In a week that witnessed Hillary Clinton stating, “We need smart borders…I will listen to the people of the Valley and make sure that we secure the border but don’t divide people from their families …” while simultaneously making the international hand gesture for wall, immigration and border security is most definitely back in the nation’s political eye. For some, including myself, it has become the issue of this Presidential race. When Obama and Clinton’s policies look all too similar, if one of them moved to retract the vote they made in support of the wall, a huge shift in support could result, especially in the nation’s minority votes.
With all this at the forefront of the nation’s thinking, the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) begins its annual meeting. This time, however, it is not meeting in the wintry climes of Philadelphia, but rather in the beautiful San Juan Cathedral here in the Rio Grande Valley where Clinton and Obama are making stops themselves. The AFSC is meeting here en la frontera to be able to actively engage immigration reform at its vanguard. Immigration is a focus of this service-oriented organization.
The AFSC has long been integrally involved in issues of civil rights. Their involvement, encouragement, and enabling of Martin Luther King helped him and his significant movement. The AFSC paid for his pilgrimage to India. They first published his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” And when the time came, the AFSC nominated Dr. King for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, which he won.
And so it is with great welcome that all social activists, and in particular those citizens concerned with issues of citizenship and immigration, welcome the AFSC to our Rio Grande Valley. We urge you to remain mindful of the, “Principles for Comprehensive Immigration Reform in the United States,” an excellent document published in May 2006 which affirms the humanity of immigration laws.
Undocumented immigrants pay taxes, and contribute to the economic, social, and cultural development of their communities in countless ways. A legalization program would recognize the equity undocumented people have built through their participation in U.S. society and acknowledge the inherent injustice of the secrecy, vulnerability, and exploitation imposed on undocumented women, men and children.
— AFSC Board of Directors, June 23, 2001
The work of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) in immigrant communities is based on our belief in the worth and inherent dignity of every person. As an expression of this commitment, we have consistently expressed support for undocumented immigrants. AFSC has repeatedly called on the U.S. government to grant permanent residency to all undocumented men, women and children. We thus believe that actions leading to comprehensive immigration reform should reflect the following components:
Respect for the civil rights and all human rights of immigrants;
Inclusive and coordinated measures that support immigration status adjustment for undocumented workers;
Support for the distinctly important and valuable role of family ties by supporting the reunification of immigrant families in a way that equally respects heterosexual and same-sex relationships;
Humane policies that protect workers and their labor and employment rights;
Measures that reduce backlogs that delay the ability of immigrants to become U.S. permanent residents and full participants in the life of the nation and of their communities;
The removal of quotas and other barriers that impede or prolong the process for the adjustment of immigration status;
Guarantees that no federal programs, means-tested or otherwise, will be permitted to single out immigrants for exclusion;
Demilitarization of the U.S. border and respect and protection of the region’s quality of life.
- “Free trade” agreements like NAFTA and CAFTA have had a detrimental impact on sending countries from the global South, provoking significant increases in migration. Such international economic policies should be consistent with human rights, fair trade, and sustainable approaches to the environment and economic development.
Immigration Realities: An AFSC Perspective
The growth of undocumented migration is a worldwide phenomenon. Although many people are propelled into migration for political and other reasons, labor migration clearly accounts for the greatest part of the migrant stream. In this sense, the growth of a transnational labor force is a structural feature of increasing global economic integration. U.S. policies that are intended to deter undocumented migration have failed entirely to achieve this objective, while increasing the violation of human rights, as well as aggravating anti-immigrant prejudice and hate violence.
In addition, punitive measures such as increased surveillance and patrols at the border, raids on homes and workplaces, and detaining and deporting undocumented people do not address the underlying reasons that people migrate. Those measures create fear and polarization during a time when we should be creating hope and peace in our communities.
One stark indication of this failure is that hundreds of migrants die each year trying to cross the Mexican-U.S. border in increasingly dangerous circumstances. U.S. communities that lie along the border with Mexico live a reality that is essentially different from the rest of the country. U.S. immigration policy has transformed the region into a militarized zone where the U.S.
Constitution and international law are applied only selectively. Efforts to secure the southern border have had dire human consequences, from the ever-increasing tally of migrant deaths to the systemic violation of the civil and human rights of border crosser’s and border communities.
Because border enforcement is a reality that these communities will continue to face, it is essential that any debate that focuses on increasing the security of the U.S.-Mexico border be based on a strong commitment to accountability and human rights, including civil rights. It is essential that the perspectives of those who live in border communities be included in such a debate.
AFSC calls upon the U.S. Congress to consider that its policies, laws, and regulations on immigration will affect the rest of the world negatively or positively, especially our neighbors to the South. Remittances from migrant workers in the United States and other rich countries contribute more to the economies of their countries of origin than all forms of development assistance, by approximately 50 percent yearly. For many of the world’s poor, economic integration through remittances is the only form of economic globalization with a positive impact on their living standards. Sooner or later, comprehensive immigration reform will need to be carried out not just unilaterally, but multilaterally, in concert with the needs and interests of other countries that send migrants or refugees to the United States and whose cultures, peoples, and economic prospects are thereby bound up with the citizens and residents of this country. <http://www.afsc.org/immigrants-rights/PrinciplesforImmigrationReform_en.htm>
Once again, the AFSC highlights the human aspect of a topic which all too many people debate coldly, stiffly, politically. Their advocation of smart borders makes sense both for the world and for the person. In reading this excellent document, I am reminded of a late-night coffee-table talk with longtime activist and Friend Domingo Gonzalez. He pointed out that, “In taking the train from New Jersey to Philadelphia, you cross more ethnic and racial boundaries than at any border crossing. If only we could make our borders like those of our cities’.” Hopefully this weekend, the AFSC can discuss more ways in which our nation can be made to take real steps towards making this world a collection of city-states where migrants need not fear imaginary lines. And hopefully, they will add both their prayers and their endorsement to the No Border Wall Walk as it attempts to re-open the issue of immigration via the border wall. If everyone in the Valley says the same thing at the same time, how powerful a message we could send! Maybe all the way to Washington, maybe all the way to India…