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"The National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights,"

by Cathi Tactaquin July/August 1999 issue of Poverty & Race

The National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights is a nationwide alliance of organizations and activists committed to the advancement of human and civil rights for all immigrants and refugees, regardless of immigration status. The National Network emphasizes activism on local and national public policies and issues; community-based and broad public education and awareness-building; local organizing support; coalition-building and outreach to diverse movements; and advocacy-oriented research.

Over this next year, we are implementing several exciting campaigns and projects, in addition to our ongoing educational and advocacy activities.

BRIDGE – Building a Race and Immigration Dialogue in the Global Era

BRIDGE is our long-awaited curriculum and dialogue project, supported by an initial grant from the CS Mott Foundation, aimed at addressing the contemporary intersection of race, race relations and immigration in the U.S. through dialogue, curriculum development and training that is framed by an understanding of the functions of globalization.

BRIDGE will create two tools: a model for “dialogues” and a curriculum series for which we will provide training and guidelines for local communities to share views and learn through “workshops” on BRIDGE themes.

The BRIDGE curriculum and dialogue process are designed as tools:
• to help activists from various sectors of the social and economic justice community address varied and complex features of the “immigration issue,” especially with regard to concerns of race and race relations;
• to encourage analysis on the limitations of an enforcement approach to immigration policy;
• to promote more active engagement with global economic issues and a human rights framework;
• to foster strategic thinking and coalition-building with other sectors that share a common vision of social and economic justice.

The BRIDGE project suggests the following basic principles to forge a new direction for “bridge-building” among immigrants and all communities:
• Respect for human rights (which include labor, cultural, civil, social, environmental, and economic rights) for all, regardless of immigration status;
• A commitment to racial equality and justice;
• Support for the concept of “equality of mobility,” rather than wealth, as key to equity for working people in a globalized economy;
• Full and equal access to education, public benefits and other rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and international law, for all immigrants;
• A commitment to working in unison on those social, political and economic issues that link immigrants to other sectors, including welfare recipients, low-wage workers, police accountability groups, prison reform groups and communities of color

The BRIDGE “dialogues” are a way to bring 10 to 25 people together for a discussion on the BRIDGE “themes” on globalization, immigration and race. Gathering people from diverse backgrounds in terms of race, ethnicity, experience and interest, the National Network hopes that the BRIDGE dialogues can provide a welcome forum for viewpoints, concerns and questions. These dialogues can, in some cases, be a starting point for building on relations with groups/individuals, or can help to solidify them. Initial dialogues will take place in June and July in Seattle, the San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles, Denver, Houston, New York City and Washington, D.C.

The dialogues are also designed to spark interest in the longer-term curriculum, which will include modules on: immigration history; globalization and migration; race, race relations and immigration; economics of immigration; gender and migration; population, immigration and the environment; human and international migrant rights; and current policies and legislation.

National Project on Immigration Enforcement

A National Week of Action Against INS Raids last fall kicked off a national campaign to press for an end to immigration raids in workplaces and neighborhoods. Through activities and nationwide press work, the activity highlighted a national report on raids, which summarizes the results of monitoring and documentation on raids for over a year. Entitled, “Portrait of Injustice: The Impact of Immigration Raids on Families, Workers and Communities,” the 72-page report describes the negative impact of raids on human and civil rights, worker organizing and the stability of families. (It’s available from us for $18.)

During the week of action, organizations in twenty-seven cities held rallies, marches, forums, ecumenical services and media events to help call attention to the raids issues. Press conferences in Washington, D.C. and several other cities spotlighted the report and included testimony from both national institutions and victims of raids in cities around the country. The events linked to the 50th anniversary of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and expounded on the need to protect the human rights of all workers. Earlier this year, the INS announced that as part of its new immigration enforcement strategy, it would be de-emphasizing immigration raids, which it admitted were not a very effective tactic in addressing undocumented immigration.

The National INS Raids Task Force, organized to share information and coordinate strategy concerning enforcement, brings together about 70 immigrant community organizations, advocates and service providers. This Task Force is now in the process of examining and responding to current immigration enforcement activities—which range from continuing workplace raids, to industry-wide audits of employment documents—and protesting the issuance of Social Security “no match” letters, which had been sent to employers to notify them of discrepancies in worker Social Security numbers; many employers subsequently fired workers who had been so identified. Staff and interns in the National Network office produce materials, coordinate activities, follow-up on reports, conduct research and maintain communication with Task Force participants, including publication of a periodic bilingual Bulletin/Boletin summarizing raids developments. In addition, the Task Force has produced an Organizers’ Kit that has been widely distributed.

The Task Force plans to expand outreach and education, and mobilize public pressure on Congress and the Department of Justice to end the practice of immigration raids. In its report on raids, the Task Force recommended that the INS maintain and make public detailed statistics on the race, ethnicity and citizenship/immigration status of people questioned or detained.

International Migrants’ Rights Campaign

In order to raise awareness and build support for international human rights protections for all immigrants, the National Network is bringing together a new alliance as part of a global campaign for migrants rights. The “U.S. Campaign for International Migrants’ Rights” will join international partners in a new global effort to bring into force the UN Convention of the Protection of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families, which was passed by the UN General Assembly in 1990.

The campaign has been a vehicle to enhance public education about the international context of migration, and to build relations with other organizations working for migrants’ rights internationally. The National Network is already associated with other international efforts, including the Mexico/U.S. Advocates Network, which helps to raise awareness and bring an advocacy voice to intergovernmental discussions on migration policy; and the International Migrants Rights Watch Committee, headquartered in Geneva, which brings together representatives from different global regions to promote migrants’ rights internationally.

The campaign will be designed to generate support from a broad cross-section of the U.S. immigrant community and general society, including public officials, and will establish a strong media presence. Although the U.S. is unlikely to ratify the UN convention, a multi-year strategy will help to raise public awareness about the need for international standards of rights for migrants, and will maintain pressure on the U.S. to consider ratification.

Cathi Tactaquin is Senior Research Associate at the Applied Research Center, 25 Embarcadero Cove, Oakland, CA 94606 (510/534-1769). She is also a member of the International Migrant Rights Watch Committee, headquartered in Geneva. She attended last September's UN Cairo Conference on Population & Development.

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