Posts Tagged ‘Border Ambassadors’

Encouragement to all those on the Border

July 7, 2008

It is 2033. By this time, more than $49 billion will have been invested to build, maintain, and repair 700 miles of border wall through California, Arizona, and Texas. Animals like the jaguarundi, the Sonoran pronghorn, and ocelots have disappeared form the American side of the border. The last remaining stands of virgin flora have become extinct due to the border wall itself and the changes it brought to the ecosystem. Sabal Palms Audobon Sanctuary, like the small community of La Lomita and Granjeno, is an abandoned ghost town, a relic of a time when Mexicans and Americans could both enjoy the benefits of the life-giving Rio Grande as it made its 1885-mile journey to the Gulf of Mexico.

Illegal immigration is still a problem, because the push and pull factors of immigration were not addressed through legislative reform. An eighteen-foot wall did nothing to alleviate the more than seven-to-one pay differential between Americans and their neighbors to the South. With the increased militarization of the border and the addition of 700 miles of barriers, the flow of migration has only been redirected to more dangerous routes and means, killing more and more Americalmosts and freezing hundreds of thousands of extralegal residents here who are too afraid to cross back into Mexico. In 2007, the year before the Texas wall was built, more than 500 people lost their lives attempting to cross through the treacherous desert while more and more immigrants risked their lives and their fortunes in highly-dangerous crossings conducted by a highly-paid coyote. As Princeton Professor Douglas Massey pointed out, “The ultimate effect of the border fence policy is to increase the size [of the undocumented population] and to make it more permanent.” (TNR)

It is 2033, and my teenage children are asking why I ever let my government do something so illogical and shameful. Clearly, in retrospect, our wall seems as pointless as the Russian’s or the Chinese. My children and their friends will go to California with hammers in their hands to chisel out a piece of infamous history when the walls we built at the turn of the century finally fall.

——————

Thank God it is not 2033 yet. While the time is getting near and the pressure is being ratcheted up by the Department of Homeland Security, time still remains for our nation’s people and lawmakers to do right. People like Professor Eloisa Tamez, a UTB Professor, Lipan Apache Tribe member, and border landowner have not given up the fight in El Calaboz. Documentarians like Nat Stone have not ceased filming and recording the people and places which would be irreversibly marred by an eighteen-foot wall. National figures such as Jay Johnson-Castro have not stopped marching against the injustice of the Secure Fence Act of 2006, and environmental activists such as Scott Nichols haven’t stopped speaking out against the totalitarian power endowed to DHS by the Real ID Act. Grassroots organizers like Elizabeth Garcia, Ryan and Yahaira Tauber, John Moore, Crystal Canales, Mike and Cindy Johnson, Joe Krause, as well as groups such as CASA, LUPE, No Texas Border Wall and Border Ambassadors have not surrendered because they know that “the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.”

The resistance continues; our spirit is not broken. May it continue in love and not stoop to the hate and violence that would will a wall between neighbors and families. Our resistance must remain positive; if our publicity is not respectful and focused and nonviolent, then the focus will be on our negativity and our methods rather than on the injustice of a border wall through people’s homes and lives. If we do not stay united and show DHS, our city leadership, and the entire nation that we are unified against a border wall, then we appear to be simply some people squabbling and fighting petty battles in a place far away. However, if we can stay together and remain positive now, at the breaking point, when the pressure is fiercest and the odds seem overwhelming, if we can stay true to the Truth and resist in love, then we can still rally the nation behind our just cause.

It is my prayer that we may remain strong as we hold on to the Truth in love , the satyagraha that changed India for the better, the holding on to Truth that awakened our nation from the sad malady of segregation and closemindedness in the King era. We are still able to prevent our nation from doing something it will regret for the rest of its history, if we can only cling stay united in the faith that our cause is right, the hope that our fellow Americans are moral beings, and the love that separates us all more than our conflicts can divide us.

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A Last Stand on the Border

July 2, 2008

Gaining momentum from the Supreme Court’s refusal to examine their waiving of more than thirty laws in the construction of a border wall, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is continuing to up its efforts in an attempt to build the hotly contested border wall in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas within the month.

On Monday evening, the Brownsville City Commission met for more than three hours to discuss the DHS Secure Border Initiative, a plan to build 10 acres of “removable wall” until the city reinforces 2.4 miles of levees to DHS satisfaction. This comes two years after the Secure Fence Act of 2006 was initially passed and more than a decade after the first wall was constructed in California.

The plan proposed by DHS would have the poorest city in the United States hand over 10 acres of taxpayers’ land, at an estimated $95,800, for free. While the City Commissioners were seriously weighing the decision of whether or not to surrender this land, the public made its voice known for more than three hours in the public comment session. Police officers made protesters leave “No Border Wall” signs outside the City Hall, signs which were carried 126 miles from Roma to Brownsville in this past March’s No Border Wall Walk. Still, the sentiments of Brownsville residents were made abundantly clear – No Deal. Texas Border Coalition (TBC) chair Monica Weisberg-Stewart advised caution and encouraged the public with the hopes of a successful suit recently filed by TBC. (http://www.brownsvilleherald.com/news/city_88091___article.html/fence_border.html)

John Moore, representing the Border Ambassadors, showed 123 signed testimonies from landowners opposing the border fence. Having personally accompanied him through many of these small, tight-knit communities, I can attest to the fact that this number is only a glimpse of the real opposition to this wall and the DHS strongarm tactics which have terrified so many border residents into acquiescence. John Moore and Kiel Harell and I have personally talked with border residents who were asked to sign blank documents, or were given waivers in English when they are pure Spanish-speakers. We have sat and spoken with women who were intimidated by the federal agents asking permission to survey and then buy their land. We have talked with several border residents who sold their homes and multi-generational lands for a measly couple thousand dollars.

Commissioner Troiani ended the meeting by trying to get Brownsville residents to focus on their immediate interests. He said, “It comes to this…either you’re going to try to solve the problems of the city or the problems of the world.” Troiani’s comment belies the underlying reason a border wall is being discussed and supported at all. The very idea that the issues of a city are not hopelessly caught up in the problems of the world belies one of life’s basic tenets, that in the words of Dr. King we are all “caught up in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.” A wall, removable or otherwise, in Brownsville, Texas, sends a signal not just to Matamoros on the other side of the Rio Grande. No, any wall sends a signal to the entire world, to the hundreds of thousands of immigrants waiting to legally migrate to our nation. Any wall whatsoever sends a signal to the 4 million displaced Iraqis that we do not want their problems to set foot in our nation. A wall or fence broadcasts to the European Union, China, India, Japan, and England our “Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them.” Any wall, fence, or border barrier which neglects to realistically solve the issues of globalization and movement of peoples inherently affects Minnesota, New York, and Pennsylvania just as much as it does the Rio Grande Valley or Tamaulipas Mexico. If you are reading this, you are affected by the decisions being made right now in this city of 140,000. Please write your senators, legislators, or add your name to the growing list compiled by No Texas Border Wall. If a wall is built in Texas, it will be to the shame of our entire country and, in fact, our globalized world.

The Dawn after the Darkest

April 7, 2008

Martin Luther King spoke often about the night being darkest just before the dawn. In his book Stride Toward Freedom, King writes about a lawsuit in the Birmingham Bus Boycott as being one such night, “darker than a thousand midnights. It was a night in which the light of hope was about to fade away and the lamp of faith about to flicker. We went home with nothing before us but a cloud of uncertainty” (A Testament of Hope, 455).

April 1 saw Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff waiving 39 laws to rush the construction of a border fence along our nation’s southern border. April 7, then, marks a return to law and a callback to conscience. Chairman of the Homeland Security Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-MS) convened with 14 Members of Congress to submit an intent to file an Amicus Curiae brief regarding the Defenders of Wildlife case (which would bring the environmental law waivers to Supreme Court). These Congressman urge the Supreme Court to grant certiorari in this case, because they hold that the REAL ID Act’s waiver of laws is unconstitutional.

Grassroots groups like No Texas Border Wall, Border Ambassadors, and the Texas Border Coalition rejoiced today to hear Congressman echo our shock and disbelief at this massive waiver. Thompson joined these men and women in opposition to the REAL ID Act:

Chairman Thompson stated before these legislators that the Secretary of Homeland Security’s use of the waiver was “a direct challenge to Congress’s Constitutional role. The American people entrust Congress to ensure that the laws of this land are faithfully executed not excused by the Executive Branch” (Amicus Curiae). Grassroots organizers should feel proud at their efforts to raise this particular waiver to the national eye, while its use in Arizona went unnoticed and largely unopposed.

Congressman John Conyers (D-MI) might well have walked with the 300 marchers this past March 8-16 from Roma to Brownsville. He understands with us that this wall is an environmental blight, a piecemeal political gesture, and an ineffective strategy. He stated that it is “our responsibility to be stewards of the earth cannot be thrown aside for the sake of an ill-conceived border fence. The Administration exempts itself from a duty to protect the environment, sacred burial sites, and centuries-old farms, but conveniently spares wealthy landowners from the bulldozers” (Amicus Curiae). We applaud the truth of his statement and welcome him or anyone on this Committee to come down to see this Valley, visit the people of Granjeno and Los Ebanos, swim in the beautiful river, walk the trails of endangered ocelots, and witness the wonderful coexistence of both sides of the broder.

Intimating that Congress has been worried about such disregard for law before this, Rep. John Dingell said, “Congress’ efforts to seek justification for this waiver from DHS have been stonewalled, which leads me to believe none exists” (Amicus Curiae). Much like J. Edgar Hoover’s refusal to release proof for his Communist accusations of civil rights leaders like Stanley Levison and Martin Luther King, Homeland Security’s Secretary has voiced the fact that it is unnecessary to explain this action or to study the wall’s effects on the environment and local communities. It does the Valley’s heart good to know that these Congressman and many others understand the gravity of this situation.

And so it is with much rejoicing in my heart that I write this. Though the Secure Fence Act of 2006 will still be a long fight and the REAL ID Act has not yet been overturned, we are moving in the right direction. Though the arc of the moral universe is long, it does bend toward justice. It is bending faster and more distinctly as of today. The conscience of this country and the minds of this nation’s residents are bending toward a place of reconciliation and true progress. We are beginning to communicate – may this nonpartisan committee be just a beginning.

Please write these brave men and women to congratulate them on their stance for Truth. Write your other state legislators to urge them to oppose both the REAL ID Act and the Secure Fence Act.

No Border Wall Walk- Day 6 or the Day of Reflection

March 13, 2008

   No Border Wall Walk- Day 6 at Santa Anna Refuge

    I was confronted with our reasons for the No Border Wall Walk yesterday when Javier asked me to ride his pride-and-joy bicycle for him. It was a gorgeous day on the tranquil Rio Grande, and for a minute, I couldn’t imagine why he would ask me to ride his prized possession. His simple answer – La migra.”

    Whether Javier was illegal or not was not the question; the simple fact remains that our U.S. immigration policies would pounce on a Mexican-American man riding his bike on the levee, while the U.S. Border Patrol and the legislation they represent smiled at me as I ride recklessly with my Canadian tie flapping and Hecho en Mexico belt buckle tapping on my Border Ambassador button.

    Today was a long Thursday. March 13 was the day which made us reflect and ask ourselves why. Our walk was the smallest it has ever been today, but it was also more focused and more determined than ever. Leaving the beautiful Saint Francis Cabrini Church and heading out on Highway 281, the wind was full in our faces and the going was hard and long. We walked 17 miles, far and away our longest day. En route to Progreso, we passed fertile Valley farmlands which would be dissected with Hidalgo County’s border-levee wall compromise. Rows and rows of onions cresting the tilled soil, walls and walls of sugar cane bordering this byway, patches and patches of cabbage – a border wall would mean that produce on this side of the levee would be American, the rest would be hecho en Mexico. This is the land we are campaigning to save; today reminded us once more of this beautiful borderland.

    People once again showed that they are looking for ways to utilize their potential for positive actions. At our nadir of the afternoon, just as we had ceased singing carefree songs and our spirits were sagging, a car pulled over on the side of the road. All 6 women got out of the tiny car. Their green shirts said they were from Father Albert; their gifts of water and kind words proved they were angels. Apparently Father Albert and his parishioners are not content to house us only on Friday night and Saturday night, but also felt compelled to meet us along the way and inspire our sore soles.

 No Border Wall Walk- Day 6 with Father Albert’s Angels from Sacred Heart Church in Las Rusias

    The high point of the day came right after this water break. Marching on to Progreso, we soon passed an onion field in harvest. Mexican men and women were working the rows, bringing the white bulbs to light with a hoe before bending tired backs to lift them into a crate. We sang as we walked by, singing “No al muro, la frontera cuenta! NO Border wall, the border matters!” The field-hands were quizzical at first, stopping their work to see what we were about. The small group, already energized by this point, began dancing and singing “Ven con nosotros, ven con nosotros, a la Progreso a las seis! Come with us now, come with us now, to Progreso at 6:00” to the tune of “La Cucaracha.” Now they were listening. My heart leaped to see an older woman in a red workshirt begin dancing despite the oppressive heat and her back-breaking work. This is our why…

    Walking alongside my idealistic brothers and sisters who are testing their ideals in the fire of nonviolent direct action, I am struck by their tricky situation and exploited work. Our country needs more than a wall; it needs immigration laws which gets rid of quota systems, rework the current rubric for refugee status , the DREAM Act which could give students the opportunity to follow their educational dreams, and gives the 12 million or so extralegal residents some way to move toward legal citizenship.

    Our country does not illegal immigrants. These men and women in the fields should definitely be working – but they should be given real means to acquiring citizenship. We do not want illegal immigrants who are without rights, without hope, without help – we do need more legal immigrants who can participate fully in society. Immigration, which is the primary basis of our opposition to the borer wall, is the civil rights issue of the 21st century. Our country has 12 million extralegal workers living and contributing to our GDP, and at least twice as many people who depend on their working power and hope to keep the extralegal residents “illegal.” We must come to a point as a nation that we see people as assets and not liabilities – that will be the day we finally take the necessary bold step forward and begin to seriously diminish the amount of “illegals” in our country while increasing the number of legal immigrants.

    The night ended at Smokin’ Joe’s Barbeque, a tasty little bbq shack on 281. This establishment had Border Ambassador buttons and posters all over, and they treated us to juicy brisket, delumptuous ribs, and rich turkey legs. Beneath their awning live oak trees, we spoke once more about why we were walking along the proposed trajectory of such a wall. The levee-wall compromise intended for this section of Hidalgo County is less a levee and more an 18-foot concrete wall with sloping earth on the American side and sheer cliff on the Mexican side. The marchers on this walk take issue with the nomenclature of such a “compromise.”

    “They call it a levee because it ‘sheds water,’” Elizabeth Stephens said. “Walls shed water too, and so do raincoats.” The only real difference between a levee-wall compromise and a full-scale border wall is that it will look more aesthetic to American passersby. It would still send the same message of distrust, the same message of flippancy for environmental refuges, We were reminded that it is the express point of this march to counter this message of violence with a positive message. By walking along the border and having seen the connectedness of each town with its neighbor cities stateside and in Mexico, we must be continuously involved in re-educating the people en la frontera and in the rest of the world.

    After a long day of walking in the brutal Texas sun, I remember that I am walking to show my students the difference between Pancho Villa and Cesar Chavez. I remember that I am walking because this is the way adults civilly disagree. I remember I am walking because I love the glimmer of river that would be outsourced to Mexico, the refuges which have taken 20 years to conserve and protect but only months to override. I am marching because bills like the Grijalva Bill could begin to restore some sense and morality to the proceedings here on the border. I remember I am here to be “voice for the voiceless;” I am here because the Environmental Impact Statement for the Border Wall was close to 600 pages in English and under 100 pages in Spanish. I remember we are walking to unite communities, educate individuals, and highlight humanity. I remember now – Javier, George, Michael, Jay, John, Kiel, Roberto – we are all assets.

No Border Wall Walk- Day 4 or Having Hope

March 11, 2008

Swimming in the Rio Grande

Ten Esperanza!

Have hope!

Faith and hope are inextricably linked. Hebrews 11:1 states, “Faith is the evidence of things hoped for, the assurance of things unseen.” Marching alongside 30 energetic, positive people bent on the same purpose, hope can be seen brimming out of every smile and poster. From the Lipan Apache Tribe members to the high-school students, from the Mexican man on his bicycle or the junior-high student from Cesar Chavez Middle School walking with us on his way to pick up groceries for his mom, hope has been expressed through our march and has been echoed back to us in each community and along every mile of highway.

When Kiel Harell, John Moore, and I first started planning this march but two months ago, we did it because we saw a hopelessness and a sense of acquiescence on the part of the people of the Valley. Many people acted as if they had been beaten, acted as if they were confident the government would never listen to their needs or their pleas. They were disenfranchised and unrepresented, and therefore had given up hope. Or so it seemed.

Hope is always almost gone.

Barack Obama visited the Valley just two weeks before, promising a campaign of hope. Hillary Clinton visited UTB only 3 weeks before, asking the Valley to pin its hopes on her. Hope is exactly what we need – hope that the Secure Fence Act of 2006 is not inevitable, hope that consciences are not unreachable, hope that the U.S. can follow the European Union’s lead and get rid of borders instead of fortifying them.

The No Border Wall Walk is a unique protest. Coming exactly 43 years after the Selma to Montgomery March of the civil rights movement, our walk shares many similarities with that nonviolent demonstration. We are largely faith-based, supported by numerous denominations and united around the idea that God is pro-immigrant; a beautiful hand-painted poster created by Trish Flanagan today had the Virgin saying, “I was a stranger, and you welcomed me.” Like Martin Luther King’s March to Montgomery, our 120-mile walk from Roma to Brownsville, Texas, is a positively-messaged action of nonviolent resistance to a dehumanizing issue. Also like Martin Luther King, we are energized by spirituals and hymns and chants.

However, there are some striking differences between the two marches. Our march, unlike the one from Selma to Montgomery, has met with almost unilateral support, where Dr. King faced almost overwhelming opposition from the “majority” of his time. Everywhere we go, police escort us through town with sirens honking and lights flashing. Where else do police officers donate five hours of their day to actually “serve and protect” marchers? Their support is an amazing vote of confidence, a sign that it is ok for locals to come out and join us. Javier, the Mission bicyclist, might not have joined us had the police not calmed his fears by their supportive presence, and perhaps the random angel of a woman would not have stopped to give us a box of water and a fresh pineapple had we not had this full endorsement of the city of Mission.

Our support can be seen in the solidarity of police officers and chambers of commerce, churches and Church’s chicken, Valero gas stations and construction workers, Haliburton employees and local media crews – all people of this Valley are on our side of this nationally divisive legislation.

By walking on the border, our March Against the Border Wall has become less of a local protest and more of an international broadcast. Our hope is to broadcast the idea that the wall will not just divvy up desert but will divide downtowns. Our aim is to reach people in western Washington and in the northern New York where my parents reside, in order to inform them that the border wall will negatively affect Americans, both North and Central, and that this border wall will not solve the problems their politicians have been espousing. Unlike Martin Luther King’s public demonstrations which drew dogs and fire hoses, we have dogs in backyards barking their support alongside their owners and fire trucks honking their solidarity with our worthy cause.

Singing on the Rio Grande

Singing “Shall we Gather at the River” on the Rio Grande and swimming in its living waters, hope is renewed once more. La frontera cannot be defeated when there are Catholic priests like Father Roy and churches like Our Lady of Guadalupe. Catholic literally means universal, and that has been the sort of support we have received from virtually every Christian denomination. La frontera will not surrender hope that people are essentially good and that no one who calls themselves American would put their security over humanity. La frontera will not be overcome because, while “our feets is tired, our souls are rested.” Dr. King wrote that this hope “…will give our tired feet new strength as we continue our forward stride toward the City of Freedom” (Martin Luther King Autobiography 260). La frontera has hope because it is not just a river in Texas or a desert in Arizona – it is also the mesas of New Mexico and the expanse of California. La frontera is French-speaking Canadians and immigrants in New York restaurants like the French Roast; la frontera is bilingual Texans and bilingual Minnesotans. The Border Ambassadors and all this Valley have hope because this is bigger than our little part of the world. We believe that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” We have hope because “No lie can live forever.” We are encouraged because “Truth crushed to earth will rise again!” We have hope because no person is beyond redemption, and we believe it is only through ignorance or misinformation that America has not spoken out in loud opposition to the Secure Fence Act of 2006.

Ten esperanza el Valle! Ten esperanza Los Estados Unidos! Ten Esperanza Canada y Mexico! Take hope, because we are coming together.

*Youtube Videos can be accessed here:


No Border Wall Walk- Day 3 or Overcoming Fear

March 10, 2008

No Border Wall Walk- Day 3 Ebanos Entry
The motto of this march, of all nonviolent demonstrations in fact, can be summed up with my favorite Bible verse: “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear..” (1 John 4:18 KJV)

The third day of the No Border Wall Walk, March 10, it became very clear that we are in a struggle with fear. As people who have decided to sacrifice spring break to walk 120 miles, all of us have had to overcome the fear of being ridiculed, the fear of not being strong enough or of giving up 9 days of relaxation at nearby South Padre Island, the fear of sacrificing and having no impact, the fear of being ignored. We have had to overcome the fear of sacrificing time, but we have all come to agree with Cesar Chavez that, “the rich may have money, but the poor have time.” We are fighting fear with our sacrifice of time.

As we walk, we hear thousands of honks a day. Those honks are truly uplifting as we trek along Highway 83, but if each of those families in their cars would get out and walk with us for merely a mile, there would be a moratorium on the border wall in weeks. If everyone on every border would raise their voice and put feet to street, we would get real immigration reform and not destructive distractions like the Secure Fence Act of 2006. We are in direct opposition to fear.

Flyering the community of Los Ebanos trying to give them information about free legal aid, we saw the fear on their faces and in their eyes. So many people are afraid because they have no idea of their rights, no concept of their ability to nonviolently demonstrate and change reality. The fear could be seen from the dogs to the tired houses along el rio. We are fighting fear. We are fighting fear at this, the only hand-pulled ferry on any international border, this Los Ebanos ferry which stands as a monument to mankind’s “We can” and a testament to the human capacity to use our hands in creating community and reaching across divides.

No Border Wall Walk- Day 3

And the purveyors of this legislation, legislation which avoids the real issue of comprehensive, compassionate immigration reform, are also acting out of fear. The wall would be violence, in its very nature of division and disrespect, and all violence is based out of primal fear. How interesting it is that society today posits violence as the strong, the powerful, the courageous, the path to victory. On the tragic death of JFK, King wrote we are all guilty,

By our silence, by our willingness to compromise principle by allowing our movie and television screens to teach our children that the hero is one who masters the art of shooting and the techniques of killing, by allowing all these developments, we have created an atmosphere in which violence and hatred have become popular pastimes” (Martin Luther King Autobiography 237).

All officials involved in the passing of the Secure Fence Act of 2006, including both Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama who voted for it, were acting out of fear – fear of being labeled “weak” on immigration or national security, despite the fact that the wall would admittedly, at best, merely deter such issues. We are fighting fear in ourselves and others; enemies are only friends who don’t know it yet, who aren’t yet acting out of love rather than fear. We are at war with fear.

And so we walk en contra miedo, against fear. On our walk from the gracious hospitality of Holy Family Catholic Church in La Grulla to our warm reception at Our Lady Queen of Angels Church in La Joya, we were joined by 8 primary and secondary school students from local schools. These girls, ranging from 7-16, walked with a courage that inspired all our tired feet to keep on truckin’. We sang classic and original marching songs and these girls, all in ROTC, amended some of their marching tunes to fit the cause. Their fearlessness in the face of speeding semi-trucks, a strong headwind, and 14 miles of black-top walking was a victory over fear. Kids in vans stuck their heads and hands to the windows, wishing they could join us. If only we can continue to show each passerby the efficacy and power of nonviolent resistance, everyone in this Valley will be able to face fears in ourselves and others.

Today also saw the media arrive in droves. The first two days saw just a few media press conferences, but today we had the opportunity to voice this all-important message to Valley television stations like Channel 4, Spanish-speaking television stations like Univision, and papers like the Rio Grande Guardian and The Dallas Morning News. Seeing our younger walkers handle themselves with the maturity of time-hardened nonviolent activists was astounding. They voiced the human element with grace, stating, “This whole Valley is interconnected” and “I don’t want to see kids separated from their moms.”

Between this invigorating youthful energy and the excitement of this media frenzy, we made great time and finished the 14 miles in about six hours. Our lunch was provided by a Lucio Middle School teacher Rosie Perez and her daughter. Home-cooked dinner was graciously provided by the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Hidalgo County, while a lavish spread of snacks was donated by Our Lady Queen of Angels. We had a police escort from La Joya, and they delivered us right to City Hall. We passed white cranes in the fields, horses which heartily whinnied “Nay” to the wall. We floated on the only hand-pulled ferry on a U.S. boundary at Los Ebanos, where we saw a man back-stroke back to Mexico on an inner tube. What place does fear have among such acts of love and positive support?

Martin Luther King, Jr. said

“In Connor’s Birmingham, the silent password was fear. It was a fear not only on the part of the black oppressed, but also in the hearts of the white oppressors. Certainly Birmingham had its white moderates who disapproved of Bull Connor’s tactics. Certainly Birmingham had its decent white citizens who privately deplored the maltreatment of Negroes. But they remained publicly silent. It was a silence born of fear – fear of social, political, and economic reprisals. The ultimate tragedy of Birmingham was not the brutality of the bad people, but the silence of the good people” (Martin Luther King Jr. Autobiography 172-3 emphasis added).

Dr. King also said that we never need a negative peace, which is simply an absence of violence, but a positive peace. Through this No Border Wall Walk, all people and organizations involved are striving for a positive peace, which is the presence of love in both the means and the ends. Walking through these communities it is impossible not to love the people, the small ranch towns, the scrub-brush fields of los ebanos and mesquite trees, the hand-pulled ferries which scoot across a shifting, tenuous border. We are nonviolently advocating for this place, trying to vocalize the humanity of these communities which will be directly impacted by a border wall and would immediately benefit from the real immigration reform it has so far displaced.

The Border Ambassadors and I invite you to fight fear wherever you may be today. Whether that may be reminding people that the border wall will go through irreplaceable wildlife refuges not deserts, or whether that is writing your senators or calling Presidential candidates, please overcome the fears you may have or the fears you may recognize in those around you. Whether you choose to overcome the fear of walking in the sun for 7 hours a day or if you openly oppose the xenophobic fears of nativists at your school or workplace, please step out and create a positive peace wherever you are. Love is casting out fear down here in the Valley – join us with your prayers, support, donations, or your presence.

Native Americans Take a Stand on the Border Wall

March 5, 2008

    What is an American? What constitutes a native of this nation of united states? This question has been raised for centuries, with a myriad of answers. Harry Truman stated that, “being an American is more than a matter of where your parents came from. It is a belief that all men are created free and equal and that everyone deserves an even break.” Alexander Tocqueville, in predicting the faith-based nonviolence of the 1960’s, wrote, “Not until I went into the churches of America and heard her pulpits flame with righteousness did I understand the secret of her genius and power. America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, she will cease to be great.” America has been described as a melting pot, a salad, a patchwork quilt, a list of hyphenated names – all these different metaphors only emphasize the fact that the United States is a working amalgamation of like-minded immigrants from a plethora of countries, cultures, backgrounds, and beliefs.

    Native Americans surely define Americans differently.  Indigenous people must look at this country as a nation of upstart immigrants. Their immigration over the Atlantic or the Bering Land Bridge happened so long ago that “Native” has become a part of their name. Recent immigration of the past 300-400 years has irrevocably changed their lands, their rituals, their ceremonies, and their daily lives. Immigration brought disease which wiped out thousands, hunters which slaughtered hundreds of thousands of buffalo, lumberjacks who felled the virgin forests, railroads and highways which shrunk the vast continent before their disbelieving eyes. Immigration, and the resulting dishonest treaties, robbed them of ancestral land and resigned them to criminally minuscule plots like the Choctaw in Mississippi or the Lipan Apache of Texas.

    Native Americans have experienced terrorism on a grand scale and immigration beyond their imagination. So it is from a place of well-grounded knowledge and unique perspective that Native American tribes band together to oppose the Secure Fence Act of 2006, an action which supposedly wold eliminate both of these issues.

    Perhaps Native American tribes oppose a border wall because they recognize no terrorists have thus far been apprehended crossing the Mexican border. As Chertoff stated, “I don’t see any imminent threat of terrorists infiltrating from Mexico.” Maybe Native American tribes feel that a wall is more terrorizing than what it would allegedly protect. Perhaps Indigenous Peoples see enough terror in racial profiling, unwarranted xenophobic television shows, and nativistic rhetoric from “new natives.”

    Native Americans most assuredly recognize that the cost of the Secure Fence Act of 2006 will dwarf any of its intended benefits. Native Americans, with their long history of interconnectedness with Nature, can clearly see the destructive environmental effects this wall will surely have on their reservations, endangered animals like ocelots, thick-billed parrots, and Sonoran Pronghorns, last stands of Sabal Palms, wildlife preserves and birding refuges we’ve spend decades and billions of dollars preserving. Native American tribes like the Lakota, Mohawk, Oneida, Navajo, Acoma Pueblo, Hopi, and O’odham understand, and have understood for centuries, that immigration must be reformed and legislated so that immigrants have a net positive impact on their receiving society and culture and so that their rights are intact. From lessons throughout history, Native Americans would be first to second Martin Luther King, Jr.’s statement, “Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds” (Martin Luther King Autobiography 189).

    Here is a segment of the declaration set forth by the Participants in the Indigenous Peoples Border Summit of the Americas II on Nov. 10, 2007, San Xavier, Tohono O’odham Nation:

 

Segment from the final declaration adopted by the Participants in the Indigenous Peoples Border Summit of the Americas II on Nov. 10, 2007, San Xavier, Tohono O’odham Nation

We express our collective outrage for the extreme levels of suffering and inhumanity, including many deaths and massive disruption of way of life, that have been presented to this Summit as well as what we have witnessed in our visit to the border areas during the Summit as a result of brutal and racist U.S. policies being enforced on the Tohono O’odham traditional homelands and elsewhere along the U.S./Mexico border.

We also recognize that many of our inherent, sacred, and fundamental human rights, including our cultural rights and freedom of religion, self-determination and sovereignty, environmental integrity, land and water rights, bio-diversity of our homelands, equal protection under the law, Treaty Rights, Free Prior Informed Consent, Right to Mobility, Right to Food and Food Sovereignty, Right to Health, Right to Life, Rights of the Child, and Right to Development among others, are being violated by current border and “immigration” policies of various settler governments.

We also strongly affirm the message expressed by many of the Indigenous delegates at this gathering: to be sovereign, and to be recognized as sovereign, we must act sovereign and assert our sovereignty in this and all other matters.

We therefore present this report with the intention of proposing, developing, and strengthening real and effective solutions to this critical issue:

We call upon the United Nations and the International community:

  • To end international policies which support economic globalization, “free-trade agreements,” destruction of traditional food systems and traditional land-based economies, and land and natural resource appropriation which result in the forced relocation, forced migration, and forced removal of Indigenous Peoples in Mexico, Guatemala, and other countries, and cause Indigenous Peoples to leave their homelands and seek economic support for their families in other countries.
  • To ensure that the UN human rights system pressures States to provide protection and take action to prevent the violence, abuse, and imprisonment of Indigenous woman and children along the borders who often bear the worse effects of current policies; to also implement immediate and urgent measures and provide oversight to end the physical, physiological, and sexual violence that is currently being perpetrated against them with impunity as a result of their migrant status, whether it is being carried out by employers, human traffickers, private contractors, and/or government agents.
  • To implement International Laws and mechanisms to prohibit the practice by the United States and other States of the production, storage, export, and use of banned and toxic pesticides and other chemicals on the lands of Indigenous Peoples.
  • To provide protection under its mechanism addressing Human Rights Defenders to review and monitor all laws and policies which criminalize humanitarian aid to immigrating persons and provide protection for those carrying out these humanitarian acts.
  • To call upon the United Nations Permanent Forum 7th Session to recognize and take into consideration this Report and its recommendations and to transmit them to the United Nations system to ensure their implementation.
  • To establish as a priority by the Human Rights Council, its committees, subsidiary bodies, Special Rapporteurs; the UN Committee on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination, and other Treaty monitoring bodies; the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues; and all other appropriate UN bodies and mechanisms to monitor the compliance to international Human Rights obligation of the United States, Mexico, Canada, and all other States in the creation and implementation of Border and immigration policies, in particular those affecting Indigenous Peoples.
  • To call upon the CERD to specifically examine U.S. immigration laws, policies, and practices as a form of racially based persecution and racial discrimination.

We call upon State/Country Governments and Federal Agencies:

  • To fully honor, implement, and uphold the Treaties, Agreements, and Constructive Arrangements which were freely concluded with Indigenous Peoples and First Nations, in accordance with their original spirit and intent as understood by the respective Indigenous Peoples.
  • To fully implement, honor, and respect the rights to land, natural resources, and Self- determination, which includes the right to freely pursue their economic, social, and cultural development, for Indigenous Peoples in their traditional home lands.
  • To immediately initiate effective consultations with impacted indigenous peoples who are divided by borders for the development of respectful guidelines relating to border crossings by those indigenous peoples which ensure the recognition of each indigenous nation as culturally distinct and politically unique autonomous peoples and uphold their rights to move freely and maintain relationships within their homelands.
  • To respect and facilitate the use of Indigenous Nations/tribal passports, identifications, and immigration documents for travel across imposed borders, specifically tribes along settler borders between Mexico, the United States, and Canada.
  • To end to the militarization of the U.S./Mexico border along all Tribal and Indian Nation lands, and an end to military and law-enforcement activity and occupation in Indigenous Peoples’ lands everywhere, without their free, prior informed consent.
  • To end forced assimilation perpetuated by immigration policies which categorize of Indigenous Peoples as “white” or “Hispanic/Latino” while they are in the process immigrating, acquiring residency and/or naturalization in the United States or other countries.
  • To end the production and export of pesticides which have been banned for use in the United States and other countries, and to accept full legal accountability for the health and environmental impacts of such chemicals that have contaminated Indigenous peoples, their health, lands, waters, traditional subsistence, food systems, and sacred sites.
  • To end to the continual violation of the Native American Freedom of Religion Act and the destruction, desecration, and denial of access for Indigenous Peoples to their sacred sites and cultural objects along the border areas, and to enforce all cultural, religious freedom, and environmental protection laws and polices for federal agencies operating in these regions.
  • To provide protection for and end the intimidation of Indigenous and other peoples providing humanitarian aid along and within tribal lands to Indigenous and other displaced migrant peoples crossing the borders and to call for an immediate end to the criminalization of such expressions of basic human caring and assistance.
  • To end to the ongoing environmental contamination, ecosystem destruction, and waste dumping on Indigenous and tribal lands along the border by the military, border patrols, and private contractors doing business with federal agencies.
  • To ensure that the U.S. Border Patrol and other federal agencies operating on or near Indigenous Peoples’ lands are held fully and legally accountable for restoration, reparations, and/or remediation of any damages or harm they have caused to peoples, ecosystems, and places, in full consultation with the affected persons and Peoples.
  • To reinstate the Sovereign rights of Indigenous Peoples whose rights and status have been terminated through colonialist rule of law and daily practices of forced assimilation in all countries.
  • To ensure respect for Indigenous Peoples’ land and resource rights in their own homelands in all countries as the most effective way to address immigration issues and Indigenous Peoples’ human rights concerns overall.
  • To implement humane immigration policies that fully respect the inherent human rights of all Peoples and persons and fully comply with States’ obligations under International Human Rights Law.

It is with great pleasure that the Border Ambassadors partner with members of the Lipan Apache Band of Texas. We also hope that our invitations to Wallace Coffey of the Comanche Nation, and Billy Evans Horse of the Kiowa Tribe will be appreciated, and that they and they will unite with us in solidarity against the border wall this March 8-16 with the No Border Wall Walk.

New York Times Editorial and the No Border Wall Walk

March 4, 2008

At last Friday’s March 4 March 4, a German journalist covering this demonstration against the border wall said to me, “We Germans have always thought of the United States as a progressive country, with forward-thinking laws. But, Germany just got rid of the last of its last borders, and the United States is thinking of putting up walls? There are no more border patrols on our borders, and the U.S. is trying to put up a physical wall?” What could I say?

An editorial in today’s New York Times states that an “iron curtain” is descending across the United States, and that “This country once was a confident global magnet for an invigorating flow of immigrant workers and citizens-to-be. Now it is just hunkering.” One of the most important points raised by this contributor is that building walls does not address either national security or immigration legislation, and in fact makes illegal immigration worse. The 700-mile will leave gaps through the most dangerous border-crossing sections, funneling would-be illegal immigrants through the harshest terrain and most assuredly driving up the death toll each year. Additionally, the roads and infrastructure which will need to be built in some regions will actually make the job of coyotes and other smugglers that much easier.

The editorialist concludes that we need smart borders and real immigration reforms. The author writes,

But that worthy goal founders when the overall strategy boils down to simplistic components — bits of fencing and technological cure-alls — rather than a comprehensive solution that also attacks the reasons people cross illegally. Despite what critics of “amnesty” say, immigration reform has never been a choice between legalization and enforcement, because legalization is enforcement. Only by bringing people onto the books and being realistic about the supply of visas, letting people in through ports of entry, instead of chasing them across the desert, will the country restore sanity and order to this broken system. (New York Times “Border Insecurity”)

Until we cure the root problem, border walls are only a multi-billion-dollar Band-Aid which will not deter either terrorism or immigration. And the root problem is not that people are inherently bad, as some critics seem to infer. No, the cause for illegal immigration in the United States is caused both by the failure of sending countries to adequately provide for citizens AND by the United States unresponsive legislation, nativistic quota systems, and hopeless situations for working people trying to become legal.

    To this end, the Border Ambassadors are partnering with churches, teachers, activists, professionals, humanitarian organizations, government officials, high-school students, college students, and concerned citizens across the nation and imaginary borders will be walking 120 miles from Roma to Brownsville, Texas. This interfaith, nonviolent demonstration’s aim is to protest the border wall in an internationally viable way while also showing support for immigrants throughout the country and encouraging border communities. Pragmatically, we will be sharing free legal aid information with border landowners so that they can legally oppose the government surveyors. Policy-wise, this No Border Wall Walk is requesting a moratorium on the border wall and a re-opening of the issue of immigration reform. Please support us with your presence, your words, your donations, and your prayers.

 

An Exercise in Free Migration

March 2, 2008

Nacimos Tigres Unidos Ganamos     Sitting in Reynosa, Mexico’s immigration office, my mind easily wanders to frustration with the lines, the forms and formalities. One and a half hours later, my companions and I leave tired yet overjoyed to finally be legally on our way to Monterrey. Our 1.5 hours of inconvenience is but a flicker of the reality of so many immigrants hoping to get in through the unresponsive current quota system. My students, some whose grades beg for the best colleges, are symbolically stuck in this same immigration office with their families, waiting for their number to come up in this life lottery of the highest gravity.

    Idling though a security checkpoint, young Federales no older than my students hold automatic guns to highlight the government’s hard stance on trafficking and immigration. I am struck by the ease with which our car glides past these camouflaged jovenes with their red berets, faces softened as soon as they saw our American license plates. The grace of my United States birthright is overwhelming, utterly unwarranted, and it is striking that the chance of my birth in a Tennessee hospital should allow me to migrate freely and pursue my happiness to the ends of the world. In neutral behind us, stalled at Mexico’s southern border, parked at U.S. Customs and withering in refugee camps – so many other children of God are blacklisted by their birth. The Bible clearly states in Ezekiel 18:20b, “The son will not share the guilt of the father, nor will the father share the guilt of the son. The righteousness of the righteous man will be credited to him, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against him.” Our immigration system must model for countries everywhere that birthplace and the home of one’s father should not give one undue privilege or unjust disadvantage. Yes, there must be criteria for immigrants, but to discriminate applicants based on their place of birth is all too similar to the Jim Crow laws we abolished not so long ago.

    Eating cabrito at El Rey Del Cabrito, I am assumed to be upstanding and respectable as an American. The waiter treats me with deference, even though I am wearing the wrong futbol jersey. The restaurant’s signs are in English, and throughout the meal we are treated with utmost respect. We are assumed to be legal visitors. How different must it be for those sojourning in Los Estados Unidos? How different to have your skin a synonym for illegality, your accidental accent a sign of guilt, and your work ethic derided on populist television talk shows. Reading the definition of cabrito as “kid,” my mind wanders to wonder how many kids feel trapped and dreamless en la frontera of the American dream, in the shadowlands of public society, squeezed out by the liability of their legality and native language.

    Visiting the Diego Rivera exhibit at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Monterrey, I verge on guiltiness as I feast my eyes on his larger-than-life paintings so vibrantly campaigning for the proletariat, for his working-class people. Wondering how many Latin Americans could enter this museum to see the paintings that rightfully belong to them, I am humbled that my unearned American status, and not my occupational prowess, are the real price of admission into this grandiose museum. Outside, teachers in the plaza chant chants of change, striking for living wages, trying to gain respect and quality education in their country. I finger my museum ticket and my high-school teacher id card, pondering how my two-years’ experience as an American educator warrants my salary being 5x that of these veteran teachers.

    The sun is setting as I look askance at anti-scalping laws and negotiate for what I want – Tigres tickets. Americans disregard laws all the time for convenience sake – speeding, ticket scalping, parking. When laws seem ridiculously restrictive, petty, or at odds with our happiness, most Americans are fine with suspending law and order. When we begin to see an immigration system as legislation opposed to the happiness and dignity of millions, when we begin to see the quota system as a trivial method of separating legal from illegal, when we start to see the thanklessly vital contribution of our nation’s immigrants to the GDP and Social Security, we begin to understand the image of God in others and the will of God on the side of the immigrant.

    During the soccer game, I was caught up in the fraternal feeling of an entire stadium of people. As the chants of thousands propelled Los Tigres to a 3-0 victory, I was caught up and accepted into this community. Even though America, with its symbol of the united American continent, lost the game, I felt profound harmony with my southern neighbors and with everyone’s border-less hearts.

    Returning to Brownsville, under stars which Canadians, Latin Americans, and United States citizens all refer to by the same names, I am struck by the similarities and differences. I am driving from the richest city in Latin America to the poorest city in the United States. I drive from a city which welcomes immigrants to a nation which is contemplating a wall to keep out certain immigrants. I drive from the North of Mexico to the South of the United States, both famed for their rugged cowboy country. I drive from a city which viewed Spanish as a chic business tongue to a nation which equates it with the sub-proletariat language.

    Less than a week from now on March 8, I will be walking with the Border Ambassadors and many other groups to protest the border wall while supporting immigrants and borderlands. I protest because so many would-be immigrants are trying to escape countries in which nonviolent demonstrations are illegal. I am walking because immigrants in every city and every township in the United States are threatened by these damaging border policies. I am nonviolently demonstrating because it is my right, a right which so few global citizens have and which is being denied so many qualified immigrants caught in the never-ending lottery system. I would be proud if you joined me, in prayer or in person, in this year’s No Border Wall Walk.

Public Comments at Brownsville City Commissioner’s Meeting- 2/19/2008

February 20, 2008

Teachers are always talking about how their students teach them so much more than they have taught. This is not empty rhetoric. Yesterday evening, I attended my first City Commissioner’s Meeting here in Brownsville, Texas, because 2 of my students wrote essays on what Martin Luther King would say today about immigration. They taught me that Honor Roll students are still entered into the same lottery system for citizenship as everyone else. They taught me that the power of hope, that the “faith of a child” to send their essays to Princeton University is the type of powerful force which can and is changing our country as we speak. As I sat there, overwhelmed to see my students receiving accolades and shaking the hand of Mayor Ahumada who has defiantly opposed the wall, Alexa and Mayra and their families taught me pride.    So, when I got up to give my Public Comments to commemorate my students’ hard work and their indefatigable optimism, I was more than a little nervous because I wanted to do them proud by their teacher. The following is my speech:

 

“Walls are made to support roofs, not to divide neighbors. Walls are supposed to keep out the rain, not hard-working students who earn 100% in English-as-a-Second-Language classes and dream of one day attending excellent American universities Walls are made to support a family, not separate spouses and children from their mothers. Walls are intended to keep families safe, not to terrify immigrants and not to segregate nations. Walls have always been used to make a home, but they should never be used to keep out hard-working, well-meaning people who just are not “lucky” enough to have been born 1-mile to the north. Walls are for hanging pictures of people we love, not to send a message of hate to would-be immigrants and to those who are legally here.

Martin Luther King wisely said, “The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just.” The entire United States can learn ideas of coexistence, integration, and community strength by simply studying the Rio Grande Valley and its relationship with its neighbor. While politicians in capitals are debating the “idea” of some 12 million extralegal residents, Brownsville and other cities on la frontera are living proof that 99% of these immigrants sincerely want to work and contribute to American community and economy. The very idea of the Secure Fence Act of 2006 is ignorant of the real contribution these immigrants make on a daily basis.

My students Alexa Mireles and Mayra Flores are the epitome of this. Both of them represent newly-immigrated Mexican-Americans who are highly successful in America. I have the pleasure to teach many talented and ultra-motivated ESL students at Rivera High School everyday. These scholars are A+ students and have dreams of one day attending some of the best universities in the land. A border wall, the border wall they wrote against in their essays for the Princeton University Martin Luther King Day Celebration essay contest, would separate many of these students from their parents, sisters, friends. This human element, largely ignored when discussing 700 miles of wall, is why I am against the wall.

Tonight, I stand in support of this Valley’s mayors, politicians, and landowners who have courageously defied the idea of a border wall in their backyard. Mayor Ahumada, you have made this the issue of your tenure as mayor, and I applaud your efforts to nonviolently oppose the destructive influence of the Secure Fence Act of 2006. You and I both know that the money which would be spent on separating two nations and thousands of families could be better spent building homes in our city on the border by the sea, the poorest city in the nation.

Tonight, I wish to invite you, the Commissioners, and every concerned citizen from Roma to Brownsville, to join me and the Border Ambassadors as we walk on this 43rd anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery March. This March Against the Wall will show the solidarity of border communities against the Secure Fence Act, and it will also encourage those willing to stand up for the immigrant and la frontera. We ask for your endorsement, your public support, your prayers, and we hope to see you on the 16th as we finish our march here at 5:00 on the UTB lawn. Dios te bendiga. <http://www.brownsvilleherald.com/news/moore_84628___article.html/king_guerra.html>

So far, Mayor Pat Ahumada and Commissioner Edward Camarillo have accepted the invitation to come to the closing rally and the challenge to continue nonviolently opposing the border wall.