Archive for the ‘border’ Category

Cumulative Immigration Reform

January 23, 2010

While the Obama administration vowed to take on comprehensive immigration reform in 2009 and has now shifted its goal to legislation in 2010, several positive changes have recently begun to nudge the broken system towards increased fairness.  On Wednesday, December 16, ICE assistant secretary John Morton stated that asylum seekers would no longer be detained indefinitely as long as they could prove their identity,  that they were not a flight risk, and that they have a credible fear of persecution in their home country. (AILA Leadership Blog).  Although this has been official policy since 1996, Morton’s statement in late 2009 intimated that asylum seekers would be evaluated as soon as they make their claims, rather than sitting in an ill-equipped, makeshift detention center, often with violent criminals serving sentences.  Such a practice would begin to treat asylum seekers as we treat others in judicial proceedings – innocent until proven guilty. The administration also responded to the humanitarian crisis not simply by pledging financial aid and committing troops but by alleviating the immigration laws which were denying Haitians or even deporting them despite the catastrophic conditions of that island.  DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano announced on January 18 that the United States was extending humanitarian parole to Haitian orphans seeking care.  The Department of State and Department of Homeland Security are working to get visas or paroles for these children, and once the unaccompanied minors arrive in the United States they will be in the care of the Department of Health and Human Services.  Some of the children will qualify for permanent immigration status, while others will just be granted a visa, but either way these children will get the care they need in time.  In an area of legislation that often takes decades to move, it is refreshing to see the Obama administration react quickly to the urgent needs of Haitians. (DHS Fact Sheet).

In addition to the humanitarian parole for children, Haitian adults now qualify for temporary protected status (TPS) if they have resided in the United States since January 12, 2010, and maintained a continuous physical presence here.  For all the individuals in removal hearings, for all those awaiting an immigration decision with bated breath, for all those wondering when they would be put on a plane and send back to a country with few to none working airports, this announcement also reinstills hope that this year may be the year when comprehensive immigration reform escapes partisan politics and actually gets implemented.  (Christian Science Monitor). Hopefully comprehensive, rather than cumulative, immigration reform will finally pass in 2010.

Guilty as Suspected

December 21, 2009

After listing off his numerous legal options over the phone and across the plexiglass, Fidencio looks right at me and says, “Yo quiero salir. Quiero regresar.”  I translate to the Minnesota Detention Project attorney that he simply wants to leave, to return home.  She explains briefly that this will result in a ten-year bar to his re-entry, that it will be very difficult for him to get back in again.  Fidencio shuffles his feet, chains jangle, and he crosses his arms across his orange County prison jumpsuit.  “No importa, I just want to get out. I can’t stay another week at Ramsey. Every day I stay in here I cannot make money for my family.  Just get me out ahora.”

And so another father and husband is deported back to Honduras, his family left here to continue living in the shadows or to return to a country with little opportunity.  About 8,000 people in Minnesota are currently in deportation proceedings, and some 200 to 300 are housed in one of five county jails where Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) rents space.  The Ramsey County Jail in St. Paul typically houses 50-75 detainees, most of whom do not have any criminal conviction and are merely suspected of illegal entry.  They share residence with indicted murderers, rapists, burglars, and drug addicts.  Since most county jails are designed for one-night stays, few have outdoor yards and, as a result, detainees rarely see the light of day.  At Ramsey County, detainees are incarcerated an average of 100 days.  Most immigrants, by the time their day in Immigration Court finally arrives, will argue their case pro se before the Court and simply beg the judge to deport them back to their country of citizenship. [Aslanian, Sasha. MPR]

The number of immigrants detained each night in the United States is roughly 32,000.  Many of that number have not been convicted or even charged with a crime but are, according to ICE, a flight risk.   Immigrants represent the few civil court defendants incarcerated in such a way.  Despite the obvious flight risk of certain delinquent fathers awaiting judgment on child support or traffic offenders awaiting their day in court, few other civil defendants are held in jail at all, let alone for months on end.  Although anklet transponders are used by parole officers in oyhrt areas of law, ICE has so far rarely used such minimal safeguards for supposedly “innocent until proven guilty” immigrants, opting instead to pay $80/night for a total of $1.8 million/year. [Aslanian, Sasha. MPR].

Anklet Transponder

Nationally, the housing and transfer system is so haphazard that some detainees are moved to a new detention facility without ever being served a notice detailing why they are being held.  From 1999 to 2008 some 1.4 million detainee transfers occurred, often moving longtime residents of New York and LA to remote jails in Texas or Louisiana, far away from friends, legal counsel, or evidence for their immigration case.  These detainee transfders typically send immigrants to the Fifth Circuit, the most hostile jurisdiction toward immigrants and the worst ration of immigration lawyers to detainees.  [Bernstein, Nina. "Immigration Detention System Lapses Detailed. NYTimes].

This week, Rep. Gutierrez from Illinois introduced the first of a new wave of comprehensive immigration reform bills, this one entitled C.I.R. A.S.A.P.  As Congress wraps up healthcare debates and begin to take up the issue  Obama shelved until 2010, any comphrensive bill must seek to alleviate and remedy the current system of criminal detention of civil immigrant cases.

Detention Watch Network MAP

Letter to Gates, McHugh, Casey RE. Former Student

October 22, 2009

Robert Gates

U.S. Secretary of Defense

1400 Defense Pentagon
Washington DC 20301-1400

 

 

Re: The War Budget Generally & Specifically the Sending of My Student to Afghanistan

 

 

Dear Mr. Gates,

 

I write to you as a former high-school teacher, a person of faith, and a citizen concerned for marginalized communities and our national values.  The current debate about funding and sending more troops to Afghanistan misses the point in that it frames the choice as between Iraq and Afghanistan.  War is not inevitable; conflict is.  War is not a viable long-term solution to conflict – it has never brought about real peace in any circumstance, unless it was the stillness of a cemetery. General Barry McCaffrey himself has said, “We can’t shoot our way out of Afghanistan;” this is not solely limited to Afghanistan but applies to war in general.

 

In a time of rebuilding after a worldwide economic crisis, Dr. King’s words ring louder than ever: “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.” The trillions of dollars funding the killing of other human beings overseas would be better served in feeding hungry children, funding small business, investing in schools, and enabling social welfare programs which have been gutted recently by many state and federal budgets.

 

One of my former students, Tony, is leaving for Afghanistan this week because of your orders.  He was one of the most intelligent and promising students I had the pleasure to work with as a high-school English teacher at Rivera High School in Brownsville, Texas.  Tony plans to one day attend law school and give back to his community.  Tony joined the military to fund his higher education. 

 

While he will be in my daily prayers, I owe more to my student than that.  I am writing to you in hopes that you will reconsider all our current wars and pursue peace-building, civil solutions with all parties involved.  I close with another quote from Dr. King:  “I speak as a child of God and brother to the suffering poor . . . I speak as a citizen of the world, for the world as it stands aghast at the path we have taken. I speak as an American to the leaders of my own nation. The great initiative in this war is ours. The initiative to stop must be ours.”

 

Please take the initiative to end our current military engagements, for Tony, for me, for our nation, for the world.

 

Respectfully,

 

Matthew Webster

“American” Apparel, Kidnappings, and Fines in Depression-era Immigration Enforcement

October 12, 2009

Despite the persistent high rate of unemployment in the United States, the need for comprehensive immigration reform is as urgent today as the first day Obama took office. A recent Pew Research Center poll noted that the United States still has a magnetic pull for Mexican citizens, citing that some 57% still would leave their homes to try to make a better life in the United States [Preston, Julia. “Survey Shows Pull of the U.S. is Still Strong Inside Mexico”].  Although immigration is down currently, the push and pull factors are still there and, without any real change in the immigration laws, the self-same issues will persist long after the Lehman Brothers are forgotten.

With Department of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano’s “enforcement only” strategy, the flawed laws continue to be administered with the same tragic results.  Two owners of the Yamato plant in Bellingham, the first ICE raid to take place after Obama took office and highlighted as a model of the sort of small-scale raids that this administration prefers instead of massive workplace operations like that in Postville, escaped with fines of $100,000 but no jail time for hiring and exploiting undocumented immigrants [Associated Press, September 22, 2009].  While this workplace raid strategy honorably focuses more on the errant employers than the exploited workers, $100,000 fines without jail time seem an inconsequential deterrent for multi-million-dollar companies.

In another glimpse into the current administration’s immigration tactics, American Apparel was compelled to fire 1800 workers with identification irregularities rather than undergo an ICE raid.  Far from a sweatshop, this factory was praised for paying well above the industry standard, for keeping their clothes “Made in the USA” (albeit by the hands of New Americans), giving health benefits and recently giving $18 million in stock options to employees [Preston, Julia. “Immigration Crackdown with Firings, not Raids”].  While technically illegal, the main rationale for workplace raids, that of depressed wages and exploitative conditions, were not present here. Perhaps a reprioritization of  workplace audits might be in store.

Similarly, although Napolitano and DHS has publicly come out against Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s use of program 287(g) to racially profile and go on immigrant sweeps of Maricopa County, Arizona, still immigrants live in fear of going to the proper authorities after hearing stories like that of Ms. Gurrolla. Last Tuesday she was stabbed and her newborn child kidnapped by a woman posing as an ICE official; Saturday she was reunited with her son Yair Anthony Carillo; shortly thereafter the Tennessee Department of Children’s Services came and took all four of her children away. This story highlights the vulnerability of immigrants, undocumented and longtime, as well as depicting the very real fears they face from exploitative parties and government agencies. [Associated Press, Mother Briefly Loses Baby to Kidnapper, then All Her Children to the Authorities"]

As Napolitano finishes her first year as Secretary of Homeland Security, may we all urge her to aim for integration rather than reprisal, safety over fear, a real balance of workplace power rather than fines and deportations, real change instead of a façade of “fixing” the symptoms.

Outburst Over Immigrant Health

September 13, 2009

Wednesday night at Obama’s speech, several shameful acts occurred.  Rep. Louie Gohmert from Texas wore a sign around his neck reading, “What Bill?”, as the President spoke on healthcare reform just a day after his speech to America’s schoolchildren raised protests from certain school districts as well.  As Obama finished stating that his health plan would not insure undocumented immigrants, Rep. Joe Wilson from South Carolina shouted, “You lie” in one of the most overtly disrespectful acts of uncivil discourse seen in political discourse.  While many politicains rightfully spoke out against Wilson’s sad outburst, they all centered on the disrespect it directed at the Executive office. [CNN.com]

There was “no place for it in that setting or any other and he should apologize immediately.”  – John McCain on Larry King Live

“It was crude and disrespectful. I think the person who said it will pay a price.” – Senate Majority Whip Dick Durbin

“I was always taught that the first sign of a good education is good manners. I think that what we saw tonight was really bad manners. And having a spirited debate is one thing, exercising bad manners is another. That was beyond the pale — and I would hope that he would publicly apologize on that same floor to the president of the United States for that insult.” -House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, D-South Carolina -

While it is  certainly a sad day in our nation’s history when civil discourse devolves to hateful, warrantless vocal fussilades, it is even sadder when the more than 12 million undocumented immigrants Obama was talking about go completely ignored.  Wilson has defended his nativist stance by stating that he has been an immigration attorney and that he is all for “legal immigration,” yet his xenophobic comments exhibit a powerful antagonism toward our nation’s immigrant community.  The current plans being discussed would require “resident aliens” under tax law to buy health insurance, though it would not provide federal subsidies to undocumented immigrants.  It is bewildering to try to decipher Wilson’s vehemence.  Was his “You Lie!” comment directed at the fact that immigrants would be paying into a healthcare system largely targeted at providing healthcare to our nation’s aging, largely native-born population? Is Wilson frustrated that immigrants, legal or otherwise, pay their taxes and therefore have been supporting Social Security for years while never receiving an M.D. dime for it?

Surely everyone watching Wednesday night’s charged speech felt a repulsion at watching a civil debate turn into a heckler’s vaudeville act.  The saddest thing, however, is that nativism once more got publicity on national television.

Kennedys’ Nation of Immigrants

August 28, 2009

With the tragic passing of Edward Kennedy this past week, countless individuals and organizations have eulogized his 47 years of service. Most eulogies have focused on his health-care bills and speculate how he would have impacted the current public debate.  However, Kennedy will be missed for a multitude of reasons, not the least of which is the immigration reform in which he so passionately believed and our country so sorely needs. 

            Maybe he was influenced by his big brother Jack’s bestselling book A Nation of Immigrants. In the introduction to that book, Bobby Kennedy wrote, “Our attitude toward immigration reflects our faith in the American ideal.”  Perhaps Ted saw in immigrants a continuation of the fight for civil rights. Whatever his inspiration, Sen. Edward Kennedy was a champion of immigration reform in his later years. In 2006 he partnered with Sen. John McCain in crafting bipartisan legislation which nearly succeeded in passing Congress. 

            Edward Kennedy will most certainly be missed by all, both in the political arena that so badly needs bipartisan cooperation as well as in the immigrant community which needs real reform. While Obama once promised comprehensive immigration reform within the year, he has since moved the deadline back to sometime next year. For our President, Congress, and all the men and women in this great nation, Ted Kennedy’s “Introduction to A Nation of Immigrants” should remain a lodestone.

[W]e will have ample inspiration in the lives of the immigrants all around us. From Jamestown to the Pilgrims to the Irish to today’s workers, people have come to this country in search of opportunity. They have sought nothing more than the chance to work hard and bring a better life to themselves and their families. They come to our country with their hearts and minds full of hope. I believe we can build the kind of tough, fair and practical reform that is worthy of our shared history as immigrants and as Americans.

Community Service

August 20, 2009

       A young man in Arizona was convicted last week of littering and sentenced to probation and 300 hours of picking up trash.  His petty misdemeanor – littering on national wildlife lands, also known as leaving water bottles for immigrants passing through the most lethal section of the borderlands. [New York Times]

          While officials at Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge allow some groups to maintain water tanks at specific aid stations within the refuge, they stated that the plastic bottles left by Walt Staton of the group No More Deaths endangered wildlife and was unsightly. [New York Times]

          This latest border incident highlights the sad paradox of our nation’s current border enforcement.  Through lawsuits like this which target humanitarian aid to rerouted immigrants and the lack of apprehended drug runners and human traffickers, the modern motto of la policia de la frontera seems to be that if we can’t catch the few criminals crossing the border then at least we can nab a lot of others.  Although the California Border Patrol just nixed its long-running quota system which incentivized agents to catch as many border-crossers as possible rather than focusing on the dangerous criminals, this philosophy still holds credence. 

          A similar lawsuit a few years ago involved another humanitarian aid being sued for illegally transporting an immigrant in critical condition to the local hospital.  Until comprehensive immigration reform is passed (an act which Obama has now hinted might be delayed until next year), these acts of compassion for will be criminalized and more and more border-crossers will die as they turn to more desperate measures.  The ever-lengthening serpentine border wall grows by the month, only serving to channel immigrants to the Scylla and Charybdis of human traffickers or Arizona’s arid desert.

          There is more than a little irony in the fact that Walt Staton was sentenced with community service for his past service to the human community. Until comprehensive immigration reform is seriously discussed, littering will continue to trump human lives.

Iraqi Adjustment

August 18, 2009

Last Wednesday evening, my wife and I held a barbeque potluck in Rochester for several of the Iraqi refugee families.  Over sweet corn on the cob and kebabs, grilled chicken and biryani, English and Arabic, the fifteen of us enjoyed swapping stories and attempting to best each other in a variety of lawn games.  My wife was mesmerized by a young boy making up elaborate stories in Arabic about a bocce ball and our two mutts. 

“What a beautiful child.  I hope his name doesn’t cause him too much grief, that people can see past ‘Osama’ and see the wonderful person he is.”

 ******************

The United States just recently opened its doors to Iraqi visas and refugees.  Before 2007, virtually no Iraqis were allowed to immigrate to the U.S., despite the fact that between Desert Storm and the latest Iraq War, more than 2.7 million Iraqis are displaced internally and more than 1.5 million are external refugees in Syria alone. (Refugees International) Those that who count themselves fortunate enough to have arrived in the United States now face the dilemma of procuring employment amidst almost 10% unemployment rates nationwide. (Semple, Kirk. Iraqi Immigrants Face Lonely Struggle in U.S.)

     The International Rescue Committee released a report in June which chronicled that many Iraqi immigrants have been unable to find jobs, are running out of benefits, and are edging toward poverty.  More than 30,000 Iraqis have been resettled in the U.S., with another 1,500 being granted asylum status.  And yet the job opportunities have not necessarily resettled with them. (Semple, Kirk. Iraqi Immigrants Face Lonely Struggle in U.S.)

************** 

            My friend D. proudly told me that he now has two jobs, one in a small-town factory and one in a near-by furniture upholstery shop.  His eyes are tired, but he doesn’t let on that he begrudges either of these menial labor positions, despite the fact he ran several such factories in Iraq less than a decade ago.  He is proud, proud that he is providing for his family and not relying on American handouts, proud that he is a being a good Muslim and working for his meals and family.              

            For many Iraqis, like the families living in Manhattan’s Upper West Side [where I worked a few years ago as a waiter], the transition from Baghdad, Al Basrah, and Kirkuk is wrenching. They traded sand for snow, tight-knit communities for urban sprawl, ancient Persian ruins for buildings boasting one-hundred-year anniversaries.

            When D’s daughter talks about the Olmsted County Fair, however, there is nothing but joy in her voice.  “The ride spun us round and round. We rode with father the first time, but then we rode it all by ourselves.”

            Her sister was quick to chime in. “The man even let us ride for free a couple of times, since we loved it so much. 

            When I asked her if it was as good as the fairs in Iraq, she shook her head no.  But D. quickly corrected her. “Child, this was only a small fair. Later in August there will be a big fair, the state fair. This we will see.  It will be even bigger and better.”

Poetry of the Fields

August 16, 2009

They were both Guadalupe,

Named for the virgin of Mexico,

With 9 children,

One a citizen,

The other 80 and finally ready

To vote after 40 years

on the Seneca Canning line

&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&

I water this garden in the coolness

The dew heavy on vines and stems


Martha also walks outside in the coolness,

Though she trudges after ten hours

Inside the canning plant

Turning green silky stalks into tin cans

Bearing full-color portraits

Of green silky stalks.

Monitoring daily the progress of each,

This one throwing out seeds – cut it back

This one thriving – thin out around it

Here’s one shriveling – water it and mound the soil

There a runt – rip it out by the roots and replant something


Tasting the air, noting the dew

On her walk home to her cramped mobile home

Here in Plainview

Hoping beyond hope that the cold northern wind

Will blow late this year,

Will hold its frost until mid-October

So she can buy new clothes for her kids

Coming into the classroom a month late

A flock of turkeys flew in last night,

And as if clipping their beards,

Each one snipped the tops of our green bean plants

Taking fruit and plant alike


But when it comes, as frost always will,

Martha gathers her things

Works the last shift until the corn

Coming in is mealy, not for resale.

Her eyes turn south, steeling up

For the long stretch until the sun awakens

This land once again

Calling her back to its lakes and its plenty

In the morning, expecting growth and green

And finding toppled stalks, knocked-down vines,

Ruined work -

What is there to do but shore up what is left

Of roots, stems, sprouts, shoots,

And tie white plastic bags on string

to keep out the turkeys next time?

&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&&

In Brownsville, hurricanes;

In Owatonna, tornadoes.

This year droughts in south Texas,

Floods in Fargo.

Life’s margins shaving closer and closer

So that weeds won’t even grow anymore,

The rocks are all picked,

The machines are faster and better and smarter,

The vegetables ripen faster and are done in a week,

Always our work in our second home shrinking

like the Life-giving Rio Grande in our other

Last Days as a Migrant Farmworker Advocate

August 16, 2009

On my very last day a migrant farmworker advocate in southeastern Minnesota, I drove through 90-degree heat, no A/C, to meet a client in Rochester, Minnesota.  I was technically off the clock by this point, but it didn’t matter.  After several years of answering immigration questions and putting together a U-Visa case, my organization had finally received her temporary work permit.  I had it in hand, ready to deliver it to her in person.

As I walked into the Rochester office, this client was there with her two children.  I was only running a few minutes late, but she had been there early.  When I opened the envelope and showed her the glossy card that represented work, money, sustenance, sustainability, a better for her family, Ms. Calvillo needed no translation – she instantly knew what it was.  I gave her the entire packet, explaining that this work permit was valid only while her U-Visa application was pending, but I don’t know if she heard anything beyond “Here – this is for you. Este es por usted, finalmente.”  Driving away in my sun-baked car, her smile and warm gratitude will stay with me as long as I practice law.

Earlier this week, in that same office, I had to tell a gentleman that he could never apply for citizenship. After 50 hours on his case and over three years of waiting, we finally realized that this gentleman, who had suffered from retrograde amnesia due to a serious car accident, had voted in an election and was therefore permanently barred from ever becoming a citizen.  To see his hopes dashed, despite the fact that he had only been trying to be a good citizen, to see him fold up the naturalization questions he’d been studying rigorously, to see him slowly realize that he will never be able to take that oath – this was the hardest conversation I endured all summer.

And so I will go back to law school, while the migrant farmworkers continue cutting the corn off the cobs, continue canning the sweetness into tin shapes, continue standing for ten-hour shifts, continue wondering when the first frost will come and send them home jobless, continue saving and saving to make it through another year trying unsuccessfully to find work in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas, continue sending their children to Migrant Headstart programs and summer classes hoping their children will have it better than they.


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