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When we posted the letter warning of a Latino “invasion” written by Glendale (AZ) Elementary School District substitute teacher Tony Hill and addressed to Arizona Republican Senate President Russell Pearce, many of our readers thought it was a hoax.

It’s not.

Arizona Senate President Russell Pearce

Several major news outlets confirmed that the leadership of the Glendale district have indeed Hill as the writer and will be investigation his allegations.

The Associated Press reports the following:

A metropolitan Phoenix school district has launched an inquiry into a substitute teacher who wrote a letter that portrayed Hispanic students in a harsh light and was read aloud last week at the Arizona Legislature during a debate on an immigration bill.

The Glendale Elementary School District said it has determined that some statements by teacher Tony Hill in his letter to Senate President Russell Pearce were inaccurate.

In the letter, Hill said a majority of the eighth-graders he had recently taught at a Glendale school had refused to say the Pledge of Allegiance and declared that Americans had stolen their land. Hill also wrote that while substitute teaching in the area, he came to believe that “most of the Hispanic students do not want to be educated but rather (want to) be gang members and gangsters.”

The letter quickly inflamed the immigration debate in Arizona. A Republican in the Legislature read the letter on the Senate floor during the immigration debate. Democrats expressed suspicion that it was a hoax that had no place in the public debate on immigration.

District spokesman Jim Cummings said all students questioned in the inquiry have said everyone stood for the pledge and that none said their land had been stolen. “What we are finding here — and what we believe — is that the statements that he made weren’t accurate,” Cummings said.

In the meantime, Pearce had distributed Hill’s letter to all his Republican colleagues in the Arizona Senate. During the debate of several anti-immigration bills on the Senate floor, one senator read Hill’s letter publicly.

Arizona Republican State Senator Lori Klein publicly read Tony Hill's on the floor of the Arizona Senate

According the AP, Pearce was unapologetic:

The letter was the subject of heated exchanges on the Senate floor Wednesday as Pearce refused to apologize.

“It’s read on the floor as factual,” said Democratic Sen. Steve Gallardo of Phoenix, the Senate’s most outspoken critic of the letter.

Pearce said no one from the Senate owes an apology for reading the letter. “It was all verified,” Pearce said. “I’m disappointed that we assault and attack a teacher for speaking out.”

He said the letter wasn’t about Hispanics, but rather was about what went on in a classroom where students were disruptive.

In an interview after the debate, Republican Sen. Lori Klein, who read the letter aloud on the Senate floor last week, said she didn’t regret bringing to light a teacher’s experience, but that she doesn’t believe all Hispanic students want to be gang members.

As to whether she believes the school district’s findings thus far, Klein said, “I don’t think the district wants to be embarrassed,” Klein said.

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AMERIZONA
by Julio Ricardo Varela

in Amerizona
cars halt
captains arrest
guns blare
people scream
latinos scare

in Amerizona
haters live
liberty leaves
lovers hide
slurs spew
latino pride

in Amerizona
blood flows
fathers shout
mothers cry
children weep
americans die

to Amerizona
you threat
you condemn
you are not me
you lack love
you are not free

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Last week, while we learned of the death penalty sentence given to Minutemen leader and murderer Shawna Forde for the home invasion killing of two Latino American citizens, two Pennsylvania men convicted of severely beating an illegal Mexican immigrant in 2008 were sentenced last Wednesday to nine years in prison.

As reported by CBS News, the two men, Derrick Donchak and Brandon Piekarsky, were part of a group of white high school football players in Shenandoah, PA who attacked 25-year-old Luis Ramírez in 2008. Prosecutors in the case, which produced a conviction last October, claimed that the players beat Ramírez because of his ethnicity and because they didn’t want Ramírez living in their town. Ramírez eventually died from the injuries sustained in the brutal beating.

Luis Ramírez, beaten by white teenagers and eventually died from the injuries sustained

As CBS reports:

Justice Department prosecutor Myesha Braden said in court Wednesday that while Piekarsky, now 19, and Donchak, now 21, did not intend to kill Ramirez, they decided his ethnicity made him “somehow worthy of being beaten like a dog in the streets.”

Defense attorneys said they will appeal the verdicts and sentences.

The pair were convicted in October. They could have received more than 12 years to more than 15 years in prison under federal sentencing guidelines, but U.S. District Judge Richard Caputo granted them a reduction because of their personal character and conduct before Ramirez’s beating, as well as the numerous letters and testimonials he received.

He also noted Ramirez’s death and the crimes of Piekarsky and Donchak.

“The jury found that Mr. Ramirez died as a result of his ethnicity or race. This is serious business in America,” said Caputo, adding: “There are no winners here, only losers.”

Brandon Piekarsky, Copyright © The Associated Press

The report presents a good summary of the case, which garnered national attention last year:

Prosecutors and defense attorneys agreed that youth, testosterone and alcohol played a role. But they argued over the mindset of a quartet of belligerent teens who called Ramirez an ethnic slur, told him to go back to Mexico and assaulted the immigrant with their fists and feet.

Federal charges were brought against Piekarsky and Donchak after another all-white jury acquitted them of serious state crimes, including third-degree murder in Piekarsky’s case. Hispanic activists decried the May 2009 verdict, calling Ramirez’s death part of a rising tide of hate crimes against Latinos. They and Gov. Ed Rendell appealed for a Justice Department prosecution.

Piekarsky was accused of delivering a fatal kick to Ramirez’s head after he’d been knocked unconscious by another teen, Colin Walsh, who pleaded guilty in federal court and testified against his childhood friends. A fourth teen, Brian Scully, pleaded guilty in juvenile court and also testified for the prosecution.

Both defendants were convicted of a hate crime under the Fair Housing Act. Donchak also was convicted of two counts that he conspired with three Shenandoah police officers to cover up the crime. Those officers were tried last month in federal court on charges they obstructed a federal investigation into the fatal beating, but a jury rejected most of the government’s case.

Derrick Donchak, Copyright © The Associated Press

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I kind of wished I was back at Harvard yesterday, as Colombian singer and Grammy Award winner Shakira was at my alma mater in Cambridge yesterday to accept an award for her artistic and humanitarian contributions.

Shakira was named the Harvard Foundation Artist of the Year, presented to her by Harvard Foundation Director Allen Counter. Copyright @Associated Press

During her remarks, Shakira took the time to focus on the country’s recent wave of anti-immigrant legislation, especially Arizona’s proposed new controversial law, which some are calling “SB1070 on steroids,” that if passed by the state legislature would severely curtail services to illegal immigrants in this country.

Shakira takes questions from students at Harvard University yesterday. Copyright © The Associated Press

As she told the Associated Press after the awards ceremony:

Justice will come. I’m sure. Wherever there is … a kid, who could be the son or the daughter of a Latino immigrant, who cannot attend a school in the United States of America, that kid should be a concern to all of us and our responsibility.

I believe we should never think less of the Latino community because it’s a productive force in this country.

The singer also shared her thoughts about education and its importance, while at the same time, made the typical “Hey, mom I’m at Harvard” joke:

“As I entered the premises today, I had to call my mom and say, ‘Hey mom. Guess what? I got into Harvard’,” said Shakira, who took a history class in 2008 at UCLA.

“Not everyone can study at Harvard University,” she said. “But everyone, wherever they live, whatever their background, deserves a chance to make the most of his or her potential” through education.She said that applied to poor children in Bangladesh or immigrants in the United States. “And as a child of the developing world, it is my duty to use this voice in every way I can to promote the message about the power of education to change lives,” she said.

So for that, Shakira, I say: GRACIAS. Thank you for speaking out for the voiceless.

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Arizona.

A word that has ignited extreme feelings all over the country.

To some, Arizona is Nazi Germany, a place where rights are suppressed and documents are presented to prove citizenship.

To others, Arizona is a patriot bastion that has pitched a new American Civil War against the federal government, human rights, and illegal immigrants from Mexico.

Convicted murdered and Minutemen leader Shawna Forde

This week, events in Arizona only added more fuel to the struggle. First, a Tucson jury sentenced convicted murderer and Minuteman vigilante Shawna Forde to death for the murders of American citizens 29-year old Raul Flores and his 9-year-old daughter Brisenia. The murder, which occurred during a May 2009 home invasion of the Flores home, did not gain much mainstream media attention, although major outlets like CNN and CBS News did report about Forde’s death sentence.

Raul and Brisenia Flores

As Flores’ wife Christina González said on Tuesday:

“I miss my husband, I miss my daughter, I miss my family, I miss my life … and that’s all because of a choice she made,” referring to Forde.

CNN reported that prosecutors successfully argued that Forde’s motive was to steal cash and drugs to help fund Forde’s activist group. Police found jewelry from Flores’ home in Forde’s possession. Forde was the leader of the Minutemen American Defense group, an organization that supported stricter border enforcement and deportation of all illegal immigrants.

As Forde awaits her fate, some videos about her on YouTube paint a picture of her thoughts and opinions. In this first video from local Arizona TV, Forde shares her thoughts about why illegal immigration is ruining America.

A website called Justice For Shawn Forde still maintains her innocence, even though Forde was tried properly to the fullest letter of the law. The site claims the following about interview Forde had given to a journalist last year:

In an 11th hour move, Shawna Forde, who has been held incommunicado for over 2 weeks by the jail, called her supporters and insisted that she was misquoted in a hasty 10 minute interview she gave to a yellow journalist with the dirtbag. She says she doesn’t appreciate being characterized as a criminal, and she is innocent of all charges.  Further legal actions are pending.  Shawna indicated she is now willing to speak to media and to answer all questions asked, and directs journalists to the media section of this website. She will grant no interviews unless the parties have been screened through The Committee for Justice for Shawna Forde first.

Here is a video of Forde and her claims that she was protecting CIA agents who were tracking Mexican drug cartels around the border.

On the same site, a post that supports Forde’s innocence contains the following:

In America, accused murderers like Weather Underground terrorist Bill Ayers and Black Panther Huey Newton, as well as O. J. Simpson, have been acquitted in cases where there was far more evidence of guilt than there was in the Shawna Forde case. Newton and Simpson are black.  Ayers is white but hates America.  Forde is white and loves America.  That makes her a viable scapegoat in today’s politically correct atmosphere

The website also contains a video from a Minuteman YouTube page that has received over 2 million views since July, 2009. The video speaks to the US Government’s lawsuit against Arizona’s controversial anti-immigration bill SB 1070, which passed last year.

With regards to SB1070, the Arizona state legislature is about to vote on a more controversial measure that would severely limit human rights and create a situation that would lead to greater possibilities of racial profiling of Latinos and unjust discrimination. As reported by The New York Times this week, the bill, which passed through committee, will now be considered by the Republican-controlled state legislature. Here are a few excerpts of the article:

Illegal immigrants would be barred from driving in the state, enrolling in school or receiving most public benefits. Their children would receive special birth certificates that would make clear that the state does not consider them Arizona citizens.

Some of the bills, like those restricting immigrants’ access to schooling and right to state citizenship, flout current federal law and are being put forward to draw legal challenges in hopes that the Supreme Court might rule in the state’s favor.

The Times also quoted several people to share their opinions about the bill:

“This bill is miles beyond S.B. 1070 in terms of its potential to roll back the rights and fundamental freedoms of both citizens and noncitizens alike,” said Alessandra Soler Meetze, executive director of the A.C.L.U. of Arizona. She said the measures would create “a ‘papers, please’ society” and that a new crime — “driving while undocumented” — would be added to the books.

“If you are ever going to stop this invasion, and it is an invasion, you have to quit rewarding people for breaking those laws,” said State Senator Russell Pearce, the Senate president, who is leading Arizona’s effort to try to make life so difficult for illegal immigrants that they stop coming, or leave.

“Denying citizenship to children because they have parents without documents is crazy,” said the Rev. Javier Perez, a Roman Catholic priest and immigrant from Mexico who waited in the legislative chamber into the night Tuesday for a chance to speak. “Honestly, I don’t think anything I say will change their minds, but it’s immoral what they’re doing and we have to say this is against the values of America.”

In the meantime, it is very likely that these events will indeed elevate the attention on Arizona. Just like Madison, Wisconsin, the state has becoming a symbol of an America at a crossroads. It will be up to all American citizens to decide which direction our country will take. Nonetheless, whatever the outcome, Raul and Brisenia Flores will never come back to walk this earth. The debate has become too extreme and the fight to stop this ignorance and hate must intensify.

This reminds me of a song by Public Enemy called When The Time I Get to Arizona. The song, which was released in 1991, was written to protest Arizona’s refusal to acknowledge the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr, a national holiday that the rest of the country celebrates. All Americans who believe in justice and human deceny better get to Arizona soon before it becomes the symbol of an America that espouses racist principles and anti-American values. Let the REAL patriots show up.

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Kansas state Representative Connie O'Brien

 

 

In response to public comments she made in a Federal and State Affairs Committee meeting in Topeka, Kansas, where she said that people with “that olive complexion” were illegal immigrants, Kansas state Rep. Connie O’Brien (R-Tonganoxie) apologized for her remarks. O’Brien was supporting the repeal of a Kansas law that allowed children of illegal immigrants in-state tuition to college.

As The Miami Herald reported:

Rep. Connie O’Brien, a Tonganoxie Republican, was speaking in favor of rescinding the law when she recounted a story about a student she saw while enrolling her son at Kansas City Kansas Community College last year.

The female student was in line to pick up scholarship money but couldn’t provide a driver’s license or other government ID to the clerk, O’Brien recalled. Yet the woman said she had driven to the college that day.

“We could tell by looking at her that she was not originally from this country,” O’Brien said.

Another lawmaker asked O’Brien how she could tell the woman wasn’t a legal citizen.

O’Brien replied: “Well, she wasn’t black, she wasn’t Asian and she had the olive complexion.”

O’Brien then continued: “It struck me that she didn’t have a driver’s license (and) she’s driving on our streets. That’s illegal.”

Even though O’Brien has begun to apologize for what she said, she still claims that the student in question was not a United States citizen. O’Brien has not presented any proof  to back up her claim.

I emailed O’Brien the following on February 16:

In light of your public comments about Latino immigrants, I am requesting a formal interview to discuss this story. Can you let me know if you would like to comment and talk with us? I am a Latino blogger who focuses on politics. Thank you! Julio Ricardo Varela

On February 17, O’Brien responded with this email to me:

Mr. Varela,

After contemplating the statements I made in the Federal and State Affairs Committee meeting, I understand how they could have been misconstrued. I misspoke and apologize to those I offended. I have learned from this situation and will be more careful with my choice of words in the future.

The student in question did not have a driver’s license, government identification or any other form of documentation. From the situation, it was clear that the student was not a United States citizen. However, I should have been more precise in stating why it was clear that she was not a legal citizen.

Thank you for the interview invitation. However, I have apologized and am moving forward.

Sincerely,

Connie

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CNN’s Anderson Cooper reported tonight that an Arizona jury in Pima County convicted border vigilante Shawna Forde of murdering American-born Latinos Raul Flores and his 9-year-old daughter Brisenia Flores. The fate of Forde, who reportedly has ties with the tea party, the Minutemen American Defense, a border vigilante group that polices the border with their own guns and surveillance equipment, and FAIR, the anti-immigration group that helped design Arizona’s SB 1070, is still being determined as the jury will convene tomorrow as to discussing a final sentence for Forde, who is eligible for the death penalty.

 

Border vigilante and convicted murderer, Shawn Forde

 

The murders occurred on May 30, 2009 during a home invasion of the Flores home in Arivaca, Arizona. According to the CNN post, Forde was also convicted for  attempted first-degree murder for shooting Brisenia’s mother Gina Gonzalez, along with other aggravated assault and robbery charges. Forde’s alleged accomplices, Albert Robert Gaxiola and Jason Eugene Bush, will be tried later this year.

This case has been a rallying cry to many US Latinos who have claimed that the mainstream media has provided minimal coverage. During the tragic events in Tucson of the Gabriel Giffords’ shootings, the Flores case came into the spotlight of many Latino-theme blogs and news pages, since one of the victims, Christina Taylor-Green, was also 9 years old.

Tonight, a news search of the conviction lists articles and coverage from outlets such as ABC News, CNN, The Village Voice, USA Today, and The Daily Mail, but the majority of articles are local and originate from Arizona. We think, however, that this case will garner even more national attention, especially if Forde is sentenced to execution.

In addition, local web sites in Arizona, such as BriseniaFlores.com are dedicated to keeping the memory of the Brisenia alive.

In spanning reader comments on several sites, the general sentiment is that Forde got what she deserved, and that justice has prevailed. However, a few comments painted the blame on Flores, who allegedly dealt drugs out of this home (although that has never been proven). Here are just a few of the comments we have read tonight:

From USA Today

  • From eyepatch: “wonder why the father and mother were not married and how many people they killed with their drug trafficking?”
  • From The Real McCoy: “Her particuler (sic) group was obviously no militia if they were breaking into drug dealers homes and killing families to get money. Sounds more like a street gang using a non street gang name for a cover.”
  • From Anonymous: “The founder of an Arizona border vigilante group has been convicted of murder for recruiting gunmen and leading a home-invasion raid that killed a 29-year-old father and his 9-year-old daughter. Prosecutors said she was seeking money for her group, Minutemen American Defense Corps.”

From ColorLines.com

  • From I AM AMERICA: “Phuck her, phuck the minutemen, and phuck arizona !!”
  • From Cherisse Gardner:“Death is too good for her, let her spent the rest of her life locked up with a predominantly Latina population.”
  • From ironicalAngel: “Give her life in prison with no chance of parole and every week have her look at photos of that little girl and her parents before and after she killed them. Have her write a letter of apology to Gina Gonzales every week for the rest of her life. May it be long.”

From The Tucson Citizen

  • From Bill: “Speaking as one who is definitely not in favor of illegal immigration, this filth deserves the death penalty!!!!!!  Nothing justifies this!!!!!!!”
  • From Pamela Powers: ” ‘border activist’? Forde was a crook (see her record from other states) and a white supremacist opportunist. She is a thug.”
  • From Joel: “I wonder if you advocate for “brown-on-white” cases being so-called hate crimes. What’s wrong is wrong, it doesn’t make a crime more wrong is someone is a color, or whatever else you don’t like about them. The fact remains if “dad” (note the lower case “d”) wasn’t into criminal activity his family might still be alive. It was just a matter of time. Nonetheless, Shawna Ford and the others should be given the death peanlity….”

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