Posts Tagged ‘nonviolence’

What does May Day mean in 2009?

April 27, 2009

As May Day 2009 fast approaches, it is important to look back at the original celebration and what it did and did not do.  On May 1, 2006, millions of immigrant workers left their jobs for an hour or a whole day to bring home the message that they are an integral part of American society.  In cities like Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Houston, Tucson, and Portland, May 1 was an important day of immigrant empowerment and a powerful symbol of solidarity.  However, that same year, the immigration legislation failed to pass Congress and the Secure Fence Act was enacted.

For nonviolence to be an effective tool, it cannot be only a negative force.  It must be constructive as well. As Dr. King wrote, “True peace is not merely the absence of some negative force — tension, confusion or war; it is the presence of some positive force — justice, good will and brotherhood” (“Nonviolence and Racial Justice“).  For nonviolence to change hearts and minds, it must not only protest injustice but also present solutions.  Unlike the May Day celebrations of 2006, as well as the ones being planned for this year in countless cities across the United States, a much smaller but more determined group of people are actively engaged in a nonviolence which highlights the injustices inherent in our current immigration system but which also positively provide for real needs.

Founded in 2004 by Catholic bishop Gerald Kikanas, Presbyterian minister John Fife, and several leaders of the local Tucson Jewish community, No More Deaths has been dealing with the negative human effects resulting from Operation Gatekeeper.  The increased militarization of the border through deportation, detention, armed forces, and border wall construction have merely rerouted desperate human migration through the most dangerous portions of the desert.  The Pima County Medical Examiner’s office, for example, has reported 84 deaths annually between 2000 and 2005, up from 14 in the ’90s.  No More Deaths attempts to save border-crossing families by leaving out water in the desert and tending to the medical needs of injured crossers. [Wikipedia] According to their website, 50 individuals have died  attempting to enter Arizona.

No More Deaths operates under some basic faith-based principles:

  • Recognize that the current Militarized Border Enforcement Strategy is a failed policy
  • Address the status of undocumented persons currently living in the US
  • Make family unity and reunification the cornerstone of the US immigration system
  • Allow workers and their families to enter the US to live and work in a safe, legal, orderly, and humane manner through an Employment-Focused immigration program
  • Recognize that root causes of migration lie in environmental, economic, and trade inequities[4]

While No More Deaths meets the needs of immgirants, they are forbidden to aid them in crossing, but in times of dire emergency they are instructed to call an on-call medical expert and, if need be, transport the seriously injured immigrant to the local hospital.  On July 9, 2005, however, two No More Deaths volunteers were arrested by the Border Patrol for transporting three border-crossers to a nearby hospital.  Daniel Strauss and Shanti Sellz were accused transporting and conspiring to transport undocumented immigrants, both felonies under US law. If convicted, they would have faced 15 years in prison and/or $500,000 in fines.  After more than a year, Judge Collins dismissed the charges in September 2006, stating that these two volunteers had followed pre-approved protocol and that further litigation would violate their Due Process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment. [Wikipedia]


Currently, Dan Millis is appealing to the 9th Circuit to contest the Arizona ruling that he and other volunteers had littered by placing water jugs for migrants in the Buenos Aires National Wildlife Refuge.  Despite the five milk crates of trash the volunteers had picked up, they were issued citations by the US Fish & Wildlife Service officers.  Two days before, Millis had found the body of a 14-year-old girl who had died of exposure. As Dan Millis has said, ““We pick up trash, distribute food and water, and administer first aid to people who desperately need it. We are not criminals.” [Guntzel, Jeff Severens. Utne Reader]

As communities prepare for May Day 2009, it is important to stress real issues and practical solutions.  Obama has pledged that comprehensive immigration reform is on the table for 2009.  The DREAM Act is still a potentiality, as is the Border Security and Responsbility Act [HR 2076] sponsored by Rep. Grijalva last week.  Immigrants from Rochester to Brownsville need more than a token march or a one-day protest – campaign for real change by advocating locally and nationally for meaningful reform for immigrants.

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Fear: The Bane of the Beloved Community

April 4, 2009

“There is another element that must be present in our struggle that then makes our resistance and nonviolence truly meaningful. That element is reconciliation. Our ultimate end must be the creation of the beloved community.” (Martin Luther King, 4/15/1960, Raleigh, NC)

41 years after his assassination, Martin Luther King’s dream of a fully integrated and reconciled society, his Beloved Community, still remains largely unfulfilled for the marginalized in America. Specifically, fear seems to reign in the lives of our nation’s most vulnerable group – immigrants are afraid to go to school, go to work, report crimes, visit anything but an Emergency Room. Immigrants, to a large extent, have been the object of laws designed to keep them segregated and silent and invisible.

Thursday’s joint subcommittee hearings brought national attention to the injustices inherent in the United State’s 287(g) program which deputizes local cops to become federal immigration enforcers. Sheriff Joe Arpaio from Maricopa County, Arizona, is a prime example of how certain jurisdictions are using this federal program to strike fear into the hearts of all immigrants. With his inhumane treatment of prisoners, his nativist focus on immigration enforcement over his other law enforcement duties, and his sensationalism and victimization of the immigrant community, both legal and not, Arpaio has succeeded in creating in Maricopa County (the fourth largest county in the U.S., with 4 million inhabitants) a community of distrust and fear. Maryland community advocate Antonio Ramirez, seconded by Rep. Conyers and others, testified at the subcommittee hearings on April 2, 2009, that the policies born of 287(g) lead to a drastic loss of trust and cooperation with authorities.  (Staff, Greg and Jackie Mahendra. America’s Voice)

Furthermore, Police Foundation President Hubert Williams stated that funding for this program takes away from money for smart community policing initiatives which are far more successful in preventing crime. In Sheriff Joe’s Maricopa County, for instance, Arpaio’ tactics seem to have backfired, with violent crime skyrocketing over 69% from 204-2007 (a statistic not echoed in nearby Phoenix or Mesa). When a large population of immigrants live in fear and are excluded from the Beloved Community, crime goes unreported and unchecked. (Bolick, Clint. “Mission Unaccomplished: The Misplaced Priorities of the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office”)

The subcommittee hearings also brought to light the rampant racial profiling that has accompanied 287(g) programs across the country. UNC Chapel Hill Law School Professor Deborah Weissman highlighted the lack of sufficient training and the resulting civil rights abuses. Her recent report, “The Politics and Policies of Local Immigration Enforcement Laws,” illustrates that most “unwelcome” immigrants are stopped under the pretense of traffic violations; in Gaston County, NC, 83% of immigrants arrested by ICE had been cited first under a petty traffic violation.

Sadly, certain members of the subcommittee were insistent that 287(g) was marginally successful in the less than 5% of counties in which it is currently employed. It is hard to ascribe any motivation more flattering than unfettered xenophobia to such committee members. Rep. Steve King, a ranking member on the Immigration Subcommittee, questioned 19-year-old Julio Mora repeatedly about whether his father had taught him about rule of law (a.k.a. reporting undocumented immigrants). Mora, who had been detained and harassed because he’s Latino, responded eloquently, “My father taught me to respect everyone.” Rep. King and others seemed to intimate that racial profiling of American citizens was little more than an inconvenience or a slight embarrassment.

These joint subcommittee hearings’ decision on 287(g) is vitally important for creating a Beloved Community in the United States. Programs like 287(g) encourage fear, silence, and marginalization. The effects of this are chilling. Yesterday, a shooter opened fire on immigrants taking citizenship and language classes at an immigrant center in Binghamton, NY. 14 were found dead in the American Civic Association (an immigrant organization founded in 1939 and with support from United Way). The shooter, Jiverly Wong, is believed to have been a naturalized citizen who attended classes at ACA years before. While there are no clear answers and no explanations for such a tragedy, the fear 287(g) generates discourages crime reporting; we are left to speculate if this would have happened had Wong’s immigrant community felt empowered, rather than marginalized, by our nation’s laws.(CNN)

Similarly, Father Paul Ouderkirk gave a presentation at Pax Christi Church in Rochester, MN, on April 2. Much of his presentation focused on the fears in his community of Postville (where an ICE raid in May arrested 289 immigrants, closed the town’s largest employer, and crippled the town of 2400). Ouderkirk spoke of the psychological trauma felt by families after fathers were deported to Guatemala. He disparaged the fact that many women are still required to wear ankle bracelets. He discussed the fear of the citizen children, many of whom were terrified to return to school for fear that they would be arrested or they’d come home to find the rest of their family gone. (Valdez, Christina Killion. “Priests say Immigration Laws Need Reform.”)

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The ICE raid at Postville and 287(g) both serve to strike fear into our nation’s 12 million undocumented immigrants. Far from creating a Beloved Community, fear breeds distrust, un-cooperation, division, and hate. Additionally, this terror is not limited to extralegals in America; rather, it extends to most minorities. When Latinos are followed by police officers simply for looking Latino, fear reigns. When Somalis are interrogated at bus stops simply for being Muslim, fear reigns. When jaywalking Hmong citizens are detained because of their ethnicity, fear reigns. Our nation, our Beloved Community, demands comprehensive immigration reform to end the fear and begin an era of trust.

Please consider adding your name and voice to the letter going out to Chairman Conyers of the joint subcommittee. You can do so here.

From where I stand, I can see wall ending

January 12, 2009

Judy Ackerman and me at Rio Bosque

Judy Ackerman and me at Rio Bosque

This morning I was picked up in front of the Gardner Hotel in El Paso by the only person who has engaged in civil disobedience against the border wall. Texas, once a center of the Chicano movement, the site of the Alice student walkouts and state-wide protests against segregated schools, hasn’t seen such civil disobedience in a long time. For an issue as appalling to border residents as the Secure Fence Act of 2006, however, it’s been a long coming.

Judy Ackerman was fifteen minutes early, waiting for me on Franklin Avenue in an unassuming sedan. We talked the 15 minutes to the Rio Bosque Wildlife Refuge, but I can’t remember much of what was said. I do remember the way the border wall seemed to extend forever, farther still than the Rocky Mountains or the Sierra Madre, both of which end in this bi-national border community of almost 2 million. For years there has been a wire fence snaking along the Rio Grande, but lawmakers unfamiliar with the history of El Paso del Norte deemed it fit to separate Texas from the river and Mexico from its neighbor.

As we bounced and jounced toward Rio Bosque along the potholes containing some road, Judy seemed surprised that Diewitz workers were not already at work this Friday morning. Sadly, their work has progressed rapidly since Mrs. Ackerman first delayed the excavation on December 17. The wall now bounds most of the park, although many more miles are planned. In parts, it completely obscures the beautiful dun-brown mountains.

In spite of, or perhaps because of, the enormity of the sadness that border fence evinces, Judy instead told me about an old cottonwood tree. “This border wall has really brought the community together. Take that old tree there,” she said, pointing proudly to a cottonwood with a perfect crown and brown leaves still holding onto its branches. “The Border Patrol came through and chopped down two others just like that, because they extend in part onto their service roads. John Souse stopped them just in time. He quickly mobilized the local activists, and pretty soon the media was calling the Border Patrol wanting to interview them about their part in the killing of the last great cottonwood. By that time, the Border Patrol changed their tune and denied ever having entertained such an idea.” Ah, behold the power of people.

Few other trees in this Rio Bosque wildlife refuge, or in the El Paso area in general, are native originals. About eleven years ago, Souse graded this land and rerouted the Rio Grande to recreate its once wild trajectory. It was this capriciousness which earned the river its Mexican name, “Rio Bravo.” Now, cottonwoods and the invasive salt cedar fill the refuge, providing ample habitat for a variety of animals and birds.

As John Souse drove Judy and I through the small refuge (the only of its kind for miles and miles), I was astounded at the number of hawks. Harrier hawks sat atop cottonwoods, flicking their striped tail and looking too heavy to balance on so tenuous a perch. Cooper’s hawks cut through the morning air, chasing each other in the joy of it all. Harris hawks and red-tailed hawks flew over the duck pond, artfully weaving and dipping like stunt pilots.

The duck ponds highlight one of the major problems posed by the border wall. With a border wall cutting the refuge off from the Rio Grande, the animals have no way to access the river. Ducks have been reported to fly into the mesh wiring of the fence as well. Additionally, with no access to the river, Rio Bosque has to fight for its water rights. Since it is not a “money-making” enterprise such as agriculture or industry, the refuge only receives water in the off-season – November through January. The new well which was installed to pump groundwater into the canal and pond just fell into the ground on account of the contractor’s poor craftsmanship. Without this water, particularly during the stifling dry months, Rio Bosque would dry up and leave this valley without a treasure trove of nature.

“When I was standing in front of the bulldozer, I kept remembering what the ACLU told me – ‘Don’t ask if you are arrested; ask if you are free to leave.’ So, as the Texas Rangers, local police, DHS agents, and county sheriffs bickered about whose jurisdiction my civil disobedience fell under, that was all I could think to say. ‘Am I free to leave?’” Judy laughed, “Their response was always, ‘Yes, please! We’ve been waiting all day.’”

Judy’s military training prepared her well for keeping cool in such a hot situation. She executed civil disobedience in near perfect fashion, contacting authorities before and remained calm, cool, and collected during the demonstration. Judy had been well advised of the consequences of her action, and show she exhibited no fear. More importantly, she showed no anger toward the individuals on site. “I wasn’t mad at them,” she reminded me more than once. “I was protesting the idea of this wall.”

While she remembers all the authorities being civil and respectfully during the civil disobedience, sadly some spectators across the canal yelled out taunts and jibes at the officials. Judy remembers the Texas Ranger getting particularly peeved at that. “She’s not risking anything, but she keeps yelling at us and trying to get you [Judy] into deeper trouble.” Thankfully, Judy and her composure ruled the day, and it was clear that this was about more than an “Us vs. Them” scenario.

I walked down to the river, marveling at its relative freedom. I have seen where this river empties into the Gulf, broad and flowing at Boca Chica. Here, a few good strokes would get me across to Ciudad Juarez. Upstream, it is dammed and controlled meticulously. Farms and industries sap its strength as well, using as much as 99% of its water before it reaches the Gulf of Mexico. Climbing back up the steep riverbank, the border wall comes into sharp focus again. Franklin Mountain barely shows its peak above the wall, and the free-roaming tumbleweed country of this old Wild West Town seems all but a memory in the shadow of these steel girders. Would John Dillinger know the Gardner Hotel and downtown El Paso today? Would Marilyn Monroe recognize the Kentucky Club in a Juarez robbed of most its customers? Will anyone remember the time before this wall?

Looking back east, I can make out where the wall ends. That sight still gives me hope. Perhaps we’ll see our folly before it’s too late and this history is already written. I thank God that the history written by man is never penned in permanent ink.

Border Wall on Rio Bosque

Border Wall on Rio Bosque

Nonviolence in Rio Bosque

December 19, 2008

55-year-old Judy Ackerman arrived at the Rio Bosque (river forest) Wetlands Park at 6:30 am.  She crossed the canal through this park she, the Friends of Rio Bosque, and the Sierra Club helped conserve.  At 7:00, the construction crews arrived on the International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC) land and were confronted by this white-haired, retired Army veteran in a hard hat and construction vest.  She was cordial, the epitome of nonviolence, chatting cheerfully with the construction crews.  As she told the El Paso Times, “They have a job to do, but today their job is to take a break.”

Gandhi once wrote, “There is hope for a violent man to be some day non-violent, but there is none for a coward.” Ms. Ackerman has seen her share of violence throughout her 26 years in the Army, and she’d never be mistaken for a coward.  That’s what makes her nonviolent stand against the border wall so compelling.  In a completely peaceful demonstration, she singlehandedly held up construction for most of Wednesday, December 17.

While the construction crews resumed building of the border wall through this 370-acre borderland park, pursuant to the Secure Fence Act of 2006, Ms. Ackerman demonstrated that nonviolence is more effective than ever and that border communities are worth preserving.  Ackerman told the Associated Press she was motivated to make her stand because, “They have this wonderful park here, and the wall is messing it up. This is life. The river is life. But not the wall; the wall is death.” (AP, Houston Chronicle)


Federal officials are still towing the party line that the 500 miles of border barriers are effective in deterring illegal immigration, drug smuggling, and terrorism (though no terrorists are alleged to have crossed the southern border prior to the border wall construction).  Local communities and border residents, however, see a different story. They see the animals traveling 15 miles to get a drink of water. They see the way these border walls merely reroute immigrants through the most lethal parts of the desert.  People like Ms. Ackerman know the beauty of this land, a beauty now being marred by 15-feet high border fencing in El Paso, Texas.

I will be venturing down to El Paso in but a few short weeks. I fully plan on going to Rio Bosque and voicing my concerns/protest with those of the nonviolent residents there.  Please keep border communities in your prayers this holiday season, and if you are anywhere within a thousand miles, consider coming down to support them in their time of need.


The Unilateral Contract for Immigrants

October 8, 2008

Nate was sitting in a bar a week after an innocent woman was killed by a repeat offender who had gone untracked for an indefinite amount of time. He was sitting in a bar across from a well-known member of the Justice Department of the State of Minnesota. As a Target Public Relations Executive, he says, the problem was piercingly clear. “Man, you’ve got an inventory-tracking problem.”

As a result of this casual evening encounter, the statewide “Suspense File” of criminals with aliases or uncertain whereabouts has dwindled from well over 30,000 to under a couple hundred. Bringing together township, local, and regional governments under the statute 299C.111, this information is finally being efficiently shared and these precincts are realizing their part in the larger community.  Nate brings up this anecdote as proof of the power of benevolent self-interest. “Self-interest is the only sustainable source of benevolence or volunteering. Your goal must be to broaden people’s sense of self-interest to include those around them, their community, their workplace.”

This idea of community is core to the idea of nonviolence. The philosophy of nonviolence only has credence if, as Dr. King said, “we are caught up in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.” As our communities grow and change, as immigration changes the face of Americans, and as globalization destroys the traditional view of bordered states or bounded communities, this expansive self-interest must cultivate a healthy respect and active work to improve the plight of those near and far.

Nate points out that while politics is the business of solving problems (and so protects itself by never eliminating those problems completely), public policy is the art of dilemma management. Dilemmas, or unsolvable problems, are the realities of life, but it is our duty and responsibility to mitigate the effects of those dilemmas. We will never end poverty, but we can continually work to mitigate the effects of poverty in our Beloved Community.

As Nate preaches an interdisciplinary mode of approaching problems, our nation’s immigration system and its needed reform ring in my mind. Essentially, immigrants have always come to the United States on implied unilateral contracts. Our media and our economy have always lured hard-workers hoping to better themselves and contribute to the American Dream. Since the Alien & Sedition Act of 1798 and the first nation-specific discrimination via the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, our nation has been unjustly enriched on the backs of immigrants. Notwithstanding remittances and return migration, immigrants have always contributed more to our economy than they have taken. Despite what popular bombastic talk-show rhetoric may repeat, immigrant populations traditionally work harder than native residents and will generally integrate as much as they are allowed by that nation’s institutions.

For the more than 12 million extralegal immigrants contributing to America right now, they labor without hope of compensation. Since the failed immigration reform bills in 2006, nothing has been forwarded to offer a path to citizenship for hard-working immigrants who are performing everything we expect of citizens. At what point does an extralegal resident earn the right to an American driver’s license or a Social Security Card? How long must someone work 80 hours a week to provide for their family before they are given the chance to naturalize?

If our great nation were to adopt immigration policies more akin to a unilateral contract, then so many immigrants’ good faith demonstrations of citizenship would finally be awarded with the meager promise of the bottom rung in American society. But at least it would be a starting point, an entry level to all the rights and protections of our Constitution and legal system, something more than 12 million people live without as Americans in all but documentation.

As civilization moves forward and borders get more confused, nationalities become more arbitrary, and human capital becomes even more mobile, the nonviolent concept of benevolent self-interest must begin to inform our policies, laws, and community standards. I hope I live to see the day when there are no undocumented and unprotected workers in the U.S., that everyone here would have some legal status and all would be somewhere on the continuum of achieving full citizenship.

Nonviolent Refugee

September 11, 2008

This past week, the philosophy of nonviolence was compounded with a high-profile case of immigration. On Sept. 6, the Toronto Star ran an article about Peter Jemley, a 42-year-old Arabic linguist who is seeking refugee status from Canada. He is currently an American soldier who, after enlisting in 2005, recently discovered this last February that the United States sanctioned new rules on questioning terrorists. Jemley’s petition for refugee status forces Canada to comment on the actions of its southerly neighbor – is the U.S. engaging in torture tactics which constitute international war crimes?

While Canada has been quiet on this issue for the past year, Jemley’s refugee case will make the government issue an official statement as to whether waterboarding, sleep deprivation, intimidation, and humiliation are indeed devices of torture. Previous Iraq War refugee cases in Canada have centered on the legality of the ongoing military conflict; a dozen refugees are still awaiting word on their status as military deserters.

Jemley’s lawyer clearly described the international question his client’s case poses: “Nobody should associate themselves with torture or violations of the Geneva Conventions because if we start to wink at violations of the Geneva Conventions they’re no longer law, they’re just guidelines.”

The entire world will await the outcome of this refugee case. For adherents of nonviolence, this case provides the perfect context in which immigration could one day be used to facilitate change in a nation. If Jemley succeeds in his refugee petition, borders could potentially be opened enough that countries with aggressive war policies would suddenly find themselves without soldiers and nations which discriminate between races or classes or sexes might find an entire segment of their population emigrating. In a small way, the fate of this 42-year-old-father of two could be a beginning to a nonviolent alternative to war – refugee emigration.

Moving Toward the One

September 7, 2008

Always, we begin again toward the One…

At this morning’s Friends Meeting in Rochester, MN, one woman felt inspired to share these words. Its truth could not have more evident after a week which saw Minnesota sadly moving toward division and disunity.

The Republican National Convention was held in St. Paul this past week. George Bush, leader of the GOP and the nation, was noticeably absent from the Xcel Center, the first time in 40 years that the incumbent President was not present at his party’s convention (Von Drehle, David). An entire country looked to the capital of Minnesota to witness the celebration and inauguration of the Presidential race in earnest. After a graceful Democratic convention the previous week, everyone’s eyes were tuned to see how newly chosen Vice-Presidential candidate Sarah Palin would compare to Obama’s running mate Joe Biden. The United States looked calculatingly toward St. Paul to see how the Republicans would celebrate their past successes, apologize for their past missteps, and prepare for a hotly contested Presidential campaign.

What the nation got was the worst kind of rhetoric. To watch Palin’s first speech as a Vice-Presidential running mate was to watch a vicious personal attack (New York Times). In a night that should have been full of celebrating, Wednesday’s speeches were concerned primarily with jabs and uppercuts. Rather than tout her party’s successes or laud John McCain’s many admirable qualities, she instead focused on demonizing Obama and Biden and the entire Democratic party. Her speech was less about accepting her nomination and more about rejecting commonality and unity. It saddened Republicans and Democrats and Independents alike to see an entire speech devoid of civil discourse, brimming with violence and overflowing with disunity.

While John McCain’s speech was graceful and stately, it was overshadowed for many by the speech Palin gave the night before. In stark contrast to the Democratic Convention the week before, the Republican speakers rarely used the words proud, together, thanks, and grateful. Whereas Hillary Clinton used her speech to bridge gaps and convert opposition into unity, Palin’s speech, and Giuliani’s before hers, widened differences, infused hate into the rhetoric, and filled the public sphere with negativity. It was sad to see a race which had been surprisingly cordial and civil take a decided turn for the worse.

Always we begin again toward the One…

Sadly, the protests of the Republican National Convention ended little better. While most demonstrators were peaceful, the presence of many physically and verbally violent protestors drained its potentially positive impact. Nonviolence is not simply the absence of violence but rather the presence of something positive. These protests, then, failed to live up to the high standard of nonviolence. Few were edified by the anarchists’ riots of Monday, and Martin Luther King, Jr. would not have recognized the Poor People’s March on Wednesday. Signs reading “Eat the Rich, Feed the Poor” and chants calling for the National Guard troops on downtown buildings to “Jump, Jump, Jump” would have horrified Gandhi or John Lewis (Minnesota Independent).

As Dr. King and all nonviolence philosophy holds, we are caught up in an inescapable network of mutuality. Therefore, violence towards some is violence towards all. And as Gandhi reiterated throughout his life’s work, the end is necessarily preexistent in the means. If we strive for peace, we must do it in peaceful ways. If we yearn for unity, we must seek reconciliation with those who oppose us. The protests of this past week were ineffective toward that end. When anti-war protests are verbally abusive or physically violent, then they can only help to create a more disunified world of violence.

So begins a new week. Hopefully this week Minnesota and the entire nation can begin to move away from the “us versus them” mentality. Perhaps we can abandon the idea of the “other,” a philosophy which has produced slavery, imperialism, colonialism, nativism, xenophobia, and war in all its guises. Always we begin again Toward the One…

Encouragement to all those on the Border

July 7, 2008

It is 2033. By this time, more than $49 billion will have been invested to build, maintain, and repair 700 miles of border wall through California, Arizona, and Texas. Animals like the jaguarundi, the Sonoran pronghorn, and ocelots have disappeared form the American side of the border. The last remaining stands of virgin flora have become extinct due to the border wall itself and the changes it brought to the ecosystem. Sabal Palms Audobon Sanctuary, like the small community of La Lomita and Granjeno, is an abandoned ghost town, a relic of a time when Mexicans and Americans could both enjoy the benefits of the life-giving Rio Grande as it made its 1885-mile journey to the Gulf of Mexico.

Illegal immigration is still a problem, because the push and pull factors of immigration were not addressed through legislative reform. An eighteen-foot wall did nothing to alleviate the more than seven-to-one pay differential between Americans and their neighbors to the South. With the increased militarization of the border and the addition of 700 miles of barriers, the flow of migration has only been redirected to more dangerous routes and means, killing more and more Americalmosts and freezing hundreds of thousands of extralegal residents here who are too afraid to cross back into Mexico. In 2007, the year before the Texas wall was built, more than 500 people lost their lives attempting to cross through the treacherous desert while more and more immigrants risked their lives and their fortunes in highly-dangerous crossings conducted by a highly-paid coyote. As Princeton Professor Douglas Massey pointed out, “The ultimate effect of the border fence policy is to increase the size [of the undocumented population] and to make it more permanent.” (TNR)

It is 2033, and my teenage children are asking why I ever let my government do something so illogical and shameful. Clearly, in retrospect, our wall seems as pointless as the Russian’s or the Chinese. My children and their friends will go to California with hammers in their hands to chisel out a piece of infamous history when the walls we built at the turn of the century finally fall.

——————

Thank God it is not 2033 yet. While the time is getting near and the pressure is being ratcheted up by the Department of Homeland Security, time still remains for our nation’s people and lawmakers to do right. People like Professor Eloisa Tamez, a UTB Professor, Lipan Apache Tribe member, and border landowner have not given up the fight in El Calaboz. Documentarians like Nat Stone have not ceased filming and recording the people and places which would be irreversibly marred by an eighteen-foot wall. National figures such as Jay Johnson-Castro have not stopped marching against the injustice of the Secure Fence Act of 2006, and environmental activists such as Scott Nichols haven’t stopped speaking out against the totalitarian power endowed to DHS by the Real ID Act. Grassroots organizers like Elizabeth Garcia, Ryan and Yahaira Tauber, John Moore, Crystal Canales, Mike and Cindy Johnson, Joe Krause, as well as groups such as CASA, LUPE, No Texas Border Wall and Border Ambassadors have not surrendered because they know that “the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.”

The resistance continues; our spirit is not broken. May it continue in love and not stoop to the hate and violence that would will a wall between neighbors and families. Our resistance must remain positive; if our publicity is not respectful and focused and nonviolent, then the focus will be on our negativity and our methods rather than on the injustice of a border wall through people’s homes and lives. If we do not stay united and show DHS, our city leadership, and the entire nation that we are unified against a border wall, then we appear to be simply some people squabbling and fighting petty battles in a place far away. However, if we can stay together and remain positive now, at the breaking point, when the pressure is fiercest and the odds seem overwhelming, if we can stay true to the Truth and resist in love, then we can still rally the nation behind our just cause.

It is my prayer that we may remain strong as we hold on to the Truth in love , the satyagraha that changed India for the better, the holding on to Truth that awakened our nation from the sad malady of segregation and closemindedness in the King era. We are still able to prevent our nation from doing something it will regret for the rest of its history, if we can only cling stay united in the faith that our cause is right, the hope that our fellow Americans are moral beings, and the love that separates us all more than our conflicts can divide us.

The History of the World in America

May 25, 2008

Traveling Europe, one is enmeshed in a profound history reminiscent of Tolkien´s Middle Earth.  The oaks of Gernika which give the Basques shade also survived both world wars and a bloody civil war as well.  The cathedrals like St. Maria´s in Vitoria or the Cathedral in Burgos have endured the changing of styles, religions, plagues, and multiple conquests, and are still being updated and remodeled today.  Murallas, or city walls, have lasted far beyond their initial purpose of staving of the Moors, or the Romans, or the Crusaders, or the Vikings.  Storefronts and house facades have seen a seemingly infinite cycle of businesses, hopes, and dreams flow through their doors.  Traditional music harks back centuries, foods to times immemorable.  One is overwhelmed with the constant reminders of mankind´s propensity for benificence, penchant for creativity, susceptibility to power´s corrupting influence, and ability to endure, endure, endure.

 America makes up for its lack of profound history with its wide open spaces, its distances which both offer hope and anonymity.  This fledgling country has struggled and largely succeeded in creating a rich history in a matter of centuries.  Being young, it still views itself outside of the history of the rest of the world.  Being new, the United States has been able to escape some of the deep-rooted tribal wars, linguistic and cultural disparities, and woeful dictatorships which have shaped so much of the rest of the world.  Being still green, the United States has been able to be progressive and forward thinking at a rate much faster than more established nations in the rest of the world. 

However, in the past few decades, America has seemingly tried to catch up with the rest of the world´s bloody history by becoming the aggressor and instigator in several violent conflicts which have destroyed nations and families while bolstering our military power in a time when nations should be disarming.  Caught up in a global power struggle for economic dominance, we have been unable to ensure all citizens are ensured basic medical care which is standard throughout the E.U. and our neighbor Canada.  The American motto seems to be that if businesses succeed, then people will also succeed.  In Europe, I have lived with the opposite, this philosophy that if people benefit then surely businesses will also prosper by proxy.  And now our xenophobic and nativist sentiments have become so loud that we are already constructing portions of a 700-mile border wall on our nation´s southern border. 

Traveling Europe, it is impossible to ignore how every decision is steeped in history and every choice has far-reaching repercussions.  Haphazard borders have plagued Europe every bit as much as Asia and Africa.  Rigid borders ignore real problems and so also avoid real solutions.  Rather than focusing on renewed diplomacy and meaningful compromise, borders insist that neighboring countries can continue existing despite a gross disparity of wealth, rights, and standard of living just across an imaginary line. 

The permeability of the E.U.’s open borders should be a model of the rest of the world. Though not perfected as yet, the idea of flexible borders legitimizes the basic human propensity and right to migrate.  It has occurred for thousands and thousands of years, from Phoenicians to the Gaels, from Vikings to African tribes, from the Moors to the Hebrews, from the Greeks to the Romans, from the Gauls and the Polynesians to the Huns and the Mongolians, from the Persians and Babylonians to the Egyptians and Europeans.  Humans migrate.  To deny this basic fact by erecting impassable borders or sinister Secure Fences is to design a system which, by definition, must fall because it is contrary to natural law. 

As a teacher, it pains me to think of the billions which have been spent and the billions proposed to be spent on the completion of a border wall touted as a stalling tactic for immigration.  Working with eager ESL students and their families desiring assimiliation, I weep to think of how much those billions of dollars could mean for their integration into modern American society.  For in the end, the history of the world teaches us that it is not conquest but community that matters, integration not destruction, assimilation not annihilation, love and not fear, nonviolence and not violence.  Dr. King warned us that, “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”  I believe MLK would also have extended this apt warning to programs such as anti-immigration tactics like border walls.  Nations which spend more money on separation than integration are bound for disaster.  Countries which hold national security above international community are in a sad state indeed; as Benjamin Franklin wrote, “Anyone who trades liberty for security deserves neither liberty or security.” 

From the banks of the Rio Bravo in Texas to the shores of the Mediterranean Sea in Spain, the whole world is hoping America will learn from history as it continues to write history in this 21st century.  Our legacy is yet unfinished; we still have time to stop such medieval gestures as a border wall and to regain our place as a progressive nation embracing the global community.   

Immigration as Nonviolent Tactic

May 22, 2008

¨Those immigrants, we give them everything.  When they have a baby, they receive 2500€ and a cochecito (baby carriage).  And when those babies grow up, they get all the help in the world.  Those immigrant kids get into good schools instead of good Spanish kids who´ve been here and belong here.¨ (A man in Barcelona)

Americans have long been partial to isolationism.  Far too often, we think we are the only country facing certain issues, and therefore we look no further than our own borders for the answers to issues the entire world is facing.  Immigration is not an issue limited to the Rio Grande Valley where the government is so desirous of erecting a border wall, nor is it specific to our fruit fields, urban restaurants, construction sites, or factory jobs.  By definition, immigration is a global issue, a fact which makes a border-wall solution to immigration bitterly laughable. 

Nearly half of extralegal immigrants in the United States came here legally on visas and work permits.  One can look at this and campaign for militaristic campaigns to treat all students and workers on visas as if they were on an extended parole, but that would be missing the point.  The fact is that this makes absolute sense.  Immigration is no longer limited to the Vikings of 500 years ago, nor is one country outsending all the rest (though government officials would have us think our southern neighbor is invading us with good workers, family-oriented individuals, and bilingual neighborhoods).  Students and workers from all over the world come to the United States for a better opportunity, but they do not count on the lack of opportunities for earned citizenship and naturalization.  As a result, hundreds of thousands overstay their visas, holding out hope that one day their opportunity to pursue happiness will be legitimized by the government that invited them here in the first place. 

 Immigration is a global issue, and one which needs global solutions.  If a paranational organization were set up to monitor immigration laws in sending and receiving countries, like the ones which exist for shared water rights and common resources, then perhaps a freer migration pattern could result, one which focused more on the task of assimilation and integration rather than rigid quotas and discrimination.  Embedded in immigration is one answer to the complex problem posed by the disastrous overkill combats of the last century.  Many people wonder if there can be nonviolent solutions for war and conflict, and immigration and emigration, if controlled by an international entity, could sap such dictators and warlords of their necessary resource – “expendable” souls.  Few people praise death and desire war, but out of a sense of duty and/or fear, the poor have always been expected to shoulder the immense burden of war campaigns.  What if Hitler announced his plans to wage all-out war throughout Europe, and half his working class emigrated to Spain in a matter of weeks?  What would happen if countries were held accountable to their constituents not by a vote of paper but by a vote of presence? 

We are entering a new age of globalization, and immigration is surely one of the most exciting aspects of modernity.  Technology has shrunk distances, media has brought divergent cultures together, and ideas are being interchanged at the speed of cyberspace.  Immigration might be the 21st-century answer to empires, dictators, and overpopulation.  Giving people a choice of living conditions could reinforce good policy and punish bad governance.

According to an immigration advocate here, Barcelona is one of the biggest receivers of immigrants in Europe.  Ecuador happens to be the largest sending country, which makes sense based on the linguistic similarities and shared heritage.  However, the number 2 sending country is slightly surprising.  Italy, another nation in the European Union, would hardly seem like a country facing a mass exodus.  However, Italy´s current government is so awful that many Italians are more than willing to immigrate to neighboring Spain, even though it means learning Castellano and Catalan as well as leaving behind their heritage.  A government such as Italy´s cannot continue to make bad decisions, or it soon will be like the ruler alone on his own planet in The Little Prince, with absolute power over no one but himself.