Posts Tagged ‘illegal immigration’

Nonviolence in Rio Bosque

December 19, 2008

55-year-old Judy Ackerman arrived at the Rio Bosque (river forest) Wetlands Park at 6:30 am.  She crossed the canal through this park she, the Friends of Rio Bosque, and the Sierra Club helped conserve.  At 7:00, the construction crews arrived on the International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC) land and were confronted by this white-haired, retired Army veteran in a hard hat and construction vest.  She was cordial, the epitome of nonviolence, chatting cheerfully with the construction crews.  As she told the El Paso Times, “They have a job to do, but today their job is to take a break.”

Gandhi once wrote, “There is hope for a violent man to be some day non-violent, but there is none for a coward.” Ms. Ackerman has seen her share of violence throughout her 26 years in the Army, and she’d never be mistaken for a coward.  That’s what makes her nonviolent stand against the border wall so compelling.  In a completely peaceful demonstration, she singlehandedly held up construction for most of Wednesday, December 17.

While the construction crews resumed building of the border wall through this 370-acre borderland park, pursuant to the Secure Fence Act of 2006, Ms. Ackerman demonstrated that nonviolence is more effective than ever and that border communities are worth preserving.  Ackerman told the Associated Press she was motivated to make her stand because, “They have this wonderful park here, and the wall is messing it up. This is life. The river is life. But not the wall; the wall is death.” (AP, Houston Chronicle)


Federal officials are still towing the party line that the 500 miles of border barriers are effective in deterring illegal immigration, drug smuggling, and terrorism (though no terrorists are alleged to have crossed the southern border prior to the border wall construction).  Local communities and border residents, however, see a different story. They see the animals traveling 15 miles to get a drink of water. They see the way these border walls merely reroute immigrants through the most lethal parts of the desert.  People like Ms. Ackerman know the beauty of this land, a beauty now being marred by 15-feet high border fencing in El Paso, Texas.

I will be venturing down to El Paso in but a few short weeks. I fully plan on going to Rio Bosque and voicing my concerns/protest with those of the nonviolent residents there.  Please keep border communities in your prayers this holiday season, and if you are anywhere within a thousand miles, consider coming down to support them in their time of need.


Encouragement to all those on the Border

July 7, 2008

It is 2033. By this time, more than $49 billion will have been invested to build, maintain, and repair 700 miles of border wall through California, Arizona, and Texas. Animals like the jaguarundi, the Sonoran pronghorn, and ocelots have disappeared form the American side of the border. The last remaining stands of virgin flora have become extinct due to the border wall itself and the changes it brought to the ecosystem. Sabal Palms Audobon Sanctuary, like the small community of La Lomita and Granjeno, is an abandoned ghost town, a relic of a time when Mexicans and Americans could both enjoy the benefits of the life-giving Rio Grande as it made its 1885-mile journey to the Gulf of Mexico.

Illegal immigration is still a problem, because the push and pull factors of immigration were not addressed through legislative reform. An eighteen-foot wall did nothing to alleviate the more than seven-to-one pay differential between Americans and their neighbors to the South. With the increased militarization of the border and the addition of 700 miles of barriers, the flow of migration has only been redirected to more dangerous routes and means, killing more and more Americalmosts and freezing hundreds of thousands of extralegal residents here who are too afraid to cross back into Mexico. In 2007, the year before the Texas wall was built, more than 500 people lost their lives attempting to cross through the treacherous desert while more and more immigrants risked their lives and their fortunes in highly-dangerous crossings conducted by a highly-paid coyote. As Princeton Professor Douglas Massey pointed out, “The ultimate effect of the border fence policy is to increase the size [of the undocumented population] and to make it more permanent.” (TNR)

It is 2033, and my teenage children are asking why I ever let my government do something so illogical and shameful. Clearly, in retrospect, our wall seems as pointless as the Russian’s or the Chinese. My children and their friends will go to California with hammers in their hands to chisel out a piece of infamous history when the walls we built at the turn of the century finally fall.

——————

Thank God it is not 2033 yet. While the time is getting near and the pressure is being ratcheted up by the Department of Homeland Security, time still remains for our nation’s people and lawmakers to do right. People like Professor Eloisa Tamez, a UTB Professor, Lipan Apache Tribe member, and border landowner have not given up the fight in El Calaboz. Documentarians like Nat Stone have not ceased filming and recording the people and places which would be irreversibly marred by an eighteen-foot wall. National figures such as Jay Johnson-Castro have not stopped marching against the injustice of the Secure Fence Act of 2006, and environmental activists such as Scott Nichols haven’t stopped speaking out against the totalitarian power endowed to DHS by the Real ID Act. Grassroots organizers like Elizabeth Garcia, Ryan and Yahaira Tauber, John Moore, Crystal Canales, Mike and Cindy Johnson, Joe Krause, as well as groups such as CASA, LUPE, No Texas Border Wall and Border Ambassadors have not surrendered because they know that “the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.”

The resistance continues; our spirit is not broken. May it continue in love and not stoop to the hate and violence that would will a wall between neighbors and families. Our resistance must remain positive; if our publicity is not respectful and focused and nonviolent, then the focus will be on our negativity and our methods rather than on the injustice of a border wall through people’s homes and lives. If we do not stay united and show DHS, our city leadership, and the entire nation that we are unified against a border wall, then we appear to be simply some people squabbling and fighting petty battles in a place far away. However, if we can stay together and remain positive now, at the breaking point, when the pressure is fiercest and the odds seem overwhelming, if we can stay true to the Truth and resist in love, then we can still rally the nation behind our just cause.

It is my prayer that we may remain strong as we hold on to the Truth in love , the satyagraha that changed India for the better, the holding on to Truth that awakened our nation from the sad malady of segregation and closemindedness in the King era. We are still able to prevent our nation from doing something it will regret for the rest of its history, if we can only cling stay united in the faith that our cause is right, the hope that our fellow Americans are moral beings, and the love that separates us all more than our conflicts can divide us.

The Supreme Court on Alaska & Texas

June 26, 2008

This week, the Supreme Court of the United States both rewrote history and chartered a brave new future for our nation.  Yesterday, the Supreme Court reduced the $5 billion damages against Exxon Mobil from the 1989 Exxon-Valdez oil spill to a measly $500 million, setting precedent for future damage cases of being a one-to-one ration.  This catastrophic 11,000,000-gallon spill in Alaska damaged 1300 miles of shoreline and killed hundreds of thousands of sea animals; Wednesday’s decision downplays this accident, one which spurred a host of increasingly stringent environmental regulations on the oil industry, by slashing its price tag presumably because of the “oil crisis.” (Liptak, Adam. New York Times, April 26, 2008)

 

            Also, this Monday Supreme Court Justices voted with the White House in allowing the appointed Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff to waive any and all environmental laws.  By refusing to hear the case brought by the Defenders of Wildlife and the Sierra Club concerning a stretch of fence in the San Pedro Riparian National Conservation Area in Arizona, the Supreme Court was condoning and endorsing the Executive Branch’s ability and right to disregard local, state, and environmental laws, many of which were instated by the Legislative Branch.  To residents on the border in towns like Brownsville and nearby Hidalgo County, this decision from Washington damages a last remaining hope that the breakneck construction of a hasty border fence could be stopped legally.  Representative Bennie Thompson, who supported the challenges to Chertoff’s authority, said, “I am extremely disappointed in the court’s decision” because it is a distraction from “the real issue: their lack of a comprehensive border security plan.” (Stout, David. New York Times, April 24, 2008)

           

            In one week, the Supreme Court chartered a new direction for American history, one that seemingly ignores environmental caution in lieu of situational expediency.  In downplaying the significance of the Exxon Valdez spill by discounting its impact on both human and environmental conditions, the Supreme Court placed the needs of corporations and businesses above those of resources and humans.  Similarly, by refusing to hear the Defenders of Wildlife case, the Supreme Court has lent its unashamed support for Homeland Security’s environmentally devastating, socially disrupting, and ultimately futile attempt to thwart illegal immigration, drug trafficking, and terrorism simply by building an 18-foot wall along 700 miles of our nation’s southern border.  As voting citizens and as concerned social activists, we must be prepared for future “panaceas” like the Secure Fence Act of 2006 and the Real ID Act, “panaceas” which cure all of our problems merely at the cost of our democratic freedom. 

The Differences between Irun and I run…

May 16, 2008

The bay is peaceful, calm.  Fishermen troll both sides of it for merluzza and tuna.  Couples old and young walk the banks of the splashing ocean, taking in the beauty of a sunny afternoon in northern Spain.  Buoys bob, boats float, people talk, couples kiss, and life is as it should be despite the fact that Irun is a border town and the other side of this particular bay is France.

 Seeing people running along the jetties and beachfront sidewalks seems as normal as anchoas (anchovies) or vino tinto here in Pais Vasco. That is, until one thinks about the very different connotations of running here in the borderlands between France and Spain and the highly militarized frontera between Mexico and the United States.  Here, running is a great way to work off late-night tapas or to replace a siesta; in the Rio Grande Valley, however, it can imply that one is guilty of illegal immigration, drug smuggling, or a host of other activities prohibited by either nation´s border governances.  One runs on a sidewalks here in Irun, whereas to run on the southern border of the U.S. means to run on Border Patrol trails and run the risk of having a gun drawn on you or having to show some piece of identification, some sort of explanation.

It wasn´t always this way.  But a few years ago, Texas was alternately a sparsely populated state of Mexico, an independent republic, and then an annexed state in the Union.  The Border Patrol didn´t come into existence until the 1920s, and intense militarization of our nation´s southern border wasn´t realized until the 1990s.  Now however, every person crossing the US-Mexico border is filled with some sort of fear.  For regulars, they worry that if they are stopped and asked to have their car searched, they might not make it to that 8:00 a.m. meeting on time.   For winter Texans, they wonder whether it is legal to purchase cheap medications and transport them across the border.  And Latinos, be they recent immigrants or hand-me-down multigenerationals, are filled with a fear of racial profiling, discrimination, and the trepidation that perhaps they forgot their passport this time. 

It wasn´t always this way.  But a few years ago, France and Spain were at odds.  The ever-wealthy France was continually at odds with a Spain struggling to industrialize and modernize after the repressive Franco regime. The franc perpetually trumped the weak lyra, and the French vacationed on the cheap in every city in Spain.  But, with Spain’s economic rise, immigrant surge, and induction into the European Union, the two countries are coming to an equilibrium.  Brders in the European Union are no longer patrolled, no longer militarized, no longer stigmatized.  Crossing is as easy as walking, driving, jumping, swimming, talking.  It is easy to see the outlandishness of borders when people on both side of the imaginary line speak French and Castellano Spanish, eat seafood and drink wine, wake late and eat even later. 

For some Americans, it is easy to write the E.U. off as being very similar to the United States.  To an outside observer, it might at first seem that the countries of Espana, France, and Romania act very much like Pennsylvania and New York.  However, striking similarities bely the stark differences between these two situations.  In the E.U., countries apply for induction.  Nations maintain most of their autonomy, whereas states in the U.S. are mostly subsidiaries of the Federal government.  Additionally, whereas the United States had but a single civil war some 160 years ago, Europe has been torn by civil conflicts, dictators, marauders, raiders, and world wars for centuries.  Therefore, though the borders with the E.U. act very similarly to states in the U.S., it is no small feat.  The E.U.´s continued success speaks to the power of nonviolence over violence – what no war was ever able to accomplish (peace, mutual benefits, prosperity), the E.U. has been able to produce through diplomacy, compromise, and networking.   

The E.U. is far from perfected, but from where I sit on this side of the Atlantic, the United States could do well to model its North American policies after the European model.  Instead of perpetuating an outdated, self-limiting agreement such as NAFTA, we must rethink and reevaluate our relationships with Canada and Mexico.  The very issue of immigration is a symptom of our failure to properly address relations with our neighbors near and far.  And even though Italy´s restrictive immigration policies are cracking down by raiding Romanian ¨gypsy¨camps while Spain´s liberal immigration policies are humanely allowing extranjeros (literally strangers) a chance of earned citizenship, the E.U. at least is attempting to forge a copartnership where borders are less important than relationships and mutually beneficial arrangements trump xenophobic patriotism. 

People of Faith United For Immigrants- Southern Baptists

February 17, 2008

The Southern Baptist Church, like so many other Christian denominations, has continuously wrestled with its role in politics and legislation. The Church views the government through the lens of Hebrews 13:17, “Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you.” The beauty of nonviolence, however, is that it allows for a different response than merely flight or fight. Nonviolence allows the person of faith an opportunity to oppose injustice while still honoring the authority of the current governing body. The point of the nonviolent activist, then, is not to escape punishment but to change unjust laws. As 1 John 4:18 so eloquently states, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” Love does not live in fear of punishment; it seeks to eradicate fear.

The Southern Baptist Church has so far managed to advocate for the plight of the immigrant while not openly opposing government policy. The resolution of the Southern Baptist Convention on June 2006 entitled “On The Crisis Of Illegal Immigration” shows this tension between obedience to authority and advocacy for the “least of these.” The resolution follows, with emphasis added by me:

WHEREAS, The crisis of illegal immigration in the United States impacts tens of millions of people in many different ways; and

WHEREAS, Christians have responsibilities in two realms: as citizens of the nation (Matthew 22:21) and as citizens of the heavenly Kingdom (Philippians 3:20; Titus 2:14; 1 Peter 2:9); and

WHEREAS, As citizens of the nation, Christians are under biblical mandate to respect the divine institution of government and its just laws, but at the same time, Christians have a right to expect the government to fulfill its ordained mandate to enforce those laws (Romans 13:1-7); and

WHEREAS, As citizens of the heavenly Kingdom and members of local congregations of that Kingdom, we also have a biblical mandate to act compassionately toward those who are in need (Matthew 25:34-40), love our neighbors as ourselves (Matthew 22:39), and to do unto others as we would have them do unto us (Matthew 7:12); and

WHEREAS, The federal government’s failure to fulfill its responsibility in the area of illegal immigration, during both Democratic and Republican administrations, has caused severe consternation among a sizable constituency of Americans and has led to the crisis we now face; and

WHEREAS, The federal government has not only failed to control the borders but failed in its responsibility to enforce the immigration laws, not only with regard to the individuals who are here illegally, but also with regard to the employers who knowingly hire them; and

WHEREAS, There are reportedly 12 million immigrants and counting who are living and working in America without legal status, many of whom have children who are American citizens by birth; and

WHEREAS, Many of these hardworking and otherwise law-abiding immigrants have been exploited by employers and by others in society, contrary to James 5:4; now, therefore, be it

RESOLVED, That the messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Greensboro, North Carolina, June 13-14, 2006, urge the federal government to provide for the security of our nation by controlling and securing our borders; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we urge the United States Congress to address seriously and swiftly the question of how to deal realistically with the immigration crisis in a way that will restore trust among the citizenry; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we urge the federal government to enforce all immigration laws, including the laws directed at employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants or who are unjustly paying these immigrants substandard wages or subjecting them to conditions that are contrary to the labor laws of our country; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we urge citizen Christians to follow the biblical principle of caring for the foreigners among us (Deuteronomy 24:17-22) and the command of Christ to be a neighbor to those in need of assistance (Luke 10:30-37), regardless of their racial or ethnic background, country of origin, or legal status; and be it further

RESOLVED, That we encourage Christian churches to act redemptively and reach out to meet the physical, emotional, and spiritual needs of all immigrants, to start English classes on a massive scale, and to encourage them toward the path of legal status and/or citizenship; and be it finally

RESOLVED, That we encourage all Southern Baptists to make the most of the tremendous opportunity for evangelism and join our Master on His mission to seek and save those who are lost (Luke 19:10) among the immigrant population to the end that these individuals might become both legal residents of the United States and loyal citizens of the Kingdom of God.

The most empowering statements of the Southern Baptist Convention come at the very end of the document. The Church does well to remember that ours is a faith of redemption. It is truly our duty, as people of faith, to come alongside our brothers and sisters and welcome them to American society as well as the Church. If the Church took seriously its obligation to the immigrant, if churches all across these United States began holding English classes and citizenship seminars, if the Church would organize a united front for the immigrant, laws would change. We must never forget that part of the Lord’s Prayer which inspires today as much as it did in 33 B.C., “thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in Heaven.” (Matthew 6:9-11)

People of Faith United For Immigrants- United Methodist Church

February 4, 2008

    In his Autobiography, Martin Luther King writes, “Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds” (189). And yet that is exactly what we have today. The Pew Hispanic Center estimates that there are some 12 million extralegal residents within our borders, all of whom have minimal rights of citizenship, justice, or recourse. As long as our restrictive immigration system perpetuates this sort of criminalization of its working class, our nation will continue to house millions of outsiders who could become even more of an asset to our society if only granted the basic rights we citizens take for granted. Though economic, historic, and sociological arguments have been and will continue to be made successfully, ultimately the immigration issue is a moral and a personal one. These are people who are being affected by this legislation, not numbers or statistics like our border checkpoints would have you think on their signs.

    The United Methodist Church is at the forefront of pro-immigrant actions here in the United States. Adalberto United Methodist Church in Chicago was in the headlines all last year as they gave sanctuary to undocumented Mexican immigrant Elvira Arellano. From the moment she was first arrested at a 2002 immigrant sweep at O’Hare airport, Sra. Arellano sought refuge with the United Methodists. Despite the fact that Elvira Arellano has since been deported to Mexico, Adalberto UMC continues to pro-actively campaign for immigration reform through its nonviolent acts of civil disobedience in providing sanctuary to another extralegal immigrant, Flor Crisostomo.

    Like so many Christians, these United Methodists took to heart Matthew 25:34-40

Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me…whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me. (NIV)

In showing Christian love to these immigrants on the wrong side of a broken system, these Methodists are showing solidarity for the plight of the stranger, of the disadvantaged, of the voiceless and right-less.

Twelve years ago, the United Methodist Church committed its stance on immigration to paper in a resolution dealing specifically with illegal immigration. The following clearly lays out this 1996 official statement of the United Methodist Church.

WHEREAS, the Holy Scriptures call us as the community of God to give shelter, protection and help to sojourners living amongst us, reminding us that we, too, were foreigners in other times; and

WHEREAS, the Council of Bishops of The United Methodist Church through its document To Love the Sojourner has given the various boards, commissions, and agencies of The United Methodist Church direction as we relate to undocumented persons that live in our communities; and

WHEREAS, undocumented persons possess certain inalienable rights named and lifted in the International Declaration on Human Rights, the United Nations charter, as well as the documents concerning immigration of the Geneva Convention, and the Constitution of the United States Bill of Rights; and

WHEREAS, one of the most critical issues facing the Hispanic community today is the need for amnesty for the undocumented immigrants living within the United States; and

WHEREAS, being an undocumented person is NOT a crime;

Therefore, be it resolved, that we, The United Methodist Church, declare that the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Resolution Act is evil and unjust, and that the enforcement thereof results in immediate and insufferable human rights violations, discrimination, and oppression.

We call the United States government to accountability and insist upon:

1) changes in, and possible abolition of, the 1996 immigration law;

2) the continued existence of a unified Immigration and Naturalization Service, rather than a division into administrative and enforcement prosecutorial branches, and

3) the development of an amnesty program for undocumented persons to be implemented immediately.

*The UMC commitment to immigrants is laudable, extending well beyond the words of this document and into the world of nonviolence. In addition to civil disobedience in the form of sanctuary churches, the United Methodist church is also participating in the 2008 No Border Wall Walk from Roma to Brownsville, TX. Pastor Juan Sales and his parishioners in Rio Grande City should be applauded for their brotherly love and their willingness to work for the immigrant.*