Posts Tagged ‘British’

The End of Guantanamo Bay is Just the Beginning

January 23, 2009

Yesterday morning, Barack Obama signed executive orders to end the CIA’s secret overseas prisons, ban coercive interrogations (read “torture”), and close Guantanamo Bay within a year.  In just his second full day in office, Obama made good on one of his campaign promises, saying that “our ideals give us the strength and moral high ground” to combat terrorism.  (Shane, Scott. New York Times) The whole world must have breathed a sigh of relief to see the United States moving back towards its role as a leader in human rights.

Since 2002, this small base in Cuba has housed detainees, many of whom were held without charges, representation, or many basic human rights.  As Vince Walker famously said when Gandhi’s followers were brutally attacked and killed by the British following the 1930 salt march, “Whatever moral ascendancy the West held was lost here today.” (http://lisahendrix.com/2008/06/).  As the United States has attempted to encourage countries like Iran, China, and North Korea to cease their violations of human rights, our exhortations have sounded hollow when Guantanamo Bay was in full operation just miles from Florida.

All Americans should applaud this bold move by Obama to move the United States back into its place an international leader.  But this must only be the beginning.  Within our borders, detention centers are cropping up in every state.  Texas is building new “immigrant processing” centers every year, and this for-profit business is rapidly expanding.  As the United States continues to balk on comprehensive immigration reform, these containment camps flourish while immigrants languish.  Few know where they are, even fewer know the name of a local lawyer who can represent them. Many will sit for months in cold dark cells, some for years.  In the last 6 years, from 2002 to 2008, immigrants detained in like centers have skyrocketed from under 21,000 to more than 31,000.  Disabled immigrants and those with mental health issues aren’t being served, and often their conditions are worsening steadily.  As Equal Justice Fellow at Advocacy Health Services of LA Greg Pleasants, “All protections that exist in other areas of the law (for mentally and developmentally disabled individuals) do not exist for these respondents.”  (Tillman, Laura. Brownsville Herald).  Just last week, federal immigration officials investigating the tragic death of Chinese comuter engineer Hiu Lui Ng in Donald W. Wyatt Detention Facility of Central Falls, R.I, revealed that he had been denied treatment and his cancer and fractured spine had been undiagnosed, leading to his agonizing death on August 6, 2008. (Bernstein, Nina).

Thankfully, some changes have already begun to have a positive effect.  Since unaccompanied minors were removed from adult detention centers and switched from DHS (Department of Homeland Security) jurisdiction to that of Health and Human Services, their care has substantially increased and they are being better served.  With Guantanamo Bay closed and the United States human rights record looking better, we must continue to encourage our administration to take positive steps to eradicate human rights abuses within this nation.  Our immigration system must move towards a day when immigrants are not criminals or numbers but people, families, lives, souls.  Please don’t stop at Cuba, Mr. Obama.

Castle Clinton, Then and Now

October 13, 2008

Last week, I heard the best compliment about the United States. Two LLM international law students from Ghana were talking about their lasting impressions of the United States and the University of Minnesota Law School, respectively. Unlike Europe, they both said, no one in the U.S. has ever asked them when they were going to leave.

This could be written off as merely overblown American pride. But it could also be the expression of something much deeper, much more important. Perhaps Brihan and Peter have never been asked about their exit because it is assumed they are here to stay and succeed, like so many other immigrants before them. And although the melting pot is a flawed metaphor, the beauty is that everyone is accepted because everyone is assumed to be striving for the same acceptance, same success, the same happiness.

Yesterday I found myself at Castle Clinton in Battery Park of New York City. Standing inside the circular battlements first designed to ward of the British in the War of 1812, I thought of the new welcome people receive coming to our shores. Since the World Trade Center towers fell just a few blocks from here, America has doubled its Border Patrol agents, tripled its budget, and is spending millions deporting some 250,000 extralegal immigrants every year (http://visalawcanada.blogspot.com/2008/10/interesting-perspective-on-canada-us.html). Lines lengthen on our northern border and nativism heightens on our southern boundary in the form of a border wall. Gone are the orange cones between Vermont and Canada which once designated the border and represented our mutual trust.

In 2001, Tom Ridge was instrumental in passing the Smart Accords, border security measures which simultaneously attempted to curb criminal activity on the border while expediting legitimate economic activity. The idea was to “manage risk” by submitting questionable vehicles to lengthy inspection while speeding daily commuters through on their weekday drive from Detroit to Windsor. Canada even went so far as offering the United States a section of Canadian ground for pre-clearance facilities, to cut down on border wait times. The U.S. government, however, pushed for full sovereignty on Canadian soil, and so this Smart Accords measure has stalled.

Our nation’s economic recession changes nothing in the way of its pull for immigrants. While Americans may feel that the “economic crisis” is being borne hardest by us, this is simply not the truth. Any look at international exchange rates or foreign papers will show the fear and downward plunge of foreign markets. No, this change in economy will not solve our immigration problems any more than a wall will. As Cardinal Roger Mahony of Los Angeles has stated, our country has posted both “Help Wanted” and “No Trespassing” signs – only one of which it is possible for us to change immediately (Heyer, Kristin http://www.americamagazine.org/content/article.cfm?article_id=11117). With hate crimes against Hispanics on the rise 25% since 2004, it is clear that the xenophobia behind the protectionist anti-immigrant sentiments is alive and well. May we learn to welcome the stranger among us.

It is clear that our current frenzy of border security measures has only rerouted undocumented immigration into more dangerous, tougher-to-enforce areas. While apprehensions in San Diego dropped by two-thirds from 1994-2000, the deaths have skied to more than 1,000 since the turn of the century(in contrast, 300 people died attempting to cross the Berlin Wall throughout its entire 28 years of operation). http://www.economist.com/displaystory.cfm?story_id=12332971)

As I turn around, taking in Castle Clinton and the unique view of Ellis Island from its stone archway, I think of the 8 million immigrants who came here before it closed its doors in 1890. My ancestors received basic healthcare exams and a brief orientation within these walls before they were set loose on the Pennsylvania coal mines.

New York is a microcosm of American immigration. Walking its streets once again, I am struck by how seamlessly ambassadors from a veritable league of nations pass each other on the busy avenues. In a quiet Midtown café this morning, the barista saw pesos in my hand as I scrambled to make change. “Could I have that to add to my collection?” And in a simple transaction at a café counter between a Minnesota law student and a Kansas-New Yorker, I am reminded how welcoming and curious we Americans truly are. Hopefully our immigrant policies will reflect that in the next presidency.

Something there is that doesn’t love a Wall, Part 6

July 22, 2008

           Belfast once vied with Dublin for the heart of Ireland.  It was there the Titanic was constructed; it was here C.S. Lewis, the famous Christian apologist and novelist of the Chronicles of Narnia came into the world. 

            After the Troubles started in the 1960s, however, this important port in Northern Ireland took a drastic turn.  The already tense situation of British control of a predominantly Irish city burst into violence by terrorist groups of both sides, the IRA and the UVF.  Beginning in the early 1970s, the first “peace lines” or intra-city barriers were erected in Belfast.

            These walls have increased to more than 40 today, covering over 13 miles and segregating much of this once-thriving city.  Alternately built of steel, iron, and brick, these walls stretch up to 25-feet high and prohibit the movement of people from the Irish-Catholic parts of town to the British-Protestant sections.  Some are open during the day and closed at night; some are manned by police; all were intended to bring “peace” by segregating sectarian groups.  The most famous of these walls runs parallel to Shankill Road, a site of several terrorist attacks.  ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Belfast_Peace_Lines)

            Today, some of the tension has lessened since the Belfast or Good Friday Agreement.  The walls still stand, though, and they draw thousands of tourists a year.  The “peace lines” are still eerie and haunting, stark in the way they divvy up houses and roads, slicing their way through what must have once been a beautiful city.  Unlike the walls of houses, and even unlike the colorful propagandist murals peppering the city, these walls stand ominous and dark against the city skyline.

 

            While some may argue the walls saved a few lives over the years by separating the citizenry of Belfast and Northern Ireland, in reality it was always the cooperation of the people that staved off violence and determined such compromises and peace accords such as the Good Friday Agreement.  The walls had nothing to do with peace, serving instead to segregate people further, reinforce rifts between families, and replace real negotiations and co-habitation talks with solid, uncompromising walls.  It was only when the Irish and the British met without walls and were able to dialogue that any real progress was made in the line of peace.

 

            We in the United States have much to learn from the island of Eire across the Atlantic.  For as much as we hope to bring about “peace” and homeland security by erecting a 700-mile border wall on our southern border as per the Secure Fence Act of 2006, it will never be more than a negative peace. This negative peace, defined by Dr. King as an “absence of tension,” is also an absence of progress, a stultifying of cooperative relationships.  If we further open up the lines of communication with Canada and Mexico rather than erecting walls and militarizing our borders, perhaps the symptoms of extralegal immigration and terrorism will be able to be mutually solved in the Americas rather than in a bubble between Ottawa and Oaxaca.  God forbid that tourists should one day board Black Taxis in Texas, listening as the tour guide speaks about the failed “peace line” of yet another border wall of segregation.  

           

The Inescapable Network of Mutuality

April 28, 2008

¨Bah hua liomh biore.¨  In Irish cities like Galway, this Gaelic expression was the only way to get a pint of the best Guiness you´ve ever tasted.  While British rule in Ireland sought to eradicate all traces of the Gaelic influence on Ireland, this indefatigable culture lives on in the west coast of Ireland in particular.  Despite burning down the churches and razing ruins, despite prohibiting Gaelic teaching in schools and converting Celtic names to their English counterparts, Gaelic is still spoken, though mostly by the old.

Driving through Vigo, the largest city in Gallicia, Spain, I came across ruins that predated the Roman conquest of the Gaels in Spain.  Though little remains of El Castro, this city which once thrived both in the forest and on the bay, it is highly reminiscent of towers and dolmens in Ireland.  Highly aware of this coincidence, I began to notice more telling signs of interconnectedness between northwest Spain and the home of my Celtic forefathers the McCarthys and Burkes and Emmetts.  The distinct language of Gallicia, la lengua de los Gallegos, bears striking similarities to words in Gaelic.  Signs in this part of Spain bear words like ¨Beade¨and ¨Domh¨¨, both words which one is just as likely to find on a Sunday drive through rural Ireland.  The rich and verdant climate of this area makes me speculate that the Gaels felt right at home when they landed on the shores of the land of Eire. 

In Ireland, primary students are required to take Gaelic lessons, in hopes that by inundating the next generation, the Gaelic heritage and culture can be preserved and honored.  Gallicia is going through much of the same dilemmas, since its language was viciously suppressed during the Franco regime and needs to rebound if it is not going to be absolutely absorbed in popular Spanish. 

All of this makes me wax philosophical and grow proud of the indomitable spirit God placed in mankind.  In much the same way John F. Kennedy praised the immigrant spirit to thrive and survive in his book A Nation of Immigrants, I am wowed by the successful movements of people throughout history.  From the eternally migrant Jewish culture which serves as the basis for numerous religions and modern law to the Spanish culture and language which spanned seas and continents, people simply desire an opportunity to use their gifts in the pursuit of happiness.  From the pyramids of Egypt to the same pyramids in Aztex Mexico, to the persistent reoccurrence of flood myths in virtually every culture, immigration is far from a new phenomen which countries are struggling to legislate and control.  Immigration is a constant, and therefore cannot be prohibited but rather controlled so as to benefit the sending country, the receiving country, and the immigrants themselves.  The past successes of migrating peoples bear witness to the possibility of real immigration reform in the United States of America, especially in this age of globalization.

When I return to my classroom of F114 in Simon Rivera High School in Brownsville, Texas, on the southernmost border between two North American countries at peace, I will most assuredly come back with a renewed dedication to devoting my time and efforts to enabling immigrants and guiding the immigration legislation in the United States.  At the same time, I am overjoyed to bring back to my students the long view of immigration history.  When I teach my 7th period class, I cannot wait to tell Ms. Gallegos that her family comes from northernmost Spain, where her ancestors spoke a language closer to my Irish predecessors than her español mexicana.  As I travel back to the place where some legislators misguidedly are pressing for a border wall between two countries separated only by an imaginary line, I hope I will be able to civilly speak reason into the public debate.  Immigration is more than Mexican migrant workers attempting to work cheap labor in U.S. fields, just as it is more than Spanish conquistadores and English Puritans and Italian shoemakers and Irish coal-miners and Pennsylvania Dutch bakers and Polish meat-packers and Scandinavian farmers.  To take a long view of immigration is to understand that the United States need laws which uplift human personality and grant legal status to that spark of the divine which is as omnipresent in the immigrant as the resident hence, now, and forevemore.

¨Mas claro no canta el gallo. The rooster couldn´t sing it any clearer.¨


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