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From Vice to ICE, BreakOUT! and Congress of Day Laborers

on Sat, 06/09/2012 - 18:13

Groups Attend Urban Congress Together to Fight Criminalization in New Orleans

BreakOUT! members attended the Urban Congress with National Right to the City Alliance and local organizations, Safe Streets Strong Communities, Voice of the Ex-Offender, the Orleans Parish Prison Reform Coalition, the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana, and other local grassroots organizations on June 7-8th in New Orleans, LA.

On Thursday, five BreakOUT! members attended the Day of Action to stop the deportations of the Southern 32 and demand Mayor Landrieu to divest from Orleans Parish Prison.  On Friday, BreakOUT! members conducted a workshop with the Congress of Day Laborers on discriminatory policing and community I.D.’s.  The workshop explored how undocumented immigrant communities experienced criminalization in ways similar to Black transgender women in New Orleans and discussed ways that the two organizations have worked in solidarity and supported one another.  (More photos here.)  Calling their partnership From Vice to ICE, this was one more step in a long process of the two groups becoming strong allies to one another.

Although BreakOUT! and the Congreso have worked together through the Orleans Parish Prison Reform Coalition (OPPRC) and signed onto statements in support of one another, the relationship between members in the organizations began in August of 2011 when BreakOUT! members conducted a story circle with members from the Congress of Day Laborers.  (Photos here.)  At the story circle, members moved from theoretical conversations about the importance of solidarity work with other marginalized groups and into a discussion about concrete examples of shared experiences with criminalization in New Orleans.  While the two groups learned more about each other’s cultures, they also engaged in a transformative conversation about their striking similarities.

Just two months later, BreakOUT! supported an action in front of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) building calling attention to deportations and supporting the right to remain.  (Photos here.)  Then, in December of 2011, the two groups spoke in support of one another in front of City Council during the city’s budget hearings.  One BreakOUT! member educated City Council about the cost and burden of ICE holds at Orleans Parish Prison, while a member from the Congreso spoke about diverting funds away from OPP and toward programs that BreakOUT! members supported, such as city-funded education programs, job training programs specifically for the transgender community in New Orleans, and housing opportunities for LGBTQ youth.  (Photos here.)

Since this time, the two organizations have continued conversations among members despite language barriers and have educated themselves and others in their community outside of their collaborative work as well.

The work that both organizations have been doing resulted in a beautiful show of solidarity at the Urban Congress this past week.  In addition to attending the Day of Action together, a BreakOUT! member joined in a delegation of community organizers and activists who volunteered to go into ICE offices and deliver a letter in support of the Southern 32, while the rest of the attendees waited outside and listened to stories from people facing deportation for standing up for their rights.  (Photos here.)

The following day, the two groups conducted the workshop, “From Vice to ICE,” pulling out themes of shared experience with one another.  Among the concrete examples were:

  • Difficulty getting and keeping meaningful employment due to immigration status, gender identity or expression, race/ ethnicity, and nationality, being paid lower wages, subjected to poor working conditions, and working with little to no job protection.
  • Criminalization of survival strategies and work, including sex work and raids from Vice squads or ICE on day laborer corners.
  • Street harassment and profiling by law enforcement on basis of race/ ethnicity, nationality, immigration status, gender identity, and gender expression.
  • Longer hold times or higher bonds in Orleans Parish Prison (OPP) due to OPP’s collaboration with ICE and transgender women being deemed a “flight risk.”
  • Regulated movement in public spaces, such as being prohibited from being in certain areas looking for work, people who have previously been charged with sex work being prohibited from the French Quarter by court order, and people being afraid to walk to the store out of fear of harassment by the NOPD or ICE.

One last commonality that was discussed was the difficulty obtaining proper identification, not having legal identification, and the risk of showing identification that contains a country of origin or a legal name, gender marker, or photograph inconsistent with gender presentation.  The Congress of Day Laborers solved this issue for themselves by developing their own community I.D.’s for all of their members that has their photo, their name and date of birth, and their legal rights on the back to show to law enforcement.  With the help of the Congreso, BreakOUT! has now also developed community I.D.’s for members with a similar format.  The BreakOUT! I.D.’s have members photographs, legal name and date of birth, preferred name and gender pronoun, and rights with law enforcement on the back.  The cards position members as a part of a larger community, set the tone and expectation of respect for interactions with the police, as well as help to protect members’ legal rights.

The two groups look forward to continued work to build a movement across all people experiencing criminalization in our city.  However, perhaps more importantly, BreakOUT! and the Congress of Day Laborers look forward to strengthening deep, personal relationships between members who are most affected by criminalization, learning from one another’s firsthand experiences and insights, and overcoming difference and language barriers to find community in some of the most unexpected places.