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What Would Our Nation's Founders Say? Arizona, Human Rights, Children and Mothers

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"All mothers want their children to live a better life than theirs; to give them the opportunity to fulfill their hopes and dreams. Throughout my childhood my mother worked countless double-shifts flipping burgers and scrubbing toilets at the local fast food joint. We never talked about the cockroach-ridden apartments or the yearning to see our family back in Colombia. Instead we smiled through the grit, the tears and the heartache. As the years passed, I realized our story was not unique. Thousands of immigrant mothers, for hundreds of years, endured what we had overcome for exactly the same reason, a better life for their children."
-- Paola Mendoza, award-winning documentary filmmaker

Since the founding of our nation, mothers from every continent in the world have come to America to seek a better life for their families. Their hopes and dreams have been inspired by the founding ideals of this nation -- that of freedom and equality.

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

These words, enshrined in our Declaration of Independence 234 years ago, conveyed a profound aspiration upon which to build a nation. And as time passes, this aspiration requires constant cultivation so that its intent can be upheld and celebrated.

Yesterday we heard the news that Federal Judge Susan Bolton issued a preliminary injunction in the case of United States v. State of Arizona, blocking much of Arizona's SB 1070 from going into effect today. The fact that Judge Bolton knocked out some of the most damaging provisions is a step in the right direction. But we're not out of the woods yet. Human rights abuses in the name of immigration law enforcement were being inflicted upon mothers, children, and others in Arizona (and throughout the country) long before Arizona's SB 1070 was introduced, and without vigilance to uphold our founding values, these abuses are likely to continue into the future despite the recent ruling.

As President Obama noted in a recent speech, the Arizona law has "the potential of violating the rights of innocent American citizens and legal residents, making them subject to possible stops or questioning because of what they look like or how they sound."

Laws that allow the violation of civil and human rights of anyone, anywhere in the United States, are not compatible with our nation's founding principles. They are not compatible with the spirit of our Declaration of Independence. They are not what we, as a nation, aspire to be.

And let's not deny it -- human rights violations are indeed happening in our nation in the name of immigration law enforcement. A United Nations report in March of 2008 states that:

[X]enophobia and racism towards migrants in the United States has worsened since 9/11. The current xenophobic climate adversely affects many sections of the migrant population, and has a particularly discriminatory and devastating impact on many of the most vulnerable groups in the migrant population, including children... [T]he United States lacks a clear, consistent, long-term strategy to improve respect for the human rights of migrants.

For those for whom seeing is believing, here's a video of what happened to two young children in Arizona in January of 2009:

The video starts with the two children crying and looking terrified, alone in a car, reaching out for their mother who had been taken away by deputies wearing ski masks after being stopped for a minor traffic violation.

A local NBC news report described the incident through the eyes of a witness who said the children cried and watched for about an hour while their mother was kept separated from them.

Law enforcement officials in ski masks? A nightmare that will never happen in America, right? Wrong.

The person in charge of these masked men was Sheriff Joe Arpaio. He has been cited repeatedly for gross civil rights violations and racial profiling of both citizens and non-citizens in the name of immigration enforcement. When questioned about his tactics, he said that under his jurisdiction "it was not unusual for law enforcement officers to wear ski masks while on duty."

Among other appalling actions, Arpaio has also marched people in shackles through town to electric fenced "tent cities" in the sweltering desert.

Incidents like this, and when law enforcement officials wear ski masks to pull parents aside in front of children, cross over the line of humane treatment. Way over.

And again, these human rights violations were happening before the new Arizona law was passed. If the federal judge's injunction should be overruled and the law begins to be enforced, imagine what expanded human and civil rights violations could be committed in the light of day. Surely not something that our country's founders envisioned for America.

The children, especially, suffer when we treat each other inhumanely.

"Do you remember the day you dropped off your child at day care or school for the first time? Do you recall the pain that you felt when your child cried out of fear and sadness because you were leaving? This exact feeling is multiplied thousands of times for us on a daily basis when we think about the many mothers who have already been detained while at work, on their way home from grocery shopping, and outside of schools when dropping off their children. We carry this same anxiety knowing that any one of us may be next. This is simply torment for mothers. It is deeply painful for the children too. Every time we leave each others' side, it is possible that we may not see each other again." -- Cecilia Menjivar

Cecilia's story was sent to MomsRising , a national non-partisan organization with more than a million members working to build a family-friendly America. Recently, MomsRising put out a call to people from many walks of life asking for them to share how current immigration law enforcement practices are impacting the human and civil rights of children, mothers, and families across the nation, including in Arizona in response to the passage of SB1070.

Here are highlights from some of the responses and you can read all of the blog posts here.

Linda Meric: "And SB 1070 actually increases the threat to women facing domestic violence or sexual assault. Why would a woman call the police to report a crime, why would she ask the police to come to her home, when the first thing they're going to do is demand her citizenship documentation or that of her family members? This law is a boon for those who would threaten and abuse wives, girlfriends, partners and other women."

Amalia Guzman Molina: "I know firsthand the struggle and heartbreak immigrant families experience when loved ones are incarcerated. My experience in a U.S. immigration jail led me to dedicate my life to advocating on behalf of this often marginalized community. And while it's no secret that the U.S. has both the highest number of people in prison and the highest rate of arrests in the world, very little attention is paid to the high number of children who end up alone as a result--and even less to the children of incarcerated immigrants."

EunSook Lee: "Until something is done soon, SB 1070 will be implemented starting July 29. In truth, however, we have heard reports that intimidation and profiling has already begun with police cordoning off neighborhoods and conducting sweeps to check for citizenship. The fear is now pervasive. From our first trip, a young woman shared that that she worries about her mother and calls her several times a day to make sure she is safe. Does any of this sound like the America we want to live in?"

Ellen Bravo: "As the sheriff's truck followed our van several blocks through Phoenix, I kept thinking what the sight of that vehicle would mean for Silvia or Esperanza or Alejandra or the other women we'd met: Visions of being yanked out of the van and ordered to produce papers. Picturing kids arriving to an empty house. Wondering whether the sheriff would drag you by the hair or slam you against a wall. Having no idea how long you'd be detained, or whether you'd be expelled from the place your ancestors called home. Agonizing whether an older child might have to drop out of school to get a job or care for younger siblings."

Jim Wallis: "There are Democrats and Republicans who in the past have said they supported comprehensive immigration reform, and so there ought now to be bipartisan support for such a bill. But in the ultra-partisan and poisoned atmosphere of the U.S. Congress now, bipartisan spirit has fled the halls of power. In Washington, politics is now just a game of win and lose, and it's only about the next election; it's no longer about solving problems. But the problem is that there are children and families in the balance, and the politicians are now playing politics with the lives of vulnerable people. Those people are our brothers and sisters, they are our parishioners, and they are children of God. And the faith community has come together to say the time for politics over compassion is over."

At the heart of the blogs collected by MomsRising is the call for rational and reasonable national conversations on the human and civil rights impacts of current immigration law enforcement practices. The desire for this wells up from knowing what is already happening to mothers, children, and families.

As the national debate on immigration continues to heat up, and as summer temperatures and temperaments rise, we urge all Americans and especially our elected leaders to take a moment in a cool location to relax and read the collection of blogs MomsRising has compiled and reflect on the founding principles of our nation. The blogs can be read here.

Together let's work to advance cool-headed, not cold-hearted, solutions to our country's immigration issues.

While not all of us are going to see eye-to-eye on how our immigration policies should be revised, surely most of us can agree to uphold a vision that all children and mothers -- in fact everyone standing within our nation's boarders -- should not be abused nor have their human and civil rights violated.

With this humanity as our guiding vision, in future years we will be able to look back and say: My generation upheld and even advanced the aspirations of our country's founders.