Posts Tagged ‘Vermont’

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.

La Frontera in North America

March 7, 2008

 

    Father Amador of Immaculate Conception Church in Rio Grande City, Texas, has made the trip for 21 years. Every summer he travels to Rockport and Kingston and Wellesley Island to visit friends, wed couples, and sail the sparkling Saint Lawrence. His time in Canada and upstate New York is refreshing for him; this other border community certainly has elements of home, despite its northern exposure.

    My own parents live in Ogdensburg, New York, but an hour south of Ottawa. When I first moved to Brownsville, Texas, I drove my trusty 1994 Dodge Spirit from border to border. Though it needs to worry more about sand than snow here on the Mexican frontera, Brownsville and the Rio Grande Valley most assuredly feel like home.

    This kind of coincidence is more than happenstance. La frontera, the border, Rio Grande, Saint Lawrence, a Maple leaf, Stars and Stripes, or an Eagle killing a Snake – these countries and their border regions are hopelessly intertwined. Our histories run in and out of each other’s like red and white run in all our flags.

    Herein lies the problem of treating borders as lines and not lifestyles, maps without morals, rivers without life, concrete divisions rather than dual communities. To divide Brownsville, Texas, from the Matamaros, Mexico, Bruce Springsteen sang about is more than simply building a wall along a levee – it is severing conjoined sister-cities. God forbid we do the same thing to Derby Line, Vermont, and Stanstead, Quebec, by building a wall down the 45th Parallel and cleaving a town in two. The Secure Fence Act of 2006 itself is an affront to the community and interconnected cultures we have cultivated in la frontera.

 

    In the name of the Thousand Islands Bridge arching over the shining Saint Lawrence and the Gateway International Bridge suspended over the muddy Rio Grande, we ask all citizens of Canada, Mexico, and the United States to campaign a thousand times for legislation and policies which will foster positive relationships along the border rather than sever them.

    In the name of the Juarez-Lincoln International Bridge and the Ogdensburg-Prescott International Bridge, we urge border-crossers to make their international feelings felt and their voices heard from Capitol Hill to the local town hall.

    In the name of Ambassador Bridge and Rainbow Bridge, we pray that our nations will continue to view the diverse rainbow of immigrants as ambassadors of hope and progress and promise.

In the name of the Progreso-Reynosa and the Pharr-Reynosa International Bridges, we affirm that true progress in North-American relations is not far off, that our cultures and our environment and our economies are caught up in “an inescapable network of mutuality.”

    In the name of McAllen-Hidalgo-Reynosa Bridge and the Fort Frances-International Falls Bridge, we note that the United States’ Secure Fence Act of 2006 was a fall from grace, a detrimental piece of backwards law which promoted artificial divisions instead of natural coexistence.

    In the name of the beautiful Blue-Water Bridge and the arching Peace Bridge, we call for all militarization and violence along our shared borders to cease as we construct immigration policies, drug-prevention programs, environmental cooperation plans, and mutually beneficial trade relations similar to those of the successful European Union.

    In the name of all these and more, let us build bridges not walls. Let us rebuild broken bridges and the relationships they represent. Let us rebuild the bridge to our past, learning from dehumanizing immigration laws like the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and the literacy test. Let us forge new tri-national immigration legislation like the DREAM Act and earned paths to citizenship so that all people have the right to pursue their happiness in whichever North America it resides. Let us spend more time on our welcomes than our goodbyes, our fragile ecosystems than on our nativistic ego-systems, more money on our combined poor than on poured concrete.

 

    “Oh Canada,” “Viva Mexico,” “America the Beautiful” – God bless us all and may we learn to coexist as our borderlands have long exemplified. Martin Luther King, Jr., wrote that, “whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. For some strange reason I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. And you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the way God’s universe is made; this is the way it is structured” (“Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution”). If we can work on ways to progress beyond NAFTA and CAFTA to truly promote a working relationship, the idea of a border wall on the Mexican-American frontera will seem the absurdity it is and the push/pull factors of immigration in all three countries will be substantially reduced simultaneously.

     Mexicanos, Anglos, Canadians, North Americans, IMMIGRANTS – UNITE. We hope you will express solidarity with Father Amador and myself as we begin our upcoming march tomorrow. Along with numerous others, I will be walking 120 miles from Roma to Brownsville, Texas from March 8-16, and we would love to get support from the international community. This No Border Wall Walk invites any and all concerned citizens, whether they speak Spanish, English, French, or a mixture of them all. Please come and make your voice heard. Dr. King felt that “the ultimate tragedy in Birmingham was not the brutality of the bad people but the silence of the good people.” Come speak out for yourself, the immigrant among us, and la frontera – good people must no longer be silently complicit in any North American country. Be the bridge you wish to see.


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