Immigration as our Legacy

One of my earliest memories as a little girl in the Midwest in the early 1980s is of the smell of graham crackers. But it wasn’t from our pantry–it was from the backseat of our car, where I sat next to a woman wrapped in colorful fabric, quietly looking out the window at her new country. My mother was driving a Vietnamese woman, a recent immigrant and refugee, to the fabric store to purchase material so that she could make clothing for family, likely facing a harsh Illinois winter for the very first time.

The scent of the blend of spices that infused the garments the Vietnamese woman–probably cinnamon and coriander–was at once familiar and foreign to me, as was the fabric she used to make her clothing. My mother, too, smelled of the things she cooked for us, and she made our clothes. These were tangible proof of her love and care for me as a child. I understood at a very young age the fundamental connection that mothers have with all other mothers.

I grew up with the stories of people who had undergone considerable hardships to gain the safety and security that I got for free just by being born in the United States to parents who were citizens and who looked like the majority of people around them. I heard of a boy, just ten, who had swum across the Mekong River, bullet scars on his back from the shots intended to stop him. And families did not always come to our community intact; often they had had to leave others behind, or had lost spouses, children, aunts, uncles, and cousins along their escape routes, with no time or space for burials and funerals.

The Vietnamese and Cambodian refugees who settled in our communities and helped shape life in the Midwest in the 1980s were not strangers to us. They were fellow human beings in crisis. They became part of the fabric of our lives. We ate together, sewed together, laughed and cried together. Together we felt the cold wind of winter and huddled against the evils of greed, violence, and war. We connected their stories to the stories from our own histories, of great-great-grandparents hiding in caves in Germany to escape religious violence, of the sounds of soldiers’ boots and the ache of missing familiar smells and tastes handed down to us.

The rhetoric of the immigrant as a threat to our communities is unfamiliar to me at a visceral level, even though I understand that this is also, unfortunately, part of our legacy as well. My immigrant ancestors did not always greet the “other” with warm and accepting arms, but often with suspicion and even violence. The Midwest as it is today was made possible by the murder and displacement of millions of native peoples and the systematic oppression of the descendents of slaves.

We can choose which parts of our legacy as Americans we want to nurture, and which we need to be on guard not to perpetuate.

Community Supporting Families Belong Together

Hundreds march in Iowa City supporting immigrants families on Saturday, June 30 as part of the Mobilization Day to denounce separation of families.

CWJ is proud to have sponsored the March and Rally on June 30 and joined the National Day of Families Belong Together.

For more information, read the articles linked below Little Village and CBS/FOX

Hundreds in Iowa City march in nationwide ‘Families Belong Together’ event

Hundreds march in Iowa City for the Families Belong Together rally

Court Hearing

“On Tuesday June 26, I attended a hearing for 5 men detained in the recent Mt. Pleasant Raid. The experience confirmed something many already know, that ICE makes people disappear without due process. The courtroom was overflowing with supporters, both family members and allies. The federal prosecuting attorney said that 2 of the 5 detainees had not shown up for court. She said she didn’t know where they are and asked that warrants be issued for their arrests. They may be in ICE custody, she said, she couldn’t say for sure. Said it wasn’t her responsibility to get them to court.
Public record shows that the 2 men are being detained in the Hardin County Jail. Is there any way the prosecuting attorney didn’t know this? Most likely she was lying. If indeed, she wasn’t lying, she could have easily procured this information. It’s not very difficult. I checked the major Eastern Iowa detention center roster and found that they are being in the Hardin Co Jail. My feeling is that ICE is delaying their court appearance because this judge had previously stated, that with so much community support he was considering releasing at least one of the two men so that he could be with his son. I felt enormous grief for the cruelty and corruption in our system, and also experienced the joy of being surrounded by brave family members and supporters from Davenport, Mt Pleasant, and Iowa City.
By Aaron Silander (CWJ Allies )

Stop Tearing Families Apart

 

Tearing apart peaceful immigrant families is cruel, unjust, and devastating to our communities. Take action now! Fill out this form and click “take action to be taken to a sample letter you can review, edit, and send with one click to your Congressman and Senators.

It’s been horrifying to watch parents torn away from their toddlers at the border and criminalized for seeking asylum and safety for their families. Meanwhile, the small Iowa town of Mt. Pleasant is still reeling from the recent ICE raid, in which armed agents descended on a factory with helicopters, dogs, and tasers to round up 32 peaceful workers – orphaning children and wreaking lasting damage for this interconnected rural community. We cannot tolerate this kind of brutality. A humane and just immigration system is possible and urgently needed.

Send a message to your Congressman and Senators TODAY
Take Action Now and Sign this Form: https://cwjiowa.salsalabs.org/stopseparationsoffamilies/index.html

We Are All Immigrants

Speech by Mark Schmidt on Cedar Rapids Rally calling for Immigration Reform in front of Senator Grasley’s office on May-14-2018

My great-great-grandfather came to America as a stowaway in a cattle ship in the late 19th century. He came because of prospect of work. He came because he was fleeing the violence of war and poverty. He came for the American dream.
My ancestors were simply hardworking, God-fearing, families trying to survive, caring for their loved ones and communities. Their story is almost identical to the story of today’s immigrants; here for a prospect of a better future. But because of fear and xenophobia our human dignity was denied much like it is denied to immigrants today. During the anti-German fervor of WWI period, German nationals were required to register at a local government office, to carry papers at all times, and could be stopped, detained, and interred without evidence of wrongdoing. Depicted as blood-thirsty apes threatening white womanhood and American liberty thousands were detained and, collectively, millions of dollars of their possessions and assets seized. Lives were destroyed. Families were torn apart.
But my ancestors, like millions of other immigrants, persevered and have helped to make America what it is today.
Senator Ernst has acknowledged that our state economy needs migrants to fill job openings that our aging population cannot. Our state and our nation benefit greatly from the gifts of migrants, both documented and undocumented.
We are here to ask our senators and all elected officials to recognize the failings of our current laws, to help them see how our current laws harm the dignity of the human person, how they are an assault on the common good and we ask them to change them based on the virtues and principles of love, justice, mercy, human dignity, prosperity for all by caring for the common good and not just the good of some, and a spirit of radical hospitality.…

Iowa City Students Frustrated, ICCSD Cancels Social Justice Course

Blaming too few students signed up for the class, the Iowa City Community School District has decided to cancel the Ethnic Studies elective course scheduled for the upcoming trimester.
 
Brought about amid protests last school year, the student organization Students Against Hate and Discrimination (SAHD) negotiated the addition of this Social Justice class with the School Board after instances of racial discrimination prompted a school walk-out. “We were devastated because we’ve been demanding and begging and pleading [for the class] and they said yes and got our hopes up,” stated student Lajayn Hamad to KCRG 9 News.
 
Yet despite their promise to students, the district has decided to cancel the class, Kingsley Botchway, ICCSD Director of Equity and Engagement stating the “district requires at least 24 students for a new class.” Student Lajayn Hamad reported to KCRG News, however, that “other classes at City High have as few as five students [and] the district has made exceptions in the past.”
 
For the full article, click on the link below:
http://www.kcrg.com/content/news/Students-upset–475465933.html

Racism is Not Welcome

 

 
Here at the Center for Worker Justice, we value and celebrate diversity in our community. After receiving reports from multiple community members of racially-charged messages and harassment, the CWJ participated in a forum as a member of the Johnson County Interfaith Cluster that met with city leaders, faith groups, and local police to address this unacceptable bigotry.
 
“We believe that we live in a progressive city and that we have values so it’s important to talk about that,” said the Center for Worker’s Justice Executive Director Rafael Morataya to KCRG News. “We definitely need to send a message to those hate groups.”
 
After hearing from the community during this forum, city leaders and police reaffirmed their commitment to condemning all forms of racism and bigotry.
 
For more information, read the articles linked below from KCRG News and Press-Citizen:

http://www.kcrg.com
https://www.press-citizen.com

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CWJ visited Ernst and Grassley to demand a “clean” DREAM Act

 

Eleven CWJ members and allies met with the regional directors of Senators Grassley (Fred Shuster) and Ernst (Brittney Carroll) on Tuesday, January 16 to discuss immigrant justice, including the urgent need to pass a “clean” DREAM Act immediately.

Every day that Congress fails to pass a DREAM Act, more than 100 young people who came to the U.S. as children lose their work permits and are put at risk of deportation. A “clean” DREAM Act means creating a path to citizenship for young people without linking it to draconian measures that criminalize and terrorize their parents and relatives such as walls and ramped up detentions and deportations.

What we heard were essentially identical views from the two senators’ representatives.  They are supporting the proposals put forward by right-wing Republicans Tom Cotton (AK) and David Perdue (GA). They have no interest in supporting a “clean” DACA renewal.  They have no understanding of why DACA recipients might be concerned.  They ask, “Do they think they will be deported on March 5, when DACA expires?”

They choose to emphasize a package of draconian measures for more “border security” (a wall), more prosecution of immigrants, ending what they call “chain migration” and other proposals, as a condition for any relief for DACA recipients.

They need to hear from us now! A clean DREAM Act is good for workers, good for our economy, good for families, and it’s the right thing to do.…

Workers Celebrate Positive Impact of Johnson County Wage

In 2015, Johnson County workers won a long-overdue, historic minimum wage increase when the Johnson County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved raising the minimum wage in three steps: to $8.20 in November 2015; $9.15 on May 1, 2016, and $10.10 on January 1, 2017. After years of inaction from Congress, County Supervisors joined 29 states and dozens of other cities and counties in taking necessary action to address the growing crisis poverty wages are causing for Iowa families, schools, social services, and local economies.

By 2017 when the state legislature banned local minimum wage increases, three other Iowa counties had followed Johnson County’s lead and were poised to raise wages for tens of thousands more working Iowans. CWJ has since led efforts to maintain the Johnson County increase by seeking commitments from employers to voluntarily honor the $10.10 minimum wage. Over 160 Johnson County businesses have so far pledged to maintain the higher wage, with many now proudly displaying signs in support of the higher minimum.

Iowa’s current minimum wage of $7.25 per hour translates to $15,080 for a full-time, year-round worker, not enough to meet an individual’s basic needs in any Iowa community, much less support a family. Iowa’s minimum wage was last increased on January 1, 2008, meaning Iowa minimum wage workers have not had a raise in a full decade.

“This report is the latest milestone in our ongoing community campaign to achieve living wages for all workers. Two years ago, Johnson County residents came together to demonstrate broad community support for increasing the minimum wage. Data in the county’s new report backs up what workers and employers alike have experienced since 2015: raising wages is good for families, for business, and for our local economy. In 2018, we’ll continue urging more Johnson County employers to join the over 160 businesses who have already pledged to uphold our community wage standard of $10.10. The Iowa legislature attacked workers in 2017 by making local wage increases illegal and trying to lower the wages of 65,000 Iowa workers. But they can’t stop our local progress or keep our community from coming together to raise wages and strengthen our economy.”  Rafael Morataya Executive Director of Center for Worker Justice

Read the Minimum Wage Report on this link 

 

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Our 2017 Winners

“We are here to stay! Immigrants are here to stay! Our minimum wage is here to stay! Our unions are here to stay!”

CWJ is proud to Honor those Leaders in our Community who have contributed to improving our  lives in the last year; here are the Winners:

Emerging Leader: Margarita 

Volunteer of the Year: Sally HartmanRecognition for Improving our Community: Johnson County Supervisors

Recognition of Work Team: Forest View Tenant Association