Posts Tagged ‘Houston’

Fingerprinting, Home Raids, and a Rare Apology to Immigrants

July 27, 2009

The Obama administration this past week opted to vastly expand a George W. Bush program to run fingerprints through immigration scans in Houston, TX.  In the past, only serious criminals were fingerprinted and screened for immigration conflicts.  With this program though, even those accused of misdemeanors and nonviolent crimes are fingerprinted and checked in the USCIS database. (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/26/us/26secure.html?pagewanted=2&tntemail1=y&_r=1&emc=tnt)

Federal officials stated that the automatic fingerprint checks in Harris County resulted in the deportation of 94 people for felonies and 1,624 people accused of misdemeanors and nonviolent crimes. Cesar Espinosa of the immigrant advocacy group America for All said, “People are getting deported for even minor offenses like not having an ID or a driver’s license.” (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/26/us/26secure.html?pagewanted=2&tntemail1=y&_r=1&emc=tnt)

Another symptom of America’s flawed immigration enforcement was chronicled in a report released by the Benjamin Cardozo School of Law this past week. The Cardozo Justice Law Clinic partnered with several law enforcement experts like Nassau County’s police commissioner, to analyzing 700 arrest reports obtained from the Immigration and Customs Enforcement [ICE] agency through Freedom of Information Act [FOIA] lawsuits.

In the home raids scrutinized by this report, the ICE agents acting without a search warrant were required to obtain consent. However, 86% of the home raids in Nassau and Suffolk counties, no consent was recorded as required by law. The report condemned the “cowboy mentality” that ran rampant throughout these raids: in Paterson, NJ, a nine-year-old legal citizen of Guatemalan descent was threatened at gunpoint while his legal resident mother was in the shower; in a Staten Island case, an immigration judge ruled that similar agents’ actions were an “egregious violation” of basic fairness; an email message exchanged between an ICE agent in Connecticut and a state trooper invited him to a set of raids scheduled for New Haven, stating, “We have 18 addresses – so it should be a fun time! Let me know if you guys can play!”

Such an abuse of power stems from having a system which criminalizes individuals merely suspected by their ethnicity of being guilty of a civil violation.  The Cardozo report suggests that these ICE home raids should be “a tactic of last resort, reserved for high-priority targets,” and accompanied with a search warrant.  The report also recommends that supervisors be on site and home raids videotaped. Lastly, the report states that agents should have to note why the initially seized or questioned any person, rather than merely waiting for the results afterwards [i.e. in law, “the end should not justify the means”].  Hopefully DHS Secretary Napolitano reads this insightful report and begins to deescalate the fear and violence perpetrated against our nation’s immigrant population through such negative programs. (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/22/nyregion/22raids.html?emc=tnt&tntemail1=y)

As California worked around the clock to vote on a budget that would alleviate its 26 billion dollar deficit, they also passed an important public apology a long time coming.  The California Legislature apologized for its states’ past persecution of Chinese immigrants who worked on the state’s railroads, farms, and gold mines.  On Friday, the State Secretary released this public apology for the 19th and 20th century wrongs done to Chinese Americans.  If only the United States as a whole would apologize for the xenophobic, nativist legislation it passed in the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act which banned all Chinese-Americans, and later all Asian-Americans, from legally immigrating to the United States for some 60 years. (http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/23/us/23brfs-APOLOGYTOIMM_BRF.html?emc=tnt&tntemail1=y)

It is entirely possible that in 70 years, the United States will be uttering its own apologies to third and fourth-generation immigrants for the inhumane home raids and invasive fingerprint checks we are conducting now.

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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.

How do you Communicate your Love for a Foreign Land?

January 7, 2009

This past Monday was the deadline for braceros to file for money owed them from the government of Mexico. During the Bracero Program, Mexico was given money for each bracero, but few received this money when they repatriated.  Between 1942-46, 250,000 braceros invested money into this automatic deduction program.  The Border Farmworkers Center/Centro de Trabajadores Fronterizos in El Paso participated in the Bracero Program, helping to register some 100,000 Mexican farmworkers eligible for the program. Eight years ago, six migrant farmworkers sued Wells Fargo, the US and Mexican government in a US federal district court.  While not admitting they did anything wrong, the Mexican government set up a $14.5 million fund to reimbures qualified braceros with up to $3,500. (El Paso Times)

As evidenced by El Paso’s commitment to registering braceros, they are a largely an immigrant-friendly city.  The Mexican Consulate in El Paso vaccinated over 600 Mexican immigrants in 2008.  Additionally, the Consulate has offered a free clinic to many immigrants afraid to go hospitals for fear of being reported.

Other groups in El Paso also reach out to a community too often voiceless and without rights.  Casa Anunciacion, an immigrant safe house which houses and feeds immigrants as they seek to integrate into American life, look for a job, try to relocate a spouse, or any other host of reasons that causes someone to endure hardships in order to migrate to a new land.  The house is a haven for women affected by spousal abuse, who have to wait upwards of a year before receiving relief thru VAWA (Violence Against Women Act).  It’s also a haven for teen mothers, or unacompanied children, or new arrivals, or recently jobless immigrants.  (Latin American Herald Tribune)

It is strange for me to live on the border again.  It feels like home in some ways, full of the life generated by so much diversity and interchange between such large nations.  It feels like a return to form to be working with immigrants one step over the Rio Grande and one step towards citizenship. I’m flooded with memories of  Brownsville, of the tight-knit immigrant communities all along la frontera, of the machismo but also the deep faith, of the fascination with futbol and the foreignness of the downtown markets.

It is also weird for me to return with people unacquainted with la vida en la frontera.  I vaguely remember when my ears perked up at hearing Spanish in the grocery store or when Mexican license plates were second nature. I recall when I thought border life was boring, that nothing was going on because I couldn’t read about much of it in the paper or online. Still, it frustrates me that I cannot fluently communicate my appreciation for the border to a group of Minnesota students, many of whom have traveled the world and are surely bound for great things.  I feel an ambassador of the border, and perhaps I am, but I don’t know if I have been able to make them passionate for it as I am.

Maybe it is a slow process.  Maybe my law-school friends see it in the faces of detained children anxiously awaiting the outcome of their asylum application. Maybe they recognize the grave injustice in a quota system that makes immigrants wait a decade to come legally to the United States.  Perhaps they see the dusty mesquite mountains in a new light after working with an asylum applicant who has been moved from New York to Houston, from Minnesota to El Paso, from Arizona to Harlingen.  Maybe they will read stories about immigrants differently now that they can associate names with faces instead of numbers.  Maybe…

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.