Immigration Justice Campaign Receives ALBA/Puffin Award

August 5, 2019

Among the audience this year were more than 50 New York City high school students whose teachers are alumni of ALBA’s professional-development workshops.

Still from new Skylight film

Still from new Skylight film

On May 5, two days after what would have been Pete Seeger’s one hundredth birthday, more than 200 people gathered in the same auditorium of the Museum of the City of New York where, nine years earlier, Seeger joined Patti Smith and Guy Davis for a benefit concert for ALBA. Among the audience this year were more than 50 New York City high school students whose teachers are alumni of ALBA’s professional-development workshops.

The focus of our gathering was the plight of the hundreds of thousands of immigrants who are increasingly subject to cruel treatment by the US justice system. The Immigration Justice Campaign, recipient of the ninth ALBA/Puffin Award for Human Rights Activism, mobilizes more than 9,000 volunteers to provide these immigrants with much-needed legal assistance.

“The Trump administration has authorized a dramatic increase in efforts to detain and deport immigrants,” Karen Siciliano Lucas, the director of the Justice Campaign, told Juan Carlos Ruiz, of the Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, in a conversation about the challenges that immigrants face. “With a lawyer, an immigrant is ten times more likely to prevail in their case. And yet, only 14 percent of detained immigrants have an attorney by their side in immigration court.” (Read Ms. Lucas’s acceptance speech here.)

“When Puffin’s President, Perry Rosenstein, first suggested the idea of a Human’s Rights Prize to be presented by ALBA our thoughts were drawn abroad,” Neal Rosenstein, Vice-President of the Puffin Foundation, said. “But we cannot and must not ignore current events and our country’s own crimes and misdeeds.  From our policy of placing children in cages to violating the rights of immigrants and refugees, we knew that this year the prize truly needed to focus on a group working here on our own Southern border.” (Text continues below.)

Photo Gallery (credit: Alejandro Fernández Carrasco, Pako Domínguez, and Jeannette Ferrary)

The audience saw a brief clip by filmmakers Paco de Onís and Pamela Yates of Skylight Pictures, who in 2018 and 2019 filmed the Central American exodus, the Caravan, as part of their new documentary Borderlands. Earlier in the program, Chicago-born poet José Olivárez performed a stirring reading from his bestselling debut collection, Citizen Illegal, which was a finalist for the PEN/Jean Stein Award and a winner of the 2018 Chicago Review of Books Poetry Prize. He opened with “Mexican American Disambiguation”:

my parents are Mexican who are not

to be confused with Mexican Americans

or Chicanos. i am a Chicano from Chicago

which means i am a Mexican American

with a fancy college degree & a few tattoos.

Very much in Pete Seeger’s spirit, the evening’s music was provided by Miriam Elhajli, a Venezuelan-Moroccan-American composer and vocalist whose work is influenced by the folk traditions of South and North America. In two sets, she roused the crowd with songs ranging from Woody Guthrie’s “Deportee” to classics like “Viva la XV Brigada.”

Among the special guests attending were Perry and Gladys Rosenstein; Berlin-based journalist Victor Grossmann, who brought a message of support from ALBA’s German sister organization; and Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, a pediatrician, professor, and public health advocate whose research exposed the water crisis in Flint Michigan. Dr. Hanna-Attisha, who was joined by her father and daughter, comes from a distinguished line of activists; her great uncle, Nuri “Anwar” Roufael Kotani, was one of two volunteers from Iraq to join the International Brigades.

This year’s event was endorsed by an Honorary Committee that included, in addition to Dr. Hanna-Attisha, Goya- and Oscar-winning filmmakers Alfonso Cuarón, Almudena Carracedo, and Robert Bahar; Bryan Stevenson of the Equal Justice Initiative; prize-winning authors Adam Hochschild and Sonia Nazario; Judge Manuela Carmena, mayor of Madrid; and New York City Councilor Carlos Menchaca.

The ALBA/Puffin Award for Human Rights Activism, an annual $100,000 prize, is an initiative to sustain the legacy of the experiences, aspirations, and idealism of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade by supporting contemporary international activists and human rights causes. Philanthropist and visionary Perry Rosenstein, President of the Puffin Foundation, created and established an endowed fund for this human rights award in 2010. Previous awardees include investigative journalists Lydia Cacho and Jeremy Scahill; Judge Baltasar Garzón; Kate Doyle and Fredy Peccerelli, for their work exposing human rights violations in Guatemala; United We Dream, a national network of youth-led immigrant activist organizations that fight for the rights of millions of undocumented immigrants in the United States; public-interest lawyer Bryan Stevenson; Proactiva Open Arms, dedicated to rescuing migrants in the Mediterranean; and the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, a worker-based labor and human rights organization founded in Florida in 1993.


NYC high school students

NYC high school students

Reactions from high school students who attended the ALBA event in May:

I really enjoyed the poetry and music.

I really enjoyed the gentleman’s poems. I definitely plan on buying his book. His performance really resonated with me because my parents are both first generation citizens.

I greatly enjoyed listening to some of José Olivarez’s work. I thought it was interesting how much of what he spoke about was paralleled by the events which occurred during the Spanish Civil War.

I would recommend that our history teacher encourage future students in the AT European History class to attend this event. It was an insightful experience for me to have while I write my history paper on the Spanish Civil War.

This event was extremely enjoyable and interesting‑ I will definitely recommend it next year.

It was really powerful to know that the songs we were hearing came directly from the battlefields of the Spanish Civil War.

I thought the music was incredible and was a real piece of living history which was really special to experience. Because everyone was singing and participating made it very impactful