Archive for the ‘citizenship’ Category

The Pulse of The United States – May 2009

May 2, 2009

Last night, I spent almost half an hour filling out the 2009 American Community Survey, part of the 2010 census.  As my wife and I filled it out, I wondered what the census would show this year.  Many predict that Minnesota will lose a seat in the House, that some serious redistricting will go on, and that the answers from the census will be analyzed and implemented in everything from political campaigns to television commercials.

Although the American public won’t get the results from the 2010 census for a while now, and when it does immigrants and minorities will still probably be underrepresented, this past week saw some encouraging polls released from the New York Times, CBS, ABC, and the Washington Post, just in time for the initiation of immigration reform discussion before the Senate Immigration Subcommittee on Thursday, April 30. (Belanger, Maurice). The New York Times and CBS polls asked:

Which comes closest to your view about illegal immigrants who are currently working in the U.S.: 1. They should be allowed to stay in their jobs, and to eventually apply for U.S. citizenship; OR 2. They should be allowed to stay in their jobs only as temporary guest workers, but NOT to apply for U.S. citizenship; OR 3. They should be required to leave their jobs and leave the U.S. [NYTimes]

44% said they favored allowing immigrants to stay and eventually apply for citizenship, while 21% said they should be allowed to stay in their jobs as temporary guest workers.  Refreshingly contrary to national pundits who typically pit African Americans against recent immigrants, 55% of African Americans favored allowing undocumented workers to stay and work, with only 19% stating they should be required to leave their jobs and the U.S. (Belanger, Maurice)

The Washington Post/ABC poll released on Thursday was similarly encouraging news.  The survey asked,

Would you support or oppose a program giving ILLEGAL immigrants now living in the United States the right to live here LEGALLY if they pay a fine and meet other requirements? [ABC]

61% said they favored allowing undocumented immigrants to continue to live here and have a viable path to citizenship.  Liberals supported this (70%), Democrats supported it (68%), Republicans and Independents supported it (59%), and moderates (63%) and conservatives supported it (56%). (Belanger, Maurice) Despite the repeated statements from nativists that this is a partisan issue and that humane immigration reform is contrary to rule of law in the United States, the poll speaks loudly that the majority of Americans are in favor of treating these new Americans humanely and reasonably.

With 73% of Americans under 30 supporting such legislation (compared to 42% of seniors), this comprehensive immigration reform seems to be the mandate of the future. As the Senate debates the finer points of specific immigration bills, it is highly encouraging to know that the American people have not caved in to nativist and xenophobic fears during this time of economic depression, but instead have chosen to recognize that as Dr. King said, we are all “inextricably linked in the garment of destiny.”

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La Frontera or My Students as Teachers

March 18, 2008

Palm Sunday Entrance to UT-Brownsville- March 16, 2008

    We teachers often say that we learn much more from our students than we could ever hope to teach in a year. This took on new meaning as I marched this past spring break on the No Border Wall Walk from Roma to Brownsville, TX, from March 8-16. Though I can boast good high school teachers and an undergraduate degree in English from Penn State, my real learning started a year and a half ago when I moved down to la frontera.

    I knew no one. My nearest family was 2,000 miles away on the other border. I drove my Dodge Spirit from the Saint Lawrence of upstate New York to the Rio Grande of downstate Texas. It took me a while to reconcile a New York minute to a Mexican manana, and for the first few months I was overwhelmed with the new culture and my first year teaching. I quickly realized my few years of high-school Spanish class in Troy, Pennsylvania, was probably not going to cut it in a place where close to 90% of people claim Spanish as their first language.

    And so, thousands of miles away from my fiance and my family, my freshman high-school students taught me about family, about priorities, about volunteerism, nonviolence, and communication. When I was forced to condense my 16 years of education into a single lesson plan day after day, I quickly realized the important lessons I had learned over the years and those teachers who had done a great job. My students were patient, and over the semesters I have gained a working fluency from a multitude of one-on-one tutoring sessions, parent-teacher conferences, and after-school “Teach Mr Webster Spanish” classes.

    They must have been so proud when I went from monosyllabic responses to being able to understand when they used vulgarity in the class (well, at least most of them were happy). Some students still express surprise when they learn I have phoned home to their parents to tell them good or bad news about their child’s progress in my class; the other students chime in with, “DUH! Ya el habla espanol!”

    So, it was with great pride that I shared the following article with my students on the first Monday of classes back from spring break. It ran on in La Frontera on March 12, 2008.

“De acuerdo con el profesor de inglés como segundo idioma de la Escuela Preparatoria Rivera en Brownsville y organizador de la marcha, Mathew Webster señaló que su razón principal de estar en contra del muro son sus estudiantes (en su mayoría inmigrantes), que llegan al Valle con sus familias para tener un mejor futuro.
“En mis clases todos mis estudiantes son inmigrantes y como entrenador de fútbol, también todos los jugadores son inmigrantes, los cuales tienen familias y una vida en ambos lados, manifestó Webster. “Por lo que creo que este muro es horrible y una falta de respeto a la cultura, la vida y a las familias”.
El agregó que la idea de reparar el dique y utilizarlo como muro sigue siendo algo negativo para esta región ya del lado de México se verá como un simple muro.
“El mensaje para la gente del Valle es tener esperanza, el muro aun no existe y tenemos la esperanza de que si unimos nuestras voces contra este lograremos impedir la construcción”, concluyó el maestro de inglés.” http://www.lafronteratx.com/articles/fronterizo_18389___article.html/marchan_muro.html

http://link.brightcove.com/services/link/bcpid1287042959/bclid1287021539/bctid1453536169

In this 15-minute interview, I was able to communicate in my newfound second language that because my students and soccer players are immigrants and have lives on both sides of the river, I believe a wall is a horrible symbol lacking respect for their culture, lives, and families. I was also able to impart that the message this March was trying to send was that the Valley must have hope, because the wall does not exist yet. We must have hope and unite our voices to stop the construction of this border wall.

    My students, barring the one or two who chuckled at my sometimes forced Spanish pronunciation, were overjoyed to see that I had made this much progress. 7th period even clapped for their maestro. I have rarely been prouder, and neither have they.

    After they said they would continue to give me more lessons, I shared the most important thing they had taught me. The primary reason I am against the wall is not the environment it will destroy, the economy it will cripple, the beauty it will abolish, the politics it will play, or the dollars it will disappear. The main reason I am against any sort of border wall is because my students deserve better than a border wall. Because they have taught me the plight of the immigrant in this country, I will campaign with the rest of my life for real immigration reform rather than symbols of evil like a border wall. Because my students and their families deserve to have the same opportunities as people in the rest of these United States, I am absolutely opposed to any border wall or border-levee compromise that distracts from the real, pressing issue of providing for immigrant students through legislation like the DREAM Act.

    To last year’s students of F210 and this year’s students of F114, thank you for the life lessons you have taught your teacher. I pray I have been able to impart some life lessons to all of you as well.

http://s239932935.onlinehome.us/index.php/brownsville-walk.html

Speech for an Education Club at UT-Brownsville

February 25, 2008

    I was asked to come speak here tonight on the No Border Wall Walk, issues of immigration, and my occupation educating high-school ESL students. As an English teacher, it is always heartening to find a common theme, and there most certainly is a vein running through all of these somewhat disparate topics. Martin Luther King, Jr. put it this way in his essay “Loving your Enemies”:

An element of goodness may be found even in our worst enemy. Each of us has something of a schizophrenic personality, tragically divided against ourselves. A persistent civil war rages within all of our lives…This simply means that there is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies. When we look beneath the surface, beneath. the impulsive evil deed, we see within our enemy-neighbor a measure of goodness and know that the viciousness and evilness of his acts are not quite representative of all that he is. We see him in a new light. We recognize that his hate grows out of fear, pride, ignorance, prejudice, and misunderstanding…”

The concept that man is innately good and will do good if educated, encouraged, and allowed to do so by law – this concept shapes my hopes and my dreams and demands my participation in immigration, education, and nonviolent demonstrations such as the No Border Wall Walk.

 

    Unlike many teachers, I had not always dreamed of being a teacher. True, I had excellent teachers and mentors who shaped my young life, but I always thought they had shaped me to be a writer, an artist. It wasn’t until I actually set out to be a freelance writer in New York City that I realized the hard truth – not only was it next to impossible to get a job without first having a job, it also would bore me to death to stare only at words all day long. So, I applied to Teach For America and was accepted to teach English in the Rio Grande Valley.

    At this point, my audience must know that one of my favorite verses comes in Esther 4:14, “…And who knows but that you have come to [this] position for such a time as this?” That is precisely how I felt, coming to Brownsville, Texas, the poorest city in the United States, just as the Secure Fence Act of 2006 was passed. Teaching English-as-a-Second-Language students caused me to experience firsthand the immigration process, the excruciatingly slow wait of approved immigrants awaiting their lottery number, the pained reality that for some families, to leave Brownsville would be to leave their loved ones, huddled just across the river.

    ESL education is my job, and I try hard to equip my students with the skills they need to be literate. My goal is for them to be able to mean what the write and write what they mean, but also to be discerning of any message they encounter. However, I also realize my job as a teacher is only one part educator. The role of mentor has been paramount to my students and to my job satisfaction.

    In an effort to impart the ideas of social activism and nonviolence, while also readying my students for college, we spent a 6-week grading period reading inspiring documents by King, Chavez, Gandhi, Thoreau. Every 6-week marking period, students are required to internalize this spirit of volunteerism and community service. Because I feel most people are just waiting for an excuse to do good, it is easy for me to ask this of my students. And most of them have responded with impressive results. Many students attended school-sponsored service outings to the Gladys Porter Zoo, Sabal Palms Audobon Sanctuary, Boca Chica Beach, and Vermillion Elementary School. Some students even invented their own good turns, from mowing lawns and babysitting to cutting hair and painting a house.

 

    Teaching also excited my passion for immigration issues. Over the years teaching ESL students and other recent immigrants, I have become a staunch advocate of compassionate, comprehensive immigration reform. Instead of a border wall of any thickness or design, our nation and the globalized world need the United States to lead with progressive immigration legislation which decriminalizes immigrants, vastly remodels or replaces the current quota system, and which allows current residents viable means to earned citizenship.

    This passion for immigration puts me at odds with the border wall, for moral issues as well as social, economic, and environmental ones. Because I feel that people are good but sometimes make wrong decisions, I feel that liberalizing immigration reform would allow both American citizens and the 12 million extralegal Americalmosts a chance to do “good” by immigration. Given the opportunity and the hope, would-be immigrants would try the legal means which have previously been denied or delayed them. Given the right laws, Americans could welcome immigrants and refugees with open arms into our diversifying communities, our flagging economy, and our cultural melange.

 

    And that is what finally brings me to espouse nonviolence as the proper and only means of advocating against the border wall and for immigrants and the border region. Nonviolent demonstrations, unlike any other form of protest or persuasion, allows both sides of a conflict the opportunity to live up to their absolute best. The nonviolent protester advocates in a way that encourages goodness, and the opposing groups are challenged to compromise and/or amend their thinking to the “more excellent way” (1 Corinthians 12:31 NIV).

    There are thousands of people in these United States simply waiting to speak out and leave behind the silent majority. Dr King wrote in his Autobiography that, “The ultimate tragedy of Birmingham was not the brutality of the bad people, but the silence of the good people,” and there are countless Americans stateside and abroad who are trying to end the tragedy. “There is no force more powerful than an idea whose time has come.” This Victor Hugo quotation which Dr. King riffed on many a speech sums up the importance of my life philosophy. The time for immigration reform has come, the need for nonviolent protests is readily apparent, and the necessity to educate our youth “in the ways they should go” (Psalm 32:8 NIV) – all these are upon us.

    Let us work diligently under the assumption that our brothers and sisters are simply waiting for the right opportunity to act on the good. Perfect love, the kind that drives out fear, is necessary to be successful in life’s meaningful endeavors. As former SNCC Chairman and current Congressman John Lewis writes in Walking with the Wind,

It is a love that accepts and embraces the hateful and the hurtful. It is a love that recognizes the spark of the divine in each of us, even in those who would raise their hand against us, those we might call our enemy. This sense of love realizes that emotions of the moment and constantly shifting circumstances can cloud that divine spark. Pain, ugliness, and fear can cover it over, turning a person toward anger and hate. It is the ability to see through those layers of ugliness, to see further into a person than perhaps that person can see into himself, that is essential to the practice of nonviolence. (76)

May “perfect love drive out fear” as in 1 John 4:18, and may everyone begin to work towards their ideals with the inspiring epiphany that all men are not only created equal, but also good. For extralegal immigrants and multi-generational citizens, Christians and agnostics, Republicans and Democrats, all we need is the chance.

People of Faith United For Immigrants- American Friends Service Committee

February 22, 2008

   

    In a week that witnessed Hillary Clinton stating, “We need smart borders…I will listen to the people of the Valley and make sure that we secure the border but don’t divide people from their families …” while simultaneously making the international hand gesture for wall, immigration and border security is most definitely back in the nation’s political eye. For some, including myself, it has become the issue of this Presidential race. When Obama and Clinton’s policies look all too similar, if one of them moved to retract the vote they made in support of the wall, a huge shift in support could result, especially in the nation’s minority votes.

    With all this at the forefront of the nation’s thinking, the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) begins its annual meeting. This time, however, it is not meeting in the wintry climes of Philadelphia, but rather in the beautiful San Juan Cathedral here in the Rio Grande Valley where Clinton and Obama are making stops themselves. The AFSC is meeting here en la frontera to be able to actively engage immigration reform at its vanguard. Immigration is a focus of this service-oriented organization.

    The AFSC has long been integrally involved in issues of civil rights. Their involvement, encouragement, and enabling of Martin Luther King helped him and his significant movement. The AFSC paid for his pilgrimage to India. They first published his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” And when the time came, the AFSC nominated Dr. King for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, which he won.

    And so it is with great welcome that all social activists, and in particular those citizens concerned with issues of citizenship and immigration, welcome the AFSC to our Rio Grande Valley. We urge you to remain mindful of the, “Principles for Comprehensive Immigration Reform in the United States,” an excellent document published in May 2006 which affirms the humanity of immigration laws.

 

Undocumented immigrants pay taxes, and contribute to the economic, social, and cultural development of their communities in countless ways. A legalization program would recognize the equity undocumented people have built through their participation in U.S. society and acknowledge the inherent injustice of the secrecy, vulnerability, and exploitation imposed on undocumented women, men and children.

— AFSC Board of Directors, June 23, 2001

The work of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) in immigrant communities is based on our belief in the worth and inherent dignity of every person. As an expression of this commitment, we have consistently expressed support for undocumented immigrants. AFSC has repeatedly called on the U.S. government to grant permanent residency to all undocumented men, women and children. We thus believe that actions leading to comprehensive immigration reform should reflect the following components:

  1. Respect for the civil rights and all human rights of immigrants;

  2. Inclusive and coordinated measures that support immigration status adjustment for undocumented workers;

  3. Support for the distinctly important and valuable role of family ties by supporting the reunification of immigrant families in a way that equally respects heterosexual and same-sex relationships;

  4. Humane policies that protect workers and their labor and employment rights;

  5. Measures that reduce backlogs that delay the ability of immigrants to become U.S. permanent residents and full participants in the life of the nation and of their communities;

  6. The removal of quotas and other barriers that impede or prolong the process for the adjustment of immigration status;

  7. Guarantees that no federal programs, means-tested or otherwise, will be permitted to single out immigrants for exclusion;

  8. Demilitarization of the U.S. border and respect and protection of the region’s quality of life.

  9. “Free trade” agreements like NAFTA and CAFTA have had a detrimental impact on sending countries from the global South, provoking significant increases in migration. Such international economic policies should be consistent with human rights, fair trade, and sustainable approaches to the environment and economic development.

Immigration Realities: An AFSC Perspective

The growth of undocumented migration is a worldwide phenomenon. Although many people are propelled into migration for political and other reasons, labor migration clearly accounts for the greatest part of the migrant stream. In this sense, the growth of a transnational labor force is a structural feature of increasing global economic integration. U.S. policies that are intended to deter undocumented migration have failed entirely to achieve this objective, while increasing the violation of human rights, as well as aggravating anti-immigrant prejudice and hate violence.

In addition, punitive measures such as increased surveillance and patrols at the border, raids on homes and workplaces, and detaining and deporting undocumented people do not address the underlying reasons that people migrate. Those measures create fear and polarization during a time when we should be creating hope and peace in our communities.

One stark indication of this failure is that hundreds of migrants die each year trying to cross the Mexican-U.S. border in increasingly dangerous circumstances. U.S. communities that lie along the border with Mexico live a reality that is essentially different from the rest of the country. U.S. immigration policy has transformed the region into a militarized zone where the U.S.

Constitution and international law are applied only selectively. Efforts to secure the southern border have had dire human consequences, from the ever-increasing tally of migrant deaths to the systemic violation of the civil and human rights of border crosser’s and border communities.

Because border enforcement is a reality that these communities will continue to face, it is essential that any debate that focuses on increasing the security of the U.S.-Mexico border be based on a strong commitment to accountability and human rights, including civil rights. It is essential that the perspectives of those who live in border communities be included in such a debate.

AFSC calls upon the U.S. Congress to consider that its policies, laws, and regulations on immigration will affect the rest of the world negatively or positively, especially our neighbors to the South. Remittances from migrant workers in the United States and other rich countries contribute more to the economies of their countries of origin than all forms of development assistance, by approximately 50 percent yearly. For many of the world’s poor, economic integration through remittances is the only form of economic globalization with a positive impact on their living standards. Sooner or later, comprehensive immigration reform will need to be carried out not just unilaterally, but multilaterally, in concert with the needs and interests of other countries that send migrants or refugees to the United States and whose cultures, peoples, and economic prospects are thereby bound up with the citizens and residents of this country. <http://www.afsc.org/immigrants-rights/PrinciplesforImmigrationReform_en.htm>

Once again, the AFSC highlights the human aspect of a topic which all too many people debate coldly, stiffly, politically. Their advocation of smart borders makes sense both for the world and for the person. In reading this excellent document, I am reminded of a late-night coffee-table talk with longtime activist and Friend Domingo Gonzalez. He pointed out that, “In taking the train from New Jersey to Philadelphia, you cross more ethnic and racial boundaries than at any border crossing. If only we could make our borders like those of our cities’.” Hopefully this weekend, the AFSC can discuss more ways in which our nation can be made to take real steps towards making this world a collection of city-states where migrants need not fear imaginary lines. And hopefully, they will add both their prayers and their endorsement to the No Border Wall Walk as it attempts to re-open the issue of immigration via the border wall. If everyone in the Valley says the same thing at the same time, how powerful a message we could send! Maybe all the way to Washington, maybe all the way to India…

Presidents on Immigration – Past, Present, Future

February 17, 2008

    On this President’s Day, let us recall our long and storied past Presidential stances on immigration. The Fourteenth Amendment of 1868, which codified national citizenship policy for “all persons born or naturalized in the United States and of the State wherein they reside,” has allowed many immigrant children to live with rights for which their parents must win the “lottery” (quota system). Countless children I teach each day have the Fourteenth Amendment to thank for their status in Brownsville, Texas. President Andrew Johnson dragged his heels against this and all the other Civil Rights Bills, much to his Republican party’s dismay; however, the bills were passed and continue to stand as some of the most important immigration legislation today.

    The literacy test, which was first introduced in 1895 by Henry Cabot Lodge and which took twenty-two years to finally pass, was vetoed by a myriad of presidents such as Grover Cleveland, Woodrow Wilson, and William Howard Taft. Cleveland’s reason for the veto was that the terrific growth of the United States up until 1897 was “largely due to the assimilation and thrift of millions of sturdy and patriotic adopted citizens” (Roger Daniels’ Coming to America, 277) He also declared that immigrants of the not-so-distant past were some of the nation’s best citizens. In his steadfast veto, Cleveland addresses the issue of citizenship requirements and ends with a conclusion that may be very insightful to our nation’s current preoccupation with national security and terrorism. Cleveland said,

It is infinitely more safe to admit a hundred thousand immigrants who, though unable to read and write, seek among us only a home and an opportunity to work than to admit one of those unruly agitators and enemies of governmental control who can not only read and write, but delights in arousing by unruly speech the illiterate and peacefully inclined to discontent and tumult” ( Roger Daniels’ Coming to America, 277).

Perhaps our country’s leadership could come up with smart background checks which do not discriminate so much on nationality but criminality and past employment.

    Taft’s relentless veto was based solely on the economic necessity for a large and constant immigrant base. His reasoning echoes the reasoning of the Bracero Program, worker visa programs, and short-term migrant labor initiatives. Taft’s rationale was that, “the natives are not willing to do the work which the aliens come over to do” ( Roger Daniels’ Coming to America, 277). The beauty of immigration is that few immigrant families stay in these entry-level positions – the steady influx of immigrants who are upwardly mobile is a dynamic, short-term phenomenon for new immigrant families.

    Woodrow Wilson, in 1915, spoke out on the ethical the cause of immigrants. His veto to the literacy test rested on the fact that the bill would reject new immigrants “unless they have already had one of the chief of the opportunities they seek, the opportunity of education” ( Roger Daniels’ Coming to America, 277). Again, this same argument holds true and needs to be taken up by so many groups opposed to a physical border wall. One step into a school on la frontera will reinforce the fact that so many immigrants come to these United States seeking a better education for their families. The DREAM Act (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act), which has failed to pass in several bills both in 2006 and 2007, would ensure that all schoolchildren who are high-achievers in our nation’s classrooms would have the opportunity, regardless of income or citizenship, to study at institutions of higher education and apply themselves to becoming skilled workers. Had he lived another 93 years, Woodrow Wilson would be one of the staunchest advocates of the DREAM Act, which could have proved one of the most empowering and inspiring legislations of the second Bush administration.

    The literacy test passed in 1917, and was soon followed by Calvin Coolidge’s Immigration Act of 1924 which set the first nation-based quota system for all incoming immigrants (the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 only applied to “sojourners” from the largest country in the world). This Act also marked the beginning of the first official Border Patrol.

    Arguably the last President to be extremely pro-immigrant died with a couple bullets in 1963. His dream was to revamp immigration legislation to “base admission on the immigrant’s possession of skills our country needs and on the humanitarian grounds of reuniting families” (John F. Kennedy’s A Nation of Immigrants, 80). JFK firmly believed that the quota system was discriminatory at a time when Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement were also making strides toward a Civil Rights Bill. Kennedy goes on to write that,

The use of a national origins system is without basis in either logic or reason if neither satisfies a national need nor accomplishes an international purpose. In an age of interdependence [read “globalization”] any nation with such a system is an anachronism, for it discriminates among applicants for admission into the U.S. on the basis of accident of birth (John F. Kennedy’s A Nation of Immigrants,75).

 

Had he lived longer than 46 years, perhaps the United States of America would not still have a quota system which permits only 24,000 people from any country to migrate to our land, regardless of whether their sending nation has a population of China’s 1.3 billion or Monaco’s 32,000.

    One of the last substantial pieces of immigration legislation was the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA). Signed by Ronald Reagan, this has since been decried as an act which only worsened problems and which amounted to scotch-free amnesty. While neither of these are the case, IRCA did not ultimately address the true problem. By treating the symptom of illegal immigrants rather than the immigration legislation which criminalized them, Reagan departed from Kennedy’s lead and opted for the easy, immediate solution. While IRCA did make a substantive difference in the lives of 2.7 million people, it did not address the real problem which finds our country with 12 million residents on the wrong side of current immigration laws.

    The final “immigration law” on the books is one which physically, socially, economically, and ethically affects our nation’s immigrants, citizens, and borderlands. The Secure Fence Act of 2006, supported by President Bush and, sadly, both Democratic candidates Obama and Clinton, paved the way for a 700-mile fence along our 2,000-mile southern border. This “secure fence” would reroute extralegal immigrants to the most dangerous desert sections of our border; it would be an affront to American immigrants past, present, and future; it would be a tremendous waste what some estimate to be $5 billion while border communities such as Brownsville and Hidalgo County continue to be the poorest in the nation; it would serve as a severe distraction from the necessity for comprehensive, compassionate immigration reform; it would strand extralegal residents on this side of the border; it would separate loved ones; it would cripple border economies which thrive on the influx of international business; it would destroy precious and rare ecosystems and wildlife which cannot be found anywhere else; and it would cause our young nation of immigrants to wall ourselves off from our neighbors and the globalizing world at large.

    Let’s pray that true immigration reform will come with the next Presidency. If protest is prayer in action, then please join your prayers with ours, put your feet to the street, and join the Border Ambassadors and concerned citizens in the March Against the Wall as we walk 120 miles from Roma to Brownsville, Texas, this March 8-16.

People of Faith United For Immigrants- Presbyterian Church USA

February 5, 2008

    “Do not oppress an alien; you yourselves know how it feels to be aliens, because you were aliens in Egypt.” (Exodus 23:9 NIV) Martin Luther King Jr. puts this another way in his speech Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution.

We must all learn to live together as brothers or we will all perish together as fools. We are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. And 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.

 

Immigration is not a matter of us or them but of humanity. While the compassionate, human side of immigration is often forgotten in shock-jock radio shows and television syndicates, the Church continues to be a bastion of hope for the hopeless, a voice for the voiceless. The Presbyterian Church is part of this solidarity for border reform – not for the sake of simply changing immigration laws but rather changing the hopes and dreams and rights of immigrants themselves.

    In its 2006 General Assembly Policy on Immigration, the Presbyterian Church of the USA (PCUSA) set forth the following conditions as their dream for the Church.

2. Affirm that our denomination, mindful of the current realities and threats to our belief system, not sway from our solidarity with, and pledge of service to, all of our brothers and sisters regardless of their race, creed, color, nationality, or residency status.

3. Affirm those Presbyterian congregations and presbyteries that are already standing alongside immigrants and are actively engaged in acts of compassion, empowerment, and advocacy.

4. Challenge each Presbyterian congregation and presbytery to embrace a comprehensive approach to “advocacy and welcome” for immigrants that includes, at the very minimum:

a. an opportunity for hard-working immigrants who are already contributing to this country to come out of the shadows, regularize their status upon satisfaction of reasonable criteria, and, over time, pursue an option to become lawful permanent residents and eventually United States citizens;

b. reforms in our family-based immigration system to significantly reduce waiting times for separated families who currently wait many years to be reunited;

c. the creation of legal avenues for workers and their families who wish to m migrate to the U.S. to enter our country and work in a safe, legal, and orderly manner with their rights fully protected; and

d. border protection policies that are consistent with humanitarian values and with the need to treat all individuals with respect, while allowing the authorities to carry out the critical task of identifying and preventing entry of terrorists and dangerous criminals, as well as pursuing the legitimate task of implementing American immigration policy.

e. a call for living wages and safe working conditions for workers of United States- owned companies in other countries;

f. a call for greater economic development in poor countries to decrease the economic desperation, which forces the division of families and migration.

5. Affirm the right of each congregation, presbytery, and our denomination as a whole, to speak out clearly and constantly to the media and others regarding the PC(USA)’s call to serve all those in need and to stand with the oppressed, our refusal to be deferred from this mandate, and our willingness to break laws that forbid us to live out our responsibilities to God and to our brothers and sisters who do not have U.S. residency documents…

10. Reaffirm that we must find ways to ensure that “marginalized persons” in our society, citizen or not, are not pitted against each other.

11. Express our grave concern about the negative impact of the growing effort to make the border more secure through building walls designed to move migrant patterns further into the more dangerous part of the borderlands, by increasing the number of federal agents, and by deploying armed National Guard to the already volatile region.

12. Commend the visionary efforts of programs such as Just Coffee, Just Trade Centers, and micro-credit programs that strengthens communities and enables people to stay in their homeland through economic development.

 

The Presbyterian Church, like so many other Christian denominations, realizes that the issue of immigration is not ultimately about borders but about boarders, not pesos but the peso of a world which continues to keep America rich and endowed with certain inalienable rights which are alien to so many people living in poverty just a few miles away. Christians in different denominations all realize that it is a sin for teachers in border towns, like myself, to make 10x as much money as qualified teachers across el rio. We must realize that the Gospel is not just the good news of Heaven but the good news of heaven on earth; it is the Church’s prerogative to tirelessly work to redistribute the blessings and gifts of God here in America to the rest of the world. So many nativists and xenophobes are opposed to immigration because it is a constant reminder that there is still not an equilibrium of rights and wealth in this 21stcentury globalized world. It is a constant reminder that the United States needs to reach out more, not less, to its neighbors, to work at the root of “push” immigration.

 

    *The Border Ambassadors are proud to be in solidarity with the Presbyterian Church of the greater Rio Grande Valley. As we walk the 120 miles from Roma to Brownsville from March 8-16, it is both to protest a physical border wall but also to encourage and show solidarity in the communities which are being impacted.*

People of Faith United For Immigrants- Mennonite Brethren

February 3, 2008

This Thursday, January 31, 2008, it was announced that the Latin American District of the Mennonite Brethren Church was being sued by U.S. Department of Homeland Security for refusal to allow government officials to survey their property for the border wall. This sort of civil disobedience is not unique to the Mennonite Brethren Church, however; Christian churches have long been counterbalances to politics. Immigration has long been an issue for the church, and of late a plethora of denominations have taken strong stances and bold mission statements both pro-immigrant and anti-border-wall.

 

The Mennonite Brethren Church’s refusal to allow government officials to step on their land is indeed a brave action of nonviolence, but it is entirely in keeping with their church statement on immigration. At the Mennonite Central Committee U.S. (MCC U.S.) Executive Committee Meeting in Akron, PA, in March of 2006, the Mennonite Brethren discussed their church’s doctrine on and commitment to immigration. MCC U.S. was responding to an outcry from parishioners, communities, and the Biblical passage in Leviticus 19:33-34 which states, “ “When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do (the stranger) wrong. The stranger who sojourns with you shall be to you as the native among you, and you shall love (the stranger) as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

MCC U.S. has a long history of civilly disobeying unjust laws and nonviolently working for just and compassionate legal reform. This church has had members be conscientious objectors long before the law made provisions for such people. In other cases, Mennonites have disobeyed laws to become sanctuaries for refugees and illegal immigrants. With this history in mind, the Mennonite Brethren drafted the following resolution.

“Therefore:

1. We commit ourselves to helping anyone who asks including the strangers/immigrants in our midst regardless of their legal status in this country.

2. We are committed to obeying God rather than human authority, especially when laws call us to harm others and block us from efforts to protect life.

3. We commit ourselves to support MCC workers who are working with immigrants by:

a. praying for them, their families and their work on a daily basis.

b. giving them our moral support as they continue in their work assignments.

c. providing the financial resources needed for any legal defense or penalties imposed because of the work we have asked them to do.

4. We will partner with denominations to provide financial resources to assist individuals and congregations with legal costs.

5. We encourage our constituent denominations to call on area conferences, districts and congregations to provide financial help and set aside monies in case pastors or other church workers would need any legal help.

We also:

1. Call the U.S. government to enact realistic, humane and just comprehensive immigration reform.

2. Ask that any immigration reform provide workers with sufficient labor protections, reunite separated families, end militarization of the U.S./Mexico border, allow workers to come and go safely across the border and create a path

to legalization for those undocumented immigrants who wish to stay.

3. Ask the government not to force church workers to choose between obeying the dictates of their faith and the dictates of their government.

4. Call the U.S. government to create economic policies that will assist developing countries and provide for fair trade. If people are able to provide a decent living for their families, many would choose to stay in their home countries.

5. Ask the U.S. government to make trade agreements and institutions more accountable.”

While detractors often point to the multitude of Christian denominations as a source of contention and “factionism,” the Christian stance on immigration is anything but fractured. If anything, the church is asking the questions that so far have not been making it into the political scene or the Presidential primaries. The Mennonite Brethren Church, along with numerous other Christian denominations, are civilly disobeying more restrictive immigration reform and nonviolently opposing a wall because they do not see it as a compassionate response nor a successful strategy. What these churches share in common is their desire to reshape the world so that there need not be illegal immigrants. Whether this is through U.S. investment in Central American countries, or earned amnesty legislation, or a phase-out of the quota system, or harsher penalties on employers perpetuating this sector of society, what is the same is their desire to target the laws which make such people criminals rather than the people who are being criminalized by current legislation.

 

 

*The Border Ambassadors are proud to partner with Mennonites throughout the Rio Grande Valley as part of their 120-mile No Border Wall Walk from Roma to Brownsville, Texas.*

What is meant by ‘Real Immigration Reform?’

January 24, 2008

        Yesterday, a good friend of mine in Austin pressed me about my oft-repeated phrase of “real immigration reform.” He was in agreement that there are some social and moral dilemmas with our current immigration system, but he couldn’t honestly see a better, more direct answer than the border wall. I had to thank him for his honesty, and his desire to candidly grapple with the problem and its solution. However, legislation would solve the problems at a much deeper level and in a more sustainable manner.

    One component of transformative immigration reform is prohibitive penalties for companies which employ undocumented workers. We do not need illegal immigrants – we need immigrants who are sponsored here in the United States and who come with a purpose, but we most definitely must not continue our current method of refreshing a grossly under-paid, right-less pool of workers. Stiff penalties for businesses would follow the same trend which has been adopted with corporate white-collar crime (think Enron). If the tremendous resources of the U.S. Border Patrol could be used, instead, to police the businesses which are pulling immigrants from their homeland under false pretenses, the border would be a very different place indeed. Immigrants come either from a push or pull motive – either because of the conditions of their home country or the promises of the new one – and to the extent that we can diminish the false pull of exploitative businesses, illegal immigration could be greatly curtailed. The few workers who might still come across illegally would find it very difficult to get a job, and because of their close proximity to their home country, would return like 1/3 of immigrants.

    A second key piece of meaningful immigration reform is to extend a means to legal citizenship for the 12-14 million extralegal working residents here in the United States. Earned citizenship would necessitate that person have a steady job and a place of residence. The main problem with our current immigration laws is that people migrate here and then are stuck between D.C. and the border checkpoints. Unable to secure legal citizenship, they are caught in a revolving door of underpaid, exploitative work which is both dehumanizing and compounding to their dilemma. Earned citizenship measures would greatly decrease the number of long-term extralegal residents, so that ICE could focus solely on those residents who are not moving towards such legalization. Countless immigrants who simply overstayed their visas could become much more productive members of society, no longer lurking in the shadows, if only they saw hope of citizenship.

    The third crucial element of far-reaching immigration reform would be an overhaul of the current quota system. While many immigrants and refugees come to these United States outside the current quota, this system allotting 26,000 immigrants to each nation, irregardless of its population, still forms the foundation of our current immigration legislation. These quotas, in theory, allow just as many people to immigrate from Vatican City and Luxembourg as from China, India, or Mexico. More egalitarian “quotas” would be relative to a country’s population. American universities already have a complex and accurate system of ranking students coming from schools as divergent as my alma mater Troy High School in Pennsylvania (100 graduates/year) and Philadelphia high schools (2,000 graduates/year). Another possibility, instead of quotas, would be to highlight specific industry vacancies which are prohibitively under-staffed and draw immigrants for these specific fields. This would assure an excellent pool of workers for American businesses, and it would also ensure that immigrants come to the U.S. with steady, well-paid occupations already lined up.

    While these three components are fundamental changes which must be made if we are to change the future of immigration in this country, several other ideas would help to make our nation significantly better for those populations which are so often overlooked. The DREAM Act, which failed to pass last year in Congress, would provide much-needed funds to qualifying immigrant students who have already demonstrated a readiness and dedication to academics. The DREAM Act goes much deeper than simply rewarding immigrants who work; this legislation assures that these young residents will not be stuck in the cycle of underpaid jobs which fail to utilize their contribution potential and talents. Another immigration reform which would greatly aid our current state is speedy deportation. Detention centers like our nation’s largest at Raymondville are a pock on our country in the same vein as Japanese internment camps and Guantanamo Bay. Immigrants who are employed illegally and are slotted for deportation should have the right to a speedy process. Currently, they are stripped of all rights and incarcerated for a month on average (though some are left for years). The companies which hire undocumented workers should receive much stiffer penalties than the workers who were exploited, but if we are to return them to their home country so that they can begin a new life, this must happen speedily. The alternative is what we currently have, an expensive detention process which has not been proven a true deterrent to re-entry but has most definitely been proven to be dehumanizing, unconstitutional, and an affront to basic human rights.

    While immigration should be at the forefront of American thought for the next fifty years or more, the three changes of 1.) prohibitive penalties for law-breaking employers, 2.) paths to earned citizenship, and 3.) a dynamic overhaul of the current quota system, would alleviate the pressure on our borders, dismantle the need for a Secure Fence Act, and provide the most basic American rights to some 12-14 million people who are living in inequality. It is my solemn prayer that one day all residents in these United States will truly be treated equally, that people will receive better treatment and fairer taxation than corporations, and that no group of people will be denied a future because of dehumanizing legislation.

Smart Borders

January 15, 2008

        Our borders define us. By definition, they define where a country ends and where it begins. Our country began with open borders, encouraging immigration, but to hear current bombastic rhetoric and to see the doubling and tripling of our border security budget, America’s modern history would read as a long chapter of closing itself off to rest of the world. Our borders now define us as a terrified nation arrogant enough to think we have nothing more to learn or gain from would-be immigrants. From without, our borders show us to be distrusting, hypocritical. And within, 12 million extralegal residents live without rights and/or recourse to fundamental protections most enjoy by birthright. The 23 million legal immigrants also struggle to carve out a life for themselves, many with the hopes of bringing their families one day.

        Borders are ambassadors, and the U.S. border with Mexico has long been a deaf consulate. The Secure Fence Act of 2006 does not address the real needs of Americans or Mexicans, or for that matter Somalians or Mung or Iraqis or Bosnians. A border which ceases to be permeable is just a wall unresponsive to the needs of either side.

        Smart borders are permeable boundaries set up to ease administration and to profit those on both side of the border. Cities have long employed smart borders. To ride a train from New Jersey to Philadelphia is to cross borough lines, city lines, and state lines all without the hassle of a security check or a passport stamp. Free movement between cities is expected, and for most Americans so is free movement to other countries. Much like the wars which we support because they are so far away, so too are our fears of being unable to cross borders whenever we so wish. Perhaps if Americans were treated like a Muslim man in an airport or a Mexican day-laborer – perhaps then we would finally admit that freer movement of all peoples is a necessary human right that we have taken for granted.

    America needs more than a border wall. This nation must honestly address immigration reform for its human rights issues, social justice, and its economic implications. We must work to integrate and desegregate all residents in the United States regardless of race, color, sex, or citizenship. We must simultaneously renovate an inhuman immigration quota system which blockades countless workers and family members who could positively contribute to our nation.

 

Whereas:

  1. Globalization is inevitable but moral economics, just migration rights, and mutually beneficial borders are not.

  2. The world has always been globalized through environmental issues, economic matters, and social movements; and recently has become further linked through technology.

  3. Rigid borders are inherently violent, both in cause and effect, and also a means of perpetuating inequality and injustice.

  4. Borders are best when they are instruments of choice, tools which help governments better serve the people on both sides of the border.

  5. Borders are best when they are a seam and not a rift, when they are permeable lines of distinction (ideas) rather than concrete, uncommunicative, unresponsive walls.

  6. Choice of habitation strengthens both the country which receives the immigrants and the country which gives them up.

  7. Cities already have working borders which allow for and encourage economic, social, and cultural interchange.

  8. Communication is more time-intensive but has longer-lasting effects than rigid, unresponsive border enforcement.

  9. Nonviolence is the sole tool of change which strives for consensus and equality.

It is the purpose of this blog to make globalization accountable through communicating the concept of smart borders, permeable instruments of choice and mutually beneficial relationships. To the extent that the violent, nativistic, limiting borders of today can be replaced by liberalized, humanizing, and progressive borders tomorrow, this blog and its readers will have been successful in being a “voice for the voiceless.” There is no greater force on earth than an idea whose time has come, said Victor Hugo as quoted by Martin Luther King, Jr. As we elect our next political leaders and a potential border wall looms in the distance, the time for this idea has come.

Duty Free

January 14, 2008

        The border is a fascinating anomaly. Here, pesos and dollars can be spent on either side of the Rio Grande. Spanish and English are accepted at most places of business, and the schools teach countless students who cross a bridge every day for their education. Everyone knows medicines are cheaper in Mexico, and just a 90-cent toll to walk across. Animals cross in broad daylight unhindered by la migra.

Which brings us to the singular case of duty-free goods. A host of duty-free shops on either side of the border sell discounted liquor and tobacco products. The buyer gets a claims ticket, walks to the bridge, and as they are passing through the turnstile, their product is then handed to them. All that is left is to walk across to Matamoros, then turn around and head back through U.S. Customs. The very idea seems ludicrous, laughable, and yet thousands of people do it a week.

Duty-free stores highlight the absurdity of our current, unresponsive, dehumanized borders. They are set up to be impermeable for people (think the 2006 Secure Fence Act), and yet goods and products are encouraged to cross the border many times. When the United States moved many of its automobile and textile manufacturers over to Mexico, this free movement of products was surely brokered into the deal. Why then are people viewed so differently by the current immigration laws?

America’s immigration laws are being disobeyed covertly nationwide. Some 12 million illegal immigrants currently work and reside in the United States. The problem, is, that those businesses which lured them to the United States do not want to “declare them” to customs or fight for a real path to their citizenship. No, instead, American capitalism is content to keep them illegal (read exploitable).

In his publication Young India, Mohandas Gandhi worded it in the following way.

We have too long been mentally disobedient to the laws of the State and have too often surreptitiously evaded them, to be fit all of a sudden for civil disobedience. Disobedience to be civil has to be open and non-violent. (emphasis mine)

Gandhi clearly saw that the rules were being bent freely. He decried this form of evasive disobedience, though, because it merely bends the law and encourages lawlessness. The world is a different place because men like Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. chose not to bend bad laws but instead break them, openly and fully intending to accept the state’s punishment. Only then can true change happen.

Starting with the Bracero Programs in 1942 which sponsored about 4.5 million migrant workers, the United States has uneasily bent its laws concerning immigrants it deems it needs economically but does not want socially. Countless restaurants and fields and factories across these United States currently employ Mexicans and other illegal immigrants at substandard wages and without benefits. This “duty-free” work force is capitalistic cowardice.

If we truly welcome immigrant labor, our immigration laws must be reformed immediately. For too many years, government policy has been “hard” on immigration and soft on enforcement. This sort of double-speak, this mental disobedience embodied by the border has allayed the conscience of Capitol Hill, has freed it of its duty to its citizens, those Americalmost immigrants, and those businesses valuing an economic edge above social welfare.

However, we are never free of our duty to any resident of these United States. Pretending that 12 million living and breathing and loving and working people are negligible simply because of they lack a classification that came to many of us freely at birth is to ignore our duty. For Americans, our borders have been “duty-free” places for decades. Our modern wars abroad do not touch us anymore with rationing, peace-gardens, and can drives and so cease to be real; in the same way, Americans are granted an international bill of rights at birth which enables them almost carte blanche access to the rest of the world. How different it is just a few hundred feet across a river!

There is no such thing as “duty-free” living, and it is our duty to speak out against border policies and immigration laws which are unjust and limit residents’ rights. As Gandhi famously wrote, “Noncooperation with evil is as much a duty as cooperation with good.”