Posts Tagged ‘extralegal’

Migrants, Minors, and the Many Unintended Consequenses of Militarized Immigration Enforcement

April 10, 2009

A new Urban Institute report prepared by Minneapolis-based firm Dorsey & Whitney reported on America’s immigration policy’s effect on children. Entitled “Severing a Lifeline: The Neglect of Citizen Children in America’s Immigration Enforcement Policy,” this comprehensive publication released last week highlights the 3.1 million American citizen children who are adversely affected by the increasingly militarized form of American immigration enforcement. Of the 900 immigrants arrested by 2008 ICE raids in Worthington (a December 2006 workplace raid of the Swift plant), Willmar and Austin, MN (sites of several home raids), for example, more than 500 children were affected, 2/3 of whom were legal American citizens.(“Severing a Lifeline: The Neglect of Citizen Children in America’s Immigration Enforcement Policy”)

Estimates from the Urban Institute suggest that for every 2 adult immigrants detained 1 citizen child is affected. More than 1.9 million immigrants have been deported this decade, likely affecting almost 1 million citizen children in our nation’s Boys and Girls Clubs, high schools, soccer teams, cross-country meets, honor rolls, Dairy Queens, debate tournaments.

Despite the insatiable demand for lower-skilled immigrant workers, currently only 5,000 permanent visas are offered for lawful entry each year. Temporary work permits are similarly limited. Under current immigration law, moreover, citizen children under the age of 21 cannot petition for the lawful re-entry of a deported parent or the naturalization of their parents. Those parents will often be barred from any type of legal re-entry for 10 years (often longer than their children have been alive). Although nativist rhetoric often cries that these immigrants should wait in line, currently the line winds ‘round the world for a mere 5,000 spots.((“Severing a Lifeline: The Neglect of Citizen Children in America’s Immigration Enforcement Policy”)

Furthermore, the Dorsey & Whitney report documents that ICE’s “knock and talk” searches are particularly harmful for children. Under pretextual excuses, ICE agents are permitted to enter the homes of suspected extralegals without a search warrant if the scared, often-confused, immigrant opens the door. In these raids, children have seen their parents harassed, racially profiled, interrogated on the living room couch, and sometimes led away in handcuffs. Or, worse yet, sometimes children have come home from school expecting an afternoon snack only to find their home abandoned in the wake of a raid.((“Severing a Lifeline: The Neglect of Citizen Children in America’s Immigration Enforcement Policy”)

The report also touches on other questionable detention techniques, such as the practice of forum shopping (whereby an immigrant detained in the generally lenient 9th Circuit might be moved the next day to the immigrant-hostile 5th Circuit) or isolation (typically, detention centers are isolated with little contact from the outside world). Such techniques employed by ICE hamstring immigrants’ efforts to get effective legal representation, contact their distraught family members, or gather evidence of their legality or asylum claims. When immigrants under these conditions sign “voluntary removal” orders in hopes of seeing their families sooner, the legality of our immigration system is seriously called into question. (“Severing a Lifeline: The Neglect of Citizen Children in America’s Immigration Enforcement Policy”)

Pointedly, the report makes several laudable recommendations including:

• Changing legislation to allow citizen children younger than 21 to petition for lawful re-entry of deported parents.

• That Congress grant immigration judges the discretion to consider the “best interests” of the citizen child in deportation and removal proceedings.

• The appointment of a guardian ad litem to protect and advocate for the interests of the child in all immigration proceedings.

• U.S. Immigration Customs and Enforcement develop guidelines for conducting home raids to ensure that enforcement actions are truly “targeted” and minimize the prospect of harm to children.

This past week, President Obama revealed that he plans to begin addressing our nation’s inadequate immigration system, including solutions for extralegal immigrant workers to become legal. While his statements were met by the usual tumult from NumbersUSA and FAIR (organizations identified as “hate groups” by the Southern Poverty Law Center but curiously referred to as “group[s] that favor[] reduced immigration” in the New York Times article). As Obama looks to make some positive changes in immigration laws which could have positive ramifications on our nation’s workforce and economy by legitimizing millions of people already working, his Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano must also seek to make some serious changes in the way undocumented immigrants and their legal children are treated. One great start to meeting both the needs of citizen children of immigrants and the international community would be to sign on to the Convention on the Rights of the Child.  This 1989 UN treaty has been signed on to by every country in the world but two – Somalia and the United States.  Article 10 of that convention has been a sticking point for the US in the past, but it would help solve the problems highlighted by the Dorsey & Whitney report.  It reads: “applications by a child or his or her parents to enter or leave a State Party for the purpose of family reunification shall be dealt with by States Parties in a positive, humane and expeditious manner.”  Hopefully in the not-too-distant future, we can join the rest of the world in protecting the rights of all children, immigrant and citizen.

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Fear: The Bane of the Beloved Community

April 4, 2009

“There is another element that must be present in our struggle that then makes our resistance and nonviolence truly meaningful. That element is reconciliation. Our ultimate end must be the creation of the beloved community.” (Martin Luther King, 4/15/1960, Raleigh, NC)

41 years after his assassination, Martin Luther King’s dream of a fully integrated and reconciled society, his Beloved Community, still remains largely unfulfilled for the marginalized in America. Specifically, fear seems to reign in the lives of our nation’s most vulnerable group – immigrants are afraid to go to school, go to work, report crimes, visit anything but an Emergency Room. Immigrants, to a large extent, have been the object of laws designed to keep them segregated and silent and invisible.

Thursday’s joint subcommittee hearings brought national attention to the injustices inherent in the United State’s 287(g) program which deputizes local cops to become federal immigration enforcers. Sheriff Joe Arpaio from Maricopa County, Arizona, is a prime example of how certain jurisdictions are using this federal program to strike fear into the hearts of all immigrants. With his inhumane treatment of prisoners, his nativist focus on immigration enforcement over his other law enforcement duties, and his sensationalism and victimization of the immigrant community, both legal and not, Arpaio has succeeded in creating in Maricopa County (the fourth largest county in the U.S., with 4 million inhabitants) a community of distrust and fear. Maryland community advocate Antonio Ramirez, seconded by Rep. Conyers and others, testified at the subcommittee hearings on April 2, 2009, that the policies born of 287(g) lead to a drastic loss of trust and cooperation with authorities.  (Staff, Greg and Jackie Mahendra. America’s Voice)

Furthermore, Police Foundation President Hubert Williams stated that funding for this program takes away from money for smart community policing initiatives which are far more successful in preventing crime. In Sheriff Joe’s Maricopa County, for instance, Arpaio’ tactics seem to have backfired, with violent crime skyrocketing over 69% from 204-2007 (a statistic not echoed in nearby Phoenix or Mesa). When a large population of immigrants live in fear and are excluded from the Beloved Community, crime goes unreported and unchecked. (Bolick, Clint. “Mission Unaccomplished: The Misplaced Priorities of the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office”)

The subcommittee hearings also brought to light the rampant racial profiling that has accompanied 287(g) programs across the country. UNC Chapel Hill Law School Professor Deborah Weissman highlighted the lack of sufficient training and the resulting civil rights abuses. Her recent report, “The Politics and Policies of Local Immigration Enforcement Laws,” illustrates that most “unwelcome” immigrants are stopped under the pretense of traffic violations; in Gaston County, NC, 83% of immigrants arrested by ICE had been cited first under a petty traffic violation.

Sadly, certain members of the subcommittee were insistent that 287(g) was marginally successful in the less than 5% of counties in which it is currently employed. It is hard to ascribe any motivation more flattering than unfettered xenophobia to such committee members. Rep. Steve King, a ranking member on the Immigration Subcommittee, questioned 19-year-old Julio Mora repeatedly about whether his father had taught him about rule of law (a.k.a. reporting undocumented immigrants). Mora, who had been detained and harassed because he’s Latino, responded eloquently, “My father taught me to respect everyone.” Rep. King and others seemed to intimate that racial profiling of American citizens was little more than an inconvenience or a slight embarrassment.

These joint subcommittee hearings’ decision on 287(g) is vitally important for creating a Beloved Community in the United States. Programs like 287(g) encourage fear, silence, and marginalization. The effects of this are chilling. Yesterday, a shooter opened fire on immigrants taking citizenship and language classes at an immigrant center in Binghamton, NY. 14 were found dead in the American Civic Association (an immigrant organization founded in 1939 and with support from United Way). The shooter, Jiverly Wong, is believed to have been a naturalized citizen who attended classes at ACA years before. While there are no clear answers and no explanations for such a tragedy, the fear 287(g) generates discourages crime reporting; we are left to speculate if this would have happened had Wong’s immigrant community felt empowered, rather than marginalized, by our nation’s laws.(CNN)

Similarly, Father Paul Ouderkirk gave a presentation at Pax Christi Church in Rochester, MN, on April 2. Much of his presentation focused on the fears in his community of Postville (where an ICE raid in May arrested 289 immigrants, closed the town’s largest employer, and crippled the town of 2400). Ouderkirk spoke of the psychological trauma felt by families after fathers were deported to Guatemala. He disparaged the fact that many women are still required to wear ankle bracelets. He discussed the fear of the citizen children, many of whom were terrified to return to school for fear that they would be arrested or they’d come home to find the rest of their family gone. (Valdez, Christina Killion. “Priests say Immigration Laws Need Reform.”)

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The ICE raid at Postville and 287(g) both serve to strike fear into our nation’s 12 million undocumented immigrants. Far from creating a Beloved Community, fear breeds distrust, un-cooperation, division, and hate. Additionally, this terror is not limited to extralegals in America; rather, it extends to most minorities. When Latinos are followed by police officers simply for looking Latino, fear reigns. When Somalis are interrogated at bus stops simply for being Muslim, fear reigns. When jaywalking Hmong citizens are detained because of their ethnicity, fear reigns. Our nation, our Beloved Community, demands comprehensive immigration reform to end the fear and begin an era of trust.

Please consider adding your name and voice to the letter going out to Chairman Conyers of the joint subcommittee. You can do so here.

High Time for Social Uplift

February 24, 2009

If a local law enforcement agency incarcerated 81 innocent people for every 19 criminals it caught, we would say it was violating civil rights and was wildly inept. When that same jurisdiction continued to hold those innocent 81, sometimes for a year, the media would run an expose and the public would be crying out for resignations.

This scenario is currently being played out through America’s immigration strategy of massive deportation over the last 15 years. Last week the Pew Hispanic Center revealed that Latinos make up 40% of those sentences in federal courts in 2008 while comprising only 13% of the adult population. It went on to state that Latinos are 1/3 of federal prison inmates as of 2007. With our prisons facing massive overcrowding and public defender’s offices around the nation facing debilitating budget cuts, one would assume that this prison population was all dangerous felons, but in fact, 81% of them did nothing more than cross an imaginary line in a desert or overstay a student visa. (“Enforcement Gone Bad. New York Times)


Earlier this month, the nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute published findings that while the Department of Homeland Security’s budget went from $9 million in 2003 to $218 million last year, it ceased to arrest the undocumented felons and “terrorists” it was charged with capturing and instead shifted its focus to families, workers, children, women – none of whom had a previous record or anything besides an overstayed visa or lack of documentation. Of the 72,000 arrested through February 2008, 73% had no criminal record. (“Enforcement Gone Bad. New York Times)


As Homeland Security USA continues to run on ABC, the reality is that since 2006, DHS has shifted its focus to more “easily apprehended” targets. The raids on factories like Postville, Iowa, and on homes netted few criminals but a myriad of working families. Catchy names like “Operation Return to Sender” fail to mask the fact that while there were more than ½ million immigrants with removal orders in 2006, ICE raids honed in on families and workers rather than criminals and terrorists. According to the Migration Policy Institute’s report, internal directives in 2006 set quotas for operatives in the National Fugitive Operations Program but disbanded the standard that 75% of apprehended individuals be criminals. Fugitives with criminal records dropped to 9% of those captured, while immigrants without deportation orders increased to account for 40%. The 2006 directive sent by acting director John P. Torres raised each team’s goal to 1,000 a year, from 125. (Bernstein, Nina. “Target of Immigrant Raids Shifted”)

An author of the report, Yale Law Professor Michael Wishnie stated that random arrests of extralegal immigrants in such residential raids was “dramatically different from how ICE has sold this program to Congress,” not to mention the civil and human rights issues it raises where ICE agents enter private homes without consent and/or warrants. From New Haven to Brownsville, from Maricopa County to San Diego County, ICE abused its power by passing legislation in one form and then enforcing it in a completely different format. As she reviews the agency, Janet Napolitano must take this into account, realizing that our resources must be spent on legalizing our workforce and apprehending our criminals, and never the twain shall meet. (Bernstein, Nina. “Target of Immigrant Raids Shifted”)


DHS recently released statistics of the last decade’s deportations, and of the 2.2 million immigrants deported from 1997-2007, 108,000 of them were parents of legal American citizens. If these immigrants even had two children [a low estimate], then more than 200,000 children were affected. And if they took their children with them when they were removed, then essentially the United States was deporting two legal citizens for every undocumented one. Executive Director of the Center for Immigration Studies, Mark Krikorian, revealed a calloused, nativist sentiment when he responded, “Should those parents get off the hook just because their kids are put in a difficult position? Children often suffer because of the mistakes of their parents.” Mr. Krikorian seems to have a firm grasp on the Old Testament principle that Yahweh will punish “the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation” [Exodus 34:7], though he seems to have stopped his reading of the Torah just before 2 Chronicles 25:4 which repeals this vengeful promise [“Fathers shall not be put to death for their children, nor children put to death for their fathers; each is to die for his own sins.”] (Falcone, Michael. New York Times). Children are not acceptable collateral damage.

In the spirit of reform under the new administration, one would hope that high on Attorney General Eric Holder’s agenda would be reversing Mukasey’s January ruling that immigrants lack the Constitutional rights to effective representation as secured by the Due Process Clause and the 5th and 14th Amendments. Mukasey’s eleventh-hour statement overruled a twenty-year standard. Because immigration cases are civil cases rather than criminal, there is no requirement for representation [a single day in immigration court drives home the fact that this default to pro se representation is manifestly unfair for the majority of immigrants who cannot speak English yet]. (“Deportation and Due Process. New York Times)

In 2009, the United States stands as a country in an economic depression which is poring vast amounts of money into detaining its workforce, deporting its own citizens, and constructing a 700-mile during peacetime. As Dr. King warned, “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.” It’s high time we renounced our declaration of war against the 12 million extralegal people within our borders and instead moved towards a nonpartisan, comprehensive immigration reform which affirms the humanity of all.

Arizona: Land of Snowbirds & Coyotes

December 16, 2008

At this time of year when many Midwesterners head down to the balmier climes of Arizona (like my own grandparents-in-law), it is important to think about this state which has the harshest immigration laws in the U.S.

While immigration enforcement has traditionally always been under the sole control of the federal government (and, in fact, is likely Constitutionally exclusive to the Federal Branch under the Dormant Commerce Clause of Article 1), Arizona has done its best to “help” the Department of Homeland Security. Joe Arpaio, self-proclaimed “America’s Toughest Sheriff,” man who makes his inmates wear pink underwear and sleep outside in tents year-round just to make their incarceration more retributive, is first and foremost a man who hates unauthorized immigrants. Contrary to state and national practice, Arpaio has arrested more than 7,000 extralegal immigrants a year because every single person the police question is asked their social security number and citizenship status. The Maricopa County police force partners with ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement), though they are only supposed to ask the citizenship status of prisoners arrested on other charges. While the ACLU reminds immigrants in border towns like Brownsville, Texas, that it is their civil right to refuse to answer such questions without their attorney, Arpaio has taken advantage of these immigrants’ lack of legal expertise, often using his technique to incarcerate passengers of speeding cars and jaywalking pedestrians. (Robbins, Ted. NPR)


Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas has also seized on Sheriff Arpaio’s xenophobia. The Arizona state law, passed in 2005, made it a federal crime to be involved in human smuggling. While the statute was intended to protect extralegal immigrants from the dangers of border-crossing with coyotes, Thomas has used the law to convict some 200 immigrants of “smuggling conspiracy,” turning this law back on the people it was arguably designed to protect. (Kiefer, Michael. The Arizona Republic)

And so, when Governor Janet Napolitano replaces Michael Chertoff and is confirmed as Obama’s Secretary of Homeland Security, she will leave Arizona in the hands of men like Joe Arpaio, Andrew Thomas, and the rogue Minutemen taking vigilante justice into their hands on the southern border. Where Napolitano resisted most of Arizona’s more nativist and radical immigration legislation, her successor Jan Brewer is expected to be more deferential to these xenophobic influences (New York Times). Hopefully, Napolitano will be able to work a top-down shift in national immigration enforcement, cutting the 287(g) program that allows such dangerous collaboration with local officials like Arpaio on federal issues of immigration. Here’s hoping!

Immigrants did not cause the Economic Crisis, but they can help us rebuild

December 14, 2008

The Anti-Defamation League recently published a thoughtful article warning all of us to be careful in assigning blame to any one group of people (Nathan, Martin. Houston Chronicle)  The ADL’s article focused on Susan Carroll’s Houston Chronicle series which highlighted problems in our criminal system.  While study after study like that of Harvard Sociology Professor Robert Sampson has shown that recent immigrants are far less likely to commit crimes (45% less likely than 3rd generation Americans in his study), xenophobic rhetoric abounds on blogs, comments, and media posts concerning immigrants.

What’s more alarming, yet inextricably linked to such polarizing rhetoric of hate and “otherness,” are the increasing hate crimes against Latinos and other immigrant groups. The Houston Chronicle article highlighted FBI statistics that show from 2005-2007 hate crimes against Latinos grew from 475 to 595.  Indeed, several high-profile hate crimes against immigrants have occurred in New York City alone, that emblematic heart of the American melting pot.  Ecuadorean brothers Jose and Romel Sucuzhanay were brutally beaten in Bushwick, Brooklyn, on Sunday, December 7, by three men shouting obsenities which were “ugly, anti-gay and anti-Latino” (McFadden, Robert. New York Times).  On November 7 in Patchogue, NY, seven teenagers fatally stabbed 37-year-old Marcelo Lucero, an Ecuadorean returning from his late shift (Finn, Robin. New York Times).

And so, as the economy continues its downspin and people, unable to wreak justice on Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, scan the nation for a proper scapegoat, preferrably one without a voice and lacking human rights.  It is this nativism fueled by the economic crisis which propels hate speech and hate crimes, as well as xenophobic legislation like New IDEA (Immigrant Deduction Enforcement Act), an attempt to massively expand the role of the IRS in aiding the Department of Homeland Security to crack down not on employers but primarily on unauthorized immigrants. Iowa Congressman Steven King, seemingly unfazed by the destruction the Postville ICE raid has caused his own small-town constituents, touts this bill he introduced as a means of wresting jobs from the immigrants holding 7 million jobs (as per the PEW Hispanic Research Center) and distributing them to the 9.5 million jobless Americans. While his Robin-Hood techniques may sound appealing in a time of economic depression, we cannot forget that immigrants are people too; this is not merely redistributing wealth or opportunity – this is redistributing people.

As we head into the New Year, looking back on our mistakes of 2008 and crafting new resolutions to see us through 2009, blame-shifting will help none of us.  No, we must turn from this simple scapegoating and look at real solutions which can help us all rather than profiting some at the expense of the most vulnerable (isn’t this the sort of predatory business model that caused the economic crisis in the first place?).  Immigrants didn’t cause the economic crisis, but they can sure help us rebuild.  Why? Because they are us and we are them; we are all in this thing together.

The ABC of Agriprocessors

December 7, 2008

Nearly seven months after their Postville processing plant was raided by Immigration Customs and Enforcement (ICE), Agriprocessors pled not guilty on all charges Friday, December 5, 2008. Their lawyer, who phoned in to make the plea, did not mention the plight of the 389 unauthorized immigrants or their families (http://www.desmoinesregister.com/article/20081205/NEWS/81205033). He didn’t highlight the fact that these hard workers were steered into cattle barns and misled to believe that if they admitted all charges against them the process would somehow be easier and more lenient. Agriprocessors’ attorney didn’t mention their Nebraska plant that closed down or the Chapter 11 bankruptcy the company filed on November 4 to “reinvigorate the company,” according to their bankruptcy lawyer Kevin Nash. (Preston, Julia. New York Times)

The saddest aspect of Agriprocessors’ court proceedings is that they are being tried for the wrong crimes. Agriprocessors will face a jury trial on January 20 on the charges of “harboring and aiding undocumented workers, document fraud, identity theft and bank fraud.” (http://www.postbulletin.com/newsmanager/templates/localnews_story.asp?z=7&a=374130) They are not awaiting judgment for their notorious safety violations, underpayment of their immigrant workers, and mandatory unpaid overtime, all of which community members like Rev. Paul Oderkirk of Saint Bridget’s Catholic Church had been decrying for years. They are on trial for “aiding” unauthorized” workers that they intentionally recruited and then kept illegal so as to have a docile, underpaid workforce. They are on trial for helping immigrants rather than for the fact that they worked to keep their workforce illegal because unauthorized workers can’t unionize or lobby for better conditions. They are being prosecuted to the full extent of the law for helping immigrants but not even being chastised for filling the deported immigrants’ positions with Latino workers scooped out of Texas homeless shelters this past June (http://immigrationmexicanamerican.blogspot.com/2008/06/breaking-news-agriprocessors.html).  This kosher meatpacking plant that boasted revenues of $300 million will not be sitting before the jury for its criminal hourly wages or its exploitation of the most vulnerable community within our borders. No, they are on trial for “harboring and aiding undocumented workers.”


It is deeply saddening that immigrants are criminalized so deeply in this country that everyone associated with them becomes guilty by association rather than by exploitation. When people are made criminal by unjust laws, the worst crime imaginable is aiding and abetting them. Harking back to the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 which were repealed just a few years later in the infancy of our nation, these laws are even more shameful in that they prosecute rather than protect the most vulnerable, unrepresented sector of American society, the 12 million extralegal immigrant workers living within our borders with little chance of effectively working toward citizenship.

14 days before Agriprocessors’ jury trial, ABC will be airing its new reality television show “Homeland Security USA.” This new series which profits off the often-fatal journey of immigrants through the most dangerous parts of desert borderland seems perfectly congruous with Agriprocessors’ charges of harboring and aiding extralegal immigrants (Stelter, Brian. New York Times). Something is fundamentally flawed in the United States when we are entertained by the criminalization, hunting, and deportation of people whose only crime is the desire for work and enough money for their family. Both ABC and Agriprocessors’ board of directors share this understanding and have figured out ways to profit from others’ painful, life-threatening choice to seek work in America.


Amazing G(race)

November 21, 2008

In the movie Amazing Grace, William Wilberforce campaigns for decades trying to abolish the slave trade in Britain. After a lifetime’s work, he is finally successful when he legislates the Slave Trade Act of 1807 which requires all British ships to fly their colors at all times, even when delivering slaves to the Americas. When the British slave ships were prey to pirates, the profit was no longer there and the slave trade withered within two years.

Devastating incidents like Postville, IA, will continue in these United States as long as our nation’s borders are increasingly militarized, our citizens are more policed, and our businesses are not held accountable. If employers were made accountable, truly responsible for the lives and wellbeing of all their employees, they would cease recruiting and luring extralegal immigrants to come and remain within our borders without basic human rights.

Whatever your political leanings, President Bush’s 2004 speeches concerning Latinos and immigrants in general were truly inspiring. On one particular occasion, George W. Bush called the extralegal immigrants in the United States “Americans by choice.” Rather than demonizing or criminalizing them, like so many other political leaders, Bush seemed to be advocating for compassionate immigration reform, change which would restore dignity to the 12 million extralegals within the U.S. and give hope to all those praying for their names to turn up in the quota’s lottery.

Until we move away from a profit-driven market for extralegal workers and continue criminalizing human beings for migrating, we will continue reading headlines like the shocking one in Long Island this past week. Marcelo Lucero, after having lived in the United States for the past 16 yeasr after emigrating from Ecuador, was brutally beaten and stabbed to death on November 9. A mob of seven boys were picked up shortly afterwards, and they were quoted as having said, ““Let’s go find some Mexicans.” (NYTimes)

The Pew Hispanic Center states that 1 in 10 Latinos (legal and extralegal) report being questioned about their immigration status. Even though Minnesota has refused to allow local enforcement of federal immigration laws, effectively prohibiting local justice departments from asking about immigration status (MNAdvocates), the recent economic crisis has xenophobia aflame in the United States once more. As middle-class Americans feel the crunch, righteous indignation at seemingly untouchable “upper management” is being turned on the ultimate scapegoats, those people who have scant rights and little legitimacy in our society.

It is important to note that in times like this our nation is redefined. Throughout American history, our nation’s crises were opportunities for both positive reform and negative policy-making. From the ceding of civil rights under the guise of Patriotism to the institution of universalized welfare programs for the nation’s neediest, from progressive refugee policies to profiteering part-time worker arrangements like the Bracero Program, it in epochs like the current Economic Crisis of 2008 that America, and indeed the world itself, is re-imagined for better or worse. It is our duty to guide its refashioning into a place where all people have basic human dignity and are afforded rudimentary rights such as the right to migrate and to work without fear.

A Vote for Un-Americans

November 4, 2008


Standing in line at the tiny Oronoco City Hall, many locals had stickers or buttons representing a veteran for whom they were voting. Coming on the heels of the Day of the Dead, perhaps this is fitting top honor those who have died fighting for a cause they believed to be just.

Today, however, I voted for the un-American among us. Since Michelle Bachman uttered her inflammatory statement last month, I have been fixated on her classification of Obama and others as “un-American.” Smacking of McCarthyism, it is a bald assertion of nativism and xenophobia. When Bachman says she would like to form a committee to examine the un-American tendencies of elected officials, this is born of a deep-rooted belief that life is dualistic, that “they are either fer or agin’ us,” that people are either full-blooded “American” or outsiders merely positioned within our arbitrary geographic borders.

I voted for all those un-Americans, like my carpool mate who listens constantly to politics on the radio and knows more about the electoral college than most citizens, but is still unable to vote because the process of naturalization takes so long. I waited an hour to vote today for all those un-American high-school students of mine down in Brownsville, Texas, who are studying hard and hoping they win the lottery of the quota system before they graduate so they can attend the college they deserve. I wore my “I voted “ sticker all day for those 23 un-Americans from India who were arrested this past week in North Dakota after walking off their jobs with Signal International who they claim is human trafficking (Preston, Julia). I got my free “voter appreciation” Starbucks coffee for those Americans who were made to feel un-American, to fear the ballot boxes 40 years ago in the South and 40 minutes ago when an immigrant made the decision to stay away from the booth because of nativism.

According to a recent AP article, Barack Obama’s Aunt Zeituni Onyango was instructed to leave the country in 2004. In response to concerns that she was living in subsidized Boston housing, Massachusetts Republican Senator Robert L. Hedlund Jr. stated that he has tried to close this “massive, absurd loophole” which enables noncitizens or “un-Americans” the right to subsidized housing. (Boston Herald). Mudslinging Republican campaigns have seized on this chance to tarnish Obama’s image just before Election Day, implying that un-Americans are criminals deserving of deportation, ostracization, and that all people related to them are guilty of wrongdoing.

Un-Americans were often barred from education in Texas prior to the landmark Peter Schey case allowing all children to attend schools regardless of citizenship status. Un-Americans were brought to our country during WWII through the Bracero Program, kept un-American as they worked, and then “repatriated” willingly or not back to Mexico. Un-Americans sit in “processing centers” right now, waiting to hear the charges brought against them, wondering when they can get out and begin to earn a wage for their hungry families once more. Nearly 4 million un-Americans became Americans after the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, thought it would be another 102 years before the 1965 Voting Rights Act would ensure literacy, citizenship, or poll-taxes would not keep them un-American on November 4.

A vote is never enough. If democracy is nothing more than a vote, then we are only a democratic nation but once a year. No, being a voice for the voiceless is democracy. Living and working for mutual benefits and universal principles are democracy. Opposing a wall between two neighbors, be it physical or spiritual, is democracy at its best. Realizing that there is no such thing as un-American, that all of us are only Americalmosts, that we are only as “American” as our actions towards others, that the word American surely was not meant to deny the rights and protections for some 12 million extralegal immigrants within our borders. Thinking back to this morning, as I filled in the bubbles representing people representing people, it is immediately evident that this morning’s action is necessary but wildly insufficient. If all men and women are inherently good, it is not so much the people we vote into office today that matter, but the people who hold these candidates to socially uplifting principles and prohibit them from morally devastating acts that count for the next four years. That is why I voted for the un-Americans.

Barriers to Integration

October 26, 2008

Friendship Park in Imperial Beach, California, has long stood as a symbol of Amistad and brotherhood between the United States and Mexico. 160 years after the border was established at this point, people now speak and kiss and sing through the wire fence. At times it is eerily reminiscent of prison visitations, with legal immigrants like Manuel Meza sharing coffee through the fence with his wife who was deported several years ago (Archibold, Randal). If they concentrate on each other’s faces, the fence almost seems to disappear as it moves out of focus…

The Department of Homeland Security, however, is repartitioning this monument to international goodwill. New fencing will create a no-man’s land barrier, ending Meza’s routine coffee hour with his wife, interrupting the yoga sessions that occur on both sides of the border concurrently, solidifying a distance which doesn’t exist between the Mexicans and Americans of San Diego. Another part of this new DHS plan is to fill in Smuggler’s Gulch with tons of dirt, yet one more sacrifice of beauty in exchange for control. Years ago, Pat Nixon came to this place and said, “I hate to see a fence anywhere.” Representative Bob Filner is opposing DHS’s plans to destroy this park & the cooperation it represents, while chief patrol officer Michael Fisher says, “It’s a real shame…[b]ut unfortunately, any time you have an area that is open, the criminal organizations are going to exploit that.” One might say it is akin to permanently shutting down the airports to prevent another 9/11, opting for maximum security at the sake of freedom.

But for now, San Diego and Tijuana are still united, if only here at Friendship Park. Rev. John Fanestil, a United Methodist minister, still conducts communion through the fence to people like Juventino Martin Gonzalez who was deported last month after 20 years working and raising a family on the other side of that fence. It is easy to understand the real reason why a wire fence will no longer do – one look across that fence, north or south, can only remind the viewer that we are all united, all the same, all one. (http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/22/us/22border.html?_r=1&emc=tnt&tntemail1=y&oref=slogin)

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Another barrier to immigration is the employers who would just as soon see extralegal immigrants remain illegal and undocumented. As long as our laws allow economy to trump dignity, this abuse of power will continue. This past week, though, Knickerbocker Avenue in Brooklyn saw a victory for immigrant workers. After years of hard work, Andrew Friedman and the Make the Road New York organization have successfully brought civil suits against employers who extorted and took advantage of immigrant workers. The courts ruled that a local fruit stand owed $28,000 in back pay, a dollar store owed $70,000, a sneaker chain $400,000. Yet for every one of these employers, hundreds more continue to profit from the inability of their workers to achieve full citizenship status. (Clines, Francis)

If citizenship is the first step, education is the next on the path to integration. A Migration Policy Institute survey just found that 1/5 immigrants with college degrees are unemployed or working in unskilled labor fields. (Aizenman, N.C.) These 1.3 million legal and extralegal immigrants could be vital contributors to our economy, yet their lack of English fluency and nativist feelings keep them from using their valuable skills. More than half of Latin-American college graduates are working unskilled jobs, and that number only falls to 1/3 for those living here 10 years or more. African immigrants have the highest unemployed rates of all immigrant groups in the U.S.

Iraqi refugees are given three-month stipends when they come here. Pressed to find a job and integrate rapidly, many highly-skilled professionals are scrambling for a minimum-wage job. My friend and ESL conversation partner starts his job at a furniture factory tomorrow, despite the fact that he ran two such factories in Iraq. His friend, a nationally renowned sculptor, hopes to get a job laying bathroom tile.

Because few foreign credentials transfer to the United States and few immigrants are given the language education they need, we miss out on the contributions of so many. Surely we can do better.

(http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/story/2008/10/23/ST2008102300319.html)

When the Many Find they are One

October 22, 2008

During the WWII era of 1942-46, between 200,000 and 300,000 manual laborers or braceros worked in the United States as farmhands and railroad workers standing in for the masses of young men sent overseas. When this Bracero Program ended and many returned to their homes in Mexico, few received the 10% of their wages deducted by the Mexican government, if they even knew about the deduction at all.

While this lawsuit faltered twice, both for whether it had exceeded the statute of limitations and whether a case against Mexico could be brought in the United States, it received preliminary approval to be heard before the Federal District Court in San Francisco this past Wednesday. The proposed settlement would grant each bracer with sufficient proof a $3500 check. Fewer than 50,000 will collect those checks, due to the anonymous, undocumented nature of much of this work, but for those few braceros nearing their ends, this money is more moral victory than subsistence. The New York Times article quotes Mr. Ibarra, a bracero currently living in Chicago, saying, this was a “victory of principles that allows me to be positive about continuing to live a little longer.” The United States has much cause to thank these willing workers who came and worked and went with little recognition and even less pay. Justice can be a long time coming. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/10/16/us/16settle.html?emc=tnt&tntemail1=y

Reportedly, Tom Brockaw regretted not asking candidates John McCain and Barack Obama not what they would do for the middle class, but what they would provide for the poor. In this season of grandstanding and lampooning for votes, it is easy to forget about the voiceless among us. Sometime between the immigration legislation discussions of 2006, both McCain and Obama have forgotten the 12 million extralegal immigrants awaiting some legislative opportunity or the countless millions lost in the lottery of our antiquated quota system.

As we speak, needless hostilities are burning between new Somali immigrants and “old” Latino immigrants in meatpacking and factory towns. When our nation focuses on the issues of the middle and upper class, the poor are left to bicker over crumbs of opportunity. Due to the nine raids in as many places since 2006 which have detained and/or deported some 2,000 immigrant workers, legal Somali refugees are being recruited and relocated to fill those positions. When they band together to campaign for 15-minute lenience to observe their Muslim prayer time, the oft-slighted other immigrant groups take offense. Mayor Ms. Hornady intimates that the Muslim hijabs suggest terrorism to her and the community of Grand Island, Nebraska. The immigrant groups in this town, the Mexican and South American, the Laotian and Sudanese and original German immigrants, all live in the constant fear that December of 2006 will strike again, that ICE will raid their meatpacking plant and freeze their small town for good. http://mail.google.com/mail/?ui=2&view=js&name=js&ver=KUM7s5FPF9I&am=X_E4pcT3aCGBXoYK6A

Although the New York Times article focuses on the differences and supposed animosities between these two immigrant groups, whose arrivals are separated by but a few years, what strikes me most is how similar these workers are. If only they could join together as one, in that Poor People’s March Dr. King envisioned, and say, “We will not live in fear anymore. What is good for one of us is good for us all. We are many, we are one.” I wish we all could say the same, that we would recognize the simple truth of Martin Luther King’s words, ““Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.”