Rights group launches video game on immigration

February 27th, 2008 - 3:22 pm ICT by admin  

By Parveen Chopra
New York, Feb 27 (IANS) A human rights organisation headed by an Indian American has launched a video game on immigration to create awareness and generate a debate on what it calls unfair US immigration policies. ICED (I Can End Deportation), the 3D game that can be downloaded for free from the Internet, was launched last week and was downloaded 30,000 times in the first four days.

In 2000, Kolkata-born Mallika Dutt founded the NGO Breakthrough, the organisation that developed and launched the game. The 45-year-old rights activist came to the US in 1994.

Despite its title, ICED is not a game about illegal immigrants, nor does it teach them tricks to avoid deportation. “It is educating the public on how unfair immigration laws in the US are. Even those with green cards may be deported for minor things like jumping the turnstile at a subway,” Dutt told IANS.

“It teaches people their rights and advocates that the due process of law should be followed in all such cases.”

Dutt feels strongly that in the country with the oldest democracy, the leadership should respect human rights.

The immigration issue affects everybody here, she points out. “Close to two million people have been deported and thousands more affected, many without just cause, because of unfair immigration policies. When we let the government deny due processes and human rights to some people, we’re putting all our freedom at risk,” she said.

Among the Indian American community, too, many feel that the issue concerns only illegal immigrants, Dutt said. “But the entire community is affected because of the worsening H1 visa situation and huge backlogs of applications for work permit and green cards.”

The game ICED (a play on the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Department) targets the youth because Breakthrough believes it is important to engage young people in social issues and encourage civic engagement.

The game teaches players about current immigration laws on detention and deportation that affect legal permanent residents, asylum seekers, students and undocumented people by violating human rights.

Players can choose one of the five characters to inhabit and live out the day-to-day life of an immigrant youth. Being chased by immigration officers, they have to take moral decisions and answer myths and facts about immigration policies. If they choose incorrect answers, their chances of being thrown into detention increase.

One of the five characters, Ayesha, is an Indian high school student who gets deported for writing an essay about the PATRIOT Act, which, post-9/11, gave more authority to US law enforcement agencies to fight terror. Ayesha and the other four characters are based on real life persons.

ICED was created as a collaborative initiative coordinated by Breakthrough in partnership with various community-based organisations, teachers and students from high schools and after-school programmes in New York.

The game was developed over two years at a cost of nearly $50,000. For lack of a promotional budget, its popularity depends on word-of-mouth publicity, media exposure and online activity, Dutt said.

Dutt has been a human rights activist for over two decades. Before starting Breakthrough, she worked with the Ford Foundation in New Delhi.

Breakthrough has offices in New York and New Delhi. The US chapter focuses on immigration rights and racial abuse and the India office works with women’s issues such as domestic violence and AIDS education.

She has degrees in law from NYU Law School and in International Affairs from Columbia University. She is also a co-founder of Sakhi, an organisation for South Asian women that addresses domestic violence.

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