Posts Tagged ‘quota’

Silence of Good People

February 18, 2009

In the nation’s fifth-largest city, more than 200 men were humiliatingly marched past video cameras to a tent-city where they will await deportation. Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, “star” of a Fox reality television show, was simply continuing his long abuse of power in cruelly and unusually punishing prisoners in his jail system. While he makes convicted offenders wear pink underwear and has been cited as serving green bologna to prisoners, he has particularly situated himself as “hard on immigration,” teaming up with the federal policing program 287(g) which partners the U.S. government with local law enforcement. (Garcia, Carlos)

In theory, federal-state cooperation makes the whole system work better. However, local law enforcement officials in 287(g) are given little guidance and engage primarily in basic racial profiling, which results in a myriad of pretextual traffic stops, “jaywalking” violations, and general harassment of Latinos in Phoenix and other like communities throughout the United States. (New York Times)

As new Secretary of Homeland Security (and former Arizona governor) Janet Napolitano seeks to reform the broken Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Department, surely Arpaio should be high on her list. Napolitano’s investigations into the 287(g) should probe into the abuses, both local and federal, and seek to craft an alternative which doesn’t criminalize people based on race or appearance.

On March 7, the 44th anniversary of the famous Bloody Sunday March from Selma to Montgomery which so galvanized the civil rights movement, a march will be held in Phoenix to protest the civil rights abuses perpetrated by Joe Arpaio. While this march’s purpose states it wants Arpaio sent to jail, more generally it will be a march against 287(g) and all the abuses it has invited. Dr. King had Bull Connor; America’s immigrants have Sheriff Arpaio. (Garrido, Jon. Hispanic News)

This past week, as California Border Patrol officers accused their superiors of setting quotas for apprehended immigrants, we must all question our current immigration system which permits and perpetuates such abuses. The Migration Institute recently revealed a chilling report that ICE shifted its goals from apprehending “the most dangerous” undocumented immigrants to deporting anyone – women, children, factory workers – anyone to highlight the agency’s success (Garcia, Carlos). In changing their role from Homeland Security to Heartland Insecurity, our immigration system has struck fear in the hearts of families and terrorized immigrants both legal and otherwise. It is vital we note that America’s immigration issues are bigger than Sheriff Joe Arpaio, larger than ICE, and deeper than the flawed quota system – at its heart, our current immigration system reflects the complicit silence of America. As Dr. King wrote in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail, We will have to repent in this generation not merely for the hateful words and actions of the bad people but for the appalling silence of the good people.” He goes on to write, though, that “Human progress never rolls in on wheels of inevitability; it comes through the tireless efforts of men willing to be co workers with God.” This chance is there for all of us in this 21st century civil rights issue in the United States.

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United States and Spain Square off on Amnesty

June 12, 2008

Visiting Spain with Rotary International, I was struck by the diametrically different way this country was constructed. In the United States, the basic premise is that if corporations and businesses succeed, then people will likewise be successful. As a result, corporations and big businesses get tax breaks with the idea that it will then trickle down to the general populace. Spain’s laws, however, are organized with a dipolar paradigm, that if people are satisfied then businesses will do well.

I traveled Spain with minimum insurance, knowing full well that if I were sick I would be treated for free because of their socialized health-care system. When asked about their country’s healthcare system and the resulting 50% taxes, every single Spaniard I met voiced the fact that this was the only fair way to do healthcare. Rich businessmen and down-and-out vagrants all said that it was only right to make sure everybody got their basic needs met, irregardless of their income.

Spanish legislation has taken this one step further by providing basic human rights and opportunities to all immigrants, whatever their legal status. Deportation doesn’t exist in Spain; instead, the emphasis is on integration. No country in the world has run more legalization programs than this European Union nation. Just a decade ago, a mere 2% of Spaniards were immigrants. That number has risen to nearly 10%. (New York Times, June 10, 2008)

The marvel is that Spain not only attracts immigrants but also provides for them and their family’s assimilation. Immigrants are provided free health insurance, and in the six legalization programs since 1985, all working immigrants were eligible to become legalized citizens. And the education system has been revamped to integrate these new immigrant families into Spanish society, even though two of the top five sending countries – Romania and Morocco – do not speak Castellano Spanish. ((New York Times, June 10, 2008)

Perhaps even more telling is the government’s rationale for these legalization programs. In the United States, Reagan was decried for his Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 because it provided amnesty to millions of extralegal working citizens. Syndicates and the general populace criticized Reagan by stating that amnesty only encourages more illegal immigration, although this has less to do with amnesty programs and more to do with overly restrictive quotas and demoralizing lottery systems. Spain’s reasons for their six legalization programs were, in part, to ensure that lawbreaking employers were not given a competitive edge. However, the major reason espoused by all government officials is social rather than economic. Jesús Caldera, who was labor minister during one of these legalization programs, stated in the New York Times yesterday that, “If you practice exclusion, you risk the future of your country. You risk terrorism, violence.”

From here in rural Minnesota, there is little I can do to actively oppose the border wall in la frontera, a border wall initially proposed to stop illegal immigration. But I can work to change public opinion, the prevailing nativist rhetoric, and ultimately the antiquated and criminalizing laws which produce illegal immigrants rather than facilitate legal migration. We all can.

Leaving Borders

June 9, 2008

In Irun, the small town on the Spanish border with Spain, there has long been a border culture. During their revolutions and civil wars, residents of both countries traversed the imaginary line separating these two lands. A complex culture of smuggling developed, as in most border towns. People, goods, drugs- the rules of supply and demand are never bound by borders, however much governments might like to believe. While in Irun, I was told a story of a man who crossed and recrossed the border every day on his bicycle. The border patrol agents checked and rechecked this man, suspecting that he was transporting some contraband. Never once in the twenty years did they realize he was riding to France on an old bike and returning with a brand new model.

These sort of trickster stories, and the border culture they exhibit, have been made irrelevant by the erasure of borders in the European Union. America’s border with Mexico, though, must be creating hundreds of thousands of tricksters with the increasing militarization of la frontera and the constantly impending border wall now scheduled in Hidalgo County for July.

Driving out of the Rio Grande Valley on either 77 or 83, the only two evacuation routes, one encounters a military checkpoint complete with automatic weapons, drug-sniffing dogs, patrol cars, and heaps of bureaucracy. As I wait in line, my car packed to the hilt with all my earthly possessions, I contemplate that this is one of the many signs that the Rio Grande Valley is considered outside the mainlaind United States. Brownsville, the poorest city in the United States, is left below this second border in a no-man’s land, left to fend for itself. In fact, the talk of the town last week was that the United States Border Patrol was going to be checking the residency status of individuals during hurricane evacuations (Brownsville Herald) . That its citizenry must be questioned and searched before entering the rest of the continental U.S. is a stunning assumption of criminality. When it is my turn with the Border Patrol agents, I am waved along because of my white skin and American accent.

Tacitus once wrote in his Annals, “Once we suffered from our vices; today we suffer from our laws.” Indeed, unjust laws create criminals out of upstanding individuals, and in no area of legislation is this more true than immigration. Extralegal immigrants, many of whom came to the United States legally, are punished by our current law primarily for doing precisely the actions for which we praise our citizenry. The motivation of the majority of immigrants is religious freedom, economic opportunity, family safety, education, freedom of speech, liberty – how can an antiquated quota system cause some to be punished for acting on these principles and others to be praised?

As I drive north, farther and farther away from the Rio Grande Valley I’ve called home for the past two years, I pass the fertile hills of Kansas and the wide expanses of open grazing in Oklahoma and the lush fields of Iowa. I look at these natural wonders and think of how blessed I am to live in this land, and how attractive this must be to people receiving less than 8x the income we enjoy in our prosperous nation. I look at this massive farmland and know that extralegal immigrants know this land far better than I will ever understand; without them, many of these fields would lie fallow, so many of our meals would remain uncooked, so many houses would never be built, so many ideas never imparted, so many languages never added to the multiplicity of cultures here in the United States. Driving through the natural beauty along Highway 35, it is easy to see that natural law and constructed law clash when it comes to the issue of immigration in these United States. If we will only take a good look at our country and realize just how blessed we are, we would be more understanding of people desirous of migrating here. If we would only appreciate the perspectives and culture and language and talents that immigrants always bring, we would see extralegal and legal immigrants as the assets they are. If Spanish were not viewed as a language subservient to English, then perhaps we could learn from the Spanish immigration system as well as from Mexican and Latin-American immigrants themselves. As I leave the border region where the “rights” and “wrongs” of immigration laws are as muddy as the Rio Bravo and as I head north to study immigration law at the University of Minnesota this coming fall, I realize that I will never leave the border because the border is not a place on a map but a place in people’s hearts. In telling stories about the good people of la frontera and in studying the laws of immigration, I hope to turn the borders of American hearts into E.U. borders instead of the walled border in California and Arizona.

Ourense or The Rivers once were Studded with Gold

April 29, 2008

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

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

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

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

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

Good Friday’s Implications

March 21, 2008

    In Matamoros, Mexico, on this Good Friday, the plaza is full of people watching the Via Crucis enacted before our very eyes. This passion play has been reenacted annually for well over a thousand years, yet it is still charged with emotion and meaning. A young man is beaten and hung to a wooden cross directly in front of the giant Catholic church, while centurions with over-sized helmets look on and a voice recants the Gospel narrative. Offstage, a woman cries in the heat of the day. In the crowd, everyone of us has forgotten our sunglasses, the glare off the tops of police cars, the smell of elotes and raspas nearby – all of us are focused on this ultimate story of redemption.

    I enter the cool of the church, my mind filled with memories of Easters past. The palpable memory of gumming the bread and swirling the grape juice around in my mouth, newly cognizant that these elements of the Communion represented the body and blood of a man 2,000 years ago. These memories from almost 20 years ago come back to me, just as I am sure memories came to Mary as she stood at the foot of the cross. My eyes adjust to the lighting within this cathedral. Mary is at the front of the church, head down in mourning for her son lofted up on the cross. I bow my head and am overcome with the feeling of hopelessness that must have swept over the disciples. What if this were the end? What if the kingdom of God ended on Friday and was never followed by that joyous Sunday?

    Tears drying on my sunburned cheeks, I sit in the plaza reading Why We Can’t Wait by Dr. King under a gazebo. Tamale vendors, shoe-shiners, whistling chiflado kids, men selling sweet dulces. As I read these words I have read before in a new context, I am struck by its perspective on Jesus’ death that Friday so long ago. King writes,

    Suddenly the truth was revealed that hate is a contagion; that it grows and spreads as a disease; that no society is so healthy that it can automatically maintain its immunity…The words of Jesus ‘Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of my brethren, ye have done it unto me’ were more than a figurative expression; they were a literal prophecy…We were all involved in the death of [this man]. We tolerated hate; we tolerated the sick stimulation of violence in all walks of life; and we tolerated the differential application of law, which said that a man’s life was sacred only if we agreed with his views…We mourned a man who had become the pride of the nation, but we grieved as well for ourselves because we knew we were sick.” (145)

Fresh meaning to this Gospel story I’ve read hundreds of times. In Jesus’ day, just as in our own, the poor and the stranger were being exploited by those in power. To the extent that people of faith tolerate this immoral profiting from the pain of others, we are condoning hate and the hurt of the least of these. If Jesus is present in the least of these, we must recognize his face in every stranger, legal or extralegal, every person, regardless of race. When we give into the fear and hate of our fellow man, the passion of Christ happens once more.

    The best definition of sin that I’ve ever heard is an “absence of God.” For those 3 days while Jesus lay entombed, the whole world was stuck in this negative peace without the very Son of God. In this Plaza Mayor, it occurs to me that the word for without in Spanish is sin. Without. Without.

It must be a sin that so many of these men and women around me here in this border town of close to 500,000 are without basic necessities and without hope of fair wages. Without.

It is surely sin that when these people come looking for a better life in the United States they are refused legal means, repeatedly denied family reunification, and queued in a quota system that can take from 10 years to never. Without.

It cannot be anything but a sin that 12-20 million U.S. residents live without papers, without protection of law, without insurance, without welfare, without legal protection, without basic human rights, without a means to earned citizenship. Without.

It is a shameful sin that so many bright students of mine look at a bleak future, unsure of whether they will have the right documents to attend the best universities in this country, schools they have earned the academic right to attend. Without.

May we all use these 3 days leading up to that blessed Resurrection Sunday to think of those around us who are “without.” As James 4:17 so clearly states, “Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn’t do it, sins.” If we know the good which needs to be done, if we see the calling of God in the strangers around us, if we recognize the face of Jesus in our neighbor and do nothing, our lives are sin- sin meaning, sin purpose, sin faith, sin love, sin the chance to bring the hope of Sunday to the “least of these,” or ourselves.

No Border Wall Walk- Day 7 or A Day of Thanksgiving

March 14, 2008

   No Border Wall Walk- Day 7 with the Heedless Horseman from Smokin’ Joe’s BBQ

    Holy Spirit Catholic Church in Progreso, like so many other churches along our walk, absolutely saw the sojourner in us and welcomed us like a Good Samaritan. We came asking only shelter, and Yolanda and Father Thomas fed us snacks. We were looking for a place to lay our head, and they provided us much-needed showers and our only laundry services of the whole 9-day walk. As tired and beleaguered wanderers, we were welcomed wholeheartedly by this faith community, and one gets the feeling that an extralegal immigrant and his family might find the same welcome at the doors of Holy Spirit. Surely they are living the call of Leviticus 19:33-34 which calls peoples of faith to embrace immigrants, stating, “The strangers who sojourn with you shall be to you as the natives among you, and you shall love them as yourself; for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

    Day 7 was at least 99 degrees, and by some accounts as hot as 102. Many of us got burnt, I suffered heat hives, and all of us slowed our 2-3 mph pace considerably in the sweltering sun. It was hotter than a human heart, the organ this entire walk has targeted. Believing that people are innately good, we feel that they simply must not know the wonderful people and beautiful places which a wall would destroy and immigration legislation could enhance. As members of the walk give interviews with local news stations or national newspapers, we are laying out the facts of the immigration debate and the logic as to why the United States should not build a wall. The real story, the story we pray is reaching the hearts of the world, is on display behind us, in the gorgeous palm groves and birding preserves and in the single-story homes and land grant ranches which will be devastated by the building of any wall.

One of the most historically fascinating parts of the trip came at the Rio Rico historic landmark. Sipping some much-needed Gatorade (donated by yet another church), we learned that when the international boundaries were moved from the Nueces River to the Rio Grande and everyone to the north was given citizenship status, some people took their rights into their own hands. The people of Rio Rico dug a canal in the 1800s, changing the course of the river so it would flow south of them and give them certain “inalienable rights.” Though this met with some opposition, all 200 of them were finally given full citizenship status and are now proud to be called Americans. People have been subverting unjust immigration laws for a long, long time…

This Friday’s march was another great opportunity to dialogue with the amazing people who have pledged 9 days of their lives and 120 miles of their feet to speak out against the Secure Fence Act of 2006. Some new recruits to the group were discussing political figures who have let down the American public, either through faulty promises or mismanagement or the profit motive. Hearing this rhetoric, though, I could see many of the through-walkers bristle at its negativity. We are not waging a campaign against people, because people are never beyond redemption. In his speech “Loving your Enemies,” our hero and mentor Martin Luther King said,

…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…

We are working to change oppressive and unjust systems in our nation and in the world, but our struggles can never be directed at a single person because it becomes hate and cyclical violence. So, I spoke up to him as he was bashing a man who has waived 19 different environmental laws in order to build the wall in Arizona. I said that it is fruitless and ultimately violent to direct anger at people. If we have a problem with someone, we should not even say their name. Our conflict is not with them but with their actions. On the other side, however, when someone deserves praise, we should use their names in the most intimate way. Praise should always be extremely personal and direct; critiques should always be directed at fixed systems or established actions rather than people, because people possess the power to change.

With that in mind, I would love to praise Laura and Jonathan Loveless for their generous providence of another homemade lunch today in the tiny town of Santa Maria – your surname is clearly a misnomer. I wish to praise the heedless horseman Vince for riding his horse Tocallo and enlivening us with his sage vaquero wisdom and his cowboy guitar-playing. I would like to thank Gene for riding his bike from Brownsville to join us for most of the day’s walk. Jose, your calm discussion about the border region and your work with UTPA students kept me walking when I was most affected by the heat. To all the ladies at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Las Rusias, God bless you for your tambourines and noisemakers as we hobbled home to your fish dinner and your old-time Spanish praise songs. God bless you Nenna for sharing the lives of your eight children, your land along the levee and the site of the proposed border wall, and the encouraging shower at your house. Father Albert – we are so grateful for our kind reception at your church. You and Father Thomas from Progreso, both immigrants from the Congo, illustrate the beauty and the love and the potential immigrants can and do offer if only given the opportunity through our immigration system. Thanks to all 250 of you who have walked even a step of this march thus far; your footsteps give us the faith that we are not alone.

Continuing in the same vein of praise, I would also like to thank the individual members of this walk. These people have dedicated nine days of their lives, 126 miles of their feet, and 24 hours of every single day to the purpose of protesting the injustice of the Secure Fence Act of 2006, supporting the sanctity of all border regions, and respecting the divine spark of humanity in every single immigrant. I am eternally grateful to Mike and Cindy Johnson, both educators from the Brownsville school system who devoted their entire spring break to an issue in which they believe. Mike’s endless energy has uplifted our spirits on many a long day, and Cindy’s heart for each house we pass reminds me of why we are walking. Thank you Cindy for talking with each of these landowners, informing them of their legal rights, and encouraging them with the faith that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”

Matt Smith

Thank you Matt Smith for your love of the communities on both sides of the river. Your work in the maquiladora factories in Mexico prove that you are willing to work at righting injustice, and you bring that same moral indignation to this No Border Wall Walk. Your guitar-playing and IPOD-blasting have kept us dancing and singing and positive all 100 miles so far, and they are sure to see us all the way to Brownsville. Thank you also Domingo Gonzalez; your offer of transportation has been invaluable, and your happy car honks always seem to lift our spirits. Cesar Chavez, your fellow UFW mate, would be proud.

Crystal Canales

I have to thank Crystal Canales for her limitless energy, her youthful idealism, and her passion for people. Crystal is the only UTB student who sacrificed an entire spring break to protest a border wall in the Valley she has always called home. Her words of support and positivity, both in Spanish and in English, have been truly profound and have made the most cynical of us act in love.

Elizabeth Stephens

Elizabeth Stephens, we owe you so much thanks for your organizing skills in Progreso and your understated leadership on the march. Bearing blisters since Day 2, you have found a quiet reserve of strength and managed to “mount up on wings of eagles” when others would be plummeting like sparrows. Perhaps it has something to do with your button which states, “I am loved.” We all pray you will continue your activism here in Brownsville and the greater Rio Grande Valley for many years to come.

Nat Stone

Nat Stone, every single member of this walk is grateful for your constant encouragement and your affirmation of our work. Your daily documentary film-making reminds us that our protest is not here in the Valley but in the hearts of our nation. We all pray that your talented filmography manages to prick our country’s conscience. Seeing you leap-frogging us again and again has kept us walking when we would just as soon take yet another water break. We also thank you because no other documentary makers would be calling the Obama campaign office everyday, nor would they be handing out legal information to local residents, nor would they stop and be a first responder at a car accident. You make us all proud to live on la frontera.

Jay Johnson-Castro – your 600 miles of walks before March 8 made our march possible. Your guidance from walks past, as well as your teeming knowledge about this issue, have guided our thinking and our planning on this walk. You have brought media attention to the Valley and to the issues we confront, and we pray you will continue to nonviolently campaign for justice on the border.

Kiel Harell

Kiel Harell, how can we ever thank you for the days and days of accumulated time you spent on the phone rallying support for this March Against the Wall. Your quiet strength, your welcoming persona in your down-home overalls that harken back to the SNCC days of the civil rights movement, your conversational tone with reporters and recalcitrant locals, your well-read understanding of nonviolence and your recent exploration of faith – we are thankful that you canceled your plane ticket home and are campaigning for the homes of thousands along our nation’s southern border.

John Moore

Brother John Moore, this walk was your dream some two months ago. You have lived in San Diego, El Paso, and now Brownsville, and your triangulated perspective on the border gives purpose and far-reaching unity to our efforts here. We are not alone, nor are we simply campaigning for the rights of these people within a 120-mile stretch of this snaking Rio Grande. Our efforts are for the 5,000 mile Canadian border, the largest international border in the world, just as much as they are for the Mexican border. Thank you for directing our anger into purposeful, nonviolent ways; thank you for reminding us of the power of redemption and the promises of our God. Thank you for turning me on to nonviolence and its application to every part of my life.

The thanks could go on indefinitely. We have been brimming with gratitude for the opportunity to hear the stories of this Valley and the opportunity to participate in a story of redemption here on the border. Contrary to the opinions of many, this border wall has not been built yet, and although it is a law right now, so was the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and the 1924 Immigration Quota based on nation of origin. The Secure Fence Act of 2006 is not inevitable; it has only as much mandate as we give it. Please write your Congressman and convince them to vote for the Grijalva Bill which begins to bring the border wall discussion into environmental accountability, and also urge them to vote against the other bill which would set a certain date for the beginning of construction on this destructive symbol of division. Any prayers and support you can offer this march in its final days would be precious.

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- American Friends Service Committee

February 22, 2008

   

    In a week that witnessed Hillary Clinton stating, “We need smart borders…I will listen to the people of the Valley and make sure that we secure the border but don’t divide people from their families …” while simultaneously making the international hand gesture for wall, immigration and border security is most definitely back in the nation’s political eye. For some, including myself, it has become the issue of this Presidential race. When Obama and Clinton’s policies look all too similar, if one of them moved to retract the vote they made in support of the wall, a huge shift in support could result, especially in the nation’s minority votes.

    With all this at the forefront of the nation’s thinking, the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) begins its annual meeting. This time, however, it is not meeting in the wintry climes of Philadelphia, but rather in the beautiful San Juan Cathedral here in the Rio Grande Valley where Clinton and Obama are making stops themselves. The AFSC is meeting here en la frontera to be able to actively engage immigration reform at its vanguard. Immigration is a focus of this service-oriented organization.

    The AFSC has long been integrally involved in issues of civil rights. Their involvement, encouragement, and enabling of Martin Luther King helped him and his significant movement. The AFSC paid for his pilgrimage to India. They first published his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” And when the time came, the AFSC nominated Dr. King for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, which he won.

    And so it is with great welcome that all social activists, and in particular those citizens concerned with issues of citizenship and immigration, welcome the AFSC to our Rio Grande Valley. We urge you to remain mindful of the, “Principles for Comprehensive Immigration Reform in the United States,” an excellent document published in May 2006 which affirms the humanity of immigration laws.

 

Undocumented immigrants pay taxes, and contribute to the economic, social, and cultural development of their communities in countless ways. A legalization program would recognize the equity undocumented people have built through their participation in U.S. society and acknowledge the inherent injustice of the secrecy, vulnerability, and exploitation imposed on undocumented women, men and children.

— AFSC Board of Directors, June 23, 2001

The work of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) in immigrant communities is based on our belief in the worth and inherent dignity of every person. As an expression of this commitment, we have consistently expressed support for undocumented immigrants. AFSC has repeatedly called on the U.S. government to grant permanent residency to all undocumented men, women and children. We thus believe that actions leading to comprehensive immigration reform should reflect the following components:

  1. Respect for the civil rights and all human rights of immigrants;

  2. Inclusive and coordinated measures that support immigration status adjustment for undocumented workers;

  3. Support for the distinctly important and valuable role of family ties by supporting the reunification of immigrant families in a way that equally respects heterosexual and same-sex relationships;

  4. Humane policies that protect workers and their labor and employment rights;

  5. Measures that reduce backlogs that delay the ability of immigrants to become U.S. permanent residents and full participants in the life of the nation and of their communities;

  6. The removal of quotas and other barriers that impede or prolong the process for the adjustment of immigration status;

  7. Guarantees that no federal programs, means-tested or otherwise, will be permitted to single out immigrants for exclusion;

  8. Demilitarization of the U.S. border and respect and protection of the region’s quality of life.

  9. “Free trade” agreements like NAFTA and CAFTA have had a detrimental impact on sending countries from the global South, provoking significant increases in migration. Such international economic policies should be consistent with human rights, fair trade, and sustainable approaches to the environment and economic development.

Immigration Realities: An AFSC Perspective

The growth of undocumented migration is a worldwide phenomenon. Although many people are propelled into migration for political and other reasons, labor migration clearly accounts for the greatest part of the migrant stream. In this sense, the growth of a transnational labor force is a structural feature of increasing global economic integration. U.S. policies that are intended to deter undocumented migration have failed entirely to achieve this objective, while increasing the violation of human rights, as well as aggravating anti-immigrant prejudice and hate violence.

In addition, punitive measures such as increased surveillance and patrols at the border, raids on homes and workplaces, and detaining and deporting undocumented people do not address the underlying reasons that people migrate. Those measures create fear and polarization during a time when we should be creating hope and peace in our communities.

One stark indication of this failure is that hundreds of migrants die each year trying to cross the Mexican-U.S. border in increasingly dangerous circumstances. U.S. communities that lie along the border with Mexico live a reality that is essentially different from the rest of the country. U.S. immigration policy has transformed the region into a militarized zone where the U.S.

Constitution and international law are applied only selectively. Efforts to secure the southern border have had dire human consequences, from the ever-increasing tally of migrant deaths to the systemic violation of the civil and human rights of border crosser’s and border communities.

Because border enforcement is a reality that these communities will continue to face, it is essential that any debate that focuses on increasing the security of the U.S.-Mexico border be based on a strong commitment to accountability and human rights, including civil rights. It is essential that the perspectives of those who live in border communities be included in such a debate.

AFSC calls upon the U.S. Congress to consider that its policies, laws, and regulations on immigration will affect the rest of the world negatively or positively, especially our neighbors to the South. Remittances from migrant workers in the United States and other rich countries contribute more to the economies of their countries of origin than all forms of development assistance, by approximately 50 percent yearly. For many of the world’s poor, economic integration through remittances is the only form of economic globalization with a positive impact on their living standards. Sooner or later, comprehensive immigration reform will need to be carried out not just unilaterally, but multilaterally, in concert with the needs and interests of other countries that send migrants or refugees to the United States and whose cultures, peoples, and economic prospects are thereby bound up with the citizens and residents of this country. <http://www.afsc.org/immigrants-rights/PrinciplesforImmigrationReform_en.htm>

Once again, the AFSC highlights the human aspect of a topic which all too many people debate coldly, stiffly, politically. Their advocation of smart borders makes sense both for the world and for the person. In reading this excellent document, I am reminded of a late-night coffee-table talk with longtime activist and Friend Domingo Gonzalez. He pointed out that, “In taking the train from New Jersey to Philadelphia, you cross more ethnic and racial boundaries than at any border crossing. If only we could make our borders like those of our cities’.” Hopefully this weekend, the AFSC can discuss more ways in which our nation can be made to take real steps towards making this world a collection of city-states where migrants need not fear imaginary lines. And hopefully, they will add both their prayers and their endorsement to the No Border Wall Walk as it attempts to re-open the issue of immigration via the border wall. If everyone in the Valley says the same thing at the same time, how powerful a message we could send! Maybe all the way to Washington, maybe all the way to India…