Posts Tagged ‘Latin America’

Homeland Security

July 11, 2008

When we speak of homeland security, it is vital we define our terms. “Homeland security” must not mean defending the buildings and properties of the United States, or else the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) would be busy repairing bridges, condemning buildings, and fireproofing houses. It is impossible for “homeland security” to mean protecting the American people, because what we mean by the “American people” will have grown and changed by the time you finish reading this article. “Homeland security” cannot even mean preserving our nation’s heritage and culture, or else its name would be homeland taxidermy instead.

No, “homeland security” rightly understood must mean the protection of our nation’s laws. If society is a social contract, then people come to the United States and remain in the U.S. because they agree to live by the law in a land where others do the same, thus gaining civil rights while submitting to the authority elected to enforce those laws. Defined as such, the biggest threat to homeland security today could very well be the Department of Homeland Security.

Since the 1990s, and more aggressively since 2006, DHS has been militarizing the border. Having lived in the border town of Brownsville, Texas, I can personally attest to the effects this militarization has had on local residents from California and Arizona to Texas. I have had a gun pulled on me by a Border Patrol agent as I ran on a dirt trail along the border, not unlike so many cross-country trails here in the Land of 10,000 Lakes. Countless friends of mine have faced aggravation and humiliation as they crossed the secure border checkpoint more than 30 miles north of the Rio Grande. Third and fourth-generation Americans have been followed and questioned by police in every one of these border towns, simply because of the color of their skin or their fluency in Spanish.

With the Secure Fence Act of 2006, the law which mandates nearly 700 miles of border wall for our nation’s southern border, these dehumanizing factors were magnified in border communities. The Department of Homeland Security has used the REAL-ID Act to waive 11 laws in Arizona and more than 30 environmental and local laws in the Rio Grande Valley in order to expedite the construction of an eighteen-foot wall between the U.S. and Latin America. With the REAL ID Act, DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff, an unelected official, has been granted the unconditional power to waive any and all laws “necessary to ensure expeditious construction of the barriers and roads under this section;” in effect, this gives Chertoff the power to undo countless laws voted on by elected officials in our nation’s Legislative Branch, thereby undermining the very “homeland security” it purports to protect, not to mention our system of checks and balances.

Despite the dour state of affairs in our nation’s handling of the border region and immigration, we have all seen real homeland security take place in our communities. Leaders like Father Paul Oderkirk in towns like Pottsville, Iowa, have offered support and banded together with immigrants after the terror of an ICE raid on their Agriprocessors Inc. kosher slaughterhouse in May. Organizations like the Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife, the University of Texas at Brownsville, and the Texas Border Coalition of mayors have all sought to defend homeland security by opposing the Secure Fence Act which divides rather than cooperates with our neighbors and the REAL ID Act which negates our nation’s checks and balances. We have seen homeland security in the integration of our community sports teams, English-as-a-Second-Language classes, hospitals, and churches. Every time a recent immigrant is welcomed, each instant someone takes the time to help another get involved, there is homeland security. Please show your solidarity by supporting immigrant resource centers like Rochester’s Catholic Charities Refugee Resettlement and the Advocates for Human Rights, as well as writing your encouragement to beleaguered Americans on our southern border. Additionally, a letter to our senators Norm Coleman and Amy Klobuchar could go a long way to encouraging real “homeland security” instead of distracting and costly excuses for real immigration reform.

Leaving Borders

June 9, 2008

In Irun, the small town on the Spanish border with Spain, there has long been a border culture. During their revolutions and civil wars, residents of both countries traversed the imaginary line separating these two lands. A complex culture of smuggling developed, as in most border towns. People, goods, drugs- the rules of supply and demand are never bound by borders, however much governments might like to believe. While in Irun, I was told a story of a man who crossed and recrossed the border every day on his bicycle. The border patrol agents checked and rechecked this man, suspecting that he was transporting some contraband. Never once in the twenty years did they realize he was riding to France on an old bike and returning with a brand new model.

These sort of trickster stories, and the border culture they exhibit, have been made irrelevant by the erasure of borders in the European Union. America’s border with Mexico, though, must be creating hundreds of thousands of tricksters with the increasing militarization of la frontera and the constantly impending border wall now scheduled in Hidalgo County for July.

Driving out of the Rio Grande Valley on either 77 or 83, the only two evacuation routes, one encounters a military checkpoint complete with automatic weapons, drug-sniffing dogs, patrol cars, and heaps of bureaucracy. As I wait in line, my car packed to the hilt with all my earthly possessions, I contemplate that this is one of the many signs that the Rio Grande Valley is considered outside the mainlaind United States. Brownsville, the poorest city in the United States, is left below this second border in a no-man’s land, left to fend for itself. In fact, the talk of the town last week was that the United States Border Patrol was going to be checking the residency status of individuals during hurricane evacuations (Brownsville Herald) . That its citizenry must be questioned and searched before entering the rest of the continental U.S. is a stunning assumption of criminality. When it is my turn with the Border Patrol agents, I am waved along because of my white skin and American accent.

Tacitus once wrote in his Annals, “Once we suffered from our vices; today we suffer from our laws.” Indeed, unjust laws create criminals out of upstanding individuals, and in no area of legislation is this more true than immigration. Extralegal immigrants, many of whom came to the United States legally, are punished by our current law primarily for doing precisely the actions for which we praise our citizenry. The motivation of the majority of immigrants is religious freedom, economic opportunity, family safety, education, freedom of speech, liberty – how can an antiquated quota system cause some to be punished for acting on these principles and others to be praised?

As I drive north, farther and farther away from the Rio Grande Valley I’ve called home for the past two years, I pass the fertile hills of Kansas and the wide expanses of open grazing in Oklahoma and the lush fields of Iowa. I look at these natural wonders and think of how blessed I am to live in this land, and how attractive this must be to people receiving less than 8x the income we enjoy in our prosperous nation. I look at this massive farmland and know that extralegal immigrants know this land far better than I will ever understand; without them, many of these fields would lie fallow, so many of our meals would remain uncooked, so many houses would never be built, so many ideas never imparted, so many languages never added to the multiplicity of cultures here in the United States. Driving through the natural beauty along Highway 35, it is easy to see that natural law and constructed law clash when it comes to the issue of immigration in these United States. If we will only take a good look at our country and realize just how blessed we are, we would be more understanding of people desirous of migrating here. If we would only appreciate the perspectives and culture and language and talents that immigrants always bring, we would see extralegal and legal immigrants as the assets they are. If Spanish were not viewed as a language subservient to English, then perhaps we could learn from the Spanish immigration system as well as from Mexican and Latin-American immigrants themselves. As I leave the border region where the “rights” and “wrongs” of immigration laws are as muddy as the Rio Bravo and as I head north to study immigration law at the University of Minnesota this coming fall, I realize that I will never leave the border because the border is not a place on a map but a place in people’s hearts. In telling stories about the good people of la frontera and in studying the laws of immigration, I hope to turn the borders of American hearts into E.U. borders instead of the walled border in California and Arizona.

Something there is that Doesn’t Love a Wall- Part 4

April 22, 2008

It is the longest fence on the planet, stretching over 3,000 miles from the Darling Downs to the Eyre Peninsula. Built in the 1880s, the Dingo Fence or Wild Dog Barrier Fence of Australia is still patrolled by 23 employees. The fence was originally built to keep dingoes out of the the fertile and heavily populated southeast of Australia and also protect the valuable sheep herds of Queensland. While the wild dogs have not been eradicated entirely from this fenced section of Australia, their numbers have been significantly reduced. Instead of increasing sheep herds, however, kangaroos and rabbits have grown in number, keeping the sheep population constant.

Shortly after the Secure Fence Act of 2006 was passed, Latin America expressed its sadness and revulsion at such an isolationist gesture. Guatemalan Vice President Eduardo Stein, whose government is a close friend of George W. Bush, said, “It seems to us a real affront that a government that calls itself a friend and regional partner only wants our money and our products, but treats our people as if they were a plague.”

The current walls in California and Arizona designed to stem the “flood” of people dubbed undesirable by the United States are not working. Rather than stopping border crossings, they actually catch fewer border crossers and reroute illegal entries through more remote and lethal sections of the border. Putting up walls to discourage illegal immigration, without dealing with the root push-and-pull factors of immigration is irrational and irresponsible. Our government is a man who walks into a flooded house and begins mopping the floor, even though he sees an overflowing sink, faucet still running. A border wall is an ineffective Band-Aid when we need real change, much like the “Vaseline of gradualism” which Dr. King railed against in favor of real civil rights reform.

Rancher Thomas Austin missed his homeland of England. In 1859, he released 24 rabbits on his lands, stating these famous last words, “The introduction of a few rabbits could do little harm and might provide a touch of home, in addition to a spot of hunting. By 1894, rabbits had taken over the Australian mainland.

Running a little over 2,000 miles, the Rabbit-Proof Fence of Australia was constructed between the years 1901-1907. The purpose of the wire fencing, which ran three feet high and six inches underground, was to keep the rabbits from spreading through the entire continent. To actively patrol the fence, Chief Inspector of Rabbits Alexander Crawford sent out boundary riders on bicycles and camels. Despite these efforts, though, the rabbits soon could be found in every state. Without any natural predators, the rabbit population exploded and eventually overran the fence. Ranchers and farmers were forced to fence in their crops to protect it from the rodents.

While more than 39 laws governed the environmental and sociological surveying of the potential border wall in southern Texas, these laws were waived on April 1, 2008, with the assurance that the potential threat far outweighed very real risk. The same thing happened on September 22, 2005, when Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff waived “in their entirety” the Endangered Species Act, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, the National Environmental Policy Act, the Coastal Zone Management Act, the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, and the National Historic Preservation Act to extend triple fencing through the Tijuana River National Estuarine Research Reserve near San Diego.

Since 1904, the Border Patrol has grown from an unofficial 75-man unit of mounted riders designed to enforce the Chinese Exclusion Act to an 11,000-member squad aiming to thwart all illegal crossings. Despite this manpower, which is only expected to grow over the coming years, the number and cost of each illegal entry into the United States has simply increased. A border wall will only add to the cost, while being about as effective as a rabbit-proof fence in a continent not far away.

Something there is that doesn’t Love a Wall – Part 3

April 16, 2008

Often deemed one of the worst failures in military history, this line of fortifications extended from along much of the Franco-German border. Rather than a continuous wall, the Maginot Line was composed of 500 forts and buildings stretching hundreds of miles. The idea was to stockpile defense and militarize the border with Germany in preparation for their inevitable revenge after the Treaty of Versailles. Having lost over 4 million men in WWI, the French government feared another invasion from Germany, a country twice its size. Charles De Gaulle advocated for an offensive strategy of mobile military and mechanized vehicles, but Andre Maginot, among others, convinced the administration that a wall was the best defense. The Maginot Line was built in stages from 1930-40 and cost $3 billion francs. Conspicuously, it did not pass through the Ardennes Forest, believe to be impenetrable; this is where Germany would land its first strike in its swift month-long victory.

Along America’s 2,000-mile border with Latin America, walls in Arizona and California have already begun to funnel border-crossers away from urban areas and into dangerous deserts. A document signed by the ACLU and drafted by the Human Rights National Commission of Mexico puts the death toll of border-crossers over the last 13 years near 5,000, and many more will die if they are continually routed into inhospitable places like the Sonoran Desert. The Secure Fence Act proposes some 700 miles of border barriers, which will reroute even more immigrants through dangerous sections of Texas, Arizona, and California.

One of the Maginot Line’s most salient characteristics was its 100 miles of interconnecting tunnels. This underground infrastructure facilitated a quick and covert response to any attack along the Maginot Line. These tunnels though, along with the line of fortifications, did not extend into the Belgian border because it was a neutral nation. When the German troops flanked the Maginot Line and flew over it with their Luftwaffe, the Maginot Line still remained largely indefatigable, though the country it was built to protect was forced to surrender.

In the 14 miles of border wall south of San Diego, more than 24 tunnels have already been found. According to some estimates, there are more than 50 tunnels subverting the border wall already. A border wall, if not coupled with an immigration reform which will help immigrants, employers, and Border Patrol agents, will only force immigration issues underground.

While the border wall, past and proposed, is supposed to block would-be Americalmosts from immigrating illegally to the United States, it does nothing to solve the issue of almost 6 million undocumented residents who came here legally, nor does it begin to grapple with the push/pull factors of immigration which highlight the weaknesses of an outdated quota system and an inhumane lottery system for citizenship. Lacking diplomacy or reform, a border wall without better laws is another Maginot Line costing an inexcusable amount of money merely to sidestep instead of solve immigration issues.

People of Faith United For Immigrants- Church of Christ

February 6, 2008

    On this Ash Wednesday after Super Tuesday, it is important to realize that the hopes and dreams of our nation cannot be merely loaded onto the backs of any President, no matter how good or bad she/he is. While campaigning for immigration reform, so many Christian denominations are simultaneously working to give hope and sustenance to the “strangers” within our land. Though these 12 million or so extralegal residents are not courted by any Presidential hopeful, they do deserve a voice and a chance. The Church has been and must be that voice.

    James 2 calls Christians not to be respecters of persons, to refrain from showing “favoritism.” “Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him?” (James 2:5 NIV). When God calls us to love your neighbor as yourself, the Church has responded by reaching out to our neighbors outside of these borders and the immigrants within.

    The Church of Christ, has been very forthcoming with a strong position on immigrants and immigration policy. At a recent synod, the Church of Christ passed the following immigration Resolution of Witness.

 

WHEREAS, Jesus and the scriptures give us clear instruction on how we are to treat the
foreigner and neighbors in need; and

WHEREAS, the Biblical heritage of the Judeo Christian tradition specifically identifies
the “stranger” in our midst as deserving of our love and compassion; and

WHEREAS, we have been called by the one God to tear down all the borders we have
built between us so that we may see each person as a child of God, so that we may learn to love and welcome all of God’s children as members of one family and one world; and

WHEREAS, our consciences are affronted by federal policies and actions that detain immigrants, that prosecute undocumented workers, that fracture families and prosecute those who would give them aid; and

WHEREAS, more than 3,000 men, women and children have died attempting to cross
the US/Mexico border since the implementation of the blockade strategy of border enforcement and there is little evidence that this policy has been effective in slowing the tide of illegal immigration; and

WHEREAS, many of us are in local churches and communities where we are aware of
migrant peoples, but largely unaware of their personal, communal, and national stories; and

WHEREAS, the United States is affected by the presence of new immigrants from all
over the world, and

WHEREAS, although countries have the right to control their own borders, it is not an
absolute right; the Church recognizes a basic God given right for shelter, food, clean water and other basic necessities; and

WHEREAS, the blockade strategy of border enforcement has created an underground
market for the smuggling of human beings which exploits its vulnerable victims, and has encouraged an upsurge in vigilante activities, fosters an anti-immigrant atmosphere and represents the potential for violence; and

WHEREAS, current immigration policy forces upon migrant families potentially deadly
choices which separate and dislocate them from one another, precluding free travel and mobility to return to their families; and

WHEREAS, migrant workers and their families enter the United States to live and work,
and the current immigration policy makes that passage dangerous, illegal, disorderly, and inhumane, with very few of the basic rights afforded to all workers under international law; and

WHEREAS, approximately ten to twelve million undocumented workers and their
families currently living in the United States are pressured to live covertly, without rights, and in vulnerable situations all over the United States; and

WHEREAS, the root causes of this migration lie in environmental, economic, and trade
inequities between the United States, Mexico, and all of Latin America, policies which reduce tariffs and taxes that would support the poor in Mexico and Latin America; eliminate agricultural subsidies and low-interest loans for the poor in Mexico and Latin America while keeping those subsidies in the United States and in Canada; reduce social spending for health care, food stamps, and welfare reform in Mexico and Latin America; liberalize land ownership policies, thus limiting the ability of the poor in Mexico and Latin America to own or share in the land; deregulate environmental and labor laws in Mexico and Latin America; and limit the rights of Mexican and Latin American workers to protest or seek remedies for wrongs done to them; and

WHEREAS, the fragile desert environment has sustained severe damage as a result of
migrant and responding enforcement patrols moving through remote desert regions; and

WHEREAS, General Synod XIII of the United Church of Christ (1981) adopted a
Pronouncement on Immigration calling upon all settings of the church to:

a. advocate for the rights of immigrants;

b. aid undocumented immigrants in attaining legal status;

c. aid immigrants in reunification with their families and in placement in areas of the country most favorable for their productive participation in society;

d. assist in meeting the social welfare needs of immigrants; and

e. be inclusive of immigrants in existing and new churches; and

WHEREAS, General Synod XXIV of the United Church of Christ adopted a resolution
supporting Humane Borders, a faith-based group that offers assistance to those in need by maintaining water stations on and near the border and recognizing that there is more that can be done within and by the United Church of Christ regarding border issues; and

WHEREAS, the United Church of Christ proudly declares an extravagant welcome to all
who seek to be in relationship with Jesus Christ;

THEREFORE LET IT BE RESOLVED that General Synod Twenty-six of the United
Church of Christ declares that the Militarized Border Enforcement Strategy of the United States government has been ineffective and inhumane.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that UCC congregations with their congressional
representatives, advocate for a policy that allows immigrant workers and their families to live and work in a safe, legal, orderly and humane manner through an Employment- Focused immigration program (as opposed to employer focused) that guarantees basic international workers’ rights to organization, collective bargaining, job portability, religious freedom, easy and safe travel between the United States and their homeland, and verifiable paths to residency, and a basic human right of mobility.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the conference ministers be urged to participate in
delegations and immersion programs, and that UCC congregations seek out opportunities for face to face dialogue with immigrant communities.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the congregations and pastors of the UCC study
the immigration issue through discussion and reflection of films such as “El Norte” and

Babel” and books such as “The Devil’s Highway” by Luis Alberto Urrea.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that congregations and pastors form grass roots
organizations working in conjunction with established groups such as:

Border Links

Presbyterian Border Ministry

Samaritan Patrols

Illinois Maya Ministry

The New Sanctuary Movement

Center for Education and Social Transformation

<http://www.ucc.org/synod/resolutions/immigration-final.pdf>

 

As a Border Ambassador myself, I wholeheartedly applaud the ecumenical way the Church of Christ has gone about supporting immigrants. This denomination realizes that Christians must be united in their support for the sojourner. If every church in these United States could come together in solidarity for the immigrant community, the nation would surely take notice. We need more than numbers, however. The May Day demonstrations of 2006 brought 10 million people into the streets but no progress in Congress. If the Church could begin to take action on resolutions such as that of the Church of Christ, then the immigrants would no longer be caught between criminality and marginality.

    To this end, the Border Ambassadors here in the Rio Grande Valley hope to work alongside denominations like the Church of Christ in our No Border Wall Walk this March 8-16. We will be walking 120 miles from Roma to Brownsville, TX, both in an effort to publicize and under-represented issue and to show solidarity for the landowners and communities currently opposing a border wall. However, opposition to a border wall can never be a success if it is not part of a larger effort to humanize and legitimize hard-working, loyal would-be residents (Americalmosts) here in the United States and to honestly strive to diminish the “push” factors of immigration the world over.