Posts Tagged ‘illegal immigrants’

9/11: A Step Forward, a Step Backward

September 14, 2008

Seven years after the events in New York City, our nation is taking successful baby steps toward integrating a growing number of Muslim immigrants. On this September 11, Gold’n Plump announced a federally mediated settlement for its Cold Spring meat plant here in Minnesota. Gold’n Plump agreed to allow Muslim laborers an extra ten-minute break to accommodate their daily prayer rituals. Additionally, the chicken-processing plant has also agreed not to require workers to sign a statement agreeing to handle pork, a task that is considered immoral in the Islam faith. (Serres, Chris)

Mediated by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, this case sets a precedent for future rulings on a host of similar workplace environment complaints. Here in Minnesota, the large Somali population has been filling much of the manual labor openings in meat-packing plants and other factories. While a ten-minute break might not seem ground-breaking for most Mid-Westerners, for the thousands of Somalis and for the recent surge of Iraqi refugees this is a welcome long overdue. Earlier in the year several workers were dismissed from a Mission tortilla factory in New Brighton for refusing to adopt the dress code of pants and short-sleeve shirts for religious reasons. (Serres, Chris)

In a nation hyper-sensitive to national defense and homeland security, the Gold’n Plump settlement is significant progress towards integrating an entire people group that has so far existed only on the periphery of American culture. As has always been the case, immigrant groups contribute most to a culture and are most satisfied when they have a sense of belonging within their new land. Integration is the best Department of Homeland Security the United States has ever had. Hopefully this Gold’n Plump settlement signals an era when the United States will spend more on English-as-a-Second-Language classes than it does on military translators, a time when America invests more in its immigrant groups than in creating refugees in distant lands, a new beginning when integration trumps deportation or criminalization as our policy towards newcomers to the American dream.

Sadly, that day is not yet here. In another breaking news item this past week, a prostitution ring was broken up in Austin, MN. Keila Villanueva and Miguel Isep-Roman, both American citizens, ran a brothel and a prostitution ring in Austin and the Twin Cities (Ruzek, Tim).  As is so often the case, the prostitutes were illegal immigrants coerced into selling themselves for money and continued secrecy. While Somalis moved toward a fuller integration in American life this past week, extralegal workers are still living lives of secrecy, still susceptible to being manipulated by corporations trying to save a few dollars or people who see them as a means to an end. As long as public policy continues to hold out no hope for extralegal immigrants to work towards citizenship, we will still have millions of people living without basic human rights. They will work in our factories and our fields, in our brothels and night clubs, not because of lack of experience or potential but merely because they lack some papers. This should not be.

No Border Wall Walk- Day 6 or the Day of Reflection

March 13, 2008

   No Border Wall Walk- Day 6 at Santa Anna Refuge

    I was confronted with our reasons for the No Border Wall Walk yesterday when Javier asked me to ride his pride-and-joy bicycle for him. It was a gorgeous day on the tranquil Rio Grande, and for a minute, I couldn’t imagine why he would ask me to ride his prized possession. His simple answer – La migra.”

    Whether Javier was illegal or not was not the question; the simple fact remains that our U.S. immigration policies would pounce on a Mexican-American man riding his bike on the levee, while the U.S. Border Patrol and the legislation they represent smiled at me as I ride recklessly with my Canadian tie flapping and Hecho en Mexico belt buckle tapping on my Border Ambassador button.

    Today was a long Thursday. March 13 was the day which made us reflect and ask ourselves why. Our walk was the smallest it has ever been today, but it was also more focused and more determined than ever. Leaving the beautiful Saint Francis Cabrini Church and heading out on Highway 281, the wind was full in our faces and the going was hard and long. We walked 17 miles, far and away our longest day. En route to Progreso, we passed fertile Valley farmlands which would be dissected with Hidalgo County’s border-levee wall compromise. Rows and rows of onions cresting the tilled soil, walls and walls of sugar cane bordering this byway, patches and patches of cabbage – a border wall would mean that produce on this side of the levee would be American, the rest would be hecho en Mexico. This is the land we are campaigning to save; today reminded us once more of this beautiful borderland.

    People once again showed that they are looking for ways to utilize their potential for positive actions. At our nadir of the afternoon, just as we had ceased singing carefree songs and our spirits were sagging, a car pulled over on the side of the road. All 6 women got out of the tiny car. Their green shirts said they were from Father Albert; their gifts of water and kind words proved they were angels. Apparently Father Albert and his parishioners are not content to house us only on Friday night and Saturday night, but also felt compelled to meet us along the way and inspire our sore soles.

 No Border Wall Walk- Day 6 with Father Albert’s Angels from Sacred Heart Church in Las Rusias

    The high point of the day came right after this water break. Marching on to Progreso, we soon passed an onion field in harvest. Mexican men and women were working the rows, bringing the white bulbs to light with a hoe before bending tired backs to lift them into a crate. We sang as we walked by, singing “No al muro, la frontera cuenta! NO Border wall, the border matters!” The field-hands were quizzical at first, stopping their work to see what we were about. The small group, already energized by this point, began dancing and singing “Ven con nosotros, ven con nosotros, a la Progreso a las seis! Come with us now, come with us now, to Progreso at 6:00” to the tune of “La Cucaracha.” Now they were listening. My heart leaped to see an older woman in a red workshirt begin dancing despite the oppressive heat and her back-breaking work. This is our why…

    Walking alongside my idealistic brothers and sisters who are testing their ideals in the fire of nonviolent direct action, I am struck by their tricky situation and exploited work. Our country needs more than a wall; it needs immigration laws which gets rid of quota systems, rework the current rubric for refugee status , the DREAM Act which could give students the opportunity to follow their educational dreams, and gives the 12 million or so extralegal residents some way to move toward legal citizenship.

    Our country does not illegal immigrants. These men and women in the fields should definitely be working – but they should be given real means to acquiring citizenship. We do not want illegal immigrants who are without rights, without hope, without help – we do need more legal immigrants who can participate fully in society. Immigration, which is the primary basis of our opposition to the borer wall, is the civil rights issue of the 21st century. Our country has 12 million extralegal workers living and contributing to our GDP, and at least twice as many people who depend on their working power and hope to keep the extralegal residents “illegal.” We must come to a point as a nation that we see people as assets and not liabilities – that will be the day we finally take the necessary bold step forward and begin to seriously diminish the amount of “illegals” in our country while increasing the number of legal immigrants.

    The night ended at Smokin’ Joe’s Barbeque, a tasty little bbq shack on 281. This establishment had Border Ambassador buttons and posters all over, and they treated us to juicy brisket, delumptuous ribs, and rich turkey legs. Beneath their awning live oak trees, we spoke once more about why we were walking along the proposed trajectory of such a wall. The levee-wall compromise intended for this section of Hidalgo County is less a levee and more an 18-foot concrete wall with sloping earth on the American side and sheer cliff on the Mexican side. The marchers on this walk take issue with the nomenclature of such a “compromise.”

    “They call it a levee because it ‘sheds water,’” Elizabeth Stephens said. “Walls shed water too, and so do raincoats.” The only real difference between a levee-wall compromise and a full-scale border wall is that it will look more aesthetic to American passersby. It would still send the same message of distrust, the same message of flippancy for environmental refuges, We were reminded that it is the express point of this march to counter this message of violence with a positive message. By walking along the border and having seen the connectedness of each town with its neighbor cities stateside and in Mexico, we must be continuously involved in re-educating the people en la frontera and in the rest of the world.

    After a long day of walking in the brutal Texas sun, I remember that I am walking to show my students the difference between Pancho Villa and Cesar Chavez. I remember that I am walking because this is the way adults civilly disagree. I remember I am walking because I love the glimmer of river that would be outsourced to Mexico, the refuges which have taken 20 years to conserve and protect but only months to override. I am marching because bills like the Grijalva Bill could begin to restore some sense and morality to the proceedings here on the border. I remember I am here to be “voice for the voiceless;” I am here because the Environmental Impact Statement for the Border Wall was close to 600 pages in English and under 100 pages in Spanish. I remember we are walking to unite communities, educate individuals, and highlight humanity. I remember now – Javier, George, Michael, Jay, John, Kiel, Roberto – we are all assets.