Posts Tagged ‘Guantanamo Bay’

The End of Guantanamo Bay is Just the Beginning

January 23, 2009

Yesterday morning, Barack Obama signed executive orders to end the CIA’s secret overseas prisons, ban coercive interrogations (read “torture”), and close Guantanamo Bay within a year.  In just his second full day in office, Obama made good on one of his campaign promises, saying that “our ideals give us the strength and moral high ground” to combat terrorism.  (Shane, Scott. New York Times) The whole world must have breathed a sigh of relief to see the United States moving back towards its role as a leader in human rights.

Since 2002, this small base in Cuba has housed detainees, many of whom were held without charges, representation, or many basic human rights.  As Vince Walker famously said when Gandhi’s followers were brutally attacked and killed by the British following the 1930 salt march, “Whatever moral ascendancy the West held was lost here today.” (http://lisahendrix.com/2008/06/).  As the United States has attempted to encourage countries like Iran, China, and North Korea to cease their violations of human rights, our exhortations have sounded hollow when Guantanamo Bay was in full operation just miles from Florida.

All Americans should applaud this bold move by Obama to move the United States back into its place an international leader.  But this must only be the beginning.  Within our borders, detention centers are cropping up in every state.  Texas is building new “immigrant processing” centers every year, and this for-profit business is rapidly expanding.  As the United States continues to balk on comprehensive immigration reform, these containment camps flourish while immigrants languish.  Few know where they are, even fewer know the name of a local lawyer who can represent them. Many will sit for months in cold dark cells, some for years.  In the last 6 years, from 2002 to 2008, immigrants detained in like centers have skyrocketed from under 21,000 to more than 31,000.  Disabled immigrants and those with mental health issues aren’t being served, and often their conditions are worsening steadily.  As Equal Justice Fellow at Advocacy Health Services of LA Greg Pleasants, “All protections that exist in other areas of the law (for mentally and developmentally disabled individuals) do not exist for these respondents.”  (Tillman, Laura. Brownsville Herald).  Just last week, federal immigration officials investigating the tragic death of Chinese comuter engineer Hiu Lui Ng in Donald W. Wyatt Detention Facility of Central Falls, R.I, revealed that he had been denied treatment and his cancer and fractured spine had been undiagnosed, leading to his agonizing death on August 6, 2008. (Bernstein, Nina).

Thankfully, some changes have already begun to have a positive effect.  Since unaccompanied minors were removed from adult detention centers and switched from DHS (Department of Homeland Security) jurisdiction to that of Health and Human Services, their care has substantially increased and they are being better served.  With Guantanamo Bay closed and the United States human rights record looking better, we must continue to encourage our administration to take positive steps to eradicate human rights abuses within this nation.  Our immigration system must move towards a day when immigrants are not criminals or numbers but people, families, lives, souls.  Please don’t stop at Cuba, Mr. Obama.

Whittling Away Immigrant Rights

January 15, 2009

“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”


Martin Luther King, Jr.’s words ring truer than ever on the heels of Attorney General Michael Mukasey’s latest ruling on January 8, 2009. Mukasey issued a ruling concerning appeals to the deportation of three different immigrants. The immigrants appealed on the basis of attorney error, but Mukasey stated that, “neither the Constitution nor any statutory or regulatory provision entitles an alien to a do-over if his initial removal proceeding is prejudiced by the mistakes of a privately retained lawyer.” (Schwartz, John. New York Times)


A case five years ago, In re Assad, established precedence which prompted the Board of Immigration Appeals to routinely allow immigrant appeals on basis of attorney error. However, the Attorney General’s ruling is now prevailing law, barring an appeal.


While some support this eleventh-hour ruling by the departing Attorney General, others argue that immigrants are often preyed upon by extortionary attorneys or have to settle for less-than-competent counsel. The 9th Circuit said in one opinion last year that often “vulnerable immigrants are preyed upon by unlicensed notarios and unscrupulous appearance attorneys who extract heavy fees in exchange for false promises and shoddy, ineffective representation.” (Schwartz, John. New York Times) I can personally attest to this, having worked on asylum cases where families in removal proceedings were charged $10,000 and then asked for another $12,000, all with nothing to show for it but lost time inside a drab detention center.

Extreme lawyerly error, as determined by the court, is now the only way immigrants can appeal cases based on the quality of their defense. Mukasey negated the most common method of appeals in immigration cases by explaining, “There is no constitutional right to counsel, and thus no constitutional right to effective assistance of counsel, in civil cases.” (Schwartz, John. New York Times)

By the time Obama gets established in office, hundreds if not thousands of immigrants could potentially have been deported due to Mukasey’s new ruling. Mukasey and other supporters of this ruling argue that this appeal was too often a delay tactic by immigrants attempting to stay their removal proceedings. What is certain is this – immigrants’ Constitutional rights shrunk five sizes last Thursday. And when anyone’s civil liberties are threatened, all our rights are. As another of Dr. King’s statements elucidates, we are “caught up in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.” For extralegal immigrants, 12 million and growing, this latest legal decision strips Constitutional rights the rest of America takes for granted. Mukasey’s latest ruling creates a dehumanizing distinction between Americans with rights and those without. Until this ruling is appealed, as we should all hope, we must be vigilant that the most vulnerable Americans aren’t exploited under the auspices of new controlling law.

Throughout the chilling allegory of Orwell’s Animal Farm, the Constitution or Commandments by which the animals live slowly change.  Although they begin their society with the fundamental premise that “All Animals are Equal,” it is soon changed to “All Animals are Equal, but some are More Equal than Others.”  This is the essence of Mukasey’s new ruling, that immigrants, like detainees at Guantanamo Bay, have little to no rights because they are not recognized as citizens of these United States.  What held true in Animal Farm will surely hold out here; if we allow some people to be more equal than others, we are setting up a system which necessarily exploits the most vulnerable. We must take heed not to read into the Declaration of Independence the word “citizen” where it has always said, “All men are created equal.”


The State of Immigration

June 23, 2008

            Around the world, the state of immigration is in a period of flux.  As most countries today have set boundaries and centralized governments, and as technology has facilitated easy communications and travel between once-distant societies, immigration is on the rise and with it, a rise in both pro-migrant and in anti-immigrant sentiments.  The state of immigrants globally ranges from the welcoming economy of Spain and the closed-fist stance of neighboring Italy to the construction of a border wall on America’s southern border and the 11.4 million refugees currently awaiting any country to allow them entry. (New York Times)

            More than 2 million Iraqi refugees have already fled to neighboring countries since the United States led the invasion of their nation in the spring of 2003, while another 2 million have been displaced within their war-torn country (New York Times).  Currently, the State Department is struggling to keep its promise of admitting 12,000 Iraqi refugees by this September 30, allow that would mean more than 6,000 refugees finding homes in the next 3.5 months.  Towns like Rochester, MN, with a population of only 100,000, have been waiting and preparing for months to receive the 60-70 Iraqi refugees which they have been gratefully assigned.  In speaking with a representative of Catholic Charities Refugee Resettlement, it struck me just how enthusiastic she was to be able to extend a warm welcome to these Iraqi refugees, whose homeland is being destroyed by her own home country. 

            Beyond these self-produced immigration patterns caused by our nation’s myriad “conflicts” (read invasions) over the past 40 years including Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Somalia, our nation is simultaneously attempting to address the ongoing issue of illegal migration by erecting a $30-billion border wall.  This Secure Fence was the focus of Time’s most recent cover story, and while the Department of Homeland Security is still attempting to overturn public opposition in Texas in order to complete construction by the end of the year, Time highlighted the fact that the wall is not stopping immigration – it simply changes its form and direction.  While the Border Coalition in the Rio Grande Valley is suing DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff for seizing land unjustly, Stanford historian David Kennedy notes “the difference in per capita income between the U.S. and Mexico is among the greatest cross-border contrasts in the world,” and therefore the push factor of immigration will only be bottled up by a wall rather than stopped.  As residents of on the Texas border currently try to oppose the construction of this last portion of the fence, we as taxpayers and voting citizens must clamor for real immigration reform that addresses the deeper issues of skewed quota systems, the lack of legal paths to earned citizenship, and lopsided international relations.

            In other parts of the world, this same closing of borders is taking place as well, albeit not in the monstrosity of a physical wall.  In Italy, for example, a law was proposed recently by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to make it a felony to enter Italy illegally.  This would jeopardize the thousands of extralegal immigrants currently employed in burgeoning markets such as home health-care for Italy’s aging population.  Berlusconi has not yet heeded the advice of Welfare Minister Maurizio Sacconi who campaigned to legalize some of the 405,000 extralegal residents who filed for adjustment of status last December (New York Times)

            Far from being a lone actor on the global stage, Berlusconi is taking his cues from the E.U.’s shocking new legislation passed last week which would allow extralegals to be detained for as long as 18 months pending deportation.  This shift in philosophy for the European Union is one step closer to dehumanizing immigrants, and paves the way for even more uncompassionate and unjust legislation such as Berlusconi’s recipe for mass arrests.  In the United States, whose extralegal domestic population equals the number of worldwide refugees under the care of the United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees (New York Times), the Supreme Court just ruled that it was illegal for the United States to continue holding detainees as “enemy combatants,” without rights or appeals, as it has done since 9/11 (New York Times).  Today, the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Guantanamo Bay detainee Huzaifa Parhat, hopefully bringing an end to the more than six years he has spent in this prison camp without hope of appeal or habeus corpus.  While it has taken more than six years for the U.S. government to finally amend its unjust policy of detaining individuals without appeals in places like Guantanamo Bay, this has not yet been extended to the dozens of immigrant detention centers cropping up in places like Hutto, Raymondville, Port Isabel, or the Ramsey County Center.  Though Europe’s move to detain immigrants is surely a sad shift, this shift happened years ago in the United States and more centers are being built every year to capitalize on the multi-million dollar industry. 

            Immigration has been occurring ever since Adam and Eve emigrated from that Garden so long ago.  How we choose to integrate our fellow man into our own home bespeaks much about ourselves and the future of our society.  Let us pray the future is not one of walls and prisons, detentions and displaced persons.

The Closing of the American Mind

June 1, 2008

No one in Spain could believe that the United States was going to build a border wall between itself and its southern neighbor, in fact had already built and rebuilt portions of wall in Arizona and California. Most of them felt bad for Americans, thinking we had been swindled by a President dead-set on sending men to war. Most of them felt excited with us for our gripping primaries, elections which had gotten Americans to care once more about politics. But none of them could understand why Americans would allow, and even clamor for, a border wall.

While Cameron County still is debating the necessity of a border wall, Hidalgo County is pushing ahead with plans for a levee-wall compromise, slated to begin July 25 and be completed by the end of the year. Homeland Security is paying $88 million for construction of the wall, while Hidalgo is going to pay $65 million to repair the levee (a federal responsibility). After the construction, Hidalgo County will seek reimbursement from the State while also attempting to convince other counties to make a similar compromise. (http://www.brownsvilleherald.com/news/slated_87157___article.html/border_wall.html)

No one in Spain could fathom the outlandishness of a wall. When shown pictures of sister cities like Brownsville-Matamoros, they were aghast that a wall was going to be built to reinforce the “natural barrier” of the Rio Bravo and reinforce the feelings of resentment and/or racism between these two countries at peace.

As Hidalgo readies for the wall after July 4th, the rest of the world will be watching the effects of the hurricane on the border region. Little consideration has been given to the international repercussions of a wall and levee on only one side of the river. If Mexico fails to respond with a similar levee reconstruction project, the streets of Nuevo Laredo and Juarez and Matamoros will be swimming in hurricane rain at the end of every summer. The wall has been rushed, however, and so qualms about international laws and cooperation have been ignored in favor of expediting the process.

During hurricane season, the nation will also be focused on the Rio Grande Valley for another reason. When the calls for evacuation are made, hundreds of thousands of people are going to hesitate to leave their homes. Not because of stubbornness, not because of ignorance, not because of inability- no, hundreds of thousands of immigrants will not evacuate the Valley this year and in years to come because the Border Patrol has stated that it will be checking the immigration status of fleeing families. (http://www.brownsvilleherald.com/news/people_86708___article.html/cascos_hurricane.html)

The world must shudder when it hears of such inhuman, unfeeling policies. Surely, the Spaniards I met in Gallicia and Cantabria would have blanched to know about the dehumanizing, fear-inducing checkpoints 50 miles north of the Rio Grande, a militarized line which marks the northernmost progression of so many extralegal or currently legalizing immigrants. Undoubtedly, the Spaniards in Castelleon and Catalunia would be indignant to think that another Hurricane Katrina might hit South Texas any year, and that thousands and thousands of people might die or be injured because of their greater fear of deportation.

Having traveled Spain for a month, I quickly realized as I talked about my home in southern Texas that the United States is in a terrible state of closing itself off to the rest of the world. Not that this has made it an isolationist in terms of military endeavors; in all positive meanings of the word “open,” however, the United States has ceased to work at diplomacy and mutual understanding. A border wall is a continuation of restrictive immigration policies which flatly say “No” to millions of willing workers every year. Immigration checks during hurricane season are in the same dastardly vein as checking library records and phone conversations of “suspected yet not convicted” terrorists. Child detention centers such as Hutto near Houston, Texas, are merely a continuation of Guantanamo Bay, waiving habeus corpus and countless humanitarian laws in the name of justice.

The whole world looks at the United States as we decide the future of our nation today. Can we afford to wall off our allies, the best the world has to offer, the solutions of tomorrow which perhaps are being formulated in some foreign land? Are we going to turn away willing workers from countries which lack sufficient quota numbers, and are we going to leave future generations of immigrants to a lottery system? And are we going to operate out of fear, fear of others, fear of ourselves, fear of foreigners and fear of Spanish, fear of change and fear of the future, fear of the globalization we have been instrumental in producing, fear of open lines of communication, and fear of real compromise? The whole world looks at Texas right now as a symbol of the United States’ resolve for tomorrow, and Valley residents pray that the U.S. is not compromised by the events of this year.

What is meant by ‘Real Immigration Reform?’

January 24, 2008

        Yesterday, a good friend of mine in Austin pressed me about my oft-repeated phrase of “real immigration reform.” He was in agreement that there are some social and moral dilemmas with our current immigration system, but he couldn’t honestly see a better, more direct answer than the border wall. I had to thank him for his honesty, and his desire to candidly grapple with the problem and its solution. However, legislation would solve the problems at a much deeper level and in a more sustainable manner.

    One component of transformative immigration reform is prohibitive penalties for companies which employ undocumented workers. We do not need illegal immigrants – we need immigrants who are sponsored here in the United States and who come with a purpose, but we most definitely must not continue our current method of refreshing a grossly under-paid, right-less pool of workers. Stiff penalties for businesses would follow the same trend which has been adopted with corporate white-collar crime (think Enron). If the tremendous resources of the U.S. Border Patrol could be used, instead, to police the businesses which are pulling immigrants from their homeland under false pretenses, the border would be a very different place indeed. Immigrants come either from a push or pull motive – either because of the conditions of their home country or the promises of the new one – and to the extent that we can diminish the false pull of exploitative businesses, illegal immigration could be greatly curtailed. The few workers who might still come across illegally would find it very difficult to get a job, and because of their close proximity to their home country, would return like 1/3 of immigrants.

    A second key piece of meaningful immigration reform is to extend a means to legal citizenship for the 12-14 million extralegal working residents here in the United States. Earned citizenship would necessitate that person have a steady job and a place of residence. The main problem with our current immigration laws is that people migrate here and then are stuck between D.C. and the border checkpoints. Unable to secure legal citizenship, they are caught in a revolving door of underpaid, exploitative work which is both dehumanizing and compounding to their dilemma. Earned citizenship measures would greatly decrease the number of long-term extralegal residents, so that ICE could focus solely on those residents who are not moving towards such legalization. Countless immigrants who simply overstayed their visas could become much more productive members of society, no longer lurking in the shadows, if only they saw hope of citizenship.

    The third crucial element of far-reaching immigration reform would be an overhaul of the current quota system. While many immigrants and refugees come to these United States outside the current quota, this system allotting 26,000 immigrants to each nation, irregardless of its population, still forms the foundation of our current immigration legislation. These quotas, in theory, allow just as many people to immigrate from Vatican City and Luxembourg as from China, India, or Mexico. More egalitarian “quotas” would be relative to a country’s population. American universities already have a complex and accurate system of ranking students coming from schools as divergent as my alma mater Troy High School in Pennsylvania (100 graduates/year) and Philadelphia high schools (2,000 graduates/year). Another possibility, instead of quotas, would be to highlight specific industry vacancies which are prohibitively under-staffed and draw immigrants for these specific fields. This would assure an excellent pool of workers for American businesses, and it would also ensure that immigrants come to the U.S. with steady, well-paid occupations already lined up.

    While these three components are fundamental changes which must be made if we are to change the future of immigration in this country, several other ideas would help to make our nation significantly better for those populations which are so often overlooked. The DREAM Act, which failed to pass last year in Congress, would provide much-needed funds to qualifying immigrant students who have already demonstrated a readiness and dedication to academics. The DREAM Act goes much deeper than simply rewarding immigrants who work; this legislation assures that these young residents will not be stuck in the cycle of underpaid jobs which fail to utilize their contribution potential and talents. Another immigration reform which would greatly aid our current state is speedy deportation. Detention centers like our nation’s largest at Raymondville are a pock on our country in the same vein as Japanese internment camps and Guantanamo Bay. Immigrants who are employed illegally and are slotted for deportation should have the right to a speedy process. Currently, they are stripped of all rights and incarcerated for a month on average (though some are left for years). The companies which hire undocumented workers should receive much stiffer penalties than the workers who were exploited, but if we are to return them to their home country so that they can begin a new life, this must happen speedily. The alternative is what we currently have, an expensive detention process which has not been proven a true deterrent to re-entry but has most definitely been proven to be dehumanizing, unconstitutional, and an affront to basic human rights.

    While immigration should be at the forefront of American thought for the next fifty years or more, the three changes of 1.) prohibitive penalties for law-breaking employers, 2.) paths to earned citizenship, and 3.) a dynamic overhaul of the current quota system, would alleviate the pressure on our borders, dismantle the need for a Secure Fence Act, and provide the most basic American rights to some 12-14 million people who are living in inequality. It is my solemn prayer that one day all residents in these United States will truly be treated equally, that people will receive better treatment and fairer taxation than corporations, and that no group of people will be denied a future because of dehumanizing legislation.