Posts Tagged ‘Germany’

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.

New York Times Editorial and the No Border Wall Walk

March 4, 2008

At last Friday’s March 4 March 4, a German journalist covering this demonstration against the border wall said to me, “We Germans have always thought of the United States as a progressive country, with forward-thinking laws. But, Germany just got rid of the last of its last borders, and the United States is thinking of putting up walls? There are no more border patrols on our borders, and the U.S. is trying to put up a physical wall?” What could I say?

An editorial in today’s New York Times states that an “iron curtain” is descending across the United States, and that “This country once was a confident global magnet for an invigorating flow of immigrant workers and citizens-to-be. Now it is just hunkering.” One of the most important points raised by this contributor is that building walls does not address either national security or immigration legislation, and in fact makes illegal immigration worse. The 700-mile will leave gaps through the most dangerous border-crossing sections, funneling would-be illegal immigrants through the harshest terrain and most assuredly driving up the death toll each year. Additionally, the roads and infrastructure which will need to be built in some regions will actually make the job of coyotes and other smugglers that much easier.

The editorialist concludes that we need smart borders and real immigration reforms. The author writes,

But that worthy goal founders when the overall strategy boils down to simplistic components — bits of fencing and technological cure-alls — rather than a comprehensive solution that also attacks the reasons people cross illegally. Despite what critics of “amnesty” say, immigration reform has never been a choice between legalization and enforcement, because legalization is enforcement. Only by bringing people onto the books and being realistic about the supply of visas, letting people in through ports of entry, instead of chasing them across the desert, will the country restore sanity and order to this broken system. (New York Times “Border Insecurity”)

Until we cure the root problem, border walls are only a multi-billion-dollar Band-Aid which will not deter either terrorism or immigration. And the root problem is not that people are inherently bad, as some critics seem to infer. No, the cause for illegal immigration in the United States is caused both by the failure of sending countries to adequately provide for citizens AND by the United States unresponsive legislation, nativistic quota systems, and hopeless situations for working people trying to become legal.

    To this end, the Border Ambassadors are partnering with churches, teachers, activists, professionals, humanitarian organizations, government officials, high-school students, college students, and concerned citizens across the nation and imaginary borders will be walking 120 miles from Roma to Brownsville, Texas. This interfaith, nonviolent demonstration’s aim is to protest the border wall in an internationally viable way while also showing support for immigrants throughout the country and encouraging border communities. Pragmatically, we will be sharing free legal aid information with border landowners so that they can legally oppose the government surveyors. Policy-wise, this No Border Wall Walk is requesting a moratorium on the border wall and a re-opening of the issue of immigration reform. Please support us with your presence, your words, your donations, and your prayers.