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How Change Happens: The Immigration Uprising

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With Congress gridlocked and unable to pass even the deeply flawed comprehensive immigration reform, activists around the country are successfully challenging the injustices inherent in US immigration policy and enforcement.

Two weeks ago, hundreds of people inside the Tacoma (Washington) Detention Center launched a hunger strike against its private operator, GEO Group, demanding better conditions and a moratorium on deportations. Activists, who have held vigils outside the center for years, now gather every day to support those inside. A week later the strike spread to a GEO facility in Texas. According to Maru Mora Villapando of Latino Advocacy in Tacoma, in both locations the company has isolated the strikers and in Tacoma threatened to force-feed them.

This is only the most dramatic action of a wave of activity around the country, in which community and labor activists, and now deportees themselves, have refused to endure increased immigration enforcement quietly. They are mostly young, deriving much of their inspiration from the Dreamers who forced the administration two years ago to begin providing legal status to some of those who otherwise would be deported. These activists refuse to wait for Congress to enact its immigration reform proposals. In fact, many reject those proposals as fatally compromised. Instead, they're organizing actions on the ground to win rights and equality:

- In Tucson, San Francisco, Phoenix, Chicago and other cities, people sat down in front of ICE buses and vans and chained themselves to vehicles to block deportations. In Tucson, they stopped the Operation Streamline anti-immigrant court, which every day sentences dozens of young border crossers, all brought before a judge in chains, to months in prison.

- Supervisors in Los Angeles and San Francisco passed resolutions demanding a moratorium on the huge wave of deportations - 2 million people in five years. The San Francisco resolution also demanded an end to the tens of thousands of immigration-related firings.

- Ju Hong - a young immigrant whose deportation was deferred in the White House's executive action two years ago - challenged President Obama at a West Coast fundraiser, telling him, "You have the power to stop deportations."

- In Burlington, Washington, immigrant farm workers from Oaxaca went on strike repeatedly last year for labor rights and better pay and to stop a grower from using the H2A guest worker program to replace them.

- In Jackson, Mississippi, immigrant-rights activists helped elect a radical African-American mayor. Their broad coalition defeated a wave of state anti-immigrant bills, as they have in every session of the Legislature for years.

This growing insurgency is a direct response to the fact that the Obama administration, like the Bush administration before it, has implemented the harshest parts of Congress' immigration reform proposals, even while Congress has been paralyzed and unable to pass them. Hundreds of thousands are deported every year. Tens of thousands more are fired from their jobs simply because they're undocumented. The number of contract guest workers brought to the United States at low wages and reduced labor rights is growing. One report by Visas Inc. put the number at 900,000 last year.     


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