Immigrants Tell of Rights Violations

Just days after the Justice Department released a report stating the civil rights of hundreds of immigrants arrested after September 11 were violated, immigrants gathered on June 4 at a public hearing in Washington, DC, to tell their stories.

Iraqi, Arab-American, Muslim, Japanese-American, South-Asian, East-African, Sikh, and Latino immigrants from around the country recounted tales of discrimination and harassment on June 4 to an audience of 300 and a panel of Congress members.

The hearing was modeled after one held in Seattle last September (see YES!, Winter 2003), and built on the importance of creating a vocal immigrant community, as well as the political power of storytelling.

“That's how you connect with people,” said Pramila Jayapal, executive director of the Hate Free Zone in Seattle. “You've got to have the sense that this story could be me.”

The hearings also offered a sense of possibility for those involved. “After people testified, they were just charged up, ‘Okay, we're ready, let's go see our legislators!'” Jayapal said.

The hearing organizers, which included Hate Free Zone, the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Immigration Lawyers Association, and others, called on local, state, and federal elected officials to establish a congressional oversight committee to monitor the balance between security and civil rights and an office of civil rights to monitor the Department of Homeland Security.

Immigrant rights' organizers are also planning an Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride Bus Tour in September. The Freedom Ride, modeled after the Freedom Rides of the civil rights movement, will deploy buses from nine cities to drive across the U.S. advocating immigrant legalization, reunification of immigrant families, justice on the job, and civil liberties, and putting immigrants' rights on the agenda for the 2004 presidential election.

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