Posts Tagged ‘Letter from Birmingham Jail’

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.

Burden of Action

April 3, 2008

“A BORDER WALL SEEMS TO VIOLATE a deep sense of identity most Americans cherish. We see ourselves as a nation of immigrants with our own goddess, the Statue of Liberty, a symbol so potent that dissident Chinese students fabricated a version of it in 1989 in Tiananmen Square as the visual representation of their yearning for freedom.”

(Bowden, Charles. “U.S.-Mexico Border: Our Wall.” National Geographic.)

    This past Tuesday, April 1, the United States Homeland Security Secretary waived 30 laws in order to expedite the controversial construction of a border wall. This has become a standard procedure with the Secure Fence Act ever since the passing of the REAL ID ACT which gives a non-elected government official the authority to waive an unlimited number of laws passed by elected officials. In Arizona, 19 different laws were waived in the construction of the wall, unbeknownst to most Americans.

    The same legal trickery occurred during the Civil Rights Movement. Often, local government officials would abuse their power, pitting an unjust law against the federal mandate of integration. During the Birmingham Boycott in 1963, for example, King served a seven-day sentence for violating a court injunction disallowing “parading, demonstrating, boycotting, trespassing and picketing.” It was here he would write his seminal work, “Letter from a Birminham Jail.” The sinister thing about the REAL ID ACT, though, is that it works in the reverse; no matter how good the local laws are or how necessary the environmental laws may be, the a single federal official is allowed to waive all laws without so much as a study.

    Where are we to go when the federal government seems to ignore our pleas for justice on the border and hope for immigrants? We must appeal to higher powers, and one overarching authority organization we must beseech is the United Nations. On March 8, the U.N. Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) openly critiqued the U.S. government’s human rights record and effectively tied the border wall to civil rights. In 1994, the United States ratified an international treaty to end racial discrimination, and in keeping with this treaty, the U.N. has urged the United States to:

  • Protect non-citizens from being subjected to torture and abuse by means of transfer or rendition to foreign countries for torture;   

  • Address the problem of violence against indigenous, minority and immigrant women, including migrant workers, and especially domestic workers; and
  • Pass the Civil Rights Act of 2008 or similar legislation, and otherwise ensure the rights of minority and immigrant workers, including undocumented migrant workers, to effective protection and remedies when their employers have violated their human rights.

These three recommendations are key to a lasting solution to immigration and civil rights, whereas a wall is a devastating and divisive gesture which, at best, only treats a symptom not a system. Although Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants Jorge Bustamente was denied access to Texas’s Hutto immigrant detention center (an internment camp which currently detains children and families), the United Nations still came out very strongly for the case of the immigrant within our borders.

    The ACLU was represented at the United Nation’s meeting in Geneva. Lisa Graybill, Legal Director for the Texas ACLU, stated that, “it has been made clear that the U.S.’s responses, especially with regard to the potential seizure of indigenous land for the construction of the wall and the conditioning of basic services on proof of immigration status are in direct violation of the treaty agreed to by the U.S. in 1994.” (http://www.aclutx.org/projects/article.php?aid=557&cid=31) As citizens of the United States and as residents of a global world, we must hold our government to this high standard if we truly wish to see the Beloved Community Dr. King envisioned. Chandra Bhatnagar, an ACLU staff attorney who recently visited Cameron Park to instruct Brownsville immigrants about their legal rights, challenged the United States government to “…match its soaring rhetoric on the importance of human rights globally with a renewed commitment to protecting the rights of vulnerable immigrants here at home.” We must overcome the destructive distraction of this border wall and return to the nonpartisan dialogue on comprehensive immigration reform which began in 2006. (http://www.aclutx.org/projects/article.php?aid=557&cid=31)

    And so, the people of these United States are left with the burden of action. The burden of action has fallen on us, because our elected officials have largely ignored their responsibility to apply the laws for which they voted and which we elected them to protect. The burden of action has fallen on us to remind our nation that it is a nation of people bound together by certain inalienable rights and protected by just legislation. The burden of action has been passed onto us; may we consider it a mantle of activism, a call to bring the morality, the economy, the environmental, the political, and the social aspects of immigration to light in lieu of the blight of a border wall. The burden of action is ours, but it is also an opportunity  – what will we choose to do about it?

My Dad and Bill Gates as Advocates for Immigration Reform

March 24, 2008

    When my father moved to upstate New York, he knew his new job would be full of intriguing challenges. Working at Claxton-Hepburn Medical Center in Ogdensburg, but a stone’s throw from the Saint Lawrence and only a few miles from the Ogdensburg-Prescott International Bridge, Dad knew he would face budget challenges common to small hospitals anywhere. Moving into a house which had heard only French for 30 years, my father quickly learned that his duties would be divided between hospital administrator and international ambassador. The many patients from Canada and the international doctors he recruited brought him directly into interaction with our nation’s multitude of immigration quotas, H1-B visas, and international health policies. Though his specific job in a town on the Canadian border is particularly prone to immigration legislation, every city and township in the U.S. deals with immigration laws because of the globalizing nature of the world economy.

 

    This month, Microsoft chairman Bill Gates appeared before the House Committee on Science Technology to advocate for more H1-B visas for highly-skilled foreign workers. Last year’s quotas, set at 65,000 with an additional 20,000 for students, was filled by April. As a result, thousands of skilled international students at our nation’s most prestigious universities were left jobless until January 2008.

    Some critics maintain that these foreign-born scientists and specialists take jobs that would be filled by Americans if the salary was higher. Gates points out, though, that the average salary for these highly-qualified occupations is over $100,000. More importantly, Gates continues, is that these H1-B visas spur economy by bringing in “not only those people for these high-paying jobs, but the four or five jobs we create around each of those engineers” (“Bill Gates Targets Visa Rules for Tech Workers” NPR)

    Other critics say that these highly-qualified workers eventually leave our country, taking with them their money and their expertise and leaving a void. Gates echoes the sentiments of almost 6 million people in this nation who have overstayed their visas when he says that these people “overwhelmingly want to stay in the country” (“Bill Gates Targets Visa Rules for Tech Workers” NPR)

    America must move beyond the outdated idea of anybody being an outsider. Martin Luther King, Jr., recognized this some 45 years ago in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail:” “Moreover, I am cognizant of the interrelatedness of all communities and states…Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial ‘outside agitator’ idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds” (Why We Can’t Wait 77). Taken to its logical conclusion, no one in this globalized world can ever be considered an outsider or a foreigner. If our country would work as diligently on our Welcome as on our “Wait,” if we would strive to truly integrate and educate every person within our borders with the same intensity with which many now decry all immigrants regardless of their length of residency, we would begin to reclaim the progressive nature our nation once possessed and the creative edge it is in danger of losing.

 

People of Faith United For Immigrants- American Friends Service Committee

February 22, 2008

   

    In a week that witnessed Hillary Clinton stating, “We need smart borders…I will listen to the people of the Valley and make sure that we secure the border but don’t divide people from their families …” while simultaneously making the international hand gesture for wall, immigration and border security is most definitely back in the nation’s political eye. For some, including myself, it has become the issue of this Presidential race. When Obama and Clinton’s policies look all too similar, if one of them moved to retract the vote they made in support of the wall, a huge shift in support could result, especially in the nation’s minority votes.

    With all this at the forefront of the nation’s thinking, the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) begins its annual meeting. This time, however, it is not meeting in the wintry climes of Philadelphia, but rather in the beautiful San Juan Cathedral here in the Rio Grande Valley where Clinton and Obama are making stops themselves. The AFSC is meeting here en la frontera to be able to actively engage immigration reform at its vanguard. Immigration is a focus of this service-oriented organization.

    The AFSC has long been integrally involved in issues of civil rights. Their involvement, encouragement, and enabling of Martin Luther King helped him and his significant movement. The AFSC paid for his pilgrimage to India. They first published his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” And when the time came, the AFSC nominated Dr. King for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, which he won.

    And so it is with great welcome that all social activists, and in particular those citizens concerned with issues of citizenship and immigration, welcome the AFSC to our Rio Grande Valley. We urge you to remain mindful of the, “Principles for Comprehensive Immigration Reform in the United States,” an excellent document published in May 2006 which affirms the humanity of immigration laws.

 

Undocumented immigrants pay taxes, and contribute to the economic, social, and cultural development of their communities in countless ways. A legalization program would recognize the equity undocumented people have built through their participation in U.S. society and acknowledge the inherent injustice of the secrecy, vulnerability, and exploitation imposed on undocumented women, men and children.

— AFSC Board of Directors, June 23, 2001

The work of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) in immigrant communities is based on our belief in the worth and inherent dignity of every person. As an expression of this commitment, we have consistently expressed support for undocumented immigrants. AFSC has repeatedly called on the U.S. government to grant permanent residency to all undocumented men, women and children. We thus believe that actions leading to comprehensive immigration reform should reflect the following components:

  1. Respect for the civil rights and all human rights of immigrants;

  2. Inclusive and coordinated measures that support immigration status adjustment for undocumented workers;

  3. Support for the distinctly important and valuable role of family ties by supporting the reunification of immigrant families in a way that equally respects heterosexual and same-sex relationships;

  4. Humane policies that protect workers and their labor and employment rights;

  5. Measures that reduce backlogs that delay the ability of immigrants to become U.S. permanent residents and full participants in the life of the nation and of their communities;

  6. The removal of quotas and other barriers that impede or prolong the process for the adjustment of immigration status;

  7. Guarantees that no federal programs, means-tested or otherwise, will be permitted to single out immigrants for exclusion;

  8. Demilitarization of the U.S. border and respect and protection of the region’s quality of life.

  9. “Free trade” agreements like NAFTA and CAFTA have had a detrimental impact on sending countries from the global South, provoking significant increases in migration. Such international economic policies should be consistent with human rights, fair trade, and sustainable approaches to the environment and economic development.

Immigration Realities: An AFSC Perspective

The growth of undocumented migration is a worldwide phenomenon. Although many people are propelled into migration for political and other reasons, labor migration clearly accounts for the greatest part of the migrant stream. In this sense, the growth of a transnational labor force is a structural feature of increasing global economic integration. U.S. policies that are intended to deter undocumented migration have failed entirely to achieve this objective, while increasing the violation of human rights, as well as aggravating anti-immigrant prejudice and hate violence.

In addition, punitive measures such as increased surveillance and patrols at the border, raids on homes and workplaces, and detaining and deporting undocumented people do not address the underlying reasons that people migrate. Those measures create fear and polarization during a time when we should be creating hope and peace in our communities.

One stark indication of this failure is that hundreds of migrants die each year trying to cross the Mexican-U.S. border in increasingly dangerous circumstances. U.S. communities that lie along the border with Mexico live a reality that is essentially different from the rest of the country. U.S. immigration policy has transformed the region into a militarized zone where the U.S.

Constitution and international law are applied only selectively. Efforts to secure the southern border have had dire human consequences, from the ever-increasing tally of migrant deaths to the systemic violation of the civil and human rights of border crosser’s and border communities.

Because border enforcement is a reality that these communities will continue to face, it is essential that any debate that focuses on increasing the security of the U.S.-Mexico border be based on a strong commitment to accountability and human rights, including civil rights. It is essential that the perspectives of those who live in border communities be included in such a debate.

AFSC calls upon the U.S. Congress to consider that its policies, laws, and regulations on immigration will affect the rest of the world negatively or positively, especially our neighbors to the South. Remittances from migrant workers in the United States and other rich countries contribute more to the economies of their countries of origin than all forms of development assistance, by approximately 50 percent yearly. For many of the world’s poor, economic integration through remittances is the only form of economic globalization with a positive impact on their living standards. Sooner or later, comprehensive immigration reform will need to be carried out not just unilaterally, but multilaterally, in concert with the needs and interests of other countries that send migrants or refugees to the United States and whose cultures, peoples, and economic prospects are thereby bound up with the citizens and residents of this country. <http://www.afsc.org/immigrants-rights/PrinciplesforImmigrationReform_en.htm>

Once again, the AFSC highlights the human aspect of a topic which all too many people debate coldly, stiffly, politically. Their advocation of smart borders makes sense both for the world and for the person. In reading this excellent document, I am reminded of a late-night coffee-table talk with longtime activist and Friend Domingo Gonzalez. He pointed out that, “In taking the train from New Jersey to Philadelphia, you cross more ethnic and racial boundaries than at any border crossing. If only we could make our borders like those of our cities’.” Hopefully this weekend, the AFSC can discuss more ways in which our nation can be made to take real steps towards making this world a collection of city-states where migrants need not fear imaginary lines. And hopefully, they will add both their prayers and their endorsement to the No Border Wall Walk as it attempts to re-open the issue of immigration via the border wall. If everyone in the Valley says the same thing at the same time, how powerful a message we could send! Maybe all the way to Washington, maybe all the way to India…


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