Posts Tagged ‘Catholic Charities’

An All-American Thanksgiving

November 30, 2008

Akmed and Dea were both at the Apache Mall for its 4 o’clock opening on Black Friday. Despite their fears of American malls from the numerous cinematic chase scenes set there, they both braved the cold and the crowds to witness this uniquely American phenomenon. Both were glad to find out that Iraqis were not the only ones to clamor for goods at market; both were equally contented to know that, unlike the movies, there are not “naked people running around everywhere.”

Though both left behind practically everything when they came to the United States as refugees through Catholic Charities and its Refugee Resettlement Program, they and their families are quickly acculturating and making Rochester, Minnesota, their home. Their children had seen snow in Iraq only once before and were amazed when I told them that in our cold winters your spit freezes before it hits the ground. These men and women are scrambling to get the necessary paperwork together for their driver’s licenses, scouring the classifieds for jobs and cheap furnishings they can afford, and studying late into the night to master English or to comprehend the material for the MCAT.

Last night, we celebrated a belated Thanksgiving with 3 of the 5 Iraqi families here in Rochester. My father-in-law has worked hard to help them get jobs and settle in to their new community, and as such they view him as a paternal figure. They are hard workers, evidenced by Pat’s newly tiled bathroom or Gassuon’s remodeled junker. All of them are trying to rebuild lives which had grown increasingly chaotic since the late 1980s conflict with Iran. The latest United States occupation has unsettled what little order there was, making it increasingly dangerous for businessmen and their families.

A few days before at our family Thanksgiving, a dear relative asked why the Iraqi refugees should have jobs ahead of all the laid-off “American” employees. When we responded that they were extremely talented and had earned the positions, this relative’s only answer was a huff and harrumph. In these times of economic uncertainty, some are calling for our borders to be closed indefinitely. Some might say that our problems are being caused by unauthorized working immigrants or these refugees.

In fact, we can look no further than our own devotion to devastation as we seek to uncover the root of the housing crisis or banking downturn. In the faces of these refugees and the 4 million displaced Iraqis they represent, one is instantly aware of the $720 million the United States spends on the Iraq War every day rather than healing its own or bringing true peace to international communities through positive relationship-building.

Eating turkey and sweet potatoes with these wonderful new Americans, I am reminded of that familiar line from the Christmas classic, “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas.” When these refugees came into my life, my heart grew three sizes that day; when they came to be working residents of the U.S., our nation of immigrants grew by the size of five families that day. And they are already making plans to be at the mall for what they hear are the amazing closeouts on New Year’s Day…

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Homeland Security

July 11, 2008

When we speak of homeland security, it is vital we define our terms. “Homeland security” must not mean defending the buildings and properties of the United States, or else the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) would be busy repairing bridges, condemning buildings, and fireproofing houses. It is impossible for “homeland security” to mean protecting the American people, because what we mean by the “American people” will have grown and changed by the time you finish reading this article. “Homeland security” cannot even mean preserving our nation’s heritage and culture, or else its name would be homeland taxidermy instead.

No, “homeland security” rightly understood must mean the protection of our nation’s laws. If society is a social contract, then people come to the United States and remain in the U.S. because they agree to live by the law in a land where others do the same, thus gaining civil rights while submitting to the authority elected to enforce those laws. Defined as such, the biggest threat to homeland security today could very well be the Department of Homeland Security.

Since the 1990s, and more aggressively since 2006, DHS has been militarizing the border. Having lived in the border town of Brownsville, Texas, I can personally attest to the effects this militarization has had on local residents from California and Arizona to Texas. I have had a gun pulled on me by a Border Patrol agent as I ran on a dirt trail along the border, not unlike so many cross-country trails here in the Land of 10,000 Lakes. Countless friends of mine have faced aggravation and humiliation as they crossed the secure border checkpoint more than 30 miles north of the Rio Grande. Third and fourth-generation Americans have been followed and questioned by police in every one of these border towns, simply because of the color of their skin or their fluency in Spanish.

With the Secure Fence Act of 2006, the law which mandates nearly 700 miles of border wall for our nation’s southern border, these dehumanizing factors were magnified in border communities. The Department of Homeland Security has used the REAL-ID Act to waive 11 laws in Arizona and more than 30 environmental and local laws in the Rio Grande Valley in order to expedite the construction of an eighteen-foot wall between the U.S. and Latin America. With the REAL ID Act, DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff, an unelected official, has been granted the unconditional power to waive any and all laws “necessary to ensure expeditious construction of the barriers and roads under this section;” in effect, this gives Chertoff the power to undo countless laws voted on by elected officials in our nation’s Legislative Branch, thereby undermining the very “homeland security” it purports to protect, not to mention our system of checks and balances.

Despite the dour state of affairs in our nation’s handling of the border region and immigration, we have all seen real homeland security take place in our communities. Leaders like Father Paul Oderkirk in towns like Pottsville, Iowa, have offered support and banded together with immigrants after the terror of an ICE raid on their Agriprocessors Inc. kosher slaughterhouse in May. Organizations like the Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife, the University of Texas at Brownsville, and the Texas Border Coalition of mayors have all sought to defend homeland security by opposing the Secure Fence Act which divides rather than cooperates with our neighbors and the REAL ID Act which negates our nation’s checks and balances. We have seen homeland security in the integration of our community sports teams, English-as-a-Second-Language classes, hospitals, and churches. Every time a recent immigrant is welcomed, each instant someone takes the time to help another get involved, there is homeland security. Please show your solidarity by supporting immigrant resource centers like Rochester’s Catholic Charities Refugee Resettlement and the Advocates for Human Rights, as well as writing your encouragement to beleaguered Americans on our southern border. Additionally, a letter to our senators Norm Coleman and Amy Klobuchar could go a long way to encouraging real “homeland security” instead of distracting and costly excuses for real immigration reform.