Issue Brief: This Month in Racial and Immigrant Justice

Racial Justice

Every Friday, PRA brings you a monthly update on a different social justice issue. This week, we are recapping the last month in Racial and Immigrant Justice.

Not1More Protests Continue
#Not1More non-violent protests have been happening all around the country for the past year, pushing President Obama and Congress to end all deportation of undocumented workers and to eliminate holds by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The latest protest happened in Philadelphia this week, as protesters surrounded an ICE building, blocking deportation vehicles from exiting the building.

Conservative Student Group Faces Backlash over “Catch an Illegal Immigrant” Game
The University of Texas at Austin’s chapter of the Young Conservatives of Texas (YCT) gained national headlines after announcing plans to host a “catch an illegal immigrant” event on campus. Scheduled to take place on November 20th, the goal of the event was to “spark a campus-wide discussion about the issue of illegal immigration, and how it affects our everyday lives,” by having students chase people on campus wearing  “Illegal Immigrant” pins for $25 dollar gift cards. The group was quickly denounced by both the student body and University officials, and the YCT was forced to cancel the event under increased pressure. The event was created by Lorenzo Garcia, chairman of the UT Austin chapter of the YCT and former paid employee for the Gubernatorial campaign of state Attorney General Greg Abbott. In an official response, Abbott denounced the event, but not before throwing in a few jabs at the left, arguing that “conservatives should not stoop to the level of liberals, and the “failed policies of the Obama administration are not a joking matter.” This was not the first time that first time that Garcia and the YCT have caused controversy. Earlier this semester, the group held an anti-affirmative action bake sale that had different prices set according to race and ethnicity.

New Student Group at Tufts Rallies in Support of Immigrant Justice
While the Young Conservatives of Texas grabbed national headlines, a newly formed student group at Tufts University rallied in support of Immigrant Justice. On November 20th, the proposed date of the “catch an illegal immigrant” game, United for Immigrant Justice (UIJ) held a rally at the University’s Mayer Campus Center near Boston. The group was founded last year by two students after attending a national conference organized by the Massachusetts Student Immigration Movement. One of the co-founders, sophomore Elizabeth Palma, traveled to  D.C from November 19th to the 21st with over 200 college activists across the country to rally for immigration reform, and increase pressure on the House of Representatives to pass a comprehensive reform bill. The group protested in front of the offices of numerous Conservative members of congress, and sang in front of House Minority Leader Eric Cantor’s (R-VA) office until his staff threatened to have them arrested for civil disobedience.

New Proposal Aims to Prevent Future Racial Profiling at Retail Outlets
On December 9th, a group of civil rights leaders and representatives from numerous high-end retail outlets formed a coalition to create a list of rules to prevent customers to being subject to “stop and frisk” laws at department stores in New York City. The coalition, which included Rev. Al Sharpton and executives from Barney’s, Macy’s, and other department stores, established a “customer bill of rights” for department stores after numerous cases over the past few months where Black shoppers were unfairly accused of theft and credit card fraud by undercover NYPD officers. In a statement following the announcement of the coalition’s proposal, Sharpton hailed what he called the “best practices” agreement as a step in the right direction, but noted that in order to have real progress, the coalition needs active participation from the NYPD.

The World Celebrates the Life and Legacy of Nelson Mandela
On December 5th, the world lost one its most celebrated advocates of racial justice and human equality. Former South African President Nelson Mandela passed away at the age 95 after years of ill health. Mandela, the face of the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, spent over 27 years in prison for his involvement in protesting against the oppressive regime. Mandela never let his incarceration deter him from being one of the most fierce and compassionate activists for equal rights, and even rejected three conditional offers to be released. Mandela was finally released from prison in 1990, and four years later became the first democratically elected President of South Africa, as well as the first Black president. Mandela is considered by many to be one of the greatest champions of social justice and equality, and is an inspiration to many of us at PRA. In his article “Celebrating the Movement Mandela,” PRA executive director Tarso Luís Ramos noted how Mandela’s passing is an important moment for us to not only reflect on the impact of Mandela and the African freedom movement, but to reflect on “our own lives and social justice commitments.” He notes that while Mandela’s legacy is one of remarkable accomplishments, the dreams of equality remain unfulfilled. As the the world reflects on life and legacy Mandela left behind, we are reminded that the battles for equality are far from over. It is crucial that we learn from Mandela’s legacy as we continue to rally against the the continued assaults on racial justice in our own country.

Right Wing Responses to Mandela’s Passing Distort His Legacy
While political leaders, human rights activists, and advocates for equality across the world gave their final praises to Nelson Mandela, many on the Right responded with many hateful, distorted, and altogether inaccurate claims about Mandela and the movement to end Apartheid rule. Anti-choice activist Jill Stanek said that because of Mandela’s pro-choice views, she “cannot view Mandela as any other than a leader who engaged in mass genocide of his own innocent people.” American Family Radio Host Sandy Rios argued that Mandela deserved his 27 year jail sentence because he was a “criminal” and “criminals are placed in solitary confinement.” Others such as Rick Santorum attempted to the link the plight of Mandela and the anti-Apartheid movement to domestic policy fights, with Santorum going as far as to equate apartheid with Obamacare. Tea Party Senators Ted Cruz (TX) and Mike Lee (UT) posted positive Mandela tributes on their Facebook pages, only to immediately be attacked by their Tea Party constituents for supporting a “known terrorist.” Lacking from the dialogue coming from the Right is any mention that many prominent American Conservatives lobbied against Mandela and the anti-Apartheid movement, including President Reagan, who had Mandela’s African National Congress organization added to the Terrorist Watch List. In defense of Reagan, Newt Gingrich claimed that he “was no friend of the Apartheid,” (despite voting against ending Apartheid) and Mandela’s death is “just another excuse for the left to smear Reagan.”

Speaker Boehner Continues to Balk On Immigration Reform
On November 13th, Speaker of the House John Boehner announced that he would not allow any House-approved immigration legislation to be blended with the Senate’s comprehensive immigration reform bill, stating “we have no intention of ever going to conference on the Senate bill,” and that there is not enough time left in 2013 to debate and pass immigration reform. In response, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said that passing the Senate bill would be “easy,” noting that there are enough votes currently in place to pass the comprehensive immigration reform if Boehner would simply allow a vote on it. As more Americans begin to support immigration reforms, many moderate Republicans are worried of the political consequences if they are unable to pass a reform bill. Despite his vocal opposition for compromise, many prominent Democrats believe that Boehner will soon relent, including Vice President Joe Biden, who publicly called out the Speaker saying “It’s really pretty basic – pass the bill, John Boehner. Bring the bill up and let us pass it.”

Three San Jose Students Charged With Hate Crimes Against Black Suitemate
In mid-November, a student at San Jose State reported repeated instances of racial abuse by three of his eight campus suitemates. On November 22nd, the three students were suspended by the school after being charged with hate crimes and battery. If convicted, each student faces a maximum sentence of a year in prison. The Police investigation found that over the course of three months, the victim was continuously subjected to verbal and physical abuse, including being referred to as “three-fifths,” hanging a confederate flag near his door, and locking a “U” shaped bike lock on his neck and refusing to unlock it. In response to the charges, the Black Student Union at San Jose State held a campus rally demanding answers about the case, and calling for stiffer punishment against the accused perpetrators. As noted by Lecia Brooks at the Southern Poverty Law Center, the instance at San Jose State is only one of numerous recent cases of racist behavior on campus, including sorority girls dressing in “blackface” makeup, students dressing as Trayvon Martin for halloween, and a student at Towson University in Maryland that established a “White Student Union” on campus.

Report Shows Inequality in “Stand your ground” Laws When Affecting Black Males
While there are many examples of racial injustice in our criminal justice system, John Roman of the Urban Institute notes there is a striking gap disparity that has not been adequately researched until recently. In a November 27th report, Roman notes that the in the wake of the George Zimmerman trial, new studies have uncovered that African Americans are far less likely to be found justified in a gun-related homicide than white Americans. The report, which uses data from Supplemental Homicide Reports submitted to the FBI between 2005-2010, shows that when a perpetrator is black and the victim is white, there is a less than 1 percent chance of the case being ruled justified, while if the perpetrator is white and the victim is black, over nine percent are ruled justified. In states that have Stand Your Ground laws, justification for White on Black killings goes up to over 17 percent, though the rate for Black perpetrators stays the same.

Following Re-election, Chris Christie Reverses Stance on Immigration Reform
During his most recent campaign for reelection, New Jersey Governor Chris Christie claimed he would vote in favor of passing the Tuition Equality Act, New Jersey’s version of the Dream Act that recently passed through the State Senate. Under the new reforms, undocumented students that have attended a public high school for at least three years would qualify for in-state tuition rates at any New Jersey public college. Despite his earlier pledge of support, Christie announced on November 25th that while he is still in favor of extending in-state tuition rates for the children of immigrants, he would not sign the Senate’s version of the bill, claiming that the bill approved by the Senate was “overreaching” by asking for more funds than the federal version of the bill. In response to his announcement, New Jersey Senate President Steve Sweeney accused Christie of “once again turning his back on those who need us most… When he was running for governor he supported it, now that he is running for President he does not.” MSNBC columnist Steve Benen noted how Christie appears to be cross-pressured in trying to appeal to Latino and moderate voters within his state, while still keeping favor with the national Conservative base, which have become increasingly polarized on immigration issues.

Right Wing Fringe Groups Claim Illegal Immigration Will Cause Millions of “Anti-American Muslims” to Enter America
On November 11th, Right-Wing conspiracy theorist Gabor Zolna posted a video on YouTube claiming that Obama is using immigration reform to bring in 150 million Muslims to the U.S as part of a plot to impose Sharia law on Americans. Despite no evidence for his claim, the article was quickly picked up by other Right-Wing commentators. Brandon Walker of The Free Patriot claimed in a November 13th article that if the U.S passes an immigration reform bill, it will be “a back door calling for 150 million Muslims to be brought to the U.S. by 2018.” When Sandy Rios was asked what she thought of the claim, she said that it not only made sense, but questioned whether the entire immigration reform campaign is a just a “Muslim plot.” She then pointed to a Muslim organizer of DREAM Act activists as “proof,” saying “there’s no question that bad character Muslims, the Muslim Brotherhood and others, are going to use the whole amnesty problem that we have to bring in tons of illegal immigrant Muslims who don’t wish us any kind of good.”