Posts Tagged ‘E.U.’

Hungarian and American Viewpoints on Asylum

June 23, 2009

Meeting with Dr. “Steven” Ordog, the Hungarian Deputy Minister of Immigration, it was fascinating to hear him speak about his country’s reformation of their border patrol, their struggle with integration, and his hopes to make asylum issues more of an important subject in public discourse. [CAT Report]

When Hungary joined the E.U. in 2004, they began the process of dissembling their elite border patrol and transitioning this role to the regular police.  In Hungary, as with many eastern European countries, the Border Patrol had been the crème de la crème, outfitted with the best technology, public acclaim, and pay.  With their new permeable border, Hungary changed its border enforcement to the regular police, much to the dismay of those who had appreciated their power in these much sought-after positions. [For more information, visit: http://europa.eu/abc/european_countries/eu_members/hungary/index_en.htm]

As Dr. Ordog spoke of the problems with the Border Patrols’ treatment of some Somalis and other minorities, it was hauntingly close to home. In his country, these “protectors of the border” were trained to use whatever force necessary and sometimes abused this power, particularly against asylum-seekers.  In Hungary, once asylum-seekers report their asylum claim to the office of immigration, they are protected until the resolution of that claim.  Some members of the Hungarian Border Patrol, however, would patrol the grounds outside this office, picking up asylum-seekers mere meters away from the front door of safety. The Border Patrol praised such action for a time, as it considerably boosted their number of apprehensions and public image.

In the United States, the reverse is true creating similarly perverse incentives.  If an asylum-seeker shows up at a border crossing or a port of entry and asks for asylum, that individual is whisked away to a detention center until their asylum petition is either granted or denied.  This creates the incentive for asylum-seekers to enter the U.S. and keep their asylum petition secret until they have done the requisite research.

Dr. Ordog also spoke about Hungary’s struggle to integrate the Somali and Iraqi refugees in his country.  Traditionally, these resettled refugees have viewed Hungary as a gateway country en route to Scandinavia or other European economies.  As a result, integration services were minimal because these migrants were expected to leave soon.

Ordog worries that insufficient integration mechanisms for the growing number who have decided to stay could spell trouble for Hungary’s future.  Hungary is still largely a native-born, white population, and minorities will undoubtedly struggle to get jobs, learn Hungarian, and find housing.  Racial discrimination is rampant and not explicitly illegal. House showings can turn into racial profiling, and job interviews might turn into status quo screenings.  Although the current number of immigrants to Hungary is scant, Ordog worries that they are ill-prepared for any increase in immigration

As Dr. Ordog spoke, the themes of integration, nativism, and fear of outsiders all rang loud and clear.  Though America certainly deals with more immigrants annually, it is similarly confronted with the quality of its welcome.

The State of Immigration

June 23, 2008

            Around the world, the state of immigration is in a period of flux.  As most countries today have set boundaries and centralized governments, and as technology has facilitated easy communications and travel between once-distant societies, immigration is on the rise and with it, a rise in both pro-migrant and in anti-immigrant sentiments.  The state of immigrants globally ranges from the welcoming economy of Spain and the closed-fist stance of neighboring Italy to the construction of a border wall on America’s southern border and the 11.4 million refugees currently awaiting any country to allow them entry. (New York Times)

            More than 2 million Iraqi refugees have already fled to neighboring countries since the United States led the invasion of their nation in the spring of 2003, while another 2 million have been displaced within their war-torn country (New York Times).  Currently, the State Department is struggling to keep its promise of admitting 12,000 Iraqi refugees by this September 30, allow that would mean more than 6,000 refugees finding homes in the next 3.5 months.  Towns like Rochester, MN, with a population of only 100,000, have been waiting and preparing for months to receive the 60-70 Iraqi refugees which they have been gratefully assigned.  In speaking with a representative of Catholic Charities Refugee Resettlement, it struck me just how enthusiastic she was to be able to extend a warm welcome to these Iraqi refugees, whose homeland is being destroyed by her own home country. 

            Beyond these self-produced immigration patterns caused by our nation’s myriad “conflicts” (read invasions) over the past 40 years including Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Somalia, our nation is simultaneously attempting to address the ongoing issue of illegal migration by erecting a $30-billion border wall.  This Secure Fence was the focus of Time’s most recent cover story, and while the Department of Homeland Security is still attempting to overturn public opposition in Texas in order to complete construction by the end of the year, Time highlighted the fact that the wall is not stopping immigration – it simply changes its form and direction.  While the Border Coalition in the Rio Grande Valley is suing DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff for seizing land unjustly, Stanford historian David Kennedy notes “the difference in per capita income between the U.S. and Mexico is among the greatest cross-border contrasts in the world,” and therefore the push factor of immigration will only be bottled up by a wall rather than stopped.  As residents of on the Texas border currently try to oppose the construction of this last portion of the fence, we as taxpayers and voting citizens must clamor for real immigration reform that addresses the deeper issues of skewed quota systems, the lack of legal paths to earned citizenship, and lopsided international relations.

            In other parts of the world, this same closing of borders is taking place as well, albeit not in the monstrosity of a physical wall.  In Italy, for example, a law was proposed recently by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to make it a felony to enter Italy illegally.  This would jeopardize the thousands of extralegal immigrants currently employed in burgeoning markets such as home health-care for Italy’s aging population.  Berlusconi has not yet heeded the advice of Welfare Minister Maurizio Sacconi who campaigned to legalize some of the 405,000 extralegal residents who filed for adjustment of status last December (New York Times)

            Far from being a lone actor on the global stage, Berlusconi is taking his cues from the E.U.’s shocking new legislation passed last week which would allow extralegals to be detained for as long as 18 months pending deportation.  This shift in philosophy for the European Union is one step closer to dehumanizing immigrants, and paves the way for even more uncompassionate and unjust legislation such as Berlusconi’s recipe for mass arrests.  In the United States, whose extralegal domestic population equals the number of worldwide refugees under the care of the United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees (New York Times), the Supreme Court just ruled that it was illegal for the United States to continue holding detainees as “enemy combatants,” without rights or appeals, as it has done since 9/11 (New York Times).  Today, the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Guantanamo Bay detainee Huzaifa Parhat, hopefully bringing an end to the more than six years he has spent in this prison camp without hope of appeal or habeus corpus.  While it has taken more than six years for the U.S. government to finally amend its unjust policy of detaining individuals without appeals in places like Guantanamo Bay, this has not yet been extended to the dozens of immigrant detention centers cropping up in places like Hutto, Raymondville, Port Isabel, or the Ramsey County Center.  Though Europe’s move to detain immigrants is surely a sad shift, this shift happened years ago in the United States and more centers are being built every year to capitalize on the multi-million dollar industry. 

            Immigration has been occurring ever since Adam and Eve emigrated from that Garden so long ago.  How we choose to integrate our fellow man into our own home bespeaks much about ourselves and the future of our society.  Let us pray the future is not one of walls and prisons, detentions and displaced persons.

United States and Spain Square off on Amnesty

June 12, 2008

Visiting Spain with Rotary International, I was struck by the diametrically different way this country was constructed. In the United States, the basic premise is that if corporations and businesses succeed, then people will likewise be successful. As a result, corporations and big businesses get tax breaks with the idea that it will then trickle down to the general populace. Spain’s laws, however, are organized with a dipolar paradigm, that if people are satisfied then businesses will do well.

I traveled Spain with minimum insurance, knowing full well that if I were sick I would be treated for free because of their socialized health-care system. When asked about their country’s healthcare system and the resulting 50% taxes, every single Spaniard I met voiced the fact that this was the only fair way to do healthcare. Rich businessmen and down-and-out vagrants all said that it was only right to make sure everybody got their basic needs met, irregardless of their income.

Spanish legislation has taken this one step further by providing basic human rights and opportunities to all immigrants, whatever their legal status. Deportation doesn’t exist in Spain; instead, the emphasis is on integration. No country in the world has run more legalization programs than this European Union nation. Just a decade ago, a mere 2% of Spaniards were immigrants. That number has risen to nearly 10%. (New York Times, June 10, 2008)

The marvel is that Spain not only attracts immigrants but also provides for them and their family’s assimilation. Immigrants are provided free health insurance, and in the six legalization programs since 1985, all working immigrants were eligible to become legalized citizens. And the education system has been revamped to integrate these new immigrant families into Spanish society, even though two of the top five sending countries – Romania and Morocco – do not speak Castellano Spanish. ((New York Times, June 10, 2008)

Perhaps even more telling is the government’s rationale for these legalization programs. In the United States, Reagan was decried for his Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 because it provided amnesty to millions of extralegal working citizens. Syndicates and the general populace criticized Reagan by stating that amnesty only encourages more illegal immigration, although this has less to do with amnesty programs and more to do with overly restrictive quotas and demoralizing lottery systems. Spain’s reasons for their six legalization programs were, in part, to ensure that lawbreaking employers were not given a competitive edge. However, the major reason espoused by all government officials is social rather than economic. Jesús Caldera, who was labor minister during one of these legalization programs, stated in the New York Times yesterday that, “If you practice exclusion, you risk the future of your country. You risk terrorism, violence.”

From here in rural Minnesota, there is little I can do to actively oppose the border wall in la frontera, a border wall initially proposed to stop illegal immigration. But I can work to change public opinion, the prevailing nativist rhetoric, and ultimately the antiquated and criminalizing laws which produce illegal immigrants rather than facilitate legal migration. We all can.

The History of the World in America

May 25, 2008

Traveling Europe, one is enmeshed in a profound history reminiscent of Tolkien´s Middle Earth.  The oaks of Gernika which give the Basques shade also survived both world wars and a bloody civil war as well.  The cathedrals like St. Maria´s in Vitoria or the Cathedral in Burgos have endured the changing of styles, religions, plagues, and multiple conquests, and are still being updated and remodeled today.  Murallas, or city walls, have lasted far beyond their initial purpose of staving of the Moors, or the Romans, or the Crusaders, or the Vikings.  Storefronts and house facades have seen a seemingly infinite cycle of businesses, hopes, and dreams flow through their doors.  Traditional music harks back centuries, foods to times immemorable.  One is overwhelmed with the constant reminders of mankind´s propensity for benificence, penchant for creativity, susceptibility to power´s corrupting influence, and ability to endure, endure, endure.

 America makes up for its lack of profound history with its wide open spaces, its distances which both offer hope and anonymity.  This fledgling country has struggled and largely succeeded in creating a rich history in a matter of centuries.  Being young, it still views itself outside of the history of the rest of the world.  Being new, the United States has been able to escape some of the deep-rooted tribal wars, linguistic and cultural disparities, and woeful dictatorships which have shaped so much of the rest of the world.  Being still green, the United States has been able to be progressive and forward thinking at a rate much faster than more established nations in the rest of the world. 

However, in the past few decades, America has seemingly tried to catch up with the rest of the world´s bloody history by becoming the aggressor and instigator in several violent conflicts which have destroyed nations and families while bolstering our military power in a time when nations should be disarming.  Caught up in a global power struggle for economic dominance, we have been unable to ensure all citizens are ensured basic medical care which is standard throughout the E.U. and our neighbor Canada.  The American motto seems to be that if businesses succeed, then people will also succeed.  In Europe, I have lived with the opposite, this philosophy that if people benefit then surely businesses will also prosper by proxy.  And now our xenophobic and nativist sentiments have become so loud that we are already constructing portions of a 700-mile border wall on our nation´s southern border. 

Traveling Europe, it is impossible to ignore how every decision is steeped in history and every choice has far-reaching repercussions.  Haphazard borders have plagued Europe every bit as much as Asia and Africa.  Rigid borders ignore real problems and so also avoid real solutions.  Rather than focusing on renewed diplomacy and meaningful compromise, borders insist that neighboring countries can continue existing despite a gross disparity of wealth, rights, and standard of living just across an imaginary line. 

The permeability of the E.U.’s open borders should be a model of the rest of the world. Though not perfected as yet, the idea of flexible borders legitimizes the basic human propensity and right to migrate.  It has occurred for thousands and thousands of years, from Phoenicians to the Gaels, from Vikings to African tribes, from the Moors to the Hebrews, from the Greeks to the Romans, from the Gauls and the Polynesians to the Huns and the Mongolians, from the Persians and Babylonians to the Egyptians and Europeans.  Humans migrate.  To deny this basic fact by erecting impassable borders or sinister Secure Fences is to design a system which, by definition, must fall because it is contrary to natural law. 

As a teacher, it pains me to think of the billions which have been spent and the billions proposed to be spent on the completion of a border wall touted as a stalling tactic for immigration.  Working with eager ESL students and their families desiring assimiliation, I weep to think of how much those billions of dollars could mean for their integration into modern American society.  For in the end, the history of the world teaches us that it is not conquest but community that matters, integration not destruction, assimilation not annihilation, love and not fear, nonviolence and not violence.  Dr. King warned us that, “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”  I believe MLK would also have extended this apt warning to programs such as anti-immigration tactics like border walls.  Nations which spend more money on separation than integration are bound for disaster.  Countries which hold national security above international community are in a sad state indeed; as Benjamin Franklin wrote, “Anyone who trades liberty for security deserves neither liberty or security.” 

From the banks of the Rio Bravo in Texas to the shores of the Mediterranean Sea in Spain, the whole world is hoping America will learn from history as it continues to write history in this 21st century.  Our legacy is yet unfinished; we still have time to stop such medieval gestures as a border wall and to regain our place as a progressive nation embracing the global community.   

The Differences between Irun and I run…

May 16, 2008

The bay is peaceful, calm.  Fishermen troll both sides of it for merluzza and tuna.  Couples old and young walk the banks of the splashing ocean, taking in the beauty of a sunny afternoon in northern Spain.  Buoys bob, boats float, people talk, couples kiss, and life is as it should be despite the fact that Irun is a border town and the other side of this particular bay is France.

 Seeing people running along the jetties and beachfront sidewalks seems as normal as anchoas (anchovies) or vino tinto here in Pais Vasco. That is, until one thinks about the very different connotations of running here in the borderlands between France and Spain and the highly militarized frontera between Mexico and the United States.  Here, running is a great way to work off late-night tapas or to replace a siesta; in the Rio Grande Valley, however, it can imply that one is guilty of illegal immigration, drug smuggling, or a host of other activities prohibited by either nation´s border governances.  One runs on a sidewalks here in Irun, whereas to run on the southern border of the U.S. means to run on Border Patrol trails and run the risk of having a gun drawn on you or having to show some piece of identification, some sort of explanation.

It wasn´t always this way.  But a few years ago, Texas was alternately a sparsely populated state of Mexico, an independent republic, and then an annexed state in the Union.  The Border Patrol didn´t come into existence until the 1920s, and intense militarization of our nation´s southern border wasn´t realized until the 1990s.  Now however, every person crossing the US-Mexico border is filled with some sort of fear.  For regulars, they worry that if they are stopped and asked to have their car searched, they might not make it to that 8:00 a.m. meeting on time.   For winter Texans, they wonder whether it is legal to purchase cheap medications and transport them across the border.  And Latinos, be they recent immigrants or hand-me-down multigenerationals, are filled with a fear of racial profiling, discrimination, and the trepidation that perhaps they forgot their passport this time. 

It wasn´t always this way.  But a few years ago, France and Spain were at odds.  The ever-wealthy France was continually at odds with a Spain struggling to industrialize and modernize after the repressive Franco regime. The franc perpetually trumped the weak lyra, and the French vacationed on the cheap in every city in Spain.  But, with Spain’s economic rise, immigrant surge, and induction into the European Union, the two countries are coming to an equilibrium.  Brders in the European Union are no longer patrolled, no longer militarized, no longer stigmatized.  Crossing is as easy as walking, driving, jumping, swimming, talking.  It is easy to see the outlandishness of borders when people on both side of the imaginary line speak French and Castellano Spanish, eat seafood and drink wine, wake late and eat even later. 

For some Americans, it is easy to write the E.U. off as being very similar to the United States.  To an outside observer, it might at first seem that the countries of Espana, France, and Romania act very much like Pennsylvania and New York.  However, striking similarities bely the stark differences between these two situations.  In the E.U., countries apply for induction.  Nations maintain most of their autonomy, whereas states in the U.S. are mostly subsidiaries of the Federal government.  Additionally, whereas the United States had but a single civil war some 160 years ago, Europe has been torn by civil conflicts, dictators, marauders, raiders, and world wars for centuries.  Therefore, though the borders with the E.U. act very similarly to states in the U.S., it is no small feat.  The E.U.´s continued success speaks to the power of nonviolence over violence – what no war was ever able to accomplish (peace, mutual benefits, prosperity), the E.U. has been able to produce through diplomacy, compromise, and networking.   

The E.U. is far from perfected, but from where I sit on this side of the Atlantic, the United States could do well to model its North American policies after the European model.  Instead of perpetuating an outdated, self-limiting agreement such as NAFTA, we must rethink and reevaluate our relationships with Canada and Mexico.  The very issue of immigration is a symptom of our failure to properly address relations with our neighbors near and far.  And even though Italy´s restrictive immigration policies are cracking down by raiding Romanian ¨gypsy¨camps while Spain´s liberal immigration policies are humanely allowing extranjeros (literally strangers) a chance of earned citizenship, the E.U. at least is attempting to forge a copartnership where borders are less important than relationships and mutually beneficial arrangements trump xenophobic patriotism. 

Pais Vasco & Northern Ireland – The Triumph of Nonviolence & the Futility of Terror

May 12, 2008

The tree is a gutted stump.  Leafless and hollow, rootless and pale, it’s only apparent purpose seems to be as an up-ended boat, perhaps, or a reminder of the ravages of time.  This old robla, or oak tree, however, symbolizes the home rule of an entire region named Pais Vasco in northern Spain.  In its gnarled trunk and knotty bark is contained the story of terror, hate, rebellion, nonviolence, and diplomacy. 

Much like Northern Ireland had its Troubles, Vasco still has its ETA.  The ETA is a nationalist terrorist group who continues to perpetuate a self-defeating cycle of violence to plead for Vasco’s secession from Spain.  A clear minority, especially in cosmopolitan cities such as Bilbao, the ETA and Northern Ireland’s IRA both have hurt public opinion via their efforts, detracting from the largely successful nonviolent diplomacy of the Belfast Good Friday Agreement or the Vasco home-rule compromise.  Both of these nonviolently reshaped their countries, permitting a peaceful resolution to decades-old problems of colonialism and home-rule rebellions.

The forest here is beautiful and full.  Acorns adorn the ground, just as they surely did in the 10th and 11th centuries when the first Vasque representatives met around an oak tree to discuss commonalities and compromises.  They developed a charter and representatives from each of every town in the region, so that all had a say in collective decisions.  Because of their unique form of democracy, they abolished torture and instituted habeus corpus much earlier than the rest of Europe during the Dark Ages.  Aroun this oak tree in Gernika, the Vasques could gather, despite their regional dialectical differences and provincial distinctions, to dialogue and come to working solutions.

Picasso\'s Guernica

All changed, though, with repression beginning in the late 1800s.  During the Spanish Civil War, the anti-Franco opposition centered in the Vasque region.  On April 26, 1937, Franco’s troops destroyed Gernika, burning it to the ground not because it was a military base or an important port, but because it stood as the heart of the citizenry of Pais Vasco.  Franco wanted to send tremors through the heart of the resistance, and that end he demolished centuries-old cathedrals, leveled familial homes, and destroyed most the meeting hall dating back nine centuries.  The oak tree was obliterated in this intense bombing.

But even violence can be redeemed, even hate can be cured.  Today a new tree grows in the old one’s place, right next to the Meeting Hall where Pais Vasco governs itself with home rule within the constraints of Spain.  Euskara, the official Vasque language which is a unique cross between Romanian and Finnish, is taught in the primarios right alongside Castellano Spanish.  The ETA, with all its bluster and hate, has killed 1000 people in the last 40 years, including a parking lot I used in Santender.  But largely, the people here have developed a workable peace with the rest of Spain and the E.U. 


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