Burden of Action

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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3 Responses to “Burden of Action”

  1. S Nicol Says:

    Equal protection under the law is meant to be a fundamental right shared by every American, but the Real ID Act makes the legal rights of citizens who live near the border conditional on Secretary Chertoff’s whims. Section 102 of the Real ID Act of 2005 states, “Notwithstanding any other provision of law, the Secretary of Homeland Security shall have the authority to waive all legal requirements such Secretary, in such Secretary’s sole discretion, determines necessary to ensure expeditious construction of the barriers and roads under this section.” No one else is granted this extreme power under any circumstance. The President cannot waive our nation’s laws even in times of national crisis, and Secretary Chertoff cannot waive the laws that protect citizens who live away from the border. Only border residents may have their legal protections waived.

  2. Matthew Webster Says:

    Scott,

    All people are equal, it seems, but some are more equal than others.

    The READ ID ACT sets up a scenario where certain laws trump other laws, where certain politicians can move unchecked through bureaucracy designed to slow processes down for thorough analyses. It sets a precedent where certain people’s rights are placed above others’, where extralegal residents have absolutely no rights and the border region, by proxy, is stripped of its right of due process, appeal, and/or input.

    Thank you for the work you are doing. Know that you are not alone. We will continue to oppose the Secure Fence Act, and I applaud your efforts on the environmental front of this issue. Please be in touch so we can join our efforts.

  3. Muaanygl Says:

    Thanks!,

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