Aura Bogado | The Nation

Aura Bogado

Aura Bogado

Racial justice, Native rights and immigration. 

White Is the New White

Courtesy of Orange Is the New Black.

Slave narratives became most fashionable among abolitionist circles in the mid-nineteenth century. These narratives remain deeply powerful, yet each one is framed by a white introduction, which authenticates the black experience. The white practice of verifying the lives of black fugitives who were skillfully plotting their own liberation has changed in circumstance and in medium—but the role of white people at its center has not. Today, its latest manifestation is playing out in the Netflix hit series, Orange Is the New Black.

I first saw a poster for the new series on a subway platform. The word “black” plastered near women of all colors in prison jumpsuits made me shake my head in disappointment, but I soon forgot about it along with all the other racist images I’m surrounded by daily. The next time I saw a reference to Orange Is the New Black was on a giant video billboard during the massive march in New York following George Zimmerman’s acquittal in connection with the killing of Trayvon Martin. As thousands of people took to the streets against white supremacy, there was an intense irony about a fictionalized depiction of black women cheering on a prison fight as a very blond white woman stood there, shocked with horror. I crudely tweeted, “Racist shit playing W 35 and 6th. It never ends. Neither do we. #HoodiesUp,” with a looping vine to illustrate my disappointment.

Since that time, many a friend and colleague has taken the time to explain to me that I was wrong about my gut reaction to Orange Is the New Black. They point out that the series is based on a book, whose author, Piper Kerman, spent time in prison. I answer that Assata Shakur wrote a brilliant book titled Assata: An Autobiography that includes details about her time as the only woman in an all-men’s prison—yet I’ve not seen it developed into a series. It would be timely to do so now that Shakur is the first woman on the FBI’s Most Wanted Terrorist list.

Orange Is the New Black defenders repeatedly tell me that Kerman is invested in prison reform. She very well might be. But the problem here lies in the fact that her investment in the issue has been repaid through a very different kind of investment in her by book publishers and budding media empires like Netflix. I don’t necessarily doubt that Kerman wants to see a change in the criminal justice system—just like I don’t doubt that she’s made a cottage industry for herself doing so. This started about a decade ago, when Kerman began selling “Free Piper” T-shirts through Paypal. As a bestselling author who’s sold the rights to stories of women that aren’t even hers, she’s profited from the criminalization of black and brown women who are disproportionately targeted for prison cages.

But most often, Orange Is the New Black fans tell me I need to give the series a real chance. If I can just get through the first two episodes, I’ll be content by episode three. And so I watched and cringed through six whole episodes, called it quits and hope to never again see another one in my entire life. With very little exception, I saw wildly racist tropes: black women who, aside from fanaticizing about fried chicken, are called monkeys and Crazy Eyes; a Boricua mother who connives with her daughter for the sexual attentions of a white prison guard; an Asian woman who never speaks; and a crazy Latina woman who tucks away in a bathroom stall to photograph her vagina (the pornographic image is indiscriminately paraded throughout an entire episode).

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This, it turns out, is what some of my friends and colleagues are gorging themselves on. I reject that it’s a guilty pleasure. If we’re addicted to Orange Is the New Black, then we’re strung out on the drug of spectacle—jonesing for hateful, racist images created by a white imagination for profit and fame. What most bothers me about this is that so many people have told me they hated the advertising posters and the ridiculous Facebook photos, and they always repeat that they wanted to turn Orange Is the New Black off during the first couple of episodes but kept watching—going against inclination, and buying into the garbage that keeps our eyes glued to something we know we shouldn’t be enjoying to begin with.

I will acknowledge that Orange Is the New Black has created a credible role for a trans black woman, played by Laverne Cox, an actual trans black woman. And I can’t deny that the series has created a payroll for many actors of color. But again, just like the practice 150 years ago during the height of the slave narrative era, those experiences are first authenticated by a white person—in this case, a white woman whose prison stint can never be a substitute for the violence institutionally carried out against women of color in the criminal justice system. It’s 2013, not 1861, and we don’t need Piper Kerman or anyone like her to substantiate what we already know.

Is fracking a necessary evil?

Undocumented Activists Take a Giant Risk to Return Home

Eight members of the Dream 9 gather just moments before crossing the US-Mexico border. (Credit: Steve Pavey/One Horizon Institute)


This post originally appeared at Colorlines.

A historic border crossing took place Monday, not under the cover of darkness or through a desert wilderness but in broad daylight near the Nogales border patrol station with thousands of supporters on the United States and Mexico sides cheering.

Nine people, all transnational activists working with the National Immigrant Youth Alliance (NIYA), are now being held at the Florence Detention Center in Arizona after petitioning to enter the United States on humanitarian grounds. This is the first time a group of longtime US residents who are technically Mexican nationals have attempted to return to the states by petitioning for humanitarian parole. Monday’s action attracted more than 10,000 viewers from around the world who tuned into a Ustream live feed to see what would become of the so-called Dream 9.

At around 1:30 pm EDT, the nine crossers gathered for a final press opportunity in Nogales, Mexico, before taking a short walk to the dividing line between the United States and Mexico. Eight people had originally planned to participate but Rosie Rojas, who said she traveled for three days to meet them, joined the action at the last minute.

Among the nine activists was 22-year-old Adriana Diaz, who was brought to Phoenix, Arizona, from Mexico when she was just four months old. Diaz graduated high school with honors in 2010 but decided to go to Mexico last year because of the fear she felt living under Sheriff Joe Arpaio. She attempted to attend college there but the country doesn’t recognize her US diploma. Had she waited just three months, she could have been eligible to stay in the United States under President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

Diaz was one of six members of the Dream 9 who were either deported or left the United States on their own accord. The other three seeking humanitarian parole landed in Mexico in the last two weeks. Humanitarian parole would mean that the nine would be released on grounds that they don’t pose a threat to society. But authorities have apparently denied their petitions, so the activists are now seeking asylum.

While the Dream 9 crossers are now facing the perils of detention, the uncertainty was perhaps more elevated for the three activists who went to Mexico more recently to take part in the action. Although undocumented people in the United States live under the constant threat of detention and deportation, there is a relative safety in staying here. Those three who willingly crossed into Mexico are facing the new uncertainty of not being able to return to their respective homes, after having just left them.

Marco Saavedra, 23, who hails from Washington Heights in New York City and hasn’t been to Mexico since he was 3, is one such activist. He has already infiltrated a detention center and is currently in deportation proceedings. But last Thursday morning as he waited for his flight to Mexico Saavedra reluctantly admitted that this border action is riskier than others he’s worked on in the past. The risk of crossing into Mexico, of course, was that he could be denied humanitarian parole and be permanently barred from the United States. “I’m trying not to focus on that too much,” Saavedra said. “If I did, I might shut down and not be able to go through with it.”

The Dream 9 are not alone in their action. The NIYA is now maintaining a waiting list of people who want to use the strategy; they’re drawn to the idea that there is a humanitarian option. Just hours after the Dream 9 crossed, a group of thirty people who had already been deported to Mexico attempted to cross as well. It’s unclear what became of their effort. Pima County public defender Margo Cowan, who is providing legal services for the Dream 9, said she will support the effort of the thirty additional crossers, should they need it.

As the Dream 9 approached the border, supporters on the US side—including citizens, green card holders and undocumented activists—could be heard screaming, “Bring them home!” The NIYA informed supporters that the border patrol had sent an e-mail threatening immediate arrest and deportation as soon as the Dream 9 crossed into the United States. Those moments of uncertainty are traces, in some ways, of the anxiety that some family members feel, the loved ones of those more than 1.5 million people who have been detained and deported by the Obama administration. Yet the nine were not deported immediately, and are now in detention hoping to attain some form of relief in order to return home.

That desire relies heavily on lawmakers whose influence on Capitol Hill could sway the outcome. Representative Luis Gutierrez (D-IL) took to social media to say that he hopes “the Obama administration will do the right thing.” But for many, that’s not nearly enough.

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“We don’t care if he comes out on Facebook because that accomplishes nothing for us,” said Mohammad Abdollahi, who works with the NIYA. “If the Congressional Hispanic Caucus says they fight for families, they shouldn’t be posting on social media,” he added. “It’s about taking proper action and using the proper channels to make sure the Dream 9 can come home.”

Immigration officials would not comment on the crossing or subsequent detention citing privacy concerns. In order to attain asylum, the Dream 9 will have to convince authorities that they will face certain persecution in Mexico. But Obama and other lawmakers can take swift action to otherwise secure their release. To that end, the NIYA is asking supporters to sign a petition and call lawmakers to keep the pressure on as the Dream 9 are kept at the Florence Detention Center—a facility that is privately owned and operated by the Corrections Corporation of America.

Before the initial eight crossers took their action at the border, they spent several days mapping out how to organize other detainees once they were taken into custody. Their goal now is to not only demonstrate that a humanitarian return home is possible but also to halt deportations from detention.

What was the role of white supremacy in the acquittal of George Zimmerman?

White Supremacy Acquits George Zimmerman

Protesters protest the verdict in the trial of George Zimmerman
Demonstrators outside the Seminole County Courthouse react after hearing the verdict of “not guilty” in the trial of George Zimmerman in Sanford, Florida. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

A jury has found George Zimmerman not guilty of all charges in connection to death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. But while the verdict came as a surprise to some people, it makes perfect sense to others. This verdict is a crystal-clear illustration of the way white supremacy operates in America.

Throughout the trial, the media repeatedly referred to an “all-woman jury” in that Seminole County courtroom, adding that most of them were mothers. That is true—but so is that five of the six jurors were white, and that is profoundly significant for cases like this one. We also know that the lone juror of color was seen apparently wiping a tear during the prosecution’s rebuttal yesterday. But that tear didn’t ultimately convince her or the white people on that jury that Zimmerman was guilty of anything. Not guilty. Not after stalking, shooting and killing a black child, a child that the defense insultingly argued was “armed with concrete.”

In the last few days, Latinos in particular have spoken up again about Zimmerman’s race, and the “white Hispanic” label especially, largely responding to social media users and mass media pundits who employed the term. Watching Zimmerman in the defense seat, his sister in the courtroom, and his mother on the stand, one can’t deny the skin color that informs their experience. They are not white. Yet Zimmerman’s apparent ideology—one that is suspicious of black men in his neighborhood, the “assholes who always get away—” is one that adheres to white supremacy. It was replicated in the courtroom by his defense, whose team tore away at Rachel Jeantel, questioning the young woman as if she was taking a Jim Crow–era literacy test. A defense that, during closing, cited slave-owning rapist Thomas Jefferson, played an animation for the jury based on erroneous assumptions, made racially coded accusations about Trayvon Martin emerging “out of the darkness,” and had the audacity to compare the case of the killing of an unarmed black teenager to siblings arguing over which one stole a cookie.

When Zimmerman was acquitted today, it wasn’t because he’s a so-called white Hispanic. He’s not. It’s because he abides by the logic of white supremacy, and was supported by a defense team—and a swath of society—that supports the lingering idea that some black men must occasionally be killed with impunity in order to keep society-at-large safe.

Media on the left, right and center have been fanning the flames of fear-mongering, speculating that people—and black people especially—will take to the streets. That fear-mongering represents a deep white anxiety about black bodies on the streets, and echoes Zimmerman’s fears: that black bodies on the street pose a public threat. But the real violence in those speculations, regardless of whether they prove to be true, is that it silences black anxiety. The anxiety that black men feel every time they walk outside the door—and the anxiety their loved ones feel for them as well. That white anxiety serves to conceal the real public threat: that a black man is killed every twenty-eight hours by a cop or vigilante.

People will take to the streets, and with good reason. They’ll be there because they know that, yes, some people do always get away—and it tends to be those strapped with guns and the logic of white supremacy at their side.

The NAACP will seek the Department of Justice's intervention in the Zimmerman case. Read John Nichols's report.

Animating Black Bodies

Trayvon Martin. (AP Photo/HO, Martin Family Photos)

During its closing arguments today, George Zimmerman’s defense team played a controversial animation for the jury based on unproven assumptions. It likely stunned jurors, as well as those watching the trial today. Meanwhile, Fruitvale Station, a film that traces the killing of another young black man named Oscar Grant, also opens in theaters. At stake today in a Florida courtroom, and in theaters across the country, is the representation of black bodies, animating the idea of whether they’re worthy enough to live.

The Zimmerman defense animation was created by a graphic artist named Daniel Schumaker, and Zimmerman defense lawyers argue that it is largely based on John Good’s testimony. Good called 911 just minutes before Zimmerman shot and killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin on February 26, 2012, and partially witnessed an apparent confrontation between Martin and Zimmerman—briefly, and in the darkness.

But Schumaker’s animation goes far beyond what Good actually saw. Good made the 911 call around 7 pm, when it was dark out; the animation, instead, provides light that was never available to the witness. The animation also illustrates Martin punching Zimmerman with his left hand; it’s indisputable that Martin was right-handed, and neither Good nor any other witness’ testimony was ever provided that said Martin used his left hand to strike Zimmerman. Although Judge Debra Nelson ruled against allowing the animation to enter into evidence (which would have meant that jurors would have been provided the opportunity to watch the video over and over again during deliberations), it likely captivated the jurors’—and the nation’s—attention during closing arguments on Friday.

It isn’t the first time defense lawyers have attempted to introduce a controversial simulation during a racially charged trial. Although it’s little remembered today, attorneys tried to introduce a similar animation during what we refer to today as the Rodney King trial, more than twenty years ago. I mention that we refer to it as the King trial only because it’s rather poignant that we easily remember King’s name, but rarely the name of the officers who were actually on trial. In contrast, social media users have worked to trend #ZimmermanTrial, reminding users that while #TrayvonMartin is to be remembered, George Zimmerman is the one on trial.

Viewers of today’s trial might still forget that, however—because Martin’s character is constantly being defended in the courtroom as if he were the one being charged. Like Martin today, King, just 25 at the time of the assault, was being similarly defended in the courtroom in 1992, despite actual video of the brutal beating. In courtrooms, sidewalks and imaginations around the United States, the black body itself is often considered a weapon, and today’s defense animation will echo that deeply racist, if not unconscious, national sentiment.

It’s hard to imagine better timing than the present for the opening of Fruitvale Station today. It dramatizes a day in the life—and death—of 22-year-old Oscar Grant, whose killing was also captured in an amateur video four years ago. The officer that killed Grant, Johannes Mehserle, was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter. The officer that inexcusably killed Grant at point-blank range was sentenced to just two years—but was granted double time for the days he had already spent in jail. After his conviction, Mehserle served less than five months in prison. But it’s just as remarkable that his case even came to trial. Since black bodies are latently considered weapons, the hands that kill them often do so with complete impunity.

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Starting today, filmmaker Ryan Coogler is providing anyone who will watch and listen the opportunity to hope against hope. After all, anyone who attends will likely know the sad ending contained in Grant’s killing. But Fruitvale Station isn’t just a sliver of time capturing another black man’s death or killing. And it isn’t an animation meant to indict a man who’s not even on trial. It’s a film written and directed by another young black man, Coogler, who’s worked with incarcerated youth and hails from Oakland. What’s already exceptional about the film’s debut is that it tells a story that is all too familiar, but in a different way—one that humanizes the subject against amateur videos and courtroom animations. And one that puts the nation on trial for the way we view black bodies.

Why did Trayvon Martin’s best friend face such harsh criticism from the media when she testified while George Zimmerman’s faced almost none?

The Less-Than-Comprehensive Immigration Reform Bill

People hold signs as they protest against Senate Bill 1070 outside the Arizona State Capitol in Phoenix, Arizona April 25, 2010. (REUTERS/Joshua Lott)

Senator Chuck Schumer’s gamble that his fellow lawmakers would pass an immigration bill out of their chamber by the Fourth of July proved fruitful. The bill is now headed to the House—although it might not be, because that chamber isn’t entirely sure it even wants to debate it. But in the frenzy surrounding what’s been called a historic move, a lot has been lost around what the bill has actually become, and why so few voices on the left have accepted the bargain.

Just a few days before the bill’s passage, a coalition of immigrants rights and environmental advocacy groups made a big announcement in Tucson, Arizona, in opposition. Their reasons? The so-called comprehensive immigration bill is less comprehensive than it is punitive—doubling border agents to nearly 40,000, while adding more than 300 extra miles of fencing on the southern border, all in addition to billions of dollars for drones.

For some of the coalition members, those numbers lose sight of the lives that will be lost in the process. No More Death’s Maryada Vallet left little room for doubt about what’s at stake when she stated, “Make no mistake, this new deal—which is simple a bargaining for more Republican votes—will cause more deaths.”

Vallet was correct when stating that the move for the tougher enforcement amendment did draw some Republican votes. But her plea to stand in real solidarity with immigrants has gone largely unnoticed from mainstream groups. With the notable exception of Presente.org, which told The New York Times it could not conscionably support a bill that’s “guaranteed to increase deaths,” most groups with a national reach have remained silent—if not in full support of the bill.

The argument, of course, is that agreeing to increased spending, enforcement, fencing and surveillance will mean that 11 million undocumented immigrants will become naturalized at some point in the future. In reality, however, that’s simply not true. In fact, the number is somewhere around 5.7 million undocumented people who will apply for and attain green cards*. By 2028. That’s because, aside from enforcement, the bill is crafted in such a way to ensure that the most vulnerable undocumented immigrants will be unable to jump trough the many hoops placed in their path.

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The idea that additional drones—maybe even armed drones—at the southern border, along with a doubling of border patrol agents, and hundreds of miles of fencing will mean citizenship anytime soon for 11 million members of society is false. The bill may mean a lot more spending and enforcement, in exchange for less than six million people, who won’t even have a chance at citizenship for quite a long time.

*An earlier version of this post erroneously noted that 5.7 currently undocumented immigrants will be green card–eligible; it's been corrected to reflect that 5.7 will apply for and get that status. 

Read No More Deaths volunteers Catherine Gaffney and Kate Morgan Olsen’s take on the impact increased border militarization will have on immigrants.

A Tale of Two Best Friends

Witness Rachel Jeantel watches defense attorney Don West while on the stand during George Zimmerman’s second-degree murder trial for the 2012 shooting death of Trayvon Martin in Seminole circuit court in Sanford, Florida, June 26, 2013. (Reuters/Jacob Langston/Pool)

The media berated Rachel Jeantel last week throughout her testimony during George Zimmerman’s trial for the murder of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. So much so that other media took to defending Jeantel—who spent much of her day on the phone with Martin, whom she had first met in second grade, the day he was killed. That kind vitriol and subsequent support were absent, however, during yesterday’s testimony, when Zimmerman’s best friend, Mark Osterman, took the stand. That distinction speaks to the way that race remains a central theme in this murder trial.

No one denies that Jeantel does, in fact, have a drawl—one that could easily be confused with Paula Deen’s or even Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour’s drawls, which never drew public condemnation. In fact, in the mouths of white people, those southern accents are charming, and can even help fuel careers. Zimmerman defense attorney Don West (whose daughter, let’s not forget, posted a despicable photo on Instagram) repeatedly questioned Jeantel’s literacy on the stand. Despite the fact that Jeantel is trilingual, the court and the public—which is largely, and sadly, monolingual—displayed an obsession with determining the degree to which Jeantel can read cursive. Jeantel is indeed literate—but the question has nothing to do with her credibility as a witness in the first place. The attacks against Jeantel reflect an almost subconscious appetite for black destruction.

Meanwhile Mark Osterman, who described George Zimmerman as “the best friend [he] ever had,” was never questioned about his literacy. Perhaps that’s because he penned a book with his wife, titled Defending our Friend; the Most Hated Man in America. Yet the court and the public didn’t question the fact that Osterman essentially published and marketed a book based on the killing of a child. Osterman, too, had an attitude—he entered the courtroom with a snarky smirk, and possibly flirted with the all-woman jury by claiming that he doesn’t “like to curse in front of ladies.” Osterman’s sworn statements were at times bizarre—testifying, for example, that “anybody who is a non-convicted felon should carry a firearm,” and adding that “the police aren’t always there.”

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Because the court—and the public—is not preoccupied with dissecting Osterman’s statements the way they were with tearing apart Jeantel’s, they took his testimony to mean that anyone who is not a convicted felon should carry a firearm. But, in fact, Osterman actually said that any felon should carry a gun, if they have not been convicted. Osterman, a white man who apparently profited from the killing of a child through his book, was granted understanding and latitude that Jeantel, a black woman, was not.

One courtroom and one public have treated Martin and Zimmerman’s friends quite differently. And while the trial is clearly about the killing of Trayvon Martin, it is also profoundly about race, and about the way the public affords some privileges to some people, at the cost of detriment to others.

Mychal Denzel Smith explains how George Zimmerman’s innocence rely on criminalizing a 17-year-old black man.

Supreme Court Strikes a Hard Blow to Tribal Sovereignty in Adoption Case

The Supreme Court in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

This post first appeared on Colorlines.com, reposted here with permission.

In a 5 to 4 decision today, the Supreme Court ruled that the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) does not block termination of a Native father’s parental rights. The court appears to have ruled as if it was deciding the issue based on race—when a better lens to understand the case, called Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl, is through tribal sovereignty.

First, some quick background on the case and on ICWA itself (full background here). Christy Maldonado gave birth to a baby in 2009 whose father, Dusten Brown, is a citizen of the Cherokee Nation. Because of self-determination, the Cherokee Nation decides who its citizens are—and because Dusten Brown is Cherokee, his baby, named Veronica, is Cherokee as well. Maldonado and Brown lost touch by the time the baby was born, and Brown was never informed of the baby’s birth. Maldonado decided to put the baby up for adoption, and a white couple named Melanie and Matt Capobianco took Veronica into pre-adoptive care.

Just to be clear, although the case is called Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl, the Copabiancos never adopted Veronica. When Brown was served with Maldonado’s intention to place the baby up for adoption, he immediately fought the decision. A South Carolina court agreed that a non-custodial Native father was, indeed, a father for the purpose of the case, under ICWA.

So what does ICWA do? The act was created because of incredibly high rates of white parents adopting Native children; in states like Minnesota, that have large Native populations, non-Natives raised 90 percent of Native babies and children put up for adoption. Those adoptions sever ties to Native tribes and communities, endangering the very existence of these tribes and nations. In short, if enough Native babies are adopted out, there will literally not be enough citizens to compose a nation. ICWA sought to stem that practice by creating a policy that keeps Native adoptees with their extended families, or within their tribes and nations. The policy speaks to the core point of tribal sovereignty: Native tribes and nations use it to determine their future, especially the right to keep their tribes and nations together.

But leave it to the Supreme Court to miss the point altogether this morning. The prevailing Justices failed to honor tribal sovereignty in today’s ruling. In writing for the Court’s majority, Justice Samuel Alito opened his delivery on the ruling with these words:

This case is about a little girl (Baby Girl) who is classified as an Indian because she is 1.2% (3/256) Cherokee.

What Alito (along with Justices Roberts, Kennedy, Thomas and Breyer) is perhaps willfully missing is that the Cherokee Nation does not classify its citizens in that way. Baby Veronica is not a certain percentage Cherokee—she is Cherokee, as determined by her nation. The High Court’s first sentence, based in the colonial practice of blood quantum instead of the way that citizenship is determined by the Cherokee Nation, illustrates that the Justices made this case about race—in their minds—and not about tribal sovereignty in the law. By this flawed logic, the High Court ruled that Baby Veronica is somehow not Native enough to be protected by ICWA.

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Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote the dissenting opinion, and was joined by Justices Ginsburg and Kagan—and, in part, by Justice Scalia. In honoring the spirit in which ICWA was created, Sotomayor wrote:

Unlike the majority, I cannot adopt a reading of ICWA that is contrary to both its text and its stated purpose.

Baby Veronica has been in her father’s care, and will now be ripped apart from her nation in Oklahoma, and taken to South Carolina, where she will be adopted by a white couple—continuing a practice that tears Native tribes and nations apart. And while this is very much a heartbreaking day for Dusten Brown, the Cherokee Nation, and all Native tribes and nations whose right to a future has been put in peril through adoptions, it’s also a sad day for tribal sovereignty, which is clearly under attack in the High Court in the land.

Update: June 25, 2012, 2pm ET—The ruling does not necessarily mean that Baby Veronica will be placed back with the Copabianocos. The case is being bounced back to the lower South Carolina court. If it rules to terminate Dusten Brown’s parental rights, the grandparents and the Cherokee Nation may still have a say in the child’s placement. 

The Supreme Court made another controversial decision today: to strike down Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. But there’s something the Court doesn’t understand about the VRA.

Why Is This US-Born Citizen Being Detained by ICE?

Inside the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Washington. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Gerardo Gonzalez Jr. was born near Los Angeles and, as such, is a US citizen. The 23-year-old was arrested on a drug charge in December—and his world was turned upside down. Gonzalez is legally eligible for release on bail, but when his girlfriend attempted to post bail in January, they both learned that Gonzalez was placed on an immigration hold. Despite meeting the burden of providing evidence that he was born in the United States and holds citizenship, authorities have unconstitutionally held Gonzalez in jail for six months—only because an officer involved in Gonzalez’s arrest erroneously noted that he was born in Mexico.

Gonzalez is not the only citizen that has found himself place in an immigration hold, termed a “detainer,” by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE). The agency started a controversial program known as Secure Communities nearly five years ago, with the apparent aim of identifying deportable immigrants—and does so by sharing information among local, state and federal enforcement agencies.

The result has been disastrous. Some 1 million have been placed on detainers since the start of the program in 2008. Like Gonzalez, nearly 1,000 of them are US citizens. Nearly 30,000 are legal permanent residents with full rights to remain in the country—and more than 20,000 of those have no criminal conviction. While Secure Communities has terrorized undocumented immigrants in particular, those who are documented, as well as those who are citizens, are also feeling the brunt of a social control experiment that has grown completely—and unconstitutionally—out of control.

Gonzalez, who still remains in jail, has now filed suit against ICE. The class-action case, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Day Labor Organizing Network and a California law firm, draws attention to the fact that ICE is systemically violating the Fourth Amendment under Secure Communities, placing citizens on detainers without probable cause. Although ICE—which is not commenting on the case at the moment—claims to have implemented new standards in December, attorneys claim the same unconstitutional standards remain in place. The fact that Gonzalez remains behind bars, unable to post bail, illustrates their point.

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Despite hope for real immigration reform at the start of the year, the Senate’s bill is proving to be little more than a border security bill (but don’t say we didn’t warn you). As Congress continues its debate, some 11 million undocumented people remain vulnerable to zealous authorities that seek to detain and deport them. Xenophobia has been rendered into an ICE policy that has resulted in the ongoing detention of US citizens who are often profiled only because their brown skin means they look the part of an undocumented immigrant.

As long as we keep operating under the logic that 11 million essential workers, students and contributors to our society are fundamentally different than those who possess a US birth certificate, we’ll keep living with policies that will result in blatant profiling and violate the Constitution so many of those citizens hold so dear.

Is immigration reform a good reason to scrap the debt ceiling bill?

What the Supreme Court Didn't Strike Down Yesterday

People protest anti-immigrant legislation in Arizona. (REUTERS/Joshua Lott)

The Supreme Court defended voting rights yesterday when it struck down Arizona’s requirement to present proof of citizenship when registering to vote. But while the decision relieves registrants of an unnecessary burden, the rest of the proposition that brought it into being remains intact. Arizona’s Proposition 200 attacks not only voters but immigrants as well. Despite a win for voting rights yesterday, undocumented immigrants will remain especially vulnerable under the law.

Created twenty years ago, the National Voter Registration Act, also known as Motor Voter, was approved to encourage voters to register—and also mandated that states use a matching federal form in order to keep registrations consistent. About ten years later, Arizona voters passed an anti-immigrant and voter suppression proposition backed by the hate group the Federation for American Immigration Reform. Among other provisions, Prop 200 required voters to issue proof of citizenship in order to register—in violation of Motor Voter. It was that portion of Prop 200 that was struck down in the high court Monday.

But Prop 200 went further in its attack on voting rights—demanding that voters also provide voter ID. It also mandates that those seeking certain public benefits establish their eligibility; if they cannot, then state, county and city workers can be fined $700 for providing services. In Arizona, Prop 200 has meant that immigrants who use certain healthcare services, or even public pools and libraries, can be reported to authorities and find themselves in deportation proceedings.

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Aside from keeping a harmful voter ID provision in place, Prop 200 has also meant that undocumented immigrants who might use public hospitals to test for non-life-threatening services—such as testing for communicable diseases—might be reported to authorities and face possible deportation. Any public service that is not provided by the federal government requires proof of eligibility, which has meant that undocumented immigrants avoid certain services that would keep them healthy in a state in which they, too, work and pay taxes. If they do use those services, they may find themselves separated from their families and from Arizona—a place that, despite its criminalization schemes, they call home.

Yesterday’s victory in the Supreme Court should still be celebrated—but only cautiously so. After all, the same Court may still deal a blow to voting rights soon in another case that challenges the Voting Rights Act. And we should be vigilant, because while it took nearly a decade to strike down a portion of the law that went after certain citizens who vote, there is no current case challenging the other dehumanizing portions of Prop 200, which keep Arizona’s undocumented immigrants in the shadows.

What’s missing in the debate on food stamps? Read Greg Kaufmann’s argument here.

Obama's Chicago Fundraiser Targeted by Families Fighting Record Deportations

Protesters link arms outside the Hilton hotel. (Photo courtesy of Undocumented Illinois)

President Obama is returning home to Chicago today—where he’s being greeted by waves of protests from across the political spectrum. Obama is in town to raise money at the local Hilton on Michigan Avenue, where a dozen undocumented immigrants and allies were arrested today, denouncing continued deportations.

Although the Senate Judiciary Committee signaled some progress on a comprehensive immigration reform bill last week, a less watched committee considered the Department of Homeland Security’s 2014 budget. The Appropriations Committee approved additional funds to continue to maintain 34,000 detention beds for next year—conceivably the same year when a new bill would kick into gear. The budget also requests budget decreases for civil rights oversights, and for the immigration agency’s ombudsman. The continued focus on detention and deportation might signal that even if a bill passes through Congress, many immigrants will continue to be targets in the near future.

As deportations continue, there’s been increased pressure on Obama to halt removals as a first step toward reforming a broken immigration system—and meeting him in Chicago seems a good opportunity to bring the message home. Activists are holding a protest this afternoon, demanding the president take executive action to halt deportations. As Obama arrives at the Hilton, family members who have been separated from their loved ones at the hands of the immigration authority will share their stories. They will be joined by demonstrators protesting against the Keystone XL pipeline, as well as those coming out against Monsanto. Anti-choice activists are also expected to rally.

But this morning, a dozen people—undocumented immigrants and allies—bound themselves together outside of the hotel, in a civil disobedience to draw attention to continued deportations. They joined together around a massive banner that read “400,000”—representing roughly the number of people estimated to be deported this year. Authorities appeared confused about how to handle the situation, but soon began sawing through the piping that united the demonstrators, and arrested each one, one-by-one.

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Some of those arrested include immigrant youth who have been granted temporary relief under Obama’s Deferred Action of Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA. Ireri Unzueta Carrasco was arrested with her DACA-eligible sister, Tania, and non-eligible father, Martin. Unzueta said that while her DACA status benefits her, it leaves her family vulnerable to separation. “It doesn’t make sense to keep deporting people that could qualify for immigration reform,” explain Unzueta before her arrest. “We want our families to still be here when a path to citizenship opens.”

These kinds of actions come with well-known chants, and today was no different. As demonstrator after demonstrator was being whisked away in front of the venue that would soon host the president, everyone yelled, “When our families are under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back!”

Whole families risked arrest today in order to try to keep more families together.

Why did Rutgers hire an athletic director with a record of abusing players—and lying about it? Read Dave Zirin’s take.

Take Action: Implore President Obama to Halt Deportations Now

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