Posts Tagged ‘homeland security’

Cumulative Immigration Reform

January 23, 2010

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

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

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. 

Homeland Security

July 11, 2008

When we speak of homeland security, it is vital we define our terms. “Homeland security” must not mean defending the buildings and properties of the United States, or else the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) would be busy repairing bridges, condemning buildings, and fireproofing houses. It is impossible for “homeland security” to mean protecting the American people, because what we mean by the “American people” will have grown and changed by the time you finish reading this article. “Homeland security” cannot even mean preserving our nation’s heritage and culture, or else its name would be homeland taxidermy instead.

No, “homeland security” rightly understood must mean the protection of our nation’s laws. If society is a social contract, then people come to the United States and remain in the U.S. because they agree to live by the law in a land where others do the same, thus gaining civil rights while submitting to the authority elected to enforce those laws. Defined as such, the biggest threat to homeland security today could very well be the Department of Homeland Security.

Since the 1990s, and more aggressively since 2006, DHS has been militarizing the border. Having lived in the border town of Brownsville, Texas, I can personally attest to the effects this militarization has had on local residents from California and Arizona to Texas. I have had a gun pulled on me by a Border Patrol agent as I ran on a dirt trail along the border, not unlike so many cross-country trails here in the Land of 10,000 Lakes. Countless friends of mine have faced aggravation and humiliation as they crossed the secure border checkpoint more than 30 miles north of the Rio Grande. Third and fourth-generation Americans have been followed and questioned by police in every one of these border towns, simply because of the color of their skin or their fluency in Spanish.

With the Secure Fence Act of 2006, the law which mandates nearly 700 miles of border wall for our nation’s southern border, these dehumanizing factors were magnified in border communities. The Department of Homeland Security has used the REAL-ID Act to waive 11 laws in Arizona and more than 30 environmental and local laws in the Rio Grande Valley in order to expedite the construction of an eighteen-foot wall between the U.S. and Latin America. With the REAL ID Act, DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff, an unelected official, has been granted the unconditional power to waive any and all laws “necessary to ensure expeditious construction of the barriers and roads under this section;” in effect, this gives Chertoff the power to undo countless laws voted on by elected officials in our nation’s Legislative Branch, thereby undermining the very “homeland security” it purports to protect, not to mention our system of checks and balances.

Despite the dour state of affairs in our nation’s handling of the border region and immigration, we have all seen real homeland security take place in our communities. Leaders like Father Paul Oderkirk in towns like Pottsville, Iowa, have offered support and banded together with immigrants after the terror of an ICE raid on their Agriprocessors Inc. kosher slaughterhouse in May. Organizations like the Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife, the University of Texas at Brownsville, and the Texas Border Coalition of mayors have all sought to defend homeland security by opposing the Secure Fence Act which divides rather than cooperates with our neighbors and the REAL ID Act which negates our nation’s checks and balances. We have seen homeland security in the integration of our community sports teams, English-as-a-Second-Language classes, hospitals, and churches. Every time a recent immigrant is welcomed, each instant someone takes the time to help another get involved, there is homeland security. Please show your solidarity by supporting immigrant resource centers like Rochester’s Catholic Charities Refugee Resettlement and the Advocates for Human Rights, as well as writing your encouragement to beleaguered Americans on our southern border. Additionally, a letter to our senators Norm Coleman and Amy Klobuchar could go a long way to encouraging real “homeland security” instead of distracting and costly excuses for real immigration reform.

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. 

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.

Headed to Spain

April 24, 2008

This coming Monday, April 28, the Defenders of Wildlife will be hosting a “Congressional Field Hearing on the Border Wall and the Department of Homeland Security’s Abuse of Power” at UT-Brownsville.  The community event is a vital step in uniting environmental groups and community members in the open nonviolent opposition to the violence of a border wall in South Texas.

Regrettably, I will not be able to attend this meeting.  By Monday, I will be in the Basque region of northern Spain, researching second-language education programs and immigration systems in the developed country with one of the most liberal immigration policies in the world.  I will be thousands of miles removed from the present situation of the REAL ID Act and the Secure Fence Act of 2006.  The civil disobedience training scheduled for mid-May, as well as many community events organized to call for a moratorium on the border wall – all of these events will go on in the month I am away from la frontera. 

But, in some ways I will be traveling closer to the solution.  Spain is a country who has confronted issues of immigration in a constructive, positive fashion.  Rather than entertaining the idea of a border wall to solve or salve its immigration issues, Spain has chosen to view people as assets, be they from Morocco or Romania or Bosnia.  I look forward to learning how these people are assimilated, how they are granted real opportunities to participate fully in Spanish society, and how they are guaranted the rights of all citizens. 

Since the Secure Fence Act of 2006 was born out of aborted bipartisan immigration discussions, real immigration reform is at the heart of any alternative to an atrocious 700-mile border barrier between the U.S. and Mexico.  The individuals throughout south Texas who plan to engage in trained civil disobedience to oppose the construction of a border wall have both my blessing and my prayers.  It is also my prayer that I will be able to apply the lessons I learn across the Atlantic to this issue, one which is fundamentally a domestic conflict due to inevitable globalization.  I will try to keep posting blog entries as faithfully as possible, so that my thoughts and meditations might add yet another perspective to the ongoing legal fight and nonviolent struggle against the border wall.

Something there is that Doesn’t Love a Wall- Part 4

April 22, 2008

It is the longest fence on the planet, stretching over 3,000 miles from the Darling Downs to the Eyre Peninsula. Built in the 1880s, the Dingo Fence or Wild Dog Barrier Fence of Australia is still patrolled by 23 employees. The fence was originally built to keep dingoes out of the the fertile and heavily populated southeast of Australia and also protect the valuable sheep herds of Queensland. While the wild dogs have not been eradicated entirely from this fenced section of Australia, their numbers have been significantly reduced. Instead of increasing sheep herds, however, kangaroos and rabbits have grown in number, keeping the sheep population constant.

Shortly after the Secure Fence Act of 2006 was passed, Latin America expressed its sadness and revulsion at such an isolationist gesture. Guatemalan Vice President Eduardo Stein, whose government is a close friend of George W. Bush, said, “It seems to us a real affront that a government that calls itself a friend and regional partner only wants our money and our products, but treats our people as if they were a plague.”

The current walls in California and Arizona designed to stem the “flood” of people dubbed undesirable by the United States are not working. Rather than stopping border crossings, they actually catch fewer border crossers and reroute illegal entries through more remote and lethal sections of the border. Putting up walls to discourage illegal immigration, without dealing with the root push-and-pull factors of immigration is irrational and irresponsible. Our government is a man who walks into a flooded house and begins mopping the floor, even though he sees an overflowing sink, faucet still running. A border wall is an ineffective Band-Aid when we need real change, much like the “Vaseline of gradualism” which Dr. King railed against in favor of real civil rights reform.

Rancher Thomas Austin missed his homeland of England. In 1859, he released 24 rabbits on his lands, stating these famous last words, “The introduction of a few rabbits could do little harm and might provide a touch of home, in addition to a spot of hunting. By 1894, rabbits had taken over the Australian mainland.

Running a little over 2,000 miles, the Rabbit-Proof Fence of Australia was constructed between the years 1901-1907. The purpose of the wire fencing, which ran three feet high and six inches underground, was to keep the rabbits from spreading through the entire continent. To actively patrol the fence, Chief Inspector of Rabbits Alexander Crawford sent out boundary riders on bicycles and camels. Despite these efforts, though, the rabbits soon could be found in every state. Without any natural predators, the rabbit population exploded and eventually overran the fence. Ranchers and farmers were forced to fence in their crops to protect it from the rodents.

While more than 39 laws governed the environmental and sociological surveying of the potential border wall in southern Texas, these laws were waived on April 1, 2008, with the assurance that the potential threat far outweighed very real risk. The same thing happened on September 22, 2005, when Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff waived “in their entirety” the Endangered Species Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, the Coastal Zone Management Act, the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, and the National Historic Preservation Act to extend triple fencing through the Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve near San Diego.

Since 1904, the Border Patrol has grown from an unofficial 75-man unit of mounted riders designed to enforce the Chinese Exclusion Act to an 11,000-member squad aiming to thwart all illegal crossings. Despite this manpower, which is only expected to grow over the coming years, the number and cost of each illegal entry into the United States has simply increased. A border wall will only add to the cost, while being about as effective as a rabbit-proof fence in a continent not far away.

Satyagraha in Manhattan and the Americas

April 11, 2008

The MET is staging Satyagraha in New York City. Philip Glass‘s 1979 opera about Gandhi’s life and philosophy of “holding on to truth” is a spectacle which makes me wish I were in Manhattan for a matinee. Julian Crouch, one of the artistic directors of Improbable Theater Company of London, stated that the giant puppets of this opera were chosen because “…we wanted to use very humble materials in the making of the opera…We wanted similarly to take these materials, maybe associated with poverty, and see if we could do a kind of alchemy with that, turn them into something beautiful” (NYT). This opera shows Mohandis Gandhi meeting with his philosophical mentor Leo Tolstoy and with his inspired follower Martin Luther King, Jr. In the meantime, newspapers are transformed into puppets, wadded pages represent rocks, and other texts are molded to resemble Hindu goddesses in a transformation of the mundane into the sacred, the profane into the divine.

I wish the Improbable Theater Company could travel to Brownsville, Texas, bringing with it the ideas of nonviolence and civil disobedience to a border region currently preparing to oppose an unjust border wall through its homes and backyards. If Satyagraha could be staged in Dean Porter Park, perhaps the poorest city in the United States would see that it does not need money or political power in order to stand for the Truth. The Truth is compelling, and when men and women refuse to resort to violence but instead seek reconciliation in the face of injustice, we have to believe that the spark of the divine will be ignited in our fellow Man when he is confronted with the morality of our plea. A border wall, above and beyond beyond environmentally unsound, politically backwards, and environmentally devastating, is morally reprehensible.

On April 1, Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff used the REAL ID Act to waive 39 laws in an effort to speed up the construction of the border wall. All 100 Senators voted for this act, a piece of legislation predominantly concerned with driver’s licenses but with a rider granting unprecedented powers to waive all laws in constructing border barriers. In traditional Jewish law, a law which was passed unanimously was thrown out – something must have been amiss. In Gandhi’s book, Satyagraha, he writes, ““It is a superstition and ungodly thing to believe that an act of a majority binds a minority…all reforms owe their origin to the initiation of minorities in opposition to majorities” (18). The overwhelming vote for the REAL ID Act must not dissuade us from speaking truth and campaigning for the overturning of these waivers.

Valley residents are not alone, however. The minority in opposition to a wall is growing, and we have the moral power of knowing we are right. Thank you, Rep. Thompson, for your courageous stand along with 14 other Congressman. We pray your Amicus Curiae brief will persuade the Supreme Court to take case with Homeland Security’s ability to waive unlimited legislation to expedite the Secure Fence Act of 2006. It is encouraging to know that the unanimous vote in the Senate is not the entire story.

It is also encouraging to note that the European Union is currently considering the introduction of a decade of nonviolence, a year after dissolving the last of its countries’ borders. It is heartening to know that the E.U. recognizes, “Gandhian non-violence to be the most appropriate means of ensuring that fundamental human rights are enjoyed, upheld, promoted and respected” (http://www.unpo.org/content/view/7980/83/). It is encouraging to know that the spirit of nonviolence was not killed along with Gandhi and King, that it survives even though the United States has already started clearing brush from its levees in South Texas, fully intending to build a border wall between itself and its neighbors to the South. Nonviolence, that soul-force which King preached and which is parading in New York’s MET right now, still walks the streets and marches on, despite the fact that the Secure Fence Act of 2006 still stands as a blight upon our nation, culture, and all immigrants, a symbol of division in a time when we need unity.

We, the people of the Valley, call for the prayers and support of all concerned citizens at this crucial time in American history. The people of the Valley are already fighting the legal battle and will continue to campaign for Justice through the courts. In addition, we are readying for civil disobedience, should it come to that. Groups such as Fellowship of Reconciliation and Christian Peacemakers, as well as individuals like the American Gandhi, have already expressed interest in training a group of concerned citizens in proper, positive civil disobedience.  We welcome any and all support in our efforts of reconciliation as opposed to division. We join with Christian thought in recognizing that we inevitably reap what we sow, and we seek to keep the United States from sowing a seed of dissension and division rather than working on communication and mutually beneficial relations with brothers and sisters of the world.

Central Park to Sabal Palms

April 8, 2008

Nailing down Homeland Security’s plans is like trying to spot the elusive ocelot. When asked whether the agency intends to build the Fence north of the sanctuary, its chief spokesman, Russ Knocke, said: “I can’t rule that out, but I cannot also definitely tell you that that will be the case.”

It is quotes like this which make Dan Barry’s New York Times article about Sabal Palms Audobon Sanctuary important in framing our national conflict over the Secure Fence Act. The wall has millions of detractors with very valid reasons, from my students whose heritage and extended family would be affronted by such a wall to outspoken advocates for the endangered species huddling in these last remaining stands of a lost ecosystem. The federal government and a few outspoken, if misinformed, syndicated talk-show hosts keep lauding the wall as an answer to everything from immigration to terrorism and drug smuggling. They do not let the facts get in the way, nor their own statements about the wall being a $50 billion deterrent rather than a panacea.

New York Central Park, 2006

The indefiniteness of the Secure Fence Act could be attributed to either indecision or misdirection, and since the United States government seems more determined than ever to build a wall, one must assume the latter. Last week, heavy equipment cleared brush from the levee in Brownsville’s Southmost community, presumably in anticipation of wall construction through this tight-knit community. Some residents hadn’t ever caught wind of a wall, perhaps because the proposed plans were 600+ pages in English and only 30 pages in Spanish. Other people we talked to in the Amigoland Mall community this week doubted that the wall would bisect their houses. They had heard that the plans for the wall circumvented their community; what they didn’t know was that this was only Plan B, and the government has still not specified which plan they will follow or how faithfully they will follow these plans. The only clarification they keep reiterating is this: it is coming, and it is coming fast.

Jimmy Paz, the director of Audobon’s Sabal Palms Sanctuary, is equally at home with noisy chachalacas and my students he also refers to as “Chachalacas” because their incessant teenage chit-chat sounds like the birds nesting in his refuge. At 62, he has walked these paths more than 50 years, observed Border Patrol and new immigrants come and go, seen some birds make a comeback and other species fade into shadows. He realizes the importance of the ground he stands upon, the grounds he invites my students to walk and clean sometimes. Paz, whose Spanish surname means “peace,” realizes the tranquility his stand of virgin Sabal Palm forest can offer city dwellers and native Brownsvillers. He understands that wildlife is one of the Rio Grande Valley’s greatest assets, with eco-tourism being the 3rd largest industry in Brownsville. It is with the full weight of this knowledge, then, that he says building a wall to cut of his wildlife sanctuary is akin to “…putting a fence around Central Park.”

Having lived in both Manhattan and Brownsville, I can recognize the collective pride both communities share for their parks. What the Brownsville sanctuary lacks in park benches and ice-skating and dog-walkers it more than makes up for in endangered species, migrating butterflies, and bird-watchers. Central Park is the pride of New York, and to see my students’ eyes light up as birders told them the distances they’d traveled to come for Brownsville’s beauty, it was clear that refuges like Sabal Palms are the pride of la frontera.

Dan Barry’s article in the New York Times is noteworthy most because it connects these two distant communities. If New Yorkers could understand the peaceful coexistence here on the border, they would most assuredly stand in opposition to a wall’s disruption. If the refugees with whom I waitered could see the harmony of new immigrants and old residents, Spanish-speakers and English-only citizens in the Valley, they would be outspoken against this symbol of division. If the NYPD could see the way the Border Patrol lends its watchtowers for hawk-sightings sometimes or the way Sabal Palms has sensors to monitor illegal activity, they would surely campaign for more of this cooperation and less rigid and costly barriers. If Times Square were made aware of Jimmy Paz and his birds in Brownsville, the Secure Fence Act of 2006 would seem the unconscionable, ill-planned, destructive and distracting suggestion that it truly is.

Sabal Palms Spanish Moss, November 2007

NAACP Letter of Affirmation

April 8, 2008

For the marchers of the No Border Wall Walk, which took place less than a month ago, this past week has been one of nadirs and zeniths.  While April 1 saw Homeland Security Secretary waive 39 laws to barge ahead with the building of the border wall, yesterday saw his colleagues and elected officials calling into question this unconstitutional negation of Justice.  Should the REAL ID Act be dismantled, either through such a committee or by the Defenders of Wildlife Supreme Court lawsuit, there is little doubt in our minds that the law would stop such an invasive devastation which the Secure Fence Act presents.

Today was yet another breath of fresh air, as one of my fellow organizers on the walk, Kiel Harell, received a letter on NAACP stationery.  It stated:

Thank you for your kind letter.

I wish I could have joined you, but I am afraid I could not.

Congratulations to you on this undertaking, and best wishes. Dr. King would be proud of you.

It was signed Julian Bond, King confidante and current Chairman on the NAACP National Board of Directors.  While grassroots organizing can sometimes seem like an agonizing effort for little effect,  it is heartening to see the far-reaching ramifications of a nonviolent, positive campaign aimed at our nation’s hearts and minds.  We pray that the good people of these United States will say “Basta!” to such retrogressive acts as the construction of a wall on any border, and instead push mankind’s frontiers with legislation which could further integrate our great land, granting human rights and recognizing the personhood of 12 million men and women and children living extralegally in our land, as well as holding out hope to the millions and millions of refugees and Americalmosts who look to this land in their pursuit of happiness and self-fulfillment.

Thank you.


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