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ICE detention contracts banned from New Jersey prisons

New Jersey bans local and private jails from entering into new ICE detention contracts as Gov. Murphy signs bill into law. 

Under the new law, local and private jails in New Jersey are now banned from “entering into, renewing, or extending immigration detention agreements”  with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The bill was quietly signed into law by Gov. Phil Murphy last Friday, making N.J. the fifth state to limit or ban contracts with ICE. 

“This win has been a long time coming, not just for immigrants in New Jersey but for every family separated by detention. Our state now joins the handful of others who are spearheading the fight to end ICE detention nationwide,” said Amy Torres, executive director of the New Jersey Alliance for Immigrant Justice in a statement.

Advocates push for termination of all ICE detention contracts 

While the new law is a great step forward in ending the inhuman detainment of immigrants, it does not affect current ICE contracts, only future ones. In Bergen and Hudson county, long-term contracts still stand. Additionally, a private jail in Elizabeth recently extended its contract until 2023 while the bill waited to be signed. 

“The people inside are the ones being impacted by the delay,” said Chia-Chia Wang of the American Friends Service Committee. “I can only say it’s a hard lesson learned, but I don’t know if that can fully describe the real hardships people face inside.”

For years, counties such as Bergen, Essex, and Hudson defended the controversial practice of immigrant detention, which allowed the counties to rake in millions by charging ICE as much as $120 daily per detainee. However, recently the Democrats running these counties have shifted in their stance toward the practice, with Essex County announcing in April that it would cut its contracts with ICE and the other counties hinting they would be open to terminating their contracts as well

State Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg (Image source)

Advocates are now pushing for more action, hoping to build momentum following the victory of this bill. Many are concerned about the hardships immigrants will face in the remaining facilities still under contract with ICE, especially as the COVID-19 Delta variant continues to spread. Wang has called for all N.J. ICE contracts to be terminated, and other advocates and officials continue to speak out and push back against ICE. 

You might be interested: Latino population powerhouse: 2020 Census data reveals huge diversity growth

State Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, D-Bergen, a main sponsor of the law, chimed in stating “county jails and other entities should be used to house people accused of real crimes, not to arbitrarily hold people who are trying to live their lives and contribute like anyone else.”

“Many of these individuals are immigrants who have lived in New Jersey for years, enriching our communities, and strengthening local economies,” Weinberg added. “This is a common sense bill and a humane one.”

border, fence,

Biden says influx of migrants at the border is nothing new

In his first press conference since taking office, President Biden claimed “nothing has changed” compared to earlier influxes of migrants and unaccompanied children at the border. 

Immigration surge “happens every year”

For the past decade the immigration issue has been a topic of focus. As the humanitarian emergency at the border continues, many are calling into question what the Biden Administration will do to address the issue which has persisted for too long. Others are criticizing President Biden for lack of inaction as numbers surge and questioning whether his new policies are contributing to the increased numbers. 

However, President Biden has said that the influx of migrants is nothing new. “It happens every single, solitary year,” he said at Thursday’s press conference. “There is a significant increase in the number of people coming to the border in the winter months of January, February, March. That happens every year.”

While it is true that the numbers are usually higher in the early months of the year, the current number of unaccompanied children arriving today is much higher than that of 2019 or 2020. 

This past February there were 9,297 unaccompanied children apprehended at the border. This is a 30% increase from 2019 when the last major surge occurred but still below the peaks of 11,000 unaccompanied children in May of 2019 and 10,000 in June of 2014. However, these records are likely to be broken this year according to experts. 

Over the past 30 days, U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents have apprehended an average of 5,000 undocumented immigrants per day–about 500 of which are unaccompanied children. The current influx is said to be different than previous years, with officials citing larger numbers of unaccompanied children and families. 

Influx of unaccompanied children leaves them without appropriate shelter

The influx of migrant children has also led to issues with housing them in appropriate shelters. Unable to open child shelters run by the Department of Health and Human Services fast enough to accommodate everyone, many children are being forced to remain at holding facilities along the border.

As of this past Wednesday, more than 5,000 migrant children and teens were stuck in Border Patrol facilities awaiting beds in child shelters.

“Unfortunately, on any given day, we may have upwards of 9,000 people in custody, which certainly puts a strain on our resources,” a Border Patrol official stated.

The Biden administration is working with other agencies to find more bed space, using places like the San Diego Convention Center to hold unaccompanied minors so they’re not sleeping in cells as they await more permanent shelter.

You might be interested: It will take two centuries for the gender wage gap to close for Latinas if we do nothing

In the long term, the Biden administration plans to deal more directly with issues in Central America that have contributed to the influx in migration. These plans include developing more legal avenues for migrants to seek asylum. President Biden has also just sent three top officials to Mexico and Guatemala as part of efforts to tackle the root causes of migration, which Vice President Harris has been tasked with leading. 

The issues at the border are nothing new, but the influx of migrants and unaccompanied children is indicative of greater humanitarian issues. From poverty and corruption to widespread unemployment due to the pandemic, addressing these underlying issues will be central to addressing the immigration issue.

FEMA to help shelter influx of migrant children at the border

Roughly 4,000 young migrants were in Customs and Border Protection facilities this week, more than the 2,600 children and teenagers held in such detention facilities in June 2019. In February,  9,457 children, including teenagers, were detained at the border without a parent in February, up from more than 5,800 in January.

Photo by Phil Botha on Unsplash

The Biden administration so far has not been able to quickly process the young migrants and transfer them to shelters managed by the Department of Health and Human Services.

The administration has struggled to expand the capacity of those shelters, and has recently directed the shelters to normal capacity, despite the coronavirus pandemic.

Now, the Biden administration is directing the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to assist in processing the increasing number of young migrants as criticism mounts over their treatment in detention facilities.

FEMA will help find shelter space and provide “food, water and basic medical care” to thousands of young migrants, Michael Hart, a spokesman for the agency, said in a statement.

Additionally, the Homeland Security Department has been asked to volunteer “to help care for and assist unaccompanied minors” who have been held in border jails that are managed by Customs and Border Protection.

The Health and Human Services Department also opened a temporary facility for the children and teenagers on Sunday in Midland, Texas, to help migrants out of the border facilities, according to Mark Weber, a spokesman for the agency. 

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and other Republicans have characterized the increase in border crossings as a direct result of Mr. Biden’s goal to roll back President Donald J. Trump’s restrictive immigration policies.“They express surprise and shock about the fact that they are overwhelmed, when the Border Patrol and really everybody here in Texas has known that this is coming,” Mr. Abbott said.

However, President Biden has kept a Trump-era pandemic emergency rule that empowers border agents to rapidly turn away migrants at the border, with the exception of unaccompanied minors.

Latinxs children detention centers

Protests in Elizabeth, NJ about immigrant children detention. Photo credit Chris Boese – Unsplash.com

Officials from the Health and Human Services Department have also been placed at border facilities in an attempt to find sponsors for migrant children faster. 

Last week, the administration rescinded a 2018 agreement that allowed the agency to share certain information about sponsors for the children with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Immigration advocates said the agreement discouraged relatives of the youths from stepping forward to sponsor them, creating a backlog in the system.

Representative Veronica Escobar, Democrat of Texas, said she found the situation at a processing facility that she had toured in El Paso on Friday “unacceptable.”

“A Border Patrol facility is no place for a child,” Alejandro N. Mayorkas, the homeland security secretary, said in a statement on Saturday. “Our goal is to ensure that unaccompanied children are transferred to H.H.S. as quickly as possible.”

President Biden to propose immigration reform bill that will legalize 11 million

During his first days in office, President Joe Biden’s first agenda is to address the long-elusive goal of immigration reform with a groundbreaking legislative package and immigration bill that will grant a quicker pathway to citizenship for an estimated 11 million immigrants who are in the country without legal status.

immigration reform

Photo by Metin Ozer on Unsplash

Biden’s immigration reform bill: “Restoring humanity to our immigration system”

On Saturday, Biden’s incoming chief of staff, Ron Klain, sent a memo to the administration’s senior staff that said the new president’s agenda includes “the immigration bill he will send to Congress on his first day in office,” which Klain asserted would “restore humanity to our immigration system.”

Biden’s proposal lays out what would be the most sweeping and comprehensive immigration reform package since President Reagan’s Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, which granted legal status to 3 million people who were in the country without documentation.

In an interview with Univision,  VP Kamala Harris gave a preview of the bill’s provisions. The new immigration bill will provide shorter pathways to citizenship for hundreds of thousands of people, including automatic green cards for immigrants with temporary protected status (TPS) and Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) status. Wait times for U.S. citizenship would also decrease from 13 to eight years under this bill, and there would be an increase in the number of immigration judges to relieve backlog in cases.

This bill differs from many previous immigration bills passed under both Democratic and Republican administrations. The key difference being that the proposed legislation “would not contain any provisions directly linking an expansion of immigration with stepped-up enforcement and security measures,” said Marielena Hincapié, executive director of the National Immigration Law Center, who has been consulted on the proposal by Biden staffers.

“This notion concerning immigration enforcement and giving Republicans everything they kept asking for … was flawed from the beginning,” she said.

Hincapié added Biden’s team would be able to bypass legislation to quickly make a number of administrative changes.

She expects him to announce several executive actions that would expand DACA, overturn Trump’s 2017 travel ban targeting Muslim-majority countries and rescind Trump’s public charge rule, which allowed authorities to deny green cards to immigrants who use food stamps or other public benefits.

Setting a new tone: “It’s not going to be about walls.”

Under Biden’s immigration bill, immigrants would become eligible for legal permanent residence after five years and for U.S. citizenship after an additional three years — a faster path to citizenship than in previous immigration bills.

“I think this bill is going to lay an important marker in our country’s history,” said Lorella Praeli, an immigrant and longtime activist who has been talking with Biden’s staff, noting that the measure “will not seek to trade immigration relief for enforcement, and that’s huge.”

Praeli, president of Community Change Action, a progressive group based in Washington that advocates for immigrants, described the bill as “an important opening act.”

“If there is a silver lining to the Trump era, it’s that it should now be clear to everyone that our system needs a massive overhaul and we can no longer lead with detention and deportation,” she said.

You might be interested: “Kids in Cages” Warehouse detention center shuts down for renovations

On the topic of undocumented essential workers, Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas) said “It’s time for essential workers to no longer be treated as disposable, but to be celebrated and welcomed as American citizens. If your labor feeds, builds and cares for our nation, you have earned the right to stay here with full legal protection, free from fear of deportation.”

Additionally, Leon Rodriguez, who was director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services from 2014 to 2017, said that, “the public attitude toward immigration enforcement is at a different place in 2021 than it was at any point prior to the Trump administration. I think there just has been a lot of things about how immigration enforcement was executed under the Trump administration that didn’t sit right with a lot of Americans.”

However, he believes Biden’s overall approach will set an entirely different tone in the conversation of immigration reform in America. He sees a more hopeful, positive era ahead.

“It’s not going to be about walls and keeping people in Mexico,” he said.

While the ambitious bill is a great first step for the new administration, the bill will likely face months of political pushback on Capitol Hill by conservative voters, even with Democrats holding the White House and slender majorities in both chambers of Congress.

Still, if the broader bill were to die or take too long to pass, there are alternate venues Democratic leadership can take to legalize a substantial group of people — specifically the estimated 5 million essential workers now in the country without legal status.

One possible alternative would be to take advantage of COVID relief measures. Democratic leadership could decide to include measures offering legal status to essential workers via a process known as budget reconciliation. This process would only need 51 votes to pass the Senate.

“We are talking about potentially 5 million workers who have put their own lives on the line as essential workers,” Praeli said. “You cannot be essential and deportable.”

Ted Cruz

Ted Cruz behavior damages the Latino brand and leadership

Ted Cruz, Senator for Texas, continues to damage the Latino brand.  In light of the assault by extreme individuals to the Senate yesterday during the affirmation of the Electoral College vote,  I remembered an article I wrote in October 2013 –a version of which follows– that is appropriate still today. Although LatinasinBusiness.us is not a political publication, we still believe it is in our best interest as a community to discuss matters of branding and leadership.

Ted Cruz

Ted Cruz meets with President Trump and First Lady in El Paso, TX Aug. 7, 2019. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A personal brand is an asset that needs to be cherished and promoted. We, as professionals, business owners, leaders and influencers in our communities know this concept very well. There are certain values that, as Latinos, we all treasure and recognize as important such as personalism, respect, loyalty and a sense of community.

Despite our differences, based on country of origin, degrees of acculturation or even political views, when one member of the pack is attacked, then we react as a whole. We have earned our reputation of a hard-working community with no little pain and we would not accept otherwise.

So when the disturbing behavior of a U.S. Senator of Latino origin, beyond his political position and party, generates the type of damage that Senator Ted Cruz causes to the Hispanic people of this country, it is worth to analyze his position under the lens of a cultural approach.

A comment made to me in a conversation about the government shutdown put me over the edge, not politically but culturally. “One of your people,” said the person in question. It really hit home.

Is Ted Cruz one of “my people?”

Cultural characteristics of a Latino leader

As a community, Latinos have made incredible advances in economic and political power.  We represent the largest minority in the country at almost 55 million Hispanics and expected to reach 106 million by 2050 with a buying power projected to 1.5 trillion for 2015. The Latino vote also defined the last presidential elections of Republican President Bush and Democrat President Obama.  Moreover, those who dare to oppose the Latino community interests and concerns are politically doomed, and great efforts are being made by certain candidates to schmooze the Latino voter.

Ted Cruz position on immigration.

Ted Cruz position on immigration.

The need to increase leadership among members of the Latino community is, however, a matter of constant action and concern for Latino leaders from all walks of life and across the country. One particular concern is related to the lack of political representation of Latinos in federal, state and local governments.

So when “one of our own” reaches a position of power, it is desirable that he or she portrays the values that are close to our community’s heart.

What are those values that make us who we are as a people? What are those characteristics that unite us and project us to the leadership positions we deserve while making important contributions to the American society?

Latinos treasure and build interpersonal relationships around personalismo, respect, loyalty and leadership, with a high level of collectivism based on a deep care and concern for family and community.

True Latino leaders practice personalismo as a value that enhances the importance of the other person over the task at hand. Putting personal ambition over the interest of the community is an undesirable trait seen as self-centered and individualistic. The individual that practices such behavior is rejected as an outcast – un avivado or ventajero, someone who takes advantage of the rest to his own benefit.

Latinos also interact with others with this collectivist worldview that puts the interest of others over the interest of self, especially maintaining closeness and dependency with family members, which influences the way Latinos make decisions and perceive and respond to external stimulus.

Differences might be discussed among the members of a family but the young and inexperienced are never to stand up to their elders out of respect and loyalty. The same sense of fidelity towards family and friends is translated into the work environment, with respect for their work hierarchy chain or positions of authority.

Ted Cruz position on the American Healthcare Act (ACA).

Ted Cruz position on the American Healthcare Act (ACA).

Individuals who break from the pack are seen as deranged or defiant – locos, irrespetuosos or insolentes, someone who believes, in his or her immaturity, they know better than the collective wisdom of the pack.

Finally, true Latino leaders would look after their community, never building obstacles to impede the achievement of the common good. Based on Christian principles of charity and compassion, they would never refrain from offering aid and assistance to those that suffer or have unfulfilled needs, as we “see Jesus Christ in each other.”

For those who derail from the Christian principles of the faith to avoid finding solutions for ongoing social problems are deemed to face the wrath of God.

“Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.” Then they will answer and say, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?” He will answer them, “Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.” And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life. (Matt. 25:41-45)

A version of this article was written for VOXXI on October 2013.

“Kids in Cages” Warehouse detention center shuts down for renovations

The U.S. Customs and Border Protection announces shut down of South-Texas “Ursula” warehouse detention center. The facility gained national attention when media coverage exposed the overcrowded, unsafe living conditions and showed “kids in cages” back in 2018. CBP officials say the facility will be closed for renovations until 2022. The renovations plan to redesign the facility and remove the chain-link partitions to provide more humane living conditions. 

Photo by Phil Botha on Unsplash

Warehouse detention center shuts down

Anyone who has been paying attention to immigration reform issues over the past few years will be familiar with the term “kids in cages” and the deplorable living conditions faced by migrants who have been detained for prolonged periods in detention centers along the U.S.-Mexico border. 

The “Ursula” warehouse facility in South-Texas became infamous when new coverage revealed the harsh, dehumanizing living conditions migrants faced within the facility. Freezing, overcrowded, and filthy the facility packed immigrants–a vast majority of which were young children separated from family–into small chain-link enclosures. 

“Children were in freezing, packed cages and sleeping on concrete,” said Hope Frye in an article with the New York Times. As a lawyer who oversaw a visiting team of inspectors at the Ursula facility, she witnessed first-hand the terrible and upsetting conditions. “It was bone-chilling. Young children were violently ill, separated from their family.” 

Photo by Miko Guziuk on Unsplash

Since then, efforts have been made to put an end to the inhumane treatment of immigrants in these facilities. These renovations are only the first step toward reform at the border. 

“The new design will allow for updated accommodations, which will greatly improve the operating efficiency of the center as well as the welfare of individuals being processed,” Thomas Gresback, a spokesman for the Border Patrol’s Rio Grande Valley sector, said in an article with The Washington Post.

The renovation, which will be paid for by funds allocated by Congress, will include room partitions that will “afford modest housing accommodations” as well as updating processing areas and providing a recreational area for children. 

At its peak, the center housed over 2,000 immigrants, many being young women and children. The renovated center will significantly lower those numbers, aiming to provide space for 1,100 individuals. 

Ursula’s history and origins

The Ursula center was first opened in 2014 during the Obama administration as a response to a surge of Central American immigrants arriving at the border in search of asylum. At the time, the facility was a welcomed improvement to the previous cramped locations. During the 2014 surge, the bare-bones facilities were not equipped to handle the large influx of individuals, leaving many families out in the heat for hours in exteriors locations. The Ursula warehouse was acquired to remedy this and provide an indoor, climate-controlled environment.  

In 2014, migrants were processed and released quickly from the facilities so the population never grew as overcrowded and unsafe as it has in recent years. However, after the Trump Administration’s crackdown on immigration the facility soon became overpopulated as migrants were detained for periods of weeks and months on end in unsafe conditions. 

This past year, due to the pandemic, President Trump invoked emergency powers under public health laws to halt most immigration. As such, the facility has been unused since March with thousands of immigrants turned back to Mexico. 

In the fight for immigration reform and as an effort to offer protection to young immigrants, a federal judge ordered last week for the Trump administration to stop expelling young people who arrive on their own looking for asylum in the U.S. 

The future of immigration reform 

While the news of the Ursula facility renovations is welcomed news to immigrant advocates, this is only the first step toward immigration reform at the border. Advocates cautioned that more fundamental changes will be necessary to ensure that migrants are no longer stranded in detention centers for prolonged periods of time. 

“This feels a little bit like window dressing. It is overdue from the perspective that no one should be housed in cages,” said Michael Bochenek, senior counsel in the children’s rights division at Human Rights Watch, in an article with the New York Times. 

“The more fundamental shift that needs to happen is rigorous application of federal law and an agency standard that calls for expeditious transfer to more suitable arrangements for children and families,” Mr. Bochenek continued. “Nobody was really looking out for the kids. All they had were mats and foil blankets,” he said, describing the conditions he witnessed when visiting the warehouse as part of a monitoring team in 2018. “We talked to teenage girls caring for toddlers in cages. We looked over and saw a boy 7 or 9 years old. The kid was beside himself in tears. He was in deep distress and there were no adults anywhere nearby to find out what was wrong.”

You might be interested: November 1 National Day of Remembrance of Latinxs killed by Covid-19

Latinxs children detention centers

Protests in Elizabeth, NJ about immigrant children detention. Photo credit Chris Boese – Unsplash.com

It’s clear that the current system needs to be reformed. President-elect Joe Biden has pledged to do his part to reverse the Trump administration’s approach to immigration and border control. He plans to cut off funds to the expanded border wall and restore the process for welcoming asylum applicants into the country while their cases are in progress. 

Renovations to the Ursula detention center facility are estimated to last 18 months, which will leave border agents without a large-volume facility if a new immigration surge occurs. Last month, over 69,000 migrants were taken into custody along the southern border. Most have been processed at smaller, less-crowded facilities. Still, this 21 percent increase in migrants since September suggests a growing increase in immigration as many individuals are fleeing Central America after recent hurricane devastation, economic distress, and coronavirus related hardships.

120 days the movie

Family separation, the dramatic decision of undocumented immigrants in film (video)

Undocumented immigratns and President Obama

Thousands of undocumented immigrants are waiting for their time to become Americans.

Every day, thousands of undocumented immigrants live with the fear of deportation, not knowing what could happen to them, their families,  their jobs  and their future at the end of that day. In an hostile immigrant environment fired up by the 2016 presidential campaign, immigrant hard-working families face the dramatic decision of family separation with “voluntary deportation.”

Gravitas Ventures has picked up worldwide VOD & broadcast rights to Ted Roach’s 120 Days: Undocumented in America, the award-winning documentary that chronicles one immigrant’s struggle to keep his family together after an immigration judge orders him to leave the U.S. “voluntarily” within 120 days to avoid an official deportation.

The politically-timely documentary is slated for a VOD release on October 2nd on many platforms, including iTunes (available for pre-orders now), AT&T, Amazon, Cablevision, Comcast, Google Play, In-Demand, DirecTV, DISH Network, PlayStation®, Rogers (Canada), TWC, VUDU, U-verse, and Xbox.

Voluntary deportation

Voluntary deportation is a hard decision for families of undocumented immigrants

The Immigration debate gets personal in this documentary from filmmaker, Ted Roach. Family man Miguel Cortes was detected as an undocumented immigrant at a traffic stop after living in the U.S. under the radar for over a decade. After receiving the judge’s “voluntary departure” order, Miguel, his wife and two daughters have four months to decide if they will send Miguel back alone, or change their names and disappear back into another American city to keep their family together. The film crew joined the Cortes family from the first day in court through Miguel’s last official day in the United States, revealing a hidden side of an undocumented society that few Americans ever get to see.

The documentary had its North American premiere at the Austin Film Festival and was selected for over 20 other festivals, winning 10 awards and four nominations along the way. The upcoming D.C. premiere will take place the weekend of October 22-25, with featured screenings in the Greater Washington Immigration Film Festival and American University’s Human Rights Film Series. The film will also screen at the 2015 Napa Valley Film Festival.

 

Twitter: @120DaysMovie www.120DaysMovie.com
Facebook.com/120daysmovie Facebook.com/gravitasventures
Manuel vs Statue of Liberty poster

Noemi de la Puente the American Dream ugly truth goes off-Broadway

Noemi de la Puente, play writer/producer of Manuel versus The Statue of Liberty.

Noemi de la Puente, play writer/producer of Manuel versus The Statue of Liberty.

Millions of immigrants every year take a leap of faith, leaving their countries of origin spell-bound by the idea of the American Dream.  Shortly after arriving though, they find out that the promised opportunity for freedom, prosperity and success through hard-work turns to be just that, hard work.

Noemi de la Puente, a play writer and daughter of immigrants, knows this ugly truth by experience. While a student at Princeton University, she was outraged by the true story of a Princeton undergraduate, Manuel, who was an undocumented immigrant child from the Dominican Republic.

He had overcome extreme poverty but due to his hard work and brilliant achievements, he had received a full scholarship to study at one of the prime universities in the country. Manuel continued to excel while in Princeton, winning in his senior year a scholarship to study classical Greek and Latin literature at Oxford University in the United Kingdom.

However, he could not leave the country because of his undocumented immigration status; so he turned himself into Homeland Security. The agency decided to deport him immediately.

Noemi de la Puente receiving her NYFM award

Noemi de la Puente receiving her NYFM award

“My disbelief and outrage at the preposterous and tragic situation of this student inspired me to write a musical comedy about illegal immigration called ‘Manuel versus The Statue of Liberty.’ This young man, who had received a scholarship given to the top senior in every graduating class, was not allowed a path to citizenship,” de la Puente told LIBizus.

The play writer debates with skepticism the US national ethos, the American Dream. “I thought the whole situation was ridiculous because this is the very type of person we want in our country – hard-working, smart, generous people,” she affirmed.

Manuel’s battle with the immigration system reminded her of her parents’ difficulties when immigrating from Spain and Argentina. They worked hard for their citizenship, and eventually achieved their legal status, even though it did very little to affect the biases they experienced as native Spanish speakers.

“It was difficult for me growing up in Los Angeles to see my parents poorly treated because of their immigrant status. Both of my parents were academically gifted as is the protagonist in our musical. The only container large enough for this epic struggle of boy versus country was a musical, and the only way I could stomach the tragedy and complexity of the immigration system was if it were a comedy, therefore I wrote it as a musical comedy,” de la Puente explained.

Manuel vs Statue of Liberty 2014 cast with Carlo Albán, Diana Carolina Pou Ortíz, Jessica Crilley, Lisa Franklin, Byron Eugene Meyer and Gabriel Sloyer.

Manuel vs Statue of Liberty 2014 cast with Carlo Albán, Diana Carolina Pou Ortíz, Jessica Crilley, Lisa Franklin, Byron Eugene Meyer and Gabriel Sloyer.

Manuel’s struggle is presented as a high-stakes boxing-match between the gifted student and The Statue of Liberty, the Diva of Democracy, a clear metaphor of the farce the American immigration system is today. A mix of Latin influences and other contemporary American pop music depict Manuel’s journey from poverty in New York City to the Ivy League higher education institution in the musical, which enthusiastically endorses the DREAM Act.

In 2014, the show won the New York Musical Theatre Festival (NYMF) Developmental Reading Series Award. “NYMF is one of the premier musical theatre festivals in the country so it was a great honor for me,” de la Puente said.

The award comes with a Next Link Production, in which NYMF offers artistic and logistical support to writer/producers. “As the producer, I am responsible for the entire production: the creative team, the cast, the designers, the backstage crew, the musicians, etc. As the writer, I am very pleased that the show has been embraced so heartily by this mainstream festival,” de la Puente explained.

With crew Howard Post, Jose Zayas, Mary McGinley and Noemi de la Puente.

With crew Howard Post, Jose Zayas, Mary McGinley and Noemi de la Puente.

The show will be presented in New York City at the Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre –part of the Signature Theatre Center– from July 21 to 27 of this year.

“In order to produce this show to the off-Broadway standards of NYMF, I need to raise approximately $66,000. Most of the funds will go to pay the top-level artists I am engaging in this project,” de la Puente shared. “I am working hard at fundraising, rewriting, and assembling the creative team.”

De la Puente believes this is a huge opportunity for her as a Latina writer in the musical theatre world. “We are underrepresented in musical theatre, and NYMF has given my work a significant endorsement. I am extremely happy to work with director Jose Sayas, and collaborating with composer David Davila on this project. David not only brings extensive experience and love of musical theatre to the process but in addition, he has a visceral understanding of the DREAM Act, having lived most of his live on the Texas-Mexico border near McAllen,” she explained.

David Davila, composer and entertainer

David Davila, composer and entertainer

Her awarded work includes “Generic Hispanic,” which became finalist at MultiStages New Works contest 2012, and was produced at the Puerto Rican Traveling Theatre (PRTT) as part of the InSight Series 2008); “Manuel vs. the Statue of Liberty,” the winner of the 2014 NYMF Developmental Reading Series Award, Official 2015 NYMF Next Link Project; “The Revenge of Suicide Jack” in development at the Dramatic Question Theatre; “Lightning Strikes Twice,” a 10-minute musical produced in English at the Huron Club, Soho Playhouse, and in Spanish at the Microteatro in Caracas, Venezuela.

A member of the Professional Playwrights Unit at PRTT between 2004 and 2012, her Solo show “Fountain of Youth” was developed and produced through the Carolinian Shakespeare Festival, the PRTT, and was a Dramatic Question Theatre (DQT) production at Theatre 3 in 2013. She is a founding member of DQT, a collective of playwrights that develop multicultural works, and challenge the traditional race/gender barrier of professional playwriting as practiced in America today.

De la Puente received her MFA in Theatre Arts from the University of Iowa (Patricia Roberts Harris Scholarship), MSE Princeton University, and BSE Caltech.

Click below on the poster to check out their website ; follow them on Facebook (manuelvsstatue) and Twitter (@manuelvsstatue). All donations are greatly appreciated!

Manuel and The Statue of Liberty play announcement poster july 2015