Posts Tagged ‘Dream Act’

What does May Day mean in 2009?

April 27, 2009

As May Day 2009 fast approaches, it is important to look back at the original celebration and what it did and did not do.  On May 1, 2006, millions of immigrant workers left their jobs for an hour or a whole day to bring home the message that they are an integral part of American society.  In cities like Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Houston, Tucson, and Portland, May 1 was an important day of immigrant empowerment and a powerful symbol of solidarity.  However, that same year, the immigration legislation failed to pass Congress and the Secure Fence Act was enacted.

For nonviolence to be an effective tool, it cannot be only a negative force.  It must be constructive as well. As Dr. King wrote, “True peace is not merely the absence of some negative force — tension, confusion or war; it is the presence of some positive force — justice, good will and brotherhood” (“Nonviolence and Racial Justice“).  For nonviolence to change hearts and minds, it must not only protest injustice but also present solutions.  Unlike the May Day celebrations of 2006, as well as the ones being planned for this year in countless cities across the United States, a much smaller but more determined group of people are actively engaged in a nonviolence which highlights the injustices inherent in our current immigration system but which also positively provide for real needs.

Founded in 2004 by Catholic bishop Gerald Kikanas, Presbyterian minister John Fife, and several leaders of the local Tucson Jewish community, No More Deaths has been dealing with the negative human effects resulting from Operation Gatekeeper.  The increased militarization of the border through deportation, detention, armed forces, and border wall construction have merely rerouted desperate human migration through the most dangerous portions of the desert.  The Pima County Medical Examiner’s office, for example, has reported 84 deaths annually between 2000 and 2005, up from 14 in the ’90s.  No More Deaths attempts to save border-crossing families by leaving out water in the desert and tending to the medical needs of injured crossers. [Wikipedia] According to their website, 50 individuals have died  attempting to enter Arizona.

No More Deaths operates under some basic faith-based principles:

  • Recognize that the current Militarized Border Enforcement Strategy is a failed policy
  • Address the status of undocumented persons currently living in the US
  • Make family unity and reunification the cornerstone of the US immigration system
  • Allow workers and their families to enter the US to live and work in a safe, legal, orderly, and humane manner through an Employment-Focused immigration program
  • Recognize that root causes of migration lie in environmental, economic, and trade inequities[4]

While No More Deaths meets the needs of immgirants, they are forbidden to aid them in crossing, but in times of dire emergency they are instructed to call an on-call medical expert and, if need be, transport the seriously injured immigrant to the local hospital.  On July 9, 2005, however, two No More Deaths volunteers were arrested by the Border Patrol for transporting three border-crossers to a nearby hospital.  Daniel Strauss and Shanti Sellz were accused transporting and conspiring to transport undocumented immigrants, both felonies under US law. If convicted, they would have faced 15 years in prison and/or $500,000 in fines.  After more than a year, Judge Collins dismissed the charges in September 2006, stating that these two volunteers had followed pre-approved protocol and that further litigation would violate their Due Process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment. [Wikipedia]


Currently, Dan Millis is appealing to the 9th Circuit to contest the Arizona ruling that he and other volunteers had littered by placing water jugs for migrants in the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge.  Despite the five milk crates of trash the volunteers had picked up, they were issued citations by the US Fish & Wildlife Service officers.  Two days before, Millis had found the body of a 14-year-old girl who had died of exposure. As Dan Millis has said, ““We pick up trash, distribute food and water, and administer first aid to people who desperately need it. We are not criminals.” [Guntzel, Jeff Severens. Utne Reader]

As communities prepare for May Day 2009, it is important to stress real issues and practical solutions.  Obama has pledged that comprehensive immigration reform is on the table for 2009.  The DREAM Act is still a potentiality, as is the Border Security and Responsbility Act [HR 2076] sponsored by Rep. Grijalva last week.  Immigrants from Rochester to Brownsville need more than a token march or a one-day protest – campaign for real change by advocating locally and nationally for meaningful reform for immigrants.

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Hurricane Ike

September 10, 2008

For some, supporting the construction of a 700-mile border wall on our nation’s southern border is simply a solid political move to show that one is “hard on immigration issues;”  Obama, McCain, & Clinton all supported the Secure Fence Act of 2006 because it represented comprehensive immigration reform to the publich.  Sadly, true comprehensive immigration reform such as Obama’s Dream Act or McCain’s S. 2611 bill named “Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006” were ignored at the time and have been all but forgotten in the Presidential debate of late.

For others the wall means a radical change in life.  For some, it means their ancestral homes will be lost.  For others, it means their downtown will be gutted by an unsightly, environmentally destructive barrier.  For others, it means that some of our nation’s most endangered and rare species will no longer have a home.  Others will lose access to the few wildlife refuges and parkland that they currently have along the Rio Grande corridor.  Still others look at an 18-foot high barrier lacking sufficient environmental impact studies and see a natural disaster waiting to happen.

As Hurricane Ike takes aim at the Rio Grande Valley, my prayers are with the good people of South Texas.  I pray that the hurricane will spare the lives and livelihoods of my good friends in Brownsville and Donna, Mission and Pharr, McAllen and Rio Grande City, Harlingen and Port Isabel, Weslaco and Alamo.  I also pray that our entire nation would look at this area long enough to see the people on both sides of the river who will live in fear every year they lack levees but get walls.

For up-to-date information on the hurricane’s progress and trajectory, please visit: http://www.badchili.blogspot.com/ http://current.pic.tv/2008/09/10/hurricane-ike-paints-bullseye-on-texas/ , or the Brownsville Herald website at: http://www.brownsvilleherald.com/

A First Look at Revoking Education Opportunities for NC Extralegals

June 24, 2008

Having taught English-as-a-Second-Language (ESL) students for the past two years on the Tex-Mex border town of Brownsville, the national trend toward limiting the futures and opportunities of immigrant students hurts me deeply. Many of my freshman ESL students earned a commended performance on this year’s challenging state reading/writing test. Students like these hard-working, highly-motivated immigrant students need to be given the opportunity to be productive citizens and use their array of gifts to make our nation a better place. It is in everyone’s interest to educate and enable every resident within American borders. It is because this first-hand experience with Mexican American immigrants that the North Carolina’s Attorney General’s decision struck me so deeply.

On May 13, 2008, the North Carolina Attorney General’s Office overturned a policy adopted in 2007 which enabled undocumented immigrants with a high-school diploma to gain admission to the fifty-eight colleges within that state. North Carolina’s community college system, the third largest in the country, currently enrolls more than 800,000 students annually (Waggoner, Martha). With the new policy, undocumented immigrants will no longer be allowed to pay out-of-state tuition to work towards an associate’s degree, although this recent ruling does not immediately affect English-as-a-Second-Language (ESL), GED, or continuing-education classes(Mills, Jeff).

Retired community college system president Martin Lancaster was disappointed with the recent ruling, stating, “I believe that every North Carolinian, everyone residing in our state who will ultimately become a part of our work force, should be educated” (Waggoner, Martha). Martin Nadelman, President of Alamance Community College, said, “Personally, I think if you’re permitted to go to public schools you ought to be able to continue your education past high school…I hate to see them not be able to go higher and better themselves” (Mills, Jeff). Rep. George Cleveland, a Republican sponsor of a bill designed to further bar undocumented immigrants from all college programs including ESL and continuing education classes, commented that, “”They’re illegal. It’s as simple as that…[t]he state should be doing anything it can to discourage illegal aliens from being in the state” (Illegal immigrant curbs may fail).

When the North Carolina Community College System first barred illegal immigrants from higher education in 2001, they were the first statewide system to do so. This prohibitive legislation was only briefly overturned from November 2007 until May 2008. According to the Raleigh-based Civitas think-tank analysis of U.S. Census data, nearly 10,000 undocumented immigrant students will be affected by this reversal of enrollment eligibility (Taylor, Jameson).

In three years, many of my 140 freshman students will be walking across the graduation stage in Brownsville, Texas. I will be there in the audience, clutching my newly-received graduation cap from the University of Minnesota School of Law and wondering where these bright young adults will be studying the following year. I hope that our nation has decided to invest in every mind of every child in the United States in pro-education and pro-immigrant bills such as the DreamAct (co-sponsored by Barack Obama). It is our hope that North Carolina acts alone in denying students the opportunity to study simply because of a lack of documentation, and that in three years’ time immigrant students will be afforded the chance to pursue their full potential in our nation’s institutions of higher learning.

Who will speak for the students?

March 30, 2008

    Today one of my students celebrated his 17th birthday. This bright senior also managed to win first place in a South Texas Informative Speech District competition. As his coach, I will be traveling with him to San Antonio for the UIL Regional Meet. The event is sure to be packed with fawning friends and proud parents, as well as hundreds of other young high-schoolers dreaming of making it to States. However, this lad, for whom I wrote a recommendation to Rice University, will not even have his mother there. The only two roads north out of the Valley, Highways 77 and 83, both have checkpoints which temporary residents are not permitted to pass. While his mother can legally reside in border towns like Brownsville, she cannot witness her son’s beautiful speeches nor visit her talented hijo when he attends Texas Tech this fall.

    This young man is not alone. In my high school of 2,200 students in a city of more than 12,000 high-schoolers and almost 49,000 students, countless kids deal with this and more every day. Some students live with aunts and grandmothers during the week, separated from their biological mothers in Matamoros across an International Bridge. Others live lives of solitude in sparse apartments, forbidden by their parents to leave for fear of getting deported. Some students drive from Mexico every single day, others cook and clean for a family they traveled a thousand miles from the heart of Mexico to serve as a maid. Thousands and thousands of students shift codes every day as they make the long journey from their father’s espanol and their English classes, such as mine.

    Countless of my students benefit from positive immigrant legislation every single day. A trip to my classroom would show you boys and girls coming of age in Texas, the same boys and girls who are finding themselves in Pennsylvania and the same boys and girls learning their potential in Minnesota. Extralegal residents, endowed with the same souls and minds and dreams as children everywhere, are allowed to sit in these desks and listen to my lectures because of a landmark court case. In the 1982 Supreme Court Doe v. Plyler case in regards to “Alien Children Education Litigation,” Peter Schey helped prove it was a violation of the 14th Amendment to deny public education to undocumented children. Along with hundreds of students who have stepped foot in my classroom of F114, 100,000 children are annually admitted to Texas schools because of Peter Schey’s successful advocacy.

    Peter Schey is one of the preeminent lawyers in our nation today, and he is currently tackling further injustice toward immigrants and border residents by readying a class-action lawsuit against the government’s attempts to enact the Secure Fence Act of 2006 in Texas. He is defending UT-Brownsville Professor Eloisa Tamez as she opposes the government’s desire to survey and sequester part, if not all, of her Spanish land-grant acreage. Obviously, the border wall lawsuit is about more than just an unsightly barrier. At its heart, it would have the same crushing effects as denying 100,000 children an education. Schey realizes that building a wall between the United States and Mexico is an affront to every legal immigrant in this nation. Schey recognizes that the Secure Fence Act of 2006 is a distraction from the real negotiations about immigration which must take place if my students are going to have the opportunity to attend university. Peter Schey is filing lawsuits because the DREAM Act is a law which helps people achieve their dreams, while the Secure Fence Act’s sole purpose is deterrence. Schey understands that the border region and its unique way of life are under fire, that the Secure Fence Act would affect la frontera exponentially more than any other region of the country, that asking border residents to make this staggering sacrifice is akin to Napoleon asking the chickens to sacrifice their baby chicks for the good of the cause in Animal Farm, a sacrifice none others are asked to make.

    My students are watching this nation. They are inspecting us adults to see if we really are trying to make the world a better place for all and not just a few. Students like those on Speech Club are contemplating careers in politics and law, so they are encouraged to see that famous attorneys like Peter Schey are willing to stake their reputation on cases which affect their lives. My students are watching me, waiting to see if I am willing to advocate for them in meaningful ways, waiting to see that I care enough to speak out. We must not disappoint these dreamers nor frustrate our future leaders; we must not leave a wall as a legacy for them to tear down.

Border Wall California by Jay Johnson-Castro

Humansarehumansarehumans…

March 27, 2008

“People in the detention centers are treated as things,” an ACLU attorney stated to me at tonight’s meeting at San Felipe de Jesus Church in Brownsville. “In Raymondville, they referred to people as ‘bodies’ and their quarters as ‘pods.’ It is the most dehumanizing thing.”

As Martin Luther King, Jr., began moving outside of the realm of segregation and began working on the integration he envisioned as a Beloved Community, he quickly realized that the United States was moving in a direction where people were devalued assets and machines or things were becoming increasingly prized. He wrote,

I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a thing- oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered. (Autobiography of Martin Luther King, 340)

40 years ago, Dr. King could very well have been envisioning the current immigration stagnation of our nation today.

    Racism, materialism, and militarism are all occurring in our nation around the issue of immigration. There is a racism inherent in a border wall that only keeps out people from certain countries rather than an immigration reform which would begin positively impacting individuals of all races and backgrounds. There is a racial bias apparent when legal Latinos are stopped and searched because the police see their skin as “probable cause.” In today’s thing-centered world, racism exists in our schools and our communities and our national policies because people are taken out of the picture. Instead of human rights issues, these are simply “dollars and cents” issues.

    Materialism exists in a thing-centered society where people can be terrorized by talk-show hosts and media sources so that they clamor for the deportation of 12 million people working and residing within our nations borders (an action which would cost almost $100 billion). Materialism drives companies like CCA (Corrections Corporation of America) to run for-profit immigrant detention centers at places like Hutto and Raymondville. Thankfully the ACLU and other organizations have been legally opposing these organizations, gaining considerable rights for children detained in the Hutto detention center this past year. However, detention centers like Raymondville are adding more tents and facilities every year, and therefore treating more and more people like things.

    Militarism is one of the worst effects of a thing-centered society. When peace is a word instead of people, a wall might seem like a logical idea. If a border were only a line on a map instead of a living river or a fertile Valley or a child’s backyard, then a border wall might make sense. If people were not inherently good, if immigrants did not give so much to a thankless U.S., if walls actually worked, then maybe the Secure Fence Act of 2006 would not be the unconscionable legislation it is. The fact is that our borders are militarized since 2006. I have had a gun pulled on me as I jogged legally on the border. The gun was not held by a drug smuggler or an immigrant; no, it was held by a Border Patrol agent. If this is how people are being treated all along la frontera, it is obvious that our increasingly militarized borders are becoming decreasingly humanized.

    Amidst the rhetoric about a border wall and immigration reform, it is all too easy to get distracted by numbers or logistics and forget the human element. Joseph Stalin once said, “A single death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.” We have come to a point where the 400 reported deaths of immigrants attempting to cross the desert is merely a statistic; in fact, we are willing to sentence more to die by building walls which will only reroute people to more dangerous border-crossing zones. We are to a point where we have forgotten that, at its heart, immigration legislation is affecting real souls in real time.

    We must not forget that the Secure Fence Act of 2006 was not being discussed as a solution to drugs or terrorism at first. No, it was being discussed alongside several other immigration reforms which would have positively impacted people’s lives. Legislation like the DREAM Act, a bill which would have given students like my own the opportunity to utilize the scholarships they have already earned at some of the best universities in the country. Mcain’s proposal for a path to earned citizenship (dubbed amnesty) was also on the docket, a law which would have given hope to thousands and thousands of working immigrants hoping to one day “earn” their place as the Americans they already are.

    As we campaign against the border wall and advocate for true immigration reform, we must never lose sight of the fact that this is important because it will change people’s lives. Yes, immigration legislation will affect the environment, the economy, our society, our politics, our consumerism, our language base, our schools, and our communities, but more importantly it will change the lives of people like Yadira, Celina, Mayra, Alexa, Daniel, Jesus, Perla…

Good Friday’s Implications

March 21, 2008

    In Matamoros, Mexico, on this Good Friday, the plaza is full of people watching the Via Crucis enacted before our very eyes. This passion play has been reenacted annually for well over a thousand years, yet it is still charged with emotion and meaning. A young man is beaten and hung to a wooden cross directly in front of the giant Catholic church, while centurions with over-sized helmets look on and a voice recants the Gospel narrative. Offstage, a woman cries in the heat of the day. In the crowd, everyone of us has forgotten our sunglasses, the glare off the tops of police cars, the smell of elotes and raspas nearby – all of us are focused on this ultimate story of redemption.

    I enter the cool of the church, my mind filled with memories of Easters past. The palpable memory of gumming the bread and swirling the grape juice around in my mouth, newly cognizant that these elements of the Communion represented the body and blood of a man 2,000 years ago. These memories from almost 20 years ago come back to me, just as I am sure memories came to Mary as she stood at the foot of the cross. My eyes adjust to the lighting within this cathedral. Mary is at the front of the church, head down in mourning for her son lofted up on the cross. I bow my head and am overcome with the feeling of hopelessness that must have swept over the disciples. What if this were the end? What if the kingdom of God ended on Friday and was never followed by that joyous Sunday?

    Tears drying on my sunburned cheeks, I sit in the plaza reading Why We Can’t Wait by Dr. King under a gazebo. Tamale vendors, shoe-shiners, whistling chiflado kids, men selling sweet dulces. As I read these words I have read before in a new context, I am struck by its perspective on Jesus’ death that Friday so long ago. King writes,

    Suddenly the truth was revealed that hate is a contagion; that it grows and spreads as a disease; that no society is so healthy that it can automatically maintain its immunity…The words of Jesus ‘Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of my brethren, ye have done it unto me’ were more than a figurative expression; they were a literal prophecy…We were all involved in the death of [this man]. We tolerated hate; we tolerated the sick stimulation of violence in all walks of life; and we tolerated the differential application of law, which said that a man’s life was sacred only if we agreed with his views…We mourned a man who had become the pride of the nation, but we grieved as well for ourselves because we knew we were sick.” (145)

Fresh meaning to this Gospel story I’ve read hundreds of times. In Jesus’ day, just as in our own, the poor and the stranger were being exploited by those in power. To the extent that people of faith tolerate this immoral profiting from the pain of others, we are condoning hate and the hurt of the least of these. If Jesus is present in the least of these, we must recognize his face in every stranger, legal or extralegal, every person, regardless of race. When we give into the fear and hate of our fellow man, the passion of Christ happens once more.

    The best definition of sin that I’ve ever heard is an “absence of God.” For those 3 days while Jesus lay entombed, the whole world was stuck in this negative peace without the very Son of God. In this Plaza Mayor, it occurs to me that the word for without in Spanish is sin. Without. Without.

It must be a sin that so many of these men and women around me here in this border town of close to 500,000 are without basic necessities and without hope of fair wages. Without.

It is surely sin that when these people come looking for a better life in the United States they are refused legal means, repeatedly denied family reunification, and queued in a quota system that can take from 10 years to never. Without.

It cannot be anything but a sin that 12-20 million U.S. residents live without papers, without protection of law, without insurance, without welfare, without legal protection, without basic human rights, without a means to earned citizenship. Without.

It is a shameful sin that so many bright students of mine look at a bleak future, unsure of whether they will have the right documents to attend the best universities in this country, schools they have earned the academic right to attend. Without.

May we all use these 3 days leading up to that blessed Resurrection Sunday to think of those around us who are “without.” As James 4:17 so clearly states, “Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.” If we know the good which needs to be done, if we see the calling of God in the strangers around us, if we recognize the face of Jesus in our neighbor and do nothing, our lives are sin- sin meaning, sin purpose, sin faith, sin love, sin the chance to bring the hope of Sunday to the “least of these,” or ourselves.

La Frontera or My Students as Teachers

March 18, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No Border Wall Walk- Day 9 or Triumphant Entry

March 17, 2008

End of March at Hope Park

    2,000 years ago, a young man came into a Middle-Eastern city astride a donkey. He came bringing a message of peace, of unity, of nonviolence, and la gente responded by laying palm branches in his path and crying “Hosanna! Glory to God in the Highest! Peace on Earth!” His death and suffering five days later, and his resurrection a week later, spurred a nonviolent campaign of peace and social justice which continues to shape the world.

    The timing of this No Border Wall Walk, then, concluded on the perfect day. Its timing had been fortuitous thus far, overlapping the groundbreaking Selma to Montgomery March that was a pivotal moment in the civil rights movement. But no amount of planning could have made it possible to march into downtown Brownsville on Palm Sunday, holding palm branches along with signs of “No Wall Between Amigos,” singing hymns and songs like “Don’t gimme no walls, no walls, just gimme that peace, ah, that frontera Peace.” Since the Bible speaks out so clearly on the side of the immigrant, and because Jesus’ own family was forced to be refugees for several years, this miraculous “coincidence” must have been more than that – we felt a pervading love for all humanity as we marched and sang down Central Boulevard and Elizabeth Street.

 

    Many people were confused as we marched down main street, as they must have been in Jesus’ day as well. Our joy might have seem misplaced amidst all the tension and frustration and indignation generated by a wall which would be built but a few blocks south of our route. The abundant optimism of the 50 marchers might have seemed naïve to people resigned to cynicism regarding the United State government’s willingness to hear its people on its borderlands. And just as in Jesus’ time, perhaps some didn’t join us because they had lost faith in the power of nonviolence to create change for the good for good.

Palm Sunday- John Moore and Matthew Webster ending No Border Wall Walk

    But that didn’t stop our march as it concluded in Brownsville, nor did it stop any of the more than 300 people who joined their feet and their hearts with our march over the past nine days. Marching slowly through town, past the ropas usadas and the thousands of Mexican shoppers visiting on Laser visas which are being threatened by the restrictive immigration laws on the coattails of the Secure Fence Act of 2006, we stopped periodically to dance and encourage those people to raise their voices with our own. Waving palm branches and our hoarse voices to the historic downtown facades, we were jubilant, because an idea whose time has come is the most powerful force known to man, and we were all raising our voices in a cause for which we had sacrificed and will continue to sacrifice.

 

    After marching some 126 miles over nine days, and after meeting thousands of people and broadcasting the message of this beautiful borderland and this Valley’s families, we arrived only 15 minutes….early. We were strengthened by churches like Church of the Advent Episcopal Church in Brownsville, who provided lunch for our cause. We were also strengthened by all three Methodist congregations in town, who gave us water for our weary voices and a seat to rest our feet before the final push into town. Yes, as we came into this city on the border by the sea, with a police escort of 5-6 cars at any given time, the overwhelming support for this march and its cause was made plainly evident. Every person of faith, every congregation, every politician, and virtually every organization in this border region is united against the invasion of a border wall and the backwards thinking it embodies. The message of this march can be summed up in two phrases – We are not alone, and Si se puede! (Yes we can!). Milling around in Hope Park, waiting our triumphant entry into the No Border Wall Rally in front of Jacob Brown Auditorium at of UT-Brownsville, I was overwhelmed with the divine Providence which had protected each and every marcher AND had made every phrase coming out of our mouths one of nonviolence not bitterness, one of hope and not cynicism, one of positive change and not discouraging negativity.

 

    Yes, standing on a truck trailer “rostrum” in front of hundreds of like-minded individuals, I was a proud man. One of my freshman students had walked 4 of the nine days, and four of my other students had helped organize the rally and man the food booth. I was overwhelmed to have been part of a statement of faith and purpose coming out of this Valley, one which is now echoing throughout the United States into Mexico, Canada, and hopefully throughout the world. The speech I gave was an attempt to encapsulate that hope for harmony and our need to continue campaigning for immigrant justice.

 

Our walk began at the birding bluffs of Roma, a national treasure that would be severed by the Secure Fence Act of 2006. As we walked this historic downtown, we began to see all the history that would be “history” if an 18-foot border wall were to cut a wide swathe through southern Texas. And our moral indignation was aroused, but we didn’t stop there…

And after being refreshed at Immaculate Conception Church in Rio Grande City, we set off once more with a full police escort. It is not often that a political protest enjoys the support of police officers and poets, faith leaders and public officials, mayors and manual laborers, Republicans and Democrats, but we began to see in the hundreds of honks and thousands of thankful smiles that the entire border region is unified agaisnt the invasion of a border wall. But we didn’t stop in Rio Grande City either…

And we stopped at Holy Family Catholic Church in La Grulla, a tiny town the border wall might not affect immediately. We were reminded that the entire border region is interconnected. As our mentor Martin Luther King, Jr. stated, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” and because of this “inescapable network of mutuality,” La Grulla residents must speak out if their neighbors are threatened with a border wall. We must not fall into the trap of dividing ourselves on this crucial issue. I have heard some cynically suggest a wall in Canada, but how can we hold the moral high ground if we would wish this blight, this evil upon any other community near or far? Despite the fact that La Grulla has no planned wall as of yet, six little girls aged 10.5 to 16 marched 14 miles with us to let other little boys and other little girls know they cared and would not be silent. And we were all empowered by their youthful audacity, but we wouldn’t halt there…

No, we kept on marching past Our Lady Queen of Angels Church in La Joya, where we were joined by members of the Lipan Apache tribe and by a Brownsville high-school student of mine. Yes, we stood in awe of the only man-powered ferry on our international borders, and we realized that all America – South, Central, and North – must use our hands to connect humanity and reach across barriers, rather than thicken divisions and entrench misunderstanding. Yes, we marched right on to Father Roy and the historic La Lomita Chapel, and we swam, swam in that river that brings nations together instead of dividing them. But we would stop there…

No, we kept on marching through the tiny community of Granjeno, which has agreed to face bulldozers and prison in nonviolent civil disobedience, should it come to that. Yes, we marched and our voice was strengthened by 75 other college students from all across the United States. Their youth invigorated us, and we had a powerful rally in Pharr, but we wouldn’t stop there…

No, our pilgrimage continued through “the valley of the shadow of the wall,” past rows of onions and undocumented workers, past pristine palm groves and flocks of fascinating birds on wing. We were reminded of the men and women for whom we march and the place we hope to preserve. We were reminded that God did not create this world with walls or divisions. We walked along Highway 83 and 281 to nonviolently protest the border wall and encourage this law’s many victims. In return, we were given hope and happiness from the beauty of the Valley. But even after those 17 miles of blacktop, we still wouldn’t stop…

No, we kept right on walking from Holy Spirit Catholic Church in Progreso to Sacred Heart Church in Las Rusias. We were welcomed by women of faith, who followed the command from Leviticus 19:34 to treat the immigrant the same as a resident. “The stranger who sojourns with you shall be as the native among you, and you shall love the stranger as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” Yes, in the loving eyes of women like Nenna and Alma, you could tell they recognized the very image of God in every single one of us. Surely they would see the face of God in any immigrant who came to their door as well. Yes, they welcomed us with songs like “Junto Como Hermanos,” and we were treated just like brothers and sisters by this border town. If it’s one thing we’ve learned about these border town in way of the wall, it is that they are welcoming and warm. And even though it may be as hot as a human heart out here, that is precisely the organ we are aiming at as we highlight the homes and humanity of la frontera. But no matter how welcome we felt, we would not be stopped there…

No, His Truth is Marching on, and so we followed Jesus’ call to be a “voice for the voiceless.” It led us along the levee to Ranchito and El Calaboz, the home of 72-year old Professor Eloisa Tamez who is resisting the federal government’s attempts to take her land. We stood with her in solidarity at San Ignacio Iglesia in Ranchito, and we all supported her justified opposition to a government which would allocate her lands and erase her way of life. We were overwhelmed by the beauty of this border town, too, with its Beloved Community and its emphasis on faith and family, but we wouldn’t stop there…

No, we walked right on in to Brownsville, down Military Highway to end the militarization of our nation’s borders. We were fed by Church of the Advent Episcopal Church here in Brownsville, as well as the Methodist Churches, just some of the dozens of congregations and organizations who physically supported our weary bodies on this March Against the Wall this March. It felt good to dance in the streets singing songs like, “No Al Muro, La Frontera Cuenta” and “We don’t need no border wall, we love people one and all,” as we approached this city on the border by the sea. We were overjoyed to be bound for this rall tonight where so many people are united together around a common purpose on this Palm Sunday of peace. But we won’t stop here…

No, so long as my students lack hope-giving legislation like the Dream Act, we will not stop marching.

So long as students getting A’s in my English classes and A’s in their Spanish classes are denied the right to attend our nation’s universities, universities they deserve to attend because of their academics, we will not be stopped.

As long as our immigration laws continue to separate families and discriminate based on quotas of national origin, we will not be silent.

So long as extralegal residents in these United States are not treated with dignity and not given a means to earned citizenship, we will not have arrived.

No, as long as more than 12 million people are criminalized by unresponsive immigration laws and the only piece of immigration law we can come up with in the last two years is the Secure Fence Act of 2006, we will not be stopped.

And so long as our government plans to build a border wall not through barren wasteland but through backyards and not through desert but downtowns, we weill march on…

We mustn’t stop because we believe that people are innately good and that this nation has a conscience. It is this conscience which Jesus pricked on Palm Sunday 2,000 years ago and which Dr. King touched 43 years ago on his famous Selma to Montgomery March. Yes, we believe all people are created good, and so if unjust laws are supported by the people, it must be because of misinformation or miseducation. The purpose of this nine-day, 126-mile sacrifice is to educate the nation about the issues of all borders and all immigrants.

We urge politicians to vote for bills like the Grijalva Bill and against bills like the Finish the Fence by Date Certain Bill. We beseech the people of these United States to appeal for a moratorium on the Secure Fence Act of 2006, so we can begin discussing the need and consequences of such a negative symbol as a wall.

People of faith, Border Patrol officers, government officials, students, teachers, moms, dads, sons, and daughters – we urge you to join us on this march against the wall and for our immigrants and borders. We will not be stopped.

And yes, “Soon we’ll reach the shining river,

Soon our pilgrimage will cease,

Soon our happy hearts will quiver

With the melody of Peace…

And yes we’ll gather at the river,

the beautiful the beautiful river,

Gather with the saints at this river,

that flows by the throne of God…”

Speech at UTB

http://www.brownsvilleherald.com/news/walk_85224___article.html/ground_protesters.html

http://www.facebook.com/video/video.php?v=615257032897

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.

La Frontera in North America

March 7, 2008

 

    Father Amador of Immaculate Conception Church in Rio Grande City, Texas, has made the trip for 21 years. Every summer he travels to Rockport and Kingston and Wellesley Island to visit friends, wed couples, and sail the sparkling Saint Lawrence. His time in Canada and upstate New York is refreshing for him; this other border community certainly has elements of home, despite its northern exposure.

    My own parents live in Ogdensburg, New York, but an hour south of Ottawa. When I first moved to Brownsville, Texas, I drove my trusty 1994 Dodge Spirit from border to border. Though it needs to worry more about sand than snow here on the Mexican frontera, Brownsville and the Rio Grande Valley most assuredly feel like home.

    This kind of coincidence is more than happenstance. La frontera, the border, Rio Grande, Saint Lawrence, a Maple leaf, Stars and Stripes, or an Eagle killing a Snake – these countries and their border regions are hopelessly intertwined. Our histories run in and out of each other’s like red and white run in all our flags.

    Herein lies the problem of treating borders as lines and not lifestyles, maps without morals, rivers without life, concrete divisions rather than dual communities. To divide Brownsville, Texas, from the Matamaros, Mexico, Bruce Springsteen sang about is more than simply building a wall along a levee – it is severing conjoined sister-cities. God forbid we do the same thing to Derby Line, Vermont, and Stanstead, Quebec, by building a wall down the 45th Parallel and cleaving a town in two. The Secure Fence Act of 2006 itself is an affront to the community and interconnected cultures we have cultivated in la frontera.

 

    In the name of the Thousand Islands Bridge arching over the shining Saint Lawrence and the Gateway International Bridge suspended over the muddy Rio Grande, we ask all citizens of Canada, Mexico, and the United States to campaign a thousand times for legislation and policies which will foster positive relationships along the border rather than sever them.

    In the name of the Juarez-Lincoln International Bridge and the Ogdensburg-Prescott International Bridge, we urge border-crossers to make their international feelings felt and their voices heard from Capitol Hill to the local town hall.

    In the name of Ambassador Bridge and Rainbow Bridge, we pray that our nations will continue to view the diverse rainbow of immigrants as ambassadors of hope and progress and promise.

In the name of the Progreso-Reynosa and the Pharr-Reynosa International Bridges, we affirm that true progress in North-American relations is not far off, that our cultures and our environment and our economies are caught up in “an inescapable network of mutuality.”

    In the name of McAllen-Hidalgo-Reynosa Bridge and the Fort Frances-International Falls Bridge, we note that the United States’ Secure Fence Act of 2006 was a fall from grace, a detrimental piece of backwards law which promoted artificial divisions instead of natural coexistence.

    In the name of the beautiful Blue-Water Bridge and the arching Peace Bridge, we call for all militarization and violence along our shared borders to cease as we construct immigration policies, drug-prevention programs, environmental cooperation plans, and mutually beneficial trade relations similar to those of the successful European Union.

    In the name of all these and more, let us build bridges not walls. Let us rebuild broken bridges and the relationships they represent. Let us rebuild the bridge to our past, learning from dehumanizing immigration laws like the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and the literacy test. Let us forge new tri-national immigration legislation like the DREAM Act and earned paths to citizenship so that all people have the right to pursue their happiness in whichever North America it resides. Let us spend more time on our welcomes than our goodbyes, our fragile ecosystems than on our nativistic ego-systems, more money on our combined poor than on poured concrete.

 

    “Oh Canada,” “Viva Mexico,” “America the Beautiful” – God bless us all and may we learn to coexist as our borderlands have long exemplified. Martin Luther King, Jr., wrote that, “whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. For some strange reason I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. And you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the way God’s universe is made; this is the way it is structured” (“Remaining Awake Through a Great Revolution”). If we can work on ways to progress beyond NAFTA and CAFTA to truly promote a working relationship, the idea of a border wall on the Mexican-American frontera will seem the absurdity it is and the push/pull factors of immigration in all three countries will be substantially reduced simultaneously.

     Mexicanos, Anglos, Canadians, North Americans, IMMIGRANTS – UNITE. We hope you will express solidarity with Father Amador and myself as we begin our upcoming march tomorrow. Along with numerous others, I will be walking 120 miles from Roma to Brownsville, Texas from March 8-16, and we would love to get support from the international community. This No Border Wall Walk invites any and all concerned citizens, whether they speak Spanish, English, French, or a mixture of them all. Please come and make your voice heard. Dr. King felt that “the ultimate tragedy in Birmingham was not the brutality of the bad people but the silence of the good people.” Come speak out for yourself, the immigrant among us, and la frontera – good people must no longer be silently complicit in any North American country. Be the bridge you wish to see.