Posts Tagged ‘Secure Fence Act 2006’

February 11- Brownsville City Commissioner’s Public Hearing

February 11, 2009

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

Esteemed Commissioners,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Respectfully,
Matthew Webster

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

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.

Civil Rights Opportunity of the Century

April 5, 2008

When Martin Luther King wrote his famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” he had in mind several prominent preachers, including Episcopal Bishop C.C. Jones Carpenter. When King wrote, “The ultimate tragedy of Birmingham was not the brutality of the bad people, but the silence of the good people,” he was envisioning these men of faith who had their hands on the levers of hundreds of thousands of consciences. While C.C. Jones Carpenter legalistically disagreed with King’s direct action strategies, he was in effect weighing in with support for the segregationists. One of theologian Reinhold Niebuhr‘s best friends, Bishop Will Scarlett, had attempted earlier to rouse Carpenter’s conscience for integration. Scarlett wrote that integration was “…in line with my suggestion years ago that the sight of the great Bishop of Alabama ridden out of his State on a rail because of courageous and enlightened speech, would be one of the greatest events of many years…I still think so: I think you have an opportunity of a hundred years.” (Parting the Waters, 742)

The Secure Fence Act of 2006 and the shockingly un-Constitutional waivers of 30 laws this past week in order to hasten the wall’s construction provide American citizens and residents the civil rights opportunity of the century. The Secretary of Homeland Security’s waiving of border citizens’ rights and due process is shocking in its blatant disregard for morality and basic human rights; however, we must not let this, the largest waiver so far in the construction of what would eventually be a 2,000-mile border wall, enervate us and cause us to falter.

No, this mass waiver and the thoughtlessness of the Secure Fence Act of 2006 must serve as a rallying cry to unite Americans and to call for real immigration reform with solidarity. I must admit that when I first heard of the waiver on Tuesday, I trembled with shock and disbelief. Having walked 126 miles with 300 people but a few weeks before in the No Border Wall Walk here in the Rio Grande Valley, I had felt we had made a difference. UTB Professor Eloisa Tamez’s case had been a partial victory, and the UTB decision on Wednesday, March 19, had made all activists and citizens begin to believe that perhaps the lines of dialogue were open and our leaders were willing to listen to reason and conscience. My hopes were jarred this April Fool’s Day 2008, but I have now come to understand that this is merely a call to action.

And so to oppose the foolhardiness of this Fool’s Day decision, people of faith must say to the fool there is a God and he is on the side of the stranger and the migrant. People of faith, from Baptists and Methodists to Mennonites and Lutherans and Quakers, from Catholics and Unitarians to Jews and Muslims and Buddhists – all these people of faith are united around the idea of protecting the sanctity of human life and defending the rights of immigrants. All people of faith must therefore unite in solidarity against a border wall which threatens the way of life and the basic human rights of the millions who live on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border. People of faith must join in opposition against a double-layered, 18-foot wall which would be economically destructive, environmentally unconscionable, politically backward, socially devastating, and morally reprehensible. If we do not step up in this moment of opportunity, then Dr. King’s words from prison will ring true.

So often [the church] is an archdefender of the status quo. Far from being disturbed by the presence of the church, the power structure of the average community is consoled by the church’s silent – and often even vocal – sanction of things as they are.

But the judgment of God is upon the church as never before. If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century (Why We Can’t Wait, 92)

People of faith, and in fact all citizens, must come together today. The REAL ID ACT holds the potential to waive any number of laws in constructing a border wall. The Secure Fence Act of 2006 stands as a deterrent from positive immigration reform and a detriment to the border region, Mexico, and our entire nation of immigrants, both legal and extralegal. Please speak with your faith leader and urge them to adopt a strong resolution against the border wall. The Church is strongest when it is a check of the State, and our nation’s power imbalance must be righted by people of faith today. It is no longer our place to discuss whether or not this is a church issue or a moral dilemma – the time is ripe to do right right now.

Who will speak for the students?

March 30, 2008

    Today one of my students celebrated his 17th birthday. This bright senior also managed to win first place in a South Texas Informative Speech District competition. As his coach, I will be traveling with him to San Antonio for the UIL Regional Meet. The event is sure to be packed with fawning friends and proud parents, as well as hundreds of other young high-schoolers dreaming of making it to States. However, this lad, for whom I wrote a recommendation to Rice University, will not even have his mother there. The only two roads north out of the Valley, Highways 77 and 83, both have checkpoints which temporary residents are not permitted to pass. While his mother can legally reside in border towns like Brownsville, she cannot witness her son’s beautiful speeches nor visit her talented hijo when he attends Texas Tech this fall.

    This young man is not alone. In my high school of 2,200 students in a city of more than 12,000 high-schoolers and almost 49,000 students, countless kids deal with this and more every day. Some students live with aunts and grandmothers during the week, separated from their biological mothers in Matamoros across an International Bridge. Others live lives of solitude in sparse apartments, forbidden by their parents to leave for fear of getting deported. Some students drive from Mexico every single day, others cook and clean for a family they traveled a thousand miles from the heart of Mexico to serve as a maid. Thousands and thousands of students shift codes every day as they make the long journey from their father’s espanol and their English classes, such as mine.

    Countless of my students benefit from positive immigrant legislation every single day. A trip to my classroom would show you boys and girls coming of age in Texas, the same boys and girls who are finding themselves in Pennsylvania and the same boys and girls learning their potential in Minnesota. Extralegal residents, endowed with the same souls and minds and dreams as children everywhere, are allowed to sit in these desks and listen to my lectures because of a landmark court case. In the 1982 Supreme Court Doe v. Plyler case in regards to “Alien Children Education Litigation,” Peter Schey helped prove it was a violation of the 14th Amendment to deny public education to undocumented children. Along with hundreds of students who have stepped foot in my classroom of F114, 100,000 children are annually admitted to Texas schools because of Peter Schey’s successful advocacy.

    Peter Schey is one of the preeminent lawyers in our nation today, and he is currently tackling further injustice toward immigrants and border residents by readying a class-action lawsuit against the government’s attempts to enact the Secure Fence Act of 2006 in Texas. He is defending UT-Brownsville Professor Eloisa Tamez as she opposes the government’s desire to survey and sequester part, if not all, of her Spanish land-grant acreage. Obviously, the border wall lawsuit is about more than just an unsightly barrier. At its heart, it would have the same crushing effects as denying 100,000 children an education. Schey realizes that building a wall between the United States and Mexico is an affront to every legal immigrant in this nation. Schey recognizes that the Secure Fence Act of 2006 is a distraction from the real negotiations about immigration which must take place if my students are going to have the opportunity to attend university. Peter Schey is filing lawsuits because the DREAM Act is a law which helps people achieve their dreams, while the Secure Fence Act’s sole purpose is deterrence. Schey understands that the border region and its unique way of life are under fire, that the Secure Fence Act would affect la frontera exponentially more than any other region of the country, that asking border residents to make this staggering sacrifice is akin to Napoleon asking the chickens to sacrifice their baby chicks for the good of the cause in Animal Farm, a sacrifice none others are asked to make.

    My students are watching this nation. They are inspecting us adults to see if we really are trying to make the world a better place for all and not just a few. Students like those on Speech Club are contemplating careers in politics and law, so they are encouraged to see that famous attorneys like Peter Schey are willing to stake their reputation on cases which affect their lives. My students are watching me, waiting to see if I am willing to advocate for them in meaningful ways, waiting to see that I care enough to speak out. We must not disappoint these dreamers nor frustrate our future leaders; we must not leave a wall as a legacy for them to tear down.

Border Wall California by Jay Johnson-Castro

Humansarehumansarehumans…

March 27, 2008

“People in the detention centers are treated as things,” an ACLU attorney stated to me at tonight’s meeting at San Felipe de Jesus Church in Brownsville. “In Raymondville, they referred to people as ‘bodies’ and their quarters as ‘pods.’ It is the most dehumanizing thing.”

As Martin Luther King, Jr., began moving outside of the realm of segregation and began working on the integration he envisioned as a Beloved Community, he quickly realized that the United States was moving in a direction where people were devalued assets and machines or things were becoming increasingly prized. He wrote,

I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a thing- oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered. (Autobiography of Martin Luther King, 340)

40 years ago, Dr. King could very well have been envisioning the current immigration stagnation of our nation today.

    Racism, materialism, and militarism are all occurring in our nation around the issue of immigration. There is a racism inherent in a border wall that only keeps out people from certain countries rather than an immigration reform which would begin positively impacting individuals of all races and backgrounds. There is a racial bias apparent when legal Latinos are stopped and searched because the police see their skin as “probable cause.” In today’s thing-centered world, racism exists in our schools and our communities and our national policies because people are taken out of the picture. Instead of human rights issues, these are simply “dollars and cents” issues.

    Materialism exists in a thing-centered society where people can be terrorized by talk-show hosts and media sources so that they clamor for the deportation of 12 million people working and residing within our nations borders (an action which would cost almost $100 billion). Materialism drives companies like CCA (Corrections Corporation of America) to run for-profit immigrant detention centers at places like Hutto and Raymondville. Thankfully the ACLU and other organizations have been legally opposing these organizations, gaining considerable rights for children detained in the Hutto detention center this past year. However, detention centers like Raymondville are adding more tents and facilities every year, and therefore treating more and more people like things.

    Militarism is one of the worst effects of a thing-centered society. When peace is a word instead of people, a wall might seem like a logical idea. If a border were only a line on a map instead of a living river or a fertile Valley or a child’s backyard, then a border wall might make sense. If people were not inherently good, if immigrants did not give so much to a thankless U.S., if walls actually worked, then maybe the Secure Fence Act of 2006 would not be the unconscionable legislation it is. The fact is that our borders are militarized since 2006. I have had a gun pulled on me as I jogged legally on the border. The gun was not held by a drug smuggler or an immigrant; no, it was held by a Border Patrol agent. If this is how people are being treated all along la frontera, it is obvious that our increasingly militarized borders are becoming decreasingly humanized.

    Amidst the rhetoric about a border wall and immigration reform, it is all too easy to get distracted by numbers or logistics and forget the human element. Joseph Stalin once said, “A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.” We have come to a point where the 400 reported deaths of immigrants attempting to cross the desert is merely a statistic; in fact, we are willing to sentence more to die by building walls which will only reroute people to more dangerous border-crossing zones. We are to a point where we have forgotten that, at its heart, immigration legislation is affecting real souls in real time.

    We must not forget that the Secure Fence Act of 2006 was not being discussed as a solution to drugs or terrorism at first. No, it was being discussed alongside several other immigration reforms which would have positively impacted people’s lives. Legislation like the DREAM Act, a bill which would have given students like my own the opportunity to utilize the scholarships they have already earned at some of the best universities in the country. Mcain’s proposal for a path to earned citizenship (dubbed amnesty) was also on the docket, a law which would have given hope to thousands and thousands of working immigrants hoping to one day “earn” their place as the Americans they already are.

    As we campaign against the border wall and advocate for true immigration reform, we must never lose sight of the fact that this is important because it will change people’s lives. Yes, immigration legislation will affect the environment, the economy, our society, our politics, our consumerism, our language base, our schools, and our communities, but more importantly it will change the lives of people like Yadira, Celina, Mayra, Alexa, Daniel, Jesus, Perla…

Time Ripens

March 25, 2008

    It is 4:40 on Monday afternoon. We are already ten minutes late as our caravan heads down Monsees Road to Calle Milpa Verde Street in Southmost. Southmost is a community unto itself in Brownsville – students from this area will answer “Southmost” instead of “Brownsville” if they are asked where they live. The 6 of us are driving these pot-holed streets and close communities because Southmost, like so many other communities along the Rio Grande Valley, is slated to have a border wall before the end of the year.

    We drive by the home of Rusty Monsees, one of but a few landowners on the river who is for the wall. In a February 2 article in the Brownsville Herald, Mr. Monsees said he wanted a wall behind his land to stem the drug-running he has witnessed, although he does not seem to mind the occasional immigrant family crossing, people he refers to endearingly as la gente. Mr. Monsees was such a proponent of the wall that he called the United States’ government to ask them to build the wall in his backyard, with one caveat – he insisted there be a gate in the Secure Fence to afford him access to the river. (Sieff, Kevin. “Necessary Sacrifices”)

    The road wends its way past the Monsees, up and over the levee which could stand to be a few feet higher at this point. We make our way down Calle Milpa Verde, talking with local landowners, kids, students, dads, teen mothers, grandmothers, aunts, renters, gardeners. Mr. Garcia alerts us that a government agent just visited his house a half hour ago; perhaps if we had not been late, maybe if time had slowed him up and sped up our efforts, we would have been there when the U.S. government man was there asking Mr. Garcia to waive the rights to his property. As it is, we are fortunate – Mr. Garcia has already been in contact with Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid.

    Not everyone on Milpa Verde and San Eugenio Streets, though, is as knowledgeable about the federal designs for their property. One old woman has never heard of a muro before, and it is all we could do to make her believe that the government wanted to erect an 18-foot wall on the 8-foot levee behind her tiny house. Other families have signed but are now having second thoughts. Some want to fight it, but thought it would be prohibitively expensive until they realized that several law firms have pledged to do this work pro-bono.

    As kids run around, flour tortillas sputter and sizzle in the pan, and barbecue wafts through this tight-knit community, we continue to speak with over 150 people. A group of elementary-age children gets so excited about fighting the border wall that they take off on their mountain bikes, distributing 40 leaflets to their neighbors in a veritable “race towards awareness.” We smile at their passion and their instant sense of indignation at the immorality of a border wall through their lives.

    While some individuals bring up the opinions of Monsees, all agree that a border wall would not solve the problems. Far from merely handing out neon-green flyers, this time is meaningful in that it gives all of us updates and perspectives from the “ground.” Even though I live in Brownsville, it is still about 2 miles from the prospective border wall; it is amazing to hear their unique perspectives, their ideas about what solutions would really work, their brainstorms about better ways to spend $49 billion. By the end of the evening, every single one of us wonders if the government even asked the advice of any of these people. We even register three new voters, so at least the government will have the opinions of three more landowners in the upcoming November election.

    Time flies when you are meeting new people and talking about an issue dear to your heart. As encouraging as these few hours were, it is daunting to realize that this must happen in every community all along the 120 miles of the Rio Grande Valley. It will take at least two more trips to Southmost to flyer every single house on the levee, and the government is certainly not waiting patiently as we organize. Despite the semi-favorable court decisions the last few weeks, the U.S. government still is adamant about pursuing the Secure Fence Act of 2006. The opposition to the wall is growing in purpose and in numbers, but we must press on. As Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote in Why We Can’t Wait,

Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co-workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right. (86)

The border wall is not an inevitable reality, but neither is a successful overturning of this federal legislation. To that end, people on all borders and immigrants of all ethnicity and background must join this effort to oppose a border wall and demand the immigration reform every U.S. resident so desperately needs. Time is only on our side if we are doing something meaningful for a cause in which we believe. The time is right, and ripens everyday.

Teachers as Natural Social Activists

March 20, 2008

    Social activism begins the moment you feel responsibility instead of pity for others.

    While I have long been socially conscious, it wasn’t until I began teaching last year that I became a social activist. When I accepted the impressive responsibility of 130 souls, when I understood that I was entrusted to advocate for these young lives and the community they would inherit, I had no other choice but to begin to take action.

    Teaching has to be one of the best professions for becoming a social activist. Day in and day out, one is confronted with housing policies, welfare programs, child protective services, police, insurance policies, medical bills, immigration laws, educational reform, refugee policies, family reunification bills, literacy initiatives, and a host of other community services and government programs. The classroom is a crossroads of current events and a nexus of legislation and its effects on our most impressionable population – our children.

    I have been criticized from friends and family members outside of the teaching profession when I refer to my students as “my kids” or “mi’jos.” While I can appreciate their concerns, I don’t know if it is possible for a teacher to truly excel at their job if they do not feel like every single student is in someway their child. As I see past students in the hall and quiz them about their success in English class this year, it is more as a parent than a teacher. When I write recommendations for students like Jack, who recently was awarded a hefty scholarship at Our Lady of the Lake in Texas, it is more as a mentor than an academic instructor. When I speak with parents at open houses and conferences, we converse not as combatants but as co-guardians of this child’s future. It is impossible to be a good teacher without feeling this sense of responsibility and investment in students’ success beyond one’s classroom.

    This past spring break, while most of my students sat at home waiting for school to begin again, I had the privilege to march 126 miles against an unjust border wall proposed through my kids’ homes and lives. I was joined by countless other students and educators. I am sure teachers like Elizabeth Stephens, Elizabeth Golini, Andrea Guengrich, Patricia Flanagan, Mike and Cindy Johnson, and Cole Farnum all came to care about the Secure Fence Act of 2006 in much the same manner. All of us have students who have pricked our hearts; all of us feel a sense of responsibility for improving the community both because we see its shortcomings and because we see the enormous potential in each and every one of our students. We hope to help shape a community which will harness the potential for goodness that we have witnessed within every single young person.

    It is my earnest hope that, when I shake my freshman students’ hands on the graduation stage three years from now, that I will be able to do so as a person who has helped to change them and the world they are inheriting. As Cesar Chavez so eloquently wrote,

Once change begins, it cannot be stopped:

You cannot uneducate the person who has learned to read.

You cannot humiliate the person who feels pride.

You cannot oppress the people who are not afraid anymore.”

(“Address to the UFW’ 7th Constitutional Convention, September 1984, pg. 121)

Once my students have learned that “Words are Power,” once they have understood themselves and their own agency, and once they realize that they hold within themselves all they need to change the world – once they know this, I can rest assured that these students will take good care of my future children and grandchildren.

UTB’s Esperanza or the Immediate Effects of a Nonviolent Campaign

March 19, 2008

    When in the course of human events, it sometimes seems that one’s voice is so small, one’s life only a seashell, one’s impact little more than a leaf here and gone. Some may have shouted the same about the No Border Wall Walk which occurred last week from March 8-16, decrying it little more than a symbolic demonstration. Many people we spoke to in communities like Granjeno, El Calaboz, and Los Indios had lost hope that the government would listen to la gente, the regular people.

    But the participants in the No Border Wall Walk persisted in both the symbolic and the pragmatic aspects of this nonviolent demonstration. One of our aims was most certainly to get national media attention to humanize the southern Texas which would be affected and highlight the beautiful river and wildlife which would be devastated by a border wall. However, we also came with a pragmatic aim to familiarize border residents with their rights and encourage them to avail themselves of the many law firms which would take their cases for free. We recognized that if we needed more than merely media attention; like Cesar Chavez said, “not recognition, but signed contracts; not recognition, but good wages; not recognition, bu a strong union.” We were seeking more than just a media blitz and recognition; we sought to unify and encourage the Valley residents.

    Because of the efforts of those nine individuals who walked the entire 126 miles, because of the more than 300 people who walked a portion of the walk, and because of 400-500 people who participate in the final rally at UTB’s campus on Sunday the 16th, we must claim some responsibility for the fact that today the U.S. government finally admitted the need to explore alternatives to a border wall. This admission came as a result of the settlement of a land condemnation suit between UTB President Juliet Garcia and the United States government. Garcia said, “They’re not allowed to mow a single blade of grass without our permission” (http://www.valleymorningstar.com/articles/university_21816___article.html/brownsville_federal.html)

    While President Garcia was unable to officially endorse the No Border Wall Walk or its final rally on the UTB campus because of her involvement in the lawsuit, she did seem to intimate that she hoped UTB students like Crystal Canales would participate in the walk and its mission. The main reason the nine-day march ended at UTB instead of the bridge or Immaculate Conception Cathedral was that we wished to show solidarity with the university’s efforts to curb the Secure Fence Act of 2006. Joining us in that walk and that show of unity was a UTB professor who was involved in a similar lawsuit of the government surveys and who actually filed a counter-suit. Eloisa Tamez spoke her encouragement for any and all affected parties, galvanizing them to take heart and take case with a government which has overstepped its legal bounds and forsaken its morality in proposing a border wall anywhere.

    Hillary Clinton’s visit to UTB, and her subsequent televised statement of the absurdity of a border wall amputating part of the campus, surely helped bring this case to a favorable conclusion for President Garcia and the rest of Brownsville. Garcia said she hoped this victory served “to test the outer edges of the rights landowners have.” Hopefully, the outcome of this case and Professor Tamez’s lawsuit will encourage the hundreds of residents on the fence right now. Over the coming weeks, concerned citizens will continue to speak with local residents in these border communities, clearly relaying their rights and telling them about free legal aid. If protests and media coverage like that of last week can be coupled with hundreds or thousands of lawsuits, perhaps those parties concerned will finally be made to admit the shame of the Secure Fence Act of 2006 and we can all begin to explore more sustainable, positive, lasting, and nonviolent solutions to problems which primarily stem from a lack of communication – precisely the communication which a wall would end altogether, precisely the sort of nonpartisan dialogue that was happening two years ago despite the Secure Fence Act legislation.

The Legal Outlook on the Border Wall

March 19, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No Border Wall Walk- Day 8

March 15, 2008

Got Hope- Matthew Webster and Kiel Harell

Today began with chorizo and eggs, huevos con papas, and pan dulce sweetbreads. The eight church women who initially welcomed us to Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Las Rusias with tambourines and noisemakers were all there to see us off this morning in style. Everything was delicious, and it felt just like having 8 grandmothers as they watched us eat with sheer delight.

After our hearty breakfast, we went into the church and discussed nonviolence and immigration under the watch of the crucifix and the palm branches for Palm Sunday. These Catholic women, like almost every other denomination, firmly believed in loving humanity regardless of definitions or distinctions. They nodded and added their affirmation to our discussion. We left singing “Juntos Como Hermanos,” and we did leave with a sense of brotherhood and togetherness. Looking back at the church, all those women were still out front, still singing, still waving to us.

It was a great way to begin Day 8, and this send-off made today’s 10-mile walk go even faster than expected. Our four new recruits all sped up our beleaguered pace, and so we made it to the next church, San Ignacio Iglesia in Ranchito, at the early hour of 1:00. I came in holding the sign of the Virgin saying, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me;” how fitting as we received yet another warm welcome from this parish, despite the fact that we were five hours early.

I was a Stranger and you Welcomed Me- No Al Muro with Crystal Canales

After a lunch of watermelons and cantaloupe, a few of us ventured into the local communities. The levee runs close to the road here, and hundreds of houses have yards adjutting the levee where the wall is proposed. It was encouraging to engage in this, the pragmatic aspect of this No Border Wall Walk. We got to discuss legal options with local residents, many of whom didn’t know their rights or even that an eighteen-foot wall was intended to be built directly behind their lot. If our visit inspires even one of them to oppose the federal government or encourages even a singly family to refuse to sign away their property rights, this walk will have been more than worthwhile.

We returned to San Ignacio for a delicious dinner of chicken mole. Local resident and UTB Professor Eloisa Tamez said the prayer for us in this, her home church. Eloisa, looking all of 55 despite her 72 years, has partnered with Peter Schey and is continuing to fight the federal government’s attempts to survey and use her land for the building of a border wall. Her story has inspired the community and the entire border region to stand up for what is right, regardless of how indomitable the opposition may seem.

Thinking about this sleepy town and its national importance at this precise moment, it is clear that there are several different reactions to conflict. Each border community has had people respond in various ways and with varying degrees of success. As Dr. King laid out in his speech, “Loving Your Enemies,” there are three ways to respond to oppression and resistance. One is violence, though “[v]iolence creates many more problems than it solves…and unborn generations will be the recipients of a long and desolate night of bitterness, and our chief legacy to the future will be an endless reign of meaningless chaos.” No, violence in words or deeds cannot be the way, because we seek not a negative peace, or merely the absence of a wall – no, we desire a positive peace, the presence of something greater than a wall such as immigration reform and real security measures in our ports and airports.

In the towns of Ranchito and El Calaboz, many residents have chosen the second response to opposition of which Dr. King speaks. King states that acquiescence is evil as well, “because non-cooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good.” The Catholic churches which have housed us this past week classify sins in two categories – sins of commission and sins of omission. Acquiescence is ultimately the sin of omission, because, “for him who knows the good that he ought to do, and does not do it, to him it is sin.” Simply being silent or choosing not to act on personal principles because of fear is to aid and abet the side of wrong.

But there is one last way, the way of Eloisa Tamez and this 126-mile sacrifice from Roma to Brownsville. Martin Luther King said that nonviolence was the only way to create lasting, positive change that would ultimately benefit both the oppressed and the oppressor. Nonviolence is the only strategy which can bring about true love and peace, because the ends are preexistent in the means. King states that, “love is the only creative, redemptive, transforming power in the universe.”

It is this force we have sought to channel this week through a sustained, nonviolent demonstration through communities bracing for the effects of the Secure Fence Act of 2006. As it stands now, the border wall is federal law, and so to counter this legislation, we must begin to change the hearts of the constituents who voted in politicians who would espouse such an atrocity on our southern border. We must positively and nonviolently educate our brothers and sisters here and throughout the United States. We must appeal to that conscience with which our Creator endowed all of us. May God continue the work he has begun this week in the Valley and the ripples of morality that have pulsated out across the waves of media. His truth is marching on, and may it bring justice and education and action to this pressing issue.


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