By Axel Caballero

In January 2013, the staff at Cuéntame received a phone call from 9 year old Stephanie Pucheta and her mom María Ortiz. Their request seemed simple and straightforward at the time: Would Cuéntame help in preventing the deportation of Stephanie’s dad, Julio Cesar Pucheta?

María and Stephanie were desperate; they had tried many avenues and contacted different immigration lawyers to no avail. Virtually broke and seemingly with nowhere else to turn to, they made the call after seeing one of our documentary campaign videos on immigration cases. Stephanie’s father had been in detention for over a year after a traffic violation and his removal proceeding was eminent. The Pucheta family story seemed all too common - reflecting precisely the horrors of our broken immigration system: A family on the verge of separation – with no resources, no legal remedies and no access to effective representations.

As with the many stories we receive, we immediately attempted to contact volunteer and human rights’ groups in the state of Georgia - where the family was located - in a last minute effort to help with their case. It was too late; Stephanie’s dad had already been deported. It didn’t come as a surprise, it happens all too often. We contacted Stephanie and María again who by then had enlisted the help of a pro bono lawyer, and asked if they wanted to tell their story. We explained to them that Cuéntame’s (which translates to ‘count me OR tell me your story’) mission was precisely that to tell stories that like theirs so often go unnoticed. Our hope was to create a small interest in the case, knowing that the system is so overwhelmed that they are viewed as another number and another file.

Stephanie was particularly keen in telling us her experience and her perspective. In an effort to capture her thoughts as pure and as best possible we decided to send Stephanie a personal camera and asked her to tell us her account of the events. Over a period of two weeks, Stephanie diligently clicked on the camera every morning and recorded a few minutes every day – a personal video diary of sorts.

Once she was done, she mailed the camera back to us so that we could see, hear and spread the message she had sent. We didn’t know what to expect. We had heard it all and seen it all. Yet, as soon as we turned on her first 9 minute clip, we knew this was different:

 

After watching the clip, we felt urgency, anger and shed tears. How can all of this happen? How can a Stephanie and thousands of children like her have to go through this? Couldn’t we do something about it? Wasn’t there an immigration reform bill being discussed to address these same issues? Stephanie’s story is emblematic of the over 25,000 immigrants who apply for family unity waivers each year only to be torn apart by an immigration system that emphasizes blind enforcement policies over sensible and human rights’ solutions.

As we move into a very serious, prominent and real immigration debate we see that our legislators once again have put the security industrial complex ahead of individual and human rights. Billions of dollars are being poured into the militarization of our borders, the fueling of private immigrant detention facilities and the continuation of raids and arbitrary deportations that have all but shredded basic and human rights. It is often futile to talk in these terms as the issue of immigration has been so criminalized, and tarnished with hate rhetoric by anti-immigrant groups that the mere discussion of human rights seems like an abomination in it of itself. Our families are facing a humanitarian crisis but our legislators have decided to prioritize talking about how to double up on these efforts?

We hope that our public officials listen to Stephanie and the thousands of migrant children looking for a solution. How about an immigration policy that enforces immigrant rights and deports hate?

Our current immigration system is broken. Deportations are at a record high, families are being separated, immigrant workers exploited, human lives are being lost at the border, there is rampant persecution and discrimination of immigrants and a perpetuation of negative stereotypes and criminalization of migration in the media.

How did we get here? How did we sacrifice basic human and civil rights in the name of political posturing, agendas and money interests? What can we do to reverse this?

The problem is that our current perspective of immigration has been driven for far too long by xenophobic nativists, fringe politicians, absurd pundits and profiteering allies and has been based on a false concept of criminalization. It has been translated into a draconian persecution that has violated our country’s commitment to human rights.

Fear and hate now control the debate. We see a daily barrage of images, words, actions and comments that portray immigrants as “criminals, leeches, invaders and dangerously different” to just name a few. This has been going on for decades – and its whole purpose has been for our society to be afraid, to exclude, abuse and thus support and enact policies that institutionalizes this very effectively.

Below we’ve outlined the five most common ways immigrants are slandered in the media and policy.

 

Enough. We are taking a stand. We are showing exactly how this is perpetrated and who it affects. The mothers, the children, the families, the students, the fathers, the communities, the individuals. The humans.

We reject the hate and embrace efforts for a new approach and a new system. A country that stops a negative attitude and hate toward immigrant and one that together moves forward to build a better future. This is why this documentary series aims at changing the immigrant narrative for the better, once and for all.

Take a stand with us and DEPORT HATE!

By Jennie Pasquarella, ACLU of Southern California and Axel Caballero, Cuéntame 

Where would you expect to find half-a-dozen patrol cars on New Year’s Eve?  In Bakersfield, California, ranked in the highest ten percent of the most violent cities in America, you’d hope they’d be responding to incidents of violence and preventing murder, rape, and other violent crime.  At the very least, you’d expect them to be patrolling for drunk drivers.

Not so.  At least not when it comes to prioritizing such matters as "barking dogs."  On December 31, 2012, the Kern County Sheriff’s Department deployed six police cars and numerous officers at the behest of a white resident who called for help from, well, the sounds of two small barking dogs.  Her neighbor, Ruth Montaño, a Latina farm-worker, and her three American children owned the dogs. 

 

As Ruth poignantly describes in her own words, when she and her children returned to their trailer around 10pm that night from the grocery store, officers approached her and began shouting and cursing at her.  They said they were responding to a neighbor’s complaint that her two small dogs were being noisy.  Her dogs, a Chihuahua and a Shih Tzu, were enclosed in a fenced-in area outside her trailer.  But when Ruth asked the officers what the dogs had done, they refused to answer.  When she offered to put the dogs inside, they ignored her.  

Instead, the officers questioned her about how long she had been in the United States and insulted her for not speaking English well.  They called her and her children garbage and threatened to arrest her.  When she pled with them to tell her why they were interrogating her, they again refused to say, growing even more hostile and agitated, and aggressively placing her under arrest.  As they walked her over to the patrol car, her children cried and pled for them not to take their mommy.  One officer violently bashed Ruth’s head into the side of the patrol car, before forcing her into the vehicle.  

The dogs, meanwhile, remained outside, untouched.  Barking.

The officers claim that they arrested Ruth for “having animals making excessive noise” and for resisting arrest. But, under Kern County law, “having animals making excessive noise” is neither an arrestable offense, nor is it within the authority of the Sheriff’s Department to investigate – rather it is an issue for Animal Control. 

Ruth believes she was arrested for one sole reason: racism.  We think she’s right.  If not, what’s one other plausible explanation for what happened to her?  Anti-immigrant sentiment runs high in places like Bakersfield, and law enforcement officers often target Latino residents.  Officers know that all they have to do is make an arrest – whether lawful or not – to turn any suspected “illegal immigrant” from today’s contributing resident into tomorrow’s deportee. 

This is because under the federal government’s disastrous Secure Communities (“S-Comm”) program every person who is arrested is immediately screened and identified by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) for possible deportation, regardless of their charges. 

Dragnet federal immigration enforcement programs, like S-Comm, increasingly are to blame for abusive and unlawful police conduct that target Latinos, violate their civil rights, and undermine public safety.  The program encourages police to take action based on race, language, and perceived immigration status – knowing that any arrest could lead to deportation – rather than doing their jobs to ferret out threats to public safety. 

Stories like Ruth’s only reinforce the urgent need for California to finally adopt the TRUST Act, a bill that would ensure that the police can no longer detain for ICE people like Ruth who have done no harm to our communities.  And it demonstrates the need for Congress to pass common-sense immigration reform to ensure that residents like Ruth are put on a road to citizenship, not a highway to family separation. 

Ruth still faces deportation.  Do your part and tell ICE to take her out of deportation proceedings.  Call (202) 732-3000.

 

Agreed, the window of opportunity is wide open for the passage of substantial immigration reform. Immigration reform is, after all, the next big ticket item. It’s the coveted prize that allegedly holds the key to millions of Latinos nationwide who will soon fall in line with whatever the powers that be decide to pass as "immigration reform". No matter what it is, just slap the word "reform" to it and you will keep the community happy. After all, would anyone in their right mind would want to anger the same community that just proved to be a deciding factor in the last election? No, of course not. So then call it "reform", enlist the help of Latino-sounding names and sell, sell, sell as much as you can- no matter what it includes. The details don't matter. Slap the word "reform" and everyone will fall in place.

 Who cares about the details? If you call it "reform" then "reform" it will be. After all, the main goal is not really to reform the system and strengthen the rights of 11 million people. Of course not, that would mean going against the nativist, anti-immigrant, supremacist powers who have done such an incredible job of convincing people that they should be very, very afraid of immigrants. Nope, all you need to do is to call it "reform", lock the Latino vote, and blame the other guy for any mistakes or exclusions along the way.

Immigrant rights? That’s the least of your worries. This is really not about immigrants; this is really about politicians. Who will be at the winning end of “reform”? Who will look good? Who will win the golden ticket while not really changing much? Immigrant rights? Ha, that's not what immigration reform is about. It's not like you really want to put an end to raiding immigrants’ homes, separating families, locking-up their children, shooting them at border, monitoring them with drones, persecuting, alienating, discriminating, kicking out their youth, and creating a whole infrastructure of second-class humans to abuse, exploit, profit off of or discard whenever and however it's needed? Of course not. That's not how this is done.

First you have to ease the fears. Yes, the fears that have been engrained so deep in our social fabric by groups whose whole purpose is to instill a phobia of the different and the unknown. Groups that use the word "immigration" in their names to legitimize their hard anti-immigrant beliefs - all the while brewing anxiety with a powerful nativist and well-funded hate agenda (ahem Center for Immigration Studies, Federations of Americans For Immigration Reform, Californians Coalition for Immigration reform.) They have done such an incredible job of driving the immigration narrative that they have pocketed several fringe and not-so-fringe politicians to carry their hatred to the halls of Congress. If you listen closely, you'll hear the same exact words that come out of their fake studies, spokespeople, and talking points, in the speeches of public officials at the highest level, local legislators and in the actual text of legislative bills and proposals. Words such as "Enforce", "Secure", ”Verify", "Punish", "Terrorize", "Steal", "Invade." - Be scared, be very scared. The immigrants are coming to get you!

Exhibit A (Rest of the series at http://ifyoudonttheywill.com)

These groups have done their job. They have spoken. Forget the reasons and root causes of what brings folks to this country in the first place. Forget how we have incentivized their migration. Forget that immigration is indeed how this country was built. Forget that immigration is as patriotic as the flag and the Statue of Liberty. This time it’s different.These are not the type of immigrants you want. They don't really look like you, do they? They are different. This time you should be very, very afraid.

After all, immigration reform is not about immigrant rights is it? It's about fear. Disagree? Well too bad because this has already been put into place. There is already widespread support for this approach. It has been sold well enough. Co-opted, stamped and Latino approved - or so they say. Fear first, rights later. Abuse first, rights later. Security (or secure borders?) first, rights later. Deport first, rights later. Exploit first, rights later. It's all in motion, compromised, fired up and ready to go. All you need is to fall in line. Don't worry, they will make sure to appear to fight for some - they will throw a bone and talk about a pathway for the most deserving and the most skilled,not the ones who need it the most. They are not deserving of any "reform." It's all calculated. You don't have to do anything. The anti-immigrant bunch will have done it all for you. There will be a bill soon and they will speak up to make sure absurd fear trumps human rights. So don't worry - If You Don't Speak Up, They Will Speak For You.

By Axel Caballero and Kristel Mucino*

The tragedy in Colorado demonstrated the devastating lethality of AR-15 type guns, like the one used in the Aurora shooting, and has caused many to question whether it makes sense to allow the purchase of military-style assault rifles. What a lot of people don't know is that these rifles are also the weapons of choice among ruthless Mexican drug cartels. In the last 6 years, over 60,000 people have lost their lives in Mexico's wave of violence. The failure of the United States to enact meaningful gun regulation is not only affecting the United States; it is also fueling violence in Mexico. Among the victims are countless innocent bystanders, journalists, and children. The brutal truth is this--the AR-15s and many other guns used by drug lords, gangs, and kidnappers come from the United States. According to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF), more than 70 percent of the weapons seized in Mexico in the last three years and submitted for tracing came from the United States.  How do these weapons end up in the hands of Mexico's brutal drug lords? Look at the video on gun trafficking produced by WOLA and Cuéntame and embedded here.  
 Straw purchasers take advantage of lax U.S. gun laws and, in most states, can buy 10, 20 or even more guns in one transaction, with the intention of reselling them to gun traffickers. In contrast, it is almost impossible to buy firearms legally in Mexico.  But on the U.S. side of the border, in Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and California, there are more than 8,000 federally licensed firearms dealers.  Behind these weapons there is a multibillion-dollar industry. Consider this: DPMS--just one of many gun manufacturers--makes an average of 74,000 AR-type rifles a year, then sells them for about $889 each, earning roughly $65 million dollars in sales. Local gun dealers then sell each AR-type rifle for an average of $1,075. Estimates indicate that such guns could then be resold on the black market for up to $1575.  Finally, when they reach Mexico, the guns could be sold for up to $4,300.  This multibillion-dollar industry uses its resources to ensure that arms remain unregulated. Everyone in the trafficking chain makes big bucks, and those who manufacture and sell the guns have powerful firms that lobby Congress to ensure that their business remains untouched. It is beyond shocking that in the United States the act of trafficking guns is not a federal crime. Instead, gun traffickers get charged with the minor crime of selling guns without a license. The penalties for this are a joke--equivalent to the crime of trafficking chickens or cattle.  There are a few brave members of Congress that are trying to address the problem without limiting the right of honest citizens to bear arms. For example, Representatives Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) and Elijah Cummings (D-MD) are trying to make the act of trafficking firearms a federal offense punishable with up to 20 years. The "Stop Gun Trafficking and Strengthen Law Enforcement Act of 2011" also targets those leading weapon trafficking rings.Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA) has introduced legislation to crack down on straw purchases. These bills would be crucial steps to close the loopholes that allow this lethal business to flourish.  But the process of passing laws is long and difficult, and Congress is in gridlock over the gun issue. The crisis in Mexico, as well as horrible tragedies like that of Aurora, call for urgent action--action that President Obama can take without waiting for Congress.  Mexico's growing peace movement and a coalition of organizations in the United States, including WOLA and Cuéntame, have joined the many voices on both sides of the border calling for an end to gun trafficking. As a first step, President Obama should enforce the existing ban on the importation of assault rifles. Second, he should give the ATF the resources and authority it needs to actually do its job, especially in border-states, where it lacks the capacity to stop the massive flow of arms across the border.  Finally, the petition calls on President Obama to require gun dealers in border states to report to the ATF the sale of multiple assault rifles to the same person over a period of five days. The good news is that last summer the Obama administration instituted this reporting rule. But since then, members of Congress and the gun lobby have tried to undermine the rule. To be really effective, this rule should be implemented all across the country. For Mexicans across the political spectrum, the failure of the United States to stop gun trafficking is an act of tremendous irresponsibility that results in the spilling of innocent blood. In the name of the more than 60,000 victims in Mexico and of the victims of the many shootings in the United States, it is time to enact meaningful gun control legislation in this country. *Axel Caballero is the director of Cuéntame and Kristel Mucino is Communications Director at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA).
On the eve of the Supreme Court's decision on Arizona anti-immigrant law SB1070, we need now more than ever, to stand together and send a strong & united message: In this country - We Are All "Illegals"! The decision, while hopeful in some areas, leaves a huge gap - one in which allows for the discrimination, persecution on profiling of our community. The underlying problem is that as a culture we have defined immigrants as "illegal" entities. We use the word often, spreading it in every day life - in the media, in our conversations. We have to move away from this frame of mind. Actions are "illegal", human beings ARE NOT! This is why Cuéntame partnered with Outernational, Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine, Residente of Calle 13, Pop/Latin Producer Thom Russo as well as video & photo submissions from over 100 fans worldwide to produce a powerful, creative and important music video. This release highlights the absurdity and obsolescence of the very notion of human beings deemed "illegal" in the year 2012. The video highlights the obscenity in this day an age on our attitudes about the border, and a system that criminalizes those who create the wealth it rests upon. It penalizes immigrants, locks them up and make a profit. Furthermore, it uses our community as scapegoats for personal and machiavellian political agendas. This electoral cycle is an opportunity to put an end to it once and for all. Miles Solay, the lead singer for Outernational best puts it when he says, "See that border ain't sacred or chosen, the land we stand on, every inch of it stolen, how obscene that there's people 'illegal', vilified survival, the journey is lethal." The release f this video also comes behind the backdrop of President Obama's "administrative relief" for young undocumented Americans, a recognition of the immense contribution of these brave AMERICANS. It is against the backdrop of heightened drama around issues of immigration, race, and class that Cuéntame makes it clear that we stand alongside and in solidarity with undocumented peoples and say, "Todos Somos Ilegales/We Are All Illegals."
The United States Supreme Court is hearing arguments in Arizona v. United States, the Obama administration’s challenge to Arizona’s anti-immigration law, SB1070. What they won't be hearing is what and who has fueled this discriminatory legislation. They won't be hearing about the money being funneled by hate groups with white supremacist and nativist ideology. They won't be hearing about the influence of legislators and public officials with fake reports and statistics from a web of hate which sole purpose is to inject racism into the immigration debate. They won't hear how the law was enacted and to what purpose. No what they will hear is arguments over another state vs. federal fight. More political posturing and even more political agendas in display. Will justice triumph over racial profiling and discrimination fueled by supremacist and nativist fringe groups? We need to stand together in this most pressing time. The video above by Cuéntame exposes the culprits behind the discrimination and injustice proposed by SB1070. It is time to show that we reject this hate agenda once and for all. Sign the pledge stating that YOU side with justice over racism!
Correction Corporation of America's Stewart facility in Lumpkin, Georgia is the largest private detention center in the nation. It holds 2000 detainees, charging taxpayers up to $200 a night and producing yearly profits that hover between $35 and $50 million. The facility secures more income through cost cutting measures that range from denying basic necessary services to detained immigrants to limiting access to their family members. Stewart detention center is located in a remote Georgia location at least an hour away from any sort of communication or service providers. This is primarily because CCA often buys cheap land in order to cut construction costs and increase profit margins. Relatives and representatives of those detained at Stewart find it nearly impossible to visit or communicate with the inmate, that is if they even know that he or she is being held there. As if that weren't enough, CCA charges inmates more than $5 a minute to make a phone call. To pay for this, inmates work in the facility and earn a whopping $1 a day. Five days of hard work gives them just enough time for a one minute phone call. This is an intrinsic and essential problem with our current immigration system, it is putting profit over sensible policy. CCA and GEO the two larges private prison operators currently profit close to $5 billion and their share prices are at an all-time high. What is worse, local, state and federal government agencies continue to yield their power to corporations. From Florida (Southwest Ranch) to California (Adelanto) more and more Wal-Mart sized private detention centers are being co-opted with opportunistic officials and legislators. The money machine is just too perfect. Recent anti-immigration laws in Alabama (HB56) and Georgia (HB87) guarantee that neighbor facilities will have an influx of "product." In the past few years, CCA has spent $14.8 million lobbying for anti-immigration laws to ensure they have continuous access to fresh inmates and keep their money racket going. In 2010 CCA CEO Damon T. Hininger received $3,266,387 in total compensation. Yet, numerous cases of abuse, neglect and flat-out exploitation have exposed the reality of the system: As long as private prisons are increasing their profits, it doesn't matter who gets hurt or locked-up. On November 18th, a coalition of immigrant and civil rights organizations will conduct a powerful vigil and occupation outside the Stewart facility in Georgia. The demand: Shut down Stewart Detention Center now and cancel private prison contracts. Our immigration system is broken and yet corporations seam to be reaping billions in benefits. Who cares? After all YOU are paying for it.
In the last few days there has been a barrage of media reports - spearheaded by none other than FOX News - trying to pigeonhole "Occupy Wall Street" to one community and promote a de-facto division by racial lines. This misrepresentation couldn't be farther from the truth. Across the country from - Los Angeles to New York - the movement has shown its diversity, its unity, and its solidarity. 2011-10-07-313506_10150340799169712_172945319711_7867538_2114005884_n.jpg Corruption, greed and the hijack of our democracy cut across all sectors of our society. For this reason, the movement aptly adopts the banner of the 99%. Mainstream and corporate media have tried to diffuse our collective strength - first through an incomprehensible blackout and now into its only other possible outcome: A circus - where each image will be their attempt to caricature the thousands of occupiers. The frontlines of the movement are truly diverse. There is no question that individuals show up because it matters, because it's personal, and because it hits home. What we're seeing are communities - carrying different banners, flags and messages - unified through one national movement. As the media struggles to comprehend what they're witnessing, the images from the ground, from the movement itself cannot be ignored. Why? The obvious answer: Wall Street's abusive greed knows no boundaries and continues to affect us all. Let's take the case of one section of the immigration rights movement and the abuse by private prison corporations. As anti-immigrant laws spring up, state-by state, across the country, we see the hand of Wall Street behind it. Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) and the GEO Group, the two largest private prison corporations in the country, have seen their profits skyrocket to more than $5 billion in the last year - with each individual share close to $40. Wells Fargo manages 4 million of those shares and retains a solid chunk for their services. Meanwhile, these corporations have donated more than $20 million to the political process - hijacking state legislators and elected officials to push for more anti-immigrant laws - thereby ensuring more inmates are housed in their prisons and more profits reported in their quarterly statements. This is only one major example of greed run amuck, and one major reason why our communities have a vested interest in taking to the street in Alabama, in Georgia, in Texas, in Florida, in Indiana, in Arizona and in every state that made a buck off of human suffering. No wonder the DREAMER movement is joining in (and a much needed mobilization) - fighting for far too long. This is the beauty of this diverse movement - it shares a common goal through the lens of many unique individuals and their many powerful stories. We can't let corporate media dictate for whom this movement was created.
Guillermo Gomez-Sanchez is a 50-year-old legal resident with a mental disability. In 2004, Gomez was detained because of a dispute at a grocery store over a bag of tomatoes. His detention led him into a labyrinth of abuse and neglect – in an immigration system that increasingly puts profit over justice by handing the reigns to private prison corporations. Cuéntame’s Immigrants For Sale campaign has documented the case of Guillermo, who got lost in this system, while his mother Dolores Gomez-Sanchez spent years desperately searching for answers. The problem: Guillermo was sent to a private detention facility operated by Corrections Corporation of America (CCA).  Dolores approached immigration authorities, but time and again was told that because Guillermo was in a CCA facility his case was no longer their problem. At one point the only information immigration officials could offer her was that Guillermo was beaten by guards and hospitalized after requesting to use a bathroom. Private prison corporations like CCA do not care who and how they lock immigrants up. At a rate of up to $200 per inmate per night, this is the “perfect” money scheme. As such, CCA failed to report Guillermo’s condition – why should they? The longer Guillermo was locked up the more money in their coffers. Guillermo spent two years in CCA’s detention center. At average contract rates, the operator pocketed an estimated $90,000 off of his incarceration. According to Bardis Vakili, the lawyer handling the Gomez-Sanchez case – this is a typical case where families have a hard time locating their detained relatives.  “Getting to these big corporations represents a nightmare for people that don’t have a law degree,” he said.  Detained immigrants also don’t have the right to an attorney, which further exacerbates their struggle. CCA along with the GEO GROUP and Management and Training Corporation currently profit close to $5 billion a year – with immigrant detention revenue representing a strong portion of their income. They view the anti-immigrant movement as a positive step to increase the value of their stock. In fact, this year CCA’s share price is at record levels, oscillating around $26. In 2010, CCA CEO Damon T. Hininger received $3,266,387 in total compensation. The more immigrants detained, the more bed spaces they can fill and the more their stock shoots up. It’s the perfect money machine and they have no intention of letting that go. Just last year the “major three” spent close to $20 million in lobbying and campaign contribution efforts. These corporations have been tied to the passage of anti-immigrant laws such as Arizona’s SB1070 and Georgia’s HB87 in an effort standardize the criminalization of immigrants across the country. As Guillermo’s story demonstrates, the consequence of this is a system that eats immigrants up in a for-profit scheme. As Guillermo himself puts it, once you are in “it is very hard to get out.” Why do we leave our immigration system in the hands of corporations? How many more people are suffering and lost in a system that values profit over justice? Join the ongoing discussion led by Cuéntame and its Immigrant For Sale documentary campaign.