#Timeisnow for Immigration Reform rally & live music, Tuesday October 8th

Time is Now Immigration rally 10/8/2013

Communities United for Immigrant Rights

On August 17, a coalition of organizations held a unity rally for immigrant rights in front of the White House, calling for Congress to act on immigration reform and put an end to deportations. Organizers of the rally included WORD (Women Organized to Resist and Defend), DMV LOLA (Latinas Organized for Leadership and Advocacy), and NAPAWF-DC (National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum), joined by the ANSWER Coalition (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism). Speakers at the event discussed the misrepresentation of immigrant rights as an exclusively “Latino issue,” instead demonstrating that the movement for immigrant rights is part of the movements for women’s rights, workers’ rights, and human rights. A running theme of the rally was that whether we like it or not, the hijacking of immigration reform at the national level has devastating consequences for all our families, economies, and communities

20130817_133357 The mainstream media often falsely represents immigration as a Latino issue, leaving out large portions immigrant populations and not accurately reflecting migration patterns.  A more complicated picture emerged at Saturday’s rally, which was led by a diverse coalition of immigrants and their allies.

Standing in front of the White House, Linda Khoy shared her sister Lundy’s story with the audience. Lundy was born in a refugee camp, and eventually, their parents were able to leave Cambodia because of the war. Linda, however, was born in the United States. They wouldn’t realize until many years later the effect that different sorts of papers would have on their lives. Lundy went to college and at the age of 19, found herself arrested for a misdemeanor level offense. In immigration terms, however, that meant deportation proceedings. Now they work with One Love Movement, organizing Southeast Asian refugees and others to put a stop to deportations. Listen to Linda tell Lundy’s story and her message for President Obama:

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Diana, another speaker at the event, shared her experience of being undocumented in DC. “I was a career criminal before I could even talk, and since then, every breath I took was labelled an unlawful one.” A DREAM Activist member and UDC honor student, Diana was born in Lagos, Nigeria and arrived in Washington, DC when she was only 2 months old. She attended Bancroft Elementary, Shaw Junior High School, and Roosevelt High School.

I was a career criminal before I could even talk, and since then, every breath I took was labelled an unlawful one.”

Diana said she felt like any other Washingtonian until her senior year, when she found out she was undocumented. Listen to Diana tell her story and come out as undocumented, joining 11 million others in the US:

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Catalina Nieto with the Detention Watch Network, who is originally from Colombia, posed a provocative question to the crowd: “What does it really Catalina Speaksmean to be in unity, to be in solidarity, and have each others’ backs, for real?” — also bringing up the important point that “there is a group of people right now who are benefiting from having us divided.” If you want to listen to more of what she had to say about moving from slogans to meaningful change, listen below:

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These stories illustrate the very real impacts of a broken immigration system upon families, and particularly women, facing the threat of deportation. Their call to action is clear: they want President Obama and Congress to stop deportations. Cases like Lundy’s show that judges need to use discretion in the sentencing process for undocumented people, rather than deporting immigrants for minor offenses. More broadly, the organizers demonstrated that they are part of much larger struggles, including the struggle to end mass incarceration of US citizens and to stop prison labor profits via the prison industrial complex. Nieto urged the crowd to consider what it means to be unified with people going through solitary confinement, trapped in an immigration system with no access to family and friends.

At this point, seeing each other as humans and having each others’ backs is a revolutionary act,” said Nieto.

Visit the websites of the organizations linked in the post above to get involved in the unified struggle for immigrant rights. Join Women Organized to Resist and Defend (WORD) at the 50th Anniversary March on Washington Rally beginning @ 8 am at the Lincoln Memorial, then marching to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial.
Immigrant Rights Organizers

Mayor Gray Must Understand, Our Language is Our Right

Washington, DC – On July 22, 2013 Mayor Vincent Gray, along with a handful of aides and scores of reporters, paid a visit to Petworth with the intention of cracking down on synthetic marijuana and drug paraphernalia being sold at small businesses in the neighborhood. “That’s illegal, man. Can’t do that. That’s drug paraphernalia,” warned the Mayor. This isn’t the first time that Mayor Gray has posed as a law enforcement official in order to bust local shops, in his effort with the group Advocates for Drug-free Youth.

The visit took an unexpected turn, however, when Gray encountered an Ethiopian clerk who had trouble understanding English. “You don’t understand? How do you sell anything if you don’t understand? If somebody asks you for something, do you know what they’re asking you for?” Mayor Gray chided. At one point, visibly frustrated by the language barrier, the Mayor told the clerk “I don’t even, I really don’t know how you are working here if you can’t communicate with the people who come in here.” Despite criticism from NBC4 reporter Mark Segrave, the Mayor denied that his remarks could be considered insensitive and said that the language barrier was “irrelevant.”

According to federal and local laws, DC government must provide interpretation and translation when interacting with limited- and non-English proficient individuals. By asking for interpretation and having his request denied, the clerk was deprived of his right to “equal and meaningful” access protected by Title XI of the Civil Rights Act and the DC Language Access Act of 2004.

"I Speak" Card - AmharicOver 85,000 DC residents speak a language other than English at home, according to the 2010 Census. The most common languages include Spanish, Amharic, French, Chinese, Korean, and Vietnamese.  With these facts in mind and the law on his side, it is difficult to watch the Mayor tell the young clerk that his actions are illegal — not to mention while Mr. Gray himself is under federal investigation for corruption charges.

It isn’t the first time a PR move like this has gone wrong for the Mayor. Just this time last year, he brought a small army of city officials with him to Martin Luther King Boulevard in SE to demand that shop-owners stop carrying rolling papers and selling loose cigarettes. In many of the stores, Mr. Gray and the Director of the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA) Nicholas Majett also encountered language barriers. Then too, the City Paper’s Alan Suderman picked up on the Mayor’s disregard of language access laws:

It did not seem like many of the foreign-born clerks would be able to read the letters without some assistance, as they often appeared to have no idea what the mayor was saying. Majett said it’s a common ploy for immigrant clerks to claim poor English skills whenever dealing with the DCRA. “We always get that,” he said. And Gray said they were still getting the message. “They don’t speak English well, but they understand this is an enforcement visit,” he said.

Following the Suderman piece, the DC-based organization Many Languages, One Voice revisited the stores to get reactions from the owners, most of whom were Korean and spoke little English. MLOV also responded to the most recent incident in Petworth in a video made by English language learner youth in their student organizing program, S.M.A.R.T. (Student Multiethnic Action Research Team):

Lidya Abune, a former S.M.A.R.T. member was surprised by the Mayor’s actions, saying:

“The fact that he’s making fun of him, I don’t expect that from the Mayor.  I really respect Vincent Gray, but this is really immature.  And definitely in DC, we have the Language Access Act and we have to respect it.  DC is very diverse. We have a large immigrant community and you will be respected if you respect someone’s language, culture…it’s really critical.  It is someone’s identity…You have to show respect for the people that you’re serving.”

Laws are on the books for a reason. As progressive as the DC Language Access Act is, it is born partly out of the violence and bloodshed of the 1991 Mount Pleasant riots. Incited when police openly shot and killed a handcuffed Latino man, the riots catalyzed big changes in the way government worked with non-English speakers, and immigrants more generally:


Ultimately, government and community leaders realized that language barriers, discrimination, and unequal access to services in the Latino community had created the conditions for the riots. But by denying the clerk’s right to an interpreter, the Mayor openly showed his ignorance of the law and its history or worse, that he doesn’t care about DC’s immigrant community.

In addition to getting trained on his responsibilities under the law, the Mayor ought to get a lesson in neighborhood demographics of DC — a step that might have prevented his surprise when encountering a store clerk who doesn’t speak English fluently. While Petworth is a historically African-American neighborhood, there is no denying the abundance of immigrant-owned businesses along its busiest avenue and the diversity of its residents:


Total ANC-4C Population

% Children

% Black

% White

% Hispanic

% Asian/P.I.

Average Family Income

































With increasing demographic shifts and rampant gentrification in the District, I constantly see a faulty characterization of DC along Black/White racial lines. This mentality completely erases the history of so many immigrants who have come to call the District home. My family immigrated to DC from Ecuador in the early 1960s. As a 3rd-generation DC resident, I take issue with the mindset that immigrants are not part of this beautiful city. We live here, work here, go to school here, and most importantly, pay taxes here.

Mayor Gray needs to understand, our language is our right.

That’s How You Win Campaigns: What DC’s Progressive Community Did Right In the Final Legislative Session of 2013

Last week, the District’s most vulnerable residents organized to win two major victories in the City Council: the Large Retailer Accountability Act (LRAA), which would require big box stores to pay their employees a living wage, and which effectively prevented the expansion of six Walmart stores within the District; and the Driver Safety Amendment Act (DSAA), which grants the City’s 25,000 undocumented residents the ability to obtain a driver’s license without a mark indicating their undocumented status.child_holds_stop_walmart_black_mail_sign

In the first hour of debate over the LRAA it was revealed that Walmart’s CEO Michael Duke made nearly $17,000,000 – a figure well over what his workers earn in a year. Despite this, Councilmembers bickered over whether the bill was a boon or a bust to DC’s low-income residents. The division was due, in large part, to Walmart’s recent threats to pull out of DC if the measure were to pass. At-Large Councilmember Vincent Orange argued that “DC has made it” and doesn’t need to cater to large retailers by accepting low wages.  Councilmembers Alexander (Ward 7)  and Bowser (Ward 4) decried the lost jobs and retail opportunities for the residents in their wards.

Meanwhile, taxpayers are the ones ultimately funding the financial incentives to lure these retailers into the District. Just this time last year, the city approved a tax incentive to the tune of $32.5 million dollars to headquarter LivingSocial in DC.  Despite being located in one of the most rapidly gentrifying neighborhoods in the District, the DC-USA shopping center in Columbia Heights received $40 million for its development (See the Fiscal Policy Institute Article It’s Time To Stop Shopping For Supermarket Tax Breaks.) What’s worse, these taxpayer-funded incentives for large development projects or corporations often come with no strings attached–no requirement to pay living wages, provide job training, or engage meaningfully with the community and their concerns.

After heated debate, the bill ultimately passed 8-5 but still awaits the Mayor’s approval. If he signs it, large retailers must pay their employees a minimum of $12.50/hour, calculated to be a living wage in the District.  This would be an increase from the current minimum of $8.50/hour.

Big box stores are not going to be the drivers of economic revitalization. In fact, Think Progress reported: “Walmart’s refusal to pay their employees a livable wage translates into a bigger burden for taxpayers. A Congressional report found that, “the workforce of a single Walmart store [can] consume roughly a million dollars in public benefits every year, relying on “safety net” programs like Medicaid, food stamps, school lunch, and housing assistance to survive.” On the other hand, mutually supportive networks of small businesses and households are known to create a more robust local economy. Low- and moderate-income people, together with small business owners, can help sustain each other, rather than expecting an ethically abysmal multinational corporation to bring in decent jobs or training.

Another important victory impacting the residents of DC is the Driver’s Safety Amendment Act (DSAA), which was passed unanimously in last week’s vote. In issuing licenses to undocumented residents, the Council (and advocates) hope to create safer driving conditions for everyone on the road by ensuring that undocumented drivers have the opportunity to pass road safety tests and acquire insurance for their vehicles. More importantly, the success of the “One City, One License” campaign marked a step forward in civil rights and equality.

Report on DSAA by Ben King for Fress Speech Radio News

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Advocates also say it will improve the economic prospects of many of the city’s low-income residents who couldn’t obtain licenses before.  While it was being debated at the committee level, supporters of the bill packed the hearing room to share stories about the consequences of not having a valid drivers license. Many testified that without the opportunity to get a driver’s license and vehicle, they have difficulty commuting to jobs in places where public transportation is sparse or unreliable. Others said they became accustomed to paying unofficial taxi drivers to get around, many of whom would overcharge for rides knowing their passengers had little recourse. Elderly men and women described the physical toll of walking to and waiting at bus stops, especially during inclement weather.

Jose Alvarado Describes the Economic Benefit of DSAA

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Aside from the benefits to public safety and economic security this measure provides, perhaps the bigger success of DSAA’s passage is that it does not identify the cardholder as undocumented. The Mayor’s original proposal would have created a two-tiered system marking the license carried by an undocumented resident as “not for use for federal purposes.” During yesterday’s meeting, however, Councilmember Jim Graham (Ward 1) and others fought against this “separate but equal” approach, cautioning that it would be like “Berlin 1938” all over again if the licenses were marked. Advocates agreed that the two-tiered system would effectively create a second-class citizenship in the District, leading to racial profiling and discrimination. By passing their version of the bill, which removes the social security number requirement for obtaining a license, the DC City Council aligned itself with the “One City, One License” campaign — the rallying cry of advocates and residents opposing the Mayor’s proposal.

What brings these bills together?

For one, they are a step toward sensible, humane policy for the low-income residents of DC. Historically their needs are the first to get axed when budgets are tight.  Despite the best efforts of community organizing groups like Save Our Safety Net and countless others DC’s safety net budget was pillaged from 2009-2012.  Only now that DC has a budget surplus is the Mayor more willing to spend money on crucial safety net programs like TANF, IDA, or the Housing Production Trust Fund, but that wasn’t and will not always be the case.

Second, and most importantly, these were huge victories for community organizing through coalition-based approaches. In both cases, unions, faith-based groups, families, students, community organizations, and impacted residents themselves came together to pack the hearing room, make their voices heard, and stand up for what’s right. The LRAA couldn’t have passed without the organizing efforts of groups like Respect DC, Jobs with Justice, or the many unions representing; just as the DSAA victory couldn’t have happened without the energy of the DC Immigrant Rights Coalition, the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, or the “#One City, #One License” campaign.

While these measures alone cannot eradicate poverty or address its root causes, they are tangible steps toward poverty alleviation, inclusion, and respect for human rights and dignity; in other words, progress. These victories show that change is possible at the grassroots level when we work together and see the interconnectedness of our struggles across racial, economic, and geographic lines.

CALL TO ACTION: The fight isn’t over! Mayor Vincent Gray has already said that he will veto both bills come fall. Contact the Mayor and urge him to sign the Large Retailer Accountability Act and Driver’s Safety Amendment Act – two bills that would help the city’s most vulnerable residents and set an example for the nation. Remind him that election season is right around the corner. Remember, our voices can make a difference!

Call the Mayor’s Office directly at (202) 442-8150 or email him at eom@dc.gov!

Sample message: Hello Mayor Gray, my name is (____) and I’m a ward (__) resident (calling/emailing/writing) to express my support for the Large Retailer Accountability Act and the DC Driver’s Safety Amendment Act. These two bills, which were both approved by our City Council officials, will greatly help DC’s low-income and immigrant communities by ensuring workers are paid a livable wage and that they can drive safely on our roads. These issues impact all of us and I hope you will sign the LRAA and DSAA into law next Fall. Thank you for your time and consideration.