Posts Tagged ‘Beloved Community’

Fear: The Bane of the Beloved Community

April 4, 2009

“There is another element that must be present in our struggle that then makes our resistance and nonviolence truly meaningful. That element is reconciliation. Our ultimate end must be the creation of the beloved community.” (Martin Luther King, 4/15/1960, Raleigh, NC)

41 years after his assassination, Martin Luther King’s dream of a fully integrated and reconciled society, his Beloved Community, still remains largely unfulfilled for the marginalized in America. Specifically, fear seems to reign in the lives of our nation’s most vulnerable group – immigrants are afraid to go to school, go to work, report crimes, visit anything but an Emergency Room. Immigrants, to a large extent, have been the object of laws designed to keep them segregated and silent and invisible.

Thursday’s joint subcommittee hearings brought national attention to the injustices inherent in the United State’s 287(g) program which deputizes local cops to become federal immigration enforcers. Sheriff Joe Arpaio from Maricopa County, Arizona, is a prime example of how certain jurisdictions are using this federal program to strike fear into the hearts of all immigrants. With his inhumane treatment of prisoners, his nativist focus on immigration enforcement over his other law enforcement duties, and his sensationalism and victimization of the immigrant community, both legal and not, Arpaio has succeeded in creating in Maricopa County (the fourth largest county in the U.S., with 4 million inhabitants) a community of distrust and fear. Maryland community advocate Antonio Ramirez, seconded by Rep. Conyers and others, testified at the subcommittee hearings on April 2, 2009, that the policies born of 287(g) lead to a drastic loss of trust and cooperation with authorities.  (Staff, Greg and Jackie Mahendra. America’s Voice)

Furthermore, Police Foundation President Hubert Williams stated that funding for this program takes away from money for smart community policing initiatives which are far more successful in preventing crime. In Sheriff Joe’s Maricopa County, for instance, Arpaio’ tactics seem to have backfired, with violent crime skyrocketing over 69% from 204-2007 (a statistic not echoed in nearby Phoenix or Mesa). When a large population of immigrants live in fear and are excluded from the Beloved Community, crime goes unreported and unchecked. (Bolick, Clint. “Mission Unaccomplished: The Misplaced Priorities of the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office”)

The subcommittee hearings also brought to light the rampant racial profiling that has accompanied 287(g) programs across the country. UNC Chapel Hill Law School Professor Deborah Weissman highlighted the lack of sufficient training and the resulting civil rights abuses. Her recent report, “The Politics and Policies of Local Immigration Enforcement Laws,” illustrates that most “unwelcome” immigrants are stopped under the pretense of traffic violations; in Gaston County, NC, 83% of immigrants arrested by ICE had been cited first under a petty traffic violation.

Sadly, certain members of the subcommittee were insistent that 287(g) was marginally successful in the less than 5% of counties in which it is currently employed. It is hard to ascribe any motivation more flattering than unfettered xenophobia to such committee members. Rep. Steve King, a ranking member on the Immigration Subcommittee, questioned 19-year-old Julio Mora repeatedly about whether his father had taught him about rule of law (a.k.a. reporting undocumented immigrants). Mora, who had been detained and harassed because he’s Latino, responded eloquently, “My father taught me to respect everyone.” Rep. King and others seemed to intimate that racial profiling of American citizens was little more than an inconvenience or a slight embarrassment.

These joint subcommittee hearings’ decision on 287(g) is vitally important for creating a Beloved Community in the United States. Programs like 287(g) encourage fear, silence, and marginalization. The effects of this are chilling. Yesterday, a shooter opened fire on immigrants taking citizenship and language classes at an immigrant center in Binghamton, NY. 14 were found dead in the American Civic Association (an immigrant organization founded in 1939 and with support from United Way). The shooter, Jiverly Wong, is believed to have been a naturalized citizen who attended classes at ACA years before. While there are no clear answers and no explanations for such a tragedy, the fear 287(g) generates discourages crime reporting; we are left to speculate if this would have happened had Wong’s immigrant community felt empowered, rather than marginalized, by our nation’s laws.(CNN)

Similarly, Father Paul Ouderkirk gave a presentation at Pax Christi Church in Rochester, MN, on April 2. Much of his presentation focused on the fears in his community of Postville (where an ICE raid in May arrested 289 immigrants, closed the town’s largest employer, and crippled the town of 2400). Ouderkirk spoke of the psychological trauma felt by families after fathers were deported to Guatemala. He disparaged the fact that many women are still required to wear ankle bracelets. He discussed the fear of the citizen children, many of whom were terrified to return to school for fear that they would be arrested or they’d come home to find the rest of their family gone. (Valdez, Christina Killion. “Priests say Immigration Laws Need Reform.”)

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The ICE raid at Postville and 287(g) both serve to strike fear into our nation’s 12 million undocumented immigrants. Far from creating a Beloved Community, fear breeds distrust, un-cooperation, division, and hate. Additionally, this terror is not limited to extralegals in America; rather, it extends to most minorities. When Latinos are followed by police officers simply for looking Latino, fear reigns. When Somalis are interrogated at bus stops simply for being Muslim, fear reigns. When jaywalking Hmong citizens are detained because of their ethnicity, fear reigns. Our nation, our Beloved Community, demands comprehensive immigration reform to end the fear and begin an era of trust.

Please consider adding your name and voice to the letter going out to Chairman Conyers of the joint subcommittee. You can do so here.

The Challenge of Integration

December 5, 2008

Walking from the U of M West Bank to the Cedar-Riverside Lightrail station, one is awed by the looming towers affectionately dubbed the “Crack Shacks” (I am told the name dates back to their former use as college dorms).  Awe may  not be the right word to describe what one feels looking up at these misshapen Eastern European towers distinguished only by their refusal to blend and their randomly-positioned multicolor panels.  These Riverside Plaza towers, once highlighted as the residence of Mary Richards from the Mary Tyler Moore Show, are now home to almost 3500 people, predominantly immigrant families, and they give this portion of Minneapolis a distinct multicultural feel.  Somali cafes, Thai restaurants, the Cedar Cultural Center, Halal groceries, Ethiopian eateries – all of these are a welcome change to the gentrified Seven Corners just down the street.

As I continue walking the 15 minutes to the LightRail stop, I pass the Brian Coyle Community Center (BCCC).  Often crowds of teenagers are outside playing basketball or catching up on gossip.  Some stand, heads together, listening to the latest tunes.  Somali elders walk the sidewalk with canes, and an old woman in a hijab flosses her teeth with a twig.  This Community Center is always alive, always full of laughter and shouting and life.  It is sobering to think that just a few months ago a 22-year-old Somali man was shot to death right where I am standing.

By all accounts, this Augsburg College student had big dreams of achieving great things and contributing to his Somali community.  He chose to work at BCCC because he hoped to have an impact on Somali youth.  It is unfathomable to think that he was shot at 5 p.m., in broad daylight, after finishing his routine volunteer shift; it is similarly shocking to think that five young Somalis have been murdered in the past 12 months.

Prior to the Somali Civil War beginning in 1991, about 20-30 Somalis called Minnesota home.  Local Somali historian Saeed Osman Fahia, executive director of the Somali Community in Minnesota, now estimates that number at nearly 60,000. While this past month saw the United States refuse to accept any more Somali refugees due to suspected fraudulent papers, the Somali community here in Minnesota is a well-established and vibrant ethnic community. (Carlyle, Erin CityPages)

Fahia says it all began as young Africans tried to fit in to American schools.  Feeling ostractized, they formed ganges called the Rough Tough Somalis and the Hot Boyz to defend themselves and carve out a community niche for themselves.  The No Child Left Behind Act, which placed significantly stricter laws on foreign language instruction, shook the very core of the Somali academic community.  In reaction to what Somali youth saw as a disrespect and ignorance of their culture, some youth formed gangs called the Murda Squad, the Riverside Riders, the Somali Mafia, and Madhibaan With Attitude.  These informal “gangs” never really achieved widespread popularity (Minneapolis police estimate 150 out of the 60,000 Somalis belong to a gang), but their sheer existence denotes a growing discontent in the Somali youth community following the turn of the millenium. ((Carlyle, Erin CityPages)

Police are still investigating Ahmednur Ali‘s murder.  It is frustrating for everyone to see an ethnic group like the Somalis struggle with this inter-cultural conflict.  Sadly, this is the expression of far too many disadvantaged or discriminated immigrant communities.  Lacking a viable way to address the root of their problems, often the worst violence is directed within the community.  The rise in gang violence and tribalism in the Somali community coincided with the downsizing of foreign language and international appreciation programs in American schools.  As the economy tightens and Latino immigrants struggle over the same jobs as Somali refugees, both groups have tended to blame each other rather than the industries and employers who deliberately hire unauthorized workers and then keep then undocumented as long as possible. (Relerford, Patrice The Star Tribune)

People acculturate.  People change.  The only reason immigrant communities fail to integrate is because the community they join refuses to be responsible for their integration.  While some Minnesota schools have risen to this challenge, other ESL departments and core curriculum courses have not given a good-faith effort to ensure these first-generation Somali youths have a decent chance in America. It is all too easy to write off these gang murders as echoes of the lawlessness and piracy of current Somalia.  However, a true look at these tragic killings reveals our own failure to advocate for integration of ALL.  America has always been a land of immigrants, and as international conflicts and nation-state boundaries create a growing number of refugees, America must live up to its responsibility to integrate these refugees and asylum-seekers into our nation.  The Beloved Community Martin Luther King, Jr., spoke about so often at the end of his life has yet to be fully realized.  Integration is the last civil rights issue – economic crisis or not, this must be one of the most pressing issues for us all.

The Unilateral Contract for Immigrants

October 8, 2008

Nate was sitting in a bar a week after an innocent woman was killed by a repeat offender who had gone untracked for an indefinite amount of time. He was sitting in a bar across from a well-known member of the Justice Department of the State of Minnesota. As a Target Public Relations Executive, he says, the problem was piercingly clear. “Man, you’ve got an inventory-tracking problem.”

As a result of this casual evening encounter, the statewide “Suspense File” of criminals with aliases or uncertain whereabouts has dwindled from well over 30,000 to under a couple hundred. Bringing together township, local, and regional governments under the statute 299C.111, this information is finally being efficiently shared and these precincts are realizing their part in the larger community.  Nate brings up this anecdote as proof of the power of benevolent self-interest. “Self-interest is the only sustainable source of benevolence or volunteering. Your goal must be to broaden people’s sense of self-interest to include those around them, their community, their workplace.”

This idea of community is core to the idea of nonviolence. The philosophy of nonviolence only has credence if, as Dr. King said, “we are caught up in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.” As our communities grow and change, as immigration changes the face of Americans, and as globalization destroys the traditional view of bordered states or bounded communities, this expansive self-interest must cultivate a healthy respect and active work to improve the plight of those near and far.

Nate points out that while politics is the business of solving problems (and so protects itself by never eliminating those problems completely), public policy is the art of dilemma management. Dilemmas, or unsolvable problems, are the realities of life, but it is our duty and responsibility to mitigate the effects of those dilemmas. We will never end poverty, but we can continually work to mitigate the effects of poverty in our Beloved Community.

As Nate preaches an interdisciplinary mode of approaching problems, our nation’s immigration system and its needed reform ring in my mind. Essentially, immigrants have always come to the United States on implied unilateral contracts. Our media and our economy have always lured hard-workers hoping to better themselves and contribute to the American Dream. Since the Alien & Sedition Act of 1798 and the first nation-specific discrimination via the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, our nation has been unjustly enriched on the backs of immigrants. Notwithstanding remittances and return migration, immigrants have always contributed more to our economy than they have taken. Despite what popular bombastic talk-show rhetoric may repeat, immigrant populations traditionally work harder than native residents and will generally integrate as much as they are allowed by that nation’s institutions.

For the more than 12 million extralegal immigrants contributing to America right now, they labor without hope of compensation. Since the failed immigration reform bills in 2006, nothing has been forwarded to offer a path to citizenship for hard-working immigrants who are performing everything we expect of citizens. At what point does an extralegal resident earn the right to an American driver’s license or a Social Security Card? How long must someone work 80 hours a week to provide for their family before they are given the chance to naturalize?

If our great nation were to adopt immigration policies more akin to a unilateral contract, then so many immigrants’ good faith demonstrations of citizenship would finally be awarded with the meager promise of the bottom rung in American society. But at least it would be a starting point, an entry level to all the rights and protections of our Constitution and legal system, something more than 12 million people live without as Americans in all but documentation.

As civilization moves forward and borders get more confused, nationalities become more arbitrary, and human capital becomes even more mobile, the nonviolent concept of benevolent self-interest must begin to inform our policies, laws, and community standards. I hope I live to see the day when there are no undocumented and unprotected workers in the U.S., that everyone here would have some legal status and all would be somewhere on the continuum of achieving full citizenship.

Something there is that doesn’t Love a Wall- Part 2

April 15, 2008

Berlin Wall, 2004

Walking along this wall, I am a ghost among ruins. It lacks a roof on the other side, to shelter a family or a friend. It is only one long wall, which doesn’t serve to protect those enclosed inside. Though it only continues a couple hundred yards, it is easy to imagine it going on forever, past light posts and stop signs, past bakeries and magic shops, past bookstores and groceries, past schools and prisons. How strange it is to come across a wall which does not contribute to a home.

Between East and West Berlin, the Wall ran 26 miles with 302 watchtowers and 20 bunkers. It was almost 12 feet high and made primarily of concrete. It was constructed by the Russian forces occupying Berlin after the end of World War II. More than 2.6 million people had fled Communist East Berlin in the 12 years leading up to 1961, a number which represented close to 15% of the total German population. Its purpose, then, was unlike almost any other walls. Its sole purpose was to keep its citizens locked in, rather than outsiders without. It was the walls of a prison more than a buffer of defense.

The 700-mile, 18-foot border wall currently mandated by the Secure Fence Act of 2006 would lock some 12 million extralegal residents inside our nation’s borders. Citizens like Selena, who came here at 15 as a house-maid but has also managed to graduate high-school, are trapped in the United States, without a legal means of advancement but also scared enough not to return to Guadalajara for her grandma’s funeral.

Typically viewed as a solution to our nation’s immigration issues, the wall has some damaging side-effects. Compounded on the environmental devastation and economic backlash of such a wall, the immigrants here in the U.S., both legal and illegal, will be adversely affected by such a wall. For legal residents, who successfully won what can be a ten-year lottery system or who fast-tracked in on a highly-skilled workers’ visa, the border wall is an affront to their homeland and a clear nativistic symbol. For extralegal residents, the border wall means that they are stuck here in a nation which does not afford them basic human rights and protections. As Douglas Massey wrote in the New York Times on April 4 this year,

America’s tougher line roughly tripled the average cost of getting across the border illegally; thus Mexicans who had run the gantlet at the border were more likely to hunker down and stay in the United States. My study has shown that in the early 1980′s, about half of all undocumented Mexicans returned home within 12 months of entry, but by 2000 the rate of return migration stood at just 25 percent.

Despite the fact that from 1980 to 2000 the chances of getting caught decreased from 33% to 10% because border-crossings were funneled through barren, under-patrolled areas, the wall is still touted as a way to cut down on the number of illegal entries while doing absolutely nothing positive for the assimilation of these immigrants or compassionate return of extralegal residents to their native countries.

192 people died, and over 200 were injured through this militarization of the border between these two Berlins. The wall separated families from families, neighbors from neighbors, fathers from children and wives from husbands. First erected overnight on August 13, 1961, some West Germans went out for a loaf of bread and didn’t return home for 30 years. Children sleeping over at a friend’s house were separated from their mothers for 3 decades, coming back to them with Rip Van Winkle beards and bass voices changed through the passing of life. The saddest thing about the Berlin Wall is that it obviously did not separate one people “group” from another. The inescapable network of mutuality, that interconnectedness of people that Dr. King referred to as the Beloved Community, was clearly there in the living, breathing city of Berlin.

To this day, countless Valley residents will say that the border crossed them. When Rio Grande replaced the Nueces River as the newest border between the Texas and Mexico, hundreds of families instantly became unwanted American citizens. Being land-rich but money-poor, many of them lost land to big ranchers, Texas Rangers, or mob persecution. The remaining Mexican-Americans were treated as subhuman for many years, with the first Mexican-American government official being sworn in almost 100 years after this change in nationality.

Watching boys and girls swim in the muddy Rio Grande, it is impossible to tell from which side of the river they leaped. Pesos and dollars are accepted on both sides. Spanish, English, and Spanglish are used interchangeably in stores, churches, city hall meetings, and television shows. Many of my students commute from Matamoros, Mexico, everyday, further blurring the lines between either side of la frontera. A wall would not only be a militarization of a border; it would be the rigid enforcement of a line that exists only on paper, not in hearts, culture, language, or souls. In his New York Times Op-Ed piece, Douglas Massey writes,

The number of Border Patrol officers increased from around 2,500 in the early 1980′s to around 12,000 today, and the agency’s annual budget rose to $1.6 billion from $200 million. The boundary between Mexico and the United States has become perhaps the most militarized frontier between two nations at peace anywhere in the world.

The “peace” introduced by a border wall would be a negative peace, an absence of tension in a few scattered square miles, whereas the Secure Fence would be replacing a positive peace where two cultures have been able to coexist and mutually benefit each other.

Digging in the summer grass, I look for a shard of evil. In the zealot’s fervor and the tourists’ hurry, I hope to find a forgotten piece of this long wall of shame. Berlin’s new motto – “Never Again” – is both a call to memory and a cry for forgiveness. When I finally clutch a broken piece of wall, no bigger than the palm of my hand, I hold it tight. It is cold. It is harmless. I can almost imagine it belongs to a home’s foundation rather than an internationally despised symbol of division. I fly it back across innumerable national borders, vowing “Never Again.”

Nopales, Enemies, and Assets…

April 6, 2008

Gandhi once wrote, “In the dictionary of the non-violent there is no such word as an external enemy” (Satyagraha, 93). This concept is key to understanding the dynamics of India’s liberation movement, King’s civil rights movement, and the ongoing use of nonviolence. For Gandhi, an “enemy” is just someone who doesn’t realize they are his friend yet. If one views opposition as a potential ally, then reconciliation is the aim rather than victory. Victory is achieved together through mutual progress.

Relocating to la frontera, one is confronted with a host of new cuisine. Barbacoa (stewed beef cheek), tamales veracruzano (corn paste baked in a banana leaf), elotes (roasted corn swimming in mayonnaise), menudo (spicy stew made of cow intestines and touted to be the ultimate hangover cure) – all these new foods astound newcomers to the border and remind us all of limitless creativity.

But the food I love best here in Brownsville and Matamoros are nopales.

Nopales are prickly-pear cacti. Their fruits, tunas, are a delicious mix between honeydew and pomegranate. But it is the spiky cacti themselves that are a delicacy here on the border. De-spined, the green fleshy vegetable is diced and stewed for hours. It is often served with eggs for breakfast – mmmm, huevos con nopales in the morning.

I am struck by the nonviolence this food embodies. Most people when confronted with a cactus write it off as something to be avoided, a painful and dangerous plant. Other people would try to clear these cacti from their land, equating them with weeds and scrub. But the Mexicanos and Tejanos on this border look at these short, spiky plants and see nourishment. Instead of a nuisance, nutrition; instead of an enemy, an asset.

In life, there are those who view people as assets, and those who view people as liabilities. Those who call for the mass deportation of 12 million people, even at the staggering cost of $100 billion dollars, see people as liabilities. Homeland Security currently views people as liabilities and threats so much that it is willing to disregard 39 laws protecting men, women, and animals in order to rush the construction of the border wall. Nativistic dialogue from xenophobic showman highlight the worst in us humans, while neglecting to show the millions of individuals committed both to their family and this country.

We must recognize that every person is an asset to our nation if this is truly to become a fully-integrated Beloved Community. As a teacher and a nonviolent social activist, I must look at people and see their potential for goodness rather than their capacity for evil. In the end, everyone’s a nopale – it simply depends on how we look at them.

Burden of Action

April 3, 2008

“A BORDER WALL SEEMS TO VIOLATE a deep sense of identity most Americans cherish. We see ourselves as a nation of immigrants with our own goddess, the Statue of Liberty, a symbol so potent that dissident Chinese students fabricated a version of it in 1989 in Tiananmen Square as the visual representation of their yearning for freedom.”

(Bowden, Charles. “U.S.-Mexico Border: Our Wall.” National Geographic.)

    This past Tuesday, April 1, the United States Homeland Security Secretary waived 30 laws in order to expedite the controversial construction of a border wall. This has become a standard procedure with the Secure Fence Act ever since the passing of the REAL ID ACT which gives a non-elected government official the authority to waive an unlimited number of laws passed by elected officials. In Arizona, 19 different laws were waived in the construction of the wall, unbeknownst to most Americans.

    The same legal trickery occurred during the Civil Rights Movement. Often, local government officials would abuse their power, pitting an unjust law against the federal mandate of integration. During the Birmingham Boycott in 1963, for example, King served a seven-day sentence for violating a court injunction disallowing “parading, demonstrating, boycotting, trespassing and picketing.” It was here he would write his seminal work, “Letter from a Birminham Jail.” The sinister thing about the REAL ID ACT, though, is that it works in the reverse; no matter how good the local laws are or how necessary the environmental laws may be, the a single federal official is allowed to waive all laws without so much as a study.

    Where are we to go when the federal government seems to ignore our pleas for justice on the border and hope for immigrants? We must appeal to higher powers, and one overarching authority organization we must beseech is the United Nations. On March 8, the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) openly critiqued the U.S. government’s human rights record and effectively tied the border wall to civil rights. In 1994, the United States ratified an international treaty to end racial discrimination, and in keeping with this treaty, the U.N. has urged the United States to:

  • Protect non-citizens from being subjected to torture and abuse by means of transfer or rendition to foreign countries for torture;   

  • Address the problem of violence against indigenous, minority and immigrant women, including migrant workers, and especially domestic workers; and
  • Pass the Civil Rights Act of 2008 or similar legislation, and otherwise ensure the rights of minority and immigrant workers, including undocumented migrant workers, to effective protection and remedies when their employers have violated their human rights.

These three recommendations are key to a lasting solution to immigration and civil rights, whereas a wall is a devastating and divisive gesture which, at best, only treats a symptom not a system. Although Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants Jorge Bustamente was denied access to Texas’s Hutto immigrant detention center (an internment camp which currently detains children and families), the United Nations still came out very strongly for the case of the immigrant within our borders.

    The ACLU was represented at the United Nation’s meeting in Geneva. Lisa Graybill, Legal Director for the Texas ACLU, stated that, “it has been made clear that the U.S.’s responses, especially with regard to the potential seizure of indigenous land for the construction of the wall and the conditioning of basic services on proof of immigration status are in direct violation of the treaty agreed to by the U.S. in 1994.” (http://www.aclutx.org/projects/article.php?aid=557&cid=31) As citizens of the United States and as residents of a global world, we must hold our government to this high standard if we truly wish to see the Beloved Community Dr. King envisioned. Chandra Bhatnagar, an ACLU staff attorney who recently visited Cameron Park to instruct Brownsville immigrants about their legal rights, challenged the United States government to “…match its soaring rhetoric on the importance of human rights globally with a renewed commitment to protecting the rights of vulnerable immigrants here at home.” We must overcome the destructive distraction of this border wall and return to the nonpartisan dialogue on comprehensive immigration reform which began in 2006. (http://www.aclutx.org/projects/article.php?aid=557&cid=31)

    And so, the people of these United States are left with the burden of action. The burden of action has fallen on us, because our elected officials have largely ignored their responsibility to apply the laws for which they voted and which we elected them to protect. The burden of action has fallen on us to remind our nation that it is a nation of people bound together by certain inalienable rights and protected by just legislation. The burden of action has been passed onto us; may we consider it a mantle of activism, a call to bring the morality, the economy, the environmental, the political, and the social aspects of immigration to light in lieu of the blight of a border wall. The burden of action is ours, but it is also an opportunity  – what will we choose to do about it?

Humansarehumansarehumans…

March 27, 2008

“People in the detention centers are treated as things,” an ACLU attorney stated to me at tonight’s meeting at San Felipe de Jesus Church in Brownsville. “In Raymondville, they referred to people as ‘bodies’ and their quarters as ‘pods.’ It is the most dehumanizing thing.”

As Martin Luther King, Jr., began moving outside of the realm of segregation and began working on the integration he envisioned as a Beloved Community, he quickly realized that the United States was moving in a direction where people were devalued assets and machines or things were becoming increasingly prized. He wrote,

I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a thing- oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered. (Autobiography of Martin Luther King, 340)

40 years ago, Dr. King could very well have been envisioning the current immigration stagnation of our nation today.

    Racism, materialism, and militarism are all occurring in our nation around the issue of immigration. There is a racism inherent in a border wall that only keeps out people from certain countries rather than an immigration reform which would begin positively impacting individuals of all races and backgrounds. There is a racial bias apparent when legal Latinos are stopped and searched because the police see their skin as “probable cause.” In today’s thing-centered world, racism exists in our schools and our communities and our national policies because people are taken out of the picture. Instead of human rights issues, these are simply “dollars and cents” issues.

    Materialism exists in a thing-centered society where people can be terrorized by talk-show hosts and media sources so that they clamor for the deportation of 12 million people working and residing within our nations borders (an action which would cost almost $100 billion). Materialism drives companies like CCA (Corrections Corporation of America) to run for-profit immigrant detention centers at places like Hutto and Raymondville. Thankfully the ACLU and other organizations have been legally opposing these organizations, gaining considerable rights for children detained in the Hutto detention center this past year. However, detention centers like Raymondville are adding more tents and facilities every year, and therefore treating more and more people like things.

    Militarism is one of the worst effects of a thing-centered society. When peace is a word instead of people, a wall might seem like a logical idea. If a border were only a line on a map instead of a living river or a fertile Valley or a child’s backyard, then a border wall might make sense. If people were not inherently good, if immigrants did not give so much to a thankless U.S., if walls actually worked, then maybe the Secure Fence Act of 2006 would not be the unconscionable legislation it is. The fact is that our borders are militarized since 2006. I have had a gun pulled on me as I jogged legally on the border. The gun was not held by a drug smuggler or an immigrant; no, it was held by a Border Patrol agent. If this is how people are being treated all along la frontera, it is obvious that our increasingly militarized borders are becoming decreasingly humanized.

    Amidst the rhetoric about a border wall and immigration reform, it is all too easy to get distracted by numbers or logistics and forget the human element. Joseph Stalin once said, “A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.” We have come to a point where the 400 reported deaths of immigrants attempting to cross the desert is merely a statistic; in fact, we are willing to sentence more to die by building walls which will only reroute people to more dangerous border-crossing zones. We are to a point where we have forgotten that, at its heart, immigration legislation is affecting real souls in real time.

    We must not forget that the Secure Fence Act of 2006 was not being discussed as a solution to drugs or terrorism at first. No, it was being discussed alongside several other immigration reforms which would have positively impacted people’s lives. Legislation like the DREAM Act, a bill which would have given students like my own the opportunity to utilize the scholarships they have already earned at some of the best universities in the country. Mcain’s proposal for a path to earned citizenship (dubbed amnesty) was also on the docket, a law which would have given hope to thousands and thousands of working immigrants hoping to one day “earn” their place as the Americans they already are.

    As we campaign against the border wall and advocate for true immigration reform, we must never lose sight of the fact that this is important because it will change people’s lives. Yes, immigration legislation will affect the environment, the economy, our society, our politics, our consumerism, our language base, our schools, and our communities, but more importantly it will change the lives of people like Yadira, Celina, Mayra, Alexa, Daniel, Jesus, Perla…

No Border Wall Walk- Day 9 or Triumphant Entry

March 17, 2008

End of March at Hope Park

    2,000 years ago, a young man came into a Middle-Eastern city astride a donkey. He came bringing a message of peace, of unity, of nonviolence, and la gente responded by laying palm branches in his path and crying “Hosanna! Glory to God in the Highest! Peace on Earth!” His death and suffering five days later, and his resurrection a week later, spurred a nonviolent campaign of peace and social justice which continues to shape the world.

    The timing of this No Border Wall Walk, then, concluded on the perfect day. Its timing had been fortuitous thus far, overlapping the groundbreaking Selma to Montgomery March that was a pivotal moment in the civil rights movement. But no amount of planning could have made it possible to march into downtown Brownsville on Palm Sunday, holding palm branches along with signs of “No Wall Between Amigos,” singing hymns and songs like “Don’t gimme no walls, no walls, just gimme that peace, ah, that frontera Peace.” Since the Bible speaks out so clearly on the side of the immigrant, and because Jesus’ own family was forced to be refugees for several years, this miraculous “coincidence” must have been more than that – we felt a pervading love for all humanity as we marched and sang down Central Boulevard and Elizabeth Street.

 

    Many people were confused as we marched down main street, as they must have been in Jesus’ day as well. Our joy might have seem misplaced amidst all the tension and frustration and indignation generated by a wall which would be built but a few blocks south of our route. The abundant optimism of the 50 marchers might have seemed naïve to people resigned to cynicism regarding the United State government’s willingness to hear its people on its borderlands. And just as in Jesus’ time, perhaps some didn’t join us because they had lost faith in the power of nonviolence to create change for the good for good.

Palm Sunday- John Moore and Matthew Webster ending No Border Wall Walk

    But that didn’t stop our march as it concluded in Brownsville, nor did it stop any of the more than 300 people who joined their feet and their hearts with our march over the past nine days. Marching slowly through town, past the ropas usadas and the thousands of Mexican shoppers visiting on Laser visas which are being threatened by the restrictive immigration laws on the coattails of the Secure Fence Act of 2006, we stopped periodically to dance and encourage those people to raise their voices with our own. Waving palm branches and our hoarse voices to the historic downtown facades, we were jubilant, because an idea whose time has come is the most powerful force known to man, and we were all raising our voices in a cause for which we had sacrificed and will continue to sacrifice.

 

    After marching some 126 miles over nine days, and after meeting thousands of people and broadcasting the message of this beautiful borderland and this Valley’s families, we arrived only 15 minutes….early. We were strengthened by churches like Church of the Advent Episcopal Church in Brownsville, who provided lunch for our cause. We were also strengthened by all three Methodist congregations in town, who gave us water for our weary voices and a seat to rest our feet before the final push into town. Yes, as we came into this city on the border by the sea, with a police escort of 5-6 cars at any given time, the overwhelming support for this march and its cause was made plainly evident. Every person of faith, every congregation, every politician, and virtually every organization in this border region is united against the invasion of a border wall and the backwards thinking it embodies. The message of this march can be summed up in two phrases – We are not alone, and Si se puede! (Yes we can!). Milling around in Hope Park, waiting our triumphant entry into the No Border Wall Rally in front of Jacob Brown Auditorium at of UT-Brownsville, I was overwhelmed with the divine Providence which had protected each and every marcher AND had made every phrase coming out of our mouths one of nonviolence not bitterness, one of hope and not cynicism, one of positive change and not discouraging negativity.

 

    Yes, standing on a truck trailer “rostrum” in front of hundreds of like-minded individuals, I was a proud man. One of my freshman students had walked 4 of the nine days, and four of my other students had helped organize the rally and man the food booth. I was overwhelmed to have been part of a statement of faith and purpose coming out of this Valley, one which is now echoing throughout the United States into Mexico, Canada, and hopefully throughout the world. The speech I gave was an attempt to encapsulate that hope for harmony and our need to continue campaigning for immigrant justice.

 

Our walk began at the birding bluffs of Roma, a national treasure that would be severed by the Secure Fence Act of 2006. As we walked this historic downtown, we began to see all the history that would be “history” if an 18-foot border wall were to cut a wide swathe through southern Texas. And our moral indignation was aroused, but we didn’t stop there…

And after being refreshed at Immaculate Conception Church in Rio Grande City, we set off once more with a full police escort. It is not often that a political protest enjoys the support of police officers and poets, faith leaders and public officials, mayors and manual laborers, Republicans and Democrats, but we began to see in the hundreds of honks and thousands of thankful smiles that the entire border region is unified agaisnt the invasion of a border wall. But we didn’t stop in Rio Grande City either…

And we stopped at Holy Family Catholic Church in La Grulla, a tiny town the border wall might not affect immediately. We were reminded that the entire border region is interconnected. As our mentor Martin Luther King, Jr. stated, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” and because of this “inescapable network of mutuality,” La Grulla residents must speak out if their neighbors are threatened with a border wall. We must not fall into the trap of dividing ourselves on this crucial issue. I have heard some cynically suggest a wall in Canada, but how can we hold the moral high ground if we would wish this blight, this evil upon any other community near or far? Despite the fact that La Grulla has no planned wall as of yet, six little girls aged 10.5 to 16 marched 14 miles with us to let other little boys and other little girls know they cared and would not be silent. And we were all empowered by their youthful audacity, but we wouldn’t halt there…

No, we kept on marching past Our Lady Queen of Angels Church in La Joya, where we were joined by members of the Lipan Apache tribe and by a Brownsville high-school student of mine. Yes, we stood in awe of the only man-powered ferry on our international borders, and we realized that all America – South, Central, and North – must use our hands to connect humanity and reach across barriers, rather than thicken divisions and entrench misunderstanding. Yes, we marched right on to Father Roy and the historic La Lomita Chapel, and we swam, swam in that river that brings nations together instead of dividing them. But we would stop there…

No, we kept on marching through the tiny community of Granjeno, which has agreed to face bulldozers and prison in nonviolent civil disobedience, should it come to that. Yes, we marched and our voice was strengthened by 75 other college students from all across the United States. Their youth invigorated us, and we had a powerful rally in Pharr, but we wouldn’t stop there…

No, our pilgrimage continued through “the valley of the shadow of the wall,” past rows of onions and undocumented workers, past pristine palm groves and flocks of fascinating birds on wing. We were reminded of the men and women for whom we march and the place we hope to preserve. We were reminded that God did not create this world with walls or divisions. We walked along Highway 83 and 281 to nonviolently protest the border wall and encourage this law’s many victims. In return, we were given hope and happiness from the beauty of the Valley. But even after those 17 miles of blacktop, we still wouldn’t stop…

No, we kept right on walking from Holy Spirit Catholic Church in Progreso to Sacred Heart Church in Las Rusias. We were welcomed by women of faith, who followed the command from Leviticus 19:34 to treat the immigrant the same as a resident. “The stranger who sojourns with you shall be as the native among you, and you shall love the stranger as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” Yes, in the loving eyes of women like Nenna and Alma, you could tell they recognized the very image of God in every single one of us. Surely they would see the face of God in any immigrant who came to their door as well. Yes, they welcomed us with songs like “Junto Como Hermanos,” and we were treated just like brothers and sisters by this border town. If it’s one thing we’ve learned about these border town in way of the wall, it is that they are welcoming and warm. And even though it may be as hot as a human heart out here, that is precisely the organ we are aiming at as we highlight the homes and humanity of la frontera. But no matter how welcome we felt, we would not be stopped there…

No, His Truth is Marching on, and so we followed Jesus’ call to be a “voice for the voiceless.” It led us along the levee to Ranchito and El Calaboz, the home of 72-year old Professor Eloisa Tamez who is resisting the federal government’s attempts to take her land. We stood with her in solidarity at San Ignacio Iglesia in Ranchito, and we all supported her justified opposition to a government which would allocate her lands and erase her way of life. We were overwhelmed by the beauty of this border town, too, with its Beloved Community and its emphasis on faith and family, but we wouldn’t stop there…

No, we walked right on in to Brownsville, down Military Highway to end the militarization of our nation’s borders. We were fed by Church of the Advent Episcopal Church here in Brownsville, as well as the Methodist Churches, just some of the dozens of congregations and organizations who physically supported our weary bodies on this March Against the Wall this March. It felt good to dance in the streets singing songs like, “No Al Muro, La Frontera Cuenta” and “We don’t need no border wall, we love people one and all,” as we approached this city on the border by the sea. We were overjoyed to be bound for this rall tonight where so many people are united together around a common purpose on this Palm Sunday of peace. But we won’t stop here…

No, so long as my students lack hope-giving legislation like the Dream Act, we will not stop marching.

So long as students getting A’s in my English classes and A’s in their Spanish classes are denied the right to attend our nation’s universities, universities they deserve to attend because of their academics, we will not be stopped.

As long as our immigration laws continue to separate families and discriminate based on quotas of national origin, we will not be silent.

So long as extralegal residents in these United States are not treated with dignity and not given a means to earned citizenship, we will not have arrived.

No, as long as more than 12 million people are criminalized by unresponsive immigration laws and the only piece of immigration law we can come up with in the last two years is the Secure Fence Act of 2006, we will not be stopped.

And so long as our government plans to build a border wall not through barren wasteland but through backyards and not through desert but downtowns, we weill march on…

We mustn’t stop because we believe that people are innately good and that this nation has a conscience. It is this conscience which Jesus pricked on Palm Sunday 2,000 years ago and which Dr. King touched 43 years ago on his famous Selma to Montgomery March. Yes, we believe all people are created good, and so if unjust laws are supported by the people, it must be because of misinformation or miseducation. The purpose of this nine-day, 126-mile sacrifice is to educate the nation about the issues of all borders and all immigrants.

We urge politicians to vote for bills like the Grijalva Bill and against bills like the Finish the Fence by Date Certain Bill. We beseech the people of these United States to appeal for a moratorium on the Secure Fence Act of 2006, so we can begin discussing the need and consequences of such a negative symbol as a wall.

People of faith, Border Patrol officers, government officials, students, teachers, moms, dads, sons, and daughters – we urge you to join us on this march against the wall and for our immigrants and borders. We will not be stopped.

And yes, “Soon we’ll reach the shining river,

Soon our pilgrimage will cease,

Soon our happy hearts will quiver

With the melody of Peace…

And yes we’ll gather at the river,

the beautiful the beautiful river,

Gather with the saints at this river,

that flows by the throne of God…”

Speech at UTB

http://www.brownsvilleherald.com/news/walk_85224___article.html/ground_protesters.html

http://www.facebook.com/video/video.php?v=615257032897

No Border Wall Walk- Day 5 or The Day of Pilgrimage

March 12, 2008

Marching with College Students

    The beginning of today’s march was a pilgrimage. It was a pilgrimage from the beautiful river to the hot pavement of industrial parks south of McAllen, a pilgrimage through the small land-grant town of Granjeno past welcoming gas stations, a journey from our lowest numbers to our biggest turnout for the walk thus far. The journey was shortened as we learned the stories of this Valley, the stories of La Lomita, Granjeno, McAllen, Mission, Las Milpas, and Pharr, as well as the stories stories of each other and those to whom we wave our tired hands. As Geoffrey Chaucer wrote in Canterbury Tales,

                    You each, to shorten the long journey,

Shall tell two tales en route to Canterbury,
And, coming homeward, another two,
Stories of things that happened long ago.
Whoever best acquits himself, and tells
The most amusing and instructive tale,
Shall have a dinner, paid by us all,
Here in this roof, and under this roof-tree,
When we come back again from Canterbury. (“General Prologue)

Today was our shortest day of walking so far, coming in at only 12 or so miles. We took it slow, though, especially as we gave and received hope in the tiny town of Granjeno. Families like the Rendons were extremely welcoming, and they were wholly supportive of our efforts against the wall. They have boldly decided to stand up to the federal government by refusing to sign government survey waivers. Many of them are involved in the class-action federal lawsuit being launched Peter Schey, and many of them are vowing civil disobedience if bulldozers come to their front yards. Each of us on this walk will stand beside them in solidarity.

    Leaving the shade and encouraging multilingual words of encouragement from grandmas and children, dogs and roosters, cats and swaying trees, the sun could have discouraged our positivity. Instead, it gave us some much-needed time to reflect and connect with each other. Walking down a lonely road with like-minded people, one is drawn to Proverbs 27:17, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” Walking with these worthy women and men, I have been consistently challenged by their calls to the higher plane of nonviolence and encouraged on this March Against the Wall. Men and women such as the steadfast Jay Johnson-Castro, the tranquilly wise Nat Stone, the perceptive Elizabeth Stephens, the questioning Cole Farnum, the united smiles of the Johnson famiily, the motherly care of Beth Golini, the passionate dancing of Matt Smith, the quiet strength of Crystal Canales, the extremely personal encouragement and candor of Kiel Harell, the dependable leadership of John Moore. These people have challenged and will continue to make the entire nation listen to our moral indignation at this issue.

    At our usual 2:00 lunch stop at a Valero gas station, we were once more showered with blessings. News crews found us, and so did workers from the G & G Auto Wrecking Company, who graciously donated a case of Coke and a box of waters. This support from la gente, the everyday men and women of this Valley who would be most profoundly impacted by a wall between their families and heritage and culture and land, is really what empowers us day after day. We left with renewed vigor.

    The most powerful moment of the day came as students from the Palestine Solidarity Committee expressed their solidarity with our efforts and joined us for the hottest part of our march. Their showered and beautiful faces marched alongside our trail-weary souls, and we were all enriched and comforted that this is an issue which all people of faith, from all over, can rally behind with confidence. We sang “Father Abraham” and “And the Walls came Tumblin’ Down.” http://link.brightcove.com/services/link/bcpid1287042959/bclid1287021539/bctid1453536169

    And just as they left and we were resigned to walking the final 2 miles with our 15 through-walkers, a group of 50 spring-break students from Miami, Texas State, St. Mary’s, and many other universities, joined us after a long day volunteering at Cesar Chavez’s LUPE organization. Their energy was all we needed to bring it in to the Las Milpas rally with style. We blocked off a whole lane of traffic, and our sheer positivity even won over a police officer who looked as if he were about to write us a citation. He asked for all my information, but when I told him a resounding thanks for all the police officers’ support along our walk so far, he smiled and told me to call him for tomorrow’s march to Progreso.

No Border Wall Walk- Day 5 College Alternative Spring Breakers

    One of the most amazing things about walking with these idealistic college students is the misinformation that is currently circulating our good country. If we truly believe that all people are inherently good, then we must also believe that the conscience of this nation has been miseducated about this issue. Well-intentioned college students who were devoting their whole spring break to help out the Valley’s people, thought that people on la frontera were united in support of the wall. How they couldn’t be more wrong! It was encouraging to see each honk of a car horn and each index finger pointing to the air educate them more and more that no one in the wall’s proposed trajectory wants this symbol of disgrace and division. The border wall would not go through barren wasteland but through backyards, not desert but downtowns.

    The Las Milpas rally was amazing. We had the pleasure to witness 4 members of the ARISE student ballet folklorico, and their dancing feet made our spirits light; my soul was dancing with them, even if the only part of my body I could mobilize were my clapping hands. It was encouraging to see schoolbuses and kids playing on the playground, seeing that Pancho Villa is not our hero, but Cesar Chavez. Joe Krause did an amazing job organizing this community event, even getting the 36h District Representative. Our meeting broke with chants and excitement. We are together, we are solidly united.

    And so ends this 5th day, a March day of pilgrimage that called out the entire community to join its voice with ours. In his “Letter from Cesar Chavez to Friends,” Chicano activist and social organizer Cesar Chavez wrote,

But throughout the Spanish-speaking world there is another tradition that touches the present march, that of the Lenten penitential processions, where the penitantes would march through the streets, often in sack cloth and ashes, some even carrying crosses, as a sign of penance for their sins, and as a plan for the mercy of God. The penitential procession is also in the blood of the Mexican-American, and the Delano march will therefore be one of penance—public penance for the sins of the strikers, their own personal sins as well as their yielding perhaps to feelings of hatred and revenge in the strike itself. They hope by the march to set themselves at peace with the Lord, so that the justice of their cause will be purified of all lesser motivation.

As we approach Semana Santa, the Holy Week, we are most assuredly marching for many reasons. We walk for penance that we did not speak out sooner when walls were being built in California and Arizona, we walk to rid ourselves of that self-defeating bitterness and hate which piles up if direct action is not taken, we walk on a pilgrimage to encourage the people of this Valley and renew our call to campaign for justice for both the immigrant and the border region.

 

No Border Wall Walk- Day 4 or Having Hope

March 11, 2008

Swimming in the Rio Grande

Ten Esperanza!

Have hope!

Faith and hope are inextricably linked. Hebrews 11:1 states, “Faith is the evidence of things hoped for, the assurance of things unseen.” Marching alongside 30 energetic, positive people bent on the same purpose, hope can be seen brimming out of every smile and poster. From the Lipan Apache Tribe members to the high-school students, from the Mexican man on his bicycle or the junior-high student from Cesar Chavez Middle School walking with us on his way to pick up groceries for his mom, hope has been expressed through our march and has been echoed back to us in each community and along every mile of highway.

When Kiel Harell, John Moore, and I first started planning this march but two months ago, we did it because we saw a hopelessness and a sense of acquiescence on the part of the people of the Valley. Many people acted as if they had been beaten, acted as if they were confident the government would never listen to their needs or their pleas. They were disenfranchised and unrepresented, and therefore had given up hope. Or so it seemed.

Hope is always almost gone.

Barack Obama visited the Valley just two weeks before, promising a campaign of hope. Hillary Clinton visited UTB only 3 weeks before, asking the Valley to pin its hopes on her. Hope is exactly what we need – hope that the Secure Fence Act of 2006 is not inevitable, hope that consciences are not unreachable, hope that the U.S. can follow the European Union’s lead and get rid of borders instead of fortifying them.

The No Border Wall Walk is a unique protest. Coming exactly 43 years after the Selma to Montgomery March of the civil rights movement, our walk shares many similarities with that nonviolent demonstration. We are largely faith-based, supported by numerous denominations and united around the idea that God is pro-immigrant; a beautiful hand-painted poster created by Trish Flanagan today had the Virgin saying, “I was a stranger, and you welcomed me.” Like Martin Luther King’s March to Montgomery, our 120-mile walk from Roma to Brownsville, Texas, is a positively-messaged action of nonviolent resistance to a dehumanizing issue. Also like Martin Luther King, we are energized by spirituals and hymns and chants.

However, there are some striking differences between the two marches. Our march, unlike the one from Selma to Montgomery, has met with almost unilateral support, where Dr. King faced almost overwhelming opposition from the “majority” of his time. Everywhere we go, police escort us through town with sirens honking and lights flashing. Where else do police officers donate five hours of their day to actually “serve and protect” marchers? Their support is an amazing vote of confidence, a sign that it is ok for locals to come out and join us. Javier, the Mission bicyclist, might not have joined us had the police not calmed his fears by their supportive presence, and perhaps the random angel of a woman would not have stopped to give us a box of water and a fresh pineapple had we not had this full endorsement of the city of Mission.

Our support can be seen in the solidarity of police officers and chambers of commerce, churches and Church’s chicken, Valero gas stations and construction workers, Haliburton employees and local media crews – all people of this Valley are on our side of this nationally divisive legislation.

By walking on the border, our March Against the Border Wall has become less of a local protest and more of an international broadcast. Our hope is to broadcast the idea that the wall will not just divvy up desert but will divide downtowns. Our aim is to reach people in western Washington and in the northern New York where my parents reside, in order to inform them that the border wall will negatively affect Americans, both North and Central, and that this border wall will not solve the problems their politicians have been espousing. Unlike Martin Luther King’s public demonstrations which drew dogs and fire hoses, we have dogs in backyards barking their support alongside their owners and fire trucks honking their solidarity with our worthy cause.

Singing on the Rio Grande

Singing “Shall we Gather at the River” on the Rio Grande and swimming in its living waters, hope is renewed once more. La frontera cannot be defeated when there are Catholic priests like Father Roy and churches like Our Lady of Guadalupe. Catholic literally means universal, and that has been the sort of support we have received from virtually every Christian denomination. La frontera will not surrender hope that people are essentially good and that no one who calls themselves American would put their security over humanity. La frontera will not be overcome because, while “our feets is tired, our souls are rested.” Dr. King wrote that this hope “…will give our tired feet new strength as we continue our forward stride toward the City of Freedom” (Martin Luther King Autobiography 260). La frontera has hope because it is not just a river in Texas or a desert in Arizona – it is also the mesas of New Mexico and the expanse of California. La frontera is French-speaking Canadians and immigrants in New York restaurants like the French Roast; la frontera is bilingual Texans and bilingual Minnesotans. The Border Ambassadors and all this Valley have hope because this is bigger than our little part of the world. We believe that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” We have hope because “No lie can live forever.” We are encouraged because “Truth crushed to earth will rise again!” We have hope because no person is beyond redemption, and we believe it is only through ignorance or misinformation that America has not spoken out in loud opposition to the Secure Fence Act of 2006.

Ten esperanza el Valle! Ten esperanza Los Estados Unidos! Ten Esperanza Canada y Mexico! Take hope, because we are coming together.

*Youtube Videos can be accessed here:



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