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Tonight: Night of 1000 Conversations

New America Media, Commentary, Margaret Huang Posted: Jun 19, 2008

Editor's Note: Tonight in cities across the United States, immigrant rights activists are encouraging people to gather in homes, offices, coffee shops and places of worship to talk about how to restore human rights and due process protections to the legal system. Margaret Huang is executive director of the Rights Working Group. Immigration Matters regularly features the views of the nation's leading immigrant rights advocates.

The house of a U.S. citizen was invaded at 6:00 am by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents without a warrant. The agents rounded up parents and children at gunpoint; they were looking for an immigrant who had never lived in that house.

An undocumented immigrant being held at the San Diego Correctional Facility notified immigration officials that he was suffering from a large, painful and growing lesion on his penis. Despite recommendations from several doctors, immigration officials refused to test him for cancer and he received no treatment except for pain pills during his 11 months in detention. He died from a treatable disease less than a year after his release.

A U.S. war veteran who is also a Guyanese immigrant has been waiting more than three years for his naturalization application to be approved. He first applied to become a citizen after his return from Iraq and his honorable discharge as a sergeant in the United States Marine Corps.

What these stories reveal is an appalling lack of accountability on the part of the U.S. government. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which oversees immigration enforcement, immigrant detention, and the processing of citizenship applications, routinely violates the basic human rights of people living in this country.

What can we do about it? The Rights Working Group and our members and allies across the country are hosting the Night of 1000 Conversations, an initiative that will raise awareness about these issues and mobilize action in our local communities. People will gather in homes, offices, coffee shops and places of worship tonight to talk about what the lack of DHS accountability means for this country and how to restore human rights and due process protections to the legal system.

The Night of 1000 Conversations will also be the kickoff for a new campaign that the Rights Working Group will formally launch later this summer to Hold DHS Accountable. Working with allies such as the Detention Watch Network and the Fair Immigration Reform Movement and our member organizations, Rights Working Group is developing a campaign plan that will ask DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff to end immigration raids that lock up people without due process; stop inhumane detention conditions and arbitrary jailing without trial; and provide fair and efficient mechanisms to end the backlog in processing citizenship applications by September 2008.

Recently, Congress has introduced legislation that would address some of these concerns. On May 1, Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., introduced the Detainee Basic Medical Care Act of 2008 (H.R. 5950). This act requires the DHS to ensure adequate medical care for all immigration detainees and prioritize those with serious medical and mental conditions to be released on bond or into an alternative detention program. On May 12, Sen. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., introduced a partner bill in the Senate to address medical care for detainees (S. 3005), and he recently announced his intention to introduce a broader bill to address the lack of due process protections in immigration raids. On June 11, Sen. Joseph Lieberman, ID-Conn., introduced the bipartisan Secure and Safe Detention and Asylum Act (S.3114), which mandates improved detention conditions and enhances the rights of asylum seekers.

Local and state organizations are also fighting to defend human rights for all. For example, the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights has launched a campaign to enact state legislation guaranteeing access for immigrant detainees to religious counsel. Hate Free Zone is calling for reforms to improve detention conditions in the North West Detention Center in Washington state. And the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles is organizing youth to respond to the raids in their local communities.

In order for the Hold DHS Accountable campaign to be effective, we need to mobilize actions across the country, to raise public awareness about the human rights violations taking place, and to link local and national organizing efforts. The Night of 1000 Conversations is a starting point, and our members will continue to host conversations throughout the summer. We invite organizations and individuals to join us tonight, for the summer of conversations, and again on Sept. 25 for another Night of 1000 Conversations. Lets hold DHS accountable and secure human rights for all people in this country!

Visit www.nightof1000conversations.org for more information.

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