Posts Tagged ‘Hidalgo County’

February 11- Brownsville City Commissioner’s Public Hearing

February 11, 2009

Letter to Brownsville City Commissioners a few hours before February 11′s Public Hearing concerning construction of a “temporary fence” through Brownsville.

Esteemed Commissioners,

I am writing because tonight’s public hearing of the City of Brownsville poses a vital opportunity for you and the “City on the Border by the Sea” to make a statement that walls are no way to secure our nation or remedy a broken immigration system.

I am writing because Obama has only been in office for a few months, and the new Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano is currently evaluating Chertoff’s past efforts and making new plans.

I am writing because la frontera is not just a place but a symbol to the rest of the nation and the world that community exists, that people can cooperate and live peacefully on both sides of the border.

I am writing because in a time of economic crisis it would be criminal to pour more government, state, and local money into a wall that will only exacerbate a situation that needs concerted, bipartisan reform.  I am writing because, should Brownsville cave, El Paso’s appeal to the Supreme Court could be seriously undermined

I am writing because our neighbor Hidalgo County has spent $10-12 million per mile on their levee-border wall compromise, and we all know that such a drain on financial resources at this time would seriously compromise our community.

I am writing because walls divide, walls preclude cooperation, walls are antiquated in a time of globalization, walls have never worked historically, and walls send a message of contention and isolation rather than cooperation and community.

I am writing because tonight, each and every one of you will have a part to play in history.  I am writing because Esther 4:14 was written for today – “For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place and you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this?”

Respectfully,
Matthew Webster

[http://borderwallinthenews.blogspot.com/2009/02/new-brownsville-dhs-contract-no.html]

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall, Part 5

July 21, 2008

Westbank barrier.png

It would one day stretch 436 miles, and is over halfway completed already.  Supporters of this eight-meter-high barrier state that this is the only way to protect civilians from terroism, that it is a matter of national security and homeland security.  Opponents, however, argue that the wall is really a ploy to annex Palestinian lands in the name of the “war on terror,” that it violates international law, preempts status negotiations, and severely limits the lives of those Palestinians living on the border of the barrier. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Israeli_West_Bank_wall#cite_note-humanitarianinfo_Rprt05-37)

While The Jerusalem Post recently stated that the wall might not be finished until 2010, seven years behind schedule, thousands of Jordanians and Israelis are currently living behind the West Bank Barrier.  This wall has already gathered many names around its base, names which are all true and signify its different meanings on both sides.  Israelis alternatively refer to the wall as the “separation wall,” “security fence,” or “anti-terror fence,” intimating their trust and hope that the wall will provide all three of these ends.  Palestinians living just on the other side of this sixty-meter-wide seclusion area have dubbed the barrier the “racial segregation wall” or the “Apartheid Wall.”  A good friend of mine told me stories of those living on both sides of the wall and the daily hardships they faced trying to get to the other side for bread, milk, cheese, education. 

 

The Israeli government has stated that, “An absolute halt in terrorist activities has been noticed in the West Bank areas where the fence has been constructed,” though many experts claim that the increased number of Israeli intelligence operations against terrorist groups has actually precipitated the decrease in attacks.  The U.N.’s 2005 report states,

it is difficult to overstate the humanitarian impact of the Barrier. The route inside the West Bank severs communities, people’s access to services, livelihoods and religious and cultural amenities. In addition, plans for the Barrier’s exact route and crossing points through it are often not fully revealed until days before construction commences. This has led to considerable anxiety amongst Palestinians about how their future lives will be impacted…The land between the Barrier and the Green Line constitutes some of the most fertile in the West Bank. It is currently the home for 49,400 West Bank Palestinians living in 38 villages and towns. (http://www.humanitarianinfo.org/opt/docs/UN/OCHA/OCHABarRprt05_Full.pdf, emphasis added)

Palestinians who have lived on this land for generations now must re-register if they are to remain in their homes and continue with life as they know it.  By May 2004, the fence construction had already destroyed over 100,000 Palestinian olive and citrus trees, 75 acres of greenhouses and more than 20 miles of irrigation. Many physicians and human rights groups such as Médecins du Monde, the Palestinian Red Crescent Society and Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, have all highlighted that the wall makes healthcare much harder for individuals living on the wrong side.  Upwards of 130,000 Palestinian children will be prevented from receiving immunizations, and more than 100,000 high-risk pregnancies will be re-routed away from nearby medical facilities in Israel.  Groups such as the Red Cross decry the wall as in violation of the Geneva Conventions, and groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch take offense at the way the land was obtained and the routing of the wall through important population centers.  

 

In 2004, the World Council of Churches released a statement calling for Israel to halt and reverse construction of the wall and to begin to right their numerable human rights violations against Palestinians.  President Bush in 2003 said, ““I think the wall is a problem…It is very difficult to develop confidence between the Palestinians and Israel with a wall snaking through the West Bank.”  Bush reiterated this in 2005, months before the Secure Fence Act of 2006 was passed in his own country.

 

Residents on the North and South Banks of the Rio Grande are thinking the same thing on this July 21, 2008.  As the wall approaches its supposed ground-breaking this week, the men and women on both sides of the border tremble at its assured repercussions.  They must be looking at their patch of the river with renewed love for its water, its mesquite tree banks, its children diving from the mud-caked walls on either side, its fish, its serenity.  Residents on the North Bank are being offered paltry cheques form the federal government in the realm of $10-20,000, and although this may be the face value of these homes in some of the poorest parts of our nation, none of these people will be able to replace their home and their lives with a check the size of a used F-150.  Mexicans must be looking north where the wall is intended and then looking out to sea, where a hurricane is developing right now in the Gulf of Mexico; they must surely be wondering what a wall and levee in violation of international accords will do to their flood-level during the upcoming hurricane seasons.  The thousands of winter Texans, eco-tourists, struggling grapefruit farmers, AMFEL mechanics, maquilladora factory workers, migrant laborers, Border Patrol agents, coyotes, Americalmosts, English-as-a-Second-Language students, first-generation immigrants, multi-generational land grand families – all of them must be wondering now, as we all should, whether so-called preventitive measures in the name of national security can ever be justified in the light of so many certain drawbacks.  Should the wall go up in Hidalgo County this week, and should it spread its concrete tendrils up and down the Rio Grande, our entire nation will mourn the loss of land, Nature, livelihood and life that this 700-mile border wall already has come to represent in California and Arizona.   May the people of the West Bank pray five times a day for the Mexican-Americans on the North Bank, and may we Americans also work towards a wall without walls in Palestine and Israel as well as in our own land. 

From Postville to Hidalgo to Beijing- The Olympian Effects of Immigrants and Walls

July 19, 2008

Hidalgo County has seen contractors already readying the earth-moving equipment needed to construct their portion of a the border wall as early as July 21.  While officials have dodged specifics and Hidalgo County officials emphasize the fact that this cement structure is actually just an addition to strengthen the levees in need of serious repair,  local residents are chilled to see the giant bulldozers, pipes, and CATs which are planned to tear up their backyards in the coming days of summer.  (Leatherman, Jackie)

This past week also saw the controversial news of court interpreter Dr. Camayd-Freixas penning an essay about what he witnessed during the court proceedings following the recent Agriprocessors raid in Postville, Iowa, on May 12, 2008.  This ICE raid, the largest in its history, involved over 900 agents and put nearly 400 extralegal workers on trial for their work in the largest kosher meat-packing plant in the nation.  While Agriprocessors was merely fined and sternly reprimanded, the lives of these Guatemalan immigrants and the town which had become their home have been gutted by the legal proceedings that imprisoned more than 260 of them for 5 months.  Detained for weeks in a converted cattle-ground holding house called the National Cattle Congress, paraded into court in handcuffs, shackles, and chains, these immigrants with Mayan last names listened tearfully to the Spanish interpretation of what had already been decided in the court well in advance of the raid.  Rather than simply deporting these workers who were lured here under false promises of well-paid work and future citizenship, these hard-working immigrants now must sit in county jails with charges of aggravated identity theft and Social Security fraud as their families scramble to make ends meet without these principal breadwinners.  (“The Shame of Postville, Iowa”)

Postville, IA, once a town of 2,273, has lost more than 1/3 of its community in the month since the terrifying raid.  ICE timed the raid before the end of the school year, when some migrant workers would have returned to their homes, and as a result the end of the school year saw Latino students legal and extralegal terrified to go to school.  3 of 15 high-school students showed up for school the week after the raid, while 120 out of 260 students in the elementary and middle school were missing.  The schools’ principal actually rode around town on a school bus, coaxing and cajoling these students to come to school, assuring them that ICE cannot raid a public school because of Peter Schey’s landmark case in the 1980s; 50 of them would not be convinced. American children were having nightmares that their parents would be similarly deported or jailed.  (Camayd-Freixas)

Dr. Camayd-Freixas broke ranks with the “unbiased” legal interpreters by publishing his reflections and observations of this humanitarian disaster.  He was moved to write as he saw immigrants begging in their native language to be deported quickly.  He was moved as he listened to the weeping of fathers who had walked a month and ten days before finally crossing the Rio Grande.  He was moved to hear of families who had journeyed here only to work for a year or two in hopes of saving enough money to survive in Latin America, a desire that could have been legitimized if only temporary work permits were legislated instead of Secure Fence Acts.  These men and women waived their 5th amendment rights to trial by jury in hopes of a “fast-tracked” deportation five months later, despite the fact that they had used false papers not for unlawful activity or felonious actions but rather for seeking a living wage. (Camayd-Freixas)  In this New Era of ICE operations, a new government agency which grew 10% last year and is readying itself for many more of these raids in the name of the War on Terror, every small town must cringe in fear whether it has extralegals living within its borders or not;  terror terrifies indiscriminately.

 

As a border wall is being prepared for the Texas-Mexico border and as future ICE raids are being formulated based on the “success” of the Postville sting, the Beijing Olympics are about to begin.  The United States will boast its largest number of immigrant athletes since these statistics were kept.  These 33 immigrants will represent the United States and surely bring pride to red-blooded Americans as they stand on podiums to hear their new national anthem.  We can all be proud of the four Chinese-Americans representing us in table-tennis, or the Polish-American kayaker, or the Russian-American gymnast Nastia Liukin, or the New Zealand immigrant triathlete.  All of us will hold our breath in August as we watch the men’s 1500-meter squad of immigrants; Kenyan-American Bernard Lagat will run alongside the Sudanese “lost boy” Lopez Lomong and Mexican laborer’s son Leo Manzano who only recently got his citizenship in 2004.  We can all be proud of these new Americans, but we must also take a hard look at our nation’s policies which simultaneously champion a few token immigrants while terrorizing others and making the immigration process both dehumanizing and virtually impossible for so many (Wilson, Duff and Andrew Lehren)  As I watch the Summer Olympics, it will be tough for me to think of China’s human rights violations which have caused protests throughout much of the free world; I will be too busy crying as I watch American immigrants bask in their one day of glory, saving up these precious memories for four more years and for all the immigrants who will never receive acclaim and recognition for the work they do to make our country what it is.

The Supreme Court on Alaska & Texas

June 26, 2008

This week, the Supreme Court of the United States both rewrote history and chartered a brave new future for our nation.  Yesterday, the Supreme Court reduced the $5 billion damages against Exxon Mobil from the 1989 Exxon-Valdez oil spill to a measly $500 million, setting precedent for future damage cases of being a one-to-one ration.  This catastrophic 11,000,000-gallon spill in Alaska damaged 1300 miles of shoreline and killed hundreds of thousands of sea animals; Wednesday’s decision downplays this accident, one which spurred a host of increasingly stringent environmental regulations on the oil industry, by slashing its price tag presumably because of the “oil crisis.” (Liptak, Adam. New York Times, April 26, 2008)

 

            Also, this Monday Supreme Court Justices voted with the White House in allowing the appointed Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff to waive any and all environmental laws.  By refusing to hear the case brought by the Defenders of Wildlife and the Sierra Club concerning a stretch of fence in the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area in Arizona, the Supreme Court was condoning and endorsing the Executive Branch’s ability and right to disregard local, state, and environmental laws, many of which were instated by the Legislative Branch.  To residents on the border in towns like Brownsville and nearby Hidalgo County, this decision from Washington damages a last remaining hope that the breakneck construction of a hasty border fence could be stopped legally.  Representative Bennie Thompson, who supported the challenges to Chertoff’s authority, said, “I am extremely disappointed in the court’s decision” because it is a distraction from “the real issue: their lack of a comprehensive border security plan.” (Stout, David. New York Times, April 24, 2008)

           

            In one week, the Supreme Court chartered a new direction for American history, one that seemingly ignores environmental caution in lieu of situational expediency.  In downplaying the significance of the Exxon Valdez spill by discounting its impact on both human and environmental conditions, the Supreme Court placed the needs of corporations and businesses above those of resources and humans.  Similarly, by refusing to hear the Defenders of Wildlife case, the Supreme Court has lent its unashamed support for Homeland Security’s environmentally devastating, socially disrupting, and ultimately futile attempt to thwart illegal immigration, drug trafficking, and terrorism simply by building an 18-foot wall along 700 miles of our nation’s southern border.  As voting citizens and as concerned social activists, we must be prepared for future “panaceas” like the Secure Fence Act of 2006 and the Real ID Act, “panaceas” which cure all of our problems merely at the cost of our democratic freedom. 

Leaving Borders

June 9, 2008

In Irun, the small town on the Spanish border with Spain, there has long been a border culture. During their revolutions and civil wars, residents of both countries traversed the imaginary line separating these two lands. A complex culture of smuggling developed, as in most border towns. People, goods, drugs- the rules of supply and demand are never bound by borders, however much governments might like to believe. While in Irun, I was told a story of a man who crossed and recrossed the border every day on his bicycle. The border patrol agents checked and rechecked this man, suspecting that he was transporting some contraband. Never once in the twenty years did they realize he was riding to France on an old bike and returning with a brand new model.

These sort of trickster stories, and the border culture they exhibit, have been made irrelevant by the erasure of borders in the European Union. America’s border with Mexico, though, must be creating hundreds of thousands of tricksters with the increasing militarization of la frontera and the constantly impending border wall now scheduled in Hidalgo County for July.

Driving out of the Rio Grande Valley on either 77 or 83, the only two evacuation routes, one encounters a military checkpoint complete with automatic weapons, drug-sniffing dogs, patrol cars, and heaps of bureaucracy. As I wait in line, my car packed to the hilt with all my earthly possessions, I contemplate that this is one of the many signs that the Rio Grande Valley is considered outside the mainlaind United States. Brownsville, the poorest city in the United States, is left below this second border in a no-man’s land, left to fend for itself. In fact, the talk of the town last week was that the United States Border Patrol was going to be checking the residency status of individuals during hurricane evacuations (Brownsville Herald) . That its citizenry must be questioned and searched before entering the rest of the continental U.S. is a stunning assumption of criminality. When it is my turn with the Border Patrol agents, I am waved along because of my white skin and American accent.

Tacitus once wrote in his Annals, “Once we suffered from our vices; today we suffer from our laws.” Indeed, unjust laws create criminals out of upstanding individuals, and in no area of legislation is this more true than immigration. Extralegal immigrants, many of whom came to the United States legally, are punished by our current law primarily for doing precisely the actions for which we praise our citizenry. The motivation of the majority of immigrants is religious freedom, economic opportunity, family safety, education, freedom of speech, liberty – how can an antiquated quota system cause some to be punished for acting on these principles and others to be praised?

As I drive north, farther and farther away from the Rio Grande Valley I’ve called home for the past two years, I pass the fertile hills of Kansas and the wide expanses of open grazing in Oklahoma and the lush fields of Iowa. I look at these natural wonders and think of how blessed I am to live in this land, and how attractive this must be to people receiving less than 8x the income we enjoy in our prosperous nation. I look at this massive farmland and know that extralegal immigrants know this land far better than I will ever understand; without them, many of these fields would lie fallow, so many of our meals would remain uncooked, so many houses would never be built, so many ideas never imparted, so many languages never added to the multiplicity of cultures here in the United States. Driving through the natural beauty along Highway 35, it is easy to see that natural law and constructed law clash when it comes to the issue of immigration in these United States. If we will only take a good look at our country and realize just how blessed we are, we would be more understanding of people desirous of migrating here. If we would only appreciate the perspectives and culture and language and talents that immigrants always bring, we would see extralegal and legal immigrants as the assets they are. If Spanish were not viewed as a language subservient to English, then perhaps we could learn from the Spanish immigration system as well as from Mexican and Latin-American immigrants themselves. As I leave the border region where the “rights” and “wrongs” of immigration laws are as muddy as the Rio Bravo and as I head north to study immigration law at the University of Minnesota this coming fall, I realize that I will never leave the border because the border is not a place on a map but a place in people’s hearts. In telling stories about the good people of la frontera and in studying the laws of immigration, I hope to turn the borders of American hearts into E.U. borders instead of the walled border in California and Arizona.

The Closing of the American Mind

June 1, 2008

No one in Spain could believe that the United States was going to build a border wall between itself and its southern neighbor, in fact had already built and rebuilt portions of wall in Arizona and California. Most of them felt bad for Americans, thinking we had been swindled by a President dead-set on sending men to war. Most of them felt excited with us for our gripping primaries, elections which had gotten Americans to care once more about politics. But none of them could understand why Americans would allow, and even clamor for, a border wall.

While Cameron County still is debating the necessity of a border wall, Hidalgo County is pushing ahead with plans for a levee-wall compromise, slated to begin July 25 and be completed by the end of the year. Homeland Security is paying $88 million for construction of the wall, while Hidalgo is going to pay $65 million to repair the levee (a federal responsibility). After the construction, Hidalgo County will seek reimbursement from the State while also attempting to convince other counties to make a similar compromise. (http://www.brownsvilleherald.com/news/slated_87157___article.html/border_wall.html)

No one in Spain could fathom the outlandishness of a wall. When shown pictures of sister cities like Brownsville-Matamoros, they were aghast that a wall was going to be built to reinforce the “natural barrier” of the Rio Bravo and reinforce the feelings of resentment and/or racism between these two countries at peace.

As Hidalgo readies for the wall after July 4th, the rest of the world will be watching the effects of the hurricane on the border region. Little consideration has been given to the international repercussions of a wall and levee on only one side of the river. If Mexico fails to respond with a similar levee reconstruction project, the streets of Nuevo Laredo and Juarez and Matamoros will be swimming in hurricane rain at the end of every summer. The wall has been rushed, however, and so qualms about international laws and cooperation have been ignored in favor of expediting the process.

During hurricane season, the nation will also be focused on the Rio Grande Valley for another reason. When the calls for evacuation are made, hundreds of thousands of people are going to hesitate to leave their homes. Not because of stubbornness, not because of ignorance, not because of inability- no, hundreds of thousands of immigrants will not evacuate the Valley this year and in years to come because the Border Patrol has stated that it will be checking the immigration status of fleeing families. (http://www.brownsvilleherald.com/news/people_86708___article.html/cascos_hurricane.html)

The world must shudder when it hears of such inhuman, unfeeling policies. Surely, the Spaniards I met in Gallicia and Cantabria would have blanched to know about the dehumanizing, fear-inducing checkpoints 50 miles north of the Rio Grande, a militarized line which marks the northernmost progression of so many extralegal or currently legalizing immigrants. Undoubtedly, the Spaniards in Castelleon and Catalunia would be indignant to think that another Hurricane Katrina might hit South Texas any year, and that thousands and thousands of people might die or be injured because of their greater fear of deportation.

Having traveled Spain for a month, I quickly realized as I talked about my home in southern Texas that the United States is in a terrible state of closing itself off to the rest of the world. Not that this has made it an isolationist in terms of military endeavors; in all positive meanings of the word “open,” however, the United States has ceased to work at diplomacy and mutual understanding. A border wall is a continuation of restrictive immigration policies which flatly say “No” to millions of willing workers every year. Immigration checks during hurricane season are in the same dastardly vein as checking library records and phone conversations of “suspected yet not convicted” terrorists. Child detention centers such as Hutto near Houston, Texas, are merely a continuation of Guantanamo Bay, waiving habeus corpus and countless humanitarian laws in the name of justice.

The whole world looks at the United States as we decide the future of our nation today. Can we afford to wall off our allies, the best the world has to offer, the solutions of tomorrow which perhaps are being formulated in some foreign land? Are we going to turn away willing workers from countries which lack sufficient quota numbers, and are we going to leave future generations of immigrants to a lottery system? And are we going to operate out of fear, fear of others, fear of ourselves, fear of foreigners and fear of Spanish, fear of change and fear of the future, fear of the globalization we have been instrumental in producing, fear of open lines of communication, and fear of real compromise? The whole world looks at Texas right now as a symbol of the United States’ resolve for tomorrow, and Valley residents pray that the U.S. is not compromised by the events of this year.

The Legal Outlook on the Border Wall

March 19, 2008

    The Rendon family owns a small house in the tiny border community of Granjeno. The matriarch of the family remembers the 30 years her husband worked on the levees just behind their house. She motions with her hand, pointing over the head of her daughter. “But they haven’t done anything on the levees since he died. The real thing we’re scared about is flooding, not immigrants.”

    The families grouped around the Los Ebanos ferry have no idea when or where the government surveyors might becoming. This community, formed around the only hand-pulled ferry on any international border of the U.S., is pulling together in hopes of legally opposing a wall which would cut through the land of families like Daniel Garza, a retired migrant worker who would see his home cut in half. As the Texas Observer article “Holes in the Wall” stated on February 22, 2008, “I don’t see why they have to destroy my home, my land, and let the wall end there.” He points across the street to Hunt’s land. “How will that stop illegal immigration?” (http://www.texasobserver.org/article.php?aid=2688)

    These same questions are being asked all over the Rio Grande Valley “sector” of the proposed implementation of the Secure Fence Act of 2006. Landowner 72-year-old UTB Professor Eloisa Tamez started the fight against the federal government with her 2-month court case argued by the famous lawyer Peter Shey. While not a complete victory, Judge Hanen’s ruling on her case did stipulate that further “land grabs” would have to be adequately negotiated with residents. (http://www.thenation.com/doc/20080324/story)

    This past Monday, several more concerned parties from Hidalgo and Starr Counties went to court, including the Rio Grande City school district and Hidalgo Economic Development Corp. The way their court cases are settled could prove a turning point in the public’s opposition to a patchy 370-mile border wall proposal in southern Texas. (http://www.brownsvilleherald.com/news/hidalgo_85227___article.html/border_fence.html)

    Brought to light by the Texas Observer and personal conversations with landowners, the injustice of the Secure Fence Act of 2006 seems to grow by the day. Clearly, lawmakers cannot believe that this $49 billion dollar wall will stop immigration, drug smuggling, or terrorism, since they are not campaigning for a complete wall. In every single public statement, their aim has been to deter these three issues; however, $49 billion could be spent on much more positive deterrents.

        The injustice of this legislation is compounded when one walks from Ranchito to Brownsville past the Riverbend Resort, only to discover that this golf-course community has no wall planned in its future. The injustice becomes obscene when one goes to the official Environmental Impact Statement release event to find that the English version is the size of a 600-page phone book while the Spanish version, the native language of most border residents of the Rio Grande Valley, is under 100 pages and without any pull-out maps. Further injustice can be seen in the government “waivers” which have proliferated in the past weeks. Some residents of El Calaboz were given blank documents to sign which gave complete government access to their land. Additionally, groups like the Mennonite Brethren Church, which was on the docket to be sued this past January 31, did not go through the proper chain of command when some concerned parishioners met with government agents and “fixed the problem” by granting unconditional access to their land.

    Our nation’s conscience must wake to the fact that injustice is being done on our very nation’s borderlands. Our dispute is not with the Riverbend Resorts or the Hunt family’s Sharyland Plantations which curiously escape the Secure Fence Act – no, our case must be with a government which would cease the homes of the poor, take advantage of the disenfranchised, irrevocably mar the environmental lands it has spent millions of dollars preserving, and consign the poorest counties and poorest cities in these United States to the bleak economic future of a wall. Please meet this system of injustice with the full force of love – please write your senator and congressman about working toward a moratorium on or an end to the Secure Fence Act of 2006. Here in Texas, both Senators John Cornyn and Kay Bailey Hutchison voted for the border wall, and Representative Henry Bonilla. For a complete listing to see how your elected officials voted on this act, please visit the Washington Post at: http://projects.washingtonpost.com/congress/109/house/2/votes/446/ Do not wait for this next batch of court cases to be decided – do something now. We are the ones we have been waiting for.

No Border Wall Walk- Day 6 or the Day of Reflection

March 13, 2008

   No Border Wall Walk- Day 6 at Santa Anna Refuge

    I was confronted with our reasons for the No Border Wall Walk yesterday when Javier asked me to ride his pride-and-joy bicycle for him. It was a gorgeous day on the tranquil Rio Grande, and for a minute, I couldn’t imagine why he would ask me to ride his prized possession. His simple answer – La migra.”

    Whether Javier was illegal or not was not the question; the simple fact remains that our U.S. immigration policies would pounce on a Mexican-American man riding his bike on the levee, while the U.S. Border Patrol and the legislation they represent smiled at me as I ride recklessly with my Canadian tie flapping and Hecho en Mexico belt buckle tapping on my Border Ambassador button.

    Today was a long Thursday. March 13 was the day which made us reflect and ask ourselves why. Our walk was the smallest it has ever been today, but it was also more focused and more determined than ever. Leaving the beautiful Saint Francis Cabrini Church and heading out on Highway 281, the wind was full in our faces and the going was hard and long. We walked 17 miles, far and away our longest day. En route to Progreso, we passed fertile Valley farmlands which would be dissected with Hidalgo County’s border-levee wall compromise. Rows and rows of onions cresting the tilled soil, walls and walls of sugar cane bordering this byway, patches and patches of cabbage – a border wall would mean that produce on this side of the levee would be American, the rest would be hecho en Mexico. This is the land we are campaigning to save; today reminded us once more of this beautiful borderland.

    People once again showed that they are looking for ways to utilize their potential for positive actions. At our nadir of the afternoon, just as we had ceased singing carefree songs and our spirits were sagging, a car pulled over on the side of the road. All 6 women got out of the tiny car. Their green shirts said they were from Father Albert; their gifts of water and kind words proved they were angels. Apparently Father Albert and his parishioners are not content to house us only on Friday night and Saturday night, but also felt compelled to meet us along the way and inspire our sore soles.

 No Border Wall Walk- Day 6 with Father Albert’s Angels from Sacred Heart Church in Las Rusias

    The high point of the day came right after this water break. Marching on to Progreso, we soon passed an onion field in harvest. Mexican men and women were working the rows, bringing the white bulbs to light with a hoe before bending tired backs to lift them into a crate. We sang as we walked by, singing “No al muro, la frontera cuenta! NO Border wall, the border matters!” The field-hands were quizzical at first, stopping their work to see what we were about. The small group, already energized by this point, began dancing and singing “Ven con nosotros, ven con nosotros, a la Progreso a las seis! Come with us now, come with us now, to Progreso at 6:00” to the tune of “La Cucaracha.” Now they were listening. My heart leaped to see an older woman in a red workshirt begin dancing despite the oppressive heat and her back-breaking work. This is our why…

    Walking alongside my idealistic brothers and sisters who are testing their ideals in the fire of nonviolent direct action, I am struck by their tricky situation and exploited work. Our country needs more than a wall; it needs immigration laws which gets rid of quota systems, rework the current rubric for refugee status , the DREAM Act which could give students the opportunity to follow their educational dreams, and gives the 12 million or so extralegal residents some way to move toward legal citizenship.

    Our country does not illegal immigrants. These men and women in the fields should definitely be working – but they should be given real means to acquiring citizenship. We do not want illegal immigrants who are without rights, without hope, without help – we do need more legal immigrants who can participate fully in society. Immigration, which is the primary basis of our opposition to the borer wall, is the civil rights issue of the 21st century. Our country has 12 million extralegal workers living and contributing to our GDP, and at least twice as many people who depend on their working power and hope to keep the extralegal residents “illegal.” We must come to a point as a nation that we see people as assets and not liabilities – that will be the day we finally take the necessary bold step forward and begin to seriously diminish the amount of “illegals” in our country while increasing the number of legal immigrants.

    The night ended at Smokin’ Joe’s Barbeque, a tasty little bbq shack on 281. This establishment had Border Ambassador buttons and posters all over, and they treated us to juicy brisket, delumptuous ribs, and rich turkey legs. Beneath their awning live oak trees, we spoke once more about why we were walking along the proposed trajectory of such a wall. The levee-wall compromise intended for this section of Hidalgo County is less a levee and more an 18-foot concrete wall with sloping earth on the American side and sheer cliff on the Mexican side. The marchers on this walk take issue with the nomenclature of such a “compromise.”

    “They call it a levee because it ‘sheds water,’” Elizabeth Stephens said. “Walls shed water too, and so do raincoats.” The only real difference between a levee-wall compromise and a full-scale border wall is that it will look more aesthetic to American passersby. It would still send the same message of distrust, the same message of flippancy for environmental refuges, We were reminded that it is the express point of this march to counter this message of violence with a positive message. By walking along the border and having seen the connectedness of each town with its neighbor cities stateside and in Mexico, we must be continuously involved in re-educating the people en la frontera and in the rest of the world.

    After a long day of walking in the brutal Texas sun, I remember that I am walking to show my students the difference between Pancho Villa and Cesar Chavez. I remember that I am walking because this is the way adults civilly disagree. I remember I am walking because I love the glimmer of river that would be outsourced to Mexico, the refuges which have taken 20 years to conserve and protect but only months to override. I am marching because bills like the Grijalva Bill could begin to restore some sense and morality to the proceedings here on the border. I remember I am here to be “voice for the voiceless;” I am here because the Environmental Impact Statement for the Border Wall was close to 600 pages in English and under 100 pages in Spanish. I remember we are walking to unite communities, educate individuals, and highlight humanity. I remember now – Javier, George, Michael, Jay, John, Kiel, Roberto – we are all assets.

No Border Wall Walk- Day 3 or Overcoming Fear

March 10, 2008

No Border Wall Walk- Day 3 Ebanos Entry
The motto of this march, of all nonviolent demonstrations in fact, can be summed up with my favorite Bible verse: “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear..” (1 John 4:18 KJV)

The third day of the No Border Wall Walk, March 10, it became very clear that we are in a struggle with fear. As people who have decided to sacrifice spring break to walk 120 miles, all of us have had to overcome the fear of being ridiculed, the fear of not being strong enough or of giving up 9 days of relaxation at nearby South Padre Island, the fear of sacrificing and having no impact, the fear of being ignored. We have had to overcome the fear of sacrificing time, but we have all come to agree with Cesar Chavez that, “the rich may have money, but the poor have time.” We are fighting fear with our sacrifice of time.

As we walk, we hear thousands of honks a day. Those honks are truly uplifting as we trek along Highway 83, but if each of those families in their cars would get out and walk with us for merely a mile, there would be a moratorium on the border wall in weeks. If everyone on every border would raise their voice and put feet to street, we would get real immigration reform and not destructive distractions like the Secure Fence Act of 2006. We are in direct opposition to fear.

Flyering the community of Los Ebanos trying to give them information about free legal aid, we saw the fear on their faces and in their eyes. So many people are afraid because they have no idea of their rights, no concept of their ability to nonviolently demonstrate and change reality. The fear could be seen from the dogs to the tired houses along el rio. We are fighting fear. We are fighting fear at this, the only hand-pulled ferry on any international border, this Los Ebanos ferry which stands as a monument to mankind’s “We can” and a testament to the human capacity to use our hands in creating community and reaching across divides.

No Border Wall Walk- Day 3

And the purveyors of this legislation, legislation which avoids the real issue of comprehensive, compassionate immigration reform, are also acting out of fear. The wall would be violence, in its very nature of division and disrespect, and all violence is based out of primal fear. How interesting it is that society today posits violence as the strong, the powerful, the courageous, the path to victory. On the tragic death of JFK, King wrote we are all guilty,

By our silence, by our willingness to compromise principle by allowing our movie and television screens to teach our children that the hero is one who masters the art of shooting and the techniques of killing, by allowing all these developments, we have created an atmosphere in which violence and hatred have become popular pastimes” (Martin Luther King Autobiography 237).

All officials involved in the passing of the Secure Fence Act of 2006, including both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama who voted for it, were acting out of fear – fear of being labeled “weak” on immigration or national security, despite the fact that the wall would admittedly, at best, merely deter such issues. We are fighting fear in ourselves and others; enemies are only friends who don’t know it yet, who aren’t yet acting out of love rather than fear. We are at war with fear.

And so we walk en contra miedo, against fear. On our walk from the gracious hospitality of Holy Family Catholic Church in La Grulla to our warm reception at Our Lady Queen of Angels Church in La Joya, we were joined by 8 primary and secondary school students from local schools. These girls, ranging from 7-16, walked with a courage that inspired all our tired feet to keep on truckin’. We sang classic and original marching songs and these girls, all in ROTC, amended some of their marching tunes to fit the cause. Their fearlessness in the face of speeding semi-trucks, a strong headwind, and 14 miles of black-top walking was a victory over fear. Kids in vans stuck their heads and hands to the windows, wishing they could join us. If only we can continue to show each passerby the efficacy and power of nonviolent resistance, everyone in this Valley will be able to face fears in ourselves and others.

Today also saw the media arrive in droves. The first two days saw just a few media press conferences, but today we had the opportunity to voice this all-important message to Valley television stations like Channel 4, Spanish-speaking television stations like Univision, and papers like the Rio Grande Guardian and The Dallas Morning News. Seeing our younger walkers handle themselves with the maturity of time-hardened nonviolent activists was astounding. They voiced the human element with grace, stating, “This whole Valley is interconnected” and “I don’t want to see kids separated from their moms.”

Between this invigorating youthful energy and the excitement of this media frenzy, we made great time and finished the 14 miles in about six hours. Our lunch was provided by a Lucio Middle School teacher Rosie Perez and her daughter. Home-cooked dinner was graciously provided by the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Hidalgo County, while a lavish spread of snacks was donated by Our Lady Queen of Angels. We had a police escort from La Joya, and they delivered us right to City Hall. We passed white cranes in the fields, horses which heartily whinnied “Nay” to the wall. We floated on the only hand-pulled ferry on a U.S. boundary at Los Ebanos, where we saw a man back-stroke back to Mexico on an inner tube. What place does fear have among such acts of love and positive support?

Martin Luther King, Jr. said

“In Connor’s Birmingham, the silent password was fear. It was a fear not only on the part of the black oppressed, but also in the hearts of the white oppressors. Certainly Birmingham had its white moderates who disapproved of Bull Connor’s tactics. Certainly Birmingham had its decent white citizens who privately deplored the maltreatment of Negroes. But they remained publicly silent. It was a silence born of fear – fear of social, political, and economic reprisals. The ultimate tragedy of Birmingham was not the brutality of the bad people, but the silence of the good people” (Martin Luther King Jr. Autobiography 172-3 emphasis added).

Dr. King also said that we never need a negative peace, which is simply an absence of violence, but a positive peace. Through this No Border Wall Walk, all people and organizations involved are striving for a positive peace, which is the presence of love in both the means and the ends. Walking through these communities it is impossible not to love the people, the small ranch towns, the scrub-brush fields of los ebanos and mesquite trees, the hand-pulled ferries which scoot across a shifting, tenuous border. We are nonviolently advocating for this place, trying to vocalize the humanity of these communities which will be directly impacted by a border wall and would immediately benefit from the real immigration reform it has so far displaced.

The Border Ambassadors and I invite you to fight fear wherever you may be today. Whether that may be reminding people that the border wall will go through irreplaceable wildlife refuges not deserts, or whether that is writing your senators or calling Presidential candidates, please overcome the fears you may have or the fears you may recognize in those around you. Whether you choose to overcome the fear of walking in the sun for 7 hours a day or if you openly oppose the xenophobic fears of nativists at your school or workplace, please step out and create a positive peace wherever you are. Love is casting out fear down here in the Valley – join us with your prayers, support, donations, or your presence.

Presidents on Immigration – Past, Present, Future

February 17, 2008

    On this President’s Day, let us recall our long and storied past Presidential stances on immigration. The Fourteenth Amendment of 1868, which codified national citizenship policy for “all persons born or naturalized in the United States and of the State wherein they reside,” has allowed many immigrant children to live with rights for which their parents must win the “lottery” (quota system). Countless children I teach each day have the Fourteenth Amendment to thank for their status in Brownsville, Texas. President Andrew Johnson dragged his heels against this and all the other Civil Rights Bills, much to his Republican party’s dismay; however, the bills were passed and continue to stand as some of the most important immigration legislation today.

    The literacy test, which was first introduced in 1895 by Henry Cabot Lodge and which took twenty-two years to finally pass, was vetoed by a myriad of presidents such as Grover Cleveland, Woodrow Wilson, and William Howard Taft. Cleveland’s reason for the veto was that the terrific growth of the United States up until 1897 was “largely due to the assimilation and thrift of millions of sturdy and patriotic adopted citizens” (Roger Daniels’ Coming to America, 277) He also declared that immigrants of the not-so-distant past were some of the nation’s best citizens. In his steadfast veto, Cleveland addresses the issue of citizenship requirements and ends with a conclusion that may be very insightful to our nation’s current preoccupation with national security and terrorism. Cleveland said,

It is infinitely more safe to admit a hundred thousand immigrants who, though unable to read and write, seek among us only a home and an opportunity to work than to admit one of those unruly agitators and enemies of governmental control who can not only read and write, but delights in arousing by unruly speech the illiterate and peacefully inclined to discontent and tumult” ( Roger Daniels’ Coming to America, 277).

Perhaps our country’s leadership could come up with smart background checks which do not discriminate so much on nationality but criminality and past employment.

    Taft’s relentless veto was based solely on the economic necessity for a large and constant immigrant base. His reasoning echoes the reasoning of the Bracero Program, worker visa programs, and short-term migrant labor initiatives. Taft’s rationale was that, “the natives are not willing to do the work which the aliens come over to do” ( Roger Daniels’ Coming to America, 277). The beauty of immigration is that few immigrant families stay in these entry-level positions – the steady influx of immigrants who are upwardly mobile is a dynamic, short-term phenomenon for new immigrant families.

    Woodrow Wilson, in 1915, spoke out on the ethical the cause of immigrants. His veto to the literacy test rested on the fact that the bill would reject new immigrants “unless they have already had one of the chief of the opportunities they seek, the opportunity of education” ( Roger Daniels’ Coming to America, 277). Again, this same argument holds true and needs to be taken up by so many groups opposed to a physical border wall. One step into a school on la frontera will reinforce the fact that so many immigrants come to these United States seeking a better education for their families. The DREAM Act (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act), which has failed to pass in several bills both in 2006 and 2007, would ensure that all schoolchildren who are high-achievers in our nation’s classrooms would have the opportunity, regardless of income or citizenship, to study at institutions of higher education and apply themselves to becoming skilled workers. Had he lived another 93 years, Woodrow Wilson would be one of the staunchest advocates of the DREAM Act, which could have proved one of the most empowering and inspiring legislations of the second Bush administration.

    The literacy test passed in 1917, and was soon followed by Calvin Coolidge’s Immigration Act of 1924 which set the first nation-based quota system for all incoming immigrants (the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 only applied to “sojourners” from the largest country in the world). This Act also marked the beginning of the first official Border Patrol.

    Arguably the last President to be extremely pro-immigrant died with a couple bullets in 1963. His dream was to revamp immigration legislation to “base admission on the immigrant’s possession of skills our country needs and on the humanitarian grounds of reuniting families” (John F. Kennedy’s A Nation of Immigrants, 80). JFK firmly believed that the quota system was discriminatory at a time when Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement were also making strides toward a Civil Rights Bill. Kennedy goes on to write that,

The use of a national origins system is without basis in either logic or reason if neither satisfies a national need nor accomplishes an international purpose. In an age of interdependence [read “globalization”] any nation with such a system is an anachronism, for it discriminates among applicants for admission into the U.S. on the basis of accident of birth (John F. Kennedy’s A Nation of Immigrants,75).

 

Had he lived longer than 46 years, perhaps the United States of America would not still have a quota system which permits only 24,000 people from any country to migrate to our land, regardless of whether their sending nation has a population of China’s 1.3 billion or Monaco’s 32,000.

    One of the last substantial pieces of immigration legislation was the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA). Signed by Ronald Reagan, this has since been decried as an act which only worsened problems and which amounted to scotch-free amnesty. While neither of these are the case, IRCA did not ultimately address the true problem. By treating the symptom of illegal immigrants rather than the immigration legislation which criminalized them, Reagan departed from Kennedy’s lead and opted for the easy, immediate solution. While IRCA did make a substantive difference in the lives of 2.7 million people, it did not address the real problem which finds our country with 12 million residents on the wrong side of current immigration laws.

    The final “immigration law” on the books is one which physically, socially, economically, and ethically affects our nation’s immigrants, citizens, and borderlands. The Secure Fence Act of 2006, supported by President Bush and, sadly, both Democratic candidates Obama and Clinton, paved the way for a 700-mile fence along our 2,000-mile southern border. This “secure fence” would reroute extralegal immigrants to the most dangerous desert sections of our border; it would be an affront to American immigrants past, present, and future; it would be a tremendous waste what some estimate to be $5 billion while border communities such as Brownsville and Hidalgo County continue to be the poorest in the nation; it would serve as a severe distraction from the necessity for comprehensive, compassionate immigration reform; it would strand extralegal residents on this side of the border; it would separate loved ones; it would cripple border economies which thrive on the influx of international business; it would destroy precious and rare ecosystems and wildlife which cannot be found anywhere else; and it would cause our young nation of immigrants to wall ourselves off from our neighbors and the globalizing world at large.

    Let’s pray that true immigration reform will come with the next Presidency. If protest is prayer in action, then please join your prayers with ours, put your feet to the street, and join the Border Ambassadors and concerned citizens in the March Against the Wall as we walk 120 miles from Roma to Brownsville, Texas, this March 8-16.


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