The network initially supported immigrants who were coping with removal, incarceration or persecution. Since then GCISN has emerged as a local community organization educating, lobbying and advocating on behalf of the marginalized immigrant population.
History of the Greater Cleveland Immigrant Support Network
Following the September 11, 2001 destruction of the World Trade Center life changed for many immigrants in the United States of America. In 2002, reports of disappearances of Arab, South Asian and Muslim-Americans began to surface. Community activists conferred with leading immigration attorneys in Cleveland and found that the detention and deportation of Arab, Asian and Muslim-Americans was truly on the rise and that the U.S. government was apparently targeting these groups, a violation of the Bill of Rights, and the 14th (Equal Protection) Amendment to the US Constitution. These activists brought the issue to their respective social justice organizations, but it was evident that a new advocacy group was needed to respond to the post “9-11″ backlash against certain immigrants.
The Greater Cleveland Immigrant Support Network (GCISN) was founded in 2003 and immediately began reaching out to Greater Cleveland’s Islamic and Arab-American community. Immigrant detention cases were discovered and the GCISN began making jail visits to detainees, contacting family members, attorneys, government officials, and the media.
Separations of families became a central issue. Unfortunately, the new federal office of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) was unrelenting. Mothers and fathers were either incarcerated or eventually deported, leaving children with single or no parents, or their extended family. The GCSIN provided some comfort to the families by aiding jail visitation, contacting child advocates and social services when needed, raising money for family and/or legal expenses, and sponsoring public events, press conferences and meetings to give case updates and advise immigrants of their rights.
Jail visits led to the discovery of new cases; some immigrants being detained longer than their sentence; many never having been charged with a crime; others with minor immigration violations. Many detainees were not getting proper medical care or religious rights. The GCISN contacted the appropriate officials, attorneys, imams, and the media to alleviate some of these issues. Advocacy expanded to attending immigration court hearings, visiting congressional offices – often escorting the families of detainees, and entertaining children of detainees – folding oragami, playing games, and helping with homework.
The GCISN members expanded their horizon and knowledge of the realities of Arab and Muslim immigrants by joining delegations into the areas of conflict. Between the years 2007-2009 some members went with groups such as Global Exchange, Palestinian Medical Relief Society and the “International Movement to Open Rafah Border” to Palestine to participate in solidarity work. The Palestinian-Israeli dispute is one of the longest unresolved conflicts in modern history. For over 55 years Israel has dispossessed the Palestinian people of their homeland via territorial conquest, occupation and war. During the 1967 war, Israel occupied the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Jerusalem. Since that time, the Palestinian people have been divided into three groups: three million living under Israel’s occupation, one million living inside Israel, and four million as refugees dispersed throughout the Arab countries, worldwide and even Cleveland, Ohio.
The focus of the GCISN shifted in 2005 when Immigration reform became again a national issue with the introduction of the H.R. 4437 Border Protection Antiterrorism and Illegal Immigration Control Act by James Sensenbrenner (R-WI), which sought to arrest and deport an estimated twelve million unauthorized immigrants, predominately Latinos. The GCISN quickly met with Latino leaders and community activists. The new coalition facilitated and organized rallies, congressional office visits, and letter writing campaigns.
Workplace raids were being conducted by ICE around the nation, including Ohio. On International Workers Day, May 1, 2006, GCISN called a rally that drew an impressive turnout of 500 with a message of: “Stop the raids; oppose the Sensenbrenner bill; establish federal comprehensive immigration reform which included a pathway to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants.” Later that year, the GCISN conducted a public hearing which heard testimony exposing the potential negative effects of the Sensenbrenner bill, economic impact of such a bill, the current fear and destruction of families in immigrant communities, and one supporter of the bill.
In the past five years the GCISN members have joined several delegations to Latin America with groups such as the Christian Peacemaker Team (CPT), Mexican Solidarity Network, Witness for Peace and No Mas Muertes (No More Death) to educate themselves more about border issues, immigration, NAFTA and social justice. During the Arizona-Mexico border delegations GCISN members learned about the plight of Mexican and Central American immigrants trying to cross the border. Most of these refugees were driven away from their homes into secluded areas of the desert. The GCISN recognized this injustice and therefore seeks to aid Latin American immigrants. When Immigrant Support Network members returned home, they conducted interviews for the Cleveland Plain Dealer and Dick Feagler’s Friday news program, among other media, and did presentations and tea-houses for community groups.
Lately, our focus has been to promote the Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America and to take a stance against the Arizona bill. May 1st, 2010 we mobilized more than 100 people to protest this racial profiling bill that would require police to question people about their immigration status if there’s reason to suspect they’re in the country illegally. It also would make it a state crime for illegal immigrants to not have alien registration documents. Although Ohio has not ratified this Arizona bill yet, local legislature proposed a similar all-enforcement bill targeting unauthorized immigrants, and an “English-only” bill. The GCISN mobilized with other immigrant advocacy groups around the state to defeat these measures. After this victory, the state legislature proposed new similar bills the following year. These bills which authorize local police to administer federal immigration enforcement powers are currently pending in the state legislature. The battle continues.