Posts Tagged ‘Matthew Webster’

Students Experience Flawed Immigration System

January 25, 2009

On Friday, the Minnesota Daily ran an article about America’s flawed immigration system.  While it uses words like “illegal alien,” the thrust of the article is focused on the harsh realities of an immigration system which criminalizes children and families and which detains men and women for extended periods of time.  It was truly an honor to partner with groups like Las Americas and Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid, Diocesan Migrant and Refugee Services and Texas Civil Rights Project; please support them in their ongoing efforts to represent our nation’s most vulnerable community.

U students experience flawed immigration system


BY Alex Robinson
PUBLISHED: 01/22/2009

As immigration issues continue to frequent court rooms, political speeches and circles of public debate, about 70 first-year law students helped illegal immigrants work their way through the legal process during their winter break.

The law students, who were all members of the Asylum Law Project spent about a week scattered across the country volunteering with nonprofit legal aid organizations that specialize in assisting illegal immigrants.

The students filed briefs, met with clients and helped lawyers fight through their heavy caseloads.

Asylum Law Project President Jordan Shepherd volunteered in border town El Paso, Texas and said it was an invaluable experience.

“I was finally able to get my hands dirty in law,” Shepherd said. “It was a lot of people’s first opportunity to get actual legal experience.”

While the students enjoyed their first taste of legal work, they also witnessed glaring problems with the current immigration system.

“There are difficult things that lie ahead for [immigrants],” Shepherd said. “Immigration courts have their hands full.”

Problems in border town

First-year law student Matthew Webster also volunteered in El Paso and said that he met with many detainees who were being held in detention for unreasonably long time periods.

Webster said he met a man from Mexico who had been held at the immigration detention center for about 14 months and the man still did not know where he was going to be sent. He also said there were children detained in El Paso; the youngest he saw was only six months old.

“Most of the rhetoric focuses on crimes or laws but too often we forget these are people,” Webster said.

There are three centers that detain children in El Paso, and combined they can hold about 160 children, said Adriana Salcedo , a lawyer who worked with the law students in El Paso. In the summer they’re completely full.

Salcedo’s organization, Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center, located in El Paso, turns away clients every week because case loads are too heavy.

Illegal immigrants are not appointed an attorney because they are not U.S. citizens, Salcedo said.

If they cannot afford a lawyer and they are not lucky enough to get representation from a nonprofit organization, they are forced to explore their legal options on their own.

Salcedo said some detained illegal immigrants simply choose deportation instead trying to work through the legal system.

“They do not know what their legal rights are and they don’t recognize they have some sort of immigration relief,” Salcedo said.

Border fence controversy

University student Webster marched 125 miles along the Texas border last March to protest the 670-mile border fence which is currently under construction and is projected to cost about $1.6 billion.

Only days after Webster returned from his volunteer trip with the Asylum Law Project this January, the Texas Border Coalition asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear its case, which claims the fence violates a variety of state and local laws.

Proponents of the border fence argue that it will reduce crime and drug trafficking by illegal immigrants, and many politicians voted in favor of it in the Senate in 2006, including President Barack Obama, Sen. John McCain and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

However, Chad Foster , chairman of TBC and mayor of Eagle Pass, Texas — another border town — said the fence is a waste of resources and will only slow much needed immigration reform. The fence is currently under construction in Eagle Pass.

According to Foster, border security and illegal immigration are not a border town problem, but rather a national problem.

“If you want to clean up undocumented immigrants you have to start within the Beltway because they are serving the Department of Homeland Security coffee,” Foster said.

Increasing the amount of border patrol and implementing more new technology to guard the border would be far more effective than a border fence, Foster said.

Foster said he has good relationships with some politicians in Mexico, and working with his neighbors to the south is far more productive than trying to fence them off and lock them out.

But proponents of the fence have given Foster plenty of heat for his stance on border security.

“I’ve been called a narcotraficante ,” he said. “People ask me if I’m an American.”

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NEA Today Article: Border Crossing

August 19, 2008

BORDER CROSSING

NEA Today

By John Rosales

Throughout the year, Rivera High School custodian Ramón Tamayo fires up his grill to celebrate his children’s birthdays. In addition to standards like hot dogs and chicken, his inventive Tex-Mex menu might feature cabrito (roasted goat), menudo (tripe soup), and ceviche (marinated shrimp).

In 2006, when Tamayo’s friend from work, second-year teacher and native New Yorker Matthew Webster, attended the birthday party of Tamayo’s 12-year-old daughter, he learned a classic Brownsville, Texas, tradition.

“They grill on the front lawn here,” says Webster, 24. “In New York, we grill in back.”

Grilling traditions are just one of many differences between these unlikely pals: a teacher and a custodian from separate generations, with diverse backgrounds and a different first language. Yet, their friendship developed around what they have in common: a passion for soccer and a commitment to helping students deal with cultural barriers.

Webster would seek out Tamayo, 54, after school as Tamayo cleaned classrooms during his evening work shift.

“It was our time to talk,” says Webster. “After I found out that he played and coached soccer in Mexico, I asked for his help with the team.”

In addition to teaching English and ESL, Webster also coaches a speech club and the junior varsity boys soccer team.

“¿Cómo se dice esta palabra (How do you say this word)?” Webster says he would ask in one breath, then in the next, “Which is the best soccer team in Mexico?” Tamayo always took the time to answer.

“He took me under his wing,” Webster says. And that’s exactly what Webster needed. The lifelong East Coaster had signed up with Teach for America after his 2006 graduation from Penn State. Traveling down to the Rio Grande Valley, Webster imagined “tumbleweed and cowboy country.” In reality, he says, he found “America’s Mexico.”

He recalls the first time he came to the security checkpoint about 50 miles north of where he would be living. “I wondered what kind of place I was going to…a no-man’s land where they stop motorists and inspect their cars.”

The high school honors graduate and marathon runner who studied in Ireland found himself more than a little disoriented among the farms, fields, and sweat of Texas’ southernmost city.

“I didn’t know who to go to with language and cultural issues,” says Webster.

He felt fortunate that Tamayo was willing to help him navigate his new home, a place of many intersections, between First and Third Worlds, wealth and poverty, English and Spanish.

Tamayo has worked at Rivera for three years but he’s lived in the city for almost 20. He knows many of the school’s 2,000 students and most of the neighborhoods in Brownsville and its sister city of Matamoros, Mexico. Reflective and reserved but not without a sense of humor, Tamayo speaks little English and is known as an excellent cook and athlete who once coached soccer in Mexico.

“He is very important to me,” says Tamayo, in Spanish, of Webster. “We have different backgrounds, but once we got to know each other we found out we have a lot in common.”

It’s not unusual for a new teacher to find a friend or mentor who is an education support professional (ESP), says Laura Montgomery, president of the NEA National Council for ESPs.

“When new teachers arrive at school, there’s always an ESP around to help them get oriented,” Montgomery says. “Teachers and ESPs might have different roles [at school], but they have the same mission to serve students.”

In addition to classroom issues, Webster and Tamayo also enjoy talking about Brownsville’s border culture.

“I taught him to eat Mexican food with lots of chili,” Tamayo says.

No Border Wall Walk- Day 5 or The Day of Pilgrimage

March 12, 2008

Marching with College Students

    The beginning of today’s march was a pilgrimage. It was a pilgrimage from the beautiful river to the hot pavement of industrial parks south of McAllen, a pilgrimage through the small land-grant town of Granjeno past welcoming gas stations, a journey from our lowest numbers to our biggest turnout for the walk thus far. The journey was shortened as we learned the stories of this Valley, the stories of La Lomita, Granjeno, McAllen, Mission, Las Milpas, and Pharr, as well as the stories stories of each other and those to whom we wave our tired hands. As Geoffrey Chaucer wrote in Canterbury Tales,

                    You each, to shorten the long journey,

Shall tell two tales en route to Canterbury,
And, coming homeward, another two,
Stories of things that happened long ago.
Whoever best acquits himself, and tells
The most amusing and instructive tale,
Shall have a dinner, paid by us all,
Here in this roof, and under this roof-tree,
When we come back again from Canterbury. (“General Prologue)

Today was our shortest day of walking so far, coming in at only 12 or so miles. We took it slow, though, especially as we gave and received hope in the tiny town of Granjeno. Families like the Rendons were extremely welcoming, and they were wholly supportive of our efforts against the wall. They have boldly decided to stand up to the federal government by refusing to sign government survey waivers. Many of them are involved in the class-action federal lawsuit being launched Peter Schey, and many of them are vowing civil disobedience if bulldozers come to their front yards. Each of us on this walk will stand beside them in solidarity.

    Leaving the shade and encouraging multilingual words of encouragement from grandmas and children, dogs and roosters, cats and swaying trees, the sun could have discouraged our positivity. Instead, it gave us some much-needed time to reflect and connect with each other. Walking down a lonely road with like-minded people, one is drawn to Proverbs 27:17, “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” Walking with these worthy women and men, I have been consistently challenged by their calls to the higher plane of nonviolence and encouraged on this March Against the Wall. Men and women such as the steadfast Jay Johnson-Castro, the tranquilly wise Nat Stone, the perceptive Elizabeth Stephens, the questioning Cole Farnum, the united smiles of the Johnson famiily, the motherly care of Beth Golini, the passionate dancing of Matt Smith, the quiet strength of Crystal Canales, the extremely personal encouragement and candor of Kiel Harell, the dependable leadership of John Moore. These people have challenged and will continue to make the entire nation listen to our moral indignation at this issue.

    At our usual 2:00 lunch stop at a Valero gas station, we were once more showered with blessings. News crews found us, and so did workers from the G & G Auto Wrecking Company, who graciously donated a case of Coke and a box of waters. This support from la gente, the everyday men and women of this Valley who would be most profoundly impacted by a wall between their families and heritage and culture and land, is really what empowers us day after day. We left with renewed vigor.

    The most powerful moment of the day came as students from the Palestine Solidarity Committee expressed their solidarity with our efforts and joined us for the hottest part of our march. Their showered and beautiful faces marched alongside our trail-weary souls, and we were all enriched and comforted that this is an issue which all people of faith, from all over, can rally behind with confidence. We sang “Father Abraham” and “And the Walls came Tumblin’ Down.” http://link.brightcove.com/services/link/bcpid1287042959/bclid1287021539/bctid1453536169

    And just as they left and we were resigned to walking the final 2 miles with our 15 through-walkers, a group of 50 spring-break students from Miami, Texas State, St. Mary’s, and many other universities, joined us after a long day volunteering at Cesar Chavez’s LUPE organization. Their energy was all we needed to bring it in to the Las Milpas rally with style. We blocked off a whole lane of traffic, and our sheer positivity even won over a police officer who looked as if he were about to write us a citation. He asked for all my information, but when I told him a resounding thanks for all the police officers’ support along our walk so far, he smiled and told me to call him for tomorrow’s march to Progreso.

No Border Wall Walk- Day 5 College Alternative Spring Breakers

    One of the most amazing things about walking with these idealistic college students is the misinformation that is currently circulating our good country. If we truly believe that all people are inherently good, then we must also believe that the conscience of this nation has been miseducated about this issue. Well-intentioned college students who were devoting their whole spring break to help out the Valley’s people, thought that people on la frontera were united in support of the wall. How they couldn’t be more wrong! It was encouraging to see each honk of a car horn and each index finger pointing to the air educate them more and more that no one in the wall’s proposed trajectory wants this symbol of disgrace and division. The border wall would not go through barren wasteland but through backyards, not desert but downtowns.

    The Las Milpas rally was amazing. We had the pleasure to witness 4 members of the ARISE student ballet folklorico, and their dancing feet made our spirits light; my soul was dancing with them, even if the only part of my body I could mobilize were my clapping hands. It was encouraging to see schoolbuses and kids playing on the playground, seeing that Pancho Villa is not our hero, but Cesar Chavez. Joe Krause did an amazing job organizing this community event, even getting the 36h District Representative. Our meeting broke with chants and excitement. We are together, we are solidly united.

    And so ends this 5th day, a March day of pilgrimage that called out the entire community to join its voice with ours. In his “Letter from Cesar Chavez to Friends,” Chicano activist and social organizer Cesar Chavez wrote,

But throughout the Spanish-speaking world there is another tradition that touches the present march, that of the Lenten penitential processions, where the penitantes would march through the streets, often in sack cloth and ashes, some even carrying crosses, as a sign of penance for their sins, and as a plan for the mercy of God. The penitential procession is also in the blood of the Mexican-American, and the Delano march will therefore be one of penance—public penance for the sins of the strikers, their own personal sins as well as their yielding perhaps to feelings of hatred and revenge in the strike itself. They hope by the march to set themselves at peace with the Lord, so that the justice of their cause will be purified of all lesser motivation.

As we approach Semana Santa, the Holy Week, we are most assuredly marching for many reasons. We walk for penance that we did not speak out sooner when walls were being built in California and Arizona, we walk to rid ourselves of that self-defeating bitterness and hate which piles up if direct action is not taken, we walk on a pilgrimage to encourage the people of this Valley and renew our call to campaign for justice for both the immigrant and the border region.

 

No Border Wall Walk- Day 4 or Having Hope

March 11, 2008

Swimming in the Rio Grande

Ten Esperanza!

Have hope!

Faith and hope are inextricably linked. Hebrews 11:1 states, “Faith is the evidence of things hoped for, the assurance of things unseen.” Marching alongside 30 energetic, positive people bent on the same purpose, hope can be seen brimming out of every smile and poster. From the Lipan Apache Tribe members to the high-school students, from the Mexican man on his bicycle or the junior-high student from Cesar Chavez Middle School walking with us on his way to pick up groceries for his mom, hope has been expressed through our march and has been echoed back to us in each community and along every mile of highway.

When Kiel Harell, John Moore, and I first started planning this march but two months ago, we did it because we saw a hopelessness and a sense of acquiescence on the part of the people of the Valley. Many people acted as if they had been beaten, acted as if they were confident the government would never listen to their needs or their pleas. They were disenfranchised and unrepresented, and therefore had given up hope. Or so it seemed.

Hope is always almost gone.

Barack Obama visited the Valley just two weeks before, promising a campaign of hope. Hillary Clinton visited UTB only 3 weeks before, asking the Valley to pin its hopes on her. Hope is exactly what we need – hope that the Secure Fence Act of 2006 is not inevitable, hope that consciences are not unreachable, hope that the U.S. can follow the European Union’s lead and get rid of borders instead of fortifying them.

The No Border Wall Walk is a unique protest. Coming exactly 43 years after the Selma to Montgomery March of the civil rights movement, our walk shares many similarities with that nonviolent demonstration. We are largely faith-based, supported by numerous denominations and united around the idea that God is pro-immigrant; a beautiful hand-painted poster created by Trish Flanagan today had the Virgin saying, “I was a stranger, and you welcomed me.” Like Martin Luther King’s March to Montgomery, our 120-mile walk from Roma to Brownsville, Texas, is a positively-messaged action of nonviolent resistance to a dehumanizing issue. Also like Martin Luther King, we are energized by spirituals and hymns and chants.

However, there are some striking differences between the two marches. Our march, unlike the one from Selma to Montgomery, has met with almost unilateral support, where Dr. King faced almost overwhelming opposition from the “majority” of his time. Everywhere we go, police escort us through town with sirens honking and lights flashing. Where else do police officers donate five hours of their day to actually “serve and protect” marchers? Their support is an amazing vote of confidence, a sign that it is ok for locals to come out and join us. Javier, the Mission bicyclist, might not have joined us had the police not calmed his fears by their supportive presence, and perhaps the random angel of a woman would not have stopped to give us a box of water and a fresh pineapple had we not had this full endorsement of the city of Mission.

Our support can be seen in the solidarity of police officers and chambers of commerce, churches and Church’s chicken, Valero gas stations and construction workers, Haliburton employees and local media crews – all people of this Valley are on our side of this nationally divisive legislation.

By walking on the border, our March Against the Border Wall has become less of a local protest and more of an international broadcast. Our hope is to broadcast the idea that the wall will not just divvy up desert but will divide downtowns. Our aim is to reach people in western Washington and in the northern New York where my parents reside, in order to inform them that the border wall will negatively affect Americans, both North and Central, and that this border wall will not solve the problems their politicians have been espousing. Unlike Martin Luther King’s public demonstrations which drew dogs and fire hoses, we have dogs in backyards barking their support alongside their owners and fire trucks honking their solidarity with our worthy cause.

Singing on the Rio Grande

Singing “Shall we Gather at the River” on the Rio Grande and swimming in its living waters, hope is renewed once more. La frontera cannot be defeated when there are Catholic priests like Father Roy and churches like Our Lady of Guadalupe. Catholic literally means universal, and that has been the sort of support we have received from virtually every Christian denomination. La frontera will not surrender hope that people are essentially good and that no one who calls themselves American would put their security over humanity. La frontera will not be overcome because, while “our feets is tired, our souls are rested.” Dr. King wrote that this hope “…will give our tired feet new strength as we continue our forward stride toward the City of Freedom” (Martin Luther King Autobiography 260). La frontera has hope because it is not just a river in Texas or a desert in Arizona – it is also the mesas of New Mexico and the expanse of California. La frontera is French-speaking Canadians and immigrants in New York restaurants like the French Roast; la frontera is bilingual Texans and bilingual Minnesotans. The Border Ambassadors and all this Valley have hope because this is bigger than our little part of the world. We believe that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.” We have hope because “No lie can live forever.” We are encouraged because “Truth crushed to earth will rise again!” We have hope because no person is beyond redemption, and we believe it is only through ignorance or misinformation that America has not spoken out in loud opposition to the Secure Fence Act of 2006.

Ten esperanza el Valle! Ten esperanza Los Estados Unidos! Ten Esperanza Canada y Mexico! Take hope, because we are coming together.

*Youtube Videos can be accessed here: