Today is International Human Rights Day and President Obama is in Norway to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. The ceremony takes place just nine days after the President announced that he would send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan.
Bestowing such a high honor on our President less than a year after taking office was controversial. But after Obama’s decision to escalate the war, the affair has taken on an air of unreality. After all, the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded for promoting peace not for making war.
As Obama receives his Nobel at Oslo City Hall, a vigil will be held outside the Varick Street Federal Detention Facility in Manhattan to ask the President to take the lead on a major human rights issue right here in America: The shameful treatment of detained immigrants and the need for just and humane immigration reform.
The vigil is organized by the New York Immigration Coalition and a group of faith and community leaders,** to honor International Human Rights Day and call attention to the conditions at detention facilities around the country.
"Access to medical care has been abysmal in immigration detention centers, more than 100 immigrants have died in immigration custody since 2003, their pleas for medical help often having been ignored," the coalition said in its call to New Yorkers to attend the vigil.
"Immigration detainees are routinely housed together with violent criminals. Unlike criminal defendants, immigration detainees can be held without legal representation and are routinely transferred to remote jails without notice and before they can find help," the group added.
A real human rights scandal.
"We are getting to the tipping point. Immigrant communities that helped to elect President Obama strongly believed that there would be reforms," said Chung-Wha Hong, the coalition’s executive director. "There is a huge disconnect and contradiction between what the President is saying and what Department of Homeland Security Secretary [Janet] Napolitano is doing. You can’t have it both ways."
At today’s vigil, right outside one of the many immigration detention centers around the country, immigrants will tell their poignant personal stories. They will relate tales of children separated from their parents, wives torn from their husbands, whole families mercilessly divided. Harrowing as their stories are, the reasons for the separation – mainly deportation and detention – are sadly familiar by now.
The reasons for their sad stories is the nation’s broken immigration system. It is a system that instead of solving the crisis, intensifies it by keeping families apart, limiting the avenues for immigrating, and minimizing due process protections.
That’s why the protestors outside of the Varick Detention Center are asking that any immigration reform bill provide a path to citizenship and family reunification, guarantee fairness and due process in immigration enforcement as well as "respect for our nation’s vibrant immigrant communities."
"We say to the President that the best next step in economic stimulus is supporting working families with what they need the most to do their part – and that’s bringing them out of the shadows of the underground economy," Hong said.
There can be no better occasion to call on the President to take the lead in resolving once and for all the immigration humanitarian crisis, than on a day so filled with meaning and promise as the International Human Rights Day. The same day he received the Nobel Peace Prize.
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