Posts Tagged ‘New Mexico’

El Paso del Mundo

January 6, 2009
Las Americas Asylum Law Project

Las Americas Asylum Law Project

El Paso is closer to Los Angeles than Houston, closer to three other state capitals than its own, 12 hours from Brownsville, Texas.  It is part New Mexico, part Tejano, part Mexico, part Wild West, all frontera.  With a population of 700,000 and separated from a 1.5 million city by a tiny rivulet called the Rio Grande, El Paso melds with Juarez in culture, language, music, food, and la gente.

11 University of Minnesota Law School students arrived in El Paso, Texas, on Sunday, January 4. We came as part of the Asylum Law Project to volunteer with nonprofit groups such as Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid, Diocesan Migrant and Refugee Services, Paso del Norte Civil Rights Project, and Las Americas Advocacy Center.  We came to volunteer, but as always, we assuredly will gain more than we give.

Our first day in El Paso, we attended immigration court and saw the inside of a client interview room.  The immigration court was informal, the judge joking about Burn after Reading and giving informal history lessons about Ellis Island.  The hardest cases were the pro-se ones, where we had to watch a 19-year-old boy with oversized clothes sit silently in front of the judge as he was told he had to wait for the LA judge to reopen his case.  Beside him, a Korean man was whispering prayer upon prayer, eyes closed.  Inside the interview room, the circle chairs and the square table were stainless steel.  A woman from El Salvador had been transported from San Francisco to Los Angeles to Arizona to Houston to El Paso.  Her son was watching her younger children and attending Stanford, and this meeting was to gather some last-minute details so that she could apply for a change of venue.  The steel room was empty and echoed, her small voice enunciated each word of Spanish thoughtfully and deliberately.

That same day, we were told by numerous attorneys and well-meaning citizens not to venture across the bridge to Juarez.  Granted there were more than 1,600 murders in Juarez in 2008 and a group of hueros would generally attract a lot of attention; however, it is that same sort of terror that has depressed the economy on both sides of the river and has lent credence to the drug dealers and thugs like the Zetas.  It is that same fear that led Congress to pass the Secure Fence Act of 2006, the same fear that drives Bill O’Reilly’s ratings, the same fear that enables shows like ABC’s “Homeland Security USA” to exist.  As we crossed the El Paso del Norte Bridge and were greeted by the smell of tacos al pastor and the sight of cheap meds and fast surgeries, none of us felt threatened.  Even as we walked by the federales with their automatic rifles and teenage faces, it was impossible to see much of a difference between one side of the river and the other.  We watched Texas beat Ohio State for the Fiesta Bowl as we sat in the Yankees bar, across the centro from the Kentucky Bar where Marilyn Monroe bought drinks for everyone the day she divorced Arthur Miller.  Both sides of this river are hopelessly interconnected.

We are staying in the Gardner Hotel/El Paso International Hostel, a hotel from the 1920s that has hosted John Dillinger and Cormac McCarthy. An old PacBell phone booth stands sentry at the doorway, and an old-time telephone switchboard stands next to the check-in booth.  With its high ceilings and transoms, old charm and new faces daily, many languages and few rules, this hostel is as good a metaphor for El Paso and Juarez as one can imagine.

Tonight we visited Casa Anunciacion, an immigrant safe house.  Dreamed up by 5 Christian men more than 30 years ago, this organization operates in the historically most impoverished portion of El Paso.  It serves as a home for immigrants, whether for one night or for 8 months.  Families, abused women, single teens, mothers and babies, fathers – the house is full to the brim with immigrants seeking shelter and a change.  This particular night Juan Carlos cooked dinner for all 55 tenants and all 11 of us.  We sat next to immigrants from Guatemala and Sinaloa, El Salvador and Lebanon, Juarez, and Honduras.  After dinner, I washed dishes alongside Federico as everyone worked together to clean the facilities.  Although the house was raided by ICE several years ago, it still continues to offer hope to many seeking a better job and life.

The border towns of El Paso and Juarez serve as a microcosm of worldwide immigration patterns.  When goods are freely transportable in a globalizing world, it only stands to reason that people will desire to move freely legally or not.  Border lines are human conventions, and as one looks at the picnic cloth of stars between the Sierra Madre and Rocky Mountains that is El Paso/Juarez at night, it is impossible to see where one ends and the other begins.  Perhaps that would just be a perfunctory exercise anyway.

Dia de los Muertos, Dia de los Vivos

November 12, 2008

On the Dia de los Muertos, just days before the Day of the Living (November 4th), students from the University of Minnesota, Augsburg College, and Minneapolis Community & Technology College marched to remember the 1,954 border-crossing deaths the Border Patrol estimates occurred between 1998-2004. Those numbers continue to rise every year, with increased militarization and border barriers redirecting immigrants to more dangerous regions. (http://www.mndaily.com/2008/11/01/d%C3%AD-de-los-muertos-procession-honors-immigrant-deaths)

500 students marched in South Minneapolis as part of this event by Minnesota Immigrant Rights Action Coalition. Beginning at the Holy Rosary/Santo Rosario Catholic Church and finishing at El Milagro: The Miracle Lutheran Church, these protestors tried to publicize the fact that annual border crossing deaths have doubled in the ten years since 2005. As the participants read these names aloud, the air grew chill with the realization that our country’s policies are directly causing deaths.

Our new President-elect is inheriting an office faced with a teeming host of problems. American policies are causing deaths, both American and global, in far-reaching places like Iraq and Afghanistan and Somalia, but our legislation is also leading to deaths as close as Arizona, California, and Texas. Immigrants lured by employers and kept in a dependent work-relationship die every year, failing to get the health benefits and insurance they need. Hospitals like Saint Joseph’s in Phoenix repatriate about eight uninsured patients a month. While Vice-President Sister Margaret McBride said this is just a part of them trying to “be good stewards of the resources we have,” hospital El Centro Regional Medical Center in California refuses to forcefully deport immigrant patients. CEO David Green of that hospital said, “We don’t export patients. I can understand the frustrations of other hospitals, but the flip side is the human being element.” (http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/09/us/09deport.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=immigrant%20hospital&st=cse&oref=slogin)

Although healthcare is distant fourth on the upcoming President’s agenda and immigration a distant fifth or sixth, our lack of universal healthcare and lack of immigration reform creates a “perfect storm” which establishes bizarre incentives for hospitals to rid themselves of uninsured patients. Illegal immigrants are only partially covered by emergency Medicaid or, for the last few years at least, through the Medicare Modernization Act of 2003 (expired in October). Infants, even legal citizens like Elliott Bustamente who was born at University Medical Center in Tucson, are often ordered to be transferred to a Mexican hospital regardless of his heart defect or Down Syndrome. Dr. Stephen Larson, migrant health expert at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, states that, “You’re given an out by there not being formal regulations. The question is whether or not litigation, or prosecution, catches up and hospitals start to be held liable.” Dr. Robert Margolin of the California Medical Association, confessed that, ““While we empathize with hospitals that must provide uncompensated care to undocumented immigrants, we overwhelmingly oppose the practice of repatriating patients without their consent.” (http://www.nytimes.com/2008/11/09/us/09deport.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=immigrant%20hospital&st=cse&oref=slogin ). For hospitals that refuse to repatriate patients without their consent, though, this incurs prohibitive costs which are only partially covered by the State.

Hospitals are put between a rock and a hard place, when 12 million extralegal immigrants are not allowed to acquire employer-based or private insurance and our current healthcare system doesn’t pick up the costs. Being married to a hospital administrator and being the son of a healthcare executive, I uniquely understand the plight of hospitals as it gets harder and harder for them to survive financially. However, the forced repatriation of people based on racial profiling and lack of insurance certainly does not solve immigration issues nor does it adequately address the needs of hospitals. As President-elect Obama prepares to take the Oval Office, it is our duty as citizens to keep these issues in the forefront of his mind.

Border Stories

March 28, 2008

Clara, Sophia, Ben, and John from the new group Border Stories are doing important work for la frontera. They are humanizing this entire border region one video clip, one interview, one face at a time. Their work could not have come at a better time.

The border region has always been misunderstood. There are some who write it off as a dangerous area, others as a poor region not worth visiting on vacation. Some have deemed it “no-man’s land,” since it is south of the real border checkpoints some 40 miles north. Some look at the border region and see only the line which separates two countries, or a river which snakes back and forth until finally emptying into the sea. Some hear the Spanish and Spanglish and are threatened by this budding culture shift in parts of America.

Few look at the border region, either in Las Cruces, NM, and Del Rio, TX, or Brownsville, and see the people whose lives are planted here. The border is shrimp fisherman, factory workers, offshore oil-rig engineers, carpenters, educators. The border is families, bi-lingual tongues, bi-national histories, and bi-cultural futures. The border is a family who cannot leave the la frontera because old Abuela cannot legally cross and they would never dream of leaving grandma. The border is new immigrants, old land-grant families. The border holds the future of the United States.

Please visit http://www.borderstories.org/ to witness these stories for yourself.

No Border Wall Walk- Day 4 or Having Hope

March 11, 2008

Swimming in the Rio Grande

Ten Esperanza!

Have hope!

Faith and hope are inextricably linked. Hebrews 11:1 states, “Faith is the evidence of things hoped for, the assurance of things unseen.” Marching alongside 30 energetic, positive people bent on the same purpose, hope can be seen brimming out of every smile and poster. From the Lipan Apache Tribe members to the high-school students, from the Mexican man on his bicycle or the junior-high student from Cesar Chavez Middle School walking with us on his way to pick up groceries for his mom, hope has been expressed through our march and has been echoed back to us in each community and along every mile of highway.

When Kiel Harell, John Moore, and I first started planning this march but two months ago, we did it because we saw a hopelessness and a sense of acquiescence on the part of the people of the Valley. Many people acted as if they had been beaten, acted as if they were confident the government would never listen to their needs or their pleas. They were disenfranchised and unrepresented, and therefore had given up hope. Or so it seemed.

Hope is always almost gone.

Barack Obama visited the Valley just two weeks before, promising a campaign of hope. Hillary Clinton visited UTB only 3 weeks before, asking the Valley to pin its hopes on her. Hope is exactly what we need – hope that the Secure Fence Act of 2006 is not inevitable, hope that consciences are not unreachable, hope that the U.S. can follow the European Union’s lead and get rid of borders instead of fortifying them.

The No Border Wall Walk is a unique protest. Coming exactly 43 years after the Selma to Montgomery March of the civil rights movement, our walk shares many similarities with that nonviolent demonstration. We are largely faith-based, supported by numerous denominations and united around the idea that God is pro-immigrant; a beautiful hand-painted poster created by Trish Flanagan today had the Virgin saying, “I was a stranger, and you welcomed me.” Like Martin Luther King’s March to Montgomery, our 120-mile walk from Roma to Brownsville, Texas, is a positively-messaged action of nonviolent resistance to a dehumanizing issue. Also like Martin Luther King, we are energized by spirituals and hymns and chants.

However, there are some striking differences between the two marches. Our march, unlike the one from Selma to Montgomery, has met with almost unilateral support, where Dr. King faced almost overwhelming opposition from the “majority” of his time. Everywhere we go, police escort us through town with sirens honking and lights flashing. Where else do police officers donate five hours of their day to actually “serve and protect” marchers? Their support is an amazing vote of confidence, a sign that it is ok for locals to come out and join us. Javier, the Mission bicyclist, might not have joined us had the police not calmed his fears by their supportive presence, and perhaps the random angel of a woman would not have stopped to give us a box of water and a fresh pineapple had we not had this full endorsement of the city of Mission.

Our support can be seen in the solidarity of police officers and chambers of commerce, churches and Church’s chicken, Valero gas stations and construction workers, Haliburton employees and local media crews – all people of this Valley are on our side of this nationally divisive legislation.

By walking on the border, our March Against the Border Wall has become less of a local protest and more of an international broadcast. Our hope is to broadcast the idea that the wall will not just divvy up desert but will divide downtowns. Our aim is to reach people in western Washington and in the northern New York where my parents reside, in order to inform them that the border wall will negatively affect Americans, both North and Central, and that this border wall will not solve the problems their politicians have been espousing. Unlike Martin Luther King’s public demonstrations which drew dogs and fire hoses, we have dogs in backyards barking their support alongside their owners and fire trucks honking their solidarity with our worthy cause.

Singing on the Rio Grande

Singing “Shall we Gather at the River” on the Rio Grande and swimming in its living waters, hope is renewed once more. La frontera cannot be defeated when there are Catholic priests like Father Roy and churches like Our Lady of Guadalupe. Catholic literally means universal, and that has been the sort of support we have received from virtually every Christian denomination. La frontera will not surrender hope that people are essentially good and that no one who calls themselves American would put their security over humanity. La frontera will not be overcome because, while “our feets is tired, our souls are rested.” Dr. King wrote that this hope “…will give our tired feet new strength as we continue our forward stride toward the City of Freedom” (Martin Luther King Autobiography 260). La frontera has hope because it is not just a river in Texas or a desert in Arizona – it is also the mesas of New Mexico and the expanse of California. La frontera is French-speaking Canadians and immigrants in New York restaurants like the French Roast; la frontera is bilingual Texans and bilingual Minnesotans. The Border Ambassadors and all this Valley have hope because this is bigger than our little part of the world. We believe that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” We have hope because “No lie can live forever.” We are encouraged because “Truth crushed to earth will rise again!” We have hope because no person is beyond redemption, and we believe it is only through ignorance or misinformation that America has not spoken out in loud opposition to the Secure Fence Act of 2006.

Ten esperanza el Valle! Ten esperanza Los Estados Unidos! Ten Esperanza Canada y Mexico! Take hope, because we are coming together.

*Youtube Videos can be accessed here:



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