Posts Tagged ‘legislation’

In this Together

February 1, 2009

On January 23, Nashville 43% of Nashville voters voted in favor of a bill touted as being able to unite their city and save it money in these difficult economic times. Had it passed, this Tennessee city would have become the nation’s largest to enact such legislation. In 1780, John Adams proposed similar legislation to the Continental Congress, stating it would help to “purify, develop, and dictate usage of” English; his proposal was rejected as undemocratic. Still, some 30 states and a dozen cities have made English their official language, showing not only intolerance to immigrants and international travelers but also a Pollyanna longing for the bygone days before globalization. (Cousins, Juanita)  It is truly scary that only 57% of Nashville voters weighed in against this “English First” proposal. Mayor Karl Dean said, “The results of this special election reaffirms Nashville’s identity as a welcoming and friendly city, and our ability to come together as a community,” but the nation’s largest Kurdish community must have felt more than a little terrified that the vote had been so close. If the economy continues on its downward trend and politicians look to scapegoat, immigrant communities around the States may be faced with similar nativist proposals. (Cousins, Juanita)

Already, immigrants and refugees throughout the nation are struggling to make ends meet. Always the most vulnerable community in any country, refugees arrive in the United States with about $450 of federal aid and a little temporary financial help from private agencies for 3 months. After that, they are on their own. While Nashville proposed English First legislation to help that city’s budget, Utah is answering the cries of low-income families in a different way. Beginning this month, Utah will provide recently arrived families rent subsidies for a period of 2 years. The money, drawn from unspent federal welfare reserves, will mean a world of difference for refugees living with the heat off this winter. Utah will disburse this money through refugee aid organizations like International Rescue Committee and Catholic Community Services. Utah’s compassionate new legislation will mean a world of difference for 1,000 new refugees each year, but for the other 59,000 the United States accepted last year, 2009 looks bleak. (Eckholm, Erik)

An editorial in the New York Times yesterday detailed the horrors xenophobia and its self-defeating nature. According to the article, the American Cause spoke at the National Press Club in Washington, declaring that the GOP’s November defeats were due to Republicans being too soft on immigrants, rather than too harsh. The author points out anti-amnesty and anti-immigrant thinking like this cost House and Senate seats in 2006 and 2008. Xenophobes like Lou Barletta of Hazleton, PA, or former congressman J.D. Hayworth of Arizona both lost due to their harsh stance toward immigrants and diversity. (New York Times) After Latinos’ huge showing in the polls this past election, this author correctly states that any political party which bases its success on the exclusion of immigrants risks deserved irrelevance.

Historically, nativist groups have flourished in troubled times. The Know-Nothings came to power in the 1840s and 1850s on a platform of anti-Catholic and anti-immigrant policies. Their rise to power coincided with the disintegration of the 2-party system, the increasing resistance to slavery, and the influx of Irish immigrants. Similarly, the revival of the Klu Klux Klan in 1915 coincided with the Great Migration of Africa-Americans and low-income whites from the South to the North, as well as a large number of immigrants from southern and Eastern Europe. The influence of this anti-minority, nativist organization eventually faded, but not before Calvin Coolidge signed the Immigration Act of 1924 which limited immigrants based on their national origin (severely restricting Asian and Eastern European immigration). (http://www.historicaldocuments.com/ImmigrationActof1924.htm)

This latest economic situation could instigate the same. However, it also could be a time when the United States grows closer together, seeking to integrate the immigrants within its borders and to become a nation that lives up to its moral responsibility toward refugees. As bank accounts shrink and jobs disappear over the coming months, we must be vigilant to ensure that no one is scapegoated. We are truly all in this thing together.

* Editor’s Note: Monday night’s edition of “The O’Reilly Factor” declared war on the New York Times because of the editorial mentioned in this article.  Pointedly, Bill O’Reilly took offense at the editorial’s mention of his statement that the Times wanted “…to break down the white, Christian, male power structure, which you’re a part, and so am I, and they want to bring in millions of foreign nationals to basically break down the structure that we have.”  Hurrah for such an article, Editorial Director Andrew Rosenthal.


Advertisements

Ourense or The Rivers once were Studded with Gold

April 29, 2008

Ourense is a city located in the northwest of Spain. When the Romans first came to Ourense, they were enchanted with its thermal springs and mesmerized by the gold in its streams.  After a time, the gold ran out, and the springs are not quite the attraction they once were during Pax Romana, but Ourense is a city thriving in its unique blend of highway modernity and byway Castellano.  I only wish the United States had an interpreter who could translate Catalan into an English that xenophobes and nativists alike could understand.

My fellow Rotarians and I were granted an honored audience at the State General Administration building with the Governor of Ourense and his Secretary and Administrator of Immigration. While being thoroughly diplomatic, the Governor still managed to come out with a position stronly opposed to the current status of immigration in the United States. The Governor was adamant that to control immigration it is necessary to focus on employers rather than the employees they lure into a Catch-22 status of legality. ¨Control the businesses,¨ he intoned with his administratorial voice, ¨and you will not have any illegal workers.¨ Such measures of strict policies against employers hiring extralegal immigrants would help cut down on the number of victims currently exploited by American businesses ranging from forestry to farming. Rather than victimizing or criminalizing extralegal residents, such measures would merely get rid of the illegal pull factor which still draws hundreds of thousands of workers into the U.S. annually.

Additionally, the Governor echoed some of my deepest sentiments towards immigration. He came out very strongly with the idea that it is human right to migrate, but it is the state´s necessity and responsbility to assimilate those immigrants so that they can fully participate and contribute to the country that lured them with its desirability in the first place.  Here in Spain, he said, immigrants have been crossing from Morocco and Africa since time immemorial, but Spain has also experienced a surge in Eastern European immigrants through its induction into the European Union (E.U.).  In the borderless E.U., Spain has worked very hard to keep its country distinct from France and Germany and Soviet bloc countries. All this positive integration starts in its nation´s schools.  One gets the general idea that Spain would frown on the United States´bilingual education.  As many teachers in such classrooms will attest, this seemingly compassionate education system actually hamstrings students from becoming truly bilingual, and often keeps them from being proficient in any one language.  The Governor would definitely be appalled to learn that some students arrive  in my freshman English class with insufficient writing skills after 8 years in a bilingual ESL system; he would say, and I would concur, that the State has failed that child and the family he/she represents.

 The conversation concluded with a lengthy discussion about the United State´s proposal of a 700-mile border wall on its southern frontier.  The Governor, his Secretary, the Administrator of Immigration, and all the Ourense attendants listened with rapt horror as I described the construction of a wall in California and Arizona and the impending border wall bound for south Texas unless the federal laws are changed or sufficiently challenged.  Just as Catalan is distinct from Spanish, so too was this American mindset for these dignitaries accustomed to the E.U.´s concept of borders.  The Governor stated outright that, ¨it is difficult to defend the borders without rigid barriers, but it is our responsibility to use sensitive negotiations and work for better solutions all the time.¨  In a country like Spain, with its porous borders and flexible entries, the government has developed ways of encouraging legal immigration and withholding incentives from persons who neglect to register for authorized documents.  The United States would do well to follow Spain´s example which, although far from perfect, is far more progressive and comprehensive than the outdated American system of rigid quotas and would-be walls. 

As the dialogue came to a close, the Governor made a confession.  ¨My grandparents were immigrants to three different countries.  In my province, I realize that this is a place, a nation purely of immigrants.¨  Smacking of John F. Kennedy´s optimistic idealism, I wish the Governor could discourse frankly with American officials regarding our stalled immigration reform.  Immigration, far from being an American dilemma, is an issue all countries face.  The greater a country, the greater its pull on immigrants and inevitably, the more it must deal delicately with issues of immigration legislation.  We must not shirk from these issues.  Beyond mere legislation, these issues are real lives.  Someday, ages and ages hence, some sojourner will come across old New York just as I came upon el centro antiguo in Ourense.  The way we deal with immigration in this generation will dictate what is written on the historical markers of Greenwich Village and what is inscribed beneath Emma Lazarus´s poem on the placard at the foot of the Statue of Liberty.

The Inescapable Network of Mutuality

April 28, 2008

¨Bah hua liomh biore.¨  In Irish cities like Galway, this Gaelic expression was the only way to get a pint of the best Guiness you´ve ever tasted.  While British rule in Ireland sought to eradicate all traces of the Gaelic influence on Ireland, this indefatigable culture lives on in the west coast of Ireland in particular.  Despite burning down the churches and razing ruins, despite prohibiting Gaelic teaching in schools and converting Celtic names to their English counterparts, Gaelic is still spoken, though mostly by the old.

Driving through Vigo, the largest city in Gallicia, Spain, I came across ruins that predated the Roman conquest of the Gaels in Spain.  Though little remains of El Castro, this city which once thrived both in the forest and on the bay, it is highly reminiscent of towers and dolmens in Ireland.  Highly aware of this coincidence, I began to notice more telling signs of interconnectedness between northwest Spain and the home of my Celtic forefathers the McCarthys and Burkes and Emmetts.  The distinct language of Gallicia, la lengua de los Gallegos, bears striking similarities to words in Gaelic.  Signs in this part of Spain bear words like ¨Beade¨and ¨Domh¨¨, both words which one is just as likely to find on a Sunday drive through rural Ireland.  The rich and verdant climate of this area makes me speculate that the Gaels felt right at home when they landed on the shores of the land of Eire. 

In Ireland, primary students are required to take Gaelic lessons, in hopes that by inundating the next generation, the Gaelic heritage and culture can be preserved and honored.  Gallicia is going through much of the same dilemmas, since its language was viciously suppressed during the Franco regime and needs to rebound if it is not going to be absolutely absorbed in popular Spanish. 

All of this makes me wax philosophical and grow proud of the indomitable spirit God placed in mankind.  In much the same way John F. Kennedy praised the immigrant spirit to thrive and survive in his book A Nation of Immigrants, I am wowed by the successful movements of people throughout history.  From the eternally migrant Jewish culture which serves as the basis for numerous religions and modern law to the Spanish culture and language which spanned seas and continents, people simply desire an opportunity to use their gifts in the pursuit of happiness.  From the pyramids of Egypt to the same pyramids in Aztex Mexico, to the persistent reoccurrence of flood myths in virtually every culture, immigration is far from a new phenomen which countries are struggling to legislate and control.  Immigration is a constant, and therefore cannot be prohibited but rather controlled so as to benefit the sending country, the receiving country, and the immigrants themselves.  The past successes of migrating peoples bear witness to the possibility of real immigration reform in the United States of America, especially in this age of globalization.

When I return to my classroom of F114 in Simon Rivera High School in Brownsville, Texas, on the southernmost border between two North American countries at peace, I will most assuredly come back with a renewed dedication to devoting my time and efforts to enabling immigrants and guiding the immigration legislation in the United States.  At the same time, I am overjoyed to bring back to my students the long view of immigration history.  When I teach my 7th period class, I cannot wait to tell Ms. Gallegos that her family comes from northernmost Spain, where her ancestors spoke a language closer to my Irish predecessors than her español mexicana.  As I travel back to the place where some legislators misguidedly are pressing for a border wall between two countries separated only by an imaginary line, I hope I will be able to civilly speak reason into the public debate.  Immigration is more than Mexican migrant workers attempting to work cheap labor in U.S. fields, just as it is more than Spanish conquistadores and English Puritans and Italian shoemakers and Irish coal-miners and Pennsylvania Dutch bakers and Polish meat-packers and Scandinavian farmers.  To take a long view of immigration is to understand that the United States need laws which uplift human personality and grant legal status to that spark of the divine which is as omnipresent in the immigrant as the resident hence, now, and forevemore.

¨Mas claro no canta el gallo. The rooster couldn´t sing it any clearer.¨

Letter to Editor: April 13, 2008

April 14, 2008

The following Letter to the Editor was published in The Brownsville Herald Sunday edition April 13, 2008, as a call to action.

Many people opposed to the border wall might feel that the lion’s share of the work is done. The court ruled a partial victory for UTB Professor Eloisa Tamez in early February, and on March 19 ordered that the federal government could only survey UTB’s campus for alternatives to a border wall. These signs of progress must not, however, be interpreted as a sign that the Secure Fence Act of 2006, which originally calls for 700 miles of wall here in Texas, is null and void. These victories must serve as encouragement, not as final pronouncements.

The government still fully intends to build a border wall here in the Rio Grande Valley, and some of it is slated to be completed by this December. Several members of the No Border Wall Walk this past March 8-16 have continued their efforts by walking door to door in communities like Southmost, and in speaking with these border residents it is clear that the government, far from being deterred by the recent court decisions, is moving ahead with its plan.

We, the people of the border, recognize that this law is an unjust one. In his Why We Can’t Wait, Martin Luther King wrote, “Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust;” Valley residents are keenly aware that the Secure Fence Act is an affront not only to human life but also to irreplaceable ecosystems and endangered animals, poor communities and Mexican shoppers, immigrants legal and extralegal.

It is the duty of every border resident to take immediate action to counter this immoral and unjust legislation. What follows are ways which all of us can make a difference right now.

1.) If you have not already done so, please write and call our Texas Senators Kay Bailey Hutchison and John Cornyn, both of whom voted for this wall in their own “backyard.”

2.) Take part in the numerous nonviolent demonstrations going on here in the Rio Grande Valley. The No Border Wall Walk involved more than 300 walkers, but there are hundreds of thousands of us on the border. Imagine if we were all saying the same thing at the same time…

3.) Encourage your faith leaders, churches, and social organizations to actively work on this issue. Virtually ever faith believes in the moral obligation to care for the immigrant, and a border wall is a devastating distraction from real immigration reform. Already, local faith leaders such as Rev. Juan Trevino and churches ranging from Methodist and Episcopalian to Catholic and Unitarian have taken courageous stands on this issue.

4.) Add your name to the growing petitions such as those organized by No Texas Border Wall. Petitions like this have made an impact in the past; when Hillary Clinton was confronted with thousands of signatures, she mentioned the absurdity of a wall in her UTB speech and on the CNN Texas debates.

5.) Stay informed. Do not let a wall get built here in Texas as it did in Arizona and California, cloaked by secrecy and aided by apathy.

6.) VOTE and/or REGISTER TO VOTE for this November.

The time to take a stand is now. As Martin Luther King goes on to say in Why We Can’t Wait, “

Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co-workers with God, and without this hard work, time itself becomes an ally of the forces of social stagnation. We must use time creatively, in the knowledge that the time is always ripe to do right.

The border wall is not inevitable, but neither is the ultimate victory for our community. May we come together in solidarity to oppose this wall of division, showing the nation and ourselves what power we possess.

April is the Cruellest Month…

April 1, 2008
“APRIL is the cruellest month…” (Eliot, T.S. The Wasteland)

 

    April Fool’s 2008 will assuredly go down as a cruel day in the history of these United States. On this April 1, the United States government opted to bypass more than 30 laws in hopes of rushing construction of a controversial border wall. The wall is currently held up in negotiations, court cases, local protests, and wavering public support, but Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff ordered these waivers stating, “`Criminal activity at the border does not stop for endless debate or protracted litigation…These waivers will enable important security projects to keep moving forward.”

    The waivers are the biggest use of legal waivers since the administration started building fence. The government waived 20 environmental laws to build the wall in Arizona, but this waver will cover a “total of 470 miles along the Southwest border.” As stated by the Associated Press article leaked today at 11:40, the department will conduct environmental surveys when necessary, but allow them to start building before these are completed.

 

30 laws. 30 laws which took hundreds of days to pass, millions of dollars to lobby and legislate. 30 laws which represent millions of Americans and thousands of endangered animals and ecosystems. 30 laws tossed aside in the name of anti-terrorism. 30 laws tossed aside to complete the Secure Fence Act of 2006 which was proposed as immigration legislation and which has almost no terror-deterrent utility, as admitted by government officials.

 

    Chertoff has stated that the border wall will be beneficial to the environment because immigrants degrade the land with trash and human waste. I somehow cannot reconcile natural human movements with two eighteen-foot walls of solid concrete and vegetation cleared for visibility, mobility, and Border Patrol Access. Having just seen my first jaguarundi this past Saturday, I might be one of the last people to ever see them on American soil if this wall demolishes their ecosystem, along with that of Sonoran Pronghorns, ocelots, Sabal Palms, and many other native fauna and flora.

  • What makes a law “red tape,” a thing to be cut and disregarded?
  • What makes deterring immigration more important than preserving the rights of a nation of immigrants?
  • Who is to decide that people on the border are less important than people in mid-America?
  • Who decides that certain endangered animals are not worth saving, certain ecosystems dispensable, certain people undesirable, certain solutions nonnegotiable?

I cannot believe that Americans could be in support of such a foolhardy negation of so many laws, even if they are for a border wall. If “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” then these waivers of legislation serve as a chilling precedent of further lawlessness, much like parts of the Patriot Act. I beseech you to contact your Congressmen, since Congress authorized these waivers just today. I beg you to pray with me that Americans will come to their consciences and oppose these waivers. How we react to these waivers and the impending border wall in this cruel month will decide the legacy of our generation and our nation.