Posts Tagged ‘Why We Can’t Wait’

Letter to Editor: April 13, 2008

April 14, 2008

The following Letter to the Editor was published in The Brownsville Herald Sunday edition April 13, 2008, as a call to action.

Many people opposed to the border wall might feel that the lion’s share of the work is done. The court ruled a partial victory for UTB Professor Eloisa Tamez in early February, and on March 19 ordered that the federal government could only survey UTB’s campus for alternatives to a border wall. These signs of progress must not, however, be interpreted as a sign that the Secure Fence Act of 2006, which originally calls for 700 miles of wall here in Texas, is null and void. These victories must serve as encouragement, not as final pronouncements.

The government still fully intends to build a border wall here in the Rio Grande Valley, and some of it is slated to be completed by this December. Several members of the No Border Wall Walk this past March 8-16 have continued their efforts by walking door to door in communities like Southmost, and in speaking with these border residents it is clear that the government, far from being deterred by the recent court decisions, is moving ahead with its plan.

We, the people of the border, recognize that this law is an unjust one. In his Why We Can’t Wait, Martin Luther King wrote, “Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust;” Valley residents are keenly aware that the Secure Fence Act is an affront not only to human life but also to irreplaceable ecosystems and endangered animals, poor communities and Mexican shoppers, immigrants legal and extralegal.

It is the duty of every border resident to take immediate action to counter this immoral and unjust legislation. What follows are ways which all of us can make a difference right now.

1.) If you have not already done so, please write and call our Texas Senators Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn, both of whom voted for this wall in their own “backyard.”

2.) Take part in the numerous nonviolent demonstrations going on here in the Rio Grande Valley. The No Border Wall Walk involved more than 300 walkers, but there are hundreds of thousands of us on the border. Imagine if we were all saying the same thing at the same time…

3.) Encourage your faith leaders, churches, and social organizations to actively work on this issue. Virtually ever faith believes in the moral obligation to care for the immigrant, and a border wall is a devastating distraction from real immigration reform. Already, local faith leaders such as Rev. Juan Trevino and churches ranging from Methodist and Episcopalian to Catholic and Unitarian have taken courageous stands on this issue.

4.) Add your name to the growing petitions such as those organized by No Texas Border Wall. Petitions like this have made an impact in the past; when Hillary Clinton was confronted with thousands of signatures, she mentioned the absurdity of a wall in her UTB speech and on the CNN Texas debates.

5.) Stay informed. Do not let a wall get built here in Texas as it did in Arizona and California, cloaked by secrecy and aided by apathy.

6.) VOTE and/or REGISTER TO VOTE for this November.

The time to take a stand is now. As Martin Luther King goes on to say 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.

The border wall is not inevitable, but neither is the ultimate victory for our community. May we come together in solidarity to oppose this wall of division, showing the nation and ourselves what power we possess.

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.

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.

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.

 

Unjust Laws Create Both Criminals and Victims

March 22, 2008

A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the words of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality.” (Why We Can’t Wait 82)

    Martin Luther King’s differentiation of just and unjust laws was used in the civil rights movement to condone the breaking of Jim Crow laws which were perpetuating immoral segregation. Our nation’s current immigration laws, which themselves hinder real integration for at least 4% of our resident population. Just as in the civil rights movement and today’s unresponsive immigration laws, unjust legislation creates criminals out of moral men and women.

    Another important distinction, however, is that unjust laws create victims and victimizers. With more than 12 million people currently living on the other side of our nation’s immigration laws, more than half of whom have just overstayed visas, corruption and victimization are rampant. A New York Times article which ran yesterday detailed the sad story of several women who have been subjected to rape and sexual assault in hopes of procuring the ever-elusive Green Card. Nina Bernstein writes, “..it raises broader questions about the system’s vulnerability to corruption at a time when millions of noncitizens live in a kind of legal no-man’s land, increasingly fearful of seeking the law’s protection.” (Bernstein, Nina “An Agent, A Green Card, and a Demand for Sex” New York Times: Mar. 21, 2008. ) The chilling reality is that these sobering tales of corruption in low-level immigration positions belie the thousands and potentially millions of similar stories where people without rights, recourse, and protection of the law are taken advantage of by citizens, most of whom are legal through no merit beyond their birthplace.

    Gone unchecked, this long victimization of immigrants has been below the national radar. With nativists calling for massive deportation, which would run upwards of $94 billion and shock jocks emphasizing the few extralegal residents who break other laws, the American public has been unaware of the power game going on in immigration agencies, businesses which hire undocumented workers, and in the hearts of normal people who are tempted to profit from the precarious position of these extralegal residents. Bernstein notes that,

Money, not sex, is the more common currency of corruption in immigration, but according to Congressional testimony in 2006 by Michael Maxwell, former director of the agency’s internal investigations, more than 3,000 backlogged complaints of employee misconduct had gone uninvestigated for lack of staff, including 528 involving criminal allegations. (Bernstein, Nina “An Agent, A Green Card, and a Demand for Sex” New York Times: Mar. 21, 2008. )

Because unjust laws fly in the face of a higher law, they make a mockery of the Justice which laws are designed to approximate. As a result, the “criminals” created by unjust laws become helpless victims and law-abiding citizens are tempted to use the law to their advantage. Victimized and victim become dehumanized because, as Dr. King stated, unjust laws degrade human personality and make us tend toward the worst in human potential.

    At the risk of alienating some of my Christian brothers and sisters, the parallels between abortion legislation and immigration legislation are haunting and worthy of note. There are two reasons why many Christians, like the revered evangelical author Jim Wallis, are opposed to absolutely overturning Roe v. Wade: 1.) because when abortion becomes illegal, unsafe, makeshift clinics would instantly pop up and endanger the lives of thousands of women; 2.) to ban abortion while not simultaneously increasing welfare and child-care programs would be to sentence these children and their mothers to a bleak future. The main problem with overturning Roe v. Wade, then, would be the resulting victims and victimizers. Jim Wallis, along with many Christians, advocate a pro-life instead of pro-birth stance, by trying to rid the underlying causes of abortion. A simple scan of countries where abortion is illegal, such as Mexico, shows that instead of ending abortion these laws simply mar human rights by making the practice more dangerous and lethal.

    In much the same way, unjust immigration laws like a quota system based on national origin and a lottery system based on mere chance create victims and victimizers. Our country must strive for comprehensive immigration reform so that our laws uplift human personality by granting immigrants and their native neighbors every opportunity to realize their full potential.

Good Friday’s Implications

March 21, 2008

    In Matamoros, Mexico, on this Good Friday, the plaza is full of people watching the Via Crucis enacted before our very eyes. This passion play has been reenacted annually for well over a thousand years, yet it is still charged with emotion and meaning. A young man is beaten and hung to a wooden cross directly in front of the giant Catholic church, while centurions with over-sized helmets look on and a voice recants the Gospel narrative. Offstage, a woman cries in the heat of the day. In the crowd, everyone of us has forgotten our sunglasses, the glare off the tops of police cars, the smell of elotes and raspas nearby – all of us are focused on this ultimate story of redemption.

    I enter the cool of the church, my mind filled with memories of Easters past. The palpable memory of gumming the bread and swirling the grape juice around in my mouth, newly cognizant that these elements of the Communion represented the body and blood of a man 2,000 years ago. These memories from almost 20 years ago come back to me, just as I am sure memories came to Mary as she stood at the foot of the cross. My eyes adjust to the lighting within this cathedral. Mary is at the front of the church, head down in mourning for her son lofted up on the cross. I bow my head and am overcome with the feeling of hopelessness that must have swept over the disciples. What if this were the end? What if the kingdom of God ended on Friday and was never followed by that joyous Sunday?

    Tears drying on my sunburned cheeks, I sit in the plaza reading Why We Can’t Wait by Dr. King under a gazebo. Tamale vendors, shoe-shiners, whistling chiflado kids, men selling sweet dulces. As I read these words I have read before in a new context, I am struck by its perspective on Jesus’ death that Friday so long ago. King writes,

    Suddenly the truth was revealed that hate is a contagion; that it grows and spreads as a disease; that no society is so healthy that it can automatically maintain its immunity…The words of Jesus ‘Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of my brethren, ye have done it unto me’ were more than a figurative expression; they were a literal prophecy…We were all involved in the death of [this man]. We tolerated hate; we tolerated the sick stimulation of violence in all walks of life; and we tolerated the differential application of law, which said that a man’s life was sacred only if we agreed with his views…We mourned a man who had become the pride of the nation, but we grieved as well for ourselves because we knew we were sick.” (145)

Fresh meaning to this Gospel story I’ve read hundreds of times. In Jesus’ day, just as in our own, the poor and the stranger were being exploited by those in power. To the extent that people of faith tolerate this immoral profiting from the pain of others, we are condoning hate and the hurt of the least of these. If Jesus is present in the least of these, we must recognize his face in every stranger, legal or extralegal, every person, regardless of race. When we give into the fear and hate of our fellow man, the passion of Christ happens once more.

    The best definition of sin that I’ve ever heard is an “absence of God.” For those 3 days while Jesus lay entombed, the whole world was stuck in this negative peace without the very Son of God. In this Plaza Mayor, it occurs to me that the word for without in Spanish is sin. Without. Without.

It must be a sin that so many of these men and women around me here in this border town of close to 500,000 are without basic necessities and without hope of fair wages. Without.

It is surely sin that when these people come looking for a better life in the United States they are refused legal means, repeatedly denied family reunification, and queued in a quota system that can take from 10 years to never. Without.

It cannot be anything but a sin that 12-20 million U.S. residents live without papers, without protection of law, without insurance, without welfare, without legal protection, without basic human rights, without a means to earned citizenship. Without.

It is a shameful sin that so many bright students of mine look at a bleak future, unsure of whether they will have the right documents to attend the best universities in this country, schools they have earned the academic right to attend. Without.

May we all use these 3 days leading up to that blessed Resurrection Sunday to think of those around us who are “without.” As James 4:17 so clearly states, “Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.” If we know the good which needs to be done, if we see the calling of God in the strangers around us, if we recognize the face of Jesus in our neighbor and do nothing, our lives are sin- sin meaning, sin purpose, sin faith, sin love, sin the chance to bring the hope of Sunday to the “least of these,” or ourselves.


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