Posts Tagged ‘immigrants’

Silence of Good People

February 18, 2009

In the nation’s fifth-largest city, more than 200 men were humiliatingly marched past video cameras to a tent-city where they will await deportation. Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, “star” of a Fox reality television show, was simply continuing his long abuse of power in cruelly and unusually punishing prisoners in his jail system. While he makes convicted offenders wear pink underwear and has been cited as serving green bologna to prisoners, he has particularly situated himself as “hard on immigration,” teaming up with the federal policing program 287(g) which partners the U.S. government with local law enforcement. (Garcia, Carlos)

In theory, federal-state cooperation makes the whole system work better. However, local law enforcement officials in 287(g) are given little guidance and engage primarily in basic racial profiling, which results in a myriad of pretextual traffic stops, “jaywalking” violations, and general harassment of Latinos in Phoenix and other like communities throughout the United States. (New York Times)

As new Secretary of Homeland Security (and former Arizona governor) Janet Napolitano seeks to reform the broken Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Department, surely Arpaio should be high on her list. Napolitano’s investigations into the 287(g) should probe into the abuses, both local and federal, and seek to craft an alternative which doesn’t criminalize people based on race or appearance.

On March 7, the 44th anniversary of the famous Bloody Sunday March from Selma to Montgomery which so galvanized the civil rights movement, a march will be held in Phoenix to protest the civil rights abuses perpetrated by Joe Arpaio. While this march’s purpose states it wants Arpaio sent to jail, more generally it will be a march against 287(g) and all the abuses it has invited. Dr. King had Bull Connor; America’s immigrants have Sheriff Arpaio. (Garrido, Jon. Hispanic News)

This past week, as California Border Patrol officers accused their superiors of setting quotas for apprehended immigrants, we must all question our current immigration system which permits and perpetuates such abuses. The Migration Institute recently revealed a chilling report that ICE shifted its goals from apprehending “the most dangerous” undocumented immigrants to deporting anyone – women, children, factory workers – anyone to highlight the agency’s success (Garcia, Carlos). In changing their role from Homeland Security to Heartland Insecurity, our immigration system has struck fear in the hearts of families and terrorized immigrants both legal and otherwise. It is vital we note that America’s immigration issues are bigger than Sheriff Joe Arpaio, larger than ICE, and deeper than the flawed quota system – at its heart, our current immigration system reflects the complicit silence of America. As Dr. King wrote in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail, We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.” He goes on to write, though, that “Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co workers with God.” This chance is there for all of us in this 21st century civil rights issue in the United States.

El Paso Times Article

January 9, 2009

Here’s a local write-up of Day 3 of our Asylum Law Project trip to El Paso.

“Help for immigrants: Minnesota law students lend hand”

By Darren Meritz / El Paso Times

Posted: 01/08/2009 12:00:00 AM MST


University of Minnesota law students Cortney Jones, left, and John Kevinge wrote appellate briefs for pending immigration cases at the Diocesan Migrant and Refrugee Services at 2400 E. Yandell Wednesday. Three groups of students will come to El Paso in a univeristy program that is in its 15th year. (Rudy Gutierrez/El Paso Times)

EL PASO — Immigrants escaping persecution and trying to find a better life in the United States are getting help in El Paso this week from out-of-state law students.

First-year University of Minnesota law students are spending time in El Paso to learn more about immigration law and to lend a hand to immigrant advocacy organizations such as Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center, the Diocesan Migrant and Refugee Services and Texas Rural Legal Aid.

It’s the program’s 15th year.

About 11 students — the first of three groups coming to El Paso — are here this week participating in the University of Minnesota’s Asylum Law Project. The project is effort to give students an opportunity to work with immigrants and people seeking asylum who look for help from local immigrant advocacy groups.

“Just as a nation, we’re somewhat distanced with what’s going on in the world, especially when it comes to human-rights abuses,” said Raymundo Elí Rojas, executive director of Las Americas.

“I think with programs like this, if the students were not already aware of the plight of people persecuted in their home country, I hope by the end of the week they become aware of what’s going on.”

Students in the Asylum Law Project at Minnesota Law said that immigrants face a slew of obstacles before they can freely set foot in the United States.

“They’re in such a tough spot,” said Matthew Webster, a vice president with the Asylum Law Project. “They’re largely a voiceless population and don’t have a lot of the protections that we take for granted.”

Law student Ashley Engels said she spoke with a woman who had to wait 12 years before she could apply for legal residency.

Engels also worked on a case in which a juvenile had to wait 18 months in detention before he could apply.

“A lot of times, the people at detention centers get hopeless and say, ‘I just want to be sent back,’ ” she said.

“It’s crazy how long it takes,” Engels said. “A lot of them have really good cases, but I don’t think they realize.”

Darren Meritz may be reached at dmeritz@elpasotimes.com; 546-6127.


When the Many Find they are One

October 22, 2008

During the WWII era of 1942-46, between 200,000 and 300,000 manual laborers or braceros worked in the United States as farmhands and railroad workers standing in for the masses of young men sent overseas. When this Bracero Program ended and many returned to their homes in Mexico, few received the 10% of their wages deducted by the Mexican government, if they even knew about the deduction at all.

While this lawsuit faltered twice, both for whether it had exceeded the statute of limitations and whether a case against Mexico could be brought in the United States, it received preliminary approval to be heard before the Federal District Court in San Francisco this past Wednesday. The proposed settlement would grant each bracer with sufficient proof a $3500 check. Fewer than 50,000 will collect those checks, due to the anonymous, undocumented nature of much of this work, but for those few braceros nearing their ends, this money is more moral victory than subsistence. The New York Times article quotes Mr. Ibarra, a bracero currently living in Chicago, saying, this was a “victory of principles that allows me to be positive about continuing to live a little longer.” The United States has much cause to thank these willing workers who came and worked and went with little recognition and even less pay. Justice can be a long time coming. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/16/us/16settle.html?emc=tnt&tntemail1=y

Reportedly, Tom Brockaw regretted not asking candidates John McCain and Barack Obama not what they would do for the middle class, but what they would provide for the poor. In this season of grandstanding and lampooning for votes, it is easy to forget about the voiceless among us. Sometime between the immigration legislation discussions of 2006, both McCain and Obama have forgotten the 12 million extralegal immigrants awaiting some legislative opportunity or the countless millions lost in the lottery of our antiquated quota system.

As we speak, needless hostilities are burning between new Somali immigrants and “old” Latino immigrants in meatpacking and factory towns. When our nation focuses on the issues of the middle and upper class, the poor are left to bicker over crumbs of opportunity. Due to the nine raids in as many places since 2006 which have detained and/or deported some 2,000 immigrant workers, legal Somali refugees are being recruited and relocated to fill those positions. When they band together to campaign for 15-minute lenience to observe their Muslim prayer time, the oft-slighted other immigrant groups take offense. Mayor Ms. Hornady intimates that the Muslim hijabs suggest terrorism to her and the community of Grand Island, Nebraska. The immigrant groups in this town, the Mexican and South American, the Laotian and Sudanese and original German immigrants, all live in the constant fear that December of 2006 will strike again, that ICE will raid their meatpacking plant and freeze their small town for good. http://mail.google.com/mail/?ui=2&view=js&name=js&ver=KUM7s5FPF9I&am=X_E4pcT3aCGBXoYK6A

Although the New York Times article focuses on the differences and supposed animosities between these two immigrant groups, whose arrivals are separated by but a few years, what strikes me most is how similar these workers are. If only they could join together as one, in that Poor People’s March Dr. King envisioned, and say, “We will not live in fear anymore. What is good for one of us is good for us all. We are many, we are one.” I wish we all could say the same, that we would recognize the simple truth of Martin Luther King’s words, ““Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.”

Castle Clinton, Then and Now

October 13, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nativist Fears Subsiding: 9/11 and the LPGA

September 7, 2008

A week after announcing its proposed policy to require golfers to pass an oral English test, the LPGA (Ladies Professional Golf Association) officially rescinded this past Saturday, September 6. Since first proclaimed, the English-only requirement slated for 2009 drew criticism from many civil rights groups such as the Asian Pacific American Legal Center and lawmakers like California State Senator Leeland Yee. Yee planned to explore legal options to oppose the policy, stating that it would have violated workplace discrimination laws. Yee also pointed out that the stipulation could also affect blind or hearing-impaired athletes.

This proposed nativist requirement follows a year which saw two of the 145 international players on the tour win this year’s Majors. Lorena Ochoa of Mexico and Yani Tseng of Taiwan both impressed the world of golf with their performance on the women’s circuit this year.

The LPGA justified its new proposal by stating that several sponsors had voiced concern because they could not communicate with golfers during and after the tournament. Although the Tour withdrew its proposal to suspend players who did not demonstrate proficiency in English, it still hopes to strongly encourage English fluency among its athletes through the use of tutors and computer software. (http://washingtontimes.com/news/2008/sep/06/lpga-scraps-its-english-policy/)

Also this week, extralegal immigrant families who lost a family member on 9/11 were granted temporary legal status by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) on Friday, Sept. 5. The wives, husbands and children of the victims had been able to receive payments from the Victim Compensation Fund, but they were fearful to invest or share their stories because of their immigration status.

Last year two Congressmen from New York, Peter King (Rep) and Carolyn Maloney (Dem) introduced a bill to expedite the process toward permanent residency for these family members. The immigrants themselves, however, were wary of providing personal information to public officials for fear of deportation or detention. Now that DHS has granted them one-year temporary visas, at least some of that fear is gone. (http://cityroom.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/08/15/911-immigrant-survivors-move-toward-legal-status/)

A Labor Day Salute to All Resident Workers

September 1, 2008

This September 1st, it is only fitting to laud the accomplishments of the unnoticed and disenfranchised of America’s workforce – the Immigrant.  In a nation that is still bent on building a wall and has popular public figures campaigning for mass deportation, immigrants still managed to excel in 33 of the spots on the American Olympic team. In a nation where immigrants legal and extralegal quake at the thought of ICE raids like that which detained more than 350 workers this past week in Laurel, Mississippi (New York Times), immigrants of undocumented parents (desparagingly referred to as “anchor babies” by American media) like Henry Cejudo worked tirelessly to upset the heavily favored Japanese free wrestler Tomohiro Matsunaga in the gold-medal match in Beijing (Navarrette, Ruben).  With hard workers like these thankless millions, Labor Day means a day without work for most of us.

This past week, the national spotlight was turned to the perilous job of the window-washers in New York City.  On Tuesday, August 28, two window-washers were narrowly rescued while a third plunged to his death in Manhattan.  49-year-old Robert Domaszowec was a Ukrainian immigrant who had received his dangerous calling from his father (New York Times).  Much of the City’s window-washers are first or second-generation immigrants who quietly risk their lives day in and day out to improve the view of millions.

Like so many immigrants, their lives are largely invisible to mainstream American culture.  Unless we read about a rare crime committed by an extralegal immigrant or watch an incendiary nativistic talk show on television, these workers who earn their Labor Day often work in underpaid jobs with scant hope for advancement.  When they are noticed, it is often with disdain, xenophobia, or worse.  This past week Tennessee changed its state law to allow pregnant inmates to be unchained and uncuffed during childbirth.  This came only after a Mexican immigrant, detained in Davidson County on the charge of “careless driving,” was left handcuffed to the bed for all but a few minutes of her labor.  The Sheriff went on record as saying this recently overturned policy was, “a little more than may have been necessary in every case” (New York Times.

On this Labor Day, it is vital we appreciate our nation’s success over the years and the people to whom we owe a deep thanks.  At the risk of sounding repetitive and Kennedy-esque, our nation truly is a land of immigrants, new and long-established, coming and going.  On Labor Day it is important to remember those who are not even allowed to join labor unions but still work 10-hour days in our factories and fields, houses and skyscrapers.  This Labor Day let us say a prayer for our nation, that it may not forget those things which make it strong (such as immigrants) and that it may cease those things which weaken it daily (such as the wars of the past 40 years).  If our nation would rise to its self-proclaimed status as world power, if we would acknowledge both the push and pull of immigrants coming to this country, if we would work to incorporate and integrate and empower every resident within our borders, then Labor Day could truly be a holiday celebrated by everyone in the United States instead of just those with papers.

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.

Immigration as Nonviolent Tactic

May 22, 2008

¨Those immigrants, we give them everything.  When they have a baby, they receive 2500€ and a cochecito (baby carriage).  And when those babies grow up, they get all the help in the world.  Those immigrant kids get into good schools instead of good Spanish kids who´ve been here and belong here.¨ (A man in Barcelona)

Americans have long been partial to isolationism.  Far too often, we think we are the only country facing certain issues, and therefore we look no further than our own borders for the answers to issues the entire world is facing.  Immigration is not an issue limited to the Rio Grande Valley where the government is so desirous of erecting a border wall, nor is it specific to our fruit fields, urban restaurants, construction sites, or factory jobs.  By definition, immigration is a global issue, a fact which makes a border-wall solution to immigration bitterly laughable. 

Nearly half of extralegal immigrants in the United States came here legally on visas and work permits.  One can look at this and campaign for militaristic campaigns to treat all students and workers on visas as if they were on an extended parole, but that would be missing the point.  The fact is that this makes absolute sense.  Immigration is no longer limited to the Vikings of 500 years ago, nor is one country outsending all the rest (though government officials would have us think our southern neighbor is invading us with good workers, family-oriented individuals, and bilingual neighborhoods).  Students and workers from all over the world come to the United States for a better opportunity, but they do not count on the lack of opportunities for earned citizenship and naturalization.  As a result, hundreds of thousands overstay their visas, holding out hope that one day their opportunity to pursue happiness will be legitimized by the government that invited them here in the first place. 

 Immigration is a global issue, and one which needs global solutions.  If a paranational organization were set up to monitor immigration laws in sending and receiving countries, like the ones which exist for shared water rights and common resources, then perhaps a freer migration pattern could result, one which focused more on the task of assimilation and integration rather than rigid quotas and discrimination.  Embedded in immigration is one answer to the complex problem posed by the disastrous overkill combats of the last century.  Many people wonder if there can be nonviolent solutions for war and conflict, and immigration and emigration, if controlled by an international entity, could sap such dictators and warlords of their necessary resource – “expendable” souls.  Few people praise death and desire war, but out of a sense of duty and/or fear, the poor have always been expected to shoulder the immense burden of war campaigns.  What if Hitler announced his plans to wage all-out war throughout Europe, and half his working class emigrated to Spain in a matter of weeks?  What would happen if countries were held accountable to their constituents not by a vote of paper but by a vote of presence? 

We are entering a new age of globalization, and immigration is surely one of the most exciting aspects of modernity.  Technology has shrunk distances, media has brought divergent cultures together, and ideas are being interchanged at the speed of cyberspace.  Immigration might be the 21st-century answer to empires, dictators, and overpopulation.  Giving people a choice of living conditions could reinforce good policy and punish bad governance.

According to an immigration advocate here, Barcelona is one of the biggest receivers of immigrants in Europe.  Ecuador happens to be the largest sending country, which makes sense based on the linguistic similarities and shared heritage.  However, the number 2 sending country is slightly surprising.  Italy, another nation in the European Union, would hardly seem like a country facing a mass exodus.  However, Italy´s current government is so awful that many Italians are more than willing to immigrate to neighboring Spain, even though it means learning Castellano and Catalan as well as leaving behind their heritage.  A government such as Italy´s cannot continue to make bad decisions, or it soon will be like the ruler alone on his own planet in The Little Prince, with absolute power over no one but himself.

Pontevedra, Day 1

April 26, 2008

One of the most beautiful things about traveling is that it absolutely opens ones´eyes to the Imagination of God and the inherent Good in all people.  Whether it´s the stewardess who helps you up to first-class seats and then showers free food on you, or it´s the friendly stranger who takes an inordinate amount of time making sure you understand his directions, it is good to travel because it puts you at the mercy of Providence. 

I find I understand most of the Spanish spoken here in the verdant city of Pontevedra.  My freshman English students, my primary teachers of Spanish over the past two years, would most certainly be proud.  It is humbling and thrilling to put myself in the place of my students coming across the bridge from Matamoros for the first time, to immerse themselves in a language and a culture alien to their ears and hearts.  Everything here in Spain seems new, as it surely must for many of my students the first time they realized that our public schools provide free food for lunches and have a surplus of computers.  As an ongoing Spanish-as-a-Second-Language student, I will try to make my ESL students in Brownsville, Texas, proud of their teacher. 

The chance to study immigration and education with Rotary International is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.  New as I am to Rotary, its ideals of worldwide community, peace, and brotherhood sync with my own life philosophy of nonviolence.  As we were greeted at the airport gate by Rotarians Jose and Alejandro, we immediately felt welcome in this new land.  I am struck, though, by the fact that this welcome should not be peculiarly noteworthy if we truly believe in the ¨inescapable network of mutuality.¨ It is sad that so few immigrants receive such a welcome when they come to a new land.  May I learn how to extend this welcome to all.

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.


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