Hidalgo County has seen contractors already readying the earth-moving equipment needed to construct their portion of a the border wall as early as July 21. While officials have dodged specifics and Hidalgo County officials emphasize the fact that this cement structure is actually just an addition to strengthen the levees in need of serious repair, local residents are chilled to see the giant bulldozers, pipes, and CATs which are planned to tear up their backyards in the coming days of summer. (Leatherman, Jackie)
This past week also saw the controversial news of court interpreter Dr. Camayd-Freixas penning an essay about what he witnessed during the court proceedings following the recent Agriprocessors raid in Postville, Iowa, on May 12, 2008. This ICE raid, the largest in its history, involved over 900 agents and put nearly 400 extralegal workers on trial for their work in the largest kosher meat-packing plant in the nation. While Agriprocessors was merely fined and sternly reprimanded, the lives of these Guatemalan immigrants and the town which had become their home have been gutted by the legal proceedings that imprisoned more than 260 of them for 5 months. Detained for weeks in a converted cattle-ground holding house called the National Cattle Congress, paraded into court in handcuffs, shackles, and chains, these immigrants with Mayan last names listened tearfully to the Spanish interpretation of what had already been decided in the court well in advance of the raid. Rather than simply deporting these workers who were lured here under false promises of well-paid work and future citizenship, these hard-working immigrants now must sit in county jails with charges of aggravated identity theft and Social Security fraud as their families scramble to make ends meet without these principal breadwinners. (“The Shame of Postville, Iowa”)
Postville, IA, once a town of 2,273, has lost more than 1/3 of its community in the month since the terrifying raid. ICE timed the raid before the end of the school year, when some migrant workers would have returned to their homes, and as a result the end of the school year saw Latino students legal and extralegal terrified to go to school. 3 of 15 high-school students showed up for school the week after the raid, while 120 out of 260 students in the elementary and middle school were missing. The schools’ principal actually rode around town on a school bus, coaxing and cajoling these students to come to school, assuring them that ICE cannot raid a public school because of Peter Schey’s landmark case in the 1980s; 50 of them would not be convinced. American children were having nightmares that their parents would be similarly deported or jailed. (Camayd-Freixas)
Dr. Camayd-Freixas broke ranks with the “unbiased” legal interpreters by publishing his reflections and observations of this humanitarian disaster. He was moved to write as he saw immigrants begging in their native language to be deported quickly. He was moved as he listened to the weeping of fathers who had walked a month and ten days before finally crossing the Rio Grande. He was moved to hear of families who had journeyed here only to work for a year or two in hopes of saving enough money to survive in Latin America, a desire that could have been legitimized if only temporary work permits were legislated instead of Secure Fence Acts. These men and women waived their 5th amendment rights to trial by jury in hopes of a “fast-tracked” deportation five months later, despite the fact that they had used false papers not for unlawful activity or felonious actions but rather for seeking a living wage. (Camayd-Freixas) In this New Era of ICE operations, a new government agency which grew 10% last year and is readying itself for many more of these raids in the name of the War on Terror, every small town must cringe in fear whether it has extralegals living within its borders or not; terror terrifies indiscriminately.
As a border wall is being prepared for the Texas-Mexico border and as future ICE raids are being formulated based on the “success” of the Postville sting, the Beijing Olympics are about to begin. The United States will boast its largest number of immigrant athletes since these statistics were kept. These 33 immigrants will represent the United States and surely bring pride to red-blooded Americans as they stand on podiums to hear their new national anthem. We can all be proud of the four Chinese-Americans representing us in table-tennis, or the Polish-American kayaker, or the Russian-American gymnast Nastia Liukin, or the New Zealand immigrant triathlete. All of us will hold our breath in August as we watch the men’s 1500-meter squad of immigrants; Kenyan-American Bernard Lagat will run alongside the Sudanese “lost boy” Lopez Lomong and Mexican laborer’s son Leo Manzano who only recently got his citizenship in 2004. We can all be proud of these new Americans, but we must also take a hard look at our nation’s policies which simultaneously champion a few token immigrants while terrorizing others and making the immigration process both dehumanizing and virtually impossible for so many (Wilson, Duff and Andrew Lehren) As I watch the Summer Olympics, it will be tough for me to think of China’s human rights violations which have caused protests throughout much of the free world; I will be too busy crying as I watch American immigrants bask in their one day of glory, saving up these precious memories for four more years and for all the immigrants who will never receive acclaim and recognition for the work they do to make our country what it is.