Posts Tagged ‘China’
Yesterday morning, Barack Obama signed executive orders to end the CIA’s secret overseas prisons, ban coercive interrogations (read “torture”), and close Guantanamo Bay within a year. In just his second full day in office, Obama made good on one of his campaign promises, saying that “our ideals give us the strength and moral high ground” to combat terrorism. (Shane, Scott. New York Times) The whole world must have breathed a sigh of relief to see the United States moving back towards its role as a leader in human rights.
Since 2002, this small base in Cuba has housed detainees, many of whom were held without charges, representation, or many basic human rights. As Vince Walker famously said when Gandhi’s followers were brutally attacked and killed by the British following the 1930 salt march, “Whatever moral ascendancy the West held was lost here today.” (http://lisahendrix.com/2008/06/). As the United States has attempted to encourage countries like Iran, China, and North Korea to cease their violations of human rights, our exhortations have sounded hollow when Guantanamo Bay was in full operation just miles from Florida.
All Americans should applaud this bold move by Obama to move the United States back into its place an international leader. But this must only be the beginning. Within our borders, detention centers are cropping up in every state. Texas is building new “immigrant processing” centers every year, and this for-profit business is rapidly expanding. As the United States continues to balk on comprehensive immigration reform, these containment camps flourish while immigrants languish. Few know where they are, even fewer know the name of a local lawyer who can represent them. Many will sit for months in cold dark cells, some for years. In the last 6 years, from 2002 to 2008, immigrants detained in like centers have skyrocketed from under 21,000 to more than 31,000. Disabled immigrants and those with mental health issues aren’t being served, and often their conditions are worsening steadily. As Equal Justice Fellow at Advocacy Health Services of LA Greg Pleasants, “All protections that exist in other areas of the law (for mentally and developmentally disabled individuals) do not exist for these respondents.” (Tillman, Laura. Brownsville Herald). Just last week, federal immigration officials investigating the tragic death of Chinese comuter engineer Hiu Lui Ng in Donald W. Wyatt Detention Facility of Central Falls, R.I, revealed that he had been denied treatment and his cancer and fractured spine had been undiagnosed, leading to his agonizing death on August 6, 2008. (Bernstein, Nina).
Thankfully, some changes have already begun to have a positive effect. Since unaccompanied minors were removed from adult detention centers and switched from DHS (Department of Homeland Security) jurisdiction to that of Health and Human Services, their care has substantially increased and they are being better served. With Guantanamo Bay closed and the United States human rights record looking better, we must continue to encourage our administration to take positive steps to eradicate human rights abuses within this nation. Our immigration system must move towards a day when immigrants are not criminals or numbers but people, families, lives, souls. Please don’t stop at Cuba, Mr. Obama.
Hidalgo County has seen contractors already readying the earth-moving equipment needed to construct their portion of a the border wall as early as July 21. While officials have dodged specifics and Hidalgo County officials emphasize the fact that this cement structure is actually just an addition to strengthen the levees in need of serious repair, local residents are chilled to see the giant bulldozers, pipes, and CATs which are planned to tear up their backyards in the coming days of summer. (Leatherman, Jackie)
This past week also saw the controversial news of court interpreter Dr. Camayd-Freixas penning an essay about what he witnessed during the court proceedings following the recent Agriprocessors raid in Postville, Iowa, on May 12, 2008. This ICE raid, the largest in its history, involved over 900 agents and put nearly 400 extralegal workers on trial for their work in the largest kosher meat-packing plant in the nation. While Agriprocessors was merely fined and sternly reprimanded, the lives of these Guatemalan immigrants and the town which had become their home have been gutted by the legal proceedings that imprisoned more than 260 of them for 5 months. Detained for weeks in a converted cattle-ground holding house called the National Cattle Congress, paraded into court in handcuffs, shackles, and chains, these immigrants with Mayan last names listened tearfully to the Spanish interpretation of what had already been decided in the court well in advance of the raid. Rather than simply deporting these workers who were lured here under false promises of well-paid work and future citizenship, these hard-working immigrants now must sit in county jails with charges of aggravated identity theft and Social Security fraud as their families scramble to make ends meet without these principal breadwinners. (“The Shame of Postville, Iowa”)
Postville, IA, once a town of 2,273, has lost more than 1/3 of its community in the month since the terrifying raid. ICE timed the raid before the end of the school year, when some migrant workers would have returned to their homes, and as a result the end of the school year saw Latino students legal and extralegal terrified to go to school. 3 of 15 high-school students showed up for school the week after the raid, while 120 out of 260 students in the elementary and middle school were missing. The schools’ principal actually rode around town on a school bus, coaxing and cajoling these students to come to school, assuring them that ICE cannot raid a public school because of Peter Schey’s landmark case in the 1980s; 50 of them would not be convinced. American children were having nightmares that their parents would be similarly deported or jailed. (Camayd-Freixas)
Dr. Camayd-Freixas broke ranks with the “unbiased” legal interpreters by publishing his reflections and observations of this humanitarian disaster. He was moved to write as he saw immigrants begging in their native language to be deported quickly. He was moved as he listened to the weeping of fathers who had walked a month and ten days before finally crossing the Rio Grande. He was moved to hear of families who had journeyed here only to work for a year or two in hopes of saving enough money to survive in Latin America, a desire that could have been legitimized if only temporary work permits were legislated instead of Secure Fence Acts. These men and women waived their 5th amendment rights to trial by jury in hopes of a “fast-tracked” deportation five months later, despite the fact that they had used false papers not for unlawful activity or felonious actions but rather for seeking a living wage. (Camayd-Freixas) In this New Era of ICE operations, a new government agency which grew 10% last year and is readying itself for many more of these raids in the name of the War on Terror, every small town must cringe in fear whether it has extralegals living within its borders or not; terror terrifies indiscriminately.
As a border wall is being prepared for the Texas-Mexico border and as future ICE raids are being formulated based on the “success” of the Postville sting, the Beijing Olympics are about to begin. The United States will boast its largest number of immigrant athletes since these statistics were kept. These 33 immigrants will represent the United States and surely bring pride to red-blooded Americans as they stand on podiums to hear their new national anthem. We can all be proud of the four Chinese-Americans representing us in table-tennis, or the Polish-American kayaker, or the Russian-American gymnast Nastia Liukin, or the New Zealand immigrant triathlete. All of us will hold our breath in August as we watch the men’s 1500-meter squad of immigrants; Kenyan-American Bernard Lagat will run alongside the Sudanese “lost boy” Lopez Lomong and Mexican laborer’s son Leo Manzano who only recently got his citizenship in 2004. We can all be proud of these new Americans, but we must also take a hard look at our nation’s policies which simultaneously champion a few token immigrants while terrorizing others and making the immigration process both dehumanizing and virtually impossible for so many (Wilson, Duff and Andrew Lehren) As I watch the Summer Olympics, it will be tough for me to think of China’s human rights violations which have caused protests throughout much of the free world; I will be too busy crying as I watch American immigrants bask in their one day of glory, saving up these precious memories for four more years and for all the immigrants who will never receive acclaim and recognition for the work they do to make our country what it is.
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.
Something there is that doesn’t love a wall….
It currently extends some 4,500 miles. Though never a continuous wall, it was guarded at times by as many as a million men. These fortifications of earth and brick were built and rebuilt from the 5th century B.C. until the 16th century A.D. Some of the most famous sections of wall were built by the Qin and Ming Dynasties. The Great Wall of China, while a popular tourist attraction now, claimed the lives of 2-3 million people during its centuries-long construction.
The current plans for the Secure Fence Act of 2006, while only 700 miles for a border half the length of the Great Wall of China, do follow in the tradition of walls of all shapes and sizes. The border wall proposed for America’s southern border, locally referred to as la frontera, will not be a continuous wall. Instead, it will highlight “high-traffic zones” like wildlife sanctuaries, schools, churches, and depressed downtowns, and conspicuously passover places like River Bend Resort and Hunt family’s Sharyland Estates. With all the grace and diplomacy of a Chinese Emperor, Homeland Security has waived 39 laws for the wall in Texas and 19 different laws for the Arizona portion. And, just like the Great Wall of China, people will surely die as a result of this costly edifice. Close to 400 people die annually with our current militarized borders, a sad statistic which has doubled in the last decade. As Professor Wayne Cornelius of University of California – San Diego, stated, “To put this death toll in perspective, the fortified US border with Mexico has been more than 10 times deadlier to migrants from Mexico during the past nine years than the Berlin Wall was to East Germans throughout its 28-year existence.“ If a border wall is erected through la frontera, that number could easily double or triple.
He only says, ‘Good fences make good neighbors’.
Spring is the mischief in me, and I wonder
If I could put a notion in his head:
‘Why do they make good neighbors?
In China, the intent of the Great Wall was to keep the marauding Mongolian and Manchurian tribes out of their land. This isolationism mentality lasted for millenia, only beginning to change in the last portion of the 20th century. The wall successfully repulsed successive Manchurian invasions for almost 40 years until finally a Ming general named Wu Sangui who disagreed with his commanders simply let them in through a gate.
Walls have never proven effective for long periods of time. The border wall intended for 1/5 of the southern U.S. has already created some opportunistic evasions of the Secure Fence Act. An unjust law breeds injustice and creates criminals, and this 2005 legislation has done that. Far from discouraging border-crossers, it merely drives the prices and lethality of such dangerous ventures. Coyotes have been making news in the Rio Grande Valley after several car-crashes which have sadly left immigrants dead or wounded and without rights; the coyotes, however, have lived to try another day. And since almost ½ of extralegal residents in the U.S. have come here legally, immigration reform seems to be a more practical way of beginning to assimilate these individuals who have come by air or by sea over or around the trajectory of the proposed border wall.
Before I built a wall I’d ask to know
What I was walling in or walling out,
And to whom I was like to give offence.
(Robert Frost, “Mending Walls“)
While not visible from the moon and only able to be seen by a trained eye at low orbit, the Great Wall of China is certainly an imposing feature. While architects may debate its construction and the merits of its foundations, people from all walks of life can readily agree that it was not a success and actually sapped China of resources, labor, and interchange of ideas. Materially, it is a lasting structure; economically, politically, socially, and morally, it was a failure from the moment it was made.
The very idea of a wall went against the progressive thinking of the Chinese people. A border wall would seriously call into question the democracy and moral high ground our nation has claimed and attempted to impart to dozens of other nations. When Chinese students protested in 1989 at the Tiananman Square, they did not build a replica of their nation’s giant man-made monument. Instead, they fashioned a model of America’s symbol of freedom and hope, of opportunity for all peoples, immigrant and resident. May we not betray the legacy of Lady Liberty for the infamy of a divisive border wall.
Life is a story.
Life is a story, and we are more than merely actors. We get a part in the writing, we get to actively work for happy endings. Every relationship, every conflict, every contact we experience through life is a storyline.
One of the best words in the English language is redemption. This idea of buying back, of making good, of righting a wrong – it is the heart of movies such as Shawshank Redemption and books like Les Miserables.
The most beautiful thing about nonviolence, then, is the fact that it always holds out hope for redemption. Because nonviolence never physically, mentally, emotionally, or spiritually views the “other” as an enemy or essentially evil, reconciliation is a constant possibility.
The saddest thing about violence is that it ends the possibility of redemption and reconciliation. The worst thing about murder is that it ends that “storyline,” that relationship, precluding the hope or chance of reconciliation. Violence says, “there is nothing you can say or do to ever reconcile yourself to me.” While morally arrogant, this popular philosophy of violence has permeated so many parts of our society, from wars to classrooms and international policies.
A border wall is the end of dialogue. A border wall, just like the walls in China and Berlin, Hadrian’s Wall and the Maginot Line, all send the same message – we are no longer willing to communicate. A wall is the end of communication, the end of attempts to reconcile different beliefs or lifestyles or philosophies. Walls are acts of violence in that they do not allow for redemption. Walls are irreconcilable because they divide peoples into two categories, when we are all so unimaginably different and yet so amazingly the same. Walls are a physical attempt to cease communications, but they never last because people can be redeemed, people can and do seek to be at peace with their neighbors, people will find ways to communicate and redeem themselves.
May we seek harmony instead of rigid security. May we hope for reconciliation rather than militarization on our borders. May we be more creative than walls, more optimistic than secure fences, more moral than muros, more human than high-walled divisions.
The story will go on, and I will be holding out the chance for redemption.
After 68 years of leading the Tibetan people from his place of exile, the Dalai Lama is the “most seasoned ruler on the planet.” A recent article in Time magazine entitled “A Monk’s Struggle” details the Dalai Lama’s life and his current struggles to free his government from Chinese rule. Though he he has campaigned the world over and is a popular dignitary at universities, capitols, conferences, and celebrations, he hasn’t managed to make significant progress in the past 50 years – “98% of Tibetans have no access to their leader and are denied the most basic of freedoms.”
To analyze the Dalai Lama’s philosophy and strategy is to explore the fundamental difference between pacifism and nonviolence. Both pacifism and nonviolence are based on the same idea of interconnectedness. “China and Tibet will long be geographic neighbors,” the Dalai Lama intimates, “so for Tibetans to think of the Chinese as their enemies – or vice versa – is to say they will long be surrounded by enemies. Better by far to expunge the notion of “enmities” that the mind has created” (Iyer, Pico. “A Monk’s Struggle, p. 48). A Hindu leader in the country which now protects the Dalai Lama once phrased this same idea by saying, “In the dictionary of the non-violent there is no such word as an external enemy. But even for the supposed enemy he will have nothing but compassion in his heart” [Gandhi, Mohandas. Non-Violent Resistance (Satyagraha)]. An ocean away from both these men, a young pastor was preaching much the same idea around 1959, the year the Dalai Lama was first exiled. He said, “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly” (King, Martin Luther. Why We Can’t Wait).
Although based on the same idea of life’s interconnectedness, there is a world of difference between a Satyagrahi and a pacifist. A pacifist looks at the idea of human interconnectedness and concludes that nothing he/she can do could better the situation. The choice of a pacifist is to withdraw support from such a system, hoping that their single vote will eventually cause the aggressor or oppressor to yield to reason. However, the pacifists’ viewpoint does not take life’s “network of mutuality” to its natural conclusion. If all life is connected, then “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere;” the oppressor is living in an unjust world every bit as much as the oppressed. Gandhi maintains that a victory for Justice is a victory for everyone involved, though at first the oppressor might not view it as such. A pacifist, then, sees the interconnectedness of life and asserts that he/she must remove themselves from the circle of action; the nonviolent Satyagrahi sees the interconnectedness and realizes that he/she must impact Justice for the good of the world.
Pacifism has long been attacked as “passivism,” and too often nonviolence has been lumped in as well because of its similar aversion to violence. Nonviolence, however, is a pro-active response rather than an acquiescence. Nonviolence is diametrically difference than “not violence” – it chooses pro-active methods such as boycotts, sit-ins, marches, freedom rides, etc, to prick the conscience of its oppressor and anyone watching. There is nothing passive about nonviolence.
As Dr. King wrote in Why We Can’t Wait, “Fortunately, history does not pose problems without eventually producing solutions….Nonviolent action, the Negro saw, was the way to supplement – not replace – the process of change through legal recourse. It was the way to divest himself of passivity without arraying himself in vindictive force…” (36) The beauty of nonviolence is that it offers a a third way; instead of self-defeating violence or an acquiescence condoning evil and injustice, nonviolence offers a way to save the oppressed from cynicism or inaction and provides a means for redemption for the oppressor. I pray, indeed the whole world prays, that Tibetans and other oppressed peoples throughout the world will be able to bring about Justice through positive, nonviolent means; the Justice of us all depends on their choice today.