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Prominent New Hampshire Republicans, including several who hail from the right-wing party’s right wing, spoke out today in support of immigration reform legislation introduced yesterday by a bi-partisan group of eight US Senators.

The occasion, a news conference in the Legislative Office Building, was organized by the Partnership for a New American Economy, an organization that “brings together a bpartnership press conf 4-18-13 008ipartisan group of mayors from across the country and business leaders from all sectors of the economy and all 50 states to raise awareness of the economic  benefits of sensible immigration reform.”

It was no surprise to see Fergus Cullen there.   The former GOP State Chairman is a prominent supporter of immigration reform and is also the founder of a pro-reform advocacy group, “Americans by Choice.”  He has actively distanced himself from the party’s Bill O”Brien wing. 

It was more impressive to see Kevin Smith, one-time lobbyipartnership press conf 4-18-13 005st for the social conservative Cornerstone Institute and a candidate for governor in the last election.  “We need to modernize our immigration laws,” he said.  

Andrew Hemingway, who ran Newt Gingrich’s presidential primary campaign and more recently waged a campaign to be GOP state chairman, also stood up for immigration reform as a way to assure more workers for high-tech manufacturing. 

Also along for the ride were Representatives George Lambert and Pam Tucker, who called the Gang of Eight’s proposal “a great first start” and a way to keep the US population growing.  

For those readers who are not intimate with New Hampshire politics, these folks aren’t just conservatives.  Smith, Lambert, and Tucker embody the agenda of the partnership press conf 4-18-13 001 party’s far right wing.  And they are exactly who is needed in the pro-reform coalition to get Senator Kelly Ayotte on board. 

The perspective of the Partnership’s partners is that immigration reform serves the interest of America’s business class.  They have a particular interest in the ability of employers to hire high-skilled immigrants.  An alliance between them and the grassroots immigrants’ rights movement, with its union and working class immigrant membership, will be awkward.  But successful politics usually makes for interesting bedfellows.

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Forty faith, labor, and community activists prayed, sang, and protested outside Manchester’s Federal Building this afternoon to express outrage about recmanchester 4-9-13 019cropent actions by Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers in area homes and  businesses.

ICE agents entered a Nashua home in the wee hours of Sunday morning, roused residents from their beds, and took away two men in shackles.  The men had no criminal remanchester 4-9-13 040cropcords and were released by ICE on Monday, according to a Nashua Telegraph report.  

Also Sunday, a squad of ICE and local police officers entered the El Mexicano Jr. restaurant in Manchester, took away two  customers, asked other customers for ID, and threatened to return. 

The ICE actions reveal a frightening contrast to policies that manchester 4-9-13 044are supposed to place priority on people who could be considered threats to public safety and leave others alone.  The home raid also appears to violate terms of a recent federal court order which bars ICE from warrantless searches.   

Outside the Norris Cotton Federal Building, participants expressed outrage at ICE’s abusive actions.  They also said they will call on the state’s members of Congress to help rein in Imanchester 4-9-13 047CE and act speedily to approve humane immigration policies. 

Nancy Pape, chair of the NH  United Church of Christ Immigration Working Group led the group in a prayer.  Members of the Smanchester 4-9-13 024isters of Mercy  led another.  The program included a rousing rendition of “We Shall Not Be Moved” in Spanish and English, and concluded with “We Shall Overcome.”

The demonstration was organized in a day by the American manchester 4-9-13 033 Friends Service Committee, NH Alliance for Immigrants and Refugees, SEIU Locals 615 and 1984, and others involved in support for immigrants’ rights and humane immigration policy,

Activists plan to meet up again at the State House Plaza in Concord on May 1, International Workers Day.  

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“The Time is Now”nashua 4-6-13 012 crop

More than a hundred immigrants rights supporters rallied today at Nashua City Hall  and marched to the offices of Senators Kelly Ayotte and Jeanne Shaheen to call for reforms centered on a clear and direct path to citizenship for the millions of undocumented immigrants living in the USA. 

Rally speakers included Eva Castillo of the NH Alliance for Immigrants and Refugees; the Rev. Tom Woodward of the Granite State Organizing Project; Juan Zamudio, a student at Derryfield School in Manchester; Marisol Saavedra, a Nashua student; and Carols Escobar of SEIU  nashua 4-6-13 040crop Local 615.

In many years of working across the US, I saw time and time again bosses use the broken immigration system to mistreat, intimidate, underpay and over work undocumented workers,” said Escobar, an Ecuadoran immigrant who works as a janitor in Nashua. 

“When employers pay lower wages to some workers, all workers are affected and standards are lowered for everyone,” the Local 615 member added.

Participants included union members, faith community leaders, and otnashua 4-6-13 014cropher social justice activists adding their bodies and voices to the movement calling on Congress to act now for humane immigration policies. 

Following the brief rally, the crowd marched north into Nashua’s downtown shopping district and crossed over to the east side of the road by the office of Senator Kelly Ayotte.  There, they taped a giant letter to the window, where marchers added their signatures to a statement calling for commonsense immigration reform that fosters unity.

nashua 4-6-13 031 “The time for action is long overdue and there is bipartisan agreement on moving forward,” the statement said.  “A reform package that includes a path to citizenship makes economic sense and is true to our ideals as a nation.  Taking action now makes sense politically, as well, since the American public supports immigration reform.”

Marchers continued northward to Senator Shaheen’s office where another letter was taped to the window for signatures. 

The program concluded with a statement from Germano Martins, a member of the State Employees Association (SEIU Local 1984) followed by a prayer led by the Rev. Sandra Pontoh of the Maranatha Indonesian United Church of Christ.  nashua 4-6-13 109

The organizing committee included SEIU Locals 615 and 1984, the NH AFL-CIO, NH Civil Liberties Union, Lutheran Social Services, the Granite State Organizing Project, the NH Alliance for Immigrants and Refugees, the United Church of Christ Immigration Working Group, and the American Friends Service Committee.

Another rally will take place at State House Plaza in Concord at noon on Wednesday, May 1.

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P1000502 

It was billed as a “solemn vigil” to protest the implementation of the federal “Secure Communities” program in New Hampshire.  But for more than 70 people who gathered in the rain outside Manchester’s Norris Cotton Federal Building it was hard to remain solemn when the Sisters of Mercy started chanting, “Stop Deportations Now.”

On the other hand, everyone paid close attention to Paloma SylvestrP1000505 e, who described her husband Juan’s arrest.  “He was just driving, going to work,” she  said, and was stopped “just for his features.”  Paloma was hospitalized during the months Juan was in jail, forcing the couple’s three boys to be separated from both their parents.  The family still feels the trauma.

P1000512 “I don’t want this to happen to another family,” she said.

S-Comm represents an escalation of immigration enforcement through data sharing between local police, FBI, and Immigration and Customs Enforcement.  It makes immigrants less secure and by fostering increased fear of police makes our whole communities less secure. 

This evening’s vigil was organized when ICE announced last week that S-Comm was in effect in New Hampshire.  The event included prayers, comments from Eva Castillo, Maggie Fogarty, and me, and several songs.  Newsmedia coverage included WMUR-TV and the NH Union Leader.

 

 

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A crowd of about a hundred people combined pro-immigrant and pro-worker messages at a May Day rally outside the Dover, New Hampshire City Hall today.  Despite an on-again off-again drizzle, spirits stayed strong during speeches by immigrant and religious leaders, songs led by Rev. Mary Westfall, and music 5-1-12 008 performed by the Leftist Marching Band.

The rally was organized by the NH Alliance for Immigrants and Refugees, and emceed by its organizer, Eva Castillo.  Support also came from the American Friends Service Committee and Occupy Dover.

Speakers included Dr. Sara Alier, President 5-1-12 050of the South Sudanese Association; Suraj Budathoki, a member of the Bhutanese Community of NH; the Rev. Sandra Pontoh of the  Maranatha Indonesian UCC Church in Madbury; Attorney Larry Vogelman; Maggie Fogarty of the AFSC; State Rep. David Watters of Dover; and the Rev. Kendra Ford of the Exeter UU Church.

The connections between workers and immigrants were evident, for example in 5-1-12 078remarks of several speakers concerning a February incident in which reports of wage theft at a nearby construction site prompted community protests which helped the workers collect pay they were owed.  Lindsey Wettleland of Occupy Dover also noted that Dover was the site of the first industrial strike by women in the USA.  Judy Elliott, an ESOL teach and NH COSH safety trainer spoke about the common on-the-job injuries experienced by immigrant workers and the rights that all workers have to a safe workplace. 

Danny Provencal Fogarty, a Dover 8th grader, was probably the most effective speaker with his reading of the Emma Lazarus poem from the Statue 5-1-12 052of Liberty and impromptu remarks – in Spanish and English – about his own experience living in a Bolivian village and the importance of having a welcoming attitude to immigrants.  Danny has a future as a public speaker!

A small counter-protest by the Granite State Patriots, a tea party group led by a one-time head of the State Republican Party, drew only 5 people.  They complied with requests to be a non-disruptive presence and left halfway through the rally.

The rally featured spirited renditions of “This Land is Your Land,” “We Shall Not  Be Moved,” and “We Shall Overcome.”  “Solidarity Forever” was sung with choruses in Spanish and Indonesian as well as English. 

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Here’s my new verse for “This Land is Your Land”

“We are dissenters from the one per centers,

For human rights, we are defenders,

For social justice, we are extenders,

This land was made for you and me.”5-1-12 080

May 1 rallies for immigrants’ rights in recent years had been held in Manchester and Nashua.   The decision to hold this year’s rally in Dover followed a February incident in which Dover police called federal immigration authorities when a small group of immigrants showed up at the police station to report an incident of wage theft and request assistance.

Earlier in the day immigrants rights activists attended a State House hearing on a resolution of  support for Arizona’s repressive immigration law, known as SB 1070.  Not a single supporter, no5-1-12 001t even the resolution’s sponsor, showed up to speak for the non-binding expression of intolerance.  But opponents included Eva Castillo, Judy Elliott from NH AIR, Clair Ebel of the NH Civil Liberties Union, Cathy Chesley from Catholic Charities, Attorney Enrique Mesa, Louise Hannan of NH COSH, and me.  Following the hearing, the Senate Internal Affairs Committee voted 2-1 to recommend killing the resolution, which had already passed the NH House.  

Here’s more photos:

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From February 25 to March 4 I was in Oaxaca, Mexico as coordinator of a Witness for Peace delegation exploring links between migration and economic conditions, and also looking at steps Oaxacans are taking to make it possible for them to stay at home.  The fifteen delegates included 11 New Hampshire residents, plus two from Massachusetts, one from Rhode Island, and one from Washington DC.  Here’s my first report.

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In the city, you only eat if you have money

It was market day in the village of San Miguel Huautla, where Doña Anastasia Velasco Lopez greeted us when we got off the bus. She handed us bags of bananas and mangos to carry back to her house a few hundred yards away. Her friend, Doña Maria Lopez Espinosa, with three colorful sombreros stacked on her head, joined us for the walk.

Our 15-member delegation, accompanied by two members of the Witness for Peace Mexico staff, was glad to off the bus and out in the fresh air. San Miguel Huautla is a two-hour ride on bumpy dirt roads from Noxchixtlan, a small city on the southern side of the highland region of Oaxaca known as the Mixteca.

Oaxaca is Mexico’s second southernmost state, second most indigenous, and second poorest. According to the state government, a third of Oaxacans are now living in the United States. Many more have left for northern Mexico.

The Mixteca occupies much of the Oaxaca’s center. It is known for the deforested, eroded hillsides which have made farming a challenge for generations. Of the state’s eight regions, the Mixteca is the one which has sent the most émigrés out of Oaxaca.

Doña Anastasia and Doña Maria aren’t going anywhere. The two women are “promotoras,” grassroots educators, with CEDICAM, the Center for Integral Development of Campesinos of the Mixteca, an organization dedicated to restoration of food sovereignty for the region. Through a grassroots process that encourages reforestation, water conservation, and organic farming based on ancient indigenous practices, CEDICAM is helping communities produce food and livelihood for themselves. Phil Dahl-Bredine, a former Maryknoll Missioner who now lives in a small Mixtec village and volunteers with CEDICAM, says the methods practiced by indigenous Oaxacans represent a “foundation for an agriculture of the future.”

Speaking of resource depletion associated with the over-consuming North, Phil saidfeb 28 005 we need “a whole change of mindset” based on indigenous knowledge. “We can’t feed the world with industrial agriculture,” he told our group at the organization’s headquarters on the outskirts of Nochixtlan.

Doña Anastasia and Doña Maria aren’t feeding the world, either, but they are immensely proud of the vegetables and livestock they grow to feed themselves and members of their community. Doña Anastasia showed us her new cistern, which will collect water during the rainy season and enable her to irrigate during the dry months. She showed us the peach trees she had planted, her worm farm, and the beds where she plants radishes, tomatoes, “everything.”

Like other CEDICAM members, Doña Anastasia is devoted to organic methods. “If I buy cilantro in the market, I don’t know how it was grown,” she said.

Doña Maria returned, by then wearing only one sombrero. Reminding me of anyone showing off her garden in New Hampshire, she showed us around the plots of land Dona Maria - Martha photo. where she raises radishes, greens, amaranth, cilantro, squash, green beans, peas, garbanzos, fava beans, mint, chamomile, barley, wheat, and cajete, an ancient variety of corn well suited to dry climates. She also raises sheep, but said sometimes the price of wool drops as low as one peso (less than eight cents) a kilogram and it’s not worth the trouble. “The way of life here is very difficult,” she told us.

So that her kids could go to school, she washed clothes and left home to work in Nochixtlan. Later she was able to buy livestock, and started selling tomatoes and candies. But hard as it is, she told us “I always say you can make a life here.”

Doña Maria’s idea of “a life,” though, might not be enough to keep the kids at home. Sometimes she sells food to construction workers, like the men who rebuilt a bridge near her fields. She also weaves hats in her home and sells them in the market. Doña Anastasia explained that while they can grow enough to feed themselves, young people leave because they want more: clothes, shoes, school supplies, and cash to help their families.

The village has only a few phones and there’s no regular TV reception, but some homes do have satellite dishes. (Doña Anastasia says she only watches DVDs.) The outside world may be a couple hours or more away by bus, but its shoes, clothes, and other attractions can lure the youth away.

Tomasa Velasco Sanchez tomasa y florencialives up the slope from Doña Anastasia. Her mama,  Florencia Sanchez, said they only plant a little because they have so little water. But Tomasa told us they plan to plant beans, corn, and wheat. The CEDICAM promotoras invited them to join a study group and attend workshops. That’s when they started working their fields and raising their own food. They have to haul water from a ditch, and in the hot season the ditch is empty.

Tomasa tells us that if she ever has kids, she wants to raise them in San Miguel Huautla. “In the city, you only eat if you have money,” she explained.

 

 

Thanks to Martha Yager for the photos of Doña Maria and of Tomasa and Florencia.

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More than one hundred people, many of them local immigrants, rallied at Nashua City Hall yesterday to demand an end to immigrant deportations and an end to cooperation between the Nashua Police and the federal agents who enforce immigration laws.

5-2-11 Nashua 015 The event followed reports that local police have been tipping off Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) about immigrants who were expected to appear at District Court for traffic violations. After meeting with Nashua residents, the NH Alliance for Immigrants and Refugees and the AFSC decided to hold their annual May Day rally in Nashua instead of Manchester.

A recent Nashua Telegraph article described the detention of Juan Valdez, who was picked by ICE in March after he went to court on a charge of driving without a license.  The 19-year old is now at risk of being deported to Mexico, which he left when he was five years old.

Eva Castillo, organizer for the NH Alliance for Immigrants and Refugees, served as

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emcee and led the group in chants.  She was joined at the stage by Olmer Villavicencio, an Ecuadoran immigrant who distributed hundreds of flye5-2-11 Nashua 028rs at churches and stores in the preceding two weeks and deserves much of the credit for the turnout.  Olmer’s 10-year old daughter, Joselyn, in her first public speech, criticized deportations for separating families. “There are many people who are trying to work, and then when they get here they get arrested because they don’t have any papers,” she said. 

Other speakers included Alejandro Urrutia and Enrique Mesa, both members of the Governor’s Advisory Commission on Latino Affairs. Rev. Yolanda Martinez ,

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Sister May Cronin, and Sister Sara also delivered impassioned speeches grounded in religious traditions and principles.  Jean Serino, of Hudson, read a letter about the personal impact of deportation. 

5-2-11 Nashua 055 Maggie Fogarty, who directs the AFSC’s New Hampshire Economic Justice Project, was the final speaker. Recalling the warm welcome her family received when they lived in Bolivia for several years, she said “I want newcomers in Nashua, in Manchester and Dover, to be greeted with a smile and warm embrace. I want us to learn what newcomers have to teach us about family and faith and living on this earth.”

Rallies for immigrants’ rights have been held in recent years on May 1, which is known as Labor Day or Workers Day throughout most of the world. This was the first such rally in Nashua since 2006.

A demonstration did take place in Nashua in September 2010, when Maricopajust say no County Sheriff Joseph Arpaio visited the city for a political fundraising event, but most participants were from out of town. Yesterday’s rally, by contrast, was mostly residents of Nashua, which now has the largest immigrant and Latino populations in the state.

Members of the community are already talking about holding meetings to learn about their rights and to get better organized.

The rally was attended by several members of the Sisters of Mercy, activists from the Granite State Organizing Project, and members of the local Democratic Party. 

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The rally was covered in today’s Nashua Telegraph.

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