Posts Tagged ‘lottery’

Color in Your Cheeks

June 17, 2008

She came in on the redeye to Dallas-Fort Worth.
all the way from sunny Taipei.
skin the color of a walnut shell,
and a baseball cap holding down her black hair.
and she came here after midnight.
the hot weather made her feel right at home.
come on in, we haven’t slept for weeks.
drink some of this. it’ll put color in your cheeks…

(The Mountain Goats, “Color in Your Cheeks”)

It was my first day in an immigration attorney’s office. Rochester, Minnesota, is a small city of 100,000, and Michael York is one of the only people who practice immigration law exclusively. Although Rochester is small and a non-traditional immigrant center, the population has changed much in the last years because of international workers coming to the Mayo Clinic and to IBM. Other immigrants are refugees sponsored by the Catholic or Lutheran Churches which have a big presence in Olmsted County and throughout the Midwest.

In a matter of one day, I was introduced to immigrants and residents comprising virtually every conceivable situation. Some were applying for marriage licenses, hoping to gain the same citizenship as the woman or man whom they loved. Others were trying to bring their entire family of seven from Durango, Mexico, after having spent the better part of their life working in the United States in order to prepare for this day. Still others were calling the office every day, wondering how the paperwork was coming along for their wife who had been left voluntarily under threat of deportation a year ago. Still others were hoping that, after applying for temporary asylum status every year for more than ten years, they could finally change their citizenship from their war-torn home country which has changed hands some dozen times in the last nineteen years.

…he drove from in from Mexicali, no worse for wear.
money to burn, time to kill.
but five minutes looking in his eyes and we all knew he
was broken pretty bad, so we gave him what we had.
we cleared a space for him to sleep in,
and we let the silence that’s our trademark
make its presence felt.
come on in, we haven’t slept for weeks.
drink some of this. it’ll put color in your cheeks…

(The Mountain Goats, “Color in Your Cheeks”)


Despite the fact it was my first day, I felt I was able to contribute both to the attorney and these clients, these people. I enjoyed speaking Spanish with a Mexican man who has been working here for years and is attempting to get employer-sponsored citizenship. My heart went out to a woman who was calling about her husband’s file, a husband she has not seen for two years since he was forced to leave the country. I thumbed through thousands of files, thousands of lives and stories and situations, thousands of big dreams and tiny legalities.

The problem with our immigration system is that it is reactionary,” the attorney said. Ever since the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the legislative bodies of the United States have been playing a form of eugenics or race-based selection through the inclusions and glaring exclusions of our immigration policies. From the Japanese Gentleman’s Agreement and the 1924 literacy test to today’s surviving questions on immigration forms which ask about McCarthy-ian Communist ties, our laws are still reactionary and therefore not comprehensive or fully just. Until the laws change to more ably reflect the current state of immigration and globalization, each year will see more and more individual exceptions and exemptions costing billions of dollars in bureaucracy.


…they came in by the dozens, walking or crawling.
some were bright-eyed.
some were dead on their feet.
and they came from Zimbabwe,
or from Soviet Georgia.
east Saint Louis, or from Paris, or they lived across the street.
but they came, and when they’d finally made it here,
it was the least that we could do to make our welcome clear.
come on in, we haven’t slept for weeks.
drink some of this. it’ll put color in your cheeks.

(The Mountain Goats, “Color in Your Cheeks”)

“Our immigration system is like a rewards or benefits program,” York said coolly. “You can come to our country if your grandfather fought with our troops at one point, if you were struck by lightning twice, and if you have never ever lied to another human being. Pictures also help.” At first, this statement seemed a calloused joke, but the more I thought about our immigration laws and our nation’s underlying philosophy, it all made sense. Our laws are set up in such a way that we refuse to admit the benefit immigrants inevitably bring to our economy, society, culture, and communities. Our laws and statutes are meant to be prohibitive, to let in merely a fraction of the desirable and desirous immigrants who long to live and work within our borders. Like a lottery or a rewards system, no one is actually meant to win.

As I packed my bag at 6:00 to leave for the day, another person called. Frustrated, I had to remind myself that this was not a client of the firm. This was not just a number, or a passport picture, or an INS file, or even just a story. This immigrant on the other end of the line is a person, a person caught in a game that few are supposed to win, a game based on rules few Americans would agree with if stated explicitly, a competition which pits them against individuals and systems they should be working with rather than against. I answer the phone in such a way that hopefully brings color to her cheeks and a smile to her eyes.

http://borderstories.org/index.php/nogales-born-and-raised.html

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The Closing of the American Mind

June 1, 2008

No one in Spain could believe that the United States was going to build a border wall between itself and its southern neighbor, in fact had already built and rebuilt portions of wall in Arizona and California. Most of them felt bad for Americans, thinking we had been swindled by a President dead-set on sending men to war. Most of them felt excited with us for our gripping primaries, elections which had gotten Americans to care once more about politics. But none of them could understand why Americans would allow, and even clamor for, a border wall.

While Cameron County still is debating the necessity of a border wall, Hidalgo County is pushing ahead with plans for a levee-wall compromise, slated to begin July 25 and be completed by the end of the year. Homeland Security is paying $88 million for construction of the wall, while Hidalgo is going to pay $65 million to repair the levee (a federal responsibility). After the construction, Hidalgo County will seek reimbursement from the State while also attempting to convince other counties to make a similar compromise. (http://www.brownsvilleherald.com/news/slated_87157___article.html/border_wall.html)

No one in Spain could fathom the outlandishness of a wall. When shown pictures of sister cities like Brownsville-Matamoros, they were aghast that a wall was going to be built to reinforce the “natural barrier” of the Rio Bravo and reinforce the feelings of resentment and/or racism between these two countries at peace.

As Hidalgo readies for the wall after July 4th, the rest of the world will be watching the effects of the hurricane on the border region. Little consideration has been given to the international repercussions of a wall and levee on only one side of the river. If Mexico fails to respond with a similar levee reconstruction project, the streets of Nuevo Laredo and Juarez and Matamoros will be swimming in hurricane rain at the end of every summer. The wall has been rushed, however, and so qualms about international laws and cooperation have been ignored in favor of expediting the process.

During hurricane season, the nation will also be focused on the Rio Grande Valley for another reason. When the calls for evacuation are made, hundreds of thousands of people are going to hesitate to leave their homes. Not because of stubbornness, not because of ignorance, not because of inability- no, hundreds of thousands of immigrants will not evacuate the Valley this year and in years to come because the Border Patrol has stated that it will be checking the immigration status of fleeing families. (http://www.brownsvilleherald.com/news/people_86708___article.html/cascos_hurricane.html)

The world must shudder when it hears of such inhuman, unfeeling policies. Surely, the Spaniards I met in Gallicia and Cantabria would have blanched to know about the dehumanizing, fear-inducing checkpoints 50 miles north of the Rio Grande, a militarized line which marks the northernmost progression of so many extralegal or currently legalizing immigrants. Undoubtedly, the Spaniards in Castelleon and Catalunia would be indignant to think that another Hurricane Katrina might hit South Texas any year, and that thousands and thousands of people might die or be injured because of their greater fear of deportation.

Having traveled Spain for a month, I quickly realized as I talked about my home in southern Texas that the United States is in a terrible state of closing itself off to the rest of the world. Not that this has made it an isolationist in terms of military endeavors; in all positive meanings of the word “open,” however, the United States has ceased to work at diplomacy and mutual understanding. A border wall is a continuation of restrictive immigration policies which flatly say “No” to millions of willing workers every year. Immigration checks during hurricane season are in the same dastardly vein as checking library records and phone conversations of “suspected yet not convicted” terrorists. Child detention centers such as Hutto near Houston, Texas, are merely a continuation of Guantanamo Bay, waiving habeus corpus and countless humanitarian laws in the name of justice.

The whole world looks at the United States as we decide the future of our nation today. Can we afford to wall off our allies, the best the world has to offer, the solutions of tomorrow which perhaps are being formulated in some foreign land? Are we going to turn away willing workers from countries which lack sufficient quota numbers, and are we going to leave future generations of immigrants to a lottery system? And are we going to operate out of fear, fear of others, fear of ourselves, fear of foreigners and fear of Spanish, fear of change and fear of the future, fear of the globalization we have been instrumental in producing, fear of open lines of communication, and fear of real compromise? The whole world looks at Texas right now as a symbol of the United States’ resolve for tomorrow, and Valley residents pray that the U.S. is not compromised by the events of this year.

Unjust Laws Create Both Criminals and Victims

March 22, 2008

A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the words of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality.” (Why We Can’t Wait 82)

    Martin Luther King’s differentiation of just and unjust laws was used in the civil rights movement to condone the breaking of Jim Crow laws which were perpetuating immoral segregation. Our nation’s current immigration laws, which themselves hinder real integration for at least 4% of our resident population. Just as in the civil rights movement and today’s unresponsive immigration laws, unjust legislation creates criminals out of moral men and women.

    Another important distinction, however, is that unjust laws create victims and victimizers. With more than 12 million people currently living on the other side of our nation’s immigration laws, more than half of whom have just overstayed visas, corruption and victimization are rampant. A New York Times article which ran yesterday detailed the sad story of several women who have been subjected to rape and sexual assault in hopes of procuring the ever-elusive Green Card. Nina Bernstein writes, “..it raises broader questions about the system’s vulnerability to corruption at a time when millions of noncitizens live in a kind of legal no-man’s land, increasingly fearful of seeking the law’s protection.” (Bernstein, Nina “An Agent, A Green Card, and a Demand for Sex” New York Times: Mar. 21, 2008. ) The chilling reality is that these sobering tales of corruption in low-level immigration positions belie the thousands and potentially millions of similar stories where people without rights, recourse, and protection of the law are taken advantage of by citizens, most of whom are legal through no merit beyond their birthplace.

    Gone unchecked, this long victimization of immigrants has been below the national radar. With nativists calling for massive deportation, which would run upwards of $94 billion and shock jocks emphasizing the few extralegal residents who break other laws, the American public has been unaware of the power game going on in immigration agencies, businesses which hire undocumented workers, and in the hearts of normal people who are tempted to profit from the precarious position of these extralegal residents. Bernstein notes that,

Money, not sex, is the more common currency of corruption in immigration, but according to Congressional testimony in 2006 by Michael Maxwell, former director of the agency’s internal investigations, more than 3,000 backlogged complaints of employee misconduct had gone uninvestigated for lack of staff, including 528 involving criminal allegations. (Bernstein, Nina “An Agent, A Green Card, and a Demand for Sex” New York Times: Mar. 21, 2008. )

Because unjust laws fly in the face of a higher law, they make a mockery of the Justice which laws are designed to approximate. As a result, the “criminals” created by unjust laws become helpless victims and law-abiding citizens are tempted to use the law to their advantage. Victimized and victim become dehumanized because, as Dr. King stated, unjust laws degrade human personality and make us tend toward the worst in human potential.

    At the risk of alienating some of my Christian brothers and sisters, the parallels between abortion legislation and immigration legislation are haunting and worthy of note. There are two reasons why many Christians, like the revered evangelical author Jim Wallis, are opposed to absolutely overturning Roe v. Wade: 1.) because when abortion becomes illegal, unsafe, makeshift clinics would instantly pop up and endanger the lives of thousands of women; 2.) to ban abortion while not simultaneously increasing welfare and child-care programs would be to sentence these children and their mothers to a bleak future. The main problem with overturning Roe v. Wade, then, would be the resulting victims and victimizers. Jim Wallis, along with many Christians, advocate a pro-life instead of pro-birth stance, by trying to rid the underlying causes of abortion. A simple scan of countries where abortion is illegal, such as Mexico, shows that instead of ending abortion these laws simply mar human rights by making the practice more dangerous and lethal.

    In much the same way, unjust immigration laws like a quota system based on national origin and a lottery system based on mere chance create victims and victimizers. Our country must strive for comprehensive immigration reform so that our laws uplift human personality by granting immigrants and their native neighbors every opportunity to realize their full potential.

Speech for an Education Club at UT-Brownsville

February 25, 2008

    I was asked to come speak here tonight on the No Border Wall Walk, issues of immigration, and my occupation educating high-school ESL students. As an English teacher, it is always heartening to find a common theme, and there most certainly is a vein running through all of these somewhat disparate topics. Martin Luther King, Jr. put it this way in his essay “Loving your Enemies”:

An element of goodness may be found even in our worst enemy. Each of us has something of a schizophrenic personality, tragically divided against ourselves. A persistent civil war rages within all of our lives…This simply means that there is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies. When we look beneath the surface, beneath. the impulsive evil deed, we see within our enemy-neighbor a measure of goodness and know that the viciousness and evilness of his acts are not quite representative of all that he is. We see him in a new light. We recognize that his hate grows out of fear, pride, ignorance, prejudice, and misunderstanding…”

The concept that man is innately good and will do good if educated, encouraged, and allowed to do so by law – this concept shapes my hopes and my dreams and demands my participation in immigration, education, and nonviolent demonstrations such as the No Border Wall Walk.

 

    Unlike many teachers, I had not always dreamed of being a teacher. True, I had excellent teachers and mentors who shaped my young life, but I always thought they had shaped me to be a writer, an artist. It wasn’t until I actually set out to be a freelance writer in New York City that I realized the hard truth – not only was it next to impossible to get a job without first having a job, it also would bore me to death to stare only at words all day long. So, I applied to Teach For America and was accepted to teach English in the Rio Grande Valley.

    At this point, my audience must know that one of my favorite verses comes in Esther 4:14, “…And who knows but that you have come to [this] position for such a time as this?” That is precisely how I felt, coming to Brownsville, Texas, the poorest city in the United States, just as the Secure Fence Act of 2006 was passed. Teaching English-as-a-Second-Language students caused me to experience firsthand the immigration process, the excruciatingly slow wait of approved immigrants awaiting their lottery number, the pained reality that for some families, to leave Brownsville would be to leave their loved ones, huddled just across the river.

    ESL education is my job, and I try hard to equip my students with the skills they need to be literate. My goal is for them to be able to mean what the write and write what they mean, but also to be discerning of any message they encounter. However, I also realize my job as a teacher is only one part educator. The role of mentor has been paramount to my students and to my job satisfaction.

    In an effort to impart the ideas of social activism and nonviolence, while also readying my students for college, we spent a 6-week grading period reading inspiring documents by King, Chavez, Gandhi, Thoreau. Every 6-week marking period, students are required to internalize this spirit of volunteerism and community service. Because I feel most people are just waiting for an excuse to do good, it is easy for me to ask this of my students. And most of them have responded with impressive results. Many students attended school-sponsored service outings to the Gladys Porter Zoo, Sabal Palms Audobon Sanctuary, Boca Chica Beach, and Vermillion Elementary School. Some students even invented their own good turns, from mowing lawns and babysitting to cutting hair and painting a house.

 

    Teaching also excited my passion for immigration issues. Over the years teaching ESL students and other recent immigrants, I have become a staunch advocate of compassionate, comprehensive immigration reform. Instead of a border wall of any thickness or design, our nation and the globalized world need the United States to lead with progressive immigration legislation which decriminalizes immigrants, vastly remodels or replaces the current quota system, and which allows current residents viable means to earned citizenship.

    This passion for immigration puts me at odds with the border wall, for moral issues as well as social, economic, and environmental ones. Because I feel that people are good but sometimes make wrong decisions, I feel that liberalizing immigration reform would allow both American citizens and the 12 million extralegal Americalmosts a chance to do “good” by immigration. Given the opportunity and the hope, would-be immigrants would try the legal means which have previously been denied or delayed them. Given the right laws, Americans could welcome immigrants and refugees with open arms into our diversifying communities, our flagging economy, and our cultural melange.

 

    And that is what finally brings me to espouse nonviolence as the proper and only means of advocating against the border wall and for immigrants and the border region. Nonviolent demonstrations, unlike any other form of protest or persuasion, allows both sides of a conflict the opportunity to live up to their absolute best. The nonviolent protester advocates in a way that encourages goodness, and the opposing groups are challenged to compromise and/or amend their thinking to the “more excellent way” (1 Corinthians 12:31 NIV).

    There are thousands of people in these United States simply waiting to speak out and leave behind the silent majority. Dr King wrote in his Autobiography that, “The ultimate tragedy of Birmingham was not the brutality of the bad people, but the silence of the good people,” and there are countless Americans stateside and abroad who are trying to end the tragedy. “There is no force more powerful than an idea whose time has come.” This Victor Hugo quotation which Dr. King riffed on many a speech sums up the importance of my life philosophy. The time for immigration reform has come, the need for nonviolent protests is readily apparent, and the necessity to educate our youth “in the ways they should go” (Psalm 32:8 NIV) – all these are upon us.

    Let us work diligently under the assumption that our brothers and sisters are simply waiting for the right opportunity to act on the good. Perfect love, the kind that drives out fear, is necessary to be successful in life’s meaningful endeavors. As former SNCC Chairman and current Congressman John Lewis writes in Walking with the Wind,

It is a love that accepts and embraces the hateful and the hurtful. It is a love that recognizes the spark of the divine in each of us, even in those who would raise their hand against us, those we might call our enemy. This sense of love realizes that emotions of the moment and constantly shifting circumstances can cloud that divine spark. Pain, ugliness, and fear can cover it over, turning a person toward anger and hate. It is the ability to see through those layers of ugliness, to see further into a person than perhaps that person can see into himself, that is essential to the practice of nonviolence. (76)

May “perfect love drive out fear” as in 1 John 4:18, and may everyone begin to work towards their ideals with the inspiring epiphany that all men are not only created equal, but also good. For extralegal immigrants and multi-generational citizens, Christians and agnostics, Republicans and Democrats, all we need is the chance.

People of Faith United For Immigrants- The Unitarian Universalist Church

February 13, 2008

Through our scientific and technological genius, we have made of this world a neighborhood and yet we have not had the ethical commitment to make of it a brotherhood. But somehow, and in some way, we have got to do this. We must all learn to live together as brothers or we will all perish together as fools. We are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. And whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. For some strange reason I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. And you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the way God’s universe is made; this is the way it is structured.

John Donne caught it years ago and placed it in graphic terms: “No man is an island entire of itself. Every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” And he goes on toward the end to say, “Any man’s death diminishes me because I am involved in mankind; therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” We must see this, believe this, and live by it if we are to remain awake through a great revolution. (Martin Luther King, Jr. Remaining Awake Through A Great Revolution)

And there is no doubt that a great revolution is going on. The world is globalizing, and part of that is a movement of workers. It is counterintuitive to think that goods and technology can cross borders much easier than people endowed with souls, but it is true. We do have a neighborhood – the Net – but we must still strive for brotherhood, for the Beloved Community which Dr. King envisioned.

Because of the “inescapable network of mutuality,” we must be who we ought to be and support the human rights of extralegal residents within our borders and campaign for immigration reform which will allow more qualified people and family members to enter through a less dehumanizing method than the lottery. The Unitarian Universalist is just one of the many faith denominations which is actively working for the continental immigrant as well as the off-shore would-be citizen. Their ecumenical philosophy has linked them with many other denominations in interfaith statements for immigrants and against border wall legislation. A 2006 web publication entitled the “Unitarian Universalist Association Supports Immigrant Rights,” states that,

the Unitarian Universalist Association has issued a statement in support of immigrant rights. The UUA’s statement, made by the Rev. William G. Sinkford, President, is grounded in the Association’s commitment to immigrant rights and justice and equality for all persons and is directly tied to four of the Association’s seven principles:

  • The inherent worth and dignity of every person;

  • Justice, equity and compassion in human relations;

  • The goal of world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all;

  • Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.

(http://www.uua.org/news/newssubmissions/13954.shtml)

Recognizing that spark of human soul is key in any civil rights movement. The United States must stop seeking diversionary measures and instead confront the idea of comprehensive, compassionate immigration reform. Let’s pray that the Unitarian Universalist Church, as well as all the other faith groups who seek to protect the dignity of the immigrant, is successful in its call for social justice. The Beloved Community begins when all people within a country have the same, inalienable human rights – especially illegal “aliens.”