the end of Luisa’s school year in May 2012. This may provide temporary relief, but they are still at great risk of losing their home, church, and community.
Passage of the DREAM Act, that provides conditional legal status to a select population of young immigrants, may be their only hope.
Just two weeks ago Governor Brown signed into law California DREAM Act AB 130, allowing undocumented students, who studied at least three years in California high schools or have an equivalent high school degree, to be eligible for non-state private scholarship awards.
For the last ten years California has already provided students the right to access instate tuition, regardless of immigration status, as long as they meet the requirements set under AB 540, which was signed into law almost 10 years ago and was successfully upheld by the Supreme Court this past year.
California advocates continue to push Governor Brown to also sign AB 131, a law that would extend instate funds for undocumented students.
The implementation of both bills will prevent students from being forced to decide between foregoing a college education and remaining in the US with their families and community or leaving the U.S. in search of an affordable and accessible education.
A boys shows a US flag as President Barack Obama speaks on immigration at the Chamizal National Memorial on May 10, 2011 in El Paso, Texas. (JEWEL SAMAD/AFP/Getty Images)
Yesterday, without any fanfare, Senators Robert Menendez (D-NJ), Harry Reid (D-NV), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Richard Durbin (D-IL), Charles Schumer (D-NY), Kristen Gillibrand (D-NY) and John Kerry (D-MA) introduced the “Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2011,” a bill that includes a legalization program and incorporates two important pieces of legislation, the Dream Act and AgJobs.
One hopes this will stop the discriminatory condemnation of immigrants by legislators all over the country. However, if the Act does not directly address the discrimination intrinsic to the whole immigration system, it may serve as a band-aid, but it won’t likely stop human rights abuses of suspected undocumented immigrants.
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.