Posts Tagged ‘France’

Leaving Borders

June 9, 2008

In Irun, the small town on the Spanish border with Spain, there has long been a border culture. During their revolutions and civil wars, residents of both countries traversed the imaginary line separating these two lands. A complex culture of smuggling developed, as in most border towns. People, goods, drugs- the rules of supply and demand are never bound by borders, however much governments might like to believe. While in Irun, I was told a story of a man who crossed and recrossed the border every day on his bicycle. The border patrol agents checked and rechecked this man, suspecting that he was transporting some contraband. Never once in the twenty years did they realize he was riding to France on an old bike and returning with a brand new model.

These sort of trickster stories, and the border culture they exhibit, have been made irrelevant by the erasure of borders in the European Union. America’s border with Mexico, though, must be creating hundreds of thousands of tricksters with the increasing militarization of la frontera and the constantly impending border wall now scheduled in Hidalgo County for July.

Driving out of the Rio Grande Valley on either 77 or 83, the only two evacuation routes, one encounters a military checkpoint complete with automatic weapons, drug-sniffing dogs, patrol cars, and heaps of bureaucracy. As I wait in line, my car packed to the hilt with all my earthly possessions, I contemplate that this is one of the many signs that the Rio Grande Valley is considered outside the mainlaind United States. Brownsville, the poorest city in the United States, is left below this second border in a no-man’s land, left to fend for itself. In fact, the talk of the town last week was that the United States Border Patrol was going to be checking the residency status of individuals during hurricane evacuations (Brownsville Herald) . That its citizenry must be questioned and searched before entering the rest of the continental U.S. is a stunning assumption of criminality. When it is my turn with the Border Patrol agents, I am waved along because of my white skin and American accent.

Tacitus once wrote in his Annals, “Once we suffered from our vices; today we suffer from our laws.” Indeed, unjust laws create criminals out of upstanding individuals, and in no area of legislation is this more true than immigration. Extralegal immigrants, many of whom came to the United States legally, are punished by our current law primarily for doing precisely the actions for which we praise our citizenry. The motivation of the majority of immigrants is religious freedom, economic opportunity, family safety, education, freedom of speech, liberty – how can an antiquated quota system cause some to be punished for acting on these principles and others to be praised?

As I drive north, farther and farther away from the Rio Grande Valley I’ve called home for the past two years, I pass the fertile hills of Kansas and the wide expanses of open grazing in Oklahoma and the lush fields of Iowa. I look at these natural wonders and think of how blessed I am to live in this land, and how attractive this must be to people receiving less than 8x the income we enjoy in our prosperous nation. I look at this massive farmland and know that extralegal immigrants know this land far better than I will ever understand; without them, many of these fields would lie fallow, so many of our meals would remain uncooked, so many houses would never be built, so many ideas never imparted, so many languages never added to the multiplicity of cultures here in the United States. Driving through the natural beauty along Highway 35, it is easy to see that natural law and constructed law clash when it comes to the issue of immigration in these United States. If we will only take a good look at our country and realize just how blessed we are, we would be more understanding of people desirous of migrating here. If we would only appreciate the perspectives and culture and language and talents that immigrants always bring, we would see extralegal and legal immigrants as the assets they are. If Spanish were not viewed as a language subservient to English, then perhaps we could learn from the Spanish immigration system as well as from Mexican and Latin-American immigrants themselves. As I leave the border region where the “rights” and “wrongs” of immigration laws are as muddy as the Rio Bravo and as I head north to study immigration law at the University of Minnesota this coming fall, I realize that I will never leave the border because the border is not a place on a map but a place in people’s hearts. In telling stories about the good people of la frontera and in studying the laws of immigration, I hope to turn the borders of American hearts into E.U. borders instead of the walled border in California and Arizona.

Ourense or The Rivers once were Studded with Gold

April 29, 2008

Ourense is a city located in the northwest of Spain. When the Romans first came to Ourense, they were enchanted with its thermal springs and mesmerized by the gold in its streams.  After a time, the gold ran out, and the springs are not quite the attraction they once were during Pax Romana, but Ourense is a city thriving in its unique blend of highway modernity and byway Castellano.  I only wish the United States had an interpreter who could translate Catalan into an English that xenophobes and nativists alike could understand.

My fellow Rotarians and I were granted an honored audience at the State General Administration building with the Governor of Ourense and his Secretary and Administrator of Immigration. While being thoroughly diplomatic, the Governor still managed to come out with a position stronly opposed to the current status of immigration in the United States. The Governor was adamant that to control immigration it is necessary to focus on employers rather than the employees they lure into a Catch-22 status of legality. ¨Control the businesses,¨ he intoned with his administratorial voice, ¨and you will not have any illegal workers.¨ Such measures of strict policies against employers hiring extralegal immigrants would help cut down on the number of victims currently exploited by American businesses ranging from forestry to farming. Rather than victimizing or criminalizing extralegal residents, such measures would merely get rid of the illegal pull factor which still draws hundreds of thousands of workers into the U.S. annually.

Additionally, the Governor echoed some of my deepest sentiments towards immigration. He came out very strongly with the idea that it is human right to migrate, but it is the state´s necessity and responsbility to assimilate those immigrants so that they can fully participate and contribute to the country that lured them with its desirability in the first place.  Here in Spain, he said, immigrants have been crossing from Morocco and Africa since time immemorial, but Spain has also experienced a surge in Eastern European immigrants through its induction into the European Union (E.U.).  In the borderless E.U., Spain has worked very hard to keep its country distinct from France and Germany and Soviet bloc countries. All this positive integration starts in its nation´s schools.  One gets the general idea that Spain would frown on the United States´bilingual education.  As many teachers in such classrooms will attest, this seemingly compassionate education system actually hamstrings students from becoming truly bilingual, and often keeps them from being proficient in any one language.  The Governor would definitely be appalled to learn that some students arrive  in my freshman English class with insufficient writing skills after 8 years in a bilingual ESL system; he would say, and I would concur, that the State has failed that child and the family he/she represents.

 The conversation concluded with a lengthy discussion about the United State´s proposal of a 700-mile border wall on its southern frontier.  The Governor, his Secretary, the Administrator of Immigration, and all the Ourense attendants listened with rapt horror as I described the construction of a wall in California and Arizona and the impending border wall bound for south Texas unless the federal laws are changed or sufficiently challenged.  Just as Catalan is distinct from Spanish, so too was this American mindset for these dignitaries accustomed to the E.U.´s concept of borders.  The Governor stated outright that, ¨it is difficult to defend the borders without rigid barriers, but it is our responsibility to use sensitive negotiations and work for better solutions all the time.¨  In a country like Spain, with its porous borders and flexible entries, the government has developed ways of encouraging legal immigration and withholding incentives from persons who neglect to register for authorized documents.  The United States would do well to follow Spain´s example which, although far from perfect, is far more progressive and comprehensive than the outdated American system of rigid quotas and would-be walls. 

As the dialogue came to a close, the Governor made a confession.  ¨My grandparents were immigrants to three different countries.  In my province, I realize that this is a place, a nation purely of immigrants.¨  Smacking of John F. Kennedy´s optimistic idealism, I wish the Governor could discourse frankly with American officials regarding our stalled immigration reform.  Immigration, far from being an American dilemma, is an issue all countries face.  The greater a country, the greater its pull on immigrants and inevitably, the more it must deal delicately with issues of immigration legislation.  We must not shirk from these issues.  Beyond mere legislation, these issues are real lives.  Someday, ages and ages hence, some sojourner will come across old New York just as I came upon el centro antiguo in Ourense.  The way we deal with immigration in this generation will dictate what is written on the historical markers of Greenwich Village and what is inscribed beneath Emma Lazarus´s poem on the placard at the foot of the Statue of Liberty.