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Holly Tree Services

Holly Tree Services from Jacob Foko on Vimeo.

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Maryland’s Dream Act Passed by Voters

During the Presidential election on November 6, 2012, Maryland citizens voted in favor of the state’s version of the “Dream Act”. The law grants in-state public tuition rates to undocumented immigrant students who have attended Maryland high schools for at least three years.  Students must first attend a community college and earn at least 60 credits or receive an associate degree before qualifying for the tuition discount at a four-year college.

The in-state tuition rate makes a big difference for families. Undergraduate in-state tuition at the University of Maryland is $8,909 for academic year 2012-13, a 68 percent savings over the $27,288 out-of-state tuition fee.

The Maryland law was approved by the state General Assembly and Governor Martin O’Malley in May, 2011, but critics gathered enough signatures to place the referendum on the Presidential election ballot. 58 percent of all voters upheld the law. Although a dozen states have similar legislation, no other state has approved such a law through a popular vote

Gustavo Torres, Executive Director of Casa de Maryland. Photography by Jacob Foko/Blue World Productions

Three days after the vote, Casa de Maryland gathered more than two hundred undocumented immigrants in front of the White House to celebrate the victory. Casa de Maryland, a nonprofit organization assisting immigrants in the state, has lobbied and organized for passage of the Maryland Dream Act for years.

At the White House, Gustavo Torres, Executive Director of Casa de Maryland spoke to the crowd through a bullhorn, “Let me say something to our brothers and sisters, the African American community. Thank you so much! We won in Maryland because of you. You made a difference. Almost 80 percent of African Americans said yes to the Dream Act.”

Florine Ngazanga, immigrant from Cameroon.
Photography by Jacob Foko/Blue World Productions

The crowd passed the bullhorn around and spoke through the iron fence that surrounds the White House congratulating President Obama on his re-election and thanking him for his support. Florine Ngazanga, an immigrant from Cameroon explains, “We are so happy that he came back for a second round, and we really want him to support us the way we supported him. We’re just here for him and we want him to be here for us.”

Many of the undocumented immigrants in attendance will be directly affected by passage of the Maryland Dream Act.

Veronica Saravia, immigrant from El Salvador.
Photography by Jacob Foko/Blue World Productions

Veronica Saravia, an immigrant from El Salvador who came to the U.S. when she was seven explains, “I want to become a developmental psychologist. I want to help people like I have been helped. I want to help so many people out there. If America gives a me chance to better myself and show them that I can better this country too, I would do a good job.”

Michael Jimenez, immigrant from Panama.
Photography by Jacob Foko/Blue World Productions

Michael Jimenez, 19, came to America with his mother when he was two years old. After graduation from high school Jimenez attended one semester at a local community college but soon found tuition fees out of reach. Voters passed the Maryland Dream Act precisely for people like Jimenez. He and other young undocumented immigrants have a better chance of realizing their potential and receiving college degrees than ever before and Jimenez is grateful. “It is incredible to see everybody working as a team, as a union for better life. It is inspiring,” he says.

But the struggle is not over. Torres reminded President Obama that comprehensive immigration reform, passing laws that provide a path to citizenship, is yet to be realized adding, “we’ve got your back”.

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Sharing the American Dream

Sharing the American Dream from Jacob Foko on Vimeo.

 

The American Dream, the belief that through hard work and determination anyone can achieve a better life, has attracted immigrants to the United States from the beginning. For many people, today as in the past, America is the land of opportunity, of freedom, and of dreams waiting to be realized.

As of the 2010 Census, approximately 40 million immigrants live in America. That’s nearly one in eight people and not all of them are authorized to be here. In fact, an estimated 11.2 million, or 28 percent of all immigrants, are undocumented, living here without legal status. Michael Jimenez is one of them. He, and up to 1.7 million other young undocumented immigrants received, if not a permanent fix, at least a reprieve when President Obama announced his Deferred Action Immigration Plan on June 15, 2012.

 

Michael’s Story – We Are Americans

In 1996, two-year-old Michael Jimenez, now 19, traveled to America from Panama on a tourist visa with his mother, Carmine. Once in Miami, they never returned to Panama and became, in the legalese of immigration law, undocumented visa over stayers. Only a few months before, Michael’s father, Enrique, entered the country, also without documentation, to find work and with plans to send money home to his family. When they reunited in Miami, the plans changed. Enrique and Carmine took their chances and decided to keep the family together in America, to give themselves and their son an opportunity for a better life.

Michael Jimenez,
College Student. Photography by Jacob Foko/Blue World Productions

Undocumented immigrants cannot get jobs that require social security numbers. This leaves them with few work options outside of construction… seasonal work, cleaning, and the Jimenez were no exception. To make ends meet, Enrique worked construction jobs while Carmine cleaned and when construction projects dried up, as they inevitably did, the family would pack up and move where work could be found.  They started in Miami but moved to New York within a year and, eventually, to Maryland.

Spanish was spoken at home but Michael, being so young, learned English while watching television and once in school was on track with his peers in every way. However, as a child he didn’t fully grasp what it meant to be undocumented, only that it was not information to be shared with everyone, perhaps in the way that the embarrassment of a wayward uncle might be for others. Not wanting to feel different, or inferior, he pursued his studies and extra curricular activities with passion, as if his legal status didn’t matter. Still, only a few select friends knew the truth. Adding to this duality, his two sisters, Genesis, 11, and Angela, 8, are U.S. citizens by birth and do not share his undocumented status.

As a high school freshman, Michael enrolled in ROTC and began working out at the gym in preparation for a military career. Three years later, in his senior year, the truth hit home; unlike his classmates, being undocumented meant he was not eligible to join the military or apply for student loans. After high school, disappointed but not discouraged, Michael enrolled in Montgomery College, a public, open access community college, and started taking business classes. As he is unable to acquire a driver’s license due to his status, he woke up daily at 4 a.m. to catch the 5 a.m. bus, and after one transfer and nearly two hours of travel, would arrive in time for his first class. It wasn’t easy but Michael is a determined young man not prone to giving up.

Money has always been tight for the Jimenez family and now, with a child in college, it was even more difficult. Enrique and Carmine’s marriage suffered. According to Michael, “the stress of undocumented immigrant life and the accompanying financial troubles split [his] parents apart.” Last year, Carmine moved out and Enrique found it difficult to work. Enrique’s unemployment ultimately resulted in an eviction:  Michael and the rest of the family lost all their belongings and their home. This crisis made it impossible for Michael to continue his schooling.

After just one semester of college, Michael quit school and, for a time, felt lost and alone. With the help of friends and the support of Casa de Maryland, he is now working with Enrique to build a client base for their own construction company and manage the business. Michael hopes to return to school when time and finances allow.

 

The Undocumented and Their Challenges

In 2010, the Pew Hispanic Center published a paper estimating the undocumented population at 11.2 million, slightly more than one in four immigrants and 3.6 percent of the total U.S. population.

U.S. Population, 2010 Census.

But, unlike native-born Americans and documented immigrants, nearly all undocumented men (96 percent) are in the labor force pushing their numbers to about 5 percent of all U.S. workers, and 10 percent of all low-wage workers, according to an Urban Institute study in 2004.

The same study states, “Undocumented workers earn considerably less than working U.S. citizens. About two-thirds of undocumented workers earn less than twice the minimum wage, compared to only one-third of all workers.” This reality, perhaps even more than having to remain invisible to authorities, presents the biggest challenge to undocumented immigrants. Low-wage workers have limited options for housing, health care, education, and other necessities of life and when unexpected events occur, such as illness or other losses, they often find themselves without the resources to weather the storm.

 

Source Department of Homeland Security 2009

Help for Immigrants – Casa de Maryland

In the 1980s, thousands of Central Americans fled their countries to escape war and civil unrest with few resources and little support. By 1985, many had located to the Washington, D.C. area where several congregations came together to form Casa de Maryland with a staff of two and a few volunteers to provide this population with clothing, food, immigration assistance, and English instruction. As the numbers grew, so did the need. In 1991, with assistance from local governments and private foundations, CASA began providing employment assistance and legal help as well.

Rodrigo Guevara,
Executive Assistant, Casa de Maryland. Photography by Jacob Foko/Blue World Productions

Today, CASA is the largest Latino and immigrant assistance organization in Maryland with five welcome centers and three training centers serving workers, tenants, and low-income women. The welcome centers serve men and women without full-time jobs who come seeking temporary day labor work to support themselves and their families. At the centers, workers and employers alike are screened and registered, workers are placed in short-term jobs, and quality control measures are implemented to meet and improve standards for all involved.

The training centers offer classes in citizenship, English, computer literacy, and health promotion, as well as vocational training in computer repair, landscape management, drywall and painting, maintenance engineering, dressmaking and tailoring, security jobs, childhood development, heating, ventilation and air conditioning, ceramic and tile, and electrical apprentice licensing.

Additionally, CASA’s legal, social services, and health program helps immigrants find assistance in these areas and assists them in filling out forms or legal documents when necessary. But it doesn’t stop there. Alone and in partnership with other organizations, CASA organizes the low-income community to advocate for institutional change at the local, regional, and national level. Currently, CASA is actively promoting the Maryland DREAM Act and supporting President Obama’s Deferred Action Immigration Program.

 

President Obama’s Deferred Action Immigration Program

On June 15, 2012, President Obama announced that the Department of Homeland Security will no longer initiate the deportation of illegal immigrants who came to the United States before age 16, are no more than 30 years old, have lived here for at least five years and are in school, are high school graduates or are military veterans in good standing. To qualify, immigrants must have clean criminal records.

Undocumented immigrants gathering at the Casa de Maryland in Baltimore office to complete the application for the Deferred Action. Photography by Jacob Foko/Blue World Productions

Undocumented immigrants who qualify will be granted deferred action for two years and can apply for work permits. After two years, the deferral may be renewed. While taking the pressure off hundreds of thousands of undocumented young people, many experts say this change does not go far enough.

 

 

 

 

 

Danielle Beach-Oswald, President and Managing Partner at Beach-Oswald Immigration Law Associates in Washington D.C. Photography by Jacob Foko/Blue World Productions

Attorney Danielle Beach-Oswald, best known for her humanitarian work in assisting people who seek freedom from torture, or who are victims of domestic or cultural violence, including human trafficking, advocates for more long-lasting and comprehensive immigration reform. As President and Managing Partner at Beach-Oswald Immigration Law Associates in Washington, D.C., she has helped hundreds of undocumented immigrants navigate or avoid deportation by finding legal avenues for them to remain in the country and where possible, to gain citizenship. As Ms. Beach-Oswald points out, deferred action is not a path to citizenship; it does nothing to increase access to student loans or other government programs that are available to citizens and it ultimately leaves individuals facing a return to undocumented status every two years. This is, at best, a band-aid approach to immigration reform.

 

 

 

 

The DREAM Act

President Obama’s Deferred Action Immigration Program is essentially a compromised version of the DREAM Act, proposed legislation that would provide a path to permanent residency, perhaps even citizenship, for young undocumented immigrants. To qualify, nearly identical to deferred action, undocumented immigrants must have entered the United States before age 16, have graduated from a U.S. high school or obtained a GED, have lived in the country continuously for at least five years, be under 30 years old, and have no previous or current convictions.

But, unlike deferred action, qualified immigrants would receive temporary residency for a six-year period during which they may qualify for permanent residency by acquiring a degree from an institution of higher education in the United States or completing at least two years, in good standing, in a program for a bachelor’s degree or higher degree. Permanent residency would also be granted to those who have served in the armed services for at least two years and, if discharged, received an honorable discharge.

Since 2001, several versions of the DREAM Act have been proposed and two bills were debated in Congress, both of them stalled by Republican opposition – despite bi-partisan sponsorship. The most ardent opponents call for deportation of all undocumented immigrants, no matter their circumstances and believe that policy reform, such as the DREAM Act would encourage others to overstay their visas or enter the country illegally.

 

The Way Forward

Historically, both Democrats and Republicans have enacted immigration reform designed to help undocumented workers. In 1986, President Ronald Reagan championed the Immigration Reform and Control Act, which, in addition to strengthening border patrol programs and sanctions on employers of undocumented workers, granted amnesty to any illegal immigrant who had entered the United States before 1982 and had continuously lived here since. Of the 3.7 million eligible for amnesty, 2.9 million accepted it.

Today, “amnesty” is out of favor, replaced by more nuanced discussions of who should qualify, under what circumstances, and for what status. In the 2012 presidential campaign, neither of the candidates is an advocate of amnesty for undocumented immigrants; both candidates promote some form of relief for young undocumented immigrants who came here as minors. But that’s where agreement ends.

President Obama supports legislation that would provide a pathway to citizenship for qualified undocumented immigrants, while the Republican contender, Mitt Romney appears to back a modified version of the DREAM Act that would allow permanent residency, not citizenship, to those who serve in the military or graduate from institutions of higher learning. This difference does not seem particularly great until you add Romney’s concept of self-deportation to the mix. Romney would toughen laws and strengthen enforcement, making it impossible for undocumented immigrants to get driver’s licenses, jobs, and other basic necessities, to create such hardship for them that they would leave the United States (4).

It is unclear which way the worm will turn on immigration reform and the election will have a bearing on the direction. But for now, most undocumented young people are overjoyed with Obama’s deferred action program which they see as a big step in the right direction, a step closer to their personal American dream.

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Highlights of Africa Rising

Highlights of Africa Rising from Jacob Foko on Vimeo.

On Friday, September 21, 2012, on a beautiful, bright and sunny morning at the Washington Convention Center in the heart of Washington, DC, people gathered for Africa Rising, a daylong forum on African political, economic, security, health and development issues.

A highlight was the 90-minute first panel of the day, “Africa’s Growing Economies”, moderated by Rosa Whitaker, President and CEO of the Whitaker Group. Panelists were Tebelelo Seretse, Ambassador of Botswana to the U.S.; Jay Ireland, President and CEO of GE Africa; and Makhtar Diop, World Bank Vice President for Africa. Ambassador Seretse raised one of the panel’s most important themes, stating: “I am shocked when Europe has mismanagement and corrupted the economy, it is called mismanagement. When it is Africa, it is called corruption.”

The event was co-hosted by Congresswoman Karen Bass, representing Los Angeles, California, and members of the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation for the Africa BrainTrust. Congresswoman Bass is the senior Democrat on the House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, and Human Rights.

For more information on how to invest in Africa please contact the office of Rep. Karen Bass, , or the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation,

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Global Humanitarian Photojournalists’ Projects

There are few moments in life where we have the chance to truly make a difference, touch someone’s life, and inspire hope. This is one of those moments.

Global Humanitarian Photojournalists (GHP) was founded in November 2007 to document fallout from war or natural disasters, capturing the reality of lives in adversity, and inspiring hope through stories individuals who have overcome extreme adversity. GHP is a group of photojournalists who assist other non-profit organizations in documenting their work to create material that will attract funding for their activities.

GHP’s vision is to facilitate projects that can provide real solutions to complex problems; helping to eliminate suffering and improve lives around the world. For example, one of GHP’s documentaries focuses on a remarkable project begun by Dr. Anne Tafaro of Emergency Africa. The Flux Mothers Projectprovides basic education, job training, medical services and self-empowerment classes to women —and infuses their lives with hope. As apprentice welders, the women are taught to repair windows, doors, and fencing, and to sell their products to a construction company. Please visit the GHP Website to see amazing images of the Flux Mothers’ work. Be transported to the heart of Africa in Brazzaville, Congo, and journey with these women.

The Flux Mothers enjoying the break at their factory in Brazzaville, Republic of Congo. Photo by Jacob Foko/GHP

Sponsorship Opportunities

To allow us to continue and to expand our work as photojournalists promoting humanitarian causes, we seek your support. Your sponsorship will be highlighted on all of our productions, publications, press releases, and all correspondence with media sources.

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DC Confidential

Classified documents. Photography by Jacob Foko/Blue World Productions

Forty years ago, an anonymous source gave Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein critical information that led to the resignation of then-president Richard Nixon and the conviction of 48 administration officials.
The Watergate scandal, as it is popularly known, was the result of a June, 1972 break in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters in Washington, D.C. and the administration’s attempt to cover up its involvement. If the informant had not been sure that his identity would be kept confidential, the truth might never have been known.

“The government has a legitimate security classification system that creates a pretty tight-lipped federal work environment. But when there’s government wrongdoing I hope people come forward to expose it—even if they have to do that anonymously,” remarks Laurel Jensen, a retired senior security analyst for the Department of Defense. “If people are afraid of losing their livelihoods, or worse, they just won’t talk to the press.”

Laurel Jensen, a retired senior security analyst for the Department of Defense. Photography by Jacob Foko/Blue World Productions

Although there is no federal law, reporters in 33 states and the District of Columbia have legal protections in the form of shield laws that give them the right to not be compelled to disclose a confidential source. In half of those states, the reporter’s privilege is absolute. In the other half, there are high standards before disclosure of confidentiality can be required.

Even with such laws in place, reporters can, and have, been jailed. This was the case in 2005, when New York Times reporter Judith Miller was incarcerated for twelve weeks for refusing to divulge the identity of her source to a federal grand jury in the case of the Bush administration outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame. The U.S. Department of Justice opened a criminal investigation into whether the White House or other high-level government officials leaked Plame’s covert identity to the press, in violation of the Espionage Act and/or other laws. Miller was released from jail when her source, Scooter Libby, agreed to the disclosure of his name. At the time, Libby was a legal advisor to Vice President Dick Cheney. He was ultimately disbarred and convicted of a felony for disclosing classified information.

Jensen points out, “Oftentimes there are fine lines between protecting the press, protecting its sources, and protecting government secrets. But, you really can’t have a democracy without a free press. That means confidentiality must be upheld or the information flow stops.”

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The Struggle Over Net Neutrality

Photo by Jacob Foko/Blue World Productions

When the 112th United States Congress convened on January 3, 2011 Congressman Bobby Rush, democrat from Illinois, was vying to be the lead democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, and the Internet. That subcommittee has jurisdiction over “Net Neutrality” and after several attempts spanning 10 years, democrats were unable to pass a bill to prevent internet providers from prioritizing what content would be transmitted first, or more quickly, and perhaps more importantly, what content would be available to consumers at all.

According to the New York Times, “the concept of net neutrality holds that companies providing Internet service should treat all sources of data equally.” That’s a simple way of saying that Internet service providers should be prohibited from blocking, restricting, or filtering the traffic to competitor websites or to websites with information and services they find disagreeable; they also should not be able to collect higher fees for access to certain content as that would essentially discriminate against those who cannot afford the higher price.

Congressman Bobby Rush, democrat from Illinois. Photo by Jacob Foko/Blue World Productions

Congressman Rush, breaking with many of his democratic colleagues, opposed net neutrality legislation and in so doing, lost his bid for co-chairmanship of the Subcommittee on Communications, Technology, and the Internet. A congressional aide states, “The congressman believes that regulating internet providers could strangle industry investment and damage job growth in an already weak and struggling economy.”

But supporters of net neutrality don’t buy that argument. They insist that all legal
content should be available to all consumers equally at the same level of service and price. One such group, the Color of Change coalition spearheaded a campaign that targeted the congressman by accusing him of siding with the telecommunications industry, a surprising move since the group vocally advocates on minority, especially

African American issues and supports Congressman Rush in nearly all other areas.
According to a congressional aide, “The campaign against (Congressman Rush) bid was led by the coalition called Color of Change, a progressive group dedicated to strengthening Black America’s political voice, created in the aftermath of hurricanes Katrina and Rita and that has more than 800,000 online members. As big social media users, they are impacted by net neutrality.”

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Summary of Survey Result

Photo by Jacob Foko/Blue World Productions

A staggering 29 percent of immigrants coming to the U.S. are unauthorized. In this publication, I would like to discuss the feedback I received on both the video and the survey I sent out on this topic.

About 203 people visited my web site; the survey response reflects the input of seven participants.

According to the survey, 14 percent of participants agree, 28 percent either disagree or strongly disagree, and four of the seven did not respond to the question that immigration is a serious problem in the U.S. When asked about unauthorized immigration in the U.S., 57 percent agreed or strongly agreed that unauthorized immigration is a serious problem, 29 percent disagreed, and 14 percent had no opinion or didn’t know.

I tried to summarize the beliefs of both schools of thought and in the following paragraphs I will explain.

According to the survey, some people believe unauthorized immigration is a problem for reasons such as an increased crime rate, which is not validated by statistics. This group believes that those who do not follow the rules and/or do not pay taxes are taking advantage of those who do.

An interesting quote from a survey participant: “Immigration is not a problem as long as it is legal. Every nation has steps to becoming a citizen and the United States is no different. Work hard, follow the rules, and I’ll welcome you as my neighbor.’’

The opposing group thinks unauthorized immigrants are not a problem, because they help with the economy: ‘’This is a country of immigrants. And the degree that immigration is a ‘problem,’ is the degree to which we make it so. Most undocumented immigrants are doing work what no one else would do and we should be grateful to them and help them take an active role in our society, and we should pay them decent wages.’’

Others explained that immigrants offer affordable services in fields like house keeping and construction. These services cost less than minimum wage—a wage that American citizens will not take.

According to the survey, 86 percent of participants knew at least one illegal immigrant; 86% had never been adversely affected by immigrants.

Four of the most interesting and significant results of this survey were:
· 71 percent thought visa overstayers should not be treated in the same way as border crossing violators
· 86 percent believe visa overstayers should be reissued a temporary visa without deportation if criteria, such as a status of working or in school, are met
· 0 percent thought overstayers should be deported, no questions asked
· 14 percent believed that border crossing violators should be deported without question

Regarding the key question of immigrant contribution to the country, 43 percent believe that unauthorized immigrants take more than they contribute to the U.S, intellectually, culturally and economically, 43 percent disagreed or strongly disagreed, and 14 percent had no opinion or didn’t know.

All participants agreed that the U.S. is a nation of immigrants and our diversity is our strength. They also agreed that immigration is only a problem when it becomes unauthorized but viewed overstayers and border crossing violators differently with most of the participants taking a more lenient position toward visa overstayers.

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Survey on Immigration Issues: Your Opinion Counts

Immigration remains a thorny and divisive issue, especially in an election year. Nearly every American and illegal alien holds and passionately defends their definition of the problem and their understanding of how it can/should be resolved. Yet the views best known and disseminated tend to be those of politicians, legislators, policy advisors, immigrant lobby groups and border enforcement officials. The views of ordinary citizens like you tend to be lost. This survey seeks the views of those voiceless citizens and, more importantly, it seeks to learn of the many creative, practical and out-of-the-box solutions citizens believe could help resolve this problem.

By providing specific questions and, sometimes, offering a menu of answers, most surveys like this one, restrict what citizens can say.
It’s been a huge challenge to many immigrant families to deal with immigration issues in the U.S. This has been going on for years and as of today, some states are trying to create their own response to this issue. For instance, Arizona, Alabama and four other states have enacted their own controversial immigration laws. And, according to the Examiner, Alabama’s immigration law keeps children out of school
Thank you for taking this survey.

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Literature Review: Sharing the American Dream

On April 23, 2010 Governor Jan Brewer signed into law Arizona State Senate Bill 1070. The law calls for strict enforcement of federal immigration laws regarding illegal aliens. The explosion of debate across all forms of media leading up to and following the signing of the bill has exposed a passionate but divided nation, keen to enhance security through better border patrol but weary of the possibility that stringent laws could jeopardize civil liberties and the freedoms at the core of the American dream.

Generation after generation of immigrants have given up the culture they know and the people they love to hop a fence, swim an ocean, stow aboard a boat or airplane in search of freedom and opportunity. Often fleeing violent crime and armed conflict—forced marriages and other human rights abuses and gender-based violence—fleeing political oppression and religious persecution they seek a safe haven that offers the kind of freedom they could only dream of.

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